Friday, January 31, 2003Ghosts of a Cornish Pasty
Last night I finally realized a long-standing culinary wish and whipped up a batch of Cornish pasties.
What's a Cornish pasty, you ask? Well, if you're vegetarian, you probably won't like them, since beef is a crucial ingredient. They've been making these little "workman's lunches" for centuries in Wales; the real thing is basically a large pastry turnover filled with minced beef, potato, turnip and onion, seasoned with salt and pepper - like a smaller, pocket-sized variation on Canadian tourtiere (which I've made lots of times). I've been fascinated with them for years but I've never actually eaten one, just read about them in old cookbooks and more recently in Neil Gaiman's American Gods, where the hero Shadow enjoys a preternaturally good Cornish pasty at a Wisconsin diner.
So finally, I got the gumption to grate my turnips and potatoes, mince my onions and beef and prepare a batch of homemade pastry. I took some liberties with the seasoning, nothing too extreme, just a bit of Lawry's Seasoned Salt(TM) instead of plain, and a dash of Worcestershire. They're a fair bit of work to prepare, but the smell that comes from the oven is simply out of this world...magnifique! Or perhaps, "jolly good!" There's something about the flavor of a really classic, ancient recipe that stirs up ghosts of the past...I think cooking is one of the easiest ways to stir up authentic sensory experiences from the past!
Speaking of ghosts, we're planning on attending a play this weekend at the historical Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock, Illinois. When I Googled it to get directions, I discovered the venue is also famous for being home to a well-known ghost! According to legend, a young starlet trying out for a part was rejected for the role, and was so crushed she jumped to her death from the roof of the opera house. To this day, "Elvira"'s restless spirit allegedly moves seats and makes disparaging sounds during performances...she apparently has a favorite seat in the house - DD 113 in the balcony.
Reading that, I checked our tickets to see where we'd be sitting. Oh, boy...we're in CC 108 and 109. Four seats over and one row up from the ghost's favorite seat! For more on, check out Chicago-vicinity haunted places.
Because you can't kill, rape and pillage without good strong bones, eh, droogs? Moloko is filled with calcium to strengthen those bony whites. I wouldn't be surprised if you could take a whack or ten from a baseball bat in yer rasoodoocks, chum!
For those boring weekends, wouldn't you love a project that's fun, easy, useful, and good for the environment? Why not build your own sawdust toilet for under $25! This one's from the Humanure Handbook, a handy guide for not letting waste go to waste. I had no idea that poo was so useful.
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
My latest guilty subway reading pleasure is the paperback version of Whitley Streiber's The Last Vampire, his sequel to the early 80's novel The Hunger, subsequently made into a cult vampire flick starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon and David Bowie. You probably know there's an entire "vampire" subculture akin to (and often more extreme than) the black-clad Goth movement of the past couple decades or so - the link between eroticism, hipness and vampirism goes back a long time, and Strieber's Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve's character in The Hunger) and certainly the undead sagas of Anne Rice did much to cement the current stereotype of the beautiful, rich, powerful vampire. To wit, we have Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and countless variations on the theme. Before, vampires were disgusting, monstrous and stanky, like Max Schreck's Nosferatu at worst - at best, they were creepy-looking east Europeans with bad accents. Now, they're richer, thinner, and sexier than we could ever be - and ten times faster and smarter, to boot.
When I read The Hunger years ago, I was haunted by the story of Miriam, an ethereal immortal being with the soul of an esthete and the birthright of an invincible predator. Her story weaved between 1980's Sutton Place in Manhattan and ancient times in Egypt, Rome, the Carpathians and the Renaissance; a wrenching, poetic, and almost Lovecraftian lament. Because the original was so good, The Last Vampire's faults are all the more glaring. I have to say I think Strieber is a notoriously inconsistent writer; his best works, like Nature's End, WarDay (both coauthored with James Kunetka), The Forbidden Zone and Billy are all well-crafted, memorable and profoundly disturbing. But then, aren't only the mediocre always at their best? However, with the controversy surrounding the publication of his Communion, that detailed his experiences as an alien abductee, Strieber's literary star was rather painted with the "crackpot" brush - either you were a "true believer" or you though he was a couple pages short of a chapter. I respect him as a writer with some unique and unusual viewpoints, but whether he was or wasn't abducted really doesn't matter.
Sad to say, The Last Vampire reads mainly like a fan-fiction riff on The Hunger, rather than a genuine sequel: there's so much broken continuity from the original that you have to ask "what the hell happened?" Miriam is painted very differently; she is a panicked, impulsive and addiction-prone creature, and the main story revolves around Miriam's biological clock, as females of her species get only four "breedings" (estrus cycles?) in their near-immortal lives - and she's on the make for a mate. Here's the big problem - which many other readers have pointed out - in The Hunger, Miriam was the last of her kind, the "Keepers", but in this sequel there are apparently many others like her in conclaves around the world, like Asia and Paris. Fine and well if this was the first installment of the story - but a major structural problem for a sequel.
To make matters worse, there's little of the lyrical quality Strieber gave Miriam's recollection of her life in ancient times; everything seems geared to visual action sequences, with lots of slapstick thrown in. Why, you'd think Strieber was writing a first draft of a screenplay.
Centering the story around Miriam's desperation to breed makes her a little too ordinary and vulnerable for the premise of "immortal vampires" to work neatly; she never had to resort to some of the half-baked schemes (like posing as a prostitute to make a kill) we read about here. One other big continuity buster - Miriam was always immaculately fashionable in The Hunger, wearing the latest Chanels and keeping up with human trends to blend in properly. So why on earth is she portrayed as being decades out of fashion and speaking in archaic language (one unlucky Parisian sap laughs at her Voltaire-era lingo) in this book? She even owns Manhattan's most fashionable underground nightclub, "The Veils", for Pete's sake!
Ok, ok, maybe I should chalk it up to "artistic license". I'm no professional, but I can go through the book with a pencil and scratch out entire paragraphs that add nothing but dead weight - and I'd hate to think I know better than the author. But I really think this would have been a much better book if about one third was chucked at the editor's desk - but it would have been a far thinner book.
Ahem. Flip to the back cover. "....[the novel] has been optioned as a motion picture." If this gets made into a movie, it'll probably look like Blade. Yecch. I'm tempted to scream "sellout!!!" - but I keep on reading, because it's a more-than-adequate, page-turner and it helps me ignore the ruckus on the train ride home. It's when I run into some of The Last Vampire's disappointingly potboiled dialogue that I remember I'm eating canned, not fresh.
Oh, Whitley, you've done such marvelous work in the past! Why this? You can do so much better.
By the way, if you're interested in the "unexplained", UFO's, conspiracy theories and similar "edge" subjects Whitley Strieber and wife Anne (executive editor) host a website, Unknown Country, and an associated web-radio show Dreamland (on Live365). Worth checking out. Another (non-affiliated with the Striebers) site worth a visit is Beyond Communion.
addendum, February 4th, 2003 I'm almost finished reading The Last Vampire, and I still agree with what I wrote about it. But - I think it could be made into a decent movie. Maybe if I have lotsa spare time I'll (for my own edification) hammer out an outline for the screenplay, since that's sort of been a longtime secret ambition of mine. It's all in the dialogue, like they say: and they shouldn't say too much.
Who would I cast in the movie? Let's see...as Miriam Blaylock, I think Laurie Holden (she played Marita Covarrubias on the X-Files) would be simply smashing. As Sarah, how about Sandra Bullock or Julianne Moore? Leonore Patterson...let's see, maybe Natalie Portman (but her star's probably too big as this point...maybe would have to be some appropriate unknown). For Paul Ward, I was thinking somebody like Harry Hamlin; it would be a sort of a Rutger Hauer-ish part, but I think he's a bit too Aryan. This could be turned into a fairly classy vampire flick in the right hands, I think.
addendum, February 6th, 2003 Good heavens, I've just finished reading the book...and I can't remember the last time I've wanted to take a paperback and throw it against the wall!! What a frustrating piece of purple prose that was. The last few chapters were so utterly overblown with pulp I couldn't tell if I was going to laugh or yark. Feh!
