The Week That Was, or Emptiness, Eagles, and Snow

While finishing the last week of the 2018 academic year, the family got some form of stomach virus that started last week. Since that cleared up, we’ve been able to do some much needed cleaning and organizing. We’re also planning our next academic year.

The youngest got her cast cut off and she is healing. The worst part of the ordeal (besides the smell–she dutifully peed into her cast the first night she had it) was the sore she gave herself by packing mulch into her cast. She hasn’t explained why she put the mulch in the cast, and sometimes there is no real answer. Maybe because it was there.

Tonight we were discussing different astrological systems at dinner and finding out which of us are dogs, snakes, sharks, dragons, etc. When told we were water bearers, the kids began chanting:

Water Bear! Water Bear!
Polar Bear! Polar Bear!
Woo-oop! Woo-oop!
Poolar Bear! Poolar Bear!

*repeat*

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 3.45.09 PMThe Phantom (1931) is a giant, wonderful mess of an attempt at a horror-comedy/action film. I tend to adore this kind of z-grade schlock and I want to like this one less than I do. I can’t say anything is done well here, but I still had fun. The plot revolves around a character called “The Phantom” who escapes from jail and promises more dastardly deeds. Sure. The plot is more confusing than the poster, which I think has a lovely balance to it–unlike the film.

The movie could partially be saved with a good edit. Scenes start early or end too late rendering the performances–not stellar to begin with–almost surreal. Every emotion becomes awkward humor or just awkward.

Still, I found it oddly charming.

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 4.25.00 PMLilli Carré is one of my favorite comics writers and artists. Her stories, sometimes dark, sometimes absurd, sometimes neither, may remind one of O. Henry, Aimee Bender, Flannery O’Connor, Mark Beyer, or Edward Gorey.  And whether or not these folks were actual influences, Carré is a unique and inspiring voice. I’m often terrible about keeping up with comics and the comics creators I like–I just discovered that she’s done some animated films that I’m excited to track down.

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Paolo Bacilieri’s FUN: Spies, Puzzle Solvers, and a Century of Crosswords is a graphic novel that tells the history of the crossword. But it’s not that simple or straightforward. The crossword history is told as a work in progress by a writer named Pippo Quester, who I think is an homage to Umberto Ecco.

The art is fantastic, and the way the art and story inform and extend each other gives the story immediate and multiple pleasures. The book holds up on multiple reads. I was shocked at how many negative reviews this one got on Goodreads. Many of the complaints were that it should be at least two different books. I totally disagree. Quester is the vertical plane of the crossword. He is known for his intelligence. This book is also partially about his fall. Zeno Porno (a Disney cartoonist!) is the horizontal. He’s down-to-earth, moving through life, trying to figure out his life. I keep thinking of Mafalda as the face staring out of the first crossword in The Settimana Enigmistica. She is an enigma in the book. There’s also a way where I read the three characters as representations of three different generations.

I loved this book.

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 5.00.43 PMMy workouts tend to be scored by either Public Enemy and older Ice Cube records or Slayer, Entombed, or other metal variations. I was scrolling through music the other day before cardio and I saw this and figured I’d give it a shot. The only thing I knew (or thought I knew) about the record was that it must not be that good because we always had 10 to 20 copies in the used bin of the record store I worked at for several years. The album art, well, just kinda sucks and I figured the rest of the thing must suck, too.

We all have our blindspots.

I didn’t recognize the opener, “Highway Star,” at first because I don’t think I’ve ever heard the actual song. I’ve heard covers, clips, and a radio edit. It’s a fantastic rock song. I found it funny that it’s a hyperbolic “girls and cars” song like a lot of the early material by the Beach Boys. I found a German TV appearance that has some great solos and a hilariously drunk or forgetful Ian Gillan. Maybe he’s improvising, but if so, it’s not very inspired.

This record also has “Smoke on the Water,” a tune off limits when I was growing up and playing music. It immediately signaled you were uncool and a beginner. I’ve never heard this song played or phrased correctly. I realized this when I finally listened to the actual song and not someone trying to play the riff. Also, the song namechecks, of all things, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. What?! I had to stop and rewind the song and  then realized it was about the Montreux fire. It was the last thing I expected in such a ubiquitous song.

