Thursday, January 31, 2008

Invisible Syllabus

The teacher in me, that quiet voice that likes to kindle knowledge and mildly reprimand, often passes the time by inventing syllabuses for classes I will never teach. This is not because the classes themselves could never exist. Well, not really because of this. More because I can't really see myself teaching, not at a university level at any rate. And my invisible syllabuses tend toward the college level.

The one I've spent the most time playing around with is an English Lit class based around the "Monstrous Novel." It would be anchored by Moby Dick, which in and of itself would take most of the weeks of class to read in a satisfactory way. But I would then include other 'takes' on Moby Dick, in particular Dan Beachy-Quick's book of poetry called Spell which is a reinterpretation of the novel. I heard Beachy-Quick (awesome last name, perhaps top ten in the history of last names) give a reading of this book when I was still slumming it at the U of C. It was neat to hear, if not a bit of a struggle to read. But rich in the poetry-esque multiple readings type sense. I think students would have fun with it.

I would then make my hypothetical students listen to Mastodon's album Leviathan which is a metal concept album based around, you guessed it, Moby Dick. Or maybe I'd push them one step further and have them listen to Blood Mountain the album Mastodon released two years later which shares many of the same themes. I don't know much about music theory so it'd have to be mostly a discussion on the lyrics, which are engaging enough on their own.

I'd end the course with an old favorite, Danielewski's polarizing House of Leaves. A monstrous novel if their is any, it owes much to Melville but also pushes things even further, on what a novel can and can't be. I think the course would be really fruitful, and in some alternate reality somewhere where I've gone on for a PhD, I'm teaching this to precocious college sophomores.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

organized retardation

Yesterday around lunchtime i received a series of depressingly scary messages from the Croft. It seems she had a bit of a run-in on the bus while traveling to work. It all started innocently enough, as most things do, with hermaphrodites. After tearing through some sort of Sedaris, I recommended Croftie read Middlesex next. Dutifully she carried said novel into the public sphere where an apparently harmless looking woman engaged her in crack-pot conversation.

Turns out harmless blond woman was sexually assualted by a hermaphrodite. Who was a member of a clandestine team of 'group stalkers.' Now group stalking is one of the silliest things I've ever had the misfortune of learning about. Simply put, there are bozos out there who are neurotic enough to think they are being stalked not by one person, but an organized team of individuals who have apparently so little to occupy their time that they single out random people and systematically ruin their lives.

They move in next to you and turn their televisions up really loud, especially when you are, get this, thinking about them! They walk by you on the street and when they are very close they will do something innocuous like hold up a pen. Because if people keep holding pens up in the air next to you its obviously a malicious plan to drive you crazy. Here's the thing, if you are noticing this type of behavior, theres' a fairly good chance you are already halfway to crazy-town.

But here is where things go from garden variety to batshit crazy. Not only do these organized stalkers mess with your mail, and work their way into your friend groups turning everyone against you, but they have strange telekinetic powers of mind control. They can mind control your pet and make them afraid to get off your bed. There is also something to do with a plot to burn your infants and American Airlines is behind everything, and the number 666--also, the terrorist attack on the World Trade towers. It's all linked, and you, the victim of organized stalking, are so important that each of this seemingly endless string of retarded conclusions is a direct effort to target you. Its a global, bizarre postmodern breed of paranoia. It's also laughably funny, if it wasn't the describing the symptoms of larger, more realistic problems like clinical depression or carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Don't Look Now

Last evening Croftie took me out to the theater. It was opening night for Conor McPherson's Shining City at the Goodman and despite my lingering cold I was excited to go. I knew nothing about the play save for what little I'd gleaned from Croftie's magazine, that it was a ghost story of sorts, but without actual ghosts. Sort of. But not really. Or something like that. I don't know what I was expecting but I was definitely surprised, and in a good way.

Have you ever seen something patently ridiculous in a piece of artwork, a line in a poem say, or a single scene from a film and thought "wow, that really doesn't belong here"? It is impossible to see the last few seconds of Shining City and not feel the same way, however, sometimes these ridiculous 'extras' or indulgences just feel... right on. Let me try and explain this... these moments or segments have both the feel of something superfluous and yet somehow make sense and almost through their sheer ridiculous nature, tie themselves back into the whole. I'm probably not explaining that very well at all, but if you were to see the 'surprise ending' as the Goodman has advertised it, you'd know exactly what I'm saying. You might disagree with me about the piece fitting back in to the whole part of my equation, but thats what opinions are for.