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Daily demands got you down and you can't seem to get your nightly allotment of sleep? A recent medical study [CNN, January 28th 2003] shows that for women, getting significantly less than eight hours of sleep a night is associated with a one-third increase in risk of developing heart disease. Early results seem to show the same applied for male test subjects. But another surprising discovery: sleeping more than eight hours (9 or more) per night also increases your risk of heart disease by nearly an equal emount.
According to Dr. Najib Ayas, a sleep disorders specialist who was at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston during the study, "people should start thinking of adequate sleep not as a luxury but more as a component of a healthy lifestyle." What about dreaming? Isn't that a healthy part of the daily sleep cycle too? I think we're at risk of worse than heart disease when we don't make conditions conducive to dreaming. I don't necessarily mean dreaming as in hopes and goals, but the real REM-sleep stuff; somehow a night without dreams is an unfinished night.
[Note: this column originally appeared in Unzen Koans on September 11th, 2002.]
Is it possible that 365 days have come and gone? It seems like that fateful morning happened just yesterday. As I look around me almost every superficial detail of life appears the same as before, but underneath, something has been profoundly altered.
As a small child in the early 1970’s, I would often get a chuckle when adults would reminisce about where they were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, or when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I had no clue what it was like to remember such a watershed event in retrospect; I thought the biggest event that had happened in my lifetime was the breakup of the Beatles. It’s now a faded memory from a Manhattan hotel room, a grainy black-and-white television picture seen from knee-high. Video footage of the Beatles’ final performance in the spring of 1970 will remain the first major media ‘tragedy’ imprinted in my mind.
Isn’t it strange how political upheavals have little importance in a child’s mind? I barely remember anything on TV from Watergate, and I’m ashamed to say I barely recall John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of then-President Ronald Reagan in 1981 although I was 13 at the time. There must have been more pressing insular matters at hand, like anxieties over school and the latest hit music. So, my biggest memories of the 70s and 80s are the Beatles’ demise, the Nixon-Ford era recession (although I did not know what recession meant at the time; I just knew our family suddenly didn’t have much money), the first gasoline crisis, the US Bicentennial, the other gas crisis and the ‘Disco Sucks’ era (propitiously well-timed), and the final loss of Reagan era innocence – the assassination of John Lennon.
This first anniversary of September 11th makes me stop to take pause, to think. I have had the luxury of having mainly the small vicissitudes of a human life touch my experience, and many in a vicarious way at that. I am part of the TV Generation, who watched the world happen through a glowing glass window. I believe I was born into a good time, and in a good place. So many others like myself are truly lucky in that way, and for that I am grateful.
So, what do I fear?
I mostly fear the pedestrian daily fears of the middle-class. I fear being in a car or train accident. Not having a job. Falling ill to an unknown sickness, or having a loved do so. I fear accidentally being the wrong place at the wrong time and falling victim to a random crime. I try not to fear for things I have no control over, like being crushed by steel scaffolding plunging dozens of stories from a skyscraper while I pass beneath; but these things do happen sometimes. Even in my town. Look at the words: so much about fear is about falling. At 9:00am on September 11th of 2001, those same everyday thoughts of fear might have crossed the minds of people inside the World Trade Center, as well as everyone else across the country.
As we were driving south on Lake Shore Drive the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, all was normal except for a strange, low-grade sense of anxiety and foreboding. Nothing had knowingly happened to cause the feeling, we just acknowledged it and continued sipping our Starbucks™ coffees and watching the bumpers ahead in busy morning commuter traffic. The first signal that something was wrong that day was when we heard the squeal of braking tires, and crashes in quick succession off to our right: three cars had rear-ended each other like falling dominoes. The time was about 8:30am Central time, 9:30am on the East Coast.
Had we been listening to the radio at the time, we might have heard the first news reports of a plane crashing into the WTC. After being dropped off, my partner tuned in Mancow Muller’s Chicago morning radio show and heard some talk of the World Trade Center being hit by a plane. If you’re not familiar with that show, let’s just say it’s the type of ‘morning zoo’ where this kind of story just might fly as an elaborate War-of-the-Worlds-like hoax – so it’s not surprising that Mancow’s co-hosts (and probably most people tuning in) thought he was pulling their legs. It wasn’t until I walked into the office at the University of Chicago that a co-worker broke the news. “Have you heard? A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.” At first, we all assumed the crash was accidental, “it had to happen someday”, “law of averages”, and all that. I turned on the small boom-box radio on my desk, and tried to tune in the classical station - but everywhere only the unimaginable breaking news.
A second plane had struck, so this was no accident.
Minutes later, breathless announcers reported that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Then the plane crash in Pennsylvania. I had never heard such a combination of intense excitement, horror and genuine anxiety in a newsperson’s voice as I did that day. This was an intentional, multi-pronged attack - far bigger that the Oklahoma bombing - and it was working its way westward. Suddenly, it dawned on me that the Sears Tower was only a few miles away, and a moment of panic struck me as I realized I could shortly be in the middle of a nightmarish urban war zone.
Basic survival kicked in while I worked and listened to the blow-by-blow on the radio, as the twin towers fell: it was quite unreal. Or, at least it felt unreal because I had never been in the time/space of such a disaster – descriptions of the jumpers falling to their deaths by ones and twos, holding hands for the oh-so-brief rest of their lives. But the sounds and images that probably affected me the most from 9/11 were the reports of how people trapped in the burning towers and in the doomed planes managed to get a final message across to loved ones before dying. If you are still not convinced that technologies like the cellular phone or instant messaging have drastically changed our world, consider that never before in history could ‘last words’ have been communicated over great distances with such immediacy. I can’t imagine either the agony of speaking to a loved one knowing I only had minutes to live – or of being on the receiving end impotently hearing last words through the ether, incapable of doing anything at all.
My partner and I were in communication every few minutes on the cell phone to keep track of our whereabouts, since phone service was cut off to most parts of the city. We were lucky; we did not personally know anyone who died in the disaster. Not so my partner’s cousin who lives in northern New Jersey, for whom 9/11 was an entirely different and much more personal matter. She works at a large insurance firm in Metropark-Iselin, NJ, and the burning towers and plume of debris from the WTC site were not images on television or descriptions on the radio, but rather a very real scene visible from her office window. She told us how everyone on the floor piled up to the windows to watch the fire and destruction in real time, while it simulcast on television, internet and radio in the myriad cubicles. Because of her line of work, she knew dozens - perhaps hundreds – of the dead.
No, I don’t spend every waking moment with a new fear of a terrorist attack; that’s more of a peripheral thought process, awakened by looking at news on the web, in magazines and in the papers, or on TV. Perhaps that’s why that except for playing DVD’s and videos, the tube just never comes on in our house. We don’t watch TV any more. We did not make any declaration or vow to not to watch television, it just sort of happened over time. Maybe because there’s just too much bad news out there to have it Technicolor-force-fed to us at the end of the workday.
Was the World Trade Center attack a ‘disaster’? After 9/11 my personal definition of the word has changed. Consider that the ancient root of the word ‘disaster’ means ‘ill-starred’, or ill fated. Things like floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions and cancer are ‘disasters’, but the attack on 9/11 was no disaster in the sense that it was no accident, no act of God or Nature, no force majeure.
