Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Change

I have been using the same template for this blog since 2006. I thought it was time to change it up, only not too much.

I noticed some of the gadgets on the right side of the blog were not working properly here, but they worked just fine on my other blog. So, I grabbed a new template and now, everything seems to be working just great.

Using a reader? Click here

I even shower with my pen, in case any ideas drip out of the waterhead. ~Graycie Harmon

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Special Thanks

I would like to thank all who came to hear me read this evening at the Tap Room. It was a great success!

This was actually the first open mic night at the Tap Room for the Writer's Guild, so in addition to the reading being a personal success, it was also a success for the organization as a whole.

Also, and this is one of the really cool things, one of the readers was Gerry Mandel, who read from his new book Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin. This may not immediately be of a cool nature to you, until I explain to you that Gerry was one of my professors at Webster University. He was the instructor of my favorite class of the fall 2008 semester, The Films of Charlie Chaplin.

When I got up to read, I started by introducing myself and saying, "Funny story; Gerry Mandel was one of my professors!" Someone from he crowd said, "So, blame him if your writing is bad, right?"

After I read, we took a short break, during which Gerry came over and congratulated me on graduating, becoming a father and my reading. He also gave me a copy of his book which he then signed.

Pretty cool night.

I'ma go ahead and say this now; 2010 has kicked 2009's ass STRAIGHT. OUT. THE. DOOR. I mean, aside from Surfacing 2009, graduating from college and the release of three albums (see here and pick through the list for which three), 2009 was no good. 2010? Let's see...three more absolutely essential albums, Writers Guild awesomeness, signed-by-the-author book about Charlie Chaplin, amazing friends all the time and Juliette joining the family. Check and mate, 2009. Check. And. Mate.

Oh, you wanted to know more about the book?

Check here:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tuesday Except: Live Edition

So, who remembers my Tuesday Excerpts of olden days? Anyone?

Ah, I see some hands. Well, who misses that feature? Oh good, I see some hands there, too.

Well, get ready for a brand new Tuesday Excerpt this Tuesday, October 26th, LIVE!

That's right, I will be reading at the St. Louis Writers Guild "Writing to the Edge" Open Mic Night at the Schlafly Tap Room. The event starts at 7:30 PM and is open to the public.

Finally, you will get to experience a small slice of what I've been working on. And by working, you all know that I've spent a majority of that time looking something like this:

But still, come drink a beer or seven (the Pale Ale is a golden standby, though their special reserve beers are amazing), have some good food (I suggest the Bavarian Style pretzels with White Cheddar sauce if you just want something to snack on), and listen to some local writers read from their poetry, short stories, non-fiction and novels.

And, most importantly for you, my readers, get a real live version of a Tuesday Excerpt in person. How cool is that? I will be available afterwards to sign any piece of paper you happen to put under my nose. Or, to answer any questions or whatever. Or to have a beer with.

See you Tuesday!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Happy (Belated) Birthday CitySidewalk

This one goes out to my friend CitySidewalk, the writer of Provocative & Talkative on the occasion of her twenty-fifth birthday!

I didn't talk about it much at the time, but when I was twenty-five, I went through a quarter-life crisis of sorts. I won't go into details except to say that I am glad I got over it. Unfortunately for me, at the time I didn't have any awesome friends to make me awesome mixes. Fortunately for you, CitySidewalk, you've got me.

I already gave her these mixes, so I'm not giving anything away. In fact, she seemed to love them quite a bit before she even listened to them, and asked that I blog about it.

Well, maybe instead of saying she "asked" me to "blog about it" I should correctly state that she demanded that I blog the actual mix and the accompanying liner notes. So, without further ceremony, I give you (my readers) CitySidewalk's twenty-fifth birthday present.

The begin, I gave her a copy of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. Nothing too exciting there.

Second, I gave her a mix called Dust Yourself Off, which includes some inspirational/rollicking-good-time music. The mix is as follows:

1. Jessica - The Allman Brothers Band
2. It Don't Move Me - Peter, Bjorn and John
3. I Believe In a Thing Called Love - The Darkness
4. The Way We Get By - Spoon
5. Pretty Girls Don't Cry - Chris Isaak
6. Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
7. Times Like These (Acoustic) - Foo Fighters
8. Ali In The Jungle - The Hours
9. Regret - New Order
10. Feelin' Good - Muse
11. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - The Anniversary
12. 40 Day Dream - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
13. Float On - Modest Mouse
14. Eleanor Put Your Boots Back On - Franz Ferdinand
15. Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles
16. Dreams - BoDeans
17. This Too Shall Pass - OK Go
18. Don't Look Back in Anger - Oasis

But that's not all. Oh no, that's not all.

Last and absolutely not least, the part that she absolutely positively wanted me to blog about. But first...some background information.

CitySidewalk is kind of obsessed with finding a hipster boy to love. So I put together a special compilation just for her to aid her in this pursuit.

Blog readers: Please note that these are meant to be liner notes, not read on a blog, so a fair amount of scrolling may need to be done for the full effect. You've been warned.


Congratulations on turning twenty-five and receiving this awesome compilation disc! By following the instructions in this manual, you can be sure to enjoy your disc for many years to come. Proper care is needed at all times in the handling of this highly indie content. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight without cheap sunglasses. This product is intended to be used as bait to lure and capture hipsters, but no warranty is made against the possible capture of wannabes, posers, scenesters and emo kids who might cut themselves. Please take precautions when handling your hipsters and take steps to verify their credibility.

Track Listing:

Title – Band – Album

1. &Serenading – Mineral – Endserenading
2. Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell
3. Waste Time – The Fire Theft – The Fire Theft
4. Jesus, Etc. – Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
5. Answers and Questions – Earlimart – Mentor Tormentor
6. Suffocation Keep – The Slip – Eisenhower
7. Young Folks – Peter, Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block
8. Crystalised – The xx – XX
9. Lover I Don’t Have to Love – Bright Eyes – Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
10. We Used to Wait – Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
11. Gimme Less Friction – Heroic Doses – Heroic Doses
12. Seven – Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary
13. The Ghost Inside – Broken Bells – Broken Bells
14. Home – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Up From Below
15. The Last Beat of Your Heart – DeVotchka – Curse Your Little Heart EP
16. Robbers – Cold War Kids – Robbers & Cowards
17. Meet Me In The City – The Black Keys – Chulahoma
18. Boxcar – Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy

If, while listening in the company of another, consult this guide for appropriate responses to the following questions:

“Who is this?” (p 3)
“You like this band?” (p 4)
“You like this song?” (p 6)
“What did you think of the rest of this album?” (p 7)

For all other contingencies, consult your friendly Obscure Music Representative.

Question: “Who is this?”

If asked with contempt, the correct response is always, “Whatever, you’ve probably never even heard of them,” followed by an annoyed sigh, then provide the name of the band.

If asked with interest, respond with:

1. With poise, “This is Mineral. Isn’t it great? I think a lot of people who call themselves ‘emo’ these days need to give this a listen; this is just about where it all started, when ‘emo’ was just a genre of music and not some pre-packaged, Seventeen magazine fashion and lifestyle.” Act disgusted.

2. With mild shock, “You haven’t heard of Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Oh man…this is one of those songs you don’t want to accidentally have on in the background when you call your ex. Totally happened to a friend of mine. But no, they’re pretty cool.” Nod approvingly.

3. With understanding, “The Fire Theft. Don’t you think it’s strange that when you get Dan Hoerner, Jeremy Enigk and William Goldsmith together without Nate Mendel, it’s still Sunny Day Real Estate, but if Nate comes back but Hoerner leaves, they change their name to The Fire Theft? But then, after Sunny Day’s fourth album, would you have wanted to be in that band? Am I right?” Grin like a fool.

