Monday, February 27, 2006

Endymion, First Line

The week-end was mostly garbage, mostly because of about fourteen hours where the side of my head felt like a large damp fireball. Does that make sense? Hurtingness and swellingness and not-nice-ness. All gone, now, though! Just in time for the grind to begin again, which is not school, but work. This morning sees me up at five-thirty because I'm working in St.Albert at seven. Then jet off, or move slowly by bus, to classes down at Uni, then work tonight at the WEM until ten, then back home by eleven. Garbageness. Tuesday, I'll have some music business about The Ark, nothing more today. Plus, I'm going to do some stuff about Edgar Rice Burroughs, who I love despite all of his many and terrible and grotesque flaws as a writer. Plus, what is the deal about this former local Matthew Skelton character who went astray in England and now has a million-dollar book-deal? Endymion Springs? This sounds like a Dan Simmons novel, for godsake, not a first-effort children's thickie worthy of mucho monetary reward. You can hear the publishers breathing heavily in the background, hoping for another Rowling, which isn't going to happen, it just isn't. But it makes me hope that Skelton's book will be able to stand on its own two feet. It's going to have a lot of competition from the Pullmans and Rowlings before it.

At The Earth's Core + Edgar Rice Burroughs I always liked Professor Liedenbrock. I liked the everyday romance of the man. And I wished (I still wish) that I could live at 19 Königstrasse, one of the oldest streets in the city of Hamburg, and that cowbirds would squawk in the highly-trimmed trees as, one by one, up the long sidewalk, would come venerable Henri Becquerel, Captain John Franklin, the Irishman Edward Sabine, Andre Dumas the chemist, and many other holy and reverend physicists and explorers. Axel and I would play with pretty Grauben to see which one of us she liked the best, and the Professor would walk from room to room with mathematical steps, his hands clenched comfortably at his sides. And our journey to the center of the earth would be a story we would never really talk about, simply because there were so many more interesting stories to remember than the mere vague images of the end of that long trip through the caves and fissures buried under Iceland and the volcano Stromboli.

I always liked Jules Verne's A Journey To The Center Of The Earth. But I always felt betrayed by the final chapters of that novel, when the heroes navigate their way over the nebulous lava, see some strange plant-life, some colorless images of mastodons, perhaps a cave of bones and one glimpse, at a far distance, of a buffalo-headed man. And then back to Germany. That is no way to end thirty-plus chapters of atmosphere and exertion, Jules. That is no way to serve your readers.

Edgar Rice Burroughs to the rescue, then. At The Earth's Core is not concerned with evoking atmosphere, so much as creating spectacle. Pictures, not emotions, are the centre of the story. Spectacle is created by contrast, of course, so the book starts off with a deep bow to realism. Although the title page of Burroughs' work is stamped with his name, page one of the story begins with a complete disavowal of the whole thing. Burroughs did not write this little novel, but claims to have received it from someone else, a man who wrote this book not as a novel but as a record of exploration and incident much like Richard Burton or Edward Shackleton would have written if they had taken such a journey. Everything in the novel, then, that rationality smiles at, becomes rationally defensible. "These things couldn't possibly happen." But Burroughs is not saying they did, he's just passing on what someone else told him, there's no one to argue against here. The man to pick a bone with is not present, he is, well—the title says it all, doesn't it? So the story begins with this man, David Innes, who has a lot of money and a yen to simply do something (Umberto Eco, elsewhere, writes "I wrote a novel because I had a yen to do it. I believe this is sufficient reason . . . ."). Innes is healthy, young, a typical representative of Empire, something along the lines of Sir Henry Curtis or Richard Hannay and he's got the usual Watson along in the form of Abner Perry, a man who studies paleontology for relaxation and explains it for the reader's education. Perry has a theory about the earth's core, Innes has the money to build a machine to test the theory, and, bingo, Burroughs has a novel. Getting to the center of the earth takes all of one chapter. What happens at the center of the earth has little to do with the just-a-glimpse-before-the-story-collapses realism of Jules Verne. Verne is trying to write a realistic version of a more-or-less logical series of events. To describe the creatures of an interior earth, their habits and borders, would be to wander very far away from realism, which necessarily bases itself on what we perceive to be real and likely, not on what would be real under unreasonable circumstances. That is why Verne's journey through the earth is most of the novel and mostly rock. Burroughs gives a nod to the real and the likely by having Abner Perry wash it all away with pseudo-science about evolution. Leidenbrock, like Perry, has a theory. The aim of Verne's novel is to demonstrate the validity of that theory. Perry also has a theory. The aim of the novel is not so much to prove or disprove the theory (the theory is taken for truth in the introduction to the novel) as to demonstrate what life would be like if the theory was true, or, rather, to have fun with the possibilities under the new rules. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth closes with nearly everyone residing contentedly in Germany. At The Earth's Core has David Innes, in danger of death, doing his utmost to return to the center of the earth. The first novel is a treatise, the second a vision. Verne's work is much the better written, much more realistic, much more well-known. Burrough's work, I say again, has the vision. The titles of these books say it all, don't they? One is the cliché concern for the process over the result, the journey, and not the end of the journey: the other is concerned with what is happening in the present instant. There is no journey, there is no process, there is only Right Now. This spectacle is Burroughs' flaw as a writer, of course, lending itself to cardboard characters and paper-thin plots, but also lending itself very easily to a constant parade of action and marvel. Burroughs gives us the circus, the spectacle, he does not bother to show the moving parts behind tha machine, the shabby lives behind the carnival. He is selling a show, not defending a premise; creating a vision, not dissecting it. He is selling tickets to one of the gaudiest cheerful shows in the golden era of early pulp fiction, he is a ring-master, and not a scholar. And thank God.