It was an outrage. A crime. Plain and simple mass murder. We have now tasted some the horror that London, Paris, Hiroshima and Warsaw once felt; that Kosovo, the West Bank and Jerusalem feel today – some of us through the glowing glass window, some of us have touched it with our bare hands and seen it with our own eyes. The rest of the world’s troubles had arrived at our shores; not merely like a bullet or missile, but from within, like a cancer.
Life goes on. We live, work, travel and play as always; but now, there is a shadow under the door – and I want to take time to look at the sun, the moon and the stars even more.
Saturday, January 25, 2003
[Note: this column originally appeared in Unzen Koans on April 16th, 2002. Since I'm sitting at my keyboard freezing my knuckles, I thought you might enjoy this flashback to a warmer day. - LR]
After nearly a three-week hiatus from UnZen Koans, I am once again moved to clack the keys. Perhaps it’s the record-breaking heat spell in Chicago (temps reached 88 Fahrenheit yesterday, and are expected to top 90 this afternoon) but the circulation seems to have finally returned to my lateral absurdity lobe. That, and I just finished doing my first Illinois state tax forms yesterday.
This onslaught of July weather has created a bizarre phenomenon (we’re not talking Speedo-ed Rollerbladers and roof surfers) – bare grey trees and bald lawns with burgeoning daffodil beds in the sweltering heat. It’s just not natural, I tell you. Personally, I blame this meteorological shotgun wedding on the Britney Spears/Justine Timberlake breakup. Freudian slip…I meant to write Justin Timberlake. Same difference. It can’t just be El Niño’s doing.
I. Mango Tango
Along with daffodils growing at a shocking rate, paleteria vendors on bicycle-driven carts are popping up all over Chicago’s streets, jingling their handlebar bells to announce the arrival of 25 (or more) different fruit flavors of Spanish popsicle. If frozen juice isn’t your speed, how about elotes (corn-on-the-cob-on-a-stick, seasoned with hot sauce, butter, lemon and/or mayonnaise), mangoes-on-a-stick (a handy way to eat this messy fruit, but you get all those stringy fibers stuck in your teeth), cucumbers, and plastic bags of crunchy chicharrones – fried pork rinds stamped into 6-sectioned circular shapes, like wagon wheel pasta; their carnivorous nature cleverly disguised. I’ll save my discussion of Chicago as the ‘Meat City’ for another column.
II. Mambo Sun
Now, before hitting the road, what better way to celebrate midsummer’s sudden arrival than an early-morning rifle through the old cassette box for some ancient tunes on tape? Something nostalgic to accompany the 45-minute morning crawl down Lake Shore Drive in the blazing sunshine. But what if 10-15 years of storage has reduced my collection to scabrous spools of peeling oxide, gooped up by putrescent foam-rubber pressure pads?
Fortunately, those dozens of dusty used (and homemade tapes) seemed not too much the worse for wear, and a peek at the faded spines brought back a flood of memories. Today’s menu is:
- The Bongos, Drums Along The Hudson
- Billy Joel, Glass Houses
- Rough Trade, For Those Who Think Young
- The Clash, Combat Rock
- Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll
- Steely Dan, Gaucho
- Styx, Caught In The Act
Drums Along The Hudson is popped into the tape deck first. The Bongos were an obscure mop-top New Wave/punk band from Hoboken led by squirrel-voiced Richard Barone (whose atmospheric guitar work on later solo albums like Cool Blue Halo, Primal Dream and Clouds Over Eden epitomized pre-Chris Isaak neo-twang Pop); their 1982 effort has the goofy feel of 60’s “low-f-IQ” offerings like “G-L-O-R-I-A” and the intoxicated harmonizing of Spanky and Our Gang. The almost reductionist simplicity of cuts like “Three Wise Men”, “Video Eyes”, “Clay Midgets” and “Glow In The Dark” recalls the bouncy mindlessness of flocked-plastic dashboard creatures with spring-mounted heads. Bing, boing, bonk. Twing, twang, twonk. This isn’t the Eighties of skinny ties, beatle boots and the Mullet: this is pure, beer-drunk Jersey garage-band pop at its black tee-shirted, ripped-jeans best. My wacked tape head azimuth doesn’t even matter…“Let’s glow in the dark tonight, yeah yeah!” Not too hard if you’ve lived in New Jersey all your life. (press eject now)
III. Unpretty Sights
In the early Eighties, just about everyone owned a copy of Billy Joel’s Glass Houses - including Garth Brooks, who recorded a surprisingly close cover of “You May Be Right” (which has since grown to be a live audience favorite); in the stark light of this technologically advanced 21st century, the song sounds almost more Country than Garth’s version. What up wit dat? Ever notice how many “dirty” songs slipped through the mental cracks when you were an “innocent” kid? Like the Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight”? Or “Sometimes a Fantasy”? I hadn’t heard the song in at least 15 years, and I remembered I had no clue when I was 10 that it frankly discussed phone-whoopie. Not that that’s any big deal today, but I’m sure it could be adopted by some charitable agency as the Safer Sex Theme Song. Joel pants and vocally gyrates like Elvis on Viagra. No doubt it would have hastened the King’s demise had the blue pills been on the market back then, but he might have had a more dignified final pose. But do try to think of him (Joel, that is) in his early thirties when you listen to the song. Thinking of his current Orson Welles look, ringing Christie on the hands-free just doesn’t appeal, capische? Billy Joel is still alive, isn’t he? Tonight: the drive home with the Clash’s pasty-white-boy reggae classic Combat Rock – “Rock the Casbah” was never more urgent than today. Colin Powell, take heed.
IV. Let It Whip
On the other hand, there’s nothing coy about Rough Trade’s For Those Who Think Young, also from ’82 (on Boardwalk Records, whose biggest offering to date was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ I Love Rock N’ Roll). Toronto’s Carole Pope and Kevan Staples made Rough Trade a Grand Guignol spectacle of sophisticated, S&M-flavored debauchery - at least in Ontario. I probably would never have heard of the band had I not been living just south of Montreal, in its northern-New York suburb of Plattsburgh, NY. Carole is perhaps now best known as the author of “Anti-Diva”, a tell-all autobiography that names names, more names…and then some more names, including British pop legend Dusty Springfield, whom Pope was involved with at the time. How involved? I don’t know, I haven’t read the book. My favorite radio stations were CHEZ 106 FM and CHOM 97.7 FM; formerly ‘modern rock’ and classic rock respectively, at various times the two have played “Format Swapping”.
V. Quebec Shoe Smugglers
Fifteen to twenty years ago, on Any Given Sunday, thousands of Quebecois hit the road - not for ball games, but for Sabbath-Day shopping deals south of the Border – that was, back when the Canadian dollar was roughly equivalent to the Yankee sawbuck. We New Yorkers had the cheap groceries and clothes, the Canadians had culture by way of restaurants, concerts, and haute couture. When ‘blue laws’ kept establishments shut down Sundays in Canada, Plattsburgh mall parking lots were often littered with old shoes and outerwear, cast off by scofflaws to avoid paying duty at Customs. Too bad you can’t wear a case of wieners and laundry detergent. It worked. It was a system, a fair trade of sorts, sometimes rough? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Somebody turn on the air conditioner, already!
Thursday, January 23, 2003
"I Can't Believe You Made It!"
If you lived as a child in the 50's, 60's or 70's:
- Looking back, it's hard to believe that we have lived as long as we have... As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
- Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was always a special treat.
- Our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paint.
- We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors, or cabinets, and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets. (Not to mention hitchhiking to town as a young kid!)
- We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. Horrors.
- We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then rode down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times we learned to solve the problem.
- We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. No cell phones. Unthinkable.
- We played dodgeball and sometimes the ball would really hurt. We got cut and broke bones and broke teeth, and there were no law suits from these accidents. They were accidents. No one was to blame, but us. Remember accidents?
