Flip Through

Friday, December 29, 2006

Inappropriately intense

This post should have been about the new film Pan's Labyrinth; alas, Tampa isn't cool enough to get Mr del Toro's latest effort, so, instead you get The Top Five Stalker Anthems Yet Recorded. Oh yes! I'm not sure why famous people are allowed to be weird and unbalanced and obsessive and it counts as 'art' while the rest of us just get restraining orders, but the charts are full of stalkers. They're everywhere. They're on your radio. They're in your CD player. They're invading your personal space right now.

1. The Classic: "Every Breath You Take" by The Police. Duh! Maybe not the original (I believe that goes to "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" by Diana Ross), but certainly the best known. Could Sting get any creepier? The song tries to toe that slim line between sweet and sick, and ends up on the far side. Giveaway Lyric: "Every breath you take/every move you make/every bond you break/every step you take/I'll be watching you".

2. The Cute: "Always Be My Baby" by Mariah Carey. Man, if Mariah can't get her man to stay, what hope is there for the rest of us? This one almost sounds like an ode of devotion, but then you start to realize just exactly what your lips are synching. Giveaway Lyric: "Boy, don't you know you can't escape me?" and "No way you're ever gonna shake me/ooh darling, 'cause you'll always be my baby".

3. The Creep(y): "Creep" by Radiohead. Now, I'd believe it of Thom Yorke; he looks depressed and English enough to give stalking a try. This song is proof of it, all whisper-ranting about feeling out of control and how the narrator is going to make the intended notice when he's not around. Not that he's ever not around--that kind of screws with the aim of stalking. Giveaway Lyric: "She's running out again/she's running/she runs runs runs runs/runs..."

4. The Cover: "Gonna Get Close To You" by Queensryche (original by Lisa Dalbello). I was so hoping to give a spot to my favorite prog-metalheads. Why Geoff Tate and Co. saw fit to cover this one is beyond me; I suppose they were feeling especially perverse. Giveaway Lyric: "I wait by your door 'til you're asleep at night/and when you're alone I know when you turn out the light."

5. The Catchy: "One Way or Another" by Blondie. Debbie Harry takes stalking to startling heights with this one, spelling out exactly how she intends to snare her beloved. And oh, it sounds like a plan! Giveaway Lyric: "And if the lights are all out/I'll follow your bus downtown".

All in all, a good haul! There are oodles more, but these are, for my money, the cream of the crop. Although, I must say, honorable mentions go to "As Long As You Love Me" by The Backstreet Boys and "Stalker Song" by Danzig, the former for being utterly nasty and the latter for being utterly obvious. Keep stalking, guys and gals. Someday the object of your erotomania will reciprocate. Or not.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

For the boys

I have these friends, right, these two different sets of friends who, if they but knew each other, would become one larger mass of friends, because really, they're quite similar.

The main similarity is comic books. Videogames too, but right now we're talking about comic books.

Now then. I have addressed this issue in the past, but since then it's grown and mutated (ha, ha) and on the whole become confusing, difficult to explain, and not a little tiresome. The problem, then, was simple: I didn't read comic books. I had very little interest in reading comic books. However, because certain of my friends like to argue and talk and explain, I knew something about a few comic characters, which led certain of my other friends to believe that I was simply in denial.

Well, I'm not in denial anymore. I'm out. The closet door of comic fandom has been flung open, and look who was hiding in there--it's me! I have decided to embrace this, nerdiest of all fandoms barring Farscape. Well, and Star Trek (that's just a classic). I have decided to become, if not a hardcore comic fan, at least an admitted one. And I would like to thank Tamora Pierce, because it's mostly her fault.

Yes. Tamora Pierce. Not Stan Lee, not Frank Miller, not Neil Gaiman or even Michael Chabon--Tamora Pierce, that lovely authoress of young adult fiction generally skewed toward teenage girls. I love her. I love Tamora Pierce with an eternal passion, because she wrote some of my favorite books and birthed some of my very favorite characters and as soon as I have a black cat again I will name it Faithful and gauge potential friends by whether or not they know why the cat is so named (people who are friends with me already, no fear; you'll be grandfathered in). And now, Ms Pierce has been given her very own Marvel miniseries, White Tiger, which makes me love Marvel even more than I already did (which is to say, not very much).

Obviously, Marvel is cool because it's home to people like Deadpool and Wanda Maximoff. DC can hardly compare--they have Batman and Green Arrow and the Birds of Prey, and that's about it for me, and with Ms Pierce on board for White Tiger, DC is going to have to really hop to get my attention. They're going to have to revive George Orwell and let him write a new Batman or something. Anyway, the new White Tiger is cool. Very cool. It gets my stamp of not-very-knowledgeable approval, mostly because of its writer, but also because the characters are fun. I'd never even heard of Angela del Toro before a fellow Pierceaholic tipped me off to the series, but she's a ball of fire--and folks like Daredevil (and some other guy wearing the Daredevil suit), the Black Widow, and Spider-Man turn up too. What's not to love? A butt-kicking heroine, a shadowy criminal organization, and famous masks all over the place, all coupled with the author to whom I have already given more money than anyone else in the literary world.

Thanks, Marvel. Way to be a pal. Maybe I'll branch out. Maybe I'll delve. Maybe, someday, I'll be a REAL comic fan.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A blank shade of pencil-gray

I may be having a Claire Cooney moment. Is this or is this not the 'awkardest sentence alive'?

"Annan, who will be succeeded by South Korean Ban Ki-Moon, questions whether he has succeeded during his decade in the job in making human rights the "third pillar" of the United Nations, on a par with development and peace and security."

That's from a CNN article wherein Kofi Annan bashed...mm...the entire free world for doing nothing much about the troubles in Darfur. Well, I'm all for the UN Secretary opening up a can; that's not the point. The point is, the author clearly does not subscribe to rules of grammar or even logic. For one thing, if the "pillars" of the United Nations are development and peace and security, then wouldn't human rights be the FOURTH pillar? Furthermore, just look at that verb repetition: 'succeeded' TWICE in one sentence, just ten words apart! A clear-cut no-no; come on, people, that's what we have thesaurii for. Then there's the case of "on a par with"--no, not strictly against the rules, but a clinker all the same. Why's that "a" chilling there? No "a" is needed in that sentence; "on par with" makes just as much sense and flows even better.

The silly thing is, I'm not even good at grammar. I never learned my participles, complements, or the purpose of an auxiliary verb. I couldn't identify the subjunctive to save my life, and sentence-diagramming was the only English quiz I ever failed. But even I can see that CNN needs to buy a nice OED (unabridged, please) and head back to 9th grade Language Arts. Where do people get off teaching English like it doesn't matter, like it has no utility? Language is the basis of our society, whether we like it or not, and since we have to be able to communicate, would it kill us to communicate efficiently, fluidly, even elegantly? Why is there no longer any joy taken in the kick and flow of words?

Grammar, spelling, sentence construction, and even reading are all headed downhill in a greased handcart. Books are going the way of the Dodo. Ladies and gents, the Apocalypse of the literate will commence momentarily.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


I swear. Disney gets more uppity every year. This time around, I am firmly convinced that the people responsible are GOING TO HELL. Who told them they could make a movie out of Bridge to Terabithia? Furthermore, who told them that it would be a good idea to lift imaginary scenes from the book, change them into real-life monsters and magic, and then call it Bridge to Terabithia as though nothing was wrong?

