Wednesday, June 26, 2019

What I Watched: May

I was reading The Avengers while you were still in cast-iron short pants, Mister

1. The Romanoffss, Season 1, Episodes 3-8

Kim and I watched the rest of Matthew Weiner's The Romanoffs, which we enjoyed very much despite my having spelled it incorrectly last month. Like any anthology series, casual views might find the episodes uneven--and they are lengthy, with most being "movie length", and the range of dramatic subject matter might leave viewers loving certain episodes and hating others. I've read some critical reviews of the series and many found fault with the pacing, but this was a common knock against Mad Men, the pacing of which, I thought, was one of the shows' chief appeals.

The show made me want to get into Weiner's creative headspace more deeply, and after listening to the 100th episode of Illeana Douglas's I Blame Dennis Hopper podcast with him I found a number of podcast seminars/interviews he gave during the various stages of Mad Men's run--he's is a fascinating speaker on what moves and motivates him in his creations and I'd wished I'd been able to locate more. I did discover he'd written a novel, Heather, the Totality, and have added it to my tbr pile.

Mad Men, full disclosure, gets my vote for greatest television drama, all-time. I like Breaking Bad, but I don't think it is a close race at all.

2. Avengers: Endgame

In early May, my father and I decided we would try and go to the movies together once a week, and we've kept to it except for a week I was away for business travel. Endgame was our inaugural adventure; we'd actually seen the previous Avengers movie together at the insistent and persistent urging of my son, an avowed Marvel Movie Universe scholar.

Endgame was the perfect launch point for weekly movie excursions for a number of reasons; in addition to having brought me to countless movies when I was a kid (1977-1982 being an especially halcyon time),my Dad was also the person who most fueled my desire to own and read every comic book ever published--he would often come home from a yard sale with boxes and boxes of comic books. One of my favorite title was The Avengers, and I managed to collect the entire first series except for #1 and #4.

My vast knowledge and lore of comic books of the 60's, 70's and 80's gets me in trouble sometimes with regards to the Marvel Movie Universe, as I can be hypercritical of things I feel are not within the spirit of the print MCU (an absurdity, I know), and there's all sorts of places where I could find fault with an Endgame story with Thanos--although I suppose it wouldn't be anywhere near as universally popular, I'd likely not be fully satisfied with anything less than a faithful adaptation of the original Jim Starlin material. 

Fortunately, though, I was able to just shut up and watch, and of course Endgame is a fun, exciting movie. I only really, really hate one thing (I am an enemy of the "Iron Spider" suit; I think Spidey is a much more interesting and engaging character without it. Yeah, I know he needed to be able to survive in space, I still hate it). And my favorite part really annoys my son--I think Fat Thor was the best thing ever and would queue up tomorrow for a Fat Thor movie. I'm considering writing a lengthy essay on why I find Fat Thor so relatable but I don't want to annoy him further.

My father's comment after the show made me realize I'd be including a quote from him on every movie we watch together:

Dad on Endgame: "I had no idea what the hell was going on, but I enjoyed it."

3. Tolkien
This was the second film Dad and I saw together; I'm afraid I liked it much more than he did. There were flaws, and if you don't have patience for Dead Poets Society type material you would likely hate it, but being familiar with Tolkien's work but not his life I found it interesting and well done. The later WWI scenes I especially liked.

Dad on Tolkien: "Next time we see an action movie."

4. John Wick Chapter Three: Parabellum
Wanting to make good on Dad's request, there's fewer actiony action movies than this. Probably my fault for not having seen the first two, suffice to say Dad liked this one more than I did. It would be impossible not to.

That isn't to say he loved everything about it: Dad on John Wick: (during a scene toward the end where John and friend are knifing/shooting/killing an interminable squadron of assassins) "Booorrrrr-ing!"

5. Fleabag Season 1, Episode 1 and 2

Watched these with Kim. One scene in the first episode had me laughing so hard I had to pause the streaming service. The actor playing the boyfriend (Hugh Skinner) had a much different role in the last episode of The Romanoffs and it was both jarring and interesting to see him play such disparate roles back to back. . 

