Thursday, May 27, 2010

Recent Acquisitions

RECEIVING, MAY 27 - Recent Acquisitions:

1. PIGWORLD (Klamath Falls Goodwill, 25¢)

Charles W. Runyon's 1971 non-classic springs from that strange sliver of American history when it must've seemed like this country was actually slipping into science fiction. This is sci-fi of the radical sixties; mind control, panther gun battles, political fights, racist vigilantes, personal rocketships, FBI detention camps. Some of the "demographic warfare" concepts seem preemptively lifted from The Turner Diaries, a book whose own nuclear civil war shenanigans pale in comparison to the massive shitstorm crafted by Runyon.

Pigworld's civil war - more of a civil disintegration, really - takes place in a fictional 1980's. It's always fun when people in the past invent visions of the more recent past, like hearing Brits imitate American accents. But large parts of the book only barely make sense, and the prefeminist Sexy Time stuff gums up the works something fierce. I lost track of how many times the phrase "pubic bush" popped up in the writing. Runyon has every female character strip for his virile revolutionary protagonist. At one point, a dinner roll "opens up under his thumbs like a woman's buttocks." Creepy Hippie Dude Vibe permeates the text (and the binding; my copy came saturated with patchouli oil, so that several times my cats would jump up into my lap, give the book one horrified sniff and bolt off in disgust).

2. THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (Claremont library, $1)

If I understand right, the big deal with this novel was its portrayal of black southern life on its own terms, relegating white supremacism to background noise. Hurston wrote from the mid-1930's - meaning, almost the same distance from civil rights struggles & second wave feminism as our time - and the slips of sensibility are a little harsh on modern eyes. There's some casual wife beating, and a lot of hazily written FDR-era sex scenes. All the uses of "dem", "dey" and "dis" in the dialogue makes the whole thing read like a Pogo Possum novelization.

And the book's foreword sets the bar high, with its tale of Alice Walker finding Zora Neale Hurston's unmarked, weed-choked grave. It seems awfully sad that nothing in the author's most famous work can match - in poignant theatrical punch - the discovery of the author's own body decades later, a setup that has to rank high in the annals of UPOMOBO (Unintentionally Postmodern Bum Out).

3. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (KF Goodwill, 25¢)

This book was also kind of a bummer in that I wanted to hate Ernest Hemingway for the rest of my life, and now I cannot. Of the two novels I've ever read in one day, this was by far the best. And am I the only one to notice that the trailer for this December's "Tron Legacy" cribbed Old Man's shark-leaping-up-from-the-depths scene at 1:08?

4. OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE (La Jolla public library, $3)

Music journalist Michael Azerrad pulls off two impressive stunts with this 2001 indie music history; 1) he gets all the original players to talk, and 2) he makes even Black Flag sound boring. After page 28 referenced the "7A" club - a password for anyone interested in Reagan-era NYC, good music, or accuracy - I was able to relax. If the writer doesn't care about his own research, then the reader probably shouldn't care either.

But the excruciatingly linear approach for every band was a hard trudge. After the tenth reading of whose parents did what for a living, and which New England / Upper midwest / Texas town was the formative milieu for which budding genius / wildman / provocateur, it got pretty easy to spot the template. On page 107 came the tantalizing detail that a struggling Mission Of Burma toured the country by airplane (Eastern Airlines had a $300 see-the-country special in 1980). Would it have been that hard to make this the framing device for the entire book?

Also, I'd never heard Beat Happening before reading Azerrad's chapter. Their YouTube videos left me open mouthed in horror and shock. How was this real??

5. MEDITATIONS (Claremont Public Library, 25¢)

Marcus Aurelius is generally considered the "good" Roman emperor, counterpoint to Caligula, who ruled a century earlier. Aurelius led an austere, thoughtful, weird life for an emperor, and Meditations gathers his thoughts into one slim manuscript. The movie "Silence Of The Lambs" name drops Aurelius to the same degree that "The English Patient" references Herodutus' The Histories. But where the latter book is an impenetrable thicket (I never made it through the introduction), Meditations is a breezy read.