Much of the record is a kind of blues rock that’s fine for what it is. I love the organ riffs and solos. There are some fun lyrics like “Maybe I’m a Leo, but I ain’t a lion.” I really like “Pictures of Home,” which is a type of ubi sunt, or “Where are they?” poem.

Back to that cover: I will say that I thought the album was contemporary in the ’90s, so maybe that’s saying something. I assumed it was a compilation or best-of thing. But still, that cover’s so bad. Did it look trippy in ’72 or something? I don’t get it. I just imagine the doors closing on the worst elevator ride ever.

 

The Week That Was, or Them Geeses

Geese and ducks have returned with their young. We’ve been walking around the pond looking at greeny goslings, all fuzzy like they got stuck under a hair dryer. We’ve also seen ducklings swim behind their parents in those cute little lines that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in person–only on cartoons or in storybooks.

My own little one holds hands and walks around cast-n-boot. She gets tired faster than usual, but that’s to be expected. She told me, “Someone needs to tell them geeses not to poop where humans can see it.” After we passed the family of geese, we passed two more standing at the edge of the water. She said, “That must be grandma and grandpa.”

The older one runs ahead of us on the trail and back again, only to run way out ahead of us again.

Despite broken bones, boxes, and the bustling beginning of the end of another school year, these are good days.

I was really feeling that and then I read about new research on the spread of ticks and their pathogens.

Anyway, I wrote about Stump’s Quirk Out for my latest Lost Chords & Serenades Divine.

 

I’ve been meaning to re-read Black Hole for a while, but I came across his trilogy at the library recently and decided to read that instead. I devoured all three in a matter of hours. There are Tintin and Burroughs references, and an InterZone-like setting that sometimes feels like Moebius interpreting Cronenberg. I just swallowed the thing whole and really haven’t digested it. Burns is doing some cool stuff at the level of image (these grids that represent each part of the story among, obviously, a ton of others) and color.

There is a way that by the time I got to the end I felt like I was reading Burns’s blasted sci-fi version of something like the autobio comics that cover grief and loss. I guess that’s similar to how he explored the coming-of-age story in Black Hole.

I don’t really watch TV shows, much less binge-watch, but I inhaled these comics.

clarke
My ears totally rejected this the first time I heard it in high school. Too bright. Too clean. Too happy. Hearing it now, it reminds me of a lot of TV and film music I heard growing up. In college, I saw a concert video of Clarke on upright and he showed an amazing command of an instrument I was struggling with at the time. I listened to School Days again. Still didn’t like it.

There’s fantastic talent on this record. Plenty of fusion royalty. McLaughlin. Cobham. Gadd. George Duke! I don’t dislike it the way I did in high school, but it’s not something that excites me too much either. Gadd’s drum track on “Quiet Afternoon” is nice. I like hearing Clarke’s approach to upright on “Desert Song.” “Hot Fun” is well-titled.

The cover is pretty great. So is this video of George Duke jamming on “School Days” with a keytar. I first heard Duke on Zappa records. Music just pours out of him. He makes everything he does look effortless. There’s such a beauty and joy in that–even when I’m not particularly excited about the music itself.

The Week That Was, or Red Planet Aligned

We’ve had great weather here, so when the kids get home we’ve been going to the park. I miss when the geese would waddle around us. Now there’s just screeching trees, but at least the insects and the heat haven’t taken over…yet. Mostly it’s just Spider-Man jumps and running around the playground. My oldest likes to run at least two laps before playtime and two after. She is the only runner in the family, even her competitive younger sister watches and says, “Let me hold the clock!”

I wrote a whole page on bassist Bakithi Kumalo that I ended up editing out of my latest post on Lost Chords & Serenades Divine. I’ve been researching a variety of African rock and pop styles, partially out of general interest and partially for bass playing inspiration. The one personal positive outcome from our flood has been my rediscovery of bass playing.

In true reanimated fashion, I published an essay I wrote on zombies over a decade ago for Test Prep to go with their episode on Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Mother! (2017). George Romero remains an inspiration.