I mean. Watch this and tell me you're not personally offended. I know I am, and not just because I dislike Disney at large. This is sheer idiocy, warping a classic children's book into a knock-off of a knock-off (and I do mean Eragon). What, was the original story not good enough? The death of some 11-year-old kid's best friend--geez, that's just so five minutes ago, not enough human interest. I find it purely sick that Disney feels the need to cash in further on the sudden 'ooh magic!' craze; will this version of Terabithia also feature penguins, that other Hollywood fad of late? Furthermore, from all appearances the plotline has been moved to present-day, a decision which strips the story of plenty of its meaning. The book's time period is that of Vietnam, a teensy detail which just happens to contribute mightily to the plot, subtext, and conclusion. Would it have killed them to just make up a new title to fit this new film of theirs, instead of cribbing Katherine Paterson's? From what I can tell, this movie bears very, very little resemblance to the book, so why not just make it allllll up??

This is one I won't be seeing. This isn't even on level with King Arthur or the remake of The Wicker Man. Those were bad, very bad indeed, but I saw them anyway, because I like to see things and then complain about how badly they suck. Heck, it's a treasured pastime. This, however, this bastardization of one of my favorite children's books...this will not be getting a dime from me. And if I find out that anyone I know went to see it, well, that'll be the end of that friendship. Disney, don't screw with my childhood--for Pete's sake, don't screw with my psyche. I know I'm not the only person out there who's absolutely going bonkers over this film (whoever you are, let's hang. Clearly we both have too much time on our hands); and I know that for every book-loon alive and shrieking in America, there's eight more movie-loons who will see this film in 2007 and think that the book they never read in elementary school is just another C.S. Lewis rip-off.


Friday, November 24, 2006

What if you could live forever?

Ah, Darren Aronofsky, keeper of my heart. At least, my film-nut's heart. Creator of Pi: Faith in Chaos, one of my very favorites; Requiem for a Dream, which though I dislike I at least admire; and the new, weird, lovely, stunning The Fountain.

People will tell you it sucks. It's a mess. It's disjointed, pointless, scrambled, nonsensical, and above all pretentious. These people are sadly misguided. It's a wonder; a film with fairy-tale originality, maybe, but told and portrayed with fairy-tale magic. The film consists of three sections: the central one is that of Izzi and Tommy, a woman with a brain tumor and her husband, a neurosurgeon working to find a cure for her. Then there are Isabella and Tomas, the Queen of Spain and a conquistador sent by her to find the Tree of Life, stars in a story Izzi is writing--a story which Izzi leaves open-ended, for Tomoas to finish. In the final segment, Izzi has become the Tree, and Tommy is an astro-monk of sorts, and both are on a spaceship (I guess), zooming toward eternal life, which is to be found in a nebula the Mayans called Xibalba.

I swear, it makes more sense when you're watching it. The director manages to weave together the three parts beautifully, due in no small part to the talents of star Hugh Jackman (watch this movie and just TRY to imagine Brad Pitt doing the characters justice). And although I personally would not cast Rachel Weisz to act as herself, you can hardly blame Mr Aronofsky--she gave birth to his child. On one hand, The Fountain is the sort of thing which happens when a director has too much time, yes-men, and money on his hands: it is self-indulgent, bombastic, egoistic. But on the other hand, it is and needs to be nothing more than a moving, spiritual portrayal of love.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Stoner-pop for the win

I've already drooled over this bunch in a previous post, but I think they deserve a few more paragraphs. Priestess (along with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, of course) is Canada's way of saying sorry for things like Steppenwolf and Avril Lavigne and Rush. Priestess is a seething foursome of whomp-rockers who bang their heads, stomp energetically over their guitar strings, and clearly don't think much of barbers.

I love them? Yes? Hairy-Canadian-rock-star-mosh-pit-sex please?

Maybe it's the froggy vocals of singer Mikey Heppner, hoarse and engaging and full of fire. Maybe it's the fact that they actually blew out one of my laptop's speakers. Maybe it's the Rieseny way Mike Dyball's basslines slide down my ears, heavy dark-chocolate-coated swaggering headbanger goodness. Maybe it's the bopping drums, hard-pounding and yet oddly cheerful. Whatever it is, it's addictive like homemade mashed potatoes and crystal meth, and I want more. Hello Master, their debut, isn't enough. Hurry up, Priestess! Stop touring with Black Stone Cherry since you're not paying Tampa a visit, go back to the North Country, and record another album now please!

Looking forward to it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bang your...bindi?

Much as I hate to admit to SPIN getting the jump on me, this month's issue contained one interesting story amongst the garbage: Indian metal. Yes, Indian as in subcontinent; Mumbai specifically seems to be the center of this apocalypse. Apparently some choice Indian twenty-somethings are getting a tad morose with all the Bollywood and bad Coldplay covers, and have decided to do something about it.

Children, meet Demonic Resurrection, four young Mumbaikers who cite Emperor, Lacuna Coil, and Porcupine Tree among their influences, and just generally play their metal with vicious aplomb. The quartet is easily as harsh as anything to come out of Finland recently, and better than much of what passes for metal in America, mix'n'matching melodic and death metal vocals freely and backing it all up with pounding bass and some shrieky guitars. Fittingly, they call it 'demonic metal'.

On the other side of India's metal scene are Pin Drop Violence, a five-man 'chaos squad' who are enrolled in the Lamb of God school of metallurgy. Growlier than Demonic Resurrection, Pin Drop Violence is all black metal hollers, brassed-off lyrics, and thundering drums, and they believe in their right to riot. Sounds like a kick in the balls.

So there you have it. The next wave of heavy metal, fresh and spicy from the Far East.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

George Carlin was right

I'm a fairly private gal, but some things must be shared for the sake of humanity and civilization. I feel that my ongoing hunt for an anti-perspirant that actually works is one of these things.

To be frank, I'm sweaty. I live in Florida, where everyone is sweaty, but I think my sweat glands are a tad overactive. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of air conditioning in my car--I drive five minutes to Blockbuster and to look at my armpits you'd think I ran there instead. In any case, the normal lot of anti-perspirants don't seem to work--at all--thus, my quest to find one that actually does. Make no mistake--this is not a cheap endeavor. And if I were more artistic, I'd find some way to shape all the half-used Mitchums and Lady Speedsticks and (Heaven help me) Arrid-Xes into something beautiful, something worth all the money I give to the talc and aluminum barons. However...I just throw them away, because the sight of them and their ineffectiveness makes me cry.

So. Come along on my damp-armed adventure!

Suave Invisible Solid: So close, but no dice. This is the one anti-perspirant that actually almost works. Bonus points for it fooling me into thinking it works because the first time I used it was on an overseas flight, and not only do you not do much on planes period, but it's also too cold to sweat efficiently, even if you're me.
Secret Platinum Protection: Not strong enough for a man, still made for women. Doesn't work AND tends to bleach the arms of dark-colored shirts. Thanks for nothing, Secret. Your commercials blow, too, for the record.
Secret Platinum Protection Gel: See above, but even more pathetic. You'd think by now I'd be used to failure, but it still hurts. And my armpits still sweat.
BAN: Catchy adverts that don't deliver. And by 'don't deliver' I mean 'my armpits cackled in glee when I put this on and five minutes later I appeared to have run a marathon in July heat'. One word: EW. Wait, another word: USELESS. Don't bother; BAN sucks more than a truck-stop hooker.
Lady Mitchum: So effective, you could skip a day. Only not. I put this on, put on my t-shirt, brushed my teeth, and...ew, I haven't even gone outside yet! NEXT.
Mitchum: So effective, you CANNOT SKIP A DAY STOP IT STOP IT. It's really bad when even men's-strength anti-perspirant does nothing. And I do mean nothing. I guess I'm not a Mitchum man, even though my freezer contains an economy-size box of frozen hamburgers.
Degree: More evidence that I sweat more than your average beefy male. I skipped Degree for Women--what's the point? Nothing like crescents of moisture under your arms 24/7 to make you feel feminine. Plus, this stuff doesn't even smell good.
Teen Spirit: My mom bought this for me; I think it was supposed to be funny. I smelled like it, all right. If only the sweaty grunge thing was still in. I'd be the coolest kid on the block!

