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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Friday, December 16, 2011

When Tinkerbell Met Nyarlathotep

I'm coming to the conclusion that God might not deserve all the vitriol I've spat at It recently.

The cat we tried to save, Tinkerbell, had to be euthanized.  It was kinder to end her intractable suffering than to prolong her suffering, so her short, gentle, troubled life is done.  I hoped that, between the painkillers and our affection, she would have a pleasant death, but her dying moan was horrible; it seemed to contain all the suffering her little body had experienced.  I tell myself that it was merely the result of drug-relaxed muscles wheezing air past vocal chords in an unusual fashion, but I'll never know, will I?

So I got very angry at God for a while.  It's utterly incoherent that an all-good, all-loving, all-powerful Deity would permit and/or cause such suffering.  I don't buy the usual rationalizations that try to balance that equation.  You know the ones:


  • God has a plan that we can't know, everything happens for a reason.  This hand-waving doesn't deal with the conundrum; it just refuses to engage the conundrum.
  • Closely related: Who are you to question God?  It's the same as the first one, really, but adapted for the kind of people who lick the hands of tyrants.  My response to this is not polite.  
  • The old character-building argument.  "Caring for a suffering animal made you more empathetic," that sort of thing.  While this argument has merit, it doesn't really get God off the hook, does it?  If I tortured your pets to death, or through inaction allowed them to be tortured to death, I doubt you'd thank me for the wonderful character-building exercise.  No double standards, please.
  • Then there's my favorite, the Original Sin argument, A.K.A. blaming the victim.  We have suffering because we did something wrong.   Eve deserved it; she was dressed like a slut, so she had it coming.  I suspect the whole Original Sin narrative was cobbled together by some pious soul who wanted to get God off the hook.  Why do people always want to let God off the hook?
It occurs to me, though, that I may not be angry because of suffering and death per se (grieving is another matter), but because Mr. All-Loving All-Powerful fails to live up to the inflated reputation.  If I were of a different faith I might not be so angry.  If I were a Hindu I might just say "Well, that's how Shiva rolls.  I don't like it, but there's no disconnect between this earthy horror and Shiva's reputation."

A short story that I used to read for high school forensics competitions springs to mind: Nyarlathotep by H. P. Lovecraft.  I have fond memories of reading this in a manner so hammy it would make Vincent Price wince.  I never won the competition, but once a judge said "I have just been through hell on earth," after I concluded, and that made it all worth it.  I remember being uneasy about my reasons for selecting the story, though.  It was such a blasphemous parody of Millennialist Christian theology, and I  was so attracted to it despite my piety.  Nowadays the religious vision in the story seems far more plausible to me than the cuddly God on offer at Churches everywhere.  Sure, Lovecraft's cosmic worldview was shaped by racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and plain old misanthropy, but does that make him so different from the early church fathers?

Anyway, I conclude that I need to reexamine the Bible.  It's possible that the all-loving and all-powerful nature attributed to God is more a product of Christianity's marketing department than the Scriptures.  I don't doubt a more complex portrait of the Almighty comes through in the primary texts; texts which may not overburden God with more goodness and omnipotence than is compatible with the facts on the ground.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Drinking Beer on Antibiotics

My shirt is ripped and bloodstained.  Our office looks like a crime scene.

A couple weeks back we saw a sick-looking cat (please understand I am not using slang of any kind here)  and decided to save it, if we could.  We took this leaky-eyed, scrawny, clotted-fur cat home, fed and watered her (she wanted that food and water, desperately) and took her to the vet.  We named her Tinkerbell (as in "clap your hands if you want her to live").  The next day we took her to the Vet, and found that Tink has FIV, a fatal disease.  We did some research and found that cats can live with FIV for years, and that they're unlikely to transfer the disease to another cat (only cats can get it) unless one of the cats bites the other.

We decided to keep Tink in our office  and keep her separate from Mr. Two, our cat.  Miss Tink responded well to food and love, and slowly became a healthier, comfortable cat; eyedrops and medicine gradually changed her from Zombie Stray to Actual Housecat.  She proved to be sweet and gentle, with a pleading stare that compelled me to give her treats.  Meanwhile we kept her presence a deep dark secret from Mr. Two.  We joked about the Jane Eyre/Lost-ness of the situation; Madwoman in the Attic, The Others.

Today I strolled into her room to do some trivial thing or other, when I heard a banshee yowl.  Mr. Two had discovered the horrifying truth about why we were keeping him out of the office.  Mr. Two (understand: a sweet, gentle, affectionate cat, but unneutered and hormone-soaked) attacked.  I lept into the fray like a class-A dumbass who loves cats more than is reasonable.  CHOMP!

The big questions: had Mr. Two partaken of Miss Tink's infected blood?  Could I get Mr. Two's fangs out of my arm (apparent answer: not anytime soon)?  Would Mr. Two rip my whole forearm off?  Where did Tink just go?

I got Two off me and trapped him in the bedroom.  Blood all over the house; all mine, I hoped.  Blood pulsing from holes in my arm.  I grabbed the cheapest-looking towel from the bathroom closet and covered my wounds, then spent the next few minutes looking for Tink.  I began to seriously believe that Mr. Two had SWALLOWED HER WHOLE.