4. Nodding your head, “Ah, yeah, this is Wilco. Stupid record company tried to squeeze them out. But the internets sure saved the day, if you know what I mean.” Wink.

5. With a look of apprehension, “You’ve never heard of Earlimart? Geez, do you even listen to All Songs Considered?” Pretend like you don’t know the person for a few moments.

6. Smiling thoughtfully, “This is The Slip. They’re kind of a jam band from Boston. They’ve got some great stuff.” Turn it up.

7. Rocking out, “Peter, Bjorn and John. They’re totally Euro-pop and I love them to pieces!” Sing along at the top of your lungs.

8. Purse your lips, press your finger and quietly “Shh” the person, then make eye contact. Sultry and quietly, “It’s The xx. Sh, just listen.” If the person who asked is a cute boy, now may be a good time to make out. If it’s a cute girl, it’s always time to make out. I mean…um…high five.

9. Shrug. “Bright Eyes. Some of Conor Oberst’s stuff is kind of, well…meh, but I like a fair amount of it.” Smile and continue shrugging.

10. Remain stoic. “Arcade Fire.” Close your eyes and turn it up.

11. Giggling, “Heroic Doses. Fun fact, one of my good friends peed next to their drummer at Mississippi Nights.” Smile like a crazy person.

12.  Getting super excited, “It’s Sunny Day Real Estate. And if Mineral is where it started, Sunny Day Real Estate is the absolute pinnacle of early ‘emo.’ They are to ‘emo’ as Glen Miller is to big band jazz.” Let the song end then start it over. Repeat if necessary.

13. Bobbing along with the music, “Broken Bells. Pretty sweet what can happen when the lead singer from The Shins gets together with Danger Mouse, eh?” Keep bobbing.

14. Looking aghast, “What, you haven’t seen any episode of any TV show in the past two years, or watched a car commercial or seen a trailer for an indie film? It’s Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This guy and this girl singing are, like, totally in love with each other. It’s really cool.” Try to look like you long for that kind of creepy drugged-up hippy love.

15. Swaying to the music, “It’s DeVotchka. Did you see Little Miss Sunshine? They did a lot of the soundtrack.” Sway more.

16. In all seriousness, “Cold War Kids. Though, I haven’t checked their credentials to see if they were really affected by the cold war that much.” Try to keep a straight face.

17. Slow-jamming it out, “The Black Keys. I think they’re sooo retro in their sound. I love throwbacks.” Slow jam some more.

18. Throwing some punk-rock signs, “Jawbreaker! Jawbreaker! JAWBREAKER!!!” More punk signs.

Question: “You like this band?”

For this question, there are different responses for the different tones of voice in which it may be phrased.

1. Neutral/Positive tone: “Yeah, I mean, they really helped lay the groundwork for the indie/emo pop explosion of the early part of the last decade. Not a lot of people know that, you know? Most people think emo started with bands like Death Cab for Cutie or, ugh, Panic! At the Disco, but we wouldn’t have either of them without Mineral. Though, the fair question is, do we like Mineral enough to put up with Panic! At the Disco, or do we go back in time and stop Mineral from ever releasing an album?” Negative tone: “Yeah. I like my emo bands to be about the music, and not about cutting themselves for the benefit of the scene. Jeez.”

2. Neutral/Positive tone: “Of course! They’ve been a great standout for girls in indie rock. So many genres are boys only clubs, you know? But I guess when the boys in the club are kind of already girly…” Negative tone: “You know you like them, too. You just say you don’t like them because everybody likes them and you feel like you’re supposed to, but no, you’re way too non-conformist. When I finally admitted that to myself, I started to enjoy them. You will too, ya jackwagon.”

3. Neutral/Positive: “Yes, though never as much as Sunny Day Real Estate.” Negative: “No, never as much as Sunny Day Real Estate.”

4. Neutral/Positive: “I know they’re kind of the go-to band for people who want to be all edgy, but don’t know what “edgy” means, but yeah, they’re a great band to listen to. Solid B-plus band all the way, except for this album, which is awesome.” Negative: If you want to appease this person, choose option A. Otherwise, choose option B. A) “No. But you have to admit, this album is pretty awesome.” B) “Philistine.”

5. Neutral/Positive: “Oh my God, you should run their Pandora station. For that reason alone, everybody should like this band.” Negative: “Whatever, you’ve probably only just now heard of them.”

6. Neutral/Positive: “I discovered them on NPR one night. I can’t believe they’ve never come to St. Louis on a tour!” Negative: “It’s people like you who make them not want to come to St. Louis on tour.”

7. Neutral/Positive: “Don’t you think they’re like the perfect Euro Pop group? They’re a lot of fun.” Negative: “I know you didn’t just ask me that like you don’t like them, because I don’t hang out with people who don’t like awesome things.”

8. Neutral/Positive: “They totally deserved the Mercury Prize, I’m so glad they got it.” Negative: “Yeah, duh. You don’t? How many Mercury Prizes have you won?”

9. Neutral/Positive/Negative: “Not all of it, Bright Eyes is totally hit-or-miss. Also, I sometimes want to punch Conor Oberst in the junk to see if he actually has any balls. I’m guessing ovaries.”

10. Neutral/Positive: “They’ve really matured a lot, too. I liked their first album, but worried that they would try and sustain the same feel. My fears were ill founded, of course.” Negative: Start crying, look hurt.

11. Neutral/Positive: “Have you heard of them before? Aren’t they all kinds of awesome?” Then high five. Negative: “Pfft. I was gonna give you a high five, but now I think I’ll just be sick.”

12. Neutral/Positive: “Yes. Do you? Because if you do, we might be the bestest friends ever.” Negative: The only appropriate response is to cut off all communication with this person for ever, and sabotage any friendship they may have with people you care about.

13. Neutral/Positive: “I think it’s pretty neat that they were able to collaborate on this and on Dark Night of the Soul. And then they took this on tour. I really hope they put out a second album.” Negative: “I guess you probably hate kittens and penny candy too, huh?”

14. Neutral/Positive: “Aren’t they just super fun all the time to listen to? Love it!” Negative: “I will admit they can be kind of creepy, but come on, their accordion player was on that hilariously awful web show ‘Dorm Life’ and is a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade!”

15. Neutral/Positive: “Nick Urata’s voice is so amazingly haunting, I can’t help but fall in love a little bit every time.” Negative: “Don’t hold their commercial success against them; nobody even knows their name even though everybody’s seen Little Miss Sunshine.”

16. Neutral/Positive: Smile. “Yeah. I heart these guys.” Negative: Scowl. “Yes. I heart these guys, deal with it.”

17. Neutral/Positive: “I like any band that can sound so good with only two members.” Negative: “Let’s see you sound as good with just one other person. And go. I’m waiting, release an album. Right now. Do it.”

18. Neutral/Positive: Singing along with the music, “’One-Two-Three-Four, Who’s Punk What’s the Score!’ Ahhh awesomeness!” Negative: Throwing punk signs, “JAWBREAKER!! WHO’S PUNK NOW, BITCH?”

Question: “You like this song?”

Like the previous question, different tones require different responses.

1. Neutral/Positive: “Well, now that I’m a little older, it’s more nostalgic than anything. I mean, ‘Why am I so blind at twenty-two…’ doesn’t really speak to me anymore, but I still love it.” Negative: “You like your face?”

