The Week That Was, or This Is He Who Smells

An overheard conversation between bath and bedtime:

6YO: “Ciao”…”Ciao” means…uh…”Ciao” means “hello” and “goodbye” in…in…
Amy: Italian.
6YO: In Italian.
4YO: (clomps in on cast) ¡Hola, Big Dogs!

Despite a nice plate of shrimp, peas, orzo, and fresh parmesan, our children decided to skip that and eat the lemons off the cutting board. One of them danced like a robot while basically using her nose as a juicer. “Lemons are so sweet!” she yelled, and kept dancing.

Then she told me about watching a bird eat a poisonous snake during her zoo field trip. The little one decided to eat some cherry tomatoes and raw spinach leaves to go with her lemon slices. Maybe the zoo talk inspired her to eat like the turtles we saw there eat lunch once.

Later that night:
6YO: What are you doing?
Me: Fixing lunches. What are you doing?
6YO: The cat puked in our room.
Me: Can you tell mom?
6YO: She knows.
Me: Ok.
6YO: She stepped in it.
Me: Why are you telling me this?
6YO: Can I please may I have some ice water?
Me: Sure. Then bedtime.
6YO: With ice.
Me: Ice water with ice. Got it.

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Richard Matheson wrote the story that became the Twilight Zone episode everyone knows (or should know!) with William Shatner. He wrote “Duel” which became Spielberg’s first feature-length film (or at least the first one most people count). When playground discussion went to horror movies, kids would talk about Trilogy of Terror‘s sequence with a Zuni doll, based on Matheson’s “Prey.” It was the only part of that film I ever heard anyone talk about. Stephen King has said that Matheson is the writer that most influenced his own work. “Prey” seems to directly influence King’s short story “Battleground” and the “General” sequence in Cat’s Eye (1985). Matheson also sets his stories predominantly within the “normal” US households and neighborhoods. For example, King took Dracula and brought the idea to a Maine town in ‘Salem’s Lot, but this homeyness has often been a strength of King’s work.

He also wrote I Am Legend, a great apocalypse novel that became The Last Man on Earth (1964), Omega Man (1971), and finally I am Legend (2007). While I haven’t seen the latest adaptation, Last Man on Earth is my favorite. Omega Man is a laugh riot even as an apocalypse film.

Ray Bradbury called him “one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.”

If that isn’t enough to make you go read his work then I don’t know what is.

I don’t know if this is truly the best of Matheson, but it is an amazing introduction to his short fiction. If I would have discovered him in high school, I don’t think anything could have kept me from writing horror fiction. What really clicks reading these stories is how writers take ideas from each other and re-work them. He’s a link between someone like Poe or Lovecraft to King.

 

 

Way back in February, I wanted to watch some more Buñuel. That didn’t happen until recently. Robinson Crusoe (1954) and Simon of the Desert (1965) make an interesting double feature. Crusoe is a favorite book of mine (the first book I remember re-reading), but this movie version isn’t great. It does, however, create a bizarre claustrophobia that helps achieve the mood of forced solitude. Evidently the film was made in some thick and dangerous jungles, while interiors were done on soundstages. This packed frame is the opposite of the visual imagery often seen with island narratives where we get broad expanses of sky and beach. Thematically this makes sense in something like Lord of the Flies (1963) and the chaotic freedom the boys feel without having grown-ups. I found the claustrophobic effect in Crusoe surprising and interesting, but not worth watching the film again.

Simon of the Desert also features a character dealing with solitude, but one which is self-inflicted. Also, the visuals of the man atop a pillar surrounded by desert and sky are the opposite of the cramped images from Crusoe. A short essay by David Heslin, “The Impotence of Asceticism: Luis Buñuel’s Simón del Desierto,” digs into the history of St. Simon and what Buñuel does with it. The film is short–I’ve heard a variety of reasons why–but it is an interesting mix of plot and Buñuel’s surrealistic images and sequences. It’s also perverse and funny, like his films often are.

That ending! Glorious for those who want to engage with the ideas and likely maddening for those who want everything neatly worked out.

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Candles aren’t a usual topic here, but I do enjoy them. I decided to be a part of our department’s Secret Pal this year. I generally don’t like this kind of stuff and I wanted to push a little outside my comfort zone. Anyway, I received a Frostbeard Studio Oxford Library candle and it was fantastic. Thanks, Secret Pal! When I used that one, I tried The Shire, and while it’s a lighter fragrance, it’s nice, too. These are perfect sensory accompaniments to night reading or listening.

I really wanted to get the Old Books candle, but it is the only one I’ve seen with bad reviews. People who like book smells are persnickety–maybe. The major complaint is that it just smells like vanilla.

Once I leave The Shire, I’m journeying forth nosewise and elsewhere Frostbeardian.

 

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.

jericho
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.

 

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 The Shape of Pizza

We celebrated our oldest daughter’s birthday. She was excited that she got to hear her name over the intercom at school. She is still young enough that everyone in her class brings in cards and treats. The youngest was stashing candy and wrappers everywhere, a chaotic flurry of plastic and chocolate. Demanding pizza. Drawing on doors. Then being as sweet as anything.

I had a man express his unsolicited thoughts to me on the state of frozen pizza in Mal-Wart. Things aren’t good, but Red Baron is best. I grew up eating Red Baron and as much as I like a fresh pizza out of a brick oven, I love frozen pizzas, too. I wanted to suggest some of the newer, more expensive ones that are really good, but this wasn’t a conversation.

Lost Chords #6 featured an album I quite like, Screen Memories by John Maus. I wrote several paragraphs about the cover image and mediation that I removed. Maybe I’ll add to those thoughts later.

I also wrote about the profound effect Eraserhead has had on me for The Terror Test: Test Prep.

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A good friend of mine brought Amphibian Man (1962) to my attention. He’s been on-and-off researching the history of horror in Soviet and Russian film and mentioned this. It’s hard to describe, but it’s about a mad scientist who gives his son gills. The son falls for a lady much in the same way the Gill-man falls for one in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). There are familial and societal roadblocks to their love affair. There are shades of Victor Hugo, Beauty and the Beast (and other fairy tales), and Frankenstein, and it has a look somewhere between Forbidden Planet and Star Trek. An obvious precursor to The Shape of Water, and  possibly to films like Starman or The Man Who Fell to Earth–as told by Powell/Pressburger.  It’s on Amazon Prime if you’re interested.
rumble
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (2017)  is a fantastic documentary for fans of rock music, American music, and folk traditions. Highlights disturbing laws and violence against American Indians and also traces the thread of their musical cultures though American vocal music, blues, and rock. I’m hoping to read Like a New Sun, a collection of new indigenous Mexican poetry.

lostatsea
Jon Ronson’s Lost at Sea collects various articles and essays from throughout his career. Indigo children. Psychopaths. Frank Sidebottom. I wanted each chapter to be a book of its own. The audiobook is fantastic partially because he reads it. Hearing this in his own voice is addictive. I wish Zadie Smith would record her novels.

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.

 

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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.