"This Piece Of Poetry Is Meant To Do Harm" + The Ark Let's throw around some sounds-like ideas, here. Okay, The Styx, I hear it, certain turns of the voice. Anything folk-rock from the seventies, sure, I'm listening. Yeah, and Shakespeare. Especially this song, and not just because of lyrics like "Let the cool winds roughly shake / Out all darling buds of fake", and not just because of the Elizabethan-style wrenched metre of "COM-pare" in "So with what shall I compare thee? / Summer's clay or winter's sleet?". I'm talking more about the idea, knocked out in the title, that words are engines, construcions, concrete machinery, really, fashioned to certain solid ends. That these ends are within the reasonable reach of these words. Do you know what I mean? Not spells or incantations, although that wild aspect of words is certainly there, but something more along the idea that words are the equivalent of actions. Oh, and how they can be, too.

As far as the sound of this tune goes, which is what I started discussing (but I sidetracked myself), very poppy, very folky, but a solid combination of the two, warm country harmony rock—NOT alt. You know this song is going to be good the instant you hear the second guitar in the second verse. And you can hear the payoff at the end of the fourth verse when the break comes, it's wonderful.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Dozen Red Danishes

Next time I order a Danish, I'm not going to order a Danish—not, that is, if I'm in Iran. Which reminds me, isn't a Danish a strange thing to have in a not-very-cold country like Iran? Heavy pastries, hot climate, yes! The Arabs may defeat our ideology, culture, technology, even, but as long as they insist on devouring fat-saturated sweetmeats with icing and jelly filling, listen, we've got them lock, stock and barrel of oil. No wonder Tim Horton's is now majority-owned by American money. Les Yanks have obviously discovered the real and ultimate weapon to be not WMDs or fear itself, but pastries. Godsake, I'm more off-track than a burnt-out stereo, let's see—Danishes! Because the Muslims are now aping the Americans, and instead of calling the newly-offensively named Danishes "Danishes", they're calling them "Roses of the Prophet Muhammad". Well, inshallah, of course, but that's a bigger mouthful than most pastry will give you, I think. Anyway, I'm loving it. Kudoes all round! Non-violence! Democracy! Pastries! And to celebrate, I think I shall get my gf a dozen roses in the very near future.

Books and music in this space over the week-end, check back if you want to see—you know the drill.

The Mysterious Mr Quin + Agatha Christie I read this book about once a year as if it was my duty to do so when, actually, it's not. I just enjoy the book. This is the kind of book that should be turned into a graphic novel. As a collection of short stories, it reads like something from the English outskirts of an Edwardian Gotham, which, if you know me, is exactly the kind of shallow eye-catching silverware I like to slip up my sleeve and walk out of the store with. And you should, too. Not walk out of a store with silverware, that is, unless you happen to be under eighteen and attractive enough that the security guard will let you go after five minutes in the safe room. But you should read this book. Why? Because it's the kind of thing Neil Gaiman has been trying to do in novels, unsuccessfully, since day one, is why. Because it's the kind of thing Alan Moore would do in a heartbeat (after giving the mysterious Harley Quin a suitable torturous background, of course). And speaking of Alan Moore, this collection of short stories really reminds me of V For Vendetta: the main character, always surrounded by mayhem or murder, redistributes responsiblity by apparently bringing a form of chaos wherever he appears. Which is a lot more difficult than it sounds, not at all, for instance, like bringing a cat with you, or a model airplane or an indie rapper. Chaos is very much harder to cart around than those things, which is probably why Christie never bothers explaining exactly how Quin manages to be omnipotent. And not the good kind of omnipotent, either, like Santa Claus or the North Wind, but omnipotent like Mephistopheles or the average household cat, very sinister omnipotence indeed. Harley Quin appears out of nowwhere on a snowy New Year's Eve and saves the Portal's marriage by solving a ten-year old murder hanging over the house. He is Vengeance, he is Nemesis, he is Love. Batman has nothing on this character, he is more like the Shadow than anyone else out there. He is present in twelve stories, no less, and, I believe, no more. Christie's writing style is a superb fit for these stories, a light skimming touch deepening quickly into fierce stage-drama. Deep characters, awful motives, would ruin these vignettes. Better the technicolour English hall, sunlight through stained glass, strange shadows in the cypress trees, than any poorly-ascribed fount of human hearts and ageless wisdom. These are stories, after, all, not Russian heartburners. Agatha Christie is a wonderful storyteller, I wish she had written another twelvemonths supply of this character.

