Jun 232013

Jessy Randall

It's an old story: wife walks in on husband looking at embarrassing things on the computer. It happened to me this week. I caught my husband, author Ross Gresham, looking at ... violins.

Ross is addicted to comparing violin prices on eBay, even though our daughter already has a perfectly good violin. (I have also found him checking local real estate prices even though we have no intention of buying or selling a house, and shopping for hideous Jeff Jones wall art he knows could never cross our threshold.)

20159_Violin_SmurfAfter the recent surprise walk-in, Ross told me about some detective work he was doing on a particular eBay violin. Anyone who bids on eBay items knows to check a seller's reputation: it's right there for all to see -- percentage of positive feedback, how many sales, more. But sometimes reputable-looking sellers ... aren't. (He put it this way: "So the seller in these cases plays folksy and ignorant, luring you to swoop in for a good deal. It's probably not even immoral. You're trying to rip them off; they rip you off."

Scammy violins are fairly easy to spot on eBay -- the sellers will say things like "Label states 'Stradivarius ... 1716' but it's probably not really that old." Yeah, probably not, dude, because you put the fake label in it yourself. (Reputable sellers will quote the label but also state clearly that the violin is a Stradivarius reproduction.) That said, there are good violin bargains to be found.

Invisible-violinRoss recently found a violin that looked like it might be dramatically underpriced, so he began the usual detective work. The seller's reputation was good, and she hadn't made a lot of sales, so it might make sense she'd underprice a violin. The description was amateurish, but the pictures suggested the violin was old and high-quality.

BUT. Ross then checked the seller's ID history, and it turned out she (or he) operated on eBay with a few different IDs. With one ID s/he was selling a single old-looking violin (starting bid $300) and a few antiques, but with another ID s/he had bought a dozen Chinese violins for about $100 each. With that same ID s/he had also bought varnish, presumably to fake-age the violins!

If you lack violin street-smarts (is that an oxymoron?), Ross recommends Toolhaus, a free database of eBay feedback. It allows anyone with an eBay login to see feedback removed by a user, mutual-positive-feedback arrangements, and other tricks. You can also read up on violin fakery at various sites such as this one (which starts by saying "So, you think you found a Stradivarius? Unfortunately you probably didn't") or this one (which offers a little spot-the-fake quiz for Stradivarius labels).

If you're a scammy violin seller and I just foiled your plans, well, here is the smallest violin in the world playing just for you.


(With sound: http://youtu.be/q5ODhIFawfs?t=1m20s)

Jun 122013

(NOTE FROM JOSH: I was sitting down to write this evening when the Boy, two days done with Middle School but not yet a Freshman, tells me to step aside. “You’re tired,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about something.”

Clearly he has been. And he’s not shy about discussing it. I hope I miss the train to Weenieville.


Classics, Inc.

By Joe Newman-Getzler

                What is a “classic”? Depending on whom you ask the answers could vary wildly. For some, a classic could be a book like Murder on the Orient Express, a movie like Casablanca, or a song like “Let It Be”. To others, a classic could be a book like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a movie like Johnny Dangerously, or a song like “Boom! Shake the Room." This need not only apply to books. The term “classic” can also be applied to anything from a good joke to a memorable sports play. But what, indeed, is a classic? And how does it unify these many different things?

                To most people, a classic is merely a thing that stays in their head for a long time, usually for a positive reason. But to some, the name goes much deeper than that. A classic means a piece of cultural significance, something considered a great thing that all should love and cherish for its greatness. Typically, there is a predetermined set of “classics” for any kind of genre or type. For example, if you want a “classic” book, the names that’ll probably come up would be books like Animal Farm, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, or Gone with the Wind. A “classic” movie? You’d probably see names like Citizen Kane, Some Like it Hot, or Singin’ in the Rain. But should we have our classics defined for us? Or should we form our own opinions on what is classic and what’s not?

                This is a question that has been troubling me for a while now: what’s a classic and what’s not? The reason this has been rumbling through my mind is because lately I have been trying to give myself a “classical” film and literary experience. Summer’s just begun, and now that I have gobs upon gobs of time to spend, I want to fill them with great books and great movies. For the former, my family has been supplying me with tons of great books like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye. And yes, they are great. But I will admit, my standards for classics are pretty low. The whole school year was peppered with classic books in my English class, like The Woman Warrior, The Chosen, Animal Farm, you name it. But my ideas of classics are Dave Barry is Not Making This Up, Bugs Bunny: 50 Years and Only One Gray Hare, and There Is No Dog. And yet, Mom and Dad say not to read those over and over. Read The Hobbit. Come on! It’s only 500 pages long, you wuss!