I'm getting to the point where I wonder if it is actually possible to apply so much pure talcum powder that one is 'chemically unable to sweat', as Rick Bragg claims. That would be okay with me, because let's face it, I am wicked sweaty. My armpits howl in the face of anti-perspirants. No one will ever want to cuddle with me. But hey--at least the deodorant aspect seems to work...mostly.

The really sad thing? I'm not even getting paid for all this terribly useful scientific research.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

No friend as loyal as a book

Generally I'm not one to rave about social networking sites, but for an avowed word-nerd such as myself, Librarything is a treasure trove. It's basically Last.fm for bookworms! Godly. The site's aim is simple: allow marathon readers to catalogue their own personal bedside libraries, organize the titles by tag, and connect with other readers who share similar tastes. Once you've got a few names in your library, you can really start having fun--try clicking 'tag cloud' or 'author cloud' to see what you're topheavy on, visit the Author Gallery to peruse writerly visages, or feel important because according to the 'Fun Statistics' page, you're the only one with a copy of The Game of the Foxes in your house.

Heaven. Somehow it's just so reassurring to know that there are exactly 184 other Librarything users who own The Courtship of Princess Leia. 16 other IP addresses are fans of Lonely Planet's British Phrasebook, while the owners of the Harry Potter series are in the high 7000s. And these numbers are just for today; who knows how many more there might be tomorrow?

This site restores some of my faith in the human race as readers. Maybe libraries will not become defunct after all--because these, these are my people.

Monday, October 23, 2006

But the beauty is grim

I am captivated by ruin, particularly if there is plant overgrowth involved. If I were any kind of photographer, my film would be wasted on landscapes of forgotten gardens, rotting wooden houses overtaken by creepers, stone walls crumbling under the weight of vines and time.

Tampa, my city, has a lot of this. One reason why I like this town so much--it contains both urban and natural decay, both of which are oddly fascinating. There are the alleys overflowing with garbage and used needles and the homeless; there is the low concrete wall on Columbus, once decorative and now in decline, eaten away by air pollution and shrubs; there is the water tower, white and slim and inside bursting with bats and moths and moldering beams; there is the prodigious graffiti covering the back walls of minimarts and gas stations . And there is perhaps my favorite spot in the entire city: the lot at the rear of the art museum, yards of gardening forgotten, growing wild. There are neat rows of palm trees and clear outlines of intended flower plots and scads of climbing vines trailing down the back wall onto the sidewalk and outdoor lights which have been kicked, shards of glass half-covered in earth. There's even an amphitheatre, its steps clotted with dry leaves and trash. It's a little eerie, to walk alongside the shiny tin-foil musuem wall, modern and sleek, and then climb up to wander in the gardens that somehow, the museum personnel managed to forget. It looks like a movie setting; you wonder if maybe you're about to be mugged, or--depending on the time of day--see a ghost.

I love it. If I had to be homeless, I would ditch the hordes of homeless people who gather for their own private reasons on the fountain steps in front of the museum. I would go a couple hundred yards to the back, where you can see the water and the sun warms the concrete. Maybe the museum has remembered their landscaping project and remedied all the weeds since I was last there, but I hope not. I hope they let it be.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I've read many bad books. The Sun Also Rises. Opal Mehta. The Rachel Papers. The Black Album. Shopaholic. The Scarlet Letter. There are legions, because nowadays anyone can get published. But nothing compares with I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe. Yes, I'm aware that I'm two years and eight billion bad reviews late, but I don't care. I've only just read this tome (738 pages of nothing--almost impressive) and now it's time to carp.

I Am Charlotte Simmons strives to do one of two things: a) accurately chronicle college life or b) viciously satirize college life. However, since his descriptions and characterizations are neither outrageous enough for satire nor authentic enough for truth, Wolfe fails in both objectives. The stock characters abound--the aging-hippie professor, the drunk frat boy jocks, the politically aware yet socially down-trodden nerds, the sorority beer sluts, the bullying anti-intellectual coach, and of course, the eponymous small-town virgin. The prose is just that: prosaic, with repeat-offender use of certain adjectives and nouns ('lubricious', 'loins', and 'lissome' among them...sheer alliterative agony). The devolution of the characters and the plot is unbelievable at best. All in all, the book reads as though no editor ever made its first draft bleed.

Maybe Wolfe really did visit numerous universities in his attempt to research the idiocy and glory of college students. Maybe he really did flee the cops at parties with frat boys. But reading I Am Charlotte Simmons makes this purported research a tad hard to believe. Do normal human beings not attend Duke and Cornell and every other elite prep school the novel is based on? Are the Ivies really just costlier versions of high school? I'm not decrying Wolfe's age; I don't think he's out of touch with what the kids are doing; I simply don't think that he's ever actually met a college student.

I attend college. Admittedly it's a state school, not a smarmy private institution, but it's college nonetheless, and while there are indeed the athletes who get free rides, the slutty drunk girls who never spend a night in their own room, and the pseudo-philosophical nerds, there are far, far more students who are nice and average and decent in every sense of the terms. I have never seen or heard of a so-called 'geek' getting beaten up or verbally abused for not playing lacrosse. None of the geeks I know would take that sort of crap, even off a vaunted athletic star, and most of the athletes I know have grown up a little since graduating high school. Furthermore, Wolfe's insinuation that the youth of today have no moral compass is purely insulting. I'm not talking moral in a religious sense, but in the sense of having personal integrity: what you will and will not do. Everyone has principles--everyone--and if you don't want to drink or smoke or have sex with every basketball player you can get your hands on, then by all means DON'T DO IT. No one can force you to, and that is why I find the character of Charlotte Simmons (not to mention her roommate, and numerous love interests, and every other character in the novel) so implausible: they apparently can't think for themselves.

Call me an idealist, but I refuse to believe that of students. We are not a cliched mass of lemmings, hurtling off every social cliff because the girl with the Gucci stilettoes says it's cool. Is it so hard to fathom college students who have their act together? Wolfe writes disparagingly of Charlotte's act of 'moral suicide', yet he never allowed her to have morals in the first place, only knee-jerk reactions born of her upbringing. So what does he have to be disappointed about?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Celluloid madness

Hoom, well, I was already pretty fond of the Spartans, but now...

Now. Check it, people: Frank Miller's 300. At long last, the comic book nerds and history buffs will have something to drool over communally. And I don't want to hear about historical inaccuracy; for Pete's sake, I'm a history major. I know there weren't any war rhinoes at the Battle of Thermopylae. That doesn't change the fact that the idea of WAR RHINOES IS COMPLETELY BADASS. I'm aware that the Persians weren't misshapen monster-creatures, and I realize that there were more than three hundred allied Greek fighters at Thermopylae, but damn if I care. Gerard Butler is Leonidas, David Wenham is Dilios, Rodrigo Santoro is Xerxes, and this movie is going to own your soul.