"Pirates" + Spitfires & Mayflowers Pirates are going to be big again, now that it looks like the Black Pearl will be sailing this summer. Say hello to another Halloween papered with eye-patches and misused handkerchiefs. But crass populism will never drag down a song like this one. This song is the kind of thing that would be good to hear at almsot any hour of the day, but let me outline what makes it so good. One: hi-hat. Because, like handclaps, there is never enough hi-hat in the world. Two: the drumming that fires up around 3:02 is a good thick wonder, especially when it reinvents itself around 3:31 over the lead-singer's introductions. Three: that nano-second of time after the band asks, "Where did you go?" and the beer freezes in the glasses, that girl's mouth stays half-open, the four drunk guys forcing themselves up the room are turned into statues, that half a nano-second of "What next?"—THAT is what makes this little indie-party song more than just the sum of its parts. Because its parts, while perhaps a little awkwardly put together, are determined to work together.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

No Grillz

Global warming, people? So inconsistent, isn't it? Anyways, the snow last night means my brother called me to say he couldn't get home from Banff. In fact, he'd already wheeled off the road, so he's staying overnight in some random hotel. And the evening before last, my other brother bashed the Honda against a curb slo-mo because the ice meant his wheels couldn't grip it or rip it. What can be said? Too bad the car wasn't a Hansel. So now he's looking at seven hundred sweet ones plus parts, Godsake. It's a tough time to have a metal body and all-weather tires, is what. On the other hand ("There is always the other side, always"), I look at my car parked useless in the garage and feel bad about the no-license thing. The beast is just sitting there, taking space without insurance, a beached whale with a mouthful of silver baleen. And that garage is so cold.

Music in this space on Thursday. Book business too, and sexiness from France. I've got to go to work, now. Doot doo dee doo, doodle doodle doo. Doot doo dee doo, doodle dee.

The Courtesans: The Demi-Monde In 19th-Century France + Joanna Richardson Um, I guess it's okay to look at the painting of the naked woman on the front of this picture, because, like, a woman wrote the book, right? So if the author think's it's okay that some starving prostitute got exploited by a sexually virused member of the Victorian patriarchy just so he could support himself by selling peached-out smut to impotent aristocrats for a handful of francs which he later spent buying green liquor and STD's, well, that's cool, because now I can look, too. She's naked, people! Actually, Joanna Richarson is a very well-respected author, winner of the Prix Goncourt prize and a biographer of half the famous elite from the French and English Victorian era. Reading her is like reading Proust, but for real (FULL DISCLOSURE: seeing as I have never read more Proust than what you can find in Bartlett's, the preceding sentence was nothing more than a pathetic grab for literary cred—you are now at complete guilt-free liberty to go read anything other than the rest of this paragraph). Reading this book, however, is depressing, and beautiful, all at once. Villon or someone wrote that famous phrase, "But where are the snows of yester year", and that is TOTALLY this book. At first, the people and events are amazing, wonderful spectacles. But as the body count rises, as courtesan after courtesan dies friendless and alone, nearly starving or surrounded by sad lists of wealth and bitterness, I become oppressed with a sense of "What's the use?" The one woman who WAS good in all of this miserable prostitution died a reject, an outsider, spurned by everyone she had known. Never give a stripper an even break, right? These women were amazing, what they did, who they knew. Public prostitutes, for sale at their own discretion, many of whom kept many more than one or two men at a time. For their crimes, for their indiscretions, which were really but the indiscretions of the men they knew, these women mostly failed of their object, which was to achieve wealth and worship frequently and continually. Which seems a little unfair, seeing as how they gave everything they had to gain their ends.

The phrases and paragraphs of this book are strong and utilitarian, not given to flights of fancy or metaphor. Information, not atmosphere, is the purpose of this book. What atmosphere it does contain comes from 1) the constant repetition of the same story told over and over, and 2) the excerpts, of which this book includes many, from the letters and books of the time which reveal, through bitterness, spite and romance, who these women really were at least as much as the author of this work herself reveals.

"You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) (Murder Mix)" + Dead Or Alive This is standard eighties business, rising up and crushing indie rock like nobody knows. You don't hear a word, it's just all beats until 1:32 and then the classic chorus kills you at 1:59. This is for weaving between eight o'clock morning traffic, and you better be driving a red rusty Geo, you hear? Overtake that Navigator, cut off the Audi on the yellow, you don't care, you've been up studying till three the night before and now you're going for coffee with a pretty girl before taking the last finals of your life. I hope you remembered to brush your teeth. Either that or you're on acid and haven't been out of the house in three days and don't even know it. Yikes! Get out of bed and have some Corn Pops already, feed the cat. Okay? GO! GO! GO!

