What ever happened to the teenage dream?

Posted in Dancing about architecture, Somebody's birthday on September 30th, 2010 by bill

Marc Bolan looked best in soft focus.

Today’s birthday: The late, great Marc Bolan, who would have been 63 today if not for an unfortunate incident with an automobile back in 1977.

Bolan was a truly singular talent, and although often tagged with the meaningless appellation “glam rock,” the music he made with his band T. Rex was really hors catégorie. His special gift was the ability to deliver the most ridiculous lyrics with a straight face and somehow make it seem cool:

I got stars in my beard
And I feel real weird
For you
(“Mambo Sun,” 1971)

Time is short today for a full appreciation; instead, here are five random Bolan factoids:
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The Infinite Jest Deathmarch: Pause for Reflection

Posted in The Infinite Jest Deathmarch on September 27th, 2010 by bill

I get the sense that people are chomping at the bit to get going on this thing, which is well and good. I would just remind everyone that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and to be on guard against irrational exuberance.

It’s not against the rules to get a little head start, just beware of getting too far ahead, because then things get all out of sync and we lose our precious Unit Cohesion. If you’re looking for something to occupy your mind between now and Friday, might I suggest a David Foster Wallace essay about tennis, which I am led to believe will play an important part in Infinite Jest?

If you should happen to have access to a copy of Wallace’s book of essays A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, you will find the piece in question there under the sublimely ponderous title “Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness.” If not, this here is a link to the original version of the essay, which was published in Esquire under the comparatively dull title “The String Theory.”

I believe that the book version is an expanded version of the magazine article, including more about Wallace’s personal connection to the game (“As an adolescent, Wallace was a regionally ranked junior tennis player,” says The Wikipedia). But even the shorter version is plenty long enough to keep us distracted for a few days, I should think.

The Infinite Jest Deathmarch: Prologue

Posted in The Infinite Jest Deathmarch on September 23rd, 2010 by bill

The response to the Infinite Jest Deathmarch so far has been heartening, with lots of folks coming out of the woodwork to say, yes, I would like to commit the next ~20 weeks of my life to a cage match with one of the more notorious Big Books of our day. History tells us that not all of you will be there at the finish line, but I prefer to practice Positive Visualization and say that – to quote Funkadelic – everybody’s going to make it this time.

As a little warm-up before the official start next Friday, I’d like to invite you to read and comment on the introduction by Dave Eggers that appears in the edition most of us will be reading (you can also read it here). I admit to complicated feelings every time I see the name “Dave Eggers.” I used to know him, briefly, and have been somewhat nonplussed to watch him become the one writer of my generation who the average person could name. Not displeased exactly – I can’t say he doesn’t deserve it, because he is a talented and hard-working guy – but the schadenfreude, it is always lurking….

In any case, he knocked it out of the park with this intro. Reading it got me fired up about reading Infinite Jest and also somewhat comforted my fears that my long-suffering brain would not be up to the challenge.

Note that commenting this week is strictly voluntary, and not doing so will not count against you in terms of the Grand PoobahTM status one attains by commenting every week of a March. Now have at it.

Live at the Witch Trials

Posted in Dancing about architecture on September 21st, 2010 by bill

I’m going through my biannual Fall phase right now — only appropriate since fall starts tomorrow — with a special emphasis on Hex Enduction Hour and Live at the Witch Trials. (Media kismet: Witchcraft is all over the news cycle right now, on account of that batty lady from Delaware who’s running for the Senate, and there were several references to witch trials — via Monty Python — on last night’s Colbert Report. Also, Pavement — which beings us right back, as all things eventually must, to The Fall.)

All of The Fall’s music is pretty uniquely them, but Live at the Witch Trials stands apart from anything ever recorded by The Fall or by anyone else. There’s just something special about a young band who have talent and intelligence but don’t know what they’re doing and don’t especially care. And the Genius of Mark E. Smith…well, it’s there from the first verse of the first song of Witch Trials (their first album), “Frightened”:

Someone’s always on my tracks-uh
And in a dark room you’d see more than you think-uh
I’m out of my place gotta get back-uh
I sweated a lot you could feel the violence-uh
I got shears pointed straight at my chest-uh
And time moves slow when you count it
I’m better than them and I think I’m the best-uh
But I’d appear at midnight when the films close-uh

Why the offhand rhymes on the first and third lines? Why not? When you’re Mark E. Smith you do whatever the f**k you want and you don’t worry about it. This sometimes makes you hard to understand, but fortunately there is now the magic of the internets. In a few seconds I can find out what MES is saying in any given song, or at least what somebody out there thinks he’s saying.
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Coming soon: The Infinite Jest Deathmarch

Posted in The Infinite Jest Deathmarch on September 19th, 2010 by bill

So a few years back my web sibling Cecil Vortex started hosting group reads of difficult tomes that we dubbed the Deathmarches. Working as a group, 50 pages or so at a time, we conquered such intimidating doorstops as Gravity’s Rainbow, Don Quixote, Against the Day, and most recently The Brothers Karamazov.

Well, Cecil is a busy man with lots of responsibilties. Not so yours truly. So for awhile we have been bandying about the idea of my guest-hosting the next Deathmarch, and the first thought that occurred to me was David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, precisely the sort of brain-taxing opus for which the Deathmarch was designed. I actually bought a copy in a moment of crazed optimism about a year ago, and it has been sitting atop my bookshelf ever since, quietly mocking me.