2. Neutral/Positive: “Yeah. I think it’s great that somebody can feel a love like that, you know. And have you seen the video? She looks like she’s in pain, it’s kind of neat.” Negative: Crying softly, “You just don’t know, do you?”

3. Neutral/Positive/Negative: “It’s among the few listenable songs they put out.”

4. Neutral/Positive: “It’s got great structure and melody, how could you not?” Negative: “Yeah. Something wrong with that, asshole?

5. Neutral/Positive: “You know it.” Negative: Sing along, ignoring them.

6. Neutral/Positive: “It’s kind of powerful, yeah.” Negative: “Yes. Yes I do.” Cry a single tear.

7. Neutral/Positive: Smile and sing along, nodding. Negative: Smile and sing along off-key, nodding.

8. Neutral/Positive: If you want to make out with person, option A. If not, option B. A) “Yes. Wanna make out?” B) “Yes.” Negative: If you wanted to make out with person before they insulted your musical taste, option A. If not, B. A) “Yes. And it normally always makes me feel like making out. Normally.” B) “That’s one more strike for you, buddy.”

9. Neutral/Positive: “It’s kind of an interesting song, don’t you think? I mean, he’s talking about the rock star getting the groupie, but that the whole thing is just to feel kind of dead inside, you know? It’s just an interesting take on the usual story. Negative: “You’re just sad because you’re not a rock star, nor have you ever made out with one.”

10. Neutral/Positive: “Yes, it makes me want to write letters. You know?” Negative: I expect no negative reactions to this song. Should one arise, recommended action is to treat their disrespect with hostility and objects thrown towards heads.

11. Neutral/Positive: “Feel the groove of it; who wouldn’t love it?” Negative: “Eh, I can see how it might be an acquired taste.” Brood.

12. Neutral/Positive: Cry a little. “It’s just about the most perfect side one, track one of all time. Of all time.” Negative: Cry a lot. “You just don’t understand!” Storm out.

13. Neutral/Positive: “Oh yeah. And have you seen the video? Sci-Fi geeky awesome!” Negative: If a boy, option A. If a girl, option B. A) “Have you seen the video? Christina Hendricks is wearing a bikini.” B) “Have you seen the video? James Mercer and Brian Burton wear skin-tight futuristic space uniforms.”

14. Neutral/Positive: Sing along and smile. Negative: If you want to appease the person, option A. Otherwise, option B. A) “I really just like it because of how ironic it is that a totally underground band has this one song that everybody uses whenever they need a song for the last scene of a film or TV show or car commercial.” B) “Oh, come on, this doesn’t make you want to buy a Ford or see the latest Jason Reitmann film?”

15. Neutral/Positive: “Yeah, and did you know it’s a cover? The original group was Siouxsie and the Banshees.” Negative: “Look, I know Siouxsie and the Banshees did it first, but let it go! Nobody’s heard of either of them so it’s still totally indie rock to like them both!”

16. Neutral/Positive: “What I really like is how it’s actually sung out of tune a little bit.” Negative: “Oh, I’m sorry…do you have perfect pitch?”

17. Neutral/Positive: “Yeah. Totally throwback music.” Negative: “Well, some of us have good taste in music, and then there’s you.”

18. Neutral/Positive: Singing along with the music, “’One-Two-Three-Four, Who’s Punk What’s the Score!’ Ahhh awesomeness!” Negative: Throwing punk signs, “JAWBREAKER!! WHO’S PUNK NOW, BITCH?”

Question: “What did you think of the rest of this album?”

For this question, we will use the same response regardless of tone.

1. “It’s an essential listen to any one who claims they know what emo is all about. Because whatever everyone thinks it’s about, it used to be about the music before it was about hairstyle and skinny jeans and cutting yourself.

2. “Girls in Indie Rock rock way harder than the boys in Indie Rock rock. Rock rock on.”

3. “It’s no Diary.”

4. “I still can’t believe the stupid record company said no to it. Thank the good lord of music for the interwebs. I mean, don’t get me wrong, music still sounds better being picked up out of a groove by a needle, but if these songs hadn’t been leaked on the internet behind the record company’s back, we would never have heard of this. And, let’s be frank; this is Wilco’s best album ever.

5. “It all kind of sounds the same, but that’s not a bad thing because it all sounds pretty good.”

6. “I love ‘Paper Birds,’ the closing track, because it kind of ties the whole album together. Also, ‘Airplane/Primitive’ might be one of the best songs that nobody has ever heard. But, I have to say, bad choice on that first track ‘Children of December,’ I think it’s absolutely terrible.”

7. “Who cares about the rest of the album, I just listen to this one song over and over and over and over…no, just kidding, it’s great. Really.”

8. “This album is totally bedroom music. Like, you get this jammed on your stereo, light a candle, and if you’re not careful, that’s how mommy meets daddy.”

9. “There’s only so much of Conor Oberst whining that I can listen to in one sitting. I generally don’t listen to whole Bright Eyes albums. Too angsty.”

10. “I’m predicting that this is the masterpiece of their career, and that in generations to come this will be like Sgt. Pepper, The Wall, or Weezer’s Blue album. This is the album of the year, and I know it’s early to say, but probably of the decade.”

11. “It’s fun and interesting. It’s good background music for a party since there’s no lyrics. Though I can see how that can limit a band’s fan base, so no wonder they only put out the one album. Have you heard of Five Style? It’s the same kind of band, actually some of the same guys, they put out two albums. Not as good as this one, though.”

12. “’Diary’ is one of the greatest albums ever made. It’s perfect. It’s no wonder the band imploded afterwards, look at what they had to live up to. People were saying they were going to be the next Nirvana. Nobody really wanted that after Kurt Cobain killed himself. And of course, their third and fourth albums weren’t exactly high caliber. But hey, they did a great reunion tour last year, even if they skipped St. Louis.” Wipe a tear away at this point. “Great artwork too, I might add.”

13. “It’s a perfect tidy pop album. Danger Mouse is a genius and this partnership with Mercer was a great opportunity for both of them. I feel like with The Shins, Mercer has to stay true to the sweet-pop styles they’re known for. But with Broken Bells, you know, he’s able to experiment a little. And let’s face it; you’re nobody in today’s music world until you’ve collaborated with Danger Mouse. Well, unless you want to reinvigorate your career, then team up with Rick Rubin. Or if you want to return to the roots of your style, T-Bone Burnett is the guy. One of those three.”

14. “How could you not like it? How could anybody not listen to this band and just instantly love them? It just makes me smile!”

15. “It’s cool how they sound like a hybrid mariachi/Eastern European/American Rock band all rolled into one with tuba and accordion. Also, there’s some punk and an organ.”

16. “I kind of hoped at first that the whole album would follow this theme of robbers and cowards, but, you know, it’s still pretty good.”

17. “The first time I heard it, I thought there were four guys. And then I heard a live recording and I thought, yeah, four guys. So imagine my shock when I found out there were just two!” 


Thursday, October 07, 2010

I Used to Write Letters, I Used to Sign My Name

Does anybody remember being younger and being excited to get a letter in the mail? I do. Letters from grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, postcards from friends on vacation, birthday cards...the list goes on. It was always such a singular pleasure to open a sealed envelope, knowing that whatever was inside was intended specifically for my eyes. Of course, as I got older, I got more mail. You would think that would make the novelty wear off, but you'd be wrong, because most of the mail I get these days consists of solicitations for services I either already have from another (or the same) company or that I don't need, invitations to apply for more debt than I already have accumulated, and demands that I pay for the services I use daily and the stuff I've purchased using credit or loans (in the vernacular, we call those "Bills" which reminds me of a funny story I need to tell you later).

