How a Deathmarch Works

Posted in The Rabo Karabekian Memorial Deathmarch on August 31st, 2016 by bill

A few people have asked for clarification about how a Deathmarch works. So here’s the deal:

Every Monday I will post a new entry here giving the target for that week. Usually in the past we have done about 50 pgs/week, but given the relative simplicity of Vonnegutian prose, we’ll probably up that a bit this time. For instance, I think we’ll try to knock off Cat’s Cradle — 188 pages in the Library of America edition — in three weeks.

Throughout the week people will discuss that week’s reading in the Comments thread. No spoilers, please, assuming spoilage is even possible here.

If at the end of the March you have commented every week, there is some sort of prize. Sometimes it is just the knowledge of a job well done, and sometimes it is some piece of swag like a mug or magnet. This time, we’ll see how it goes.

Any other questions?

Announcing: The Rabo Karabekian Memorial Deathmarch

Posted in The Rabo Karabekian Memorial Deathmarch on August 29th, 2016 by bill

11 years ago (!), my sibling Cecil Vortex introduced the concept of the “Deathmarch,” in which a group of brave souls work together to tackle some formidable piece of literature. In this way we conquered tomes including Gravity’s Rainbow, The Brothers Karamazov, Don Quixote, and many (OK, several) more.

The Deathmarch has been dormant since the 2011 battle of Infinite Jest, which resulted in quite a few casualties. But I talked to Cecil yesterday and we decided it’s time.

In part this is inspired by my recent Kurt Vonnegut kick (see four posts ago), and by the fact that two…or was it three?…Christmases ago I received a lovely edition of all Vonnegut 1963-73, which has been moldering in a cabinet as I make my way through the endless Pile of the Unread.

The edition of which I speak looks like this:

And here’s an Amazon link.

You are not necessarily required to own this edition to participate. The novels covered will be:

Cat’s Cradle
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Slaughterhouse Five
Breakfast of Champions

But there are also some stories and essays at the end of the big book. I think we’ll decide whether to include these in the March when the time comes.

Of course, reading the work of Kurt Vonnegut scarcely deserves the name “Deathmarch”; his stuff goes down like popcorn compared to the weighty prose of a Pynchon or Wallace. But, you know, branding.

I’m thinking we’ll start next Monday, September 5. Who’s in?

X-Post: The Beatles’ Last Show (August 29, 1966)

Posted in Something about the Beatles on August 29th, 2016 by bill

This post also appears today on my other blog, The Beatles Plus 50.

Mark Twain once famously said that “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” The good people of San Francisco apparently took this as a challenge. Unsatisfied with the opportunities for frostbite offered by, say, the perpetually fogbound Inner Sunset, in 1958 they decided to build a stadium on an exposed, windswept point south of the city.

This was Candlestick Park, where the Giants and the 49ers played for many years, and where the final show of The Beatles’ 1966 U.S. tour took place. I went to Candlestick several times, and I can tell you from experience that even on a good day you had to bundle up to avoid freezing. And August 29, by all accounts, was not a good day. Says Bob Spitz:

Gusts whipped through the stands with almost biblical vengeance. Banners strung around the stadium flapped ferociously against the squall and drafts picked up great clouds of dust and blew them volcanically across the infield.

That may why Candlestick was only about half full. If you ever choose to time-travel to San Francisco on 8.29.66, you’ll be able to walk right up to the box office and buy a ticket. Be sure to take a parka.
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What’s Blowing My Mind, 2016 Edition (Part 5)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on August 24th, 2016 by bill

Journey of the Sorcerer

So it’s come to this — here I am posting a video of an Eagles song. Sorry, Dude.

Amazingly, I did not learn until this week that what I thought of as the theme song from the original radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — one of my favorite things in the history of recorded sound — was actually “Journey of the Sorcerer,” a track from the Eagles’ 1975 album “One of These Nights.” It was written by Bernie Leadon, who quit the band soon after the album was released and was replaced by Joe Walsh.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Eagles, to say the least. I have a soft spot for “Hotel California,” and really enjoy it if I hear it about once a year. There was a period there when I was seemingly hearing it every day, and got sick of it unto death. But that was a long time ago.

As for “Journey of the Sorceror,” I dig it. Apparently I’ve been digging it for almost 40 years without my knowledge. Live and learn, live and learn.

R.I.P. Mr. Carlin

Posted in Whatever Else on August 23rd, 2016 by bill

He’ll be missed.

What’s Blowing My Mind, 2016 Edition (Part 4)

Posted in Read it in books on August 22nd, 2016 by bill

Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve sensed for awhile that I had a Vonnegut period coming, and it arrived this week. I’ve been reading Welcome to the Monkey House as well as listening to the audiobook of Breakfast of Champions read by John Malkovich.

The latter makes BoC a somewhat darker experience than it is on the page, though when you think about what happens in the story, clearly that darkness was always there. In print it may be leavened somewhat by KV’s whimsical illustrations, which obviously are difficult to translate to the audio version. So if you’ve ever longed to hear the great John Malkovich attempt to describe Kurt Vonnegut’s drawing of an asshole, now you can.

For awhile I thought Malkovich and Vonnegut might be a stylistic mismatch, but it’s improved as it’s gone along, and the Malk absolutely kills Rabo Karabekian’s monologue about unwavering bands of light. Karabekian is a strange case — here Vonnegut has created a character that he clearly detests, and says so. And yet he gives Karabekian a beautiful and lucid speech that’s right at the heart of what Breakfast of Champions is all about.

I now give you my word of honor…that the picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal—the “I am” to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us—in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light. If a cockroach were near him, or a cocktail waitress, the picture would show two such bands of light. Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.

He seems like one of those characters who just takes on a life of his own. (I am pleased to note that Rabo Karabekian has his own Wikipedia page.)
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What’s Blowing My Mind, 2016 Edition (Part 3)

Posted in Whatever Else on August 15th, 2016 by bill

A few days ago I was at a friend’s house in Berkeley watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Oliver was talking about how New Zealand was looking for a new flag. Apparently, everyone in the country was invited to submit their designs, with the results you would expect — some interesting, some boring, and some insane. (In the interim, the Kiwis have opted to stay with their old flag, to the disappointment of the whole world.) One of the rejected designs made me laugh so hard I stopped breathing for a while. It probably won’t have the same effect on you, but I still wanted to share.

I’m not sure exactly what struck me so funny about it — some combination of the earless sheep, the zig-zag lightning bolt, and the fact that someone thought a sheep being struck by lightning was a good idea for a flag. It is making me giggle a little even now, and for that, I thank you, New Zealand.

What’s Blowing My Mind, 2016 Edition (Part 2)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on August 9th, 2016 by bill

This Is Where I Live

William Bell was never in the top tier of soul singers with your Reddings, Cookes, and Gayes, but he had a solid career as a songwriter and recording artist. He wrote “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” which was made famous by the aforementioned Mr. Redding, and co-wrote “Born Under a Bad Sign,” a big hit for Albert King and then Cream. As a singer, he was best known for “Forgot to Be Your Lover,” a stone classic that was later covered by everyone from Billy Idol to the reggae crooner George Faith (in a version produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry).

But I had no idea that Bell was still active in the music business, so I was surprised to hear that he was releasing a new album. I was even more surprised when I actually heard it. It is shockingly good.
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