Speaking of historically-inaccurate yet soul-owningly-cool films-to-be, Pathfinder is also on the menu for spring 2007. Talk about loose interpretation of history, but again...who cares? Karl Urban running around in a loincloth brandishing a sword, Vikings who look more like Uruk-Hai, and plenty of nice Earth Mother mysticism--what more could you need? It might be a history professor's worst nightmare, but it appears to be stylistically gorgeous and have some butt-kicking fight scenes to boot, so we'll just pretend that the Vikings did in fact wear huge horned helms into battle and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Vanity's proving ground

November 1991. The room's not that big, and the people crowding the rows of chairs make it smaller. My mother is in the front row, catty-corner to where I sit with my sister and grandmother. She is all in white, though I don't exactly understand why, and her bare feet are planted firm on the carpet, tan lines against deep blue. One of her friends sits behind her, weaving her dark hair into a plait. I watch the hands move in the Thoroughbred brown locks until she stands and walks toward the side door which will let her down into the water. Her feet pace broad and sturdy on the floor; her hair smacks her back, a fat intricate rope against the white gown. I touch my own hair, the same color, the same bright roan but thinner, and its wisps pulled into a bun, tucked in place with pastel bobby pins. I pull at it and watch my mother disappear behind the wooden door and then reappear, down in the font opposite the missionary who holds his hands out and recites words and dips her backward into the water, too cold for November, and she rises, white and wet and smooth, her brown braid and her smile gleaming up at me. When she returns to her seat later, dry-clothed again, she tosses the still-damp plait over her shoulder and smooths my errant wisps back into their pins.

June 2001. The clippers are cool running over my scalp. I stare into the mirror, at thirteen years' worth of hair now spattering the checkered tile floor. My face is alien, too thin and too open without a protective sheath of hair around the cheekbones, the chin, and my ears, oh, my ears--why had Mom never told me how big my ears are? The back of my neck is freezing, and abruptly I hate myself for doing this. The chop. How did I talk myself into doing this? A pixie, Mom calls it, so cute. I look like a boy. The hairdresser gives me my glasses and they wink as I put them back on, flashing taunts in the mirror. I watch the shape of my jaw, the obtrusive freckles, the way my eyebrows now take up half my face. I watch my mother's mouth make smiles and loving words, exchanging coos with the hairdresser. They tell me how good it looks. My sister says it's very European, a clear compliment. My aunts remark on how grown-up it appears. My stepfather wonders, when he comes into the kitchen that night, where his long-haired daughter went. I am too young yet to mind, I am now in love with the nakedness of the back of my neck, the long bare swath of throat, the dark strands close against my skull. I am too young yet to mind.

October 2006. We lay in the dark heat of each other's bodies, not illicit but innocent still. I feel bold and shivery at the same time, my belly warm and my feet cold. Your arm is fever around my shoulders, keeping me close against your side. I bask; I blaze. And there are your fingers, trickling chill over my hair, your hand brushing the cropped locks soft and slow. There's a purr rising in my chest, and I have to resist the urge to move under your fingers, to butt my head against your palm, cat-like. I luxuriate in the steady motion of your hand, gentle and even and continuous, your fingers drawing patterns on my skull, tenderly tugging strands, the occasional pleasant prick of flesh against flesh. Your palm cups my head; fingertips tickle behind my ear and trace the length of my neck. I drowse. I am safe, safe in the solid warmth of the barrel of your ribs and your smile quick like heat lightning and the eternal flow of your fingers in my hair.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hanging out at the Ticketmaster

I adore Weird Al Yankovic. It's true. It's been 20 years since the release of his first album, and he's STILL partying like it's 1699. And now--at last--everyone else seems to think he's cool, too. Even Best Week Ever is applauding his latest musical efforts.

But can I just point out that I had the jump on VH1? I've been listening to Weird Al since I was 10, thanks very much, and I can recite "Albuquerque" on command. Even the end bit where he just sorta mutters and yammers. Weird Al is a god among men for the simple reason that he sings about things that everyone loves and no one will admit to loving--polka, STAR WARS, the STAR WARS kid, tuna melts, Eddie Vedder, the Amish. Anyone who can recap the entire plot of The Phantom Menace, compose lyrics like 'hair the color of strained peaches', and mash Backstreet Boys songs into a foot-tapping polka deserves a spot in the Rock'N'Roll Hall of Fame. Anyone who can parody Madonna, Metallica, and The Kinks and not get assassinated is clearly headed for sainthood.

So! Weird Al's newest offering, Straight Outta Lynwood, shows him in top form, as witnessed in the video for his...single?..."White & Nerdy". An excellent take on Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone's "Ridin'", you can't help but, well, laugh your head off. Or maybe you can. Please tell me it isn't just me--the proverbial single hand clapping. In any case, "White & Nerdy" is the "All About the Pentiums" of the new Millennium, as sharp, giggly, and bursting with pop-culture references as any of Al's previous ditties. "Don't Download This Song" is also quite nice, and "Canadian Idiot" is a love song to everyone's favorite Northern neighbors. As always, there's a polka: this time, tunes getting the jaunty treatment include "Speed of Sound" by Coldplay, "Float On" by Modest Mouse, "Slither" by Velvet Revolver, and, somewhat oddly, "The Chicken Dance". For the diabetics in the house, there's an original track entitled simply, "Pancreas". And we musn't forget "Do I Creep You Out" a mockery of and tribute to that silver-haired songbird, Taylor Hicks.

Something else worth noting--a totally fabulous (one assumes) parody of that horrifying James Blunt song "You're Beautiful" was recorded, but the Brit-pop pretty-boy's label requested that it be removed. I'm sorry; that's just pathetic. If Coolio, Jacko, and Lars Ulrich don't mind, neither should James "You're Pitiful" Blunt.

All in all, I think it's safe to say that Master Yankovic has done it again.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The horror?

Only...not. The Wicker Man is the worst remake of a horror film ever created, and may possibly be the worst horror film ever created, period. Don't see it. The only joy you might get from a viewing is seeing Nicolas Cage burned alive at the end, but even that comes merely as relief, after the the hour and 30 minutes of utter nothing which precedes it. I have to admit--really the only reason I saw it was so that I could complain about it. So it goes.

Anyhow, for those not in the know (read: those not as cool as me), The Wicker Man was originally made in Britain in 1973, starred Christopher Lee as its villain, didn't contain Nicolas Cage, and was on the whole a lot more creepy and unique than the 2006 sham of the same name. For the remake, it seems that director Neil LaBute attempted not only to transplant a thoroughly British plotline to the Pacific Northwest, but also to make some sort of political statement, something feministic perhaps, and we all know how well political statements go off. In this case, it's clumsy, half-hearted, confused, and utterly unconvincing, but who's worried about political underpinnings when Nicolas Cage is snoring on the screen? I'm convinced that he was actually sleepwalking through his scenes. Never have I witnessed a more boring actor--not that he had a particularly pithy role to work with, but please. That's what actors do: make dull roles interesting. This simply reaffirms my belief that Nicolas Cage is not an actor or even a human at all, but in fact a wooden plank with a baffled face painted on it.

(And then there was Ellen Burstyn. All I have to say about her is, it must be painful to hold a smirk for an hour and 40 minutes, but she managed it. Well done, Sister Summersisle!)

This is probably the only time I'll ever whine about a movie not having enough sex, but...I am making that complaint. The 1973 film was about sex, pure and simple, and was chock-full of it; weird, cultish, rampant, sun-god-worshipping sex. That's pretty much absent from LaBute's film, and missing along with it is the creepy, perversely merry air with which the villagers go about their lives. That the Scottish pagans believe themselves normal is the ultimate in weird and adds to the atmosphere of twisted malice, whereas the Washington State communals are merely zealous neo-hippie feminazis. LaBute has warped the plot into an almost entirely new film, complete with a disjointed subplot and new ending which make it appear that the islanders have been planning the Wicker Man sacrifice for at least a decade, when it's supposed to be something conceived on the fly because of a 'bad harvest'. Huh?

