Jul 032013
 


charliehuston:

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…

Jun 262013
 

Josh Getzler

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.

Jun 242013
 

Jeff Cohen

Author's note: The following post contains no review of Superman-new-1Man 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 Annex - Reeves, George_01George 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 Superman-george-reeves"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?

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.

Violin-steve-buscemi

(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.

JG)

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poZCINzxzrQ

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.