 

smith
I’m always reading a book of poetry, but that may mean reading only a poem or two a day. I had enjoyed a few of Smith’s poems in various publications, and I admired not only the individual lines and poems, but also the organization of Life on Mars. Smith weaves several topics together, grief, the death of a father, David Bowie, etc. What struck me was how Modernist the book was, while being contemporary. I don’t know much about Smith, but there was this echo of style and device of Eliot and Pound and Yeats, but not mimicry. The multiple dimensional use of Bowie as a reference reminded me of Pound’s use of references. After Silverstein, Hughes, Poe, and Dickinson, the Modern poets, for better or worse, were my first real poetry obsessions. I knew poetry would be a part of my life after reading them.

 

banner
So this came with my Audible account I started two years ago. I enjoyed Krakauer’s Into the Wild, but I thought this was the Mt. Everest book, which only sort of interests me. I didn’t have any credits left and didn’t want to spend any more money on books, so I decided to listen to it since it was free. Wow. This isn’t the Everest book. This is the Mormon murder book. If you’ve listened to the podcast, you know that I’ve been studying religion and religious texts informally for over a decade. I hadn’t done much work on Mormonism, fundamental or otherwise, though I’ve had pleasant conversations with Mormon missionaries.

It’s a mix of Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Seriously.

 

mast
Moby Dick is one of my favorite novels, and when I heard that there was a metal record based on it (to some degree), it cracked me up. Someone tried to get me to listen to it once, but I just wasn’t interested in hearing metal at the time. Time’s change. Mastodon’s Leviathan (2004) has been cued up several times this week and I think it’s a blast. I’ve previewed a few of their other albums and none of them have caught my ear yet.

 

I generally don’t write about stuff I don’t like. It just doesn’t seem useful. Sometimes work is just not for me at a specific time (see above paragraph) or simply not for me. That’s ok. I may personally analyze something that I don’t think works in order to learn from it. Anyway, this particular week brought me two unexpected cases.

clowes
I’ve been reading Clowes since he was in Cracked. I’m wondering if I missed something with this one. It felt like a chore getting though it sometimes and I’ve never had that experience with his work (though I recently attempted a viewing of the Ghost World adaptation–a movie I liked when it was released–and found it unwatchable). There were interesting nods to other cartoonists’ styles, like the time dimensions would be characters visiting different strips or universes drawn by a different author. Any other Clowes fans have the same reaction?

 

diner
I had only heard good things about Diner (1982). While there are some sparkling performances here, I felt like Kevin Bacon’s character most of the time: I either wanted to drink or punch windows or both. I don’t think that was what I was supposed to get from it. I much prefer the Baltimore of John Waters.

The Week That Was, or Almonds on the Soles of My Shoes

The best thing about the week was going to see some of my oldest daughter’s work in a children’s art show at a small local museum. The youngest would wake up every morning and yell, “We’re going to the art show!” and we’d have to explain when it was. We walked around the museum and the town and got to have dinner at a little place together. The rest of the week wasn’t as soothing.

This is always a busy time at school. We’re doing new material and reviewing for exams. It always seems like we have a lot due at the same time and a lot of absences from field trips and sports. Then our state just dropped a giant standardized test on us that we have to do in May. So I need to research that in order to make sure my students know what to expect.

Along with that, we finally had our clothes and linens delivered from the flood. We’re in the process of going through that and we found out that part of the claim had to be fixed. This process has affected us for two months and counting…

With all this, my writing schedule had to be adjusted, but I’m still working. I should have a piece on Oumou Sangeré’s new record up this week and I’m revisiting an older essay on zombies for a Terror Test viewing of Night of the Living Dead (1968), one of my favorite movies. I was Romero- and zombie-obsessed for a good part of my pre-teen and teen years.

 

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I had been recommended Locke and Key several times and either I bought something else or the library didn’t have the first volume. I’ve now read the first two volumes and really loved them. This is the first longer work that I’ve read by Hill, too. What I particularly like about the series is that it is obviously horror–it goes for scares, it goes for creepiness, it goes for gore–unapologetically. But with that it also works on developing characters, which horror doesn’t always do well. In some ways, it’s like Tales from the Crypt (each key is would almost be like a story in one of the anthologies) but with character development.