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Tangle Goes Smooth

Today, outside of the wide windows at work, a little girl in a fuschia-coloured parker and matching track pants showed off her excellent hip-hop moves to her slightly older brother. This girl was maybe seven years old. It was a very grey day, today—later, the sunlight came out very strong—and all the signs for all the stores glowed that much brighter in the plaza, and the little girl swung her knees and slumped her back and her arms moved like flourescent animals sliding from branch to branch. Coming up beside their children, her parents enthusiastically applauded moves they must have seen a thousand times before. The little girl carelessly tossed her head, and the whole family came into the store. Something about that incident, the entire acceptance of each other in that moment, makes me glad I saw it, glad that I saw that families can still be happy, still be wonderful with each other.

The whole weekend was like that, really, work, Whyte, everything. Strong colours and nearly silent pictures, familiar actions made new again, everything seen through glass. I'm groping for words here, but I believe what I mean, in this moment, this minute, this right-here-and-now, is contentment. That is what the week-end was. Then again, this is reading week. And a solid week free from studying wouldn't have anything to do with feeling fantastic, would it?

Bath Tangle + Georgette Heyer You've seen her novels, even if you think you've never seen her novels. Metropolitan airports couldn't keep her away, it seems, a few years back, and why not? Her books are perfect airplane reads, and I mean that as a compliment. Well-written—most of them—with guaranteed happy endings, full of witty dialogue which, if it never rises to Oscar Wilde brilliance, at least achieves the comfortable verbal tricks of a Wodehouse novel, her books are small parades of ideal fashion and ideal romance circa the late 1700s. Which should be boring and unexplosive (and, granted, Bruce Willis will not be playing any of the stock Heyer characters, although I think he would be hilarious as a Regency dandy), but succeeds by coming at the reader through different channels other than the usual cliched will-they-won't-they "suspense" of every romance novel. The will-they-won't-they is never in doubt in a Georgette Heyer romance—they will, and how! No, Georgette Heyer succeeds as a novelist because of her characters. Which is strange, this success, because her characters are more types than anything, but she's got the Dickensian trick of helping the reader be comfortable, even enjoy, her cardboard characters. The long line of usual suspects in Bath Tangle, for instance, were always there, long before the novel was ever written. You've got the boldly handsome very fashionable aristocrat, in this case, the Marquis of Rotherham. You've got the wilful and beautiful daughter of an eccentric father, a woman who refuses (of course!) to be defined by the patriarchy around her. Bingo, you've got the novel. But you've also got something the book-cover doesn't include in it's embarrassing catch-all synopsis—you've got dialogue:

"It is a pity you cannot be kinder to that boy."
"I might be, if his mother were less so," he responded coolly.
"You look a trifle peaked."
"If I do, it is because black doesn't become me. I mean to lighten my mourning, and have ordered a charming grey gown."
"You are mistaken."
"What, in going into half-mourning?"
"No, in thinking black does not become you."
"What am I supposed to have done?"
"Everything you could, to blight every ambition I ever had," Gerard replied, with suppressed violence.
Rotherham looked considerably taken aback. "Comprehensive," he said dryly.
"Do try to cultivate a more orderly mind," interposed Rotherham. "The very fact that I take a malicious pleasure in thwarting you shows intention."
"Now I shouldn't wonder, Emma, my pet, if half the time you thought he was scowling at you it was nothing but the way his eyebrows grow, which he can't help, though, of course, it's a pity."

Enough said.

Music, later. Music, NOW!

"Make It Through" + Smoosh Look at this list: Jimmy Eat World, Mates of State, Rilo Kiley, Pearl Jam, Death Cab For Cutie, Sleater-Kinney, The Presidents of the United States of America, Cat Power. Stellar company for anyone, never mind a couple of tweens. Well, it's pretty clear what direction Smoosh will take over the next couple of years and where they will go. Brilliant shadowy rock is where they will end up, I'm betting, something in between Monster Magnet and Kate Bush, just trust me on this. I love the way Asya sings through her nose, it should be bad, but it's wonderful in a sort of, "Look at me, I don't even care, I'm so #$&@ talented I'll still make your head spin without even trying." Everyone goes on about these two girls being prodigies or whatever, I don't sense that in their songs. Mozart is dead, he's never coming back again, and the child prodigy thing in music is over. What these girls have, of course, and what labelling them "child prodigies" undercuts, is talent. Not genius, not Mozart, just talent. With a little luck, and no coke, they're going to be making music for years, and it will always be music worth listening to, effortlessly good, naturally miles above most anyone else.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Gonna Show Me Where The Light Is

Today, sitting down at the computer table, I knocked my leg so painfully against the table-leg that I felt sick to my stomach. Incredible. But all gone away, now. What is it about painful things that I can't ever remember them as they truly were? And not just physical pain, either, but doing really embarrassing things over and over again, like, oh, for instance, skipping so many classes that asking the prof for a deadline extension is like begging a favour off of a stranger, money from a random passer-by. Over and over again, I've discovered that I am the biggest obstacle I have to overcome. And that's the problem, isn't it? I shouldn't be discovering this, I know it already. So, from now on, when I want to lie in bed those extra five minutes, I'm going to do my damndest to get up RIGHT THEN. When I see that the clock says ten to the hour, I'm not going to sit around a table at school for another forty-five minutes. When I have an essay due in an hour, I'm not going to hare off to the grey marshes and ditches of the blog world. These are life-time habits I'm talking about, though, and, of course, they're going to happen again. But when they do, I'm going to try to grab them by their collars, turn their pockets out, give them a good shaking and boot them out the door. And when they come back, appearing without effort in my thoughts and ways, I'll boot them out again. This could take years to get rid of them, but I don't care. I'm divorcing myself from these lacklustre cheaply-clothed kids, I'm renouncing their slack mouths and twisted hands, I'm giving up on the whole giving-up scene. No more putting off. No more.