My books can be found HERE for pennies a page.
None of these is a television show. Yet.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

What I Heard: May 2019

Mixtape Masterpieces

My first month in seven years without eMusic...seems weird. And now I hear the iTunes is shifting their platform, which always makes me more than a little nervous as I'm already using alternate universe technology. I have two iPods Classics, a full 120 with a large chunk of my Metal collection, and the beauty below, which is a customized gold "U2" edition Classic with a terabyte chip. Referred to in my household as "The Precious", it is rarely out of my sight and plays for several hours a day at a minimum. I was warned it would become unstable at a certain capacity, so I haven't put my entire digital collection on it but 57015 songs is a pretty good base. 
The Precious

I've mentioned I've done my fair share of business travel over the years, and never without the Precious, one of my dearest companions. I believe the Precious listens to me as much as I listen to it.

Such meticulous curation

Yeah, that isn't at all weird, disturbing, or obsessive. But then again, neither is painstakingly converting all of one's vinyl (a whole wall of it) to mp3--and it seems like yesterday I'd converted all the vinyl to ATRAC so I could enjoy it all on long playing minidiscs! 
Thousands of hours of music! (Thousands of hours of life wasted not pictured.)

For years I could enjoy Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" on Minidisc long before it was available digitally (it came back when the movie was rebooted)! Also Cheap Trick's "Up The Creek" (came out last year as part of Epic "rarities" compilation!

I still haven't seen Wall of Voodoo's "Exercise" on a legit digital release...

8-Tracks? I had a few. Cassettes? Never my favorite format, but I loved making mix tapes. I loved making collage art for the various tapes even more. I will always take physical formats over digital, and a digital file over streaming.As convenient as they might be, I don't like streaming services for a number of reasons--control, gaps in content, signal, different mixes, advertising, possible glomming of preferences and metadata, etc.  Quite possibly some if not all of those objections can be overcome but I don't care to try.  Get off my lawn.

I'd still take these over streaming

1. Arthemis, Back From the Heat
My favorite Italian Metal band, and this an earlier album, acquired off eBay to complete the catalogue. If you want to have the greatest Metal cover of a pop song ever--yes, even better than Anthrax's cover of Joe Jackson's "Got the Time", then go to their website for the free download of their 6-song unfortunately named EP. You heard it here: Arthemis's cover of Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" is the greatest Metal cover of a pop song, ever. Here, I'll make it easy for you: ARTHEMIS . Just listen to Fabio Dessi nail it! 

Fabio isn't on Back From the Heat, but it is still a solid record

2. Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped
3. Sonic Youth, Murray Street
4. Sonic Youth, A Thousand Leaves
5. Sonic Youth, Sonic Youth Live
6. Sonic Youth, Made in USA

I wrote about Sonic Youth a little in this month's "what I read" blog, and decided to fill the last remaining holes in the "official" catalogue. These are all great--and distinctively so. I'd forgotten about their movie soundtrack Made in USA, which I used to have on cassette before my cassette eating car stereo munched on it like twenty-five years ago. It appears to be OOP digitally (another great reason to trust only in the physical). Probably my third or fourth favorite of all SY-related discs.

7. Pink Floyd, The Endless River
8. David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock

I was able to pick up the super-deluxe CD/DVD versions of both of these for a reasonable price. Haven't watched the DVD's yet but love both discs. The Endless River was my morning coffee choice two Sundays running.

9. Hawkwind, Bring Me The Head of Yuri Gagarin

Live set "Classic" line-up, with Lemmy, Turner, Brock, Dik Mik, even Del Dettmar, but a very fuzzy recording and even the big songs lack the punch they have do on other live recordings from this era.

10. Megadeth, Cryptic Writings

$5.99 on iTunes for the deluxe version; not my favorite Megadeth (this one isn't as thrashy as many) but still a very enjoyable record

11. Bill Callahan, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Half the album; as a promo they released a side at a time weekly for the digital release, so I didn't get the second half until June. I'll buy this on vinyl, but Callahan is one of several artists I don't want to wait to hear (or mind if I contribute extra profits by purchasing multiple formats). With my usual sense of good timing, I became completely enthralled with Callahan's Apocalypse and Dream River (not to mention Have Fun With God) just before he got married, had a kid, and took a five year hiatus from recording new songs. Luckily he's got an extensive back-catalogue to explore while I was waiting, and it was love at first listen for  It was love at first listen for Shepherd. And what does that title mean, anyway? Is it a warning? Is he saying, "don't join my flock, because I will leave you shorn and skinless in the end"?