But letters, actual real letters written by somebody I know, addressed personally to me, with salutations and inside jokes and a signature in ink...that is the kind of rare treat I love to get. And the pleasure is becoming increasingly rare for everyone in these days. Which is too bad, because while it's nice to be able to reach anyone anywhere with a cell phone, text them, e-mail them, instant message them, stalk them on Facebook, Google them constantly every day to see what they're up to...oh, um, not that I stalk anyone or Google people I know...umm...[Editor's note: Elliot is taking a break from blogging to delete his search history and learning how to use private browsing modes]...sorry, for a second there I had to, uh, cuddle with the cat. Daughter. One or both of those two things, yes.

Some of the great minds of our past were prolific letter writers, and some of those letters have since been bound and published and are a great wealth of information and insight into the minds of genius. Imagine being able to read the personal thoughts of someone like Einstein or Mark Twain, Carl Sagan, Robert Browning, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, John and Abigail Adams, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy...amazing what you might learn about their thought processes, their struggles, their emotions and concerns. And the best are those correspondences which have been fully archived, such as the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence of Philosophical argument. What treasures can be found in letters!

But imagine trying to publish a book of all the e-mails two great minds of our future may have exchanged. Here is an imagined example:


Subject: Weekend Plans

Hey dude, coming in to town this weekend. I'll call you with details. We should hit up the bars.

Subject: Re: Weekend Plans

Damn, man, I'm actually going to be in Chicago this weekend. Gotta get some stuff from Ikea and hang out with a friend for her birthday. When are you going to be back?

Subject: Re: Re: Weekend Plans

Too bad, I'm taking off Monday morning. If you're back in time on Sunday, we should get some ice cream or something.

Also, have you seen this photo of this hilarious cat?

Attachment: hugging_kitten.jpg


I normally doen't send these along but thus wun frEaKed me out way 2 much they're are scary things in this wurld! (and I told you Obama was a socialist Nazi commie terrorist Muslin elitist)



You get the idea. And before you ask, no, those are not (to my knowledge) real e-mail addresses, nor are these e-mails transcripts of e-mails I have either sent or received. Promise.

And what would be even worse would be a book of back and forth text messages or tweets:


(314) Just got out of class meet u @ starbucks

(612) No can do maybe tomorsmy

(314) Tomorsmy?

(612) Stupid T9 my phone thinks tomorsmy is a word when I mean tomorsmy

(314) whatever i will c u tomorrow

(612) that's the word i was trying 2 say :)


PhysicsRox: Going to eat a burger made w/ Krispy Kreme for a bun yum!

NotALoveStory042: @PhysicsRox why do you eat death?

PhysicsRox: @NotALoveStory042 Maybe not the best idea, my stomach is killing me.

NotALoveStory042: @PhysicsRox damn that looks tasty I'll be right there.

NotALoveStory042: my stomach is killing me.


While it may be entertaining, it adds nothing to the process of whatever these two people get into for their passion (presumable for the one guy he likes physics and the Red Sox while the other guy is maybe a writer?*) and also, it doesn't show any of the possible depth their friendship may actually have.

To that end, my good friend Zach and I have begun a correspondence via letter. And it feels great to open the envelopes, and equally great to seal them. Signing my name feels good. We write about what we do (he's a particle physicist), we write about the people in our lives, plans for upcoming events (mutual friends' weddings, holidays), and the pleasure of sending and receiving letters.

Get yourself a pen pal, everybody. And write with substance. Talk about your life, your longings, your yearnings, your passions. Don't type it up as a computer file, make contact with the paper, the pen in your hand. Or, if you have bad handwriting (like I do), get yourself a typewriter at a thrift shop and hammer away at those keys. And please, sign in ink. It feels good. Trust me, I know. I'm a writer.


*Yes, that is exactly what I was intending all along because this is a fictional universe in which my friend Zach and I text, e-mail and tweet at each other, and we're also really ridiculously inane about more than music, bikes, guitars and Douglas Adams. Again, fictional universe.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Premature Year-End Roundup

I have been more plugged in to the music scene this year than I have in recent years. Perhaps it has to do with using a passion for new and exciting music to replace all that time I spent doing school work. Maybe it's that I spend far too much time listening to NPR's All Songs Considered and Chicago Public Radio and PRX's Sound Opinions while I drive around for work. It's probably a combination of those things. But I've already picked my five favorite albums for this year. I am well aware that there is more music yet to be released, and that some of it that I am unaware of may just blow these five out of the water. But, that having been said, these five are great. Granted, only the top two of these would have made it onto my "Best of the Decade" list if they had been released last year, which would have put the grand total of 2009 releases on that list up to five (a third of that list, wow...) but, in the months since I made that list, I realized I made errors. First off, Radiohead's Kid A should have been much higher on the list. Also, there was a noticeable lack of OK Go's Oh No which is a horrible oversight.

But, the list was subject to my mind frame at the time. I'm sure in six months when I think back, I'll have even more quibbles with it. Which only serves to remind me that this list of five could be the subject of ridicule in years to come, but for now, this is what I like, so this is what you get.

Also, sorry for the lack of posts about writing, and the lack of excerpts. When I'm writing but not working on the novel, I'm blogging, so I don't have much of anything else to share with you all. So, here goes; top five albums of 2010, mini-reviews of each, and a short list of what else you should listen to. I hope you find something you enjoy on here. Oh, and a note to a particular reader who criticized my Best Albums of the Decade list for its lack of female artists; I do apologize. It was not my intention to be misogynistic and, for the record, there are women who are members of The Decemberists, women in Sufjan Stevens' band, women in DeVotchka, and the first time I heard The Mars Volta, I thought the singer was a lady. Hopefully, I've remedied that by having a female artist in my top five and two more rounding out the list. Check it!

Top Five Albums (So Far) of 2010

5. Dark Night of the Soul - Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse
Picks: "Little Girl (Featuring Julian Casablancas)" "Insane Lullaby (Featuring James Mercer)" and "Grim Augury (Featuring Vic Chesnutt)"

The world has been waiting for this album for over a year. We waited through legal battles with Danger Mouse's label. We waited through a very limited release of David Lynch's companion book (complete with a CD-R labeled "For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will."). We waited with sadness through the suicides of contributing artist Vic Chesnutt Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous. It was finally released in July of 2010, with more emotional weight and poignancy than originally intended. With that backdrop, it's hard to criticize the album too much. There are gems on this, like Chesnutt's contribution "Grim Augury" and James Mercer's "Insane Lullaby" (recorded before Mercer and Danger Mouse collaborated on Broken Bells). Jason Lytle makes a great appearance, but then you've got David Lynch's vocals on the title track, and Black Francis' contribution "Angel's Harp" feels a little forced. Still, the album packs an emotional punch in a beautifully produced package.

4. Of The Blue Color of the Sky - OK Go
Picks: "This Too Shall Pass" and "End Love"

OK Go understands the role the internet plays in selling music; they proved this with the video for their hit "A Million Ways" in 2005. The song was off their second album Oh No and the video became a viral sensation. Within a year of its release, the video had been downloaded over nine million times. It's still one of the all-time most watched videos on youtube. With this latest album, EMI and Capitol records took steps to block youtube videos from being embedded on other sites (such as this blog) in an effort to keep ad revenue. The way it works, apparently, is that every time you watch a music video for a Capitol Records artist on youtube, advertisers pay the record company. When the video is embedded on a different website, the advertisers do not pay. The band was furious with Capitol's decision to block embedding, as the embedding of "A Million Ways" and the second video from Oh No "Here It Goes Again" were crucial to the success of that album. OK Go split from Capitol, re-releasing the record in April (originally it had been released in January). By way of announcing this newfound freedom, the band recorded a new video for their first single "This Too Shall Pass" which remains one of the greatest videos ever released (check it out below). The DIY feel of the video is perfect for the band's brave new world. But on top of their amazing video-making skills and their new-order business savvy, OK Go has turned out a fine album which has been compared to both Radiohead's OK Computer as a turning point in their career and to the best work of Prince (listen to "White Knuckles" and you'll see what people mean). "End Love" is a personal favorite for its mood, and the video is, again, pretty sweet.