"Skullcrusher Mountain" + Jonathan Coulton The new Streets single is leaving me cold. Whatevs. I can't stop playing the Diplo or the acoustic version or even that pagan-style video of the new YYY model, so good, so very very good. Also, Jenny Lewis is a god. But whatevs, whatevs, what to post for the after-Valentine's party? So much good music out there, so much new music, too, and nothing pour amour. Godsake, Johnathan Coulton, yes! Because the guy is crazy good, like Great Big Sea mixed in with Jonathan Richman and smothered with low-key Weird Al (and, where, exactly, IS Weird Al these days?). This single is from last spring, solid gold. Coulton describes the most romantic lover of them all in this tune, a man who asks, "Isn't it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?" Apparently not, and so we get a great song. The music is for real, the talent is incredibly obvious, and the songs appear farcial (they are). But a second listen, and a seventh, and a seventy-seventh will probably pass before you appreciate just how good this song really is, music, words, everything coming together for four minutes and sixteen seconds of perfect pure pop.

You know it isn't easy living here on Skullcrusher Mountain.
Maybe you could cut me just a little slack.
Would it kill you to be civil?
I've been patient, I've been gracious,
And this mountain is covered with wolves.
Hear them howling, my hungry children.
Maybe you should stay and have another drink and think about me and you.

Monday, February 13, 2006



For some reason, I'm just too suddenly sad to post today. I'll be happier tomorrow, right? Right, I will.

[Thursday edit: Negative to the above, whatever it is—bullshit and self-pity, I suppose. Done with, is what it is now. And over.]

[Thursday edit re-edit: And, no, I haven't been sad this whole time, I've been out of my head busy, and now an essay has gone missing, but it's DUE YESTERDAY BUT WHATEVS, RIGHT? OH, WHATEVS!]

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Greeks Had A Word For It

alpha: Like, I so much HATE when I phone someone, but their cement walls keep smothering the conversation with damn static, so I switch to text messaging, but their incoming text message cuts mine off, so I phone them again, but their damn land line interrupts my call and IT MAKES ME INSANE JUST CUT MY ARMS OFF CUT THEM.

beta: The bus is not a pleasant place. I prefer my car. My car, however, prefers the garage.

gamma: This guy has emailed me about the photos on this page. Yes, yes I do take these photos, that's what that site on the sidebar is all about, son. Buried in the archives, there are a couple of Raveonettes promo shots I clearly did not take, also a shot of a silhouetted statue which I did not shoot. Everything else is mine, the good AND the bad. Yes, and the ugly, too.

delta: Seriously, we're all recording Arrested Development tonight, right?

"Golden Days" + Smorgasbord Straight outta St. Albert, this one. Looks like local Smorgasbord is calling it quits, or that's what the lead singer said last week. So their final show is tonight, then, laces-out at Queen Alex. That's a lot of talent in one room. Smorgasbord is full of folkness and rocking, guitars and voices and a steady light beating across the field. Their songs are not cheerful, but they are strong. If their music built a man, that man would have straight shoulders, good posture, not a mouth for needless laughter.

Bookness posted over the week-end.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I Can't Believe It's Not Meta (It Is)

#1) And, of course, Gogol Bordello was a huge show on Monday, wasn't it? According to E, Eugene Hutz was screaming into a mike while stomping all over E's table. M said it was the benchmark for all time. NOT FOR ME, IT WASN'T! I spent Monday either at other people's houses or homework, I honestly can't remember. And it better have been homework, I'll tell you that. Wasting my time with people and school when I should have been wasting it at The Sidetrack. Godsake.

#2) I really want to rent Dick Tracy for tonight, where Madonna plays The Blank. I used to have the glossy movie cards with Littleface and Flattop and The Kid. Haf-n-Haf is a way better Two Face than Harvey Dent, you don't even know. Or maybe you do.

#3) Five O'Clock Charlie is playing at The Track on February 16, doing the GMCC H.O.P.E thing for building schools in SA. Tickets are ten, so why not come?

"Every Day I Love You Less And Less (Boys Noize Remix)" + Kaiser Chiefs/Boys Noize This monster will cut your milk teeth out. I listened to it eleven times in a row, straight from Moebius Rex, which is, of course, a tres tops blog. Anyways: the drop at 0:59 is HUGE. I love love love the way the narrative lyrics match the loop. They're, like, symbols of each other, see? So meta. Look out for the beginning of the song, though; those kindervox are so annoying (so neccessary), and they just don't stop, BUT I have a theory about that, which is—the bad makes the good sound better. And the better sounds so bright and heavy and shining and bitter and having-fun-being-nasty, well, those tintinitis vocals just get me all jumping and Pavlovian over what's coming up next. Eleven times in a row? Twelve, now.