Anyway, Tink is now boarded at the Vet, Two still has blood matting his fur, and it appears the only broken skin belonged to me.

What are we gonna do with Tink?  We thought we could give her a safer, more comfortable environment than the street, but apparently not.  And who else can take her?  No one wants a sick cat.  Poor Tink did nothing to deserve this suffering.  Maybe the kindest option we have is to let her suffering end.

I'm angry at our cat, but what's the good of that?  He was just acting on instinct, thinking his territory was imperiled.  I'm mad at myself for allowing Two to get past my scrutiny, but if I was gonna flush screwing-up out of my system one would think I'd have managed by this stage of my life.  I'm mad at God Almighty for letting innocent living creatures suffer like Tink does, but God Almighty only exists so we can claim He has a reason for everything that happens.  That Bastard better have some good reasons, is all I can say.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Free Universes

I recently gave away a bunch of my old comic books.  It was a project for the Library Science class I'm taking.

After I advertised the giveaway, many people contacted me wanting to take the whole set, sight unseen.  I quickly set a 30 comics maximum to scare these people off, since part of the project involved observing peoples' search and selection processes.  Once people showed up I told them there wasn't really a maximum, and I had no intention of policing their selections; I just wanted them to pick and choose, and leave the rest for someone else to enjoy.  People are happy to take four boxes of free whatever, but when they have to search and select they get much choosier.

It's more fun watching kids pick comics than adults.  Adults seemed to have sclerotic ideas about what they want and will accept.  Familiar superheros are pretty much the limit with men, while the women seemed more interested in childrens' comics.  Kids are more open to off-brands; weird stuff no one's ever heard of, where the standards are different and nothing's entirely familiar.  Adults walked in and said "I'm looking for Marvels," Marvel comics having a strong brand identity.  They tended to flip right past the oddball, third party, indy comics that constituted most of the selection.  Kids, though, didn't look for brand labels; they looked for stuff that might be interesting.  If they dug the drawing, they took the comic.  Brings back fond memories of the one comic-con I attended as a kid; this was in the thick of the 80's black and white comics glut, where Elfquest and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspired a slew of independently published comics.  Most of these comics were clumsy at best, but to the boy I was being in a room full of unfamiliar, idiosyncratic personal toon visions was downright psychedelic.  These comics didn't feel as blandly proficient and stylistically interchangeable as most comics from the big companies; it was my introduction to the concept of cartooning-as-handwriting that's so important to the Kramer's Ergot crowd.

Manga was much less popular than I'd expected.  Manga was the Hot New Thing With The Kidz in comics for about a decade, and it's still popular, right?  But I suspect it's more popular in places with big bookstores and semi-hip readers.  This is a smaller, blue-collar town that isn't on the cusp of cultural trends, and there's not a thing wrong with that, but no one, young or old, seemed very interested in manga as such.  Some of the "girly" stuff proved moderately popular with the one little girl who came and highly popular with the two women who selected on behalf of absent daughters.

The most entertainment came when I told a mother of four boys that one box was "adult," and not recommended for children.  The eldest boy (about 11?) openly started perusing that box.  All this was done under the amused eye of his Mom, and I decided she could police (or not) her boy better than I could.  The boy occasionally pulled one of his brothers over, showed him an image from some adult-oriented comic or other, and shared a shocked giggle.  The boy walked out with a stack of adult comics, all with his Mom's consent.  

Friday, November 04, 2011

Temptation/opportunity knocks

It was the end of a school year.  I dinna remember if it was 1996, my final year of college, or a year or two before.  Point is, the campus was closing down.  Scavenging around the campus is a good idea at this time of year.  Birmingham-Southern kids are often livin' large on Daddy-Doctor dollars, and the Bank of Mom and Dad funds a lot of disposable lifestyle accoutrements.  So, a few days before everybody's gotta move out of the dorms, see if you can't worm your way into the halls and see what people are throwing out.  Once I saw a friend walk out of a dorm with his arms full of perfectly good lamps.  He looked a bit embarrassed, but I take my hat off to him.  Years later I was in need of a lamp, and it was the end of the school year, so you know where I went and what I did.

Let me be clear: we weren't STEALING lamps.  We were scavenging lamps that had been left in the hall by people who had left, and didn't care about the lamps.  There's a reason two BSC boys burned down churches; they'd had it too easy and never learned the value of anything.  By cracky.

But this one time, I was presented with a remarkable temptation.  I went to the library to turn in my last batch of library books.  the library was scheduled to be closed, so I planned to use the book drop.

But the door was unlocked.  No one was there.

If you'd asked me to list the library materials that I'd enjoy owning, we could have been there all day as I listed the books, videos, records and CDs that I coveted, coveted, coveted.  And here I was, the only person in the library.

You think I didn't check?  I strolled in, set my books on the desk, and wandered around... looking for people.  There weren't any.  No guards, nuthin.

Maybe there were security cameras hidden about, but judging from my friends' stories of late-night library shenanigans (up to and including sex acts in out-of-the-way nooks) I doubted there were any eyes in the sky.  So it's possible I could have walked out of that unguarded library with a wonderful haul.