3. The ArchAndroid: Suites II & III - Janelle Monáe
Picks: Whole Album

This album is an anomaly in multiple respects. A) It is a concept album released in the era of the single digital download. B) It is a concept album released by a hip-hop artist. C) It is a concept album with a Sci-Fi theme. The strangest thing you can say about this album is that it's a hip-hop sci-fi concept album that was released at the height of the digital download explosion. Just say that to a random passerby, and watch the look of sheer incredulity they'll give you. This album is a follow up to Monáe's 2008 EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite (a hip-hop sci-fi concept EP released at the beginning of the digital download explosion). The underlying story is that Monáe herself is from the year 2719, where she was cloned and sent back in time and now resides in a mental institution for the creatively insane (are you with me so far?). The clone is a human/android hybrid which has become the savior of the human race in the future (got it?). Sounds strange, I know. But this album is solid, cohesive, smart and beautiful. The cover is a clear tip-of-the-hat to Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis. The first fourth of this album is a great onslaught of dance-beat underneath some of the best hip-pop released in the last year. Monáe (along with indie-rap artist Kid Sister) is doing a more artistic, less mass-market version of Lady Gaga; create a pop persona independent of your personal life. I would argue that Monáe does it with a bit more artistry and less attention to grabbing media attention. Monáe would never show up anywhere in a meat dress, but she might show up in futuristic garb, ready to churn out energetic dance-pop and inspired, soulful rapping.

2. Broken Bells - Broken Bells
Picks: Whole Album, with special attention to "Sailing to Nowhere" "The Ghost Inside" and "The Mall and Misery"

I reviewed this album back in March and speculated that it would still be at the top of this list at year's end, and while that isn't so, the album is still one of the best pop albums I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. You can read the original review for more in depth, but sufficed to say I would classify this as 2010's perfect indie-pop album. With this and Dark Night of the Soul both landing spots in my top five, I think it's safe to say that in today's music scene, you're nobody if you haven't collaborated with Danger Mouse on an album. If you like the idea of hot androids (like, say, if you really liked the look of the cover of the number 3 album), you can check out the video for "The Ghost Inside" with Mad Men's Christina Hendricks below.

1. The Suburbs - Arcade Fire
Picks: "The Suburbs" and "Modern Man"

I have already talked about how this album has had a particular effect on me at this particular point in my life. But there's more to it than the one line in the title track. There's the idea that this record is not about the suburbs but from the suburbs, as singer Winn Butler has said. And I hate to compare another album to OK Computer, so I won't except to say that this is the same kind of step from previous work that Radiohead took with their third album, only this is better. This is 2010's second perfect pop album, and is only hampered in its accessibility by its scope and ambition. I would say that it's the aural equivalent of reading D.J. Waldie's Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (2005). Having grown up in, and now still living in, a suburb (I would go so far as to say that my current home is more suburban than my previous one, as I now live on a cul-de-sac on a street with fifty more or less identical houses), I see beyond that initial, forceful impact the album had on me to its second punch. Not that we were in great need of any validation of our angst and fears, but this is an album for anybody and everybody who grew up in the suburbs and find life in the real world slightly off-center from where we thought we'd be. Maybe we thought we'd be like Winn Butler, the rock star. Maybe we thought the college degree would guarantee us the perfect life. Maybe we were so blinded by the promise of what was to come that when we were growing up, we didn't take the time to notice that whatever "the perfect life" is, we had it pretty well made. Or not. There's a great line in the song "Modern Man" that goes "Like a record that's skipping I'm a modern man/and the clock keeps ticking I'm a modern man." I listen to that, and I decided, no more skipping. No more standing still. I've got a wonderful family and still plenty of opportunity in front of me. It's time to start taking advantage of that. And that, my friends, is why this is the album of the year.

Rounding Out the Top 10 of 2010:
Transference - Spoon

Hawk - Isobell Campbell & Mark Lanegan

Gorilla Manor - Local Natives

Brothers - The Black Keys

I Learned the Hard Way - Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

Also Mentioned in this Post:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

When I Say I'm In a Guild, Do Not Get Out Your WoW Nerd Glasses

I went to my first ever St. Louis Writer's Guild meeting tonight. I kept wanting to go to events, but decided that family came first, especially since my family has just expanded.

But, Juliette turned six weeks old today. Pfft, old hat now! Daughter, I am so over you (For the record, extreme sarcasm, I will never, ever be over Juliette).

Well, every other month they have a speaker on a Thursday night, and tonight's speaker happened to be St. Louis Writer's Guild Historian Brad Cook's lecture about researching your novel. So, I figured I'd attend, it sounded interesting enough.

It was a lot of fun. It seems like it would be boring, a bunch of writers sitting in a Barnes & Noble, talking about methods of researching period-specific clothes, events, houses, etc. But it wasn' was a good time. And, I made a good impression on the people, I think. Everybody was happy to have somebody young there, anyway, so I guess it's up to me to bring some other young people in.

So, young readers (who are also writers maybe), anyone want to join the Guild with me? They have fun events, including readings in the Eliot room at the Schlafly Tap Room. So, a good excuse to hang out with other writers and drink Eh?

My training as a real estate record researcher came in handy, tonight. One of the other members of the guild asked how she could go about finding out who owned a particular house in the late nineteenth century. I talked to her afterwards about how to go about doing that, and she was very happy to have asked the question because I was so knowledgeable. Unfortunately, I can not take time out of my schedule to go do this search for her in Springfield, IL, which I think she was secretly hoping for, but the research experience will be good for her, I maintain.

Anyway, since I was out until nine this evening, there are some things that need to get done around the house which must get done before bed. And since it's almost bed time, I should get to it. So, I'ma go get to it.

See you all later.

Friday, September 10, 2010


So, regular readers and link-clickers will be aware that my sister has a blog that is dedicated to her family, and in particular her daughters Madeline and Lydia.

I contemplated doing similar posts on this blog. I mean, why not? If anything, it would make me post more. But then, you'd probably get a lot of "Holy Crap, there was crap everywhere!" posts which, if you're coming for the writing, may not be what you're looking for.

Those who are glad to avoid reading such posts need read no further than the next sentence. You can keep coming here to read all about my writing, trials and tribulations with writing, excuses why I'm not writing, and occasional odd excerpts from my writing. Those who do want to read the kind of family oriented whatnot, can head over to StL Hipster Dad. The first post is actually a review of Arcade Fire's new album The Suburbs thinly veiled as sentimentality and love for my daughter. Enjoy!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Paternity Leave

I'm sure you've all noticed the sudden lack of new posts, and for that, I make no apology other than to say see my previous post. I've got very little time these days, it seems, with adjusting to this crazy awesome new little human being living in my house, with all the visitors streaming in bringing food and eager baby-yearning open arms, and with all the sleep I am not getting. So if the blog kind of falls to the wayside, you would do well, readers, to understand.