Book update this afternoon. More Raymond, more excellence.

The Simple Art Of Murder + Raymond Chandler "Spanish Blood", one of seven short stories in this book, is masterful. Look at Chandler's construction, he's like a careful cabinet-maker, strong pieces of quality furniture appearing to grow like plants, without effort, of their own accord. This—THIS—is how you begin a story, this is how you introduce a character:

Big John Masters was large, fat, oily. He had sleek blue jowls and very thick fingers on which the knuckles were dimples.His brown hair was combed back straight from his forhead and he wore a wine-coloured suit with patch pockets, a wine-coloured tie, a tan silk shirt. There was a lot of red and gold band around the thick brown cigar between his lips.

There is no messing about with objectively illuminating a character by his actions and reactions here. The reader is not meant to like this man. This man is to be a bad man. There is no compromise, no responsibility shirked, no, "Oh, but the discerning reader should be able to figure it out", none of that business. The second section begins the same, quick description of a man's appearance, little details gleaming brilliant off the page, but things are different, we just don't know it yet, because, all of a sudden, the words take a sharp turn:

Blood had soaked the left side of [Marr's] vest, made the grey flannel almost black. He was quite dead, had been dead for some time.

Some people might kill me on this, but Chandler, to me, is practically Beethoven. He takes two notes—da-da-da-dum—and works up these desperate stories around them, not only the same themes and plots ad infinitum, but the same situational writing (I'm sorry, I can't think of a better way to phrase that) over and over. And it works. He's a master of repetition, and his plots can't be trusted. Just as the reader is spotting the pattern, something else happens to shake the pattern up, the pattern doubles back on itself, and the reader has to do a double-take. This lends an atmosphere of menace to Chandler's books quite apart from the plots they contain, and give his novels a dense air of authenticity. Phrased another way, well, similarly, really, the dangerous atmosphere of Chandler's novels lends credence to the convoluted plot; the atmosphere is the product of the unpredictable repetition of the sentences and paragraphs which make up the book. Wonderful.

[Edit: Yes, I cleaned up the spelling, it was too horrible to let lie.]

Monday, February 06, 2006

Denounce This Royal Line

When Younous Kathrada, an imam who preaches at the Dar Al-Madinah Islamic Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, called the Jews "the brothers of the monkey and swine", well, I had no real problems with that. Yes, I'm sure he would be relieved to hear this, right? I don't agree with the man, by the way, but I like living in a society which lives, ideally, by a certain standard. Free speech? Then free speech for everyone, no exceptions. The point is not what the standard is, but that the standard is maintained.

What I have a problem with is the Islamic response to the same kind of insults against Islam. Killing a Roman Catholic priest? Burning down Danish embassies (the moronic arsonists also casually burned down the non-offending Chilean and Swedish embassies, by the way). Using guns and taking over the EU office in Palestine? All this, THREE MONTHS AFTER THE INSULT WAS FIRST KNOWN? So what this means is, the bully is allowed to call the other kids names, but if the other kids insult him, well, he's going to chop their heads off. A professor of mine, an exile from Baghdad, used to say, "Allah is infinite justice and infinite mercy". The Muslim response to the Danish newspaper's insults have made a mockery of that professor's words.Islam has no standards, it moves the standard to suit itself. Islam is now synonymous with hypocrisy and fear-mongering. Islam is a shame to the nations of Arabia.

"I Will See You In Far-Off Places" + Morrissey
"Dear God, Please Help Me" + Morrissey

The very last track on the new Morrissey release is reportedly called "At Last I Am Born". Nice to see the man is keeping up the great tradition of the British confessional—circa 1870, that is, or whenever Dickens was cranking out those huge birth-to-desolate-marriage slash semi-autobiographical novels, which, by the way, reminds me that it's sort of sad to see the singer abandon his Liberal-hearted Wilde for the more Socialist Dickens, although that's what is bound to happen when you gain an audience of the underprivileged (read "Latino") like this man has found in what has now been officially renamed Moz Angeles. You know, I can write lines like that all day. The only thing that could possibly be more inflated than a sentence like that is one of the Moz Master's songs, or two of them, then, off his new CD. And I'm not that keen on either song. The first tune is like the worst parts of Quarry, great guitars and soaring vocals really not making up for the sloppy focus of the lyrics, and the second tune, while better than the first, could still be SO MUCH better. Don't get me wrong, emo is amazing, and everyone, I think, will be rightly eating this second single up (it's not bad, it IS good)—it's just that Morrissey can shine so much brighter than the Starbucks version of himself that he's currently selling. I'm not against new Morrissey (I thought "Irish Blood, English Heart" was a genuinely great song, great tune, great lyricology, even better when it came to "First Of The Gang"), I'm not even against laziness or self-parody or so-called selling out. I'm just against music done on the cheap and sold as gold. I'm against buying B-sides packaged as A-listers. Stephen Patrick Morrissey, I love you, please let the rest of your CD contain some really great tracks, even if it's only one track, at least one.