                Movies are another area of “classics” that drive me crazy, though for a different reason. While I would consider myself a rather decent film lover, there are still so many movies I haven’t seen that I feel pressured by myself to watch. Seriously?, I ask myself. You haven’t seen Citizen Kane? Jaws? The Dark Knight? You, sir, are on the train straight to Weenieville. And even my gym teacher’s let into me about my lack of film exposure: he spent 10 minutes telling me how I simply must watch The Empire Strikes Back in order to truly deem myself a Star Wars fan (BTW, I’ve only seen A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. That fact led to not only the aforementioned monologue, but another about how I should watch the prequels because, yeah, they suck, but I MUST have the complete Star Wars experience.) And yet, I also feel that there are a great many films that I truly love and yet many don’t even think of in the same league as “classics.” Seriously, does nobody but me consider UHF a classic? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory better than the Gene Wilder one? I feel so lonely.

                It’s times like this when I start to think about how subjective a term “classic” is. Can only what has been previously called a classic be a classic? Can others come up with their own “classic” films to share with the world? That is my hope. While, naturally, classic books and movies are to be revered and respected, they aren’t the only good books and movies out there! I wish more people would realize that. And YES, I am going to watch The Empire Strikes Back this summer. But the prequels? Hmm. Maybe. But for now…keep on readin’.                                                                                                    
Jun 042013

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

It’s publication day for The Shining Girls, and after you tear through Lauren Beukes’s genre- and time-bending thriller, you might ask yourself, How did she do that? We’ll leave the full explanation to Beukes—it involves “murder walls” and a mind-boggling amount of research—but we can share the music that propelled her writing. Below, she tells us what she listened to while writing The Shining Girls. You can listen to some of these songs through the Spotify player above.

Working with words means I can’t listen to music that has words. I like up-tempo electronica with a dark, lush verve and the capacity to surprise you. Nothing too glitchy or doef-doef or monotonously predictable. These are albums rather than individual songs and I know I’ve left off a whole bunch, not least because Pandora isn’t available in South Africa, so I’m stuck with the albums I’ve bought. These were the ones that were on heaviest rotation while I was writing the book.

  • Amon Tobin: Foley Room
  • Markus Wormstorm: Not I, But A Friend (by my friend Markus Wormstorm)
  • The Parlour Trick: A Blessed Unrest (by my friend Meredith Yayanos)
  • Aperture Science: Portal 2 Soundtrack
  • The Chemical Brothers: Hanna Soundtrack
  • Haezer: Yazi
  • Massive Attack: 100th Window
  • The Real Estate Agents: 1
  • Sibot: In With The Old
Jun 022013
I have posted David Bowie's music on here more than any other musician. His music holds up well for me and seems modern for the times. Books like the one here make the case he was innovative in not just his music, but his look, his stagecraft, in lifestyle.

What musicians have been groundbreaking for you. 
May 222013

Josh Getzler

Every night, my wife and I record BBC World News and watch during dinner. We find that it’s the only broadcast that actually reports news, rather than hours of political commentary of one stripe or the other.

And every night, after the half hour is over, we look at each other and say “the world is coming to an end.”

Except last night. Last night, there was a long report about Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who spent five months living on the International Space Station. While he was there, Commander Hadfield, who is 53 and trim and effortlessly charming, Tweeted about life in Space. He didn’t talk only about the elevated scientific experiments he was performing, but how to eat spinach or brush his teeth in zero gravity. It’s amazing, riveting journalism in 140 character chunks.

Commander Hadfield returned from space last week, but before he did, he performed his piece de resistance—he recorded a music video of himself singing a slightly rewritten version of David Bowie’s 1969 song Space Oddity (Major Tom). Of course in the original, Major Tom loses contact with Ground Control and presumably hurtles off into the abyss. It’s brilliant, but ultimately depressing. In this version, Commander Hadfield sings about strapping into his pod and coming home, his time in space complete and successful. The video has been viewed millions of times now. Even David Bowie himself retweeted it, approvingly.  

What’s remarkable about this video is that it is completely, whole-heartedly positive. Space, in HD, is gorgeous. Stunning. Commander Hadfield is not commenting on President Obama’s troubles or chaos in Syria. He’s just making music, in space, floating in his tin can. It’s brilliantly uplifting. And in this time of war, famine, global warming, tornadoes in the Plains, political and religious strife worldwide, the idea of unbridled joy is even more overwhelmingly rejuvenating. Take a look. And enjoy your day.