I'm glad I left empty-handed.  For one thing, all the furrin films I'd snatch on videotape would be ruined by now, just like the videotapes I actually bought, all of which fell victim to some kind of dust or mold or something.  And most of the books would be sitting on shelves still waiting to be read.

But of course I'm mostly glad because who needs the guilt?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Information. In Formation.



Prologue: A note to my family regular readers: This post is an assignment for a class I’m taking. The subject is my information sources. I apologize for not posting lately, but like I say, I’m taking a class. End prologue.








The day begins with the alarm clock and the cat in a photo finish: one is programmed to wake me at a predetermined time, the other is inclined to wake me because he’s out of food, or there’s a cat outside, or I rolled on him, or whatever else motivates cats to do what they do.

(image swiped from Same Hat.)

One is a planned mechanical info source while the other is an unpredictable organic info source. They both wake me to deliver information, and while the information varies the result is the same: I’m getting up.

Information pervades the house. Multiple clocks remind us of the time. Sunlight slants in the windows, giving us a running commentary on time and weather. Books on bookshelves in every room. Look, there’s a novel resting on its side, perched on the ledge of the shelf!


I guess someone’s planning to get back to it. This implicit information suggests I’d best not reshelve it.

A side note: the painting that, for me, best represents the way information pervades our mental landscape is On The Balcony by Peter Blake:

(Image pillaged from The Tate.)


The artist is best known for a related information-saturated image, the cover art for Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Blake visualized a hypertextual augmented reality decades before these cyberbuzzwords existed. Although I suppose Medieval artists beat him to it, with those multiple-windows-onscreen illuminated manuscripts.

(Image five-fingered from Bibliodyssey.)
One can gather so much info about a household from its bookshelves. One of my favorite bloggers, Tom Spurgeon, talks about the pleasures of shelf-porn: photos of peoples’ bookshelves. Here’s some of ours:

A blend of brow levels and a clutter of subjects.

Uh oh! Is someone an embittered ex-actor? The fact that this shelf of theatrical texts is tucked away in an alcove of a little used hallway may be relevant info.





Here's some of my wife's books, as organized by her. Note that these books, unlike mine, are alphabetized. Maybe SHE should be the librarian.

But let’s be honest: a ton of my info-gathering happens at the computer. There are paper printouts scattered about my desk because onscreen I can’t quite bring myself to read anything more demanding than a message board. I’m well aware of the trees I’m killing with these comfort printouts, and I’m aware because my buddy Charlie is the kind of data-rich conservationist who keeps me abreast of such issues via:

• Facebook, natch

• A private message board (specifically a Yahoogroup) for my college friends to stay in touch. It’s been online since 2001. Post-Facebook it’s used less, but that’s because all our passing joke links have migrated to Facebook. We mostly save the messboard for important announcements, in-jokes, and bull sessions.

• Actual face-to-face conversation. On the Fourth of July we went to Charlie’s house to meet a passel of college friends I hadn’t seen in years, along with their children. My college friends’ children! I’d been informed that these children existed, but that information had only come to me via text on a screen, along with a few photos on the same screen. Here the children were in the flesh, building ornate Lego spaceships, informing me via words and Lego demonstrations of all the latest advances in Lego spaceship technology (and, by extension, their film/video game consumption).

• Another face-to-face meeting. A couple months ago Charlie and family made an impromptu stop at our house on a vacation return leg. This time I was able to give him some information: the local birds (he’s a birdwatcher and works for Audubon) keep eating our tomatoes. He countered with the information that he’s never heard of such a thing. Only later I realized that the birds weren’t so much eating our tomatoes as drinking them: pecking holes and sipping the tasty juice. Or so I assume; my info source on this is direct observation of the tiny holes the birds peck in the tomatoes. Not big enough to get much vegetable flesh, but enough to slip a beak in and sip.

Back to the Internet: I use my iGoogle page to keep up with my favorite pages for

news,




• and portraiture.

Let’s move on to how I actively seek information about important topics, like one of my recurring guilty pleasures: kitsch fantasy art. I could, of course, go to fine websites like




but today I’m going to pick up a book. A musty old coffee table book I bought when I was in high school.


The Flights of Icarus! (Image ganked from Digital Waterfalls.)

(Flights, plural? I’ve been well informed on the subject of Icarus’s infamous single flight via a blend of books (Bulfinch’s Mythology was the first), filmstrips, and lectures in school. Perhaps the title is meant to suggest a happier alternate ending to the cautionary tale; an idealistic hope of brighter possibilities for those who fly close to the sun. Appropriate, I suppose, for a collection of fantasy art.)

I found it in an old-fashioned paper catalogue from Paper Tiger/Dragon’s Dream, a dual publishing imprint founded by record cover artist Roger Dean.  I was enamored of Dean’s covers for bands like Yes:

(I have no I dea where I swiped this image of the gatefold sleeve Dean pained for Yes's best album, Close To The Edge.


and Asia:

Who knows where I found this image of Asia's second-least-crappy album, Alpha?

so I bought one of his coffee table art books.  It included a catalog of related offerings, and I bought most of those offerings, though memory fails me about how I could afford such silly expenditure.  One of those books was Flights of Icarus, a grab-bag survey of fantasy artists.