The Simple Art Of Murder + Raymond Chandler There appears to be a lot of versions of this book out there. The version I'm reading was published by Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., copyright 1950. It contains a short introduction by the author, then "Finger Man", "Smart-Aleck Kill", "Pick-Up On Noon Street", "The King In Yellow", "Pearls Are A Nuisance", "Nevada Gas", "Spanish Blood", and the essay, "The Simple Art Of Murder". Just a note, for now, on the very first story, "Finger Man": in a brief passage which puts my ranting to shame, Marlowe observes—

I didn't say anything. I was way past the age when it's fun to swear at people you can't hurt.

I like Philip Marlowe. I think we all like the man. He's balanced, he keeps a cool head, he turns his anger on other people only when it's the right thing to do, the last thing to be done. Everybody is guilty in "Finger Man" That's not important. Everybody is always guilty in Marlowe's California, even Marlowe. The point is the standard. The standard must be maintained. Criminal is one thing, hypocrisy a very much worse thing, betrayal the worst of all. What to do, then? Down those mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, right? Marlowe is the hero (he goes by other names in this collection, but he is always a hero), and Chandler is the author who creates him. In whose image, I idly wonder?

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Horse And His Boy

One language is not enough, of course. There must be more. There must be Greek and German and Danish and Afrikaans. These languages, also, are not enough. Turkish, Belgian, Spanish (even the stuff they speak in Belize). Throw Esperanto, Popido, Klingon into the mix. Gather up the dead languages, also, the black-letter Gothic, and Etruscan, and Hittite, and Miqmaq. There are not enough words, I think, in the world's languages to describe the many many different shades of disgust and bitterness and loathing with which all hearts ought to be entirely-with-burning-fire-consumed upon learning that each one is, in fact, part of the human race. I saw a picture, yesterday. It was printed in the National Post. Three Nepalese policemen had a man trapped against a wall, and they were beating him with very large rods, one policeman's leg raised to kick the victim in the crotch. At least eight photographers stood in a semi-circle around this violence, cameras raised high, not ten feet back. None were looking to help. Why should the picture I saw have ever been taken? Why didn't eight photographers lay down their damn cameras and actually for Godsake help a poor man in great misery? So that we might see that the Nepalese needed help? This particular man needed help so much, right then. His mouth was open in pain and protest. If any of us saw a cat crying, we would stop to help, I think. How much less did eight men do for a man than they would do for a limping cat? And if these eight men ever see my words, or hear similar words, and try to justify themselves and their loathsome behaviour, then they are the kind of men who wouldn't even help an innocent animal in pain. And they are monsters. And I have seen this picture and there is nothing I can do about what is happening. And I feel I am a monster, too.

"Violence In The Snowy Field" + Dolorean When the rider comes along, GODSAKE! I don't want to turn, I don't want to be afraid of how I spend my days. Before those hoofbeats come heavy down the road, and, yes, into the boulevard, and then up the stairs, then the hallway, the carpet, my bedroom door, no, no—my only hope lies with you, that you will plainly see all my failures and faults and acts of violence. The rider will come. He will bring a sword. No doubt, he will cut off my head. What I need from you is someone to say, "He didn't hide, he didn't lie, he was honest and repented, he has paid enough already". Will you do this?

Four thin people sing this song softly behind the rider. Their bodies are not bone or blood. They go wherever he goes.

Book post Saturday. I know. Late again. He turned away, the lie like ashes in his mouth. Stop carrying around those ashes, man! Or use your pocket, at least, Godsake.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Fascism Is The New "Good", Apparently

[The picture has been changed. This photograph just made more sense. This alarm is buried in Rutherford South, first floor, beside those strange Alice In Wonderland chairs. See subject of this post AND the beginning of the previous post for greater clarity and understanding.]

I totally lifted this post from my Myspace blog, because, don't you know, I accidentally deleted my original post for THIS blog. So, imprimis:

Senator McCarthy labelled as deviantly Communist those people he believed to be harmful to his vision of society, and then used this imposed label to expel them and those who protested against McCarthy from the real living breathing world we are all supposed to share.

Matthew Hopkins, who used an ingenious method of discovering a person's inner witch (throw them, bound, into water and if they die, they are normal, but if they survive, they are witches), labelled those who did not follow societal norms as witches, and had them burned. These people were often mental incompetents or merely loners or even just elderly unmarried women who happened not to be friendly.

To impose upon other people is one of the greatest crimes this world knows; such imposition takes many forms. Newspapers, for instance, if they misrepresent facts or slander people, impose upon their readers and the truth. And people, by forcing their sisters and brothers to unwillingly change, impose, every day, upon freedom and democracy and kindness. These are just two methods of imposition in a world of restrictions and persecutions.

These two methods of social injustice, however, are being used at the University of Alberta.