Not that you can't see it coming (the climax could hardly be more obvious), but the high point is the sacrifice itself--a pretty cool-looking effigy, I will admit--and Nic Cage shrieking while the happy villagers celebrate around the bonfire. However, this isn't enough to recommend the film; if you're into seeing people burnt alive, just get the original.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Warning: here be rhapsodizing, part deux

At long last, my mother is reading my favorite book. And--surprise, surprise!--she wants to know why I never told her how great it is. What, Mom, watching me read The Once and Future King ten times annually from my eighth year on wasn't a giveaway? Yes, it's good. It's about King Arthur, and it's good, and if you haven't read it, you deserve to be shot, or at least scolded vigorously.

The thing about my mother is, even if I had brandished my poor dog-eared yellow paperback copy of T.H. White's brilliance and demanded that she read it RIGHT NOW, she would have asked, Why? What's it about? And then I would have had to reply, sheepishly, Well...it's about King Arthur. Which sounds childish at the very least, but then summaries of stories never do the tales themselves justice--imagine summarizing "The Lady With the Pet Dog". It'd end up sounding like a cheap soap opera! This is why I hate recommending reading material: people always want to know what it's about. Why can't people just take your word for it? Am I not trustworthy even to my own mother?

It's not my fault, really. Up until around this time last year I really DIDN'T know what T.H. White was getting at. I'm still not entirely sure, but I have a firmer grasp on it now than I did when my dear granny first gave me the book for my eighth birthday. See, The Once and Future King is only about King Arthur if you are in fact eight years old; once you grow up a little and are still reading it regularly even though you can quote whole passages (particularly the bit about Lancelot and the armor! Isn't that bit beautiful?), then it starts to take on more meanings. The more you read it, the more layers you peel back, onion-like, until finally you burrow into the core, cramped and uncomfortable and eye-stinging. T.H. White's magnum opus isn't simply a homage to Malory or one of many rewritings of the Arthurian legend; it's a complete social commentary on the state of nations at the time of publication, in effect a series of essays on human nature woven together and garnished with knights and fair damsels and Questing Beasts.

But maybe social commentary sounds unappealing. All right, I'll give that to you. But T.H. White, deeply and unhappily political man that he was, had an eye for reality. Part of what makes The Once and Future King so beautiful in its complexity is the intense humanity with which he manages to imbue his age-old characters. It's not easy to take characters beloved by so many, characters written and rewritten by countless poets, and revamp them into something believable. Therein lies White's genius: he can do what so many writers dream of--he can make you pine for creatures of ink, weep over personalities who live only on paper. Anyone who can make me care about Lancelot and Guenever is clearly a good writer.

I mean, isn't that what good stories are about? When you can worry about a character, when you can fret after their health or wonder what on Earth they were thinking, when you can fall in love with someone who does not exist...the author has completed his task. T.H. White completes his admirably, with verve and insane humor and utter compassion both for the doomed fairy-tale kingdom and his own living humans.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

City of nerds

Heaven forbid that I, fangirl of many allegiances, should ever point an accusing finger at geeks, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

I think I may have found my line. My line is labeled HeroClix. Yes, you read that correctly: HEROCLIX. What, the normal human being asks, is this HeroClix? Well, I'll tell you. It's a game played by two or more excessively nerdy (or possibly bored; I feel charitable) humans involving the strategic movement of comic book heroes and villains. Small plastic figurines of comic book heroes and villains, to be exact, and this game makes no distinction about the various comic universes; Marvel, DC, and Indy mix and mingle freely. At any point you can expect Brainiac to be attacked via Running Shot by Judge Dredd or Scarlet Spider to Outwit Beast's Perplex.

It's shocking to view this sort of comic book anarchy. It's also more than a little baffling: Heroclix is involved. The statistics, the point values, the ranks, combat values, and teams, the use of dice, the use of garbage cans and filing cabinets, the use of Mancala stones! Team abilities and the seemingly-arbitrary declaration of archnemeses! Hindering terrain versus blocking terrain! How on the green Earth Captain Midnight managed to defeat the Incredible Hulk! Are we going to tear shit up in the Avengers' Mansion or cavort on Professor X's school premises? And then one has to form the best team possible for the build total being played--does one use three very strong characters, or five weaker ones? It's quite tiring even to watch...I can't imagine what it would be like to actually play.

Godwilling I will never know. I may be a nerd, I may be friends with nerds, but I will not be clicking any comic book figures, be they hero or be they villain, any time soon. I think I'll just stick to watching, because it's kinda...well...comic. I mean, what's funnier than a couple of 20-year-old guys who don't really look so abnormal crouching over a battlefield map, prodding at plastic miniatures which appear to have come out of a Wheaties box, and shouting pathetic insults at one another?

"Bastard! I dare you to move that cocksucker onto Iron Man's adjacent square!"

"Cheetah Bitch is going down!"

"I'm Pushing Scott Summers, Damage be damned. So watch out, Captain Marvel...Cylops is pissed!"

"BITCH!" (This one you hear this a lot. It's funny, given that mostly Heroclix players are...male.)

I mean really. It's befuddling to me, it truly is. But I reckon I better shut up, else the folks mentioned herein will get medieval on my rear. I might end up with some Unavoidable Damage on my poor Magneto, due to a nasty Psionic attack from Spider-Woman.

Post Script: Yes, I'm aware that I've used the Heroclix jargon most incorrectly. Oops.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The horror!

Hm. Well. I always knew that the Brits made better horror films, but now I hope the rest of America knows it too.

I'm talking about The Descent, of course; the movie that made me wonder why on Earth I ever visited Mammoth Cave, and Florida Caverns State Park, and every other cave system that my mother ever took me to. It also kind of made me wonder why she likes caves so much, since she gets bad claustrophobia. In any case, it's a good old-fashioned high-strung nervous-tension weird-psychology not-too-gory horror film that the English pull off so well and the Americans just can't seem to manage. Not scary enough to warrant arm-clinging, however, so girls, don't get your hopes up.

Plus, it drives home a point (embeds it with a bolt hanger, in fact) that everyone should acknowledge: SPELUNKING IS INSANE. You go cave-climbing, and you just might run into some sort of highly (d)evolved humanoids who will eat you alive if they get the chance. You go cave-climbing, and you might end up killing five of your close friends in horrible ways, and swimming in pools of blood, and getting stuck in foot-square crawl spaces.

See what I mean? The Descent is a a great horror film. Easily the best scary movie of the last ten years (which really isn't saying much, if you consider all the ghastly Hollywoodized remakes, but still). However...and this is a big however...you may want to wait for the DVD release, not because it's not worth the eight bucks to hand over to the bored AMC employee, but because the US release has a different ending than the UK release. And when the DVD comes out, both versions will be available. So, though I didn't see the UK version, I'm betting it'd be great to see it first and then view the American release.

See, the American version ends with the main protagonist (Sarah) escaping, apparently, finding her way back to her car, and driving madly down the forsaken Appalachian highway. She then sees one of her spelunking mates (Juno), who is apparently dead, sitting in the front seat next to her. Sarah screams; then the movie ends. Now, pretty good ending, I'd say. I walked out of the theatre impressed, and happy that Lionsgate didn't see fit to dumb it down for happy-ending-loving American audiences. Then I read a few reviews online and learned about the original British ending, which is the same as the American, but with the addition of a few extra frames after Juno appears in the car. Juno appears, Sarah screams, then wakes up inside the cavern again, then hallucinates that her dead daughter is beside her. Creature-type screams are heard, and the film ends.

Now. Also a good ending. But I'm not sure which I think is better, because both endings work well. The US ending allows the movie to be both physical and psychological--you can take it that the creatures are real, that Sarah's friends were all eaten by subhuman monsters and though she made it out alive, clearly things aren't over, since seeing your dead friends is usually a bad sign. Or you can take it that the entire escape is a hallucination, made clear by Juno's impossible appearance. The UK ending is a little more obvious: Sarah is screwed, whether or not the monsters are figments of her imagination. So all I have to ask is, Why do people feel the urge to fiddle with movie endings? I hate the prevailing belief that Americans can't handle depressing or frightening endings. It's a horror movie, for Pete's sake. You want a happy ending, you should have bought a ticket for Barnyard.