Sometimes a little too breezy. I put the content at 35% get-along hippie jive, and 40% decorative-wall-hanging-at-grandma's-house proverbs. There's but a slim wedge for the red meat (or green meat, according to the chart below). Here's my breakdown;

That leaves a fifth of the book to long-winded broodings about the futility of human existence. "The man whose heart is palpitating for fame after death," he writes, "does not reflect that out of all those who remember him every one will himself soon be dead also, and in the course of time the next generation after that, until in the end, after flaring and sinking by turns, the final spark of memory is quenched." That seems a tad hypocritical coming from an author whose books sell just fine 18 centuries after death.

Meditations reminded me of L.A.'s Watts Tower sculpture gardens - both singular artistic outputs meant to sum the full life of one man. But there's a slinky coyness to Aurelius's surviving output. Allegedly written for himself, several passages slip into the first person plural, as if he knew full well how history would treat the diary of an emperor. At the very least, many of the passages read like advice from father to son - a small irony of history, as his own son, the future emperor Commodus, blossomed into one of the great douche bags of the old, old timey world (at least as portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in 2000's "Gladiator").

6. ATLAS SHRUGGED (Thoreau Bookstore, Claremont, $1)

I invested a buck in this copy - well-thumbed, waterlogged, looking like it spent some serious time on the top of someone's toilet tank - to see what all the fuss is about. Then again, "seeing what all the fuss is about" is the same thing I've said, for years now, about pot, and sports, and getting out of the house, so I guess psycho-jerky Eisenhower-era science fiction is going to have to take a number and wait its turn.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Highlights: Day 15,000 on Earth

Dear Asshole,

Are you for real? Meaning, is this literally an actual sign that you have drawn and then taped to your actual truck window without irony? The reason I ask is that I couldn't help but notice your California license plates and I think you might be pulling my leg.

Hey buddy. Sorry, again, that I attempted to give you antibiotics. It was bad enough I hauled you to the vet for emergency feline urethra roto-rootering ($1,050 on the 24% APR Visa, but who's counting?). Next time I hear you growling to yourself in pain under the couch, I'll just make everything better with my magic fucking wand. I don't know why I didn't think of that in the first place.

Dear Verizon Stereo Earset Headset,

This is the year we're finally going to get you sold on eBay. I have a good feeling about this one. There just has to be someone in the American heartland / the third world / the recent past that still needs you. Don't lose faith. I haven't.

Dear confusing shirt -

Why have you teleported out of an underground record store collective in 1992 Little Rock and into the supermarket I currently shop at? Did the asshole with the sign in his truck put you up to this?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New: Apocalypse Never review

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM DEPT., MAY 20 - My review of Tad Daley's Apocalypse Never is now online at the American Prospect. This was an unpleasant book on multiple levels - dealing, as it does, with the extinction of humanity - and one I read in small increments interspersed with ample viewings of scenes from 2008's "Step Brothers" on YouTube.

Also, here's a poster I made last night for an upcoming show of heavy metal bands from Compton, in case you happen to be in downtown Los Angeles in two weeks. Necrobitchuery will be playing, FYI.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New: Danzig interview

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM DEPT., MAY 11 - My interview with Glenn Danzig is now online at Vice Magazine. His band has just released their first studio album in six years, and I somehow made the cut for the media pool. Because this band shares a name with the person I would be interviewing (and his & the band's eponymous first album) I had to phrase my tenses and possessives correctly.

Danzig (the man) is that rarest of performers, a public figure with a seemingly total lack of self-awareness. Henry Rollins shared this quirk in the eighties. I'd painfully attempted to interview Rollins twice in that decade, so I was wary of ever again questioning someone for whom there was no wiggle room for self-reflection, let along self-deprecation (in 1991, Danzig - the band - released a behind-the-scenes videography that still stands as the definitive monument to oblivious self-parody). There was a time, long ago, when I wasn't above making people look bad in interviews. All that did was mark me as a lousy writer and a jerk. But working in the opposite direction - gushing rock hagiography, the mode for most Danzig interviews - would mark me as a stooge. How to walk that fine line?

Then there was the matter of staging. Only at the last minute, looking up the address on Google Maps, did I realize that I already knew where I was going. The location of Glenn Danzig's house is an open secret in certain L.A. neighborhoods. It's an imposing, spooky structure, pretty much the exact kind of building one would imagine this man owning. There are only so many of these private landmarks in Los Angeles (Club 33, the Playboy Mansion, the bowels of the Magic Castle), and it was one of life's weird twists to suddenly receive an Open Sesame to someplace I never imagined I'd ever set foot in.