The book consists in large measure of nerd favorites and imitators of nerd favorites, but there are a few standout artists who aren’t likely to ever join the nerd gestalt, and they’re the one’s I’m curious about.
So let’s cruise Google with a copy of the book in hand, shall we?
Say, Jim Fitzpatrick looks interesting!  The works reproduced in the book are an amalgam of Celtic-ish Kell-ish elements (my first info source on Kells: another college friend, who dabbled in reproducing them on graph paper in colored pencil) and Barry Windsor-Smith (another of those nerd faves one learns about through nerd osmosis).

Thanks to Google I found his website immediately.

Holy smoke, he did the Che Guevara poster?
Grabbed from Jim's website.
  And album covers for: 
  Thin Lizzy (about which my initial info source was a photo of the lead singer in some magazine, probably Musician: I thought he looked cool but never followed up on the band.  Years later I listened to a guy sing “The Boys are Back in Town” in a gloomy karaoke club and learned from the onscreen title info that the Boys in question were Thin Lizzy. ) 

and Sinead O’Conner (whom I first learned about from a friend (a Catholic, ironically) who told me I had to check out O’Conner’s video of Nothing Compares 2 You (which I never did, though I saw a short excerpt on one of those ads for compilation albums they used to hawk on TV; all the info I got on the video involves a closeup of a head against a black background singing real wide-mouthed. Let's take a closer look:

)).

So, after those nested parentheses, do you remember where we left off? If so you’ve got a useful skill: not losing the thread after a trip down the digressive hyperlink rabbit hole. Anyway, Jim Fitzpatrick.

Here’s a sample-spoon of what he had in my book:


Obviously this teensy reproduction doesn’t do justice to all the intricate detail in this image.

  So, what’s he up to now?
Purty.  And stands up better to image shrinkage.

Whose next on my tour of Icarus's flights? John Ridgewell, whose photorealistic yet imaginative landscapes of Green and Pleasant Land remind me of the overgrown yet not-quite-wild backroads I’ve seen all my life in Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina.

(Image "liberated" from the below-linked website.)

(I crib "Green and pleasant land" from William Blake’s poem Jerusalem (Which I first discovered on a cassette of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s bombastic arrangement of the song version:


))


Sad info on that website; we lost him to cancer. The website protests that reproductions cannot do his work justice. I’m aware of the problem, having once seen Renoir‘s famous Luncheon of the Boating Party in a traveling exhibition.

(Image "borrowed" from Phillips collection.)

You’ve probably seen it in reproductions, but none of them prepared me for the luminous, breathing realness of the people represented in the painting. Somehow the way light springs off that painted canvas seems closer to the way light springs off living flesh than the way it reflects from conventional canvases.  Renoir takes us back to the Seine of the 19th century, giving us an astonishing amount of information about what it was like to be young and alive in that time and place. Looks like it beat hanging out at the mall. Anyway, standing before the art itself I felt like I could  step through the portal-frame and join the party; that’s how perfect Renoir’s illusionism was.

Back to Flights of Icarus: David O’Connor contributes a lushly colored illustration of a fearsome looking middle-aged woman in a room full of birds. Could she be bird-crazed Gertrude Groan, from my favorite fantasy series, Gormenghast?  I'd scan the illustration if I had a scanner.  I'd post it if I could find it online.  This image, this information, must remain locked in the book.   Score one minor victory for books over Dubbleyu Dubbleyu Dubbleyu.

So let’s Google David. I immediately misspell his name O’Conner and Google wraps my knuckles:

• Showing results for david o'connor artist


Search instead for david o'conner artist.

Ya got me there. So, whattaya got on David O’ConnOr?  C’mon Goog, inform me. 


This more or less abstract multi-media work is actually more interesting to 38-year-old me than slick fantasy illustration, but it’s clearly the result of a more austere aesthetic. I like it, but sculpture suffers even more in photographic reproduction than does painting, and besides, I’m on a mission here, with my internal 17-year-old self in charge.  Internal 17-year-old just likes slick fantasy art.

I switch to Google Images, and after trawling through the usual collage of off-topic pictures (including many, many faces, a rear-view of a naked muscleman, some embossed hieroglyphs, a man stroking a horse’s muzzle, a cute boy adjusting his collar) I spot a bunch of Magic: The Gathering cards that look to be by the O’Connor I’m seeking.

(Think I found this at http://www.starcitygames.com/)


Remember Magic, the Gathering? A collectible card game that I learned about exclusively from one kind of info source: M:tG crazed college friends, all of whom shared a missionary zeal for this game. It's a game which blended the pleasures of baseball card collection, Mille Bornes and hack fantasy. Word of mouth was both the game’s primary marketing and its primary anti-marketing, since the game’s fans were even nerdier than me, and down that path, I knew even then, lies madness. O’Connor’s card illustrations are rather dull compared to the prismatic lushness of his images in my book, but I suppose one has to keep it simple if it’s for a cheap card; otherwise you end up looking like this:
 

Oh, sorry, were you hoping for some female artists? Well, editors Martyn and Roger Dean have graciously allowed one. At least she’s a nice one: Una Woodruff.