Just an update: Juliette is still doing great. Coming home was easier than I thought it would be, and at this point, it's hard to remember life without her. It's easy to see that I am enamored of her; my desktop background on my work computer has always been a silly picture from the internet but now it is my daughter. I even brought in my very first ever physical photograph in a frame and placed it on my desk - a picture of Juliette asleep on my chest. It's something special, I'll tell you, being a father. Even though I'm still very new at it, it's one of the most exciting adventures I've ever been on.

And the good things just seem to keep on happening, too. Monday, as I drove home from work (with the windows down and the radio up because even though it's August in St. Louis it was unseasonably gorgeous), the very first sentence of my novel fell from the sky, through my open moonroof and into my brain. I have been stuck on how to begin my novel since, well, since I began my novel. There's an event (it's no secret, I've said it before, the death of the narrator's father) that I was not sure where to place. Does it take place before the novel begins? In the first chapter? The first page? Later? The first sentence was my answer; the very first sentence saved my sanity and sparked my creativity.

You want to read my first sentence? Really? Okay.

Go buy my book when it comes out.


But seriously, I think I'm done posting excerpts and rough chapter fragments from the book for a while. I need to hunker down and write the thing, so it gets done. I'd like to have a complete draft done by March, not completed but with enough polish and revision that it's readable and marketable. So no more dilly-dallying.

So...a few weeks ago I promised album reviews. I have not delivered. I have yet another album review I want to do, but I won't let myself until I get the two I promised done. So the third might just not happen.

Look for those at a future date.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Juliette Adrianna

Juliette Adrianna
8/5/2010 at 7:17 AM
6 lbs 3 oz
19 3/4"
Baby, mom, and dad all doing well.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Modest Proposal Monday - Taxes

I do not pretend to be the Jonathan Swift of the 21st Century. All I'm trying to be is the me of the 21st Century. That having been said, I love Swift's Modest Proposal and believe it to be one of the best pieces of pure snark of all time. Of all time.

So, with that in mind, a new feature that will crop up every once in a great while; Modest Proposal Mondays.


There has been a lot of discussion-political discussion-lately about the merits of our tax-based social systems. There are those on the left who believe the social services should be expanded, and paid for by those who have more than enough money to get by. You know, help your fellow man, all that good stuff that you find in that one book, I can't remember what it's called right now...oh, right, The Bible. On the right, you've got the people who think it's just a social safety net, and that it should be removed outright, that taxes should be lowered or eliminated. Then, there are those in the middle, who believe a moderate system of social security and government sponsored supports for those without means can take advantage of when needed. But certainly the most vocal support is coming from the right, and I've heard quite a lot of it.

And, strange enough, I'm starting to come around to their way of thinking.

So, today, I modestly propose that we give in to the ideology of the Tea Party movement, and completely abolish taxes and any services they may pay for.

I can already hear some of you complaining, but let's look at two services that are going to be cut that will actually be beneficial to everyone; road maintenance and education.

The way road maintenance is paid for now is through a national gasoline tax. States and local municipalities also use extra tax for this purpose. What that means is that federal highways are paid for by the national gas tax, state roads by the state tax, etc. This means that, depending on your state, county and city, you could be paying taxes four times on every gallon of gas you buy. What the crap? And how do you know that the money is being wisely spent? What about that tiny pothole in front of your house? Does that every get any federal, state, or local attention? Probably not! No, they're busy taking your money and rebuilding bridges you never use, paving roads you don't live near and making it easier for people you've never met to get to their jobs at companies you never do business with. Many of these people use these roads to go to their local unemployment offices to get more of your money just for sitting on their lazy asses, or they go to free, tax-payer financed clinics for medical care (something you pay for through your private health insurance), or they go to other Socialist meetings like poetry readings or, shock of shocks, the symphony (which, by the way, might also be partially financed through your municipal taxes).

So what I modestly propose is that we place a permanent moratorium on the gasoline taxes, and instead use the money we save on gasoline to pay a private company or individual to fix the roads we use every day. That way, you can find somebody who will make sure that your route to and from work is always smooth sailing, and you won't have to pay for construction on a highway you've never even heard of before.

Of course, many might suggest that people of lower incomes may not be able to afford to hire anybody to fix their roads. Well, their loss, right? They are saving just as much per gallon of gas as you are, there is no reason they shouldn't put that money towards road repair. If their jobs don't pay them enough, they should find new jobs that do! In fact, they could learn how to repair roads, which would solve a lot of problems! You could hire them to repair your road, which they will do while you are at work. When their work day is done, they already have the skills to go home and fix their own roads. And most employers offer discounts to their employees, so they will be getting a better rate than you will! It works out for everyone, see? Plus, with all the new companies springing up to fix roads, you'll be able to shop around and get the best price, rather than relying on the government's one price monopoly.

Now when it comes to education, I hear you whining, what are people who can't afford to send their children to private schools going to do when the liberal public schools close? Well, the children can always apply for scholarships if they're smart. And if they're not, the parents shouldn't have too much trouble paying for school once they start earning more money building roads that go from the teachers' houses to the school, right? It'll be fantastic for everyone! As far as higher education goes, many lower income students may not be able to attend college simply due to lack of funds. If they can't get a scholarship, they can apply for loans from a bank, which will be better than loans from the government because, again, you'll have many more options from which to choose! And if they still can't get into college, you don't need a bachelor's degree to fix roads, do you?

This doesn't just hold for roads, though. Fire departments, long a socialist establishment, will be privatized and only the best will be hired. Of course, with the many different departments which will be formed, you will have multiple pricing options to choose from should your home catch fire. So even the lower income families will be able to find cut rate fire protection should they need it. Same goes for police protection, lending libraries (lower late fees because you pay for each book you borrow!)...the list goes on.

When you replace one government controlled institution with multiple privatized options, you get a variety of pricepoints and services which better serve the community, and you will always be assured that you are getting the best deal you can possibly afford. Not to mention that with so many companies being formed, unemployment will virtually vanish! It's the ultimate in no-lose situations!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Game Night

If you'll recall, last year I blogged about the Whitaker Music Festival which happens on Wednesdays in the summer here in the StL at the Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, this year we've only attended twice; once with some family in town and once on a somewhat cool evening with a group of friends. Otherwise, it has been uniformly too hot and humid or, as was the case this last evening, too wet. Normally, we'd brave the heat but with the extra oppressiveness this year and with the baby still kicking a hole through Kathy's stomach, it just hasn't been feasible to attend.

So tonight, rather than sit around twiddling our thumbs by ourselves, Kathy and I invited Bunny and Bee over for dinner and board games. Bee brought along her new friend of the opposite sex, whom she refers to as McCartney on her blog so, why not? So, Bunny, Bee and McCartney come over...wait. That doesn't work. We've got a forest animal, a stinging insect, and then the last name of one of the greatest rock 'n' rolling Brits to ever grace us with his musical talents. Maybe I'll call him...Anglerfish. Just to stay with the animal motif.

See, this is why I don't make up nicknames on the blog...nicknames are something I'm no good at. So, in the interest of keeping it simple while protecting identities, Bunny is now J, Bee is now B, and Anglerfish is now C.

Got it?

So, A,B,C, and D were walking down the street when they ran into a very scared looking number. "What's your name?" A asked. "Six..." the number responded. "Why are you so scared?" B asked the number. Six looked around. "I'm afraid of seven..." There was a moment of silence. "Um...why are you afraid of seven?" C asked. "Good question," D nodded. Six looked around. " ate nine!"

Whoa...where did I go there?

