Having just seen 20 Feet From Stardom, I began to think about what are the best background vocals I remember. The Pips in Midnight Train to Georgia equal Gladys if not surpass her.
What are some of your favorite background vocals?
First time through “Fear Fun" my ears skipped right past “Now I’m Learning to Love the War." It took a few listenings before it hooked me. Father John Misty is not everyone’s cup of tea. If the album cover isn’t a dead giveaway, this is some major hippie, funky, folkfest rock. Shit is lodged in my headphones right now.
Anyway, this song has entered my consciousness as a totally impropable theme song for SKINNER. You’d need to read the book for that to make sense, but that’s the point here at charliehuston.com.
A blunt weapon of a song, satire again, crushingly dark, with a lovely, and, I’d argue, very funny finish.
Skinner has a theme song, and it’s unlike anything we’ve heard before. Just like Charlie Huston’s new novel is unlike anything we’ve read before…
Every year on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, WPLJ radio in New York broadcasts its morning show from Jenkinson’s Pier in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. There are bands playing live, the atmosphere is festive. I used to listen every year I worked in baseball as I drove from my apartment in Manhattan to the ballpark in Staten Island. And every year, the highlight of the broadcast was the same: The traffic guy, Joe Nolan, would get up on stage and tell a long story about his father taking him out to the shore in the summer, and how now, as a father himself, he marveled at his own life. Then he would pause, yell “1, 2, 3, 4!” and bust into a highly emotional, slightly off-key but marvelous Born to Run. I once found myself feeling oddly choked up on the New Jersey Turnpike as I yelled along with Joe Nolan.
I feel like every summer I write a blog post about the day my girls go to camp. It has to do with being a dad of daughters who are still little but grow more worldy and somewhat more inscrutable by the day, even as they are still willing to hug me and still cry when they get on the bus. Only now it’s for seven weeks straight, and that’s a long time.
And every year I talk about what they read, and what they read on, as technology changes and they become more sophisticated and plugged in. Which is why it was fascinating to me that this year they went without e-readers at all, and simply took their books with them the old fashioned way—weighing down their backpacks and crammed among the lip gloss and the illicit granola bars and the sunscreen, in hardcover and paperback.
Now this is not a judgment—I’m not proud that they’re reading print books or disappointed that they aren’t reading on machines (or vice versa, if that’s even logical). Rather, it was interesting, and I was thinking about why. And I came up with a couple of answers:
The first is that a couple of years ago, when I first started chronicling the kids’ adventures in reading, they read shorter books. Therefore we could load, say, 117 My Weird School books onto the Kindle and send them on their way. Now that they are older, they read longer books, but fewer of them, and with more words per page. And they mess around all evening when they might be reading, doing things like talking to their friends and (ahem, girls) writing letters to their parents, who miss them. They’ll get through the books they bring, but don’t need as much of an inventory.
The second (although the first was more than one point), is that they are fundamentally indifferent to the platform on which they read. They have so many options at this point, and they are all “normal” now, as opposed to a couple of years ago when it was cool to read on a tablet, that they go with the most convenient (and frequently best looking). And in this case, the one they don’t need to plug in or keep safe from, say, getting wet.
So this morning I stood with a hundred or so other parents (around a third of whom were crying at any given time), waving vaguely at the tinted window where we think we saw our particular kid’s face flit by, though it could be Maya. My son, who just started a writing program and is now going to have my wife and me to himself for a couple of months, was waving frantically saying “I’ll miss you, I’ll miss you…heh.” Several of the other parents were people I went to school with myself, now with dogs on leashes and smaller children who haven’t yet started day camp holding on to them. I stepped back for a minute, looked around, and started humming Born to Run.
Author's note: The following post contains no review of Man of Steel nor complaints about reviews of my books. That is entirely true. For my views on the new Superman movie, get in touch--I'll be glad to share. A day is long enough to think about it. For my ideas on reviews people have posted about my books: Everyone's entitled to an opinion. I hope they're all carefully considered.
One day last week I was checking the weather online. I know, a person could just look out the window and find out what the local weather is like, but thunderstorms had been forecast and I wanted to look at the map to see if one was in the area.
ANYWAY, I went to my local weather page to check, and saw a feature I'd never noticed before: Next to the forecast for today's weather were two icons, one labeled "love" and the other "ugh." A visitor to this site would click on either of those to indicate his/her level of approval on the weather.
On the weather.
It's possible that we're becoming a little too enamored of our own opinions.
Online reviews tend to come from... anybody, without any indication of background or qualification. I could write opera reviews. I know nothing, at all, about opera. How would you know?
There was a time, children, when in order to be a serious film critic, one actually had to have a background in film. In order to offer a public opinion on theater, it was generally assumed that a person had seen, let's say, a Shakespeare play performed live at least once. A music critic would be required to demonstrate a knowledge of the difference between Beethoven and Marvin Hamlisch.
I'm not going to get into the area of book reviews, because 1. Most of the reviewers of my books have been very kind and 2. If I said anything negative about those who weren't, it would be seen as sour grapes (which it might or might not be).
The point is that these days, the saying "everybody's a critic" has become a literal truth. The Internet, in all its glory, has opened the doors for comment to every person with a connection via computer, smartphone, tablet, or ESP. And that, I'm afraid, like most things online, has been taken to unwieldy extremes.
I will occasionally drop some opinions in this space on film or television. I have some background in that area, and no, I don't think that a person is an expert only when accredited by a paying media company. But the instant gratification of Twitter and Facebook and lord knows what other sites I completely don't understand has led to what I call No Impulse Control Reviews--those things we say in the rush of a new experience that we haven't really had a chance to think about yet.
For example: I am a lifelong Superman fan. I grew up on the George Reeves (seen here with McTavish, in case you think I'm lying) version, possibly the most popularly maligned, but I was four and he was Superman, however much in reruns. This weekend (in fact, yesterday) I went to see the new film trying to "reimagine the franchise" (every time I hear a phrase like that I thank my good fortune that my Hollywood dreams were never realized), Man of Steel. And I was sure, based on all the pre-release hype that went on, that I was destined to hate it.
Relax, I'm not enough of a hypocrite to offer an instant review of a movie in a post complaining about knee-jerk reviews. But that's the point--I haven't really had time to think it through and offer an intelligent opinion yet. The difference is that I know that, so I'm not going to give in to the impulse.
Anyone who's had a chance to view me in profile knows that I certainly don't repress every wrong impulse I have. But I do try to exercise control of the ones I can.
We're given too many opportunities these days to express our opinions. Every web site we see asks us for feedback. Every time we make a purchase online, we are immediately asked to take a survey about our "buying experience." Every company from which we've ever bought a product wants us to "like" it on Facebook.
Do I really like a detergent? A toilet paper? A fax machine? No. They're there and I use them. The only time I'm likely to notice one over another is if there's a problem. I don't have an opinion on everything. Why am I being asked for one?
(Oddly, the opinions we have on things like politics and religion are the ones most people would rather not hear. But whether or not I "like" Dunkin' Donuts? Do tell!)
Please don't take this the wrong way: I don't want people to stop reviewing things. I especially don't want people to stop reviewing my work, even if they don't care much for it (although, I'm not encouraging you to do so if that's your opinion). But I do think we need to take a breath and do a little thinking before we express an opinion that's going out to an untold number of strangers.
Easy. Take a moment. That's it. Now... what do you think? Did you like today's weather?
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.)
After 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.
Ross 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)