(Image nicked from the above Una Woodruff site.)



Fits in with the work in the book, which parodies botanical illustration, but features imaginary plants whose blooms resemble animals. Reminds me of the art of John Trest, with whom I went to college.

(Image snagged from John Trest's website without even asking.  Hope he'll accept it as free publicity, but I'll delete if if he asks.  Ditto for the other images and their respective sources/rightsholders.)

I got John's website off a business card he handed me at an art festival. One of those situations where one hopscotches from a face to face info source, to paper-and-print info source, to Internet info source. Perhaps the reverse order is becoming more common.

Next flight of Icarus: Dick French contributes some images that look like Francis Bacon
trying his hand at landscapes after reading Ballard’s Crash.

(I first learned about Bacon from trawling school library art books.  I was proud to recognize his art in the opening credits of Last Tango In Paris:

 

(and then there's Crash:

))

Oh look, the BBC has a piece by a Dick French!

(Tooked from the Beeb.)

Not sure what to make of that. All the lavender makes it look like Thomas Kinkaide on a drunken spree. (Speaking of Kinkaide, I went Googling for info on how he works his magic, and behold.)
 
But I didn’t know until I just now stumbled across it that BBC has an online art reproduction gallery. I’ll waste a bit of time on this, I daresay. I like this.

And this

and this here

and also this,

which last reminds me a bit of Diebenkorn, whose work I saw in SFMOMA, where a guard served as an information source. The information he provided was that I better turn off the flash on my camera. I couldn’t seem to do this, since I’d borrowed the camera from my wife and hadn’t read the relevant information source known as the manual. The guard turned flash off for me; he’d presumably had to figure this stuff out in order to help clueless tourists like me. Sadly the camera kept turning the flash back on, so I didn’t get many SFMOMA photos. But I did get these Diebenkorn detail shots:






To finish up with Flights of Icarus, there’s some nice images from 

Bruce Pennington (my first info source on whom was my friend Doug, who had a book of Pennington’s apocalyptic work. Doug, who was and remains an evangelical Christian and gifted painter, was very taken with Pennington’s imaginative Book of Revelation-fired imagery, but was irked by an painting which purported to show the Rapture, but showed people being tractor-beamed into a spaceship. Doug informed me that some New Agers believe the Rapture is a true prophecy but that it will in fact be a removing of Christians by Wise Alien Overseers so New Age types can get on with their New Age business without Christians interfering. Not sure what Doug’s info source on this was.)

and
 
Ian Miller.  (Doug introduced me to Miller’s work as well, after I expressed a nervousness about Satanic art (I was kind of young).  I believe Doug’s words were “Ian Miller, that’s as close to Satanic art as anything you’ll find in this house.” Now I think Miller is magnificent, and I don’t feel Satanic for it.)
 
Enough of this. I’m not the kind of hikikomori who lives like a fly in the Web. I’m going for a walk. Let’s see what information we can suss out from the neighborhood.
 

Until recently the word Espresso was lovingly lettered over this door. That information has been removed, because the coffee shop within has been removed.  It was the only coffee shop in town.


Here’s one of North Carolina’s many proud furniture shops!

We’ve been informed by locals of a saying: Japan buys its furniture from North Carolina, and North Carolina buys its furniture from Japan. Despite the way the doorframe intrudes on the lettering (arguably causing some information loss) I see they sell La-Z-Boys.


Or not.  Reflected in this broken window one can make out one of the buildings of the biotech research campus that is the great hope of the community.  If the campus fulfills the hopes behind it, then in a year or three I'll be able to retake this photo in an unbroken pane to a prosperous new shop.  Let us hope. 
 
Next door stands this furniture outlet. 

Just read the sign. You’ll have to fill in the gaps, though the missing letters are as informative, in their way, as the ones that remain.

What’s the coming attraction at the local movie theatre?


Just take a gander at the poster. It’s The Disney Muppets! “Muppet Domination,” it says down below, and we can see who’s dominating the Muppets; the new owners have smeared their corporate logo over the title so thoroughly that it appears to be part of the title.



Here’s a house for sale.


Looks like it was proud once. A neighbor, who is busy fixing up another local old house, casually informed us that the house you see here was a boarding school, then a flophouse full of junkies. 
That was long ago. 

Now no one lives there.

OR DO THEY?

Get me outta here.  I was planning to go around back and get some more photos, but the information I’ve gleaned from a quick peek inside suggests I might want to be on my way. As a lover of fine film I’ve been informed about what can happen to inquisitive neighbors:

 
Though I also know not to take such warnings too seriously, thanks to this deeply informative clip a friend sent me on Facebook:

 
Oh, did I mention the house is for sale? 



Having cross-referenced between a musty old lobrow coffee-table book and Google, then strolled around browsing the info on offer in my neighborhood, I suspect I’ve mostly exhausted my info sources. Sure, there’s my phone, but it’s not one of them there smartphones. I mostly use it as an actual phone, talking to my family and friends, one of whom I see every day, most of whom I haven’t seen in at least a year. If I had a smartphone I’d be too busy with stuff like this.

