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 Brokefoot Poutin’

Remember last week and all that great weather and trips to the park? This week began in rain (and ended in rain) and a broken foot for our youngest who was just getting the hang of sliding down the “fire pole” by herself. She’s in a cast and a Franken-boot since it’s more dangerous for little ones to have crutches. I assume more dangerous to herself, but I have a feeling if she had crutches, we would be treating her older sister for a concussion or worse. We know she’s been in pain and sometimes it catches up to her, but overall she’s been so good about everything, despite what I titled this entry.

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It’s quite difficult to work with and respond to canonical texts without having the older work overtake the new one. Brown shows masterful control here. Where there are resonances with the Bible, the language never takes control of Brown’s own. He’s writing contemporary poetry rich in its own melody, yet rich in historical overtones.

I’m taking a break from the grind of the submission process, and to some degree a break from poetry writing itself. I’ve naturally fallen into nonfiction–it’s what I started writing back in sixth grade. And music is now taking up some of that time I used for writing and submitting. One of the benefits of this break is taking the time to read many of the contemporary poets I’ve been wanting to read. Brown’s name has come up a lot recently.

 

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I think this may have been the first time I watched Man with a Movie Camera (1929) as a whole. Anyone with an interest in film or film theory has likely seen images from it (like the Odessa steps sequence of Eisenstein). This is a fantastic film built on a montage of daily life and the creation of film itself. The “man” of the title is often filmed by another man with a camera. I watched this in relation to Peeping Tom (1960), another self-reflexive film that I’m writing about for my next Test Prep essay.

 

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One of my favorite movies is Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), so it’s strange that I somehow missed Escape from New York (1981). Overall, it’s a well-done popcorn movie. I liked the images of the city, blacked-out, skyscrapers green and hulking and empty. I also liked the palette for many of the night scenes: high contrast red and greens or cool blues (and grays and tans? if I remember correctly) played against the darkness (and Carpenter’s score).

Anyway, I’ve never noticed Carpenter use so many focus pulls.

Frank Doubleday’s creepy, oddball performance as “Romero” just about steals the whole movie, which is saying a lot for a film rife with scene stealers.

This week I’ve been listening to Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op. 1. It was his first published composition, but his only sonata. Berg wrote this as a student of Schoenberg, who developed the most lasting version of twelve-tone composition we have. I love the coloring of these chords and how within this context dissonance and consonance–or rather a traditional notion of these ideas–gets altered. I’m going to listen and pick through the score some, just to gain some understanding of what’s going on, though for the moment, staring at something like this:

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seems way beyond my comprehension at the moment.

Anyway, I’ve mostly listened to Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recording of it, but I plan on listening through some other performances to hear how different players approach a work like this. Glenn Gould has also recorded it, so I’m interested to see how his compares to others. I really hated his Bach recordings for years, but they’ve grown on me.

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I’ve been working on the first Bach cello suite and had an insight that I’m almost embarrassed to admit. Maybe I will when I have the piece under my fingers again.

For sightreading practice I’m playing some of Haydn’s E Flat string quartet (No. 31) and playing the cello part on electric bass.

And for workouts this week I’ve been revisiting:
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Metallica’s music never made me interested in playing guitar, but Megadeth, especially Rust in Peaceinspired me to try more guitar playing. Great riffs and solos. A friend’s dad once described Mustaine’s vocals as like “a little, green head yellin’ at me.” Sure, some of that’s cringy–but Mustaine takes on characters at times, which was kind of a risk in thrash. I forgot how funny some of the lyrics were (“Immense in my girth, erect I stand tall” –C-mon, it’s about a missile!–“Launch the Polaris! The end doesn’t scare us!”). I remember enjoying the references to Roswell and general dystopian theme of this record.

I’m also trying to redevelop the walking bass chops I once had. I’ve also discovered some Paul Chambers isolated bass tracks, which I’m excited to learn from as well.

If I can ever get these essays graded.

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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 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 Waiting Out the Clock

An exhausting week. Sometimes in a good way–a decent amount of work and writing done, children’s art and messiness–and sometimes bad–just sort of, well, exhausting.

I wrote about Fever Ray’s Plunge and the last of The Outrider’s season on resistance and community is available.

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David Foster Wallace said that the production company’s edits on Lynch’s Dune meant that some of the film became “literally incomprehensible.” As I mentioned last week, I quite like it anyway, and I quite like Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964) though it offers an even more absurd level of incomprehensibility. Likely, part of the problem is that it is three Japanese films from the ’50s spliced into one American Z-grade sci-fi flick in the ’60s.