- We had fights and punched each other and got black and blue and learned to get over it.
- We ate cupcakes, bread and butter, and drank sugar soda but we were never overweight.........we were always outside playing.
- We shared one grape soda with four friends, from one bottle and no one died from this.
- We did not have Playstations, Nintendo 64, X Boxes, video games at all, 99 channels on cable, video tape movies, surround sound, personal cell phones, Personal Computers, Internet chat rooms ...
- We had friends. We went outside and found them. We rode bikes or walked to a friend's home and knocked on the door, or rung the bell or just walked in and talked to them. Imagine such a thing. Without asking a parent! By ourselves! Out there in the cold cruel world! Without a guardian. How did we do it?
- We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and ate worms and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes, nor did the worms live inside us forever.
- Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't, had to learn to deal with disappointment.....
- Some students weren't as smart as others so they failed a grade and were held back to repeat the same grade.....Horrors. Tests were not adjusted for any reason.
- Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected. No one to hide behind. The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke a law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law, imagine that!
- This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers and problem solvers and inventors, ever. The past 50 years has been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.
- We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all. And you're one of them.
Please pass this on to others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before lawyers and government regulated our lives, for our own good.
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
"Drums Along The Hudson" is popped into the tape deck first. The Bongos were an obscure mop-top New Wave/punk band from Hoboken led by squirrel-voiced Richard Barone (whose atmospheric guitar work on later solo albums like Cool Blue Halo, Primal Dream and Clouds Over Eden epitomized pre-Chris Isaak neo-twang Pop); their 1982 effort has the goofy feel of 60’s “low-f-IQ” offerings like “G-L-O-R-I-A” and the intoxicated harmonizing of Spanky and Our Gang. The almost reductionist simplicity of cuts like “Three Wise Men”, “Video Eyes”, “Clay Midgets” and “Glow In The Dark” recalls the bouncy mindlessness of flocked-plastic dashboard creatures with spring-mounted heads. Bing, boing, bonk. Twing, twang, twonk. This isn’t the Eighties of skinny ties, beatle boots and the Mullet: this is pure, beer-drunk Jersey garage-band pop at its black tee-shirted, ripped-jeans best. My wacked tape head azimuth doesn’t even matter…“Let’s glow in the dark tonight, yeah yeah!” Not too hard if you’ve lived in New Jersey all your life.
Before you get the wrong idea, I loved the record - but Lester Bangs I ain't, by any stretch of the imagination.
Richard had just dropped a note to say he'd gotten a smile out of that column. He even signed, "squirrellingly yours, " Now that's a true mensch for you! Mr. Barone, if you are reading this, thank you - and greeting from Chicago!
If you'd like to find a copy of Drums Along The Hudson, I believe it's out of print in the US, but available as an import (or used).
Other Richard Barone work you might like to check out includes:
- cool blue halo
- Primal Dream
- Clouds Over Eden
His full discography is available on www.richardbarone.com, and a cross-referenced discography can be viewed on AllMusicGuide.
Monday, January 20, 2003
We're constantly complaining these days about how "Big Business" and the Government are taking away our privacy. Yet, with the ready availability of personal websites on the Internet (e.g., blogs) we will gladly volunteer the most intimate information about ourselves conceivable - to potentially millions of anonymous readers. Why? Are we just naturally exhibitionist, or does it matter that we're volunteering to share the information?
I'm getting verklemmt. Discuss amongst yourselves.
If you read or maintain a blog, you already know how powerful this new medium of communication can be...AlterNet has an interesting take on the blogging phenomenon: "Gone to the Blogs."
This CNN article caught my imagination: medical researchers in Madrid, Spain are translating portions of the human genome into music. Quoting this morning's article:
...The end product is "Genoma Music," a 10-tune CD due out in February. "It's a way to bring science and music closer together," said Dr. Aurora Sanchez Sousa, a piano-playing microbiologist who specializes in fungi. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is composed of long strings of molecules called nucleotides, which are distinguished by which of four nitrogen-containing bases they contain: adenine, guanine, thymine or cytosine, represented as A, G, T and C. These became the musical notes.
French-born composer Richard Krull turned DNA sequences -- a snippet of a gene might look like AGCGTATACGAGT -- into sheet music. He arbitrarily assigned tones of the eight-note, do-re-mi scale to each letter. Thymine became re, for instance. Guanine is so, adenine la and cytosine do. In general, the genome music is an easy-listening sound that is vaguely New Age. One of the prettiest songs is based on Connexin 26, a human gene that causes deafness when it mutates. Another song draws on a yeast gene known as SLT2.
Sanchez Sousa, the main author of the project, is fond of the sequence because it features a stretch in which one triplet of nitrogen bases appears several times in rapid succession -- a repetitive phenomenon that has a musical equivalent called obstinato. She declined to discuss marketing plans for the CD. She said she's circulated it only among academics so far, and psychologists in particular find it relaxing. Her team's plans for future music include having the hospital choir sing a vocal piece based on DNA from a bacteria.
Seeking music in nature goes way back. In the 6th century B.C., the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras argued that celestial bodies in rotation gave off pitched sounds that blended into a beautiful harmony he called "the music of the spheres." The idea is that matter and its behavior -- wheat fields shimmering and tongues of fire dancing -- may hold something intrinsic that can be transformed into music, said Dr. Fernando Baquero, head of microbiology at Ramon y Cajal Hospital. Maybe that's why people like music: It's already inside them anyway, so hearing it touches a piece of them, Baquero said."
So perhaps, by extension, in some strange way, we're genetically attuned to respond to certain types of music; I've always thought that the near-universal human love of a strong beat comes from the primal impact of the heartbeat, the rhythms of breathing and walking, for example. Every culture has drums: drums of meeting, talking drums, drums of war.
Friday, January 17, 2003
The weekend is here at last, thank goodness.
Does anyone ever play that song by the Easybeats any more? Or the David Bowie version? Pity.
Tonight, seeing The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers for the second time - and hopefully, in better seats than the first. I'm still massaging my neck over sitting in the first 3 rows, and watching Orcs fly like tennis balls across the screen. Now, that's a movie well worth the price of admission - it's rare these days to find a film that'll make jaded cyber-weary adults grin like kindergarteners! If the current crop of celluloid dross is any indication, January is the worst month ever if you're looking for a tantalizing new release; better to re-watch a good one on the big screen while it's still showing.
And skip the popcorn. Limp, oily movie popcorn has got to be the world's biggest scam - the corn and oil must cost no more than a few pennies per serving, yet they're charging upward of 5 dollars for a bucket of the stuff. Madness! Let's all boycott the cinema popcorm barons, and smuggle bags of (much tastier and cheaper) microwave popcorn into the theaters. That'll show 'em. Of course, the only way they probably make their profits these days is on exorbitantly-overpriced concessions. They should spare us the misery and just put donation boxes outside the theater.
Kangaroo Jack, anyone? That movie will definitely revitalize Jerry O'Connell's career as a thesp. Not.
Okay, enough b*tching for now. Have a delightful weekend, and don't forget to clean your chimneys.
Thursday, January 16, 2003
Just when you think the news around the world can't get any stranger: 'smelly fruit triggers airline alert in Sydney, Australia (CNN 1/16/03)' Apparently, someone noticed a strange odor coming from the plane's luggage compartment on a Virgin Blue flight to Brisbane. All alarmed airline security found was an exotic Asian fruit called a durian in someone's luggage, covered with a white powder that turned out to be carpet deodorizer: not enough to mute the stench of a delicacy that's said to "taste like heaven, smell like hell."
