Category Archives: cultcha

Obama, Moon River, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Disclaimer #1: I know I’m about four days late in bothering to write about this; sorry, gang, I do sort of have a Real Life. Disclaimer #2: I’m going to assume you are aware that last week was the Democratic National Convention, that Barak Obama gave a speech, that you watched it, and that if you wanted a full rundown and insightful commentary that you have already gone elsewhere.

OK, here’s the line that caught me most:

Instead, it is that American spirit that American promise that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; That makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

Now, I’m glad I’m not the only one who instantly thought of Moon River at that line.

Two drifters
Off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world
To see…

We’re after the same rainbow’s end
Waiting around the bend
My Huckleberry friend
Moon River and me…

I love this. I think it totally taps into a deep well of What It Means To Be American™, the sense that our hearts desire is somewhere out there just beyond reach…

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter-tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further…and one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Recent Reading

The Good Soldier Schweik— I bought a copy at a used bookstore on our recent trip to Virginia/DC, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s sort of a World War I classic that’s fallen off the radar about a Czech soldier who’s basically an idiot who not so stupidly manages to avoid ever making it into combat. SchweikThe novel starts in Prague, and weirdly, