NEW YORK CARES
Big Talk From The Smallest Face has been updated with a report on my trip to New York and MOCCA 2003.
A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.
SOMETHING IN THE AIR
[written Wednesday, 6/25, in flight to San Francisco]
My plane reading has been the light critical study by Susan Sontag called Styles of Radical Will. Brainless stuff that you can pick up in any airport magazine shop.
The first essay talks about art and its purpose as an expression of what she calls “silence.” Essentially, the continual quest of the artist to break down what has come before and distill it, to make it ever simpler and get back to essence of things—and even moreso, to express the inexpressible, to relate the pure experience of the human spirit. In its relation to language, it is saying what can’t be said, removing context and depth from words so that they are nearly objects—another molecular structure that is unknowable, like the atom. It made me wonder, though, when she wrote of practical applications and uses of this sort of thing, what she’d make of modern changes to language (she wrote this piece in the late ’60s). What would Susan Sontag make of hiphop, with its dense lexicon of slang? Or what about online and text messaging, where words step beyond letters, getting even closer to being simply symbols relating sound.
Current Soundtrack: Bubba Sparxx, Deliverance
THIS HERE’S A BALLAD FOR THE GOOD TIMES
[written Friday, 6/20, Portland International Airport]
I’ve only been in the airport maybe 45 minutes at the most, and already I am longing for real air. Perhaps it was the train ride, too. All day I am going to be breathing thick, manufactured air, pumped out of a vent. The head will never be the same.
The week has been a bit of a rush. Duklyon was turned in Wed., and I already have an assignment for another series. Non-CLAMP, looks like a romantic comedy—and that’s all I can say. Tokyopop is holding off on the announcement while details are sorted out.
Finished up the Hawaiian Dick afterword and gave it to Clay on Wed. I think it turned out all right. I am amused that I used a drug metaphor for the book.
Been trading e-mails with Scott Ciencin over the YA genre series. I really wouldn’t be able to do this without him. It’s such a different headspace than I am used to. We have to think in the long-term, as well as thinking for selling this to a publisher. This means dealing with plot machinations and character types, and things that I don’t fully understand, so I follow behind and let it soak in. I guess it’s wrong to say I don’t understand since I do get it. I do know how these pieces are put together and are cut off a very old and reliable block of story stuff, it’s more I don’t think that way. It’s like if you ask me for the plot of Cut My Hair or The Everlasting, I can’t really give you the pitch. I am not a linear writer who thinks about plot or throughlines or the essence of a character. I am far too half-assed for that—so this is all educational and possibly good for me. I also talked a bit to the man who will likely represent me as an agent.
I went to see Blur at the Roseland in Portland last night, and I had a real blast. Before I get into the show, I do have one:
Notice: They play the music loud because you are not supposed to be having a conversation during it. If this was meant to be a social gathering, they would play the music soft so that you and your dimbulb date could talk right through the whole thing. This applies to Matthew McConaughey-wannabes in bad sandals, even. Was that you? I am glad you found this, because you needed to hear what I have to type. I appreciate irony, so you please me in some sick way in that you sure have very little to say for someone who talks to so much. But then, that’s why no one here likes you.
Okay, now that that is out of the way…
I’ve seen Blur four times now. The first was on the tour for The Great Escape, when it snowed outside and we snuck our way in for soundcheck and just acted like we belonged. The second was an amazing whirlwind trip to San Francisco, a week before the self-titled album came out in North America, for an insane and buoyant show where everyone knew the words to all the new songs. (This was the days before downloading, and so we all had promptly bought the import, unwilling to wait.) I saw them again after that in Portland, when they came through a second time for the same album, after the success of “Song 2.” The jubilant tone of the previous show was replaced by a standoffish professionalism. It was still a great concert, but for the people who knew the one song off the radio more than the fans. (Though, we did get one of the early outings of “Swallows in a Heatwave,” a lost classic if ever there was one.)
They haven’t been to Portland since—and when was that? ’97? It’s a couple of interesting albums later, and despite the main Portland paper (hello, you shitpile, Willamette Week) possibly having no clue that Think Tank even exists (yes, asshead, a band would tour on a three-year-old greatest hits package, wouldn’t they?), people remembered, people came, and people were conquered.
Still, Blur is what, 13 years old now? Some of us are getting on in years. Which made it all the more shocking to discover that Blur hate fat people! That’s right, you heard me. Damon Albarn, Dave Rowntree, Alex James—they despise the portly members of their audience. How else can you explain that they only had one T-shirt in XL? Sure, their merchandise shill said they had run out since the tour was almost over, but dammit, you bring more XL than anything else, since your fans are turning into fat fogies! Plus, the remaining XL was the worst shirt they had. Fuckers.
Ignoring their anti-chubby politics, though, one must admit that the show was fantastic. And just as Albarn’s writing shifts from album to album, he once more brought a whole new stage persona. Backed now by ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong, along with the regular rhythm section, and the addition of three back-up singers, a keyboardist/saxophonist, and a second man on percussion, Damon has dropped the eager popstar manicness and is now the drunken elder statesmen, showing up and doing the job and somehow making it look easy, unrehearsed, and bloody brilliant. There was a little Mark E. Smith in his staggering swagger, and maybe even a little Tom Waits, too. He’s still gripped by the passion, surely, but he’s very much in control of it, and he needn’t work it too hard. Just let it be. It gave the performance an air of spontaneity, a looseness that nearly suggested they were just making it all up on the spot and that for as much as it was good, it could disintegrate at any second—a difficult task, creating a false danger. But that’s rock ’n’ roll.
Think Tank was the most-represented album, which is as it should be. “Brothers & Sisters” swept everyone up in a sense of community, and “Battery In Your Leg” is an amazing set closer. “Gene By Gene” is as fun live as on record, and “Crazybeat” fits well alongside “Song 2” as crowd-pleasing noise. The only disappointment was “Out of Time.” There was something wrong with the mix, and a bit of keyboard racket was stepping over the melody.
A nice grab bag of oldies also served us well. “Girls & Boys” may have seemed a little perfunctory, but “Beetlebum” still maintains its lackadaisical charm. “Trimm Trabb” slid in quiet and then grew to fantastic, “For Tomorrow” jumped in our midst like the hero it is, and “Tender” had the sort of elegiac, uplifting grace that you expect from something with gospel trappings (which is the whole point of gospel, which is what its detractors don’t get, since they are wrong in the head and sniff too much ink). Damon led us to believe that “To The End” was a recent addition to the set, and this was the third airing on the tour, and it’s still lovely. Highlight, though, had to be “Badhead,” both because it was an unexpected choice, and just because its simple melody and off-kilter instrumentation make you realize that Blur hasn’t gone that far away from their early days, that the anything-goes feeling was always there. (Though, early B-sides and tracks like “Sing,” I’ve always argued, pointed a clear path to 13, still their best record.)
The encore was a perfectly chosen four-pronged music weapon. “Popscene” still has the power to thrill, and serves as a great coda to a night of musical abandonment. Damon got pretty animated. This is Blur’s “I Can See For Miles.” It was followed by “On The Way to the Club,” which they linked up with the amazing “We’ve Got a File On You,” two-minutes of glorious, paranoid, accusatory, angry punk. The capper, though, was “This is A Low,” perhaps the most life-affirming sad song there ever was. I think it’s impossible not to crumble and sing along to it, and it’s the greatest high to be sent out into the night air on.
Current Soundtrack: Blur, Parklife
WE’RE LIVING IN A POP TRASH MOVIE
I saw 28 Days Later last night. As a Danny Boyle fan, I was pretty pumped for it, but I was still ill prepared for how much I loved it. I’m not a real horror buff or anything, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trailer for a zombie movie and thought to myself, “Man, I have to see that!” But this hooked me from the word go, and it never shook me off.
In fact, Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland smartly started the film off with a shocking bang. This was a Friday night sneak preview crowd, and they were rowdy in line and amped up, but the opening sequence shut them up fast, and the film kept them enthralled all the way through. For my part, I was thoroughly creeped out, and I jumped like a scaredy cat in all the right places. I never saw where the film was going, and in a final 1/3 that reminded me somewhat of Apocalypse Now’s scenes where Marlowe gets to the farthest outposts, Boyle was able to transfer the horror from the infected to the non-infected and bring home his metaphor of the violent nature of modern man in extremely effective ways.
The whole film was shot on DV, giving it a low-fi but immediate look/feel. And even on the shoestring it must have been produced on, Boyle still managed to find ways to keep his exciting visual style. I think the whole film was shot at a breakneck pace, and it made me start to ponder such a thing in prose. What is the novel equivalent of guerilla filmmaking? Is it a caffeinated full-tilt-boogie of typing? Bang out the manuscript as fast as you can?
Of course, I ask this as I tread my way through Duklyon swamp, first thing in the morning down at Starbucks. The coffee is eating away at my stomach—a massive mocha this morning meeting the coffee from last night (the final swig at the theatre giving me a mouth full of grounds, and me having to spit it out in the middle of a quiet moment in the movie), but I am determined to get through this. It’s a little easier this time just because it’s not as repetitive. Volume 2 has a driving narrative for at least the first 2/3 or so, rather than a play on the repetitious monster-of-the-week superhero TV shows.
Current Soundtrack: Duran Duran, Pop Trash
WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOOD TIMES GONE?
UPDATE 1: This is for those of you wondering why the hell I haven’t been updating (well, all one of you). The simple answer is I have been lazy and haven’t been doing much writing. Part of it is that I have had a houseguest for nearly two months now, so it’s a different scenario when I go home. If any of us ends up on the computer, it’s usually her, looking for a job so she can get out of my house. Plus, just being more social, makes me lazy.
I have, however, just started work on Duklyon volume 2, which I hope will go a lot more easier than the last one. I am also in the middle of an afterword for the collection of the comics series Hawaiian Dick. I want both done by next Thursday morning, since I am seeing Blur on Thursday night and then leaving on Friday for NYC to the MOCCA show.
Current Soundtrack: Petey Pablo, Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry
TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS YOU’RE DELIRIOUS
Tuesday night I put on my Pop Pants! and went to see Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera.
Okay, I don’t have literal Pop Pants!, it’s a metaphor. But I did wear new shoes and I have the big nasty blisters on the back of my ankles to prove it. Bad move!
Black Eyed Peas opened the show. I caught most of the set, but it was kind of muddy (the sound would, as per usual, get progressively better through the night). They closed with their current single, but sadly, without Justin contributing. In fact, there was to be no artist crossover for the night. I had heard a rumor that Christina was going to fill in the female parts on Justin’s “Rock Your Body,” but no dice. And why not have the Peas sub for Clipse on “Like I Love You”?
After BEP, the interim music was predictably pop. A couple tracks of Sean Paul, who is just ghastly…but then, strangely, a Led Zeppelin track. “Kashmir” maybe? The one Puff Daddy sampled. More ghastly, but at least odd.
Christina’s set began with a short filmed piece, using the intro from the Stripped album. It also confirmed we were going to get the new dark-haired pop vixen. It looks good on her, as does the added weight—which really has just bulked her up enough to look like a normal girl. She opened with “Get Mine, Get Yours,” and was instantly on vocally, but she didn’t really hit her stride performance-wise until a few songs in. Specifically, the new dirge-rock version of “Genie In A Bottle.” This made her my new goddess. As skuzzy guitars rendered the song unrecognizable, she rolled out onto the stage dressed in leather and strapped to a big metal X. There was fire shooting up from around the stage, and the whole thing was so over-the-top, so unashamedly Spinal Tap rock ‘n’ roll, I fell into a big pile of awe.
Little did I know that it would get better. The next song, “Can’t Hold Us Down,” saw her sliding into a biker jacket and getting on a pink motorcycle. The bike went up on its back wheel, turned, and even shot sparks out the tail pipe. “Make Over” was next, with Christina dancing in front of a chain link fence and behind a strobe light for the frenzied chorus. It was the most punk rock thing ever! (And has anyone noticed the similarity in the verse melody of “Make Over” to the Sugababes’ “Overload,” and even the mention of the word “overload” in it?)