I’ve touched briefly on face-to-face communication as an info source, but in the interest of protecting the privacy of local family and friends I think I'll draw a curtain over the specifics of our face-to-face dealings. In place of such personal information, please enjoy this song about face to face communication:











(Finished with a nick from http://annyas.com/screenshots/)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Slop 100

So NPR has a list of the Top 100 fantasy and SF novels, as selected by whomever showed up. Imagine if they made a list of the best BBQ places in the USA. You know, you know, for a fact you know, that the McRib would be on the list. Only an idiot thinks the McRib would belong on such a list, but there it would be, displacing some worthier BBQ source.

So this list has, along with a lot of obvious choices, a fair number of McRibs. Terry Brook's Shannara books? Really? There's no questioning their import to Fantasy Inc.'s history of homogenizing and pasteurizing Tolkien/Robert "Conan" Howard into reproducible comfort food, prefab daydreams, but what's it doing on a list that aspires to quality? And Piers Anthony? Eek. I like what I've read by George R. R. Martin, but would his work rank so high if he didn't have a breakout hit TV show? No, it would not. I like Neil Gaiman, but he's been the flavor of the month in fantasy circles since the 90s. That's a long month. Good soul that he is, I'm sure he'd be happy to bump one or two of his titles from the list to make room for Mervyn Peake, Elizabeth Hand, Robert Holdstock.

As far as fantasy is concerned, you're better off going by Ballantine Adult Fantasy. Obviously it's a bit dated, so titles like Viriconium and Little, Big aren't there, but they aren't on NPR's list either.

As for SF, seek out a copy (a local library surely has one) of John Clute's Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. It's about as navigable and profusely illustrated as a good magazine or webpage, with substantial writeups on numerous worthy texts and authors, many of whom were not included on NPR's list.

In closing, here's a silly faux-trailer for an overrated Mary-Sue fantasy novel that happily didn't make the list: War For the Oaks by Emma Bull.



I like the atmospheric opening, but the Faerie Court is pure Renfaire.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why, do you think?

I'm sure your friends aren't sending you enough Youtube links, so here.


This is pretty much the greatest thing ever. If I could do something as jaw-droppingly perfect as the first song on this clip, my life would be entirely justified. I also enjoy the way the host steals a kiss from the second act and a look of annoyance crosses her face for an instant. You know he took this gig purely out of a desire to get lucky with one of the guests. Too bad we don't get to hear the DeLorean song at the end. Truly, the 80s were a magic time. Or maybe they just seemed that way because I was a kid.

If you're wondering what Penney Peirce, the woman behind "Why Do You Think You Are Nuts?" is up to, the answer follows:



She looks happy and I'm glad, but I hope she'll put the lingerie back on and sing more outlandish punk songs for us.

Here's a video we first saw in Montreal, home of the artist:



Hope we get to see more of Socalled on our next trip to Montreal. Also hope we get to see The American Devices:



Here's a short some friends of mine made! It won awards of some kind.



And here's the closing credit sequence from Please Save My Earth becuz I love it.



And in conclusion,

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gimprov.

During the President W. years (The Oughts? More like the Ought-Nots. Or the Ought-Naughts) I was affiliated with Birmingham, Alabama's only improv troupe at the time, first as a fan, then as a member. Imagine a band hiring new members from a tribute band and you've got the idea, although what kind of ridiculous band would do that? The politics could get ugly, the meetings could be like pogroms, and the shows could be like doing burlesque for The Eagle Forum. Still, there were unexpected pleasures.

Like doing shows at a dark, scary goth club. This club hired the group to perform a couple of times, once before I joined, once after. It turned out the club needed an emergency fill-in for a different kind of performance they'd had a time or two: a dominatrix doing some kind of dominate-tricks (you like that? I just made that up, with my fine mind). She'd gotten shut down by the vice squad or somebody (in Birmingham, Alabama? go figure) and there we were.

Picture the scene: a dark cavernous building with a bar like an altarpiece. The music blasted, the booze flowed, and the hair-bears and suicide grrls welcomed in the weekend with sweat and shouts.

Then the DJ stopped the music so five not-very-goth people could climb up on the tottery jury-rigged stage and make up little comic scenes. It was a bit of conceptual whiplash; people who wanted to drink and dance and meet and greet weren't really keen on this. If we'd been a band, that'd have been different. With music you can listen and/or dance and/or swill liquor and/or chat someone up. With improv you either dive right in and shout "Gynecologist!" when they ask for suggestions, or you try to ignore that weird dribbly theatre thing happening in the corner. There's only two levels of improv-engagement, is what I'm saying. Some people seemed interested in the improv... just not then and there. A few of the goth club attendees later showed up for the regular Sunday night gig at a now-defunct coffee shop, so that was nice, but no one really wanted improv at the loud goth bar on Friday night. They were polite, though, if by polite you mean "offering one of the troupe members $50 to perform light bondage." I was not either of the parties involved in this exchange, BTW, although I was present while it went down. The recipient of this offer demurred, perhaps because the public nature of the offer did not speak well to the would-be john's discretion, or perhaps because $50 is an insult. Later that night I spotted the failed bondage-john in the lobby, which for some reason had a karaoke setup right by the front door. He was doing a drunken rendition of Back in the U.S.S.R. and filling in the instrumental breaks with inscrutable erotic speculations. I'm sure glamourous nightlife has much to recommend it, but it's probably less story worthy.