It’s everything I love about these kinds of films: melting alien brains, kung-fu aliens, superhero aliens (Starman–like a Superman with little moth wings and one antenna), dada robot aliens, Batman-aliens (or just miscreants dressed like Batman–I can’t remember), and an alien that looks like an emaciated Devine in an unbraided Elsa wig. It’s a mess. But I’d watch it again.

 

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Speaking of Devine, John Waters recommended Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh, to David Sedaris, who recommended it to those of us in his reading audiences on his tour before the big diary compilation came out. Moshfegh’s writing is as crisp and raw as Eileen’s winter hands and is a true morbid joy. I love the voice captured in this book, but if you’re someone who wants to be friends with your narrator (and not hear about how her fingers smell or her challenges with bowel movements), this book’s likely not for you.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Moshfegh’s work.

 

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I’m continuing with the horror book club I mentioned a few weeks ago. Afterage by Yvonne Navarro is a post-apocalyptic vampire novel and is way better than that probably sounds. A lazy critique could call it Salem’s Lot meets The Stand.

It’s one helluva first novel. There’s a lot of control, especially since she chooses to follow multiple characters like As I Lay Dying. Many contemporary YA novels I’ve read that attempt this usually aren’t very successful. Same with horror, though. Are these characters approaching anything like Moshfegh’s Eileen? No, but that’s also not what this book is trying to do. I Am Legend (the book) does something like that fantastically.

What’s surprising about Afterage, published in 1993, is how many recently popular tropes may have started here: there’s a badass with a crossbow (Walking Dead), human farm (Daybreakers (2009)), Stake Land (2010) comes to mind, there’s a wintery thing with light like 30 Days of Night at one point, and, I don’t know, probably others I missed.

 

Besides listening to a bunch of stuff for my music blog at The Drunken Odyssey, I’ve also been listening to several Entombed records, Johannes Ockeghem’s choral music, and the Shirelles, who are so great I don’t even know what else to say about them.

I’ve also come around to Danzig III, which I had never heard in its entirety. It may have his best vocal performances. It seems peak recording quality anyway.

The Week That Was, or You got some Duncan Idaho on my Gurney Halleck.

The week began with some semi-restful snow days. I don’t believe anyone in our home was permanently damaged, though a few tears were shed and more than a few markers bled.

The almost-four-year-old sang while we were discussing dinner plans. Her song began, “Tiki masala / I need a dolla.” Not bad.

I wrote about the new Sparks record for The Drunken Odyssey. I also wrote about one of my favorite movies, The Brood, for the new semester of Test Prep, part of The Terror Test podcast.

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Frank Herbert’s Dune has been on my to-read list for over twenty years. I liked, and still like, the David Lynch movie, which introduced me to Herbert’s mythology.

The book was a blast. Not only is it a satisfying sci-fi/fantasy adventure story,  but it also delivers beyond action. I particularly enjoyed the use of multiple texts contributing to the story as history, the Machiavellian political machinations, and the variations on religious teachings. If you’ve even contemplated reading it before, I recommend it.

I’ve heard the first three books in the series are worth reading. I’m going to consider that, but I find I am often as bad about completing a book series as I am about finishing a TV show.

 

 

I’ve only just seen Margarethe von Trotta’s fantastic work. While she has her own style and subject matter, there are shades of Kieslowski, Bergman, and Tarkovsky. She’s associated with the New German Cinema movement, which includes work by Wenders, Herzog, and Fassbinder.

She’s as good as anyone on that list.

Sisters, or The Balance of Happiness (1979) and Sheer Madness (1983) are the two most recent films I’ve seen by her. Both films focus on difficult interpersonal relationships, societal expectations, and suicide.

Last year I watched her first feature, The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (1978), along with Kathleen Collins’s Losing Ground (1982). They were both revelations. It’s argued whether or not Collins is the first or second African American woman to direct a feature. Unfortunately, the film only played a few festivals, Collins died of cancer soon after the film debuted, and she left a great deal of work unfinished. A biography was recently published about her and it’s on my reading list for this year.

I watched Losing Ground because I saw Duane Jones in the cast list. Jones is the lead in the original Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the main reason that movie, I think, stands out as not just a good horror movie, but a great film. Notoriously, he seemed embarrassed by it and did very few movies after that, but was well-known and respected on stage and as an educator. He died at 51 in 1988, the same year as Collins. I wish I could have seen him on stage. NOTLD and his performance have meant so much to me over the years that I choked up a little seeing him on screen in a different role. Some of that may have been Romero’s recent death as well.

I’ve seen a few episodes of Tales from the Darkside: Season Two and I’m excited that Monsters has now made it to Amazon Prime. I love these mostly dreadful (and not in the expected sense of the macabre) horror anthologies.