Thursday, December 31, 2015

Requiem for a mustache

I know I'm a couple of days late on Lemmy, but it seems like a decent way to top off the year's blogging. He and the Ramones had kind of a mutual admiration society going. I guess they can do some catching up now.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Final Songs: You

Album: Monster by R.E.M.
Let the sun beat through the clouds,
Let me kiss you on the mouth.
All my childhood toys with chew marks in your smile.
Let me hold your syrup close to mine.
Let me watch you, Hollywood and Vine.
And I want you like the movies, touch me now.
I love you crazy, just keep on.
I love you madly, just keep watch.
You wipe my lips,
You turn me on.
My attentions are turned to you.

Did I dream you were a tourist
in the Arizona sun?
I can see you there with luna moths
and watermelon gum.
I woke up in the sleeping bag,
With nowhere else to run.
You're standing in the bathroom
telling me its all in fun.
I love you crazy, just keep on.
I love you madly, just keep watch.
You wipe my lips,
You turn me on.
My attentions are turned to you.

I can whisper in your ear.
I can write a calendar year
I can wing around your Saturn smile, shout at the moon
I walked the tension wire line.
And I learned to disrespect the signs.
And I want you like a Pisces rising, even though
I love you crazy, just keep on.
I love you madly, just keep watch.
You wipe my lips,
You turn me on.
My attentions are turned to you.
To do this feature properly I feel requires me to make the actual recording available to the reader. The most straightforward way to do that is to embed video. In that, I'm limited to what's available on the major video sharing services. (Generally YouTube in this function, although if you're a regular reader you know I have nothing against Vimeo or Dailymotion.)

My general rule is that I prefer videos in name only, the music only accompanied by the album cover or another still image. At maximum, I'll take a video of the artist playing onstage or in the studio. Reason being I'm trying to get at the song's meaning here, both the lyrics within the song and the song itself within the context of the album and the artist's output. Elaborate visuals, from either an official or fan-made video, feel like an attempt to overrule me.

In this case I was faced with a Hobson's choice: use the video seen above or scrap the entry. Most of the other tracks on Monster have minimal videos posted online, but "You" is only represented by a fan video syncing the music to scenes from An American Tragedy, one of the Monty Clift films to get a shout-out from the Clash in "Right Profile." I almost did give up in disgust - at the complications to my own task, not the YouTuber's fine efforts - but on second thought figured I'd take a look to see what "paivalr" was thinking. The movie stars Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, one of the first Hollywood child stars to graduate to adult sex symbol, but not the last. And while I haven't seen the film, the scenes provided do match the loopy/obsessive romanticism/lust on display in the song, particularly its first verse.

Monster is often referred to as R.E.M.'s grunge album, sometimes called so with contempt, as if the boys were trend-hopping in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. But that's not quite accurate. It's a harder than usual album for them, showing a heavier than usual punk influence without necessarily sounding like punk rock. In essence it's the kind of album they might have made in the early eighties had they not been busy becoming R.E.M. It also falls in a tradition of rock albums that proudly bear the marks of the studio: muttered asides between musicians, erratic amp feedback. As with David Bowie's Scary Monsters and The Pixies' Surfer Rosa, you can practically see the dingy corridor where the engineer goes for a smoke break.

Much of the album does fit in with the alternative rock of the nineties, which is fair enough because the "alternative" genre, dodgy as it may be, was pretty much invented by R.E.M. Or rather they fell so obviously outside the lines of the classic rock/new wave dichotomy it was pretty much inevitable that if they caught on a new box would be made to put them in. Monster also calls back to eighties FM rock at several points.

"You" goes back a little further, though. It's more their adoption of early seventies hard rock songs, specifically Blue Oyster Cult. BOC are to some extent a simpatico source for R.E.M. Among pioneering hard rock/metal bands they were notable for being New York hipsters, a number of their songs co-written by Patti Smith. But the gusto with which R.E.M. grab onto the style here is surprising. The song evokes lava lamps to such an extent for me that I'm always shocked to find they're not mentioned in the lyrics. (I don't think there's an actual sitar here, but Peter Buck makes a game attempt at calling one up.)