 

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I loved the structure of this book. It’s Daniel Clowes working in a page-length gag strip format, while telling a longer narrative that spans maybe a couple of decades. Kind of a sardonic For Better or Worse fronted by–I don’t know–calling him a misanthrope seems kind. It cracked me up, yet it still manages to evoke poignancy, and, somehow, even empathy.

 

I’ve been spending more time listening and playing music, which as I’ve mentioned before hasn’t happened in years.

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Carcass: Symphonies of Sickness (1989)
I hadn’t listened to Carcass in ages. I’ve heard them called all kinds of genres: grind core, hardcore, death metal, burp metal, whatever. I find it strange that I can’t remember any of this material musically (I don’t remember any melodies, riffs, anything–then again “Ruptured in Purulence” has some sweet riffs), but I still like it. One of the early pioneers of death metal. I need to find my copy of Napalm Death’s Scum.

 

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Paul Simon: Graceland (1986)
I was writing about the bassist on this record, Bakithi Kumalo, and decided to give it a listen. I hadn’t heard this record in decades. I’ve never heard a Simon and Garfunkel album and I’ve only listened to two or three Simon solo efforts, but this record was the first one I consciously remember listening to for the bass playing. It’s still one of my favorite bass performances, particularly in pop music.

 

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Henry Kaiser / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter: Plane Crash (2009)
Spectacular free improv set by three monsters. Oddly, though he’s the most well-known, I’ve heard the fewest recordings of Kaiser’s and this one made me realize that he’s likely a fan of Davey Williams, a great Birmingham guitarist.

Black Sabbath recordings have been a balm to my soul lately.

The Week That Was, or I Wish the Shoe Fit

This week included speeding tickets, stomach viruses, the stinkiest, and ultimately most inedible, Brussels sprouts ever, and a white-knuckled trip to work in rain, standing water, and without streetlights, among other slight disasters.

My just-turned-four-year-old got a special present of pull-ups for her birthday because of the stomach virus.

Taking care of sick children did allow for a lot of snuggling, watching cartoons, and some reading.

Getting writing done is another story.

I did write a Lost Chords on the heavy metal art book Hellraisers.

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It’s been two decades since I’ve seen Buñuel’s work, with the exceptions of Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age D’Or (1930). These are strange, beautiful films I revisit every year or so, each containing images seared into my visual memory. Well, aural memory, too. Almost every version of Un Chien I’ve seen uses “Tango Argentino.” It’s a piece of music that I hear in my head on a weekly basis. I’m not kidding. Maybe I should have given a warning before that link.

With Viridiana (1961)Buñuel managed to anger not only film censors, but also Franco and the Vatican. There is a fearlessness to his work, even if some argue that some of his metaphors are too obvious. I don’t know. Those images! These films were uncanny and almost incomprehensible when I was a young viewer. I enjoyed and felt transported by that quality. Now I can see the historical and social implications in his work and the films have taken on multiple meanings.

He was asked to change the ending in order to make it less suggestive. Originally, Viridiana goes into her cousin’s room and it is assumed that they are beginning an affair.  [spoiler here] He reshot it and had three characters sit down to play cards, and suggest the beginning of a polygamous relationship among them. And the censors okayed that ending! Cojones, Buñuel!

There are a several films I’ve missed by him (Robinson Crusoe?) and I’m hoping to dig into his work more formerly over the next year or so.

 

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Tom Hart’s How to Say Everything is a fantastic addition to the art/craft/storytelling shelf. Seriously. I found it as smart and warm as it is inspiring. I’m hoping to take a class at his Gainesville school, The Sequential Art Workshop (SAW), and who knows, maybe I could develop some online classes in literary content that he wants the school to have? I’ve been trying to establish a creative writing class for years and there just doesn’t seem to be money available to make that happen in the public schools where I work. But then again, it would be great to do some sort of film, philosophy, literature, or mythology course for these students. SAW’s website includes some free resources among other cool items.

I read excerpts from Hart’s Rosalie Lightning, his most famous work, several years ago and I just can’t read it in its entirety right now. I had a baby almost the age of Rosalie when I started reading it, and I knew the background story from a friend who teaches at SAW sometimes. What I read was beautiful and painful. The book is about the deepest love and loss that may be possible. I am planning on reading some of his lighter work, though, and I’ll read Rosalie some day.