Regardless. Great movie. Go see it. Right now.

An afterthought--if you read this blog, just assume that I'm posting spoilers as far as movies and books are concerned. Hah. A little after the fact, but get over it.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

New species of dinosaur discovered

At long last. The new wave of doom metal has arrived, and before you even say, New wave? Doom metal never went away! ask yourself: how many doom metal groups can you name? Black Sabbath don't count, they're too easy, and neither does Type O Negative, because they suck. How many doom metal fans do you know? Just that kid down the street whose eyes you've never seen because he has so much hair, yeah. Clearly, the renaissance has come. The Dungeons and Dragons kids need their soundtrack, too, right? Predictably, the forerunners hail from strange climes--Australia, Texas, and Canada, to be exact. So who, you ask, are these harbingers of sludge? Who are these new demigods of doom?

Wolfmother: The Aussies. Of course, the best band Australia has put out since AC/DC, and, according to Jimmy Page, the best band since Led Zeppelin, period. Apparently shoving Black Sabbath, Zep, and Deep Purple into a blender, adding a pinch of King Crimson, and dispensing with Spinal Tap altogether, Wolfmother are for serious. They sing songs with titles like "Tales from the Forest Gnomes" and "White Unicorn", they play Jethro Tull-style flute soloes and fiddle with organ fuzz, they have big hair. By all accounts their live shows are to die for, all flying spit and hammering riffs and bassist Chris Ross thrashing his instrument like a naughty toddler. Essential track: "Vagabond" (Wolfmother).

The Sword: The Texans. Texas is allowed to put out two or three good bands every decade, and these hipster rejects are certainly the best Texan band since The Mars Volta. Lyrics about Norse goddesses and tracks that sample howling wolves--what could be better? An obsession with swordsmithing, jeans tight enough to piss off sensitive metalheads, and brain-melting guitars, okay, I'm sold. My personal favorite of the Doom Nouveau (they're coming in October! Yeee!), The Sword play their metal like God intended: head-bangingly hard, unstoppable like a freight train, and chock-full of hair. Essential track: "The Horned Goddess" (Age of Winters).

Priestess: The Canadians, and geez oh man can you ever hear the lumberjacking, ice-chopping, beaver-trapping oomph of the North Country in this band's music. Speedier than The Sword and harsher than Wolfmother, Priestess believe in heaviosity and they prove it by way of slashing guitar riffs, splintered-glass vocals, and a drummer who might actually be a throwback to the Neanderthals. And yes, they have hair. Lots of hair. Essential track: "I Am the Night, Colour Me Black" (Hello Master).

With these deities-made-flesh before you, how are you not wetting yourself??

(On a completely non-metal-related note, Gogol Bordello's music makes me want to scream 'BERSERKER!!!' like Silent Bob's cousin in Clerks.)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

I actually do need a haircut

I feel like venturing away from my sworn topics of film, food, books, and beats. I feel like talking about hair.

I have very short hair--culturally aware people might call it a pixie cut--and since chopping my locks off six long years ago, I have learned that short hair carries a mysterious stigma (go figure). Over the course of my short-haired existence, I have been mistaken for a boy, a lesbian, and a model. Hairdressers and militant female English teachers always love my hair; young guys and my stepfather are not very fond of it. I suppose this has something to do with accepted, if perhaps unconscious, stereotypes of women: women are supposed to have long, flowing hair. Men are the ones with short hair.

Don't get me wrong. I love long hair. I am so very jealous of some of my girlfriends who have long, thick, glossy hair. However, I had long hair once upon a time, and for one thing it just didn't suit me, and for another, it was a pain in the rear to take care of. If you have the temperament to blow-dry and fiddle with and tug at long hair, by all means! do it. But I do not have this temperament, and I don't think I'll be developing it any time soon. For some reason, most of the males I know don't seem to understand how annoying a lot of hair can be. I can only attribute this to them never having had a lot of hair, and since they have never had a lot of hair, they can do the world a favor and shut up.

The hair is staying short. It is not going to be grown out. I do not feel the need to 'try something new'. I don't care if you mistake me for a boy; I will simply taunt you with my awesome A-cups. I don't care if you think I'm a lesbian; I probably think you're an idiot, or at least someone who has never heard of Winona Ryder, Jean Seberg, Audrey Hepburn, Halle Berry, or Natalie Portman of late.

I like my hair, and short it will stay. I mean, really--not only is it flattering, it's also easy to take care of AND it serves as a sort of social barometer, especially as far as the male persuasion is concerned. If you think my hair looks good, we'll be friends. If you think that only men should have short hair, you're not long for this world.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Charles, Patron Saint of Rock Criticism

Chuck Klosterman is a poet. Any man who can write a book of nearly 300 pages about hair metal which along the way classifies Rush as Christian rock is a poet pure and simple, a poet the way Eliot and Frost were poets (and certainly more of a poet than, say, Carol Ann Duffy).

Fargo Rock City, children. This is where it's at. If you haven't read it, go out and buy it RIGHT NOW. Even if you think people like Nikki Sixx and Gene Simmons are decadent, untalented man-whores; even if, like me, you hate spending fourteen bucks on a paperback. I mean, I can't stand 99% of hair metal, and I think this book is the best thing since The Awakening, and not just because I've adored Chuck Klosterman's writing since I read a SPIN column detailing his dream band (I would totally listen to Doomed Honeymoon. Lord yes. Give it to me now.), especially since he did write one thing I couldn't stand. That would be the SPIN article about rock star deaths (I mean really, Chuck--you give Kurt Cobain two pages and Bob Stinson a paragraph? Who cares if you don't know anything about him? The Replacements owned Nirvana.)

I'm always a little slow on the uptake as far as new books and new music go (with the exception of On Beauty--that's a good one, too, AND I managed to read it only about a month after it came out); Fargo Rock City was first published in 2001. But no matter. I have read it now and I will read it again, and again and again, until I finally realize that it should be on my non-fiction shelf. Perhaps it's the subject matter of these, as Klosterman puts it, 'coke-addled deities', but the book doesn't read like a rock'n'roll history. No knowing rock-snob writing here, no jokes about Big Star, no impassioned opinion rants about Reagan's Eighties (not that I don't also love Michael Azerrad)...only a detailed, loving tale of the gilded road to hard-rocking, coke-snorting, stripper-banging metal godhead.

All the greats are here: Van Halen, Motley Crue, Yngwie Malmsteen, Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Guns 'N Roses, Poison, The Scorpions, KISS, Nugent, all the way up to the Big Four of thrash metal and heavy metal's demise in the early 1990s (damn you Kurt Cobain, again!). For metal novices (like meself...since my metallic tastes are limited mainly to the power and prog genres), this book is an encyclopedia; for metalheads, it's a Bible, albeit a Satanic one (ha, ha...I can make knowing rock-snob jokes too). It shows that music can be technically stupid and still manage to affect an entire generation, and that there's nothing wrong with that (I guess hip-hop is still showing that today). It mouths off about rocking out to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin alike, wanting to wear black lipstick because KISS did, lusting after Lita Ford, and doing all this in rural North Dakota. North Dakota, man! Could there be a more kvlt state in the Union? Clearly not.