PS--Back to books next week--thanks for the suggestions last week!
May 022013

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Writers find inspiration everywhere: at the movies, through their headphones, or unfolding before them in real life. Lauren Beukes, whose forthcoming novel The Shining Girls has been recommended by the Evening Standard to those with “a Gone Girl shaped hole in your life,” has assembled here a playlist of songs that brought her book to life. You can listen to all the songs above in the Spotify player.

“Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” by Skip James (1931)
A song about the Depression and people drifting from door to door.

“Talkshow Host” by Radiohead
I think this is my all-time favourite song. It’s so dark and beautiful. It really captures the mood of the book.

“Torched Song” by Claudia Brucken (feat. The Real Tuesday Weld)
Harper carries a bit of a torch for all his shining girls. And Kirby definitely has one for him.

“Qu’est-ce Que C’est” by Mad Rad
It’s a song that seems to have been written for The Shining Girls. The lyrics are ridiculously perfect.

“Rabbit In Your Headlights” by UNKLE
I love the sense of impending doom, the dark, luscious beauty of the song.

“Private Lawns” by Angus & Julia Stone
Love this sultry remix of Windy City and Chicago’s private lawns, public parks.

“Black Heart” by Calexico
Dark and lovely and haunting and some of the lyrics are perfect: “Scratched in metal, name erodes away / hands are scarred, heart is charred / burnt through, and ashen.”

“The Fragile” by Nine Inch Nails
“She shines in a world full of ugliness… I won’t let you fall apart.” I think Dan Velasquez and Trent Reznor are on the same page, although don’t tell Dan that.

“Splitting the Atom” by Massive Attack
The lyrics pick up on some of the key parts of the novel: the mention of incandescent light at doors, the needle sticks, as on Harper’s gramophone, “We killed the time and I love you dear” and all the talk of particles is very time travel.

“All Hail Me” by Veruca Salt (1994)
I think Kirby would have loved Veruca Salt and Chicago’s alt rock scene in general.

“And He Slayed Her” by Liz Phair (2012)
Murder songs about girls are easy to find, but I love Liz Phair’s “And He Slayed Her,” a vigilante justice song that also questions what kind of man would do this. And hey, another stalwart of the 90s Chicago alternative scene.

Apr 022013

Reading The Shining Girls sends us careening through the twentieth century as we chase Harper, a time-traveling killer, from one era of Chicago to the next. Whenever we land, Lauren Beukes crafts a richly atmospheric scene, accurate right down to the music. Beukes walks us through some of the songs mentioned in The Shining Girls. You can listen to all the songs above in the Spotify player.

Apr 012013

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Reading The Shining Girls sends us careening through the twentieth century as we chase Harper, a time-traveling killer, from one era of Chicago to the next. Whenever we land, Lauren Beukes crafts a richly atmospheric scene, accurate right down to the music. Below, Beukes walks us through some of the songs mentioned in The Shining Girls. You can listen to all the songs above in the Spotify player.

“Somebody from Somewhere” by George and Ira Gershwin (1931)
It’s the sweet Gershwin showtune the violent drifter Harper hears as he staggers through the city streets, led by the flickering street lights to the House which will change everything. The lyrics are particularly resonant to the shining girls he will track down and kill “somebody from somewhere, for nobody but me.”

“Pistol Packing Momma” by Al Dexter (1943)
Along with Judy Garland and Bing Crosby, Al Dexter is one of the albums on heavy rotation playing over the speakers at the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company as welder Zora Ellis Jordan heads home for the day in 1943, thinking about troublesome young Blanche who says she’s in love with her.

“Get It While You Can” by Janis Joplin (1971)
Off the album Pearl, which pioneering music pirate and abortionist Margo Cooper recorded onto an early tape deck in Jane’s living room in 1972. It becomes the theme song for Julia Madrigal’s boyfriend after she’s murdered in 1984. He sees it as a provocation to seize the day, but he grabs on to all the wrong things.

“A Sunday Kind of Love” by Ella Fitzgerald (1947)
Alice Templeton has never recovered from the shock of love-at-first-sight with the intense stranger with the limp at the State Fair in 1940. She’s spent the last ten years daydreaming about being reunited with him in scenarios influenced by the movies. She wants to find the kind of love that lasts past Saturday night. But when Harper does come for her, finally, it’s not what she expected at all.

“All That She Wants (Is Another Baby)” by Ace of Bace (1993)
It’s the song biologist Mysha Pathan is rocking out to late one night in her lab at Milkwood Pharmaceuticals, singing along so loud that she doesn’t hear the man in the dark sports coat come in behind her.


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Mar 232013
 Linda Ronstadt and Emmy Lou Harris

This is one of my favorite duets. I play it often.

What duet do you especially like?