The verses vary and broaden the lyrical focus. The first zeros in on physical passion ("Let me kiss you on the mouth") and the glamorous images associated with it. ("And I want you like the movies," okay, that's another point in favor of pulling Clift and Taylor into the frame.)

The second verse nods to dreams and then looks outward to physical surroundings. Some of the objects turned up seem incongruous in a love song, e.g. watermelon gum. Of course dreams are filled with incongruities as well.

In the third verse there's another glance at the lover before floating off into the ether. We hear of a trip around the planets, but when Stipe gets to Pisces he trails off and jumps into the final chorus. His suggestion that signs are there to be ignored is not the first time in the band's output that Michael Stipe has shown signs of being a gnostic.

After Monster, the original lineup of R.E.M. would get together for one more album, the rather more Arcadian New Adventures in Hi-Fi. It's an equally gripping work, but in a different mode. Between the two there was, perhaps, a little time to rest. "You" in particular sounds like they're running around, tuckering themselves out for the nap ahead.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Things to do

Will be busy with a few things this week. For one thing Christmas business goes on for me past December 25th, so there's some work to be done there.

Also, it looks like my last Final Songs entry was in November. That certainly will never do. It is, as some have pointed out to me, a little more time consuming that the old Friday Random Tens. Still, I have one planned for probably before the end of the year. It's just a matter of getting it down in pixels.

Friday, December 25, 2015


Earlier tonight I took a little stroll. We have two Chinese restaurants nearby. Well, more general interest Asian, but they serve Chinese dishes among other.Neither of them were open. Some other restaurants were, but not those.

It's not like there are no Jews in the neighborhood. There are, or at least a large population of maile hat enthusiasts.

In conclusion, life is weird.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Real good grass

I've listened to this song a few times now. It's unmistakably country, but also has some definite late sixties markers. (The big, echoing drum, for one.)

Also, there is no denying it. The idea of grass, such a humble plant, avenging evil just by growing appeals to me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Let's examine a popular emoticon.


By my count that's ten characters, which in itself isn't so hard. But they're punctuation marks that, in some cases, are kind of hard to find on a keyboard.

Kind of a lot of trouble to go through when you're communicating that you don't give a shit, but feel free, I guess.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Holiday hopes and dreams

"The Magic of Christmas" (U-Arts Stop Motion) from Robert Lyons on Vimeo.

Here's a good baseline for Christmas wishes. May your day be at least as good as this, maybe somewhat better. See? That's realistic.

Friday, December 18, 2015

I'm walkin' yes indeed and I'm talkin' 'bout you and me

David Robert Mitchell's It Follows is a horror movie. It's meant to be scary and it succeeds. Still, if there's such a thing as a typical horror movie this isn't it.

The film takes place in an affluent-looking suburb of the not-so-affluent Detroit. It's not stated outright but my guess would be Grosse Pointe.

Maika Monroe, who looks something like a younger Reese Witherspoon, plays Jay, a college student home for one on break. She meets a strong silent type who calls himself Hugh, is taken with him, and goes out on a date with the boy. When he starts acting strangely at the movies they go back to his car and have sex. She passes out - with a little help from Hugh and chloroform - and when she comes to he's tied her up. He explains that he's passed on something to her that will always be following her. This thing could look like anybody, and will strike without warning, so she always has to be on guard.

The fact that the central premise involves a venereal boogeyman is primarily interesting for the somewhat comical jockeying it provokes among the male characters. She can pass the curse along the same way she got it, and at least a couple of guys think "worth it!" But there's a dizzy paranoia here that never quite lets go.

Part of this has to do with the way It Follows is filmed. The camera is almost always moving and most shots are some distance from the characters, who frequently aren't onscreen when they're speaking. Take a drink every time you see a close-up of someone's face and you'll get a buzz going. Do the same in the average feature film and you'll die of alcohol poisoning. The cumulative effect is that the viewer is always searching people out and reassessing them, just like Jay has to.