Okay, so, J, B, and C came over for some lasagna, though J decided against it because she has some sort of noodle phobia. Let's face it, I surround myself with interesting people. So she had a salad. The rest of us, being unafraid of noodles, consumed noodles. Then we had hot fudge sundaes for dessert. Now, we had a choice of vanilla or chocolate chip. Kathy asked for half and half. Um, Kathy? Chocolate chip is vanilla ice cream with chips of chocolate in it. But trying to use logic like that with a pregnant woman is a bad idea, I found out. So let that be a lesson to you.

After that, we listened to some jazz and classical records while playing Clue and Apples to Apples. Have you ever played Apples to Apples? That's a freaking amazingly awesome game. The basic premise of it is that one person reads a word from a green card, like, say, "Peaceful." Then the other players have to put down a red card with a word they think matches it in some way. Then the person who puts down the green card reads all the red cards, picks the best one, and thus the person who put the winning card down wins. So, "Peaceful" is the word, and let's say there are four other people playing. Somebody puts down, "Bedtime," while another person puts down "The Ocean." The third person puts down "My High School Prom" and the last person puts down "Ziggy Stardust." The strategy comes in about the second round, when you've seen how everybody chooses. Some people would pick something like "Bedtime" for that one while others would go for Ziggy Stardust every time. It's the best game of all time. Of all time.

So, we stayed cool and dry and still got to listen to some good music, while playing fun board games and getting to know C, who in turn got to be judged by myself, Kathy and J. I'm sure he had fun, though...right?


Saturday, July 17, 2010


Today, I woke up early and mowed the lawn. I ran to Schnucks and picked up some milk, Bisquick, and Lindt truffles. I wished my wife a happy anniversary.

I got her a new camera. This may seem a bit much, considering we've got a monster digital SLR, but that's hard to tote around with you everywhere. So I got her a good pocket-sized digital. I got her a four gig memory card and a neoprene case she can carry it around in. Which will be good for when she and I are out with a kid.

She got me a much greater gift, though. I feel like she outdid me.

She gave me a membership in the St. Louis Writer's Guild.

She's awesome.

To celebrate our anniversary, we're actually going to spend a couple hours apart this afternoon. See, she's having a baby shower thrown for her, at our house, hosted by her friends Melinda and Heather. So while that's going on, Drew (Heather's boy friend) and I are going to go do something manly. We haven't totally decided yet, so maybe what we're going to do is be indecisive together. Though we might play mini golf. Afterward, Heather, Drew, Kathy and I (and possibly others) will be going out to dinner.

Happy 6th anniversary, Kathy!


I am working on two album reviews which should be up some time next week. I've got a busy weekend ahead, otherwise I'd finish them.

For the record, I will be reviewing Janelle Monáe's album The ArchAndroid: Suites II and III and Bettye Lavette's Interpretations: The British Songbook. So familiarize yourself with those two artists quickly.


Sunday, July 11, 2010


An update on the novel (which still has the working title Before Rock Attained Perfection but I'm determined to do better than that): This novel is being written, right now, in bits and pieces and it is presenting, as such, problems of cohesion. I keep trying to tell too much about the story rather than just tell the story in the pieces I'm turning out because they've yet to flow together. But in the past few weeks, I've had a series of breakthroughs on things like plot, character development, themes, etc, so I'm confident this cohesiveness problem will be easily rectified.

Speaking of breaking through a creative impediment, my most recent epiphany about the book came about this afternoon while I was showering. Not something many of my readers want to picture, I'm sure, but I am still going to talk about it, so ye be warned. No, I will not go into graphic detail about what I was wearing in the shower (which was, for the record, nothing, not even cut-offs), but I will go into the epiphany, and why I think it happened.

So I've been thinking a lot about the novel (obviously) and yesterday, one of my good friends whom I have known since I was twelve (almost thirteen, back in 7th grade) got married to a guy I wholeheartedly approve of. So that's good. We were close through high school and she was there for me when I needed her in my listless post-high school graduation pre-college funk with an invite to see the stage show Blast, and she came to visit me in Minnesota on her fall break (and inadvertently made my current wife jealous, because Kathy thought this friend was my girlfriend and Kathy, it turns out, wanted that job to be hers). So there was a lot of good feelings about this wedding, plus I got to see my best friend from high school Zach (the bass player in my old band The Hitchhikers, which I may or may not have mentioned on the blog before) plus some other good friends from back in the day. So with these good thoughts and old memories running through my head all day yesterday, and all night, I got up this morning (late) and got to working on the garden.

There is something to be said about working in a garden; feeling the dirt in your hands, holding the plants in your palms and feeling their life. It's...calming. And that's a big deal for me to say, because (as my parents are quick to point out) I would never, ever have voluntarily done any kind of gardening or yardwork, whatsoever, when I lived with them. And Kathy would takes a lot to get me out to do that kind of work and for some reason, I always forget how rewarding it can be. But working in the garden (not mowing the lawn, which is just sweaty or raking leaves, which is just painful) can really help me clear my mind a little.

After that, I took a shower, which is relaxing in a different way. Gardening relaxes my mind; a shower relaxes my body. So I was in there, relaxed mind and relaxed body, singing some Moody Blues softly to myself, when all of a sudden, a solution to one of the problems of my novel presented itself. The water was running down my back and over my shoulders and it just came t me.

I'll just go ahead and tell you a little bit about what I mean. There's a problem of the narrator's father believes that Rock music reached a pinnacle in 1976, and that since then it has been on a rapid downward spiral. The reason presented for this in the original short story on which the novel is founded is that Led Zeppelin's album Presence contained the greatest achievement of rock music, "Achilles Last Stand." But I needed there to be more to it than that, so I found a way for the narrator to discover his father's true reasons. I will say no more now. But I'm excited to get working on it.

Anyway...if your head is ever in a funk, do something with a little bit of a Zen feel to it. Rock garden. Real garden? Try it. Then take a shower. It seems to help me.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Comment Moderation

I had a few little problems with comments on my blog after I set up moderation. The e-mails were going into my spam folder for some reason. Some of you may have posted a comment only to find days later that it still hadn't actually posted. In fact, I've gotten quite a lot of comments since I turned on the moderation, I just didn't know I had them until my blogger dashboard told me I had eleven comments waited to be approved. Oops. Sorry everybody. Anyway, if you comment and it doesn't show up right away, that's normal. If you comment and it doesn't show up for a few days, then either I've dropped the ball or your comment was spam. Try to avoid that last one.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The "Joy" of Classical Music

There are certain forms of art that have no place. I wouldn't even call them art, because they're not artful. They're not even commercially artful, though some (those who make money off such "art") would argue. I'm talking about "art" with a blatant, in your face message. Art like the Left Behind novels and movies. Art like Christian Rock music.

The reason I bring all this up is because I just listened to Dvorák's Symphony for the New World, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and I am currently listening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony, after which the only commercial Classical radio station in the entire United States of America will cease broadcasting to become a Lutheran Church-funded Christian Rock station. This is kind of a sad thing to happen. And by kind of, I mean, very.

Classical music has always been a large part of my life. Music in general has, but I have many memories of listening to this radio station (Classic 99.1 KFUO) from my youth. Many people growing up know classical music from Loony Toons. I knew it from the radio and the symphony and the records and tapes and CDs in my parents' music library. I knew it from concerts my father would play in. I knew it as a listener and then I knew it as a performer. Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Mozart, Beethoven, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dvorák, Mussorgsky, Hindemith, much more. And I was always able to discover new music by flipping over to the classical station.