Furthermore, Fargo Rock City made me wonder--who on Earth was my heavy metal enabler? I mean, for Pete's sake; I'm a mellow Mormon girl from a little island off the East Coast of Florida. When did I start listening to Queensryche? When did I even hear the name 'Queensryche'? When did I learn how to pronounce 'Queensryche' correctly? And Strapping Young Lad? Opeth? Opeth does not exist in Merritt Island, FL; Merritt Island, FL, is for people who like Kenny Chesney and Vanessa Carlton. Who was it that started me on my path to tinnitus? Klosterman blames his older brother, which is only natural, but I don't have an older brother. I only have an older sister, and she's into Euro-trash and The Velvet Underground.

Whoever it was that tipped off my long strange trip (if I may mix genres), bless you. I'll buy you a copy of Fargo Rock City as a thank-you gift.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

How do you imagine Heaven?

Libraries both excite and depress me. It's an interesting mix, and while excitement generally wins out, occasionally I run into things which shove depression over the top.

For instance--books which never get checked out. Seriously, it's like the Island of Misfit Toys or something for these books. It's sad. Now, I can understand why The Scarlett Letter wouldn't see much action, but really good books like The Once and Future King? Who doesn't love a little King Arthur, a little WWII-era political ranting? And it's happening right in your local library. I'd guarantee it. People are going for the Danielle Steels and Jodi Picoults on the New Fiction! rack at Borders, and leaving the dusty classics behind to lean against one another, weary on the library shelves. In the library of my university, there are at least three books which, over the course of the last year, have only been checked out by yours truly. That's because I like to read books multiple times, and I also like to note how often a book I love gets read, in hopes of someday finding some like-minded souls to talk to (I really do wish they still stamped your name in books instead of anonymous checked-out-checked-in dates). However, the yearning for my own private book club will have to remain a happy daydream, because apparently I'm the only person in the school who enjoys reading George Orwell. I can't fathom how no one else has discovered the joys of Keep the Aspidistra Flying; the first time I read it, I thought I was reading my own brainwaves--that shock, that thrill of familiarity. Or Coming Up for Air, another of Mr Blair's neglected gems, which hadn't seen sunlight since November of 1999. It's safe to assume, even though USF stands for 'U Stay Forever', that the last person to read Coming Up for Air is long gone from the campus. No luck for a meeting of the minds.

I guess what I find so hard to understand is why people wouldn't want to use a library. Especially a huge college library, and USF's isn't even that big. I can't imagine what I'd do with a library like Yale's or Columbia's. Probably go inside and just never come out again, a regular missing-person case. All those books at your disposal--for FREE! FREE, people! No jacked-up hardback prices, no bookstore employees bugging you about buy three, get the fourth free! like that's some kind of deal...just plain reading bliss, for free (unless you return books late, but only losers rack up overdue fines). Really, the worst-case scenario as far as libraries are concerned is that they won't have the book you want, and in that case, there's always some library that does. Loans, people, they're a great invention.

A friend of mine postulates that libraries are unused because people simply don't read anymore. I guess he could be right. I hope he's not.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Brown man's burden

I don't like Hanif Kureishi. Or rather, I don't like his novel The Black Album; I'm sure Mr Kureishi himself is very nice.

However, The Black Album is frankly not worth reading. I realize my opinion is in the extreme minority--at least, the minority as far as white people who consider themselves forward-thinking and well-read is concerned. I'm sure most liberal Anglo folks who want to look politically correct and sound literate think that this book is the Punjabi's pajamas (wow, did I really just type that?). Maybe I just didn't 'get' it. Maybe I didn't read 'deep' enough, maybe I'm missing what's 'there'.

I don't care. I didn't like it, and this is why. It's not a novel.

Now, I have no problem with books that aren't novels. I like biographies, histories, plays, poetry, and essays as much as the next non-English major. But when a book claims to be a novel, I want it to be a novel. That's not to say that Mr Kureishi's book isn't fiction; it is (isn't it?). However, the author seems to subscribe to the school of thought which believes in 'the plot's the thing' ethic, the school of thought which uses characters to shuffle the plot along, with little regard for the characters themselves. The Black Album is such a book--the characters are cardboard cut-outs, standies symbolizing moral standpoints or ideas or (Lord forbid) ideals. They are not people in themselves.

Shahid: the narrator, a Pakistani immigrant living on his own in London. Represents the British Asians and their predicament, identity-wise, in English society. Should he swap his heritage for an anonymous English persona? Should he hold ever more tightly to religious and traditional ideas and shelter himself from Western influence? In the end he does neither--the model of non-committment, the paragon of disaffected modern youth.

Deedee: the professorial siren. She teaches Shahid and conducts an affair with him. A liberal feminist with a (more than) healthy sexual appetite, she is symbolic of the lure of the West: moral decay, loss of traditional values, et cetera. She is a snob, and can be seen as only interested in Shahid because he is a member of a minority; her exclusionist 'high cultural' outlook can also be seen as a form of racism (or reverse racism). She is representative of the new left; no real political or social agenda (see Brownlow), basically existentialist.

Riaz: the radical Muslim. He is determined to keep the Islamic people of London bound to their roots, and sees Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses as an attack on their religion and an affornt to their way of life. At first a somewhat serious character, by the middle of the novel he devolves into an absolute caricature of everything Westerners fear about Islam. He is rigid, fundamentalist, and absolutely certain that he is correct.

Brownlow: the communo-hippie. A relic of the Sixties, Deedee's former husband, and the antithesis of Riaz, in one light, and Shahid in another. He represents the remnants of the 1960s counterculture, and unlike his ex-wife, actually has an agenda. He is Marxist, basically, sees Deedee as decadent and morally bankrupt, and a traitor to her causes.

These characters exist as mouthpieces; they are used by the author to vent spleen, to further political argument. Not only that, but the politics are in the end inconclusive--Kurieshi believes strongly in the freedoms he trumpets, but at the close of the novel, the reader remains unconvinced. Riaz at one point makes the claim that 'all fiction is...lying--a perversion of the truth' with no middle ground, no room for compromise; fact and truth are the same for him. Likewise Deedee's claim is that nothing is sacred, there are no holy cows, and in the interest of complete freedom, offense to or desecration of so-called 'sacred' objects is not a problem. However, Riaz is basically a terrorist, and Deedee a hypocrite; personality traits which wouldn't be so bad if they but had personalities. In plot puppets used to portray ideas, terrorism and hypocrisy are unforgivable. Can you take a terrorist seriously, if that is all he is? Can you trust a hypocrite who has no excuse for hypocrisy?

Kureishi's characters are too extreme, too unrealistic, for real life or even for good fiction; the world is not as black and white as he chooses to write it. Almost no one is able to make the clear-cut choice between religion and freedom--which is his challenge, as I see it: that there can be no compromise, that, as one of Kureishi's peers writes, either everything is sacred or nothing is.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Conglomerations and side projects

Supergroup: n. a) term used to describe music groups consisting of members who have already achieved fame, either as solo artists or as members of another group. b) any band Eric Clapton has ever been a part of.

Everyone has at least one supergroup in their record collection. Admit it. You're listening to Roger the Engineer right now, aren't you? No? How about Fresh Cream? Damn Yankees? Please don't let it be Mary Star of the Sea.

Every genre has its supergroups. The only question is, what the heck's the point of them? Ego-boosting? Ego-casting? Why on Earth would Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton feel the need to make music together? Aren't they great enough on their own? Certainly. Who told Stone Gossard to release an album with Chris Cornell? Don't these people realize that too much talent on one record can cause fans' heads to explode? But enough complaining about virtuosoes. I suppose I whine because I have no musical talent whatsoever, and don't understand the need of guitar gods to hang out together and make everyone else look bad. Let's peer at a few of these beauties in particular, and a few subcategories too.