 

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I ignored Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead initially because of the oxen-like contrariness I seem to have about something I hear about too much in popular culture. Finally, after so many people I respect had mentioned this, including Ashley M. Jones, I decided to check it out.

Smith’s work is confrontational, political, personal, and can somehow be serious and seriously funny at the same time. Their use of form in this book is fantastic–styles that work against the traditional stage or page dichotomy. These are poems that live on the breath and breathe on the page.

 

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Delaine is awesome. Not My Small Diary is a series that she has edited for more than two decades now, while also doing her own autobio comics series My Small Diary. I was so excited to get this one because I’ve been a fan of the the series and the “unexplained” since before I could read. I had more than one Time Life collection on oddities, and for a brief period I had cable which made Monster Quest a great way to start a weekend.

The bittersweet center of this collection is that within days of getting mine it became known that longtime contributor (he’s possibly in every anthology in the series) and all-around cool comix guy Mark Campos took his own life. Unlike a lot of contributors and fans of this series who knew him personally, I can’t say that, but I can say that I deeply enjoyed his work and his contribution was always one of the first that I read. His work reminded me of some of my favorites from MAD (Aragones, Jaffee, etc.), and while he could be funny, he also took that cartoon style and fused it with so many disparate influences, and wound it through his own perspective, moods, and tones.

He is missed.

 

 

The Week That Was, or Even More Tireder

My five-year-old and I went to her first concert this week. We saw Marker, a group of younger musicians led by Ken Vandermark. She loved it but wanted to leave 20 minutes in because she was tired. It was cool to finally see the Jaybird (Hi Burgin!), which houses the Alabama Zine Library. I’ve seen Vandermark in several live settings and he’s always focused and committed to whatever work he’s performing.

In March we are planning on seeing a performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming. I’m probably more excited than she is.

Earlier this week I wrote about Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now” and Macbeth for another round of Test Prep for The Terror Test. She is someone I look forward to reading more of soon. I wrote about 13 pages and cut it to <2K words. At some point, I want to revisit and extend the piece.

 

shock

If you don’t know the story of the horror boom that began in the late ’60s and early ’70s and lasted until the ’90s and are interested in it, then this is a great book. It’s still pretty good, if you’ve been reading that story for years. I’ve been reading books about horror since I could read. I read magazines like FangoriaGoreZone, Deep Red, and others. Reading some of these stories today though comes with a little sadness. So many of these folks are gone, a few very recently: Romero, Craven, O’Bannon, Hooper, Blatty, etc.

 

best

Fantastic graphic memoir about the immigrant experience, Vietnam, America, and much more than that suggests. I grew up with many friends who were first and second generation Vietnamese-American and later I tutored Cambodian monks. I loved hearing about Angkor Wat and would love to see it in person some day. Many told powerful stories about fleeing war or the Khmer Rouge. These communities always treated me like family. Bui gets at not only the complications of these larger societal difficulties, but also the complications of family. I read it in one sitting and will likely read it again.

 

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A friend mentioned The Color of Pomegranates (1969) by Sergei Parajanov to me this week. I hadn’t seen it in years, not since my days of renting dusty library VHS copies. Discovering that libraries had films was a revelation. In middle and high school, I grew up on an island (not as exotic or as fun as it sounds–I worked at a seafood restaurant) and the nearest library was about an hour away. I should have checked out the Bookmobile that came down maybe once a week, but instead, I ordered books and movies through catalogs. There was no where else to spend that restaurant money anyway.

My friend and I laughed about how awful reds looked on VHS (lots of red in Pomegranates). Anyway, FilmStruck/Criterion has a restored version for streaming and it has the highest quality in which I’ve seen any of his films.

Pomegranates is gorgeous. Every frame is like a painting or collage and is in reference to aspects of poet Sayat Nova’s life or work, which I only know from this film. There are excerpts of poems read, but if I remember correctly, there is no dialogue. Characters communicate through gesture, action, and facial expression. Parajanov, at least what I’ve seen by him, made visually dense and symbolic films. He influenced Tarkovsky and they grew to be friends.

Not a movie for everyone, but possibly for fans of Deren, Buñuel, Jodorowsky, Švankmajer, Greenaway, Resnais, and other arthouse or surreal short films.