The only way it will ever get read, I think, is with the support and companionship of a brave band of fellow (and lady) readers. So after much discussion with various parties, we have tentatively scheduled the beginning of the Infinite Jest Deathmarch for Friday, October 1. Basically the way this deal works is:

1. We set a target every week of ~50 pages.

2. You read.

3. At the end of the week you post a comment to let us know how you’re doing and share whatever pithy insights you may have.

4. Eventually we finish the book and you get some sort of prize. Cecil, a generous soul, usually springs for mugs or magnets; you can expect no such generosity here. Your prize is the satisfaction of having mastered a Major work of modern Literature, and the respect, acclaim, and increased sex appeal that accompanies same. This could change if things go well between now and then; we’ll see.

If you are interested in joining, please leave a comment below to that effect. This is not a legally binding commitment in any state except maybe Arizona. I look forward to your company on the road ahead.

R.I.P. Dave Zabriskie’s Moustache

Posted in The sporting life on September 16th, 2010 by bill

It is with a heavy heart that I note the passing of a great Friend of the Blog, Dave Zabriskie’s moustache. Zabriskie shaved it off before yesterday’s individual time trial at the Vuelta a España, no doubt with the aim of, er, shaving a few seconds off his time. And he did put in a good performance; whether it was worth it is a matter between him and his conscience, I guess. This is assuming of course that the moustache is actually gone, and not roaming around southern Europe in search of a new host.

Have we heard the last of Dave Zabriskie’s moustache? Cold rational logic says yes, but my heart says no – the ‘stache shall rise again.

Back to the 80s, Part 2

Posted in Audio transmissions on September 15th, 2010 by bill

A recent 80s-centric post got me on a bit of an 80s kick, and in listening to a bunch of that music I noticed a pervasive theme that had previously escaped me: a general sense of things not connecting, getting lost, breaking down (interesting that this ran side-by-side with the shiny sense of newness reflected in the previous post). A lot of songs express this in the form of transportation metaphors: cars crashing, planes not arriving, and so on.

Hence, this podcasty nugget of transmissions from the Golden Olden Days. Most of the artists represented here are English, I’m not sure why. Perhaps because their national decay was slightly more advanced than ours at the time; where things stand in 2010, I don’t feel qualified to say.

To lighten things up a bit I’ve included a couple of clips from the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Though not a career highlight for anyone involved, this 1987 John Hughes film fits the theme and has a phenomenal cast, including Steve Martin, John Candy, Michael McKean, Ben Stein, and the chronically undervalued Edie McClurg. If nothing else, it connected all these people to Kevin Bacon, who has a cameo as the guy who steals Steve’s cab.

Playlist and notes after the jump.

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A few words from Robert Fripp

Posted in A few words from Lao Tzu (or someone like him), Dancing about architecture on September 10th, 2010 by bill

Within the sacred circle where music, musician and audience meet, there are remarkable possibilities which, were we to fully experience the degree and extent that we miss the mark, might leave us weeping and knowing bereavement. If this were not itself sufficient tragedy, the meeting of music, musician and audience in our contemporary culture is mediated by commerce. This is the bad news….

When the Muse descends, we know directly (one aspect of) the Creative impulse and its inexpressible benevolence. This is the life-giving force that maintains all audients and performers who continue, despite all evidence to the contrary, to return to the place where Music opens itself to us. When we find how many participants in our musical enterprise, even good people with the best of intentions, act to close the door on the Benevolence that seeks to walk in and embrace us, in that moment we know pain, grief, loss. When good people further declare their consumer rights in the event, we know despair….

Despite all, the potential remains. Whenever a musician picks up their instrument, finds a pair of open ears and the Muse is in attendance, life begins again. In this moment, Time has no dominion and the music industry sits outside (albeit most likely with the ticket receipts). This is the good news….

My life changed direction in 1974 following a terrifying vision of the future. Now, three decades later, I find that I underestimated the extent of radical change that is presently underway. In 1974 my response was terror. In 2006, I trust the unfolding process.

May we know, and trust, the inexpressible Benevolence of the Creative Impulse.

Exposure reissue liner notes, 2006

Dave Zabriskie’s Moustache

Posted in The sporting life on September 4th, 2010 by bill
If nothing else, Dave Zabriskie's Moustache is a great name for a band.

If nothing else, Dave Zabriskie's Moustache is a great name for a band.

A few times this week I’ve found myself watching the Vuelta a España – that’s the Tour of Spain, for you gringos out there – on the very high-numbered cable channel that usually carries women’s beach volleyball. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try your patience with any extended commentary; in truth, it’s been a fairly dull race, except for one thing: Dave Zabriskie’s moustache.

Zabriskie is a talented racer with Bay Area connections and an impressive resume; but he has never previously achieved anything like this moustache. As the TV commentators (the aptly named Schlanger and Gogulski) pointed out, Dave Z. has been getting camera time way out of proportion to his position in the race, and there can only be one reason. It is just that magnetic of a ‘stache.

Now some people are asking, isn’t a bristle brush that prodigious going to adversely affect Zabriskie’s speed? Won’t it create, like, aerodynamic drag? Isn’t that why the cyclists shave every blessed hair off their bodies? Could be; in truth, I wonder if he actually grew the thing of his own free will, or if it somehow attached itself to him. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that the moustache is some sort of alien with a plan for world domination. (Maybe it means to win Wimbledon.1) It sure does make Dave look like a B-movie villain.

And if that’s the case, I have to ask, would it be so bad? Maybe the moustache knows something we don’t.

1. See also: “Monty Python,” “Scotland,” “blancmange”