Virgin Airlines spokesman Brett Godfrey denied the airline overreacted. "I don't think in this climate we can be overzealous," he told reporters in Sydney. He added that passenger security was not the only thing at stake. "This wasn't a safety issue, this was a 'gross' issue -- no one wants to fly in an airplane that smells like that," he said. He compared the smell of the gourmet fruit to "something you'd find in your outdoor dunny [toilet]" adding that "it just is the most pungent, disgusting smell. I actually walked out onto the tarmac and I could smell it from 50 feet away, it's not pretty," he said.
I've seen durians at the local Asian grocery occasionally, but I don't know that they smell all that bad. They ain't lilies-of-the-valley, but compared to open buckets of fermented fish paste the smell is nothing. Perhaps they're dipped in something like wax or shellac to cut down on the fruit-funk. I mean, they have to get here somehow, how do they get them into the country ?
"Scotty, those durians we requested are in the transporter room. Beam them down when ready"
"By Georrge, Captain! They smell like a Klingon outhouse on a hot summerrs day!"
I mean, if you can sell limburger, why not durians? Then there's the question of why nature gave durians such a potent aroma. Perhaps...so hungry creatures like us might stay away for them? Humans, we just can't take a hint. We'll eat limburger, garlic, spoiled fruit juice and fermented wet bread (how do you think we invented wine and beer?) - so, it's no surprise we'll eat a stinker that airline security guards can smell from 50 feet away.
The Smithsonian archives have an interesting little picture: in Singapore, durians are banned in the subway. Next time they're in season, I should buy one at the Asian grocery. They're not cheap, at about $1.99/lb. for the average 10-pound fresh durian. The less-ambitious can purchase frozen durian pulp or durian ice cream in one-pint tubs, or durian-flavored candy from the Philippines.
I should try taking one on the subway here in Chicago on a hot summer's day. It'll guarantee I get a seat - if not the whole train car - to myself.
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
And let me tell you, you haven't truly lived until you've helped prepare a grant proposal for the National Science Foundation.
Take an itemized 1040 form, a legal document and a scientific manuscript, roll them into one, add over 100 pages of regulations on submitting the proposal - prepared by our government, of course - and you have a recipe for utter ridiculous chaos. To protect the innocent, we won't mention any names.
The rules for submitting a proposal like this are very straightforward - the content must be no longer that 15 pages, margins must be precisely 2.5cm all around the page, the font must be sans serif 11-point, and there must be no more that 15 characters per horizontal linear inch of text. Sound simple? Not on your life, when you have a 100-page document on the NSF's website describing in painful detail how the document must be prepared. For example, what if your PDF software shrinks the page just a teensy little bit out of whack?
No dice. These submission requirements are the nerd equivalent of the rock-star rider: no brown M&M's in the dressing room bowl.
I've been working on this project for about a month now, and today is the absolute deadline to submit the proposals to the NSF. Today, January 15th at 5:00pm Eastern time is the cutoff. It's now 3:42pm Central time - 4:42pm in Washington DC - and we just submitted it with 18 minutes to spare. Did I mention that millions of dollars of international research money is riding on the outcome of this proposal? No, no pressure here.
Finito. I need a cup of coffee and a whack on the head.
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Something troubles me about the media coverage surrounding Who founder and lead guitarist Pete Townshend's recent arrest (and subsequent release) on charges of allegedly possessing child pornography. Because the whole issue of child porn and childhood sexual abuse is so emotionally charged, virtually any discussion rapidly polarizes into a shouting/finger-pointing match, with one side screaming "perverts!" and the other yelling "witch-hunters!" After all, Pete could be a pervert. It's been the case with some of the most unlikely - and otherwise likeable - people.
Pete could also be innocent.
Townshend claims the whole issue is a misunderstanding; that he'd only visited a website advertising child porn once, and only for the purpose of research for his upcoming autobiography. You see, Pete was also reportedly a victim of child sexual abuse as a boy.
I have no way of knowing whether he is guilty as charged, or not; and certainly only time and investigation will tell. I certainly don't condone child porn or sexual abuse in any way; I believe it's an awful crime that keeps on hurting long after the act has been committed. While stolen valuables can be replaced and most physical wounds eventually heal, the damage done by childhood sexual abuse can continue for a lifetime and beyond, because many abuse victims become abusers themselves. Lost innocence can never be returned.
That being said, I am troubled by the tone of the media's coverage of the Townshend case - he was arrested, questioned, and released - and it seems the decency of being considered innocent until proven guilty doesn't apply here. His arrest may make for great headlines, even more so than the child-porn-possession arrest of fellow UK rocker Gary Glitter a few years ago. But still, news people should exercise some restraint until there's concrete evidence someone's committed the crime they are accused of, especially on so hot-trigger an issue.
Confounding things further, there is a tremendously fuzzy range of what defines "child porn": on one extreme, there are explicit images of a blatantly sexual content, on the other, there are cases of parents being arrested for having taken ordinary photos of their naked toddler in the bathtub. The extent of legal ire has become unbelieveable, as can be seen in this 1/14/03 CNN news story: in the UK, for even "clicking on a web site containing indecent images of children under 16" - once, you could get 5 years in the hoosegow. Have one of those indecent images on your own website, and you've just won 10 years of bread and water at the Graybar Hotel.
New York's Village Voice has an excellent, insightful piece on "forbidden images" and the new "witch-hunting" in Richard Goldstein's 'Persecuting Pee-Wee'. Another article worth reading on the subject appeared in Wired magazine.
And more from the wacky world of Big Brother, London's Observer reported in November that the British government is exploring whether to require convicted pedophiles to receive microchip implants that would allow them to be tracked by satellite after their release from prison. The government would know not only whether pedophiles visited schools or parks but, based on a proposal by one company whose software monitors astronauts' bodily functions in space, whether the pedophiles are feeling nervous or excited (but so far, sexual arousal cannot be tracked by the software). [The Observer, 11-17-02]
Here's the problem. In many of these news stories, I'm not even seeing that magical cover-your-ass word: allegedly. Because once the hubbub and furor is over, if Pete isn't guilty, he'll still have the tag of "alleged child-porn viewer" on his head for the rest of his life. Those same words still apply:
Lost innocence - in the legal sense - can also never be returned. Something to think about, Mr.-and-Ms.-If-It-Bleeds-It-Leads.
Monday, January 13, 2003
Oh, bosh. Just get me a cup of coffee to shut me up.
Saw a few movies this weekend in the theater; Catch Me If You Can and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Also rented Frailty and Neon Genesis Evangelion:Death/Rebirth and the End of Evangelion (which, if you're unfamiliar with the titles, is a Japanese anime series), all of which I'll try to review for you shortly on Reeling It All In, the movieblog.
Both Catch Me If You Can and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets were good clean fun. Frailty (directed by and starring Bill Paxton, with Matthew McConaughey and Powers Boothe) was a surprise movie pleasure: a delusional rural single father begins an axe-murder spree, killing people he believes to be "demons" named on lists he receives through "divine visions", involving his two young sons in the process. The film develops a disturbing sense of emotional tension, being rather oddly warm and folksy for an axe-murderer flick; far less gory and much more disturbing than I'd expected, with a surprising Sixth Sense-flavor twist at the end, Frailty comes highly recommended. The Neon Genesis Evangelion DVD's would have been mesmerizingly enjoyable, with artful juxtaposition of animation styles (and some film footage as well) - but unfortunately, they attempted to compact 26 episodes of the hit series into about 2 hours of time, resulting in a confusing, jumbled plot mess often filled with incomprehensible jump-cuts and flash frames. The concept is ambitious and original, but I'll need to see the full series to make any sense of it!