Kim tells me I've said this hundreds of times about hundreds of records, but I consider Apocalypse and Dream River life-changing albums for me. Fittingly, I bought them when I was on the road--the first cut on Dream River, "The Sing", is one of those strange cuts that is intensely personal and yet universal enough to make seem my biography, not Bill's--at a great little record store in Phoenix called Stinkweeds

No vinyl this week, but I appear to have infected my son with both the vinyl rockin' pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu, as he has been scouring the shops and flea markets for records and has come home with dozens of LP's in the past few weeks. Good stuff, too! We're listening to one of his Magic Sam acquisitions as I write this!

I wrote a novel called Aural History about a musician who sees ghosts of other musicians. You can buy it HERE

Cover Intentionally DIY

Sunday, June 9, 2019

What I Read: May 2019

I like books about music

A friend posted a recent photo of him attending a bookstore event where the guest was James Ellroy. I was a little jealous, as I've spent much of my reading time this year absorbing his collected works. Then again, Ellroy, by his own admission, hasn't been the nicest or most approachable guy in the world so I don't know if I'd just up at the chance to attend such an event--what the hell, I've already got three signed copies of his books!

Who am I kidding--of course I'd go. I'm a junkie for book events, and Ellroy has got some interesting things to say about writing. I don't always enjoy readings, but I'd love to hear him read from some of the later works I've just consumed

I read these in May:

1. Hollywood Nocturnes
2. American Tabloid
3. The Cold Six Thousand 
4. Crime Wave
5. My Dark Places

Yes, I'm a little out of order. Why? I read some of these on business trips, and the trades paperbacks fit better (and weight less) in my carry-on bag. 

I'll write about the fiction when I've finished all of it, but a few words on his harrowing memoir My Dark Places. Ellroy's mother was murdered when he was ten years old, and the case was never solved. Sometimes there isn't always a direct correlation between one's chosen themes, style, and genre and one's upbringing, but Ellroy's life in Los Angeles clearly informed every word. Sometimes directly--he writes about which of his books draw directly from life experience.

We don't always get this much biographical information regarding someone who writes the contemporary fiction we find entertaining, and as I moved on to the final volume in the U.S.A. Underworld Trilogy, Blood's A Rover, I was trying to determine how my newfound knowledge of Ellroy's life was altering my emotional and aesthetic reactions to his fiction. Ultimately, I believe I would recommend someone picking up Ellroy for the first time to start with My Dark Places. It is an unforgettable book, somehow managing to be both an indictment and an elegy for his parents (and for himself?) It is at times excoriating, painful, and shocking, especially in the pages where Ellroy mercilessly paints an ugly and unromantic self portrait of the person he was before he began writing seriously. 

I'd recommend you start with My Dark Places, but I would also warn you--you might not want to read any of his fiction after finishing. And that would be a shame, because he's a singular artist who, in my opinion, has contributed to and expanded the boundaries of noir fiction.

Just two comic books this month:

6. Tomb of Dracula,  vol. 1 Gaah this series was so awesome, and the trade paperback edition I have really lets the art pop. My comic obsession started in the seventies, and I somehow missed most of this brilliant run the first time around. I only had so many quarters (these were all 20 cents originally!), and back then my first choices were always the team superhero books--The Avengers, The Defenders, Fantastic Four, Justice League, Legion of Superheroes. I'm kind of glad, though, because I appreciate these more today than I would have when I was a kid. Scary and beautiful.
7. Batman: Master Race I love a great deal of Frank Miller's work, and have ever since rushing to the local pharmacy to buy the latest Daredevil off the white wire spinner rack (that's how we did it back in the days, kids. It was glorious). I still think Ronin is one of the greatest graphic novels of all-time, but I  have found his post Dark Knight work hit or miss. The art is always great, there's usually some clever social commentary and comments on the artform itself, but the stories themselves haven't always landed the right way with me. I used to love the trick of bringing in a favorite or overlooked character--especially a rebooted one-- for a cameo or for a few pages or even for an entire arc (one-armed Green Arrow in Dark Knight, for example). I think Miller may have helped invent that trope, but I see it so often now it doesn't thrill me as much. I finished this one wishing I'd liked it more than I did.