Mitchell has a painter's eye. The look and the feel of the movie exemplify suburban surrealism. Not really in the David Lynch sense. Where Lynch's films tend to suggest a curdled 1950s, this suburb is more timeless. It's like Eric Fischl's paintings come to life.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hungry beak

Greetings. It rained all day and much of the night. That meant that all day it was wet, in a way you could feel when you went out and for a while when you got back in.

Which isn't necessarily bad. It got me thinking about water and how much life revolves around it. And this clip shows some of that. I believe the bird is a kingfisher, but am willing to listen to alternate characterizations.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dali's cookbook

I just learned of the existence of  Dali's cookbook a couple of days ago. It seems to be an odd thing. (Quelle surprise.) There seem to be two kinds of recipes in it, from the excerpts I've read. First, things that sound like they might be tasty but are so ridiculously high maintenance you probably won't put yourself through the trouble. Then there's the "You expect people to eat that?" class of recipe.

I get the feeling that there were many pranks embedded in Dali's life and work. This may be one of them, but who knows for sure?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Other Ones, a review

The following is a review I wrote some time ago for another site. This site was trying to get reviews/recommendations together for Hugo-eligible works. The idea was to have other works in mind to counter another Puppygate-style attempted takeover of the awards.

Well, it's been two months, about, since that site has put up any new reviews. My guess is that the project has been quietly aborted, perhaps because it might give the Sad/Rabid Puppies more attention. In any case, while I certainly don't want to see the Hugos fall into disrepute, I'm not sure it's my place to save them.

On the other hand, I do want to get word of this work out. It's a somewhat near-future post-disaster science fiction novel by Carola Dibbell, who's married to Robert Christgau and is an accomplished rock writer in her own right. Regardless of any awards it wins, loses, or isn't considered for, this is a book that deserves to be read. So here goes.

The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell
Eligible for Best Novel and available for purchase here

Motherhood is a difficult and thankless job. Sometimes it can be a rewarding one.

Children don’t appreciate the sacrifices their children make for them. On the other hand, parents often don’t even know what their kids are going through.

For all the lip service that is paid toward the importance of the family, actual families are left to fend for themselves in a world that doesn’t care about their survival.

Love is love, and doesn’t care if you approve of it.

These are all true statements, but to varying degrees they are guilt-inducing, anxious, or ground down into banality by thoughtless repetition. We don’t think about them most of the time. If we’re reading for pleasure—and I can testify that most of my own reading goes toward this goal—the plight of impoverished families, “traditional” and otherwise, isn’t the most likely candidate.

So the challenge is to make all these truths new, to make us approach them from a new angle. In The Only Ones, Carola Dibbell proves herself up to that challenge.

The story takes place in the back half of the twenty-first century. The young Inez Kissena Fardo, a product of some monstrously abusive foster homes, gets by through foraging ruins in Queens for things that might be valuable enough for resale. It’s hazardous work, and most who perform it don’t live long, because this not-too-distant future is ravaged by killer pandemics. The world is still reeling from The Big One, Mumbai, and lots of deadly little ones. 

Inez, known as “I.”, is a Sylvain hardy, immune to all the devastating new viruses, and to just about everything else as well. This is another source of income for her, selling hair, teeth, urine, whatever to people who hope to contract her immunity.

The staff of “the Farm,” a necessarily furtive fertility clinic, offers her a new way to make some money. Through Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), the content of her cell can be placed in an egg that’s been emptied of the egg-donor’s genetic information, thus making the product of the egg a copy of the somatic cell donor. The mother gets to be the mother of a child that’s someone else, but one who will be spilled from the world’s new viruses.

The mother, a headstrong and traumatized woman named Rini, backs out. The one surviving “viable” now belongs to I. Herein lies the heart of the novel.

Survivor Ani is a charming fictional creation, in herself but perhaps more importantly in what she brings out in I. It’s the new parent’s daily ritual of feeding the baby, keeping them out of harm’s way, and teaching them, but put in a new context. I has to play it cagy, to make a show of avoiding contamination because if it were found out that both she and Ani were immune it would raise too many questions. Also complicating things is the fact that the culture, to the extent there still is such a thing, regards clones as a sci-fi menace. Ani being in broad outlines a clone herself, this stirs emotional reactions in I. Ani develops into a pain in the ass as she nears adolescence, but this has to be seen in light of her not getting to know who she is as well.

Dibbell has lived in New York for quite some time, and The Only Ones is a very New York novel. Paradoxically so, as much of New York is gone and I has to remain in one kind of hiding or another. But the city is all over the rhythms of her speech, grammatically dodgy but somehow erudite.

There is much to embrace in The Only Ones. The way it makes the plague-ridden future tangible in just a few well-placed details. The characterization of Rauden Sachs, the hard drinking scientist who becomes an important part of I’s life, albeit definitely nothing like a husband or father. But its greatest achievement may be the pulpy thrill it brings to the story of a single mother trying to make ends meet.

Friday, December 11, 2015


This week I've been reading Samuel Delany's Nova. It cane a few years before Dhalgren, which I read a few years ago, and has a similar hero.

The story concerns a minstrel named "the Mouse" working aboard an interstellar ship helmed by Lorq Von Ray. Von Ray is sometimes called a pirate but in some ways seems more like a commercial sailor. He's in a turf war against a family called the Reds, which also involves him in an old love triangle where the other angles seem kind of incestuous.

The writing in all this is very information dense. I have a hard time picturing the reader who gets everything Delany is going for. Once you warm to it, though, the weirdness is engaging. There's a sequence where the other characters explain to the Mouse, who's a Gypsy and also the only Earth native on board, the elegant science behind Tarot reading. It feels like a descendant of Melville's bizarre cetology tangents in Moby Dick.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

You'll never gain weight from a doughnut hole

Look here and here for updates on a wacky Providence kerfuffle.

Okay, now here's my thing. If I'd been there at the time there's a good chance I would have told the young barista not to go there. We're all grownups here. No reason to assume that just because someone is on the police department they must have a problem with black people.

Except. Except. She made a rather unassuming, entirely unthreatening gesture of writing #blacklivesmatter on a coffee cup. Suddenly there's a push to get her fired? Led by a...colorful media personality with ties to the department. I mean, this must have gotten out somehow. Somebody chose to make it a vendetta.

So on the other hand, you can't really assume they don't have a problem with black people either.

Also, the "dancing cop" act may have been cute at first, but at some point these antics made traffic go slower than if there were no traffic at all, which could be annoying.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


As a friend and I were saying earlier this evening, it's not the biggest surprise in the world that Scott Weiland died relatively young. He's the one with the polka dot silk shirt. In fact he showed self-destructive tendencies far enough back so that his living and creating as long as he did counts as a kind of triumph, if only against himself.

Not a singer who always got a lot of respect, but I liked him.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thought up

Have I written about this before? I feel like I might have, but it's been so long I might as well go back to it. There's a webpage that randomly assigns Oblique Strategies a la Brian Eno. Since I often feel like my thought patterns could use a gentle shaker, this is a handy resource for me. Also the actual decks cost an arm and a leg due to rarity, so it's good in this case to have the basics available for free.

I may have been reminded of the Oblique Strategies by Chris O'Leary's awesome blog Pushing Ahead of the Dame, which has done a beyond encyclopedic job digging into all of David Bowie's songs and recordings. He's currently close to the "end" (scare-quoted because DB has another album coming out in January, so it's more like arriving at the present). Bowie worked with Eno on the Berlin trilogy and then Outside and similar randomizing elements were consulted. My creative needs aren't exactly the same, but you never know when you can apply something.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

It begins

For the first time this year I saw a pack of wild carolers. Wassailers, if you prefer. All togged up Victorian-like, too. The men in top hats and frock coats, the women wearing hoop skirts. Of course they had Christmas in the 1970s too. Maybe within 100 years we'll see Christmas Carolers in disco dresses and leisure suits.