It wasn’t all rawk and leather, though. Her best outfit of the night was probably the red, satiny number she wore for the duo of Etta James covers. She also did a classy runthrough of “Impossible” atop a piano, very torchy, and an acoustic “Come On Over (All I Want Is You).” In fact, all her versions of the hits off the first album were done with a little bit of a skew to them, thus getting around her attempts to distance herself from the material. She even managed to work DMX’s “X is Gonna Give it to Ya” into “What a Girl Wants,” the show closer. I imagine every time she does, Earl’s ears prick up somewhere, like the dawg that he is, and he thinks, “What the fuck?” It was pretty ballsy.
The encore was, of course, “Beautiful.” Christina came out in a white T-shirt that said “God Sees No Color” (admittedly, giggle inducing) and jeans, pretending she had forgotten to do an important song and apologizing. She did the first verse a cappella, and her voice sounded amazing. The band kicked in and carried her through to the end. It was a real high to finish on.
The anticipation for Justin (or should we say J.T.?) was palpable. These were teenage hormones we were dealing with, and there is nothing like a rush of sexual excitement to get a girl’s throat going. No, not like that, dirtbag! I mean the screaming! It was deafening, really crazy and ear-shattering.
Justin’s set was extremely polished and had a lot more pyrotechnics. He opened with “Rock Your Body,” and after a few more from Justified, he did a couple of N’Sync tunes—“Gone” and “Girlfriend.” He followed with “Cry Me A River,” complete with backing vocals from four different singers. The soundman outdid himself mixing it. It was clean and clear and totally crisp. This has to be one of the best pop songs to come out in the last decade, if not the last couple.
Unfortunately for J.T., just as it will likely be the best song he’ll ever record, “Cry Me A River” was also the peak of his set. I am not sure what left the stage, whether it was just the material doesn’t compare or more likely, it was all just too polished. He and his dancers and his band were so well practiced, there was no danger of a mistake—and it kind of drew the life out of it. He also did an extended section between himself beatboxing, his drummer, and his DJ that was pretty cool, but perhaps too long, and it killed some momentum. You have to give him credit, though, for getting a couple thousand teenage girls singing the parts to Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock.”
He did bring it back for the encore, I will admit. “Like I Love You” is an unbelievably cool dance track, and it got the arena to its feet. I even did a goofy robot dance for the amusement of my friends.
Overall, an impressive night, and an ace example of how good big shows could be. I even bought a Christina T-shirt, which I will wear unironically, of course.
I do find the whole thing frightfully amusing, though.
Current Soundtrack: Radiohead, Hail To The Thief
LIES LIES LIES YEAH
I have been having an interesting exchange with a distinguished member of eBay who sold me some goods that I don’t think are what were advertised. My friend Rebecca is a big fan of Last Temptation of Christ, and prior to her going to China, she had lost her copy of the Criterion DVD. I told her I’d try to find her one cheap on eBay, and sure enough, won her one for $26 with postage.
The disc arrived yesterday. It was a Hong Kong bootleg. I flipped out. I immediately went back to the auction and read the description again. It said: “Brand New, Sealed, Last temptation of christ dvd. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel Director: Martin Scorsese Playable: Import, Region 1 Format: Color, Closed-captioned, Widescreen, Dolby Rated: Not for sale to persons under age 18. Studio: Home Vision Entertainment DVD Release Date: April 25, 2000.”
I had missed the word “import.” I had seen “New, Sealed” and “Region 1,” and I guess glossed over the one important word. The picture was too small to tell if it was different or not, as well. I realized that this was my own fault, to a degree, so I decided I was stuck with it and left the following feedback: “Neutral : Buyer beware: sells imports, but you have to read close. Screwed myself. :(”
But then I thought about it more, and talked to James about it, and we decided that the description was intentionally vague, and that because it wasn’t a real Criterion disc as he had claimed, that I had been a victim of false advertising, import or no. I decided then that I would see about a refund. So, I e-mailed the seller: I left you neutral feedback on eBay because techincally, it was my fault that I didn't see that this was an import, and you'd respond like all the other negatives that you had "clearly" listed it as such. I take exception to the clearly bit. It seems like you are purposely a little vague. And overall, I don't feel even if was an import that you are actually selling a real Criterion disc, so it definitely borders on false advertising. Preferably, I'd like to return this for a refund.
I figured if I got any response at all, it would be to tell me to fuck off. This is what I got (all e-mails are unedited): YOU LEFT ME A BAD FEEDBACK BECAUSE "YOU" DID NOT READ THE AUCTION CORRECTLY AND EEDED SOMEONE TO BLAME, BUT I LISTED THE AUCTION ACCURATELY AND DID NOT LEAVE OUT ANYTHING. ALL OF MY OTHER FEEDBACKS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS TRANSACTION, AND IF YOU MUST KNOW WHEN I WAS NEW TO EBAY, I THOUGHT A DVD WAS JUST A DVD I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT IMPORTS AND REGION 1 DVDS, O I GOT OFF TO A BAD START AND NOW WHEN I LIST IT CORRECTLY YOU HAVE PEOPLE LIKE YOU WHO STILL LEAVE DERAGATORY REMARKS AND BLAME IT ON ME, BUT IT WILL BE RECIPROCATED, THANK YOU.
My second e-mail: You can feel free to reciprocate, that is your right and what the feedback was for. My neutral feedback clearly stated I should have read closer. BUT...you are still dishonestly selling "Criterion" DVDs. What I received is not a Criterion. It is not official. That is false advertising.
Seller e-mail #2: you left neutral feedback stating YOU SHOULD HAVE READ CLOSER, that makes sense, but make no sense to leave that on my feedback as I did not make the mistake. the dvd as an all region dvd, if you do not know what an all region dvd is: it means it is playable around the world and since the majority of criterion dvds come from abroad this should be nothing special as it is an authentic import.
This I felt caught him in a lie, and so I went for it: Ummm, actually, read your own description. It says a Region 1 import. If you said it was Chinese or All Region import (as you claimed in your last e-mail), that would have been one thing--because then I would have known it was a bootleg. But you're right, I shouldn't have left the feedback without e-mailing you first, and realized after I did it I had likely screwed myself out of any chance of a refund. I'll live and learn. (At this point I was figured a little bit of mea culpa couldn’t hurt.)
Then came seller e-mail #3, which cracked my shit up: the dvd itself is an ALL_ REGION release and since I know a lot about movies and you dont seem to know that much, its says playable, import, region 1, if the movie is all region it can play everywhere. And a bootleg movie is a movie that is copied from the movie theater with a video camera.
If I have to point out how far off he is about me and my knowledge of film and DVDs—well, it’s ludicrous, isn’t it? I decided to nip the exchange at this point, but not without a little edumacation: Listen, man, we can go on and on about this all day, so we may as well stop. You're entirely wrong, and have no idea what you are saying when you refer to "all region" vs. "region 1," etc., etc. Region 1 is only playable in the US...and hence has a region, is not all region. A bootleg is an illegally made copy of a DVD, which is what you get from Hong Kong. This is not an official Criterion release, they did not see a dime off its manufacture or authorize it. That is a bootleg.
Last Temptation is not listed directly in either, but it still illustrates my point. You are not selling authorized Criterion releases. If you don't believe me, please go to the Criterion website (http://www.criterionco.com/asp/) and ask them.
But seriously, we're never going to agree. You can tell me I am stupid all you want, and I will laugh. I apologized for leaving the feedback without talking to you first.
I haven’t heard back, and don’t really expect to. He left me negative feedback: “Complaint : DOES NOT READ LISTING CORRECTLY, AND BLAMES SELLER FOR HER MISTAKE.” I laughed a lot. I also e-mailed Waskydiver, who I have spoken to before when we both got screwed by a seller on an out-of-print Criterion, and I am getting him a cover scan. He has already alerted his contact at Criterion that these false versions now are out there.
I do find the whole thing frightfully amusing, though.
Current Soundtrack: Duran Duran Duran Duran (the second self-titled album)