There are some real powerful scenes in Shining City, most of them culled from an older married man's devastated psyche after he flirts with a younger woman and then suddenly loses his wife in a tragic accident. This man (played by John Judd) goes to see a psychiatrist who we learn has his fair share of issues as well, but the shrink helps the old dude to talk his way through the painful recent events of his life. Rather than let these moments inform his own life, the psychiatrist apparently learns nothing at all, tries to bury certain undesirable feelings and experiences of his own life and ends up trading places with his patient towards the end.

The ending turns out to be not quite a surprise, but it is good for a scare. There is more than a little of the film Don't Look Now and that's all I will give away. I jumped quite a bit and there were a few screams from the audience as well. I was nowhere close to scream out loud, not near the Wait Until Dark level of fright, but the hackles on my neck rose and I got me some shivers and that was fun enough. Croftie is not a big fan of the ending, but then she has a closeness to the play that I lack, she's been working in its proximity for months now, so maybe the novelty has kind of soured for her. She also rightfully plays the 'they packed too much stuff into one play' card, what with the ghosts, affairs, loved one's deaths, baby drama, and confused homosexuality. That's enough for half a dozen plays, but either way, a fun night and a moving drama.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Completely Unnecessary

This morning I received an email from my mother. Like most of these letters, it was a forward. Now nearly all of my Mother's forwarded emails contain smaltzy images of kittens or animals doing zany things or transparent religious metaphors like footprints in the sand or ultra patriotic cartoons of Osama getting caught or some such. Today the forward had a warning: don't text and drive. The email then included a bunch of photos from a particularly violent crash. Mostly crumpled doors and the like. Then there was a warning not to proceed further because of the graphic quality of upcoming images. I figured, "this is an email from my mother, how bad could it be?" That line of reasoning nearly led to my special K and morning orange juice vomited all over my desk at work. These were not graphic images. These were horrific photos that no human being need see, ever, not even as a warning to 'don't text and drive'.


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Saturday, January 19, 2008

the sky is falling?

Unknown Precip
Feels Like
Updated Jan 19 01:45 p.m. CT
Watch the Chicago Forecast
UV Index: 1 Low
Wind: From W at 14 mph
gusting to 19 mph
Humidity: 47%
Pressure: 30.35 in.
Dew Point: -7°F
Visibility: 7.0 miles
FREE weather on your desktop

So what exactly is precipitating that we can't qualitatively decide on what it is?


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Showing a Little Too Much Thigh

I have this pair of jeans, in a long line of jeans I've completely worn out, that has a sizable hole on the right side just under the pocket. The hole was formed by my carrying a large set of keys in that pocket which first tore a hole in the outer part of the pants which kept bumping in to various things, shelves, my jacket, my bag, etc and then ripped through the pocket itself causing the carrying capacity of that side to be decreased significantly.

So now, not only do i look lopsided with one pocket overstuffed with cellphonewalletchangekeyspenetc and the other empty but on the empty side there is the aforementioned hole that at times exposes my pale skin. It brings to mind a legendary photograph taken by the one and only Oline where I famously wore shorts perhaps a few inches too short. Incidentally when perusing the results of my google search for an image to affix to this post and using the request 'short-shorts' I maybe have gone blind or mad--perhaps both.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Most Listened to Albums of 2007

Most listened to doesn't completely equate to 'best.' All it means is that these were the songs I selected most often--all fair and democratic-like. beginning at the bottom:

10. No Age Weirdo Rippers (Fat Cat 2007)
Probably snuck onto the list because its so damn short and I have to listen to the album 2 or 3 times before it really feels like I've just spent time with a whole record. Fuzzed out adolescent (read: not kid) post-punk, sounding like guys and girls who still like music and have
n't gotten a chance to be cynical 20-somethings yet. The scene these youths have found makes me jealous, i wish I had been cool enough to be a part of one when i was their age. only problem being that if i had the only music I'd be able to sit through now would be so pretentious they'd have to invent new adjectives for it (maybe: fuzzed out adolescent post-punk... naw)

09. Gogol Bordello Super Taranta! (Side One Dummy 2007)
The second best live act in the world (sorry Oline!) gave me one helluva an album but it just wasn't quite Gyspy Punks Underdog World Strike. If past history repeats itself I'll be seeing these guys a few more times in 2008. And yes Oline, we'll hit the after party. we owe it to ourselves at this point.