Never heard of them? Shame on you. Possibly the first supergroup, Traveling Wilburys only contained every major musical figure of the 1960s and 70s. George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne were the brotherly sojourners of the name, and they rocked. Their first album, Traveling Wilburys Volume 1, was composed and recorded in ten days straight, and immediately after its release became one of Rolling Stone's top 100 albums of all time. Plus, they tried to get the orphans of Romania some much-needed attention with the 1990 single "Nobody's Child". Essential track: "Handle With Care" (Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1)

Yeah, they count. Alcatrazz had possibly the greatest classic metal lineup of all time, including Graham Bonnet, Jan Uvena, Yngwie Malmsteen, and after Malmsteen's departure, Steve Vai. Come on. Could they have rocked any harder? Probably not. Described by Bonnet as 'the thinking man's metal', they released five albums in as many years, and managed to score a hit which mocked MTV ("God Blessed Video") on the way. Essential track: "Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live" (No Parole from Rock'n'Roll)

Now, don't look at me that way. A collaboration between the inimitable Steve Albini of Big Black and Scratch Acid's rhythm section, David William Sims and Rey Washam, Rapeman was the supergroup of the underground--angry, sonically grating, unapologetically incorrect, and so good. Bonus!--they named one of their EPs for R. Budd Dwyer. The band's performances were often the target of feminist protests, who for some reason took offense at the band's name or music or maybe just at Albini for the mere fact of his existence. No worries; it just adds to the flavor. Essential track: "Trouser Minnow" (Two Nuns and a Pack Mule)

I know, I don't like them either, but A Perfect Circle are proof that the supergroup dynamic lives on (or, I guess, that musicians will always be egotists). With a rotating lineup of Maynard James Keenan, Twiggy Ramirez, James Iha, Josh Freese, Tim Alexander and Paz Lenchantin (among others), A Perfect Circle is the alt-rock girl's wet dream. Their second album Thirteenth Step managed to hit the #2 spot on Billboard within its premiere week, and certified gold less than a month later. Their third album, eMOTIVe, was a bunch of political cover songs. What more could you want? Essential track: "Sleeping Beauty" (Mer de Noms)

Of all the musical genres, grunge seems to be top-heavy with supergroups. Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, Mad Season, Zwan, Eyes Adrift, Mother Love Bone, and even Nirvana and Velvet Revolver all fall into this strange, interbred little category. Mark Arm of Mudhoney had an interesting take on the grunge scene in general--that its close-knit style was all due to everyone involved being on MDA. Lovefest takeover! I guess the grunge guys just couldn't keep their guitars off one another. In any case, some of these incestuous collectives were better than others--leave Audioslave to the eighth-grade suburban set, put Zwan out to sea where it belongs, download Eyes Adrift, and if you can, find a copy of Mad Season's lone album Above and treasure it.

Perhaps it's an oxymoronic term, but I say they exist. Groups like The Yardbirds, Yes, Genesis, and Cream can all be classified as retroactive supergroups. Sure, Jimmy Page wasn't famous when The Yardbirds actually existed under that title, but everyone knows who he is now, right? Maybe Peter Gabriel would rather not be associated with what Genesis became, but the fact remains that before Phil Collins mucked things up with his sweet'n'low pomp rock gloss, Gabriel was making music like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. (On a related note, Jon Anderson of Yes auditioned to sing for Genesis.) It's unfortunately true that when Cream was an entity, people might have asked, Ginger Baker who? but by the time Blind Faith rolled around, everyone knew who was behind that drumkit.

I rest my case. Supergroups baffle me. I love some of them and I hate some of them, but mostly, I just can't see the point.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

All-inclusive ridiculous simplifications

Reading High Fidelity two or three times this summer made me realize that there really is a Top Five list for every occasion. Even if this realization defeats the entire purpose of the book. So, to start us off, we have the all-important...

1. "Back In the USSR" by The Beatles (The White Album)
2. "I Will Dare" by The Replacements (Let It Be)
3. "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs" by The Minutemen (What Makes A Man Start Fires?)
4. "American Gothic" by David Ackles (American Gothic)
5. "Teen Age Riot" by Sonic Youth (Daydream Nation)

And then how about...

1. The Godfather (duh)
2. Donnie Brasco
3. Goodfellas
4. The Godfather, Part II
5. The Hebrew Hammer (what, it counts) tied with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

Or we could do...

1. "Superstar" original by The Carpenters; cover by Sonic Youth
2. "Breaking Us In Two" original by Joe Jackson; cover by Mandy Moore (hehehe)
3. "I Wanna Be Sedated" original by The Ramones; cover by Shonen Knife
4. "Master of Puppets" original by Metallica; cover by Dream Theater
5. "Cat Scratch Fever" original by Ted Nugent; cover by Moog Cookbook
Honorable Mention #6: "Guilty of Being White" original by Minor Threat; cover by Slayer (it'd be higher, but it's not unexpected that Slayer would want to sing about being white)

Mmm, this is fun. Let's do...

1. Joan Miro (Spanish Surrealist artist)
2. Evelyn Waugh (English satirical author)
3. Lillian Berlin (singer/guitarist, The Living Things)
4. Geddy Lee (singer/bassist/keyboardist, Rush) (good one, Cara! Except I still think he actually IS female)
5. Sue (eponymous antihero of a Cash song) (kidding...mostly)

Okay. I'll stop. For now.

All in all, Barry would probably say, Oh, that's not obvious, Diana. How about fucking Beethoven? Side One, Track One of the Fifth Symphony... but tough toenails. I like what I like.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Come one, come all, to 1984

It's true. The dystopia of saccharine tablets and missing orgasms which George Orwell foresaw is upon us, in the form of one of Wikipedia's language settings: Simple English.

As nearly everyone in the world knows, Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia to end all online encyclopedias. It will have an answer to 99% of anything you ask it--it might not be the right answer, but it'll be an answer. Wikipedia is the nemesis of English teachers everywhere, and beyond that, it's just plain fun. It can tell you anything from your favorite band's complete discography (including rarities, B-sides, live recordings, and singles!) to the finer points of the Kama Sutra, and you can read this stuff in any of 229 languages. One of these languages is the so-called 'Simple English'.

Simple English, according to the homepage, 'only uses very simple English words and simple ways of writing'. It goes on to elaborate, explaining that Simple English pages are intended for: a) people whose mother tongue isn't English b) children and c) people with learning disabilities. All nice and good, but also somewhat...creepy. This use of very simple English words severely limits the content of the Simple English Wikipages; for instance, if someone surfing the Simple English section wanted to read about Albert Camus, they wouldn't be able to. Albert Camus does not exist in Simple English. Search for him and Wikipedia will give you a basically blank search page (he appears in non-link format on a list of Nobel prize winners). Search for his famous novel The Stranger and you'll get equally diminutive results.

So, okay, maybe you say what child or non-native speaker or learning disabled person wants to read about Camus anyway? For that matter, what normal person wants to read about Camus? He was dense, French, and an existentialist. All very true, but my point is, if you can't read about someone or something in a certain language, does that mean it doesn't exist? If that's the case, then Simple English is rewriting knowledge itself, and if that isn't the case, then Simple English is still engaging in language slaughter. Simple English slices out synonyms, antonyms, and all but the most basic grammatical structure of English with frightening relish. Simple English cuts away the nuances, those pesky idiosyncrasies and that massive vocabulary which make English so beautiful to its native speakers and so hateful to anyone trying to learn it.

It would make Syme, Orwell's Newspeak enthusiast, positively drool.

In the Simple English entry for Nineteen Eighty-Four, the plot summary mentions that "Another thing they [the Party] are trying to do is cut all the hard words out of the English language and change it to make it more simple so that people will not be too smart or think too hard."

But that would be...unthinkable.

Be it mere dumbing down of the facts or actual rewriting of history, literature, science, and every other topic known to man, Simple English is simply scary.
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