Friday, January 10, 2003Wherever the Chips May Fall Originally posted in Unzen Koans on September 3, 2002
Following what appears to be a recent spate of child kidnappings and murders, some British parents have begun to express enthusiasm for a proposal to implant digital identification and tracking devices in their children [CNN, September 3, 2002] that could begin as soon as the end of this year. The surface appeal is clear: pop a computer chip in your child, and you can have peace of mind knowing they’ll be quickly and easily tracked down before they come to harm in the event of kidnapping.
If only the answer to a parent’s ultimate fear – having their child stolen by a stranger – was so simple. It strikes me that in seeking a “quick fix” in our busy, socially isolated, computer-saturated and increasingly agoraphobic world, parents are unwittingly overlooking the unprecedented legal and social implications of such measures.
Let’s play ‘devil’s advocate’ for a moment, and look at the issue on a purely practical level. Child abductors may be sick and evil, but let’s not make the mistake of thinking that automatically makes them stupid. Criminals also follow the news. While a national ID implant program might deter the casual or impulse offender, couldn’t a determined abductor also obtain a scanning device - like those used to identify lost animals with implants - to quickly detect the presence of a tracking chip in a child’s body?
A resourceful kidnapper could probably locate, extract, and destroy the chip within minutes of abduction, then proceed with the crime. If a criminal is capable of stalking, raping, torturing and murdering a child, what is there to stop them from cutting the implant out of a child’s arm, leg, collarbone or anywhere else? All we are left with forensically are possibly some traces of blood and tissue; then again, if the kidnapper is careful, maybe not even that. In such a scenario, the chip’s usefulness in tracking down a child falls to virtually zero.
Then, consider who will have access to your child’s tracking information? Will it be solely you as the parent? Will it be your local police department, or a new or existing governmental agency – or as market trends indicate - a private ‘rent-a-cop’ security contractor? Remember: computer-savvy criminals could also get their hands on tracking data and use it to locate your child. The media is filled with stories of digital information getting into the wrong hands: identity theft, confidential personal data being sold for marketing purposes and so forth, and there is no reason to believe similar abuses would not occur here.
We may begin ‘chipping’ children out of simple parental fear for their safety, but why not then implant chips in the handicapped or Alzheimer’s patients, so we can track down Grandma or Grandpa if he or she wanders away from home? This method also seems like it would be a simple, cost-effective way of keeping track of convicted felons’ whereabouts; far cheaper than boarding them in overcrowded prisons. More disturbingly, in the wake of 9/11 proposals are being bantered about for using implanted ID chips in place of INS “green cards” to track foreign nationals’ movements, ostensibly to prevent future terrorist attacks. There is no evidence that this measure would have the desired effect, since the identities of both the September 11 terrorists and passengers on board the doomed jets were clearly known, and there is no computer chip available yet that can track bad intentions. Thank goodness.
Additionally, there is a crucial moral and ethical difference between implanting identifier chips in pets and expensive gadgets and in using that technology on human beings. The possibilities are wide-ranging and alarming, and far too involved to discuss in detail here. Nonetheless, we should – and must – discuss the possibilities, before they are someday forced upon us, most likely with little fanfare or forewarning. Overall, the benefits of ID chip implantation are far outweighed by the potential for negative misuse.
What is most worrisome about these scenarios is how easily fear can make us collectively lose our better judgment, and how parental and patriotic instincts can be manipulated to potentially allow governments to adopt measures rivaling our wildest dystopian nightmares. It may not happen in the United States first, but events in the U.K. predict that within a few years, we could have the advent of sanctioned digital tracking implants in a major Western country.
Sounds like conspiracy-theory paranoia? Alarmist dogma? The technology to begin such a program exists today, and fifteen or twenty years from now mandatory ID “chipping” may not seem like such an alien concept, but rather a ubiquitous “reality of modern life” like driver’s licenses or ATM cards. Folks on the vanguard might actually enjoy having the latest high-tech toy that lets them pay for purchases by scanning a ‘tagged’ body part. We may even come to welcome implanted ID devices for their convenience or security, as history has repeatedly shown that over time people forget and can adapt to almost anything. Beginning to use a new technology and enacting laws to make that use widespread are relatively simple: it’s stopping when things go too far that becomes far more difficult.
Those frightened U.K. parents need to realize that in trying to secure their children’s safety through radical new technologies, they could be robbing their children and grandchildren of some of the freedom and dignity they themselves enjoy today. Here, in a nation where freedom is our most cherished value, we mustn’t let sensationalist headlines and the glittering promises of new technology blind and veer us away from common sense, into the grasp of an intolerable future.
It’s March, and winter has finally hit Chicago; but gargoyles do not mind cold weather. They don’t seem to mind many things at all. We had managed to run from its frozen grasp for months, including Christmas and New Year’s, but we could not hide from the foot of slushy, dense snow that fell over the weekend – and the Carvel ice-cream-like substance clogging sidewalks, driveways, and auto windshields after Sunday night’s subzero cold snap. So, what does this frigid weather have to do with music?
First, it’s a scientific fact that sound waves travel differently depending on the temperature of the air; cold air can ‘bend’ sound like a lens refracts light, and make it travel farther and more clearly. As I walked a few blocks east down 59th street to run an errand at Judd Hall, I was blinded by the intense noonday sun reflecting off the fresh white expanse of snow – a rare thing to experience in a major city, for sure – I squinted hard to make my way, walking gingerly between slippery patches of ice. Then, I heard them. The bells.
I had grown accustomed to the sweet, darkly Baroque clang of melodies radiating from the chapel and the ancient mood they evoke; but today something was different. Rockefeller Chapel is a large Gothic cathedral of sorts, located 2 buildings down from my office, its structure dominated by a square tower that houses a genuine carillon - not the imitation electrically-rung or tape-recorded bells so often heard on churches, as our founder, John D. Rockefeller, would never have stood for anything so unsophisticated. My ears, cheeks, and fingers were growing increasingly numb despite my hat and gloves and the mug of fresh gourmet coffee I gulped en route; and the combination of sensory experiences ended up producing a rather transcendent effect.
Something about the sound was altered, or bent, if you will: it reflected sharply off the flat granite and marble fascia of the buildings, unhindered by the usual softening effect of summer foliage, and the clangor could be heard clearly bouncing off the front of Judd Hall some 2 blocks away. Even stranger - if I turned my head northwards, with my right ear hearing the reflected music, and my left ear listening to the Chapel, an odd delay effect made it seem as though the sound were passing directly through my brain.
Suddenly, I was strolling the pathways of some forgotten European street, as a much older person feeling the chill and recognizing the pangs of passing time…I knew no century, and I felt connected to some previous lifetime spent in the stone halls of academia, or perhaps a monastery where glowing fires and echoing plainsong awaited me. Looking up at the white-caked heads and shoulders of the University’s gargoyles, I felt attuned with their eternal nature, and at once the strange timeflow I felt as a child came to me easily – and I had the revelation that as I grow older, unchanging truths grow closer to my reach.
I walk past and disappear like the sun’s transit, my mortal footsteps barely grazing the snow…but the warmth of spring will again soon arrive and melt the snow from their stony faces; forever craned to hear the ringing bells.
There are times when I want music for the sole purpose of calming down, setting the mood…falling asleep. Why not music for falling asleep to - music that doesn’t beg to be actively listened to? Tuneless, wordless music that almost works like wallpaper. Brian Eno was a pioneer of such ‘ambient music’, putting together ‘functional music’ albums, such as “Music For Airports” which was intended to lull flyers into bliss while facing a possible flaming death at 20,000 feet – not the most pleasant pre-sleep post-9/11 thought. One of Eno’s many collaborators was an unusual, colorful Philadelphia area artist and teacher by the name of Laraaji.