08. Feist The Reminder (Cherry Tree/Interscope 2007)
Wow, all of a sudden I'm all contemporaneous and shit. In fact m
ost if not all of the albums on this list were issued in 2007. usually half of my most-listened-tos came out years and years ago. *pats self on back* Anyhow, Feist clocks in at 8. And yes i bought it because of that damn I-tunes commercial and yes I still like that song even though its been over-played to the moon and yes there are a great many other songs on the album worth mentioning and yes I wish I'd heard of here sooner.

07. Girl Talk Night Ripper (Illegal Art 2006)
My favorite description of this album remains the 'Monty Burns'
method of self-preservation. In the Simpsons, Mr Burns has so many diseases and infections and old age maladies that they all hold each other off in perfect equilibrium. Likewise, Girl Talk samples so many songs taking no pains to cover up any of his tracks (thats kinda the point) that he won't be sued simply because there wouldn't be enough money to spread out to all the various owed parties. Bear in mind thats not my analogy (I wish it was) but I can't give credit because I'm not sure where i read it. Oh, and all of a sudden 'ripper' in the album title is the new 'wolf'. weird.

06. Arcade Fire Neon Bible (Merge 2007)
Yeah Canadians! Yeah for seeing them in concert almost on accident! Boo for this obviously not being Funeral (an album with few peers in the 00's) but yeah nonetheless for t
his not being Funeral! Some real gems here, and I think this album has somehow become one of the most under-rated records of the year despite near universal acclaim. It has sophomore written all over it, but that's fine. I'll take it.

05. Pelican City of Echoes (Hydra head 2007)
Now we move in to the heavy hitters in the top 5. This album has been most digital for me, because i lent it out just a week after purchasing it and never got it back. The party in
question knows who they are, and I'm pretty sure they actually lost it entirely, which makes me sad. Probably end up buying it again, and loning it out again, etc. A step forward from their last record which I lovedlovedloved, Pelican is my classical music. I play it when I can't have lyrics but need something with a stiff Metal backbone and wonderful arrangement.

04. Battles Mirrored (Warp 2007)
At pitchfork this summer I was walking back from my merch trip when i heard this incredible song playing from the second stage. I later learned that it had been 'Atlas' by Battles.
A month later the album was mine and on my tinny work speakers the song sounded as good as ever. Much to my surprise the rest of the album followed suit. Along the same vein as Pelican and Holy Fuck and others, all of a sudden I've become the lyric-less instrumentalist guy.

03. Menomena Friend and Foe (Barsuk 2007)
Definitely the surpise favorite of 2007. Never saw them coming, those loveable scamps. And yes there is the review I never sent to JBB and all of the surrounding hoo-ha. Long story short, these guys should have blown up, but I'm slightly happy they haven't. For the time being at least.

02. Radiohead In Rainbows (download and eventual 'disc-box' 2007)
I wish i could properly show via numbers just how far ahead of the pack the top two albums on my list are. Let's just say if I were doing this on a points system, and i had 100 points to spread out on all top 10 albums, number 1 and 2 would have at least 80 of the 100 points. On any other year In Rainbows would have destroyed all other comers, and a very large contingent inside me still clamors for its coronation. It certainly has the largest number of my favorite songs of 2007 on it, at least 4, possibly as many as 6. I wasn't prepared for a Radiohead album this good. its been a while since they hit me like this. I still think
they should do a dance-punk album, or a hip-hop covers album, but only sometimes. Most times I just pray for songs like these.

01. Les Savy Fav Let's Stay Friends (French Kiss 2007)
So much to say. First album (of new music) in 6 years from the best band in the world after they broke my heart and kinda broke up. Then there is the self-reflexive nature of the album, the "Let's Stay Friends" means so much more than it implies, the least of which is a clever recycling of the initials LSF from band name to album title. Everything i love about this band is on display here, the clever word play that itsn't so clever that it takes you out of the songs but clever enough so that when you read the lyrics you say to yourself "Zowee! that's a-spicy a-meat-a-ball!" or maybe thats just the little guy in my head that says that. Songs like "What would Wolves do" and "the Equestrian" just flat out rock, the one thing lacking from the otherwise brilliant Radiohead runner up. because at the end of the day I'm going to take punk over pretty every damn time.

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