"Students across campus might soon be able to exit a building without having to plunge into a cloud of smoke or trample on a carpet of cigarette butts if third-year Physical Education student Shereen Kangarloo gets her wish," writes Ross Prusakowski in a front-page article for the University of Albertas campus newspaper, The Gateway. "Trample on a carpet of cigarette butts"? When was the last time any student on campus had to "trample" (and why, btw, would they "trample", particularly?) across ground covered with so many cigarette butts that the earth underneath them could not be seen? And, also, when was the last time any student plunged into a cloud of cigarette smoke? Seriously, "plunged"? "Cloud"? Prusakowski makes the exiting student resemble Moses going up the mountain to talk to God. The only cloud here is the highly metaphorical and extremely negative one Prusakowski is creating with his words.

Shereen Kangarloo wishes students wouldn't smoke? Well, I do, too, but I also respect the wishes of others. It's part of taking classes at a supposedly liberal university. Ah, but we mustn't let our wishes cause harm to others' wishes, must we? Fair enough. The smokers can smoke outside, then, where their second-hand smoke will quickly and harmlessly dissipate into the air. Smokers get to smoke; non-smokers don't have to suffer smoke. To impose myself on smokers, of course, when they are not harming me, would be to harm them, to needlessly stamp my image upon their wishes. I would be practicing fascism. Fascism, it turns out, is exactly what Shereen Kangarloo is practicing.

I am not a smoker. I believe smoking is harmful. I believe second-hand smoke, in large quantities, can adversely affect those who are forced to breathe it. I also believe that far more adverse and far more harmful to my well-being and to the well-being of my culture are people like Kangarloo and Prusakowski.

McCarthy and Hopkins capitalized on the widespread fears of their respective ages in order to create a society after each mans personal vision. This vision was a vision which excluded certain people. Shereen Kangarloo's and Ross Prusakowski's world is a world of exclusion, whose only citizens are those people who resemble Ross Prusakowski and Shereen Kangarloo.

Cochrane: Britannia's Sea Wolf + Donald Thomas I've read and posted on this book before, I'm going to read and post on it again. Sir Thomas Cochrane is my hero, for absolute real. Napoleon called him The Sea Wolf. Lord Nelson was absolutely jealous of him. Cochrane's wife adored him. British Parliament tried to run him out of office but Cochrane's constituency wouldn't vote for anyone else. His crew said they would follow him to hell (one of his officers, Marryat, became the author who started the entire sea-hero fiction genre—based on Cochrane's adventures!). Remember that movie starring Russell Crowe—Master And Commander: The Far Side of the World—and remember how Captain Jack Aubrey placed a lighted buoy in the water at night, thus misleading and escaping his much-stronger enemy? Cochrane actually did that, and a hundred other splendid things. Cochrane was so hated by the corrupt that their descendants, two hundred years later, were still trying to defame him. Queen Victoria personally intervened for his memory, that he might be honoured after his death. He once took a Spanish hilltop fort and constructed a Katamari Damacy dynamite ball and rolled it down the hill against the Spanish. He freed Chile. He freed Brazil. He could not be stopped, he was a tiger, a lion, a bright and terrible angel, he was what men ought to be and are not, he was integrity.

I'll post about music later tonight. Yes, and I'll correct my spelling mistakes, too. Don't crowd me, I've got adamantium claws.

Right, so, as usual, I switched my citizenship to procrastination. Over a day later, and that time isn't coming back, is it? So, make-up style, I'm posting three burners off of three monster releases, going way-back-track style to 2001. Last April's "My Friend Dario" starts the car up, of course. Have you seen the video? Crazy lips on that girl, bikinis everywhere and Finland loses all air-guitar cred forever! I have the idea that Pascal Arbez aka Vitalic mixed this business in the morning, in a windowless room. That he started out, not with a computer or a crate, but by throwing furniture at the wall. This release makes me want to break tables with axe handles, look out for the killing at 1:00 and 1:50, and, especially, 2:48. OK, right, yes. Toning it down then (not that much), "We Share Our Mother's Health", an original gypsy flamethrower by The Knife. "We Share Our Mother's Health" is the entire jungle trying to prance slowly through the door, with bones. It cannot be resisted. Don't even try. This is Shere Khan without the limp, a tiger without fear, and you must not look him in the eye, don't you dare, just listen to him growling music and high synth as he goes by. Oh, I almost went with classic "Heartbeats", but this pick makes a better combo. Done. Next song. Let's talk about vampires and Batman and Salton Sea Val Kilmer going crazy without his sax and beating the drugs out of Trent Reznor. Let's talk about The Faint's "Glass Danse". A friend of mine was going to the mountains and burned this onto a mix. Everyone got high and, as they approached a long wide turn in the highway, this song clicks on and the driver starts yelling that he can't turn his arms. The drop at about 14 seconds into this song has to be experienced at high volume to be believed, it's craziness, you'll probably eat your own face. This song is ONLY for the emotional stable. If you are in any way anything but Commander Data in your emotional outlook, remove anything breakable from the room in which you hear this synth. Remove, remove, and DANCE!

"My Friend Dario" + Vitalic
"We Share Our Mother's Health" + The Knife
"Glass Danse" + The Faint