Some nonfiction:
8. Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality Dawson Church and Dr. Joe Dispenza
Mmm I'm not entirely sure this one qualifies as non-fiction, although there were a number of interesting ideas and theories in the book--but maybe that is just my brain trying to create reality, material or otherwise. Although a skeptic, I'm a sucker for books like this--anything that purports to give the reader a mental edge, a more efficient brain or body, or access to natural or supernatural powers.
9. Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth David Brown
Many years ago, part of my job duties included calling customers who had services performed at their homes or businesses by one of the businesses that I managed to make sure they received excellent customer service. One day I was making these calls and noticed the next customer was listed as "Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon".

No way, I thought, eagerly dialing the number for the first time ever while making those stupid intrusive calls.

I got an answering machine--and it wasn't even one of their voices on the recording--but it still felt a minor thrill as I'd been a gigantic Sonic Youth fan since high school--Daydream Nation still feels like an essential part of the soundtrack of my freshman year of college, and others--The Destroyed Room and The Eternal (and much of Moore's solo work) loomed large later in life.. I was a little disappointed this book was written before Moore and Gordon split (and initially I wrote "Thurston and Kim", because that's how personal they as artists and there art felt to me. I've read Gordon's book but would not mind some third-party insight as to what happened and how Sonic Youth is still able to conduct business--a "new" live album of an old concert came out this week, and there was a release of demos I think last year, so like Hendrix, Sonic Youth may be dead but they are still mad prolific.

Despite being written while the band was still very much alive (and before a couple of my favorite records of theirs) I still enjoyed the book greatly, especially as I read it while listening to some Sonic Youth related music I'd also picked up (What I Heard: May 2019 coming to soon!!!). 

I bought the book at one of my favorite records stores, which happens to be in the very town I called many years ago, the one where M--ah heck with it--Thurston and Kim lived. I'm sorry I never got to speak to them, but really, what would I have done if either had answered, "You know, I really did not receive excellent customer service, so I'm really glad you called."

After I bought the book and a few CDs we went out to dinner and I snapped this photo of a giant strawberry with crows' wings:

I should not exist

Daydream Nation has a song inspired by the works of William Gibson, the lucky guy. I don't think any of the books below have directly inspired any music--although there were like three or four songs released after Generation Dead with that same title--and there's a brilliant Bear McCreary soundtrack to the film I Still See You which is based on Break My Heart 1,000 Times but for the record to any musicians out there feel free to peruse anything below for song material.   HERE

"For the record"--see what I did there?

Saturday, June 1, 2019

QE Results for May and the Three Energies of Creative Production Theory

Feet firmly planted on Beale St.

In January I wrote a blog post entitled Queer Eye, My Daughter, and I where I related some of the experience and pleasure I had binge-watching the two season of the show with my daughter over the holiday break, and in doing so basically laid out a self-improvement (or self assessment, at least) plan for the year.  The plan involves taking an honest inventory of where am in life with regards to five categories, as I see them, as exemplified by the men on the Netflix show Queer Eye.  And so, an honest assessment on my performance for May in the five QE categories:

KARAMO: "Culture, Confidence, Put yourself out there". 4.5 stars. I wrote 200 pages, with more of a day to day, week to week balance than I had with April's photo finish. I did not write enough fiction, I am afraid, and blaming it on my two lengthy business trips would be a little disingenuous, although I have this "Three Energies" theory when it comes to creative production. In short, I believe there are three different types of energy you need to have to be able to successfully perform your chosen art:

Activation Energy: This is the energy required to generate a new idea and actually get started on bringing it to life--writing the first page, getting the first notes recorded, making some marks on the canvass. I have this in spades; I've got dozens of story ideas supported by outlines, notes, and the first twenty or so manuscript pages. They are stacked up in my mind and my hard drive like airplanes awaiting clearance for takeoff

Sustaining Energy: This is the energy required to just put your head down and keep working toward the finish line even when every page is more like slogging through a dismal swamp than it is like skipping through a lush garden as it often is during the activation energy phase. This is the form of creative energy, for myself, anyway, that is most likely to be drained away like your cellphone's charge when you are out of network and surfing the web by the vagaries of life. The bad day at work, the routine broken, the unpleasant news, the glance at a finished project so much better than your WIP--all can suck that spirit right out of you. My sustaining energy does take a hit when the non-writing work and travel amp up, but I've been at the game long enough to figure out ways to compensate for this.

Finishing Energy: This is the energy--some would say the moral fortitude--to actually finish off a project and pronounce it done (which isn't at all the same thing as being fully satisfied with the project; frankly that never happens). Getting through those last twenty pages, writing your last line, completing the draft, etc. I've got this one in spades, too--and I'm thankful for that, because I actually think this is the energy many creative people struggle with the most.

One of my trips brought me to Memphis, and I was overjoyed to have a night to myself which almost never happens for work trips. I made the most of it with a sunny stroll down Beale Street and visited a couple of my favorite haunts there.

Despite my dearth of sustaining energy writing-wise, I did get out quite a bit this month--I joined my friend and HWA Mentor award-winning JG Faherty in a beautiful part of New York on a torrentially rainy night for the Rockland Teen Library Association's book launch party for Scrawl, a student anthology that Greg and I helped edit. I got to give a speech and I gave every one of the students that had a story in Scrawl a free copy of Generation Dead. It was a fun night.

Two smooth guys. JG Faherty and I

Kim and I went to an opera at the Garde Arts Centre--Verdi's Don Carlo, our first. I loved the music; we were seated in the first row so I could see every draw of the bow on the strings. 

I also started going out to the movies weekly with my father...more on that in the upcoming What I Watched: May blog. I've eaten more popcorn in the past month than I have in the previous year, easily. And I like popcorn.

This came out. Translation: The Curse. There's no curses in the movie or the about a red herring! 

TAN: "Make an effort with your personal appearance". A raise to 3. I've been going out more and have gotten better at dressing accordingly; the concert t-shirts are now relegated mostly for lounge-around-the-house wear. I'm putting all of my new slimmer fitting clothes to actual use.

Me making an effort with my personal appearance at Tater Red's. I'm well aware I'm cenobite-esque, thank you very much

BOBBY: "Create and maintain a physical environment that promotes productivity, creativity and inner harmony". I'm keeping it at 3.5, mostly because of more work on the yard and a quick tidying of my home office. I also got the pool opened up--and the pool is huge in promoting "productivity, creativity, and inner harmony" but I'm having a little trouble getting the chemistry of it just right, which has never happened before.

ANTONI: "Make nutrition healthy and enjoyable, cook for others". 2.5 still. Kim and I hosted the family for a Memorial Day cookout and I made potato salad and manned the grill--rather pedestrian, just burgers and dogs but I will say they were cooked perfectly and according to taste. Stuck to my diet but wasn't irrationally rigid about it either.

JONATHAN: "Take care of yourself physically" Staying at a 4.  I ran 118.6 miles, making May my fifth consecutive +100 month, a feat I'm certain I've never done before in my life. In five months, I've eclipsed my totals for the entire years of 2018, 2016, 2015, 2013, and 2012. I started keeping track of such things in 2011, the year I set my personal best, and now only that and 2017 (I beat 2014 on the first day of June!) stand in my way for a new yearly record. 

Some lifting, but not as consistent as I'd like to be. But the results are starting to show...

 17.5 my high but with only one bump in one category. Progress is progress, though.

Reading/watching/listening posts will soon follow.

I combine reading and listening, and writing, in my novel Aural History, which you can find HERE, along with my other ghost/zombie/human/punk/metal/sporto novels below...