I drove into L.A. and met Glenn. The interview went by more or less smoothly in his dimly-lit back office. The only questions he shot down pertained to his house; he'd had problems with stalkers in the past and didn't want any mention of the place. Over the last decade I've driven past the property dozens of times and wondered what is happening in that house right now? So it was good that our chat left at least some of this mystery intact (Like; where did the huge pile of bricks go? And is it true he defended the property with a pitchfork after the '94 quake?).

After the interview, he ushered me back out into the sunlight and gave me some tips for balms and medicinal pads to buy in Chinatown. We wrapped up our conversation with that strange false camaraderie of most interviews - him assured I had no hidden agenda, me relieved he hadn't stonewalled me, Rollins-style. At one point he said he'd send me the names of some Chinese herbal supplements he couldn't remember at that moment. We both nodded, understanding that he didn't have my email address, or last name, or first name, and that it didn't really matter anyway.

The moment brought me back to a similar exchange, 18 years earlier, with Articles Of Faith frontman Vic Bondi. Our bands had crossed paths in Germany during their reunion tour, and we all had to share a dressing room hours after he'd exploded in an infantile tantrum. After some awkward small talk, Bondi asked about the book I was holding - a copy of Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror I'd lugged to Europe and never read more than ten pages of. Unprompted, he took my book and scrawled a ridiculous bibliography on the back flyleaf (Bondi had once been a history professor). At the time, it registered as a passive-aggressive attempt at reconciliation. But maybe he was just struggling to maintain basic human conversational skills. We've all been there, at one point or another.

Monday, May 10, 2010

New: The Corpse

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM DEPT. MAY 10 - "The Corpse", my 7,879 word essay on cryonics, is now online at Vice Magazine. I'm pleased with the way it turned out.

This also marked the first time anyone's ever paid me to go somewhere and write about something. That part pleased me as well. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Random iPhone Photos (2010)

Hey, you know who should play Harry Dean Stanton's role in the upcoming Escape From New York remake? Harry Dean frigging Stanton.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Review: The Queen Mary

LONG BEACH, April 29 - I visited the RMS Queen Mary for my birthday. This 81-ton retired ocean liner is best remembered as the ship commandeered by Lucille Bluth at the conclusion of television's "Arrested Development" (it was also an active Cunard Line vessel for three decades and transported sixteen thousand soldiers across the Atlantic during WW2).

The Queen Mary was a last minute substitute for Disneyland, which costs twice as much. This is the only way to make a visit to the Queen Mary seem affordable.

Ten minutes in, it was apparent that this California landmark was going to be less like the Hearst Castle (majestic, exhilarating, impossibly posh) and more like the Winchester Mystery House (spooky, confusing, needlessly massive). We joined one of the ghost tours in a small parlor. Our guide somehow managed to mumble through the PA system, so that all dozen or so of us on the tour had to stand on tiptoes and crane our necks and squint to convey that we couldn't understand what he was saying. A TV showed us "an exclusive CGI animation" of the QM's 1942 collision with the HMS Curacoa, and then we set out into the bowels of the ship.

Over 50 people have died on the Queen Mary over the years - nearly 400 if you count those killed on the Curacoa. The ship is allegedly infested with screaming apparitions. Our first stop on the ghost tour was the balcony overlooking the former first class pool. This two-story, dimly lit cavern is one of the ship's alleged spectral hot spots, and peering into the dark corners was kind of unsettling. But then our muttering milquetoast of a tour guide blasted ominous music on hidden speakers and the pool filled with dry ice smoke and everyone laughed in embarrassment. It reminded me of the time my friend N___ told me he thought his studio space was haunted, and I suggested that he buy a CD of Halloween sound effects and blast that while silkscreening to drown out / mock any real phantoms.

After the tour ended on a most unsatisfactory note, we were left free to roam without supervision. One forlorn room was full of mannequin heads. On a back stairway, I found an unused sanitary napkin.

An MTV crew was filming on the upper decks. Throughout the afternoon, unhappy men wearing dangling studio laminate necklaces dashed about with great self-importance. Later, leaving the boat, we overheard people yelling "don't jump!". I'm assuming this was either part of the filming, or a bunch of ghosts yelling at another ghost who just got fed up.