I took the stage with the group on the second Goth-bar gig, and I loved it. It was as if we were sealed inside a large bubble, protected by audience indifference from the consequences of slow-wittedness. It was a terrific, if hermetically sealed, show. We were doing inventive comedy in which we could really take pride. Some of the crew was frustrated by the lack of audience response, but as a lifelong white Presbyterian I regarded apparent congregational/audience indifference as the norm.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I'm Free, Captain Peacock!

It's interesting how my tastes have changed since I got married. Many cheerfully diverting shows and movies that once seemed like splendid ways to wind down at the end of the day now seem like utter wastes of time. Or maybe it's just the backlash from having watched all 6 seasons of Lost even though I was done by the end of Season 4.

We recently watched the first episode of nerd favorite Torchwood and decided to stop there. Guess my nerd card will be revoked. It's safe to say my teenage self would have fixated on this show, but now it just seems like microwaved leftovers of the same light sci-fi stuff I enjoyed... when I was a teen. We also tried a show called Monarch of the Glen. It's the upteenth BBC show about a guy who grew up in the manor house but left because he wanted to get away from all the haughty uptight stuffiness, but circumstances force him to return and set shenanigans straight. Don't forget the sassy servants and working class love interest. In the single days I would have wolfed this down like cashews. Not now.

When I'm sick, though, all bets are off. A few years back I was horribly ill and stranded in another town, far from my wife. I lay in bed watching Are You Being Served on Youtube, episode after episode. I could think of nothing (other than healing and getting back home to my love) I'd rather do than listen to Mrs. Slocombe talk about how it had rained unexpectedly and her pussy got soaking wet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

In Defense of the Mashup

This review of a new book titled Retromania by Simon Reynolds makes the book sound interesting, but dismissing the mashup as a barren genre is a mistake. Mashups are the only way to resuscitate 99% of the music that gets played on Clearchannel (speaking of barren) radio.

Mashups can be salvage operations. Take a lousy song with a terrific beat, a crummy song with a catchy riff, a limp song with a powerful vocal, a dreadful song with an inspired solo, a pointless song with a tantalizing bridge. Extract the good nuggets. Blend those nuggets together with a deep love for musical structure and fresh juxtapositions. Voila! A dynamite new song that rescues the good bits of a fistful of corporate audio product.

Mashups can be glorious new sound-blends. DJ BC's Art Raps fuses hiphop with old analog electro-music and takes listeners to a sonic landscape that never existed before. Check out L'eau de Rose (second tune down the page) from DJ Earworm. Is that lovely, or what? Admittedly the source tunes are lovely too, but this blend gives me chills.

Mashups can be nostalgia-2-go. There are songs that, to use a phrase my wife detests, are part of the soundtrack of our lives, but fall into a grey area somewhere between "Need to hear again from time to time" and "Never need to hear again". Incorporating these songs into a mashup lets us enjoy what works about them without sitting through, say, a five minute song to get 30 seconds worth of nostalgic kick. By the same token, mashups can provide a relatively painless intro to modern pop confections. Who wants to sit down and listen to an hour of the latest pop jams? I sure don't. That's why selfless DJs do the dirty work for us, listening to would-be songs of the Summer and compiling them into sampler platters.

Some people are pushing sound-collage and mashups pretty far, and have been doing so for years. People like Vicki Bennett, A.K.A. People Like Us.

DJ Food's "Raiding the Twentieth Century" is a splendid tour of the mashup art, blending lecture and demonstration.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Fauna of Kannapolis














Now let's creep up on a very special animal that's probably only in town for a short visit: the elusive Vacation Bible School Panda. Laurie and I were utterly charmed by this critter.

Look, there it is!

















That is one lovable panda.



But here's my favorite Kannapolis animal:




AWWWWWW.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Fondest High School Memories and My Gloomiest High School Memories are The Exact Same Memories.

Somehow my high school graduating class (Red Bank High, Chattanooga TN Class of '92) chose "Imagine" by John Lennon as its class song. My Latin teacher (a kind, enthusiastic, Christian woman) expressed her approval. "I love that song!" The original recording got broadcast over the speaker system or something one day while I was in her class, and she smiled happily. In all likelihood I mentioned to someone that the drummer on it, Alan White, would later join Yes. In further all likelihood, no one cared.

Anyway, just before our actual graduation ceremony there were a few other official celebratory gatherings, and at one of them a folk-singin' student got up and sang the song; just his voice and his fascist-killin' acoustic guitar. I was seated in sight of our Latin teacher, and I watched her with interest. I seemed she was hearing the lyrics for the first time, and her smile turned sour; without that pretty piano bit the words came through, and everyone who didn't already know realized that "Imagine" is basically an advertising jingle for militant atheism. I'm guessing a lot of kids who voted for the song had buyers' remorse.

Immediately after the performance a preacher got up and delivered a short message that ended with the hope that "Some day we can realize John Lennon's dream, and live as one." Nice try, dude. Very Hegelian.