The fact that tomorrow morning I'll have one less viable radio station to listen to makes me sad. I refuse to listen to Christian Rock, because there is no artistry. The intent is so heavy-handed, there's no room for interpretation. Each and every song is a love song to Jesus, God, Faith...what pain there is seems to be referenced in passing, removed by Jesus. Where's the humanity in that art? For what is the purpose of art if not to hold a mirror up to reality? And I know, in reality, many people find joy in Faith. Fine. Many people find joy in a well written piece of music. And many musicians and composers believe their talent to be a gift from God. And with that, I have no qualms. My sadness comes from the idea that the owners of the new Joy FM feel the need to remind us of God. To quote Douglas Adams, "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" Except, in this case, do we have to hang sings on the plants that there are fairies at work? It cheapens the beauty of the flowers.

As I understand it, most Christian Rock bands are put together the same way that other tasteless mass market pop is put together; some people who want to make money put together a marketable package of pseudo musicians with only enough talent to do exactly as they are told. Somebody else writes their music for them, and all they do is record it and perform it. So the artistry is not even there at the beginning. Just get a good looking group of people with decent singing voices and the ability to cover the instrumentation you need, and (in the case of Christian Rock) make sure they're clean cut and regular churchgoers.

Never mind the fact that a few short decades ago, the predecessors of the people now putting together these rock groups decried rock and roll as "the devil's music." I really want to know what late 70's tech geek and person of faith engineered his record player to play Hotel California backwards to hear "Worship Satan" over and over. Let's just skip that part and get to Joy FM.

Why did this happen in St. Louis? This is tantamount to the symphony hall closing and becoming a church. Or the art museum becoming a tabernacle. I am sad, I am indignant, and I am sad. In that order.

Sorry this wasn't more coherent. I just don't know what else to say without inflaming any anti-religion v religion debates. For the record, I am an atheist who loves classical music, so of course I oppose this. But many people of faith oppose this as well, mostly because we already have radio and television outlets in St. Louis for religious expression. Now we have no easily accessible outlet for classical music. Sure, there's internet radio and satellite radio and HD radio and CD and mp3, but not everybody can gain access to these things. It's just sad.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Days of Future Passed

That is the title of my current favorite album.

Let us be clear on one thing; my all time, Desert Island, Number One With a Bullet, House is Burning Down Only Have Time To Grab One Album is still Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary. But just like how in April my favorite album was Broken Bells, in May it was The Decemberist's Picaresque, and in June it was The Best of Buddy Rich (the LP I got for Record Store Day...that was a hard month because, as stated before, it's not available on CD or mp3 in album form though I could piece-meal it together I guess), this month it's turning out to be the epic concept album from 1967, Days of Future Passed by Moody Blues.

I know what you're thinking. Well, no, no I don't. But I can guess what some of you are thinking. And by some, I mean, I'm going to mentally divide all of my readers into three groups, each based on what I am guessing that you are thinking as you read this.

Group A: "Right on, man! Groovy!"

Group B: "But...that's kind of schlocky and gimmicky and pretentious...I mean, it ends with a poem about a 'Cold Hearted Orb that Rules the Night' and then a gigantic gong blast. What the hell?"

Group C: "Dude, I have no idea who those dinosaurs are. were alive in 1967? I knew you were old, but sheesh.

To those groups I say (respectively), "Totally," "Yeah but it's still so good," and "Duh, what do you think I did after the Boer Wars ended? That's when I got into music. That Tchaikovsky sure was a devilish whipper-snapper in his younger days. Oh, wait, jerk, I'm not even thirty years old yet, I just happen to have been raised on awesome music, much like my child will be."

The point Let me try and catch my train of thought. Now, let's see...favorite album...June...whipper-snapper...oh yeah!

The point is that whenever I listen to this album, strong images are conjured up in my mind. I remember my mother had this on tape and would listen to it and kind of lazily dance around the house as she went about her day. I have very vivid memories of her standing in front of the stereo (which was under the stairs at the time, which won't make sense without a detailed architectural history of my parents' house which I am not willing to go into at this point, though know that the stairs were white with brown carpeting for a time before they were stripped of carpeting and painted, inexplicably except so far as it was the late 1980's, deep magenta) and singing "Tuuuuuuues-day A-aaaaaaaaaaafternoooooooooon!" along with the tape. Eventually, we moved the stereo, got a CD player and even tore out the magenta stairs and put in normal stairs to a better floor-planned upstairs (the house is not on the market, yet here I am selling it to you). And with the CD player, my mother upgraded from tape to CD, and still continued to sing along.

So I know this album intimately, it's part of the geography of my musical mind. I like to think that if, for some reason you wanted to do this, you could crack my head open and find the part of my brain that remembers music, lower a stylus into the correct groove and you'd hear this entire album perfectly.

The only problem is, I haven't heard the entire album perfectly as it was originally released. You see, in 1978 the album was remixed, and that new mix has become the prevalent recording now sold and heard everywhere. The original was only ever released on vinyl and 8-Track tape. Since then, of course, we've had tape, CD, SACD, digital music...and it's all been the 1978 remixing. But people who are familiar with both mostly agree that the original mix is superior. Now, why don't they just record it from the original masters? They had deteriorated, which is why it was remixed in the first place. The only option now, and it's not one likely to see any official action, would be to find an original pressing on vinyl in excellent condition and transfer it that way. It's been done; many recordings from the early part of the 20th century were done direct to wax record, transferred to lacquer and (eventually) to vinyl, and that's the only form in which they existed until somebody came along to release a compilation (and I just heard a story on NPR about somebody doing this, but I can't for the life of me remember who, nor can I find a link to it on their music site). So, it could be done.

The only problem with that, of course, is that since the remixed recording has been around and dominant for 32 years, it's not easy to find a good copy of the original record. I think I've talked about it before, maybe not, how vinyl is a self-destructive medium; every time you listen to a record, you destroy it a little (and also the needle), and also every dust particle could wreak havoc on the quality, not to mention that vinyl is big and unwieldy and fragile (not a good combination). So the likelihood of a 33-43 year old record existing in excellent condition is not good. Add to that the relative desirability of this item; anyone who has it probably wants to keep it, any one who wants it and finds a copy for sale will likely snatch it up in a heartbeat. So I have yet to hear the original mix. Which is sad, because I want to incorporate the album into my novel.

That's what got me into the album recently; I was looking for some classic rock to incorporate into a scene and was scrolling through my iTunes (it's still much easier to keep music organized digitally than it ever will be physically, plus I have almost ten years' worth of downloads and CD rips that I am never going to fully replace with vinyl) and chanced on the cover art, which gave me a chill. Oh yeah, that's the other thing about this album; when we got it on CD, my mom would put it on I would sit in front of the stereo and stare at the cover art. Because this was cover art designed for a record, it's intricately detailed and kind of psychedelic. So I listened to it, all the way through. It's quite the album. It reminded me that alums like The Decemerist's The Hazards of Love and Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid (a fantastic and amazing album, one of the best of the year) have a rich lineage that reaches back to classical music. In fact, Days of Future Passed was originally commissioned to be a rock rendition of Dvorak's New World Symphony. But the band decided to instead continue their work on what was to be a stage show they had been kicking around for a while. They didn't abandon the idea of classical music, though; this album is rich in orchestral layers; strings, horns, winds, it's all there.

So, I got into it, and started doing some research, and found this discrepancy in the mix. It fits in perfectly with part of my storyline.

But now I feel like I need to hear the original release. But I won't let that stop me! Onward and Upward! On...onward and upward.

:::cries softly in the shower:::

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