I first discovered Laraaji’s music on two tapes buried in a bin of cutout cassettes at a record store in the local shopping mall; all three, now obsolete concepts. “Day of Radiance” had an unassuming enlarged image of a topographic map on the cover, and “Essence/Universe” showed a fluffy white cloud on a deep sky blue background; very Zen. Several years ago I found a more recent work on CD called “Flow Goes The Universe” – which I think subtly relates to the concept of ‘flow’, or ‘peak experience’, a topic studied in depth by University of Chicago psychology researcher Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is what happens when you are lost in the experience, becoming one with what you are doing; the process is effortless and exceptional.
There is something extremely hypnotic about the electric zither, Laraaji’s instrument of choice. The sound quality is akin to smoke or water, fluidly rising and falling in one’s consciousness, but ungraspable – the more you think about the sound, the less real it seems. It is superb for meditation or relaxation, and for creative visualization techniques…there is a soothing, healing quality to it, like a delightfully warm cup of tea for the inner light. I had listened to “Essence/Universe” many evenings before sleep – very softly, with the treble turned down to produce a muffled, distant effect - until the plastic hub on the cassette broke. Obsolete technologies can be so frustrating. If you’d like to check out Laraaji’s music, I recommend:
Edward Larry Gordon: Celestial Realms (Spirit Music, 19##)
Edward Larry Gordon: Celestial Vibrations (Spirit Music, 19##)
Laraaji: Day Of Radiance (EG Records, 1980) with Brian Eno
Laraaji: Essence/ Universe (Audion, 1987)
Laraaji: Sun Zither (Laraaji, 1984)
Laraaji: Live At WNYC (Laraaji, 1985)
Laraaji: Flow Goes The Universe (Gyroscope, 1992)
Laraaji: The Way Out Is The Way In (Gyroscope, 1995) with Audio Active
Update, September, 2002 - The following list was kindly provided by a fellow reader, who cautions that some of the recordings are not available, out of print, or (*) part of a private collection, available only from the musician by request. We suggest visiting the websites listed for current availability.
*1978 Celestial Vibration (Swan) [LP only]
1980 Day Of Radiance (Editions EG) [CD is in print]
*1981 I Am Ocean (Celestial Vibration) [private cassette]
*1982 Rhythm And Bliss (Third Ear) [private cassette release]
*1984 Om Namah Shivaya (Celestial Vibration) [private cassette release]
*1984 Sun Zither (Laraaji) [private cassette release]
1985 Open Sky (Celestial Vibration)(w. Brother Ah; CD is available from brotherah.com]
*1985 Live At WNYC (Laraaji) [private cassette release]
1986 Celestial Realms (Spirit Music)(w. Lyghte a.k.a. Jonathan Goldman) [commercial cassette]
1987 Essence/Universe (Jem) [out-of-print in LP/CD/cassette]
1989 Music For Films III (Opal) (various artists) [CD is in print]
*1989? Zither Bliss (Laraaji) [private cassette release]
1991 Selected New Music III (Clear Music) (various artists) [out of print]
1993 Flow Goes The Universe (Gyroscope) [CD is in print]
1994 Channel Light Vessel (Gyroscope) a collaboration with Roger Eno, Bill Nelson, Kate St. John and Mayumi Tachibana [CD is in print]
1995 The Way Out Is The Way In (Gyroscope) (with Audio Active) [I think CD is in print]
1995 Islands (Sine)(w. Roger Eno) [CD is o.p., but not hard to find]
1997 Cascade (Relaxation Company) [CD in print]
1998 Excellent Spirits (Gyroscope) a collaboration with Roger Eno, Bill Nelson, and Kate St. John [CD is in print]
1998 Divination/Sacrifice (Meta(w. Bill Laswell) [CD in print]
2000 Celestial Reiki (Etherean) (w. Jonathan Goldman) [CD in print]
2000 Shiva Shakti Groove (Collective) [CD is available from www.collectiverecordings.com]
2002 My Orangeness (VelNet) [CD available from cdbaby.com]
I don’t remember the last time a song struck this kind a chord in me. Not that it’s deep or meaningful – the lyrics are as garbled as Louie Louie, and I’m sure it’s horribly overplayed on the radio - but it’s like smelling an old basement, or traces of faded perfume. When I hear it, I’m instantly transported. It’s like a liquid aural swig of riding in a sun-baked Chevy with friends from back in the day. Who needs a time machine with songs like this?
It’s 1981. I’m in Trenton, NJ in the 9th grade, waiting for the school bus on the corner of Greenwood and Norway outside an abandoned Victorian house with twenty other sullen, insecure teens. We’re sitting on the peeling steps, pulling at the weeds growing through the cracks in the porch. We smoke Newports and tell each other stupid dirty jokes - until Pops, the portly old bus driver comes to whisk us away to our future at Hamilton High West. As always back then, I’m worrying about my hair - trying to look cool, making sure my makeup looks just right. I wore black as as often as I could, which isn’t surprising because we were in the Dead Zone…when the Seventies was rotting in its grave, disco momentarily sucked, and the infant Eighties were being born.
Or, It’s 1987. I’m starting my junior year of college at Plattsburgh State – the Dionysian Northern sibling of the State University of New York system. It’s where I attended my fateful open meeting of WPLT Pilot-94, the college radio station – and where I caught both stage fever and a door prize tossed into the crowd: a CD single of Debbie Harry’s Liar Liar. At this stage, CD’s are still hot property, and you could get a bunch of people in the door when you advertised a “CD giveaway”. This is where my fledgling DJ voice first hit a mike: in a few months I became obsessed with creating the “show” – the “Sanity Assassin” (named after an obscure Bauhaus track) and two years later I was “discovered” by local radio personality Ben Everest, Sr. of WEAV 960 AM - leading to my 7-year stint as a radio DJ. This is the era where I met my friends Ryan “Sly” Smith – also a Pilot-94 DJ, Daphne Vogel, Todd Nichols, Beth Stone, Dave White, Ben Cooper, Cindy Brauchler, and others – some have dispersed to the four winds, some I still keep in touch with today. This is also the period when I met my partner Bari for the first time - not knowing we’d get together 10 years hence.
You know, eras can be places, not just times.
Maybe it’s the early Nineties…say, 1993, for the sake of argument. I’m still in Plattsburgh at this point, still at WEAV/WGFB, and I’ve discovered a phenomenal graphic novel (OK, a –comic-, but the term doesn’t do it justice) called Sandman by Neil Gaiman. A friend, Ben, remarked to me at a college party that I looked like the character Death, which was emblazoned on his Sandman Death watch. I could see the resemblance: we both had shaggy hair dyed black, wore black tank tops and had ankh necklaces – a happy-go-lucky Goth look. Mind you, I’d never heard of the comic at this point, so it was strictly bizarre coincidence – but it was enough to get me hooked. We once had a photo session with Ben (an avid photographer) where we dressed as members of the Endless; my friend Daphne was Delirium, Sam was Desire, Todd was Fiddler’s Green (ok, not strictly a member of the Endless, but he would have made a spectacular Destruction) – and I, of course was Death. But a friendly, youthful Death. Wish I had a copy of those pictures.
Like times, or Fiddler’s Green from the Sandman, people can be places, too. So does this prove time and space are one? Neil Gaiman, by the way, has remarked on his weblog that he likes “Last Night” by the Strokes. There are no coincidences.By the way, I still wear black a lot…not just because it looks cool and urbane, but because now I love that it makes me look thinner (at 34, I don’t look like Death. But then, she probably doesn’t, either). But I never wear much makeup anymore - just for the record.
Greens are better farklers (farkleberry collectors, of course) than most Purples. However, in a farkling competition in which the income of the Greens is equal to the income of the Purples, the matches are standoffs. Farkling ability has been demonstrated by independent researchers to have a possible connection with diet.
The Greens have more money than the Purples and can afford better farkling instruction.
The most promising approach to equalisation of farkling ability would probably be to:
(a) Provide farkling ability dietary ingredients to the Purples.
(b) Equalise the wealth by giving enough Green money to Purples.
(c) Make sure the Purples have sufficient nourishment for good
(d) Obtain better farkling teachers and equipment for the Purples.
Just thought you might like to know.
But no matter, it is January, after all.
I've been reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods in paperback on the "L" and the Metra train to and from work -- what a great book. I'm about 300 pages into it, and the worst part is I almost missed my train stop last night because I was so absorbed.
Let me give you a little sample. Shadow, a recently released convict (not a really bad guy, just got mixed up with the wrong people) finds out his wife, Laura, has been killed in a car crash two days before he's due to be sprung from the slammer - the same car crash that claimed the life of his friend, the owner of a gym who'd promised Shadow a job upon his release. I won't give away the reason why Laura was in the car with Shadow's friend - or why they crashed - but let's just say you shouldn't be a passenger with your mouth full - if you catch my drift. For Shadow, a hulking silent type (but a closet intellectual of sorts), not a great way to start your new post-prison life.
On a prearranged flight home, Shadow meets a mysterious man named...Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday, to be precise. How does he know Shadow's name? Why does he offer him a job, sight unseen? I'll give away one detail - Mr. Wednesday is really a manifestation of the Norse god whom that day is named for: yes, the All-Father himself, Odin. He's alive, mostly well, but he's seen better days; so have all the other gods that still live amongst us, blending in, making their way in the world. Egyptian deities Anubis and Thoth are a pair of undertakers named Jaquel and Ibis, the goddess Bastet is their brown cat, and they've catered to the African-American community for over 200 years in southern Illinois.
Ancient Russo-Slavic deities Czernobog (the Black God), Bielobog (the White God), and the Triple Goddess/sisters of dawn, dusk and midnight are living in an old brownstone in Chicago, serving up boiled cabbage and pot roast to their guests. Hindi goddess Kali is a middle-aged East Indian woman in a red sari (doing quite well, thank you, as she was old in Kalighat - or Kalikat, Calcutta - long before Odin was born), and a Yoruban orixa is now old, works the snack concession at the World's Largest Merry-Go-Round at the House On The Rock in Wisconsin, and calls himself Mr. Nancy. The Queen of Sheba (also known by her name of old, Bilquis) is a "working girl" who meets a tragic end. Even the Buffalo God, Wisakedjack, and Johnny Appleseed show up for a spell (literally).
No matter. These are just appearances. Look deeper, and you will see their true, glorious faces of old. The black-skinned eater of men's soul's with a cinture of skulls, the strong dark man who rides a golden lion...the jackal and the ibis (Jacquel and Ibis, funeral directors...get it? heh heh.)
But trouble is brewing - a storm of sorts - as the new, limo-riding, synthetic-toad-skin smoking ("did you know they can make artificial bufotenin these days?") gods of telephone and Internet arrogantly conspire to kill off the old gods, whose lives depend on people's belief in them. Shadow and Odin travel the highways and byways - the ley-lines of this modern age, after all - seeking to recruit the aging gods to battle against those new kids on the block.
Gaiman spins a fantastical tale of magical places in America (he is a transplanted Brit, after all) - like Chicago, Madison, Wisconsin, "The House On The Rock", Milwaukee, Minnesota, San Francisco, the Dakotas - I'm fascinated why he chose the Midwest for his register of "power spots", but in a way I can see why. There is a strange feel to the Midwest that just can't be explained naturally. Maybe there's something to it?
He's even given a nod to Culver's Frozen Custard and Butterburgers (Shadow chows down on 2 of them during a road trip), now there's the food of the Gods. It's a rich, dark tale worthy of the Sandman author - I recommend it highly. You won't even miss the pictures, and you don't have to wait a month between issues. So, pick up a paperback copy of American Gods, pour yourself a coffee or bevvie of your choice, and sink you teeth into this meaty tome.
How does it end? That I don't know yet - but I know I'll miss it when it's done.
Thursday, January 09, 2003
The closest I can describe it is a change of emotive color or frequency: an internal Doppler shift, seeing the world through orange colored glasses. The horizon ahead is clear, shadows pull further along the ground undistorted by waves of summer heat arising from the beleaguered tarmac: it is the time of gathering, a harvest of friends and acquaintances. English momentarily fails to deliver the proper term, but Japanese culture has a word for the phenomenon - kisekan, or “seasonal feeling”.
Kisekan is a full moon made of a sliced hard-boiled egg, sitting atop a warm bowl of udon, and a trompe-l’oeil “horsechestnut” created from a fried sweet-potato ball rolled in broken somen noodles. It is deep crimson origami paper with a gold plum blossom motif. It is looking longingly at a statue’s silhouette while browning maple leaves flutter before the burning sun.
This is the ripening of the year, coming full-circle like the ouroboros snake swallowing its tail. Here are more of the elusive delights fall brings…
· Buying bags of colorful dried beans and legumes at the local ethnic markets for homemade soup.
· The soups made therefrom; Adirondack pea, monastery minestrone, daal soup, black bean and others.
· Comfortable warm socks, and shoes that don’t leak muddy water.
· Making fresh pots of steaming green tea.
· New jackets.
· Weatherstripping windows and calling the air conditioners home.
· Used-book stores filled with volumes I used to own as a kid, or always wanted to; the Hardy Boys Mysteries, Golden Science Guides, old horror novels and Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks; The Devil’s Triangle and Chariots of the Gods?
· Japanese Nipponkodo or Indian Nag Champa incense roiling coils of smoke on top of a wooden bookshelf.
· Watching old movies and TV shows on DVD because it’s more fun to stay home.
· Seeing the Chicago skyline in sharp, un-smoggy detail from our favorite beach just north of Loyola University in Rogers Park while sitting on the breakwater pier with a big cup of coffee, listening to the crashing grey-green waves of Lake Michigan.
· Walking in Evanston just before going to the movies, pulling your collar up tight against the wind.
· Listening to the wind howl through the 1920’s steel-framed windows in my office, whistling as it passes over stone gargoyles’ ears on the fifth floor.
· Our neighborhoods coming alive as colleges and universities go back in session (yes, there is a difference, even in a city the size of Chicago).
· Looking at childhood photo albums.
· Fat candles with turned-down lips and deep pools of molten wax.
· Waking up with your nose cold, hiding beneath a fluffy comforter, instead of coming to consciousness half-dehydrated in the sticky humidity of August.
· The smell of hot coffee wafting slyly around the S-shaped curves of our apartment.
Autumn isn’t an end, but a different kind of beginning; a season of which I never grow weary. It makes me think of a quote from Camus I saw on an old friend’s website: “Autumn is a second spring, where every leaf is a flower.”
Yes, the future is here -- and someday it will again be the past.
As I take stock of the state of the world...I am turning 35, the official old fart age, in two days, after all...here are what I see as the two most influential inventions of our modern age:
1) By far and wide, The Internet. Nothing has connected us with each other and with all the information in the world quite as efficiently. Grumble all you want about clunky dial-ups and spam; just think about the days pre-internet, or "P.I.", when we had to go to the library or get on the phone to get information -- or heaven forbid, write a letter!
2) Cell phones. This might even be a tie with #1. All those movie plots about being stuck somewhere, like in an elevator, or in a snowdrift without a phone are now obsolete. Just make sure you haven't used up your free nighttime minutes when Jason comes knocking at your door. Isn't it amazing how we've become accustomed to (or just grown increasingly annoyed with) overhearing one-sided conversations in public?
Some would disagree, and say Viagra(TM) has been the #1 invention of the century. Personally, I am neutral on the subject. To each their own :) Enjoy.
I'm looking forward to more frequent rants upon the Blog! Huzzah!
Lenka Reznicek on the Web