#

My main extracurricular activity in high school was Forensics. Dead bodies didn't enter into it; the term "forensics" means gathering evidence in order to reach an informed conclusion. Or something like that. You might want to do some forensics of your own to check up on my hazy memories. Effectively Forensics just meant the debate team plus a gaggle of nominally related competitive performance activities like poetry reading. I was more into the poetry-reading end of things, cuz unlike debate you didn't have to be a sharp, quick thinker. Effective memorization (which I had with enough lead time, like all summer) and a willingness to speak in public (which, let's face it, is little more than a sublimated version of dropping one's pants in public (at least it is with me)) will suffice.

The average forensics tourney consisted of students in business attire going from classroom to classroom (or hotel room to hotel room) and running through their shticks for each other and the crack team of highly qualified parents who got suckered into judging these events. In between rounds, lots of hanging around gossiping/flirting/joking/stealing pizzas from some other team that bought pizzas/etc.

Three rounds, usually, followed by suspenseful waiting as finalist lists were posted, the final round in each competitive category went down, then more hanging out complaining/stealing cold pizza/wandering into places one wasn't supposed to go/etc. until the award ceremony, where cheap trophies made hearts soar.

A few memorable moments:

One mousy girl in a prose-reading competition read an excerpt of "Interview With a Vampire" which I've never read, but I saw the appeal after her performance. She transformed into an erotic madwoman; we practically saw the blood dripping from her fangs, and everyone in the room was flushed and sweaty by the end of the show. Suddenly she was way more appealing than other girls with clearer skin and higher cheekbones. I got to see this demonstration three times; I would gladly have watched it every hour on the hour for the rest of my adolescence. Where were girls like that in my school?

Coming in second place in the Gatlinberg Tournament Prose Reading competition. I lost to a friendly, smooth guy who confessed to me that he disliked the Christian element of his story, but went with it out of cynical judge pandering. When he won I felt like challenging the win on grounds of hypocrisy. I was sincere in my love for my story ("The Golem" by Avram Davidson) and felt that should count in my favor. I kept quiet and took my second place trophy.

BTW the Gatlinberg tourney always had an enormous turnout, because Gatlinberg is the Branson of the South. Forensics team ranks swelled when this thing rolled around; kids who hadn't bothered to show up for boring old local tournaments grabbed the first poem the Norton anthology fell open to and declared themselves contestants. Most of the competition was unabashedly going through the motions in order to hang out in Gatlinberg; I recall one girl who prefaced her performance with "I really suck, ya'll, so just take a nap or something until I'm through". This is why my generation has failed, is failing, and will continue to fail the world: we're so mush-headed we want to hang out in purgatorial bootleg T-shirt outlets like Gatlinberg. Anyway, bear the tragedy of the commons in mind while evaluating the prestige factor of my second place win. Out of a hundred or so contestants in the prose category, mebbe a half-dozen were serious about the art and craft.

The nose thing. A girl from another school told me she had a trick called "The Nose Thing." She offered to do it for me. I asked what it was. She refused to disclose. All her friends gathered around. She instructed me to lean back and close my eyes. I done it. She wrapped her lips around my nose and blew forcefully into my nostrils, making the caverns of my skull buzz. Afterwards her friends all treated me as if I had been selected for something. I couldn't understand why my parents were so upset when I told them about this.

Related to the preceding: girls flirting with me and my not realizing it until after the fact. The actual debate team kids probably picked up on flirting right away, owing to the mental alacrity you need on the debate team and don't need on the prose-reading team.

My slow ascent up the ladder of pretension. As a freshman I did Douglas Adams. A few years later I was doing Kafka and T. S. Eliot, which is a good way to get third-place trophies, the most grudging recognition possible.

Selecting material was a dicey endeavor; for example, kids who read Stephen King always got roses from some judges and the Black Spot from others. It didn't matter how the performance was; all that mattered was how the judge felt about King.

The ongoing Order Debate, the only debate the Debate Team didn't care about. Forensics kids were forever trying to suss out which was the pole position in any given round. Each round consisted of five or six competitors per room. Was it best to be first, last, somewhere in between? The borderline-theological debates over this ate up hundreds of dork-hours.

Every year I triumphed in regional finals, then went to State Finals where legends are born, and promptly got smeared on the wall in the first round by kids from the mysterious and inscrutable land of West Tennessee. My senior year I finally crapped out in the regionals (wassamatter, you don't like Kafka's journal notes?) and I ended my forensics career in a sparsely attended local tournament that had no official competitive reason for taking place. I decided to go out with proper teenage obnoxiousness and chose a new prose passage: the bit from Lolita where Humbert picks Lo up from camp, kisses her in the car, and almost gets busted by a highway patrolman.

The judges in the early rounds liked it okay, and I made it to finals (although the judges would have really needed to hate me to keep me out, such was attendance). In final rounds there are three judges. One I don't remember, but one had brought his infant daughter (who happily ignored all the performances in favor of quietly playing with a toy); this guy stared at me with a face caricatured by theatrical shock.

The third judge went to my church. She had a twelve-year-old daughter whom I had once given a piggyback ride. The girl never spoke to me again, probably under strict orders. It finally dawned on me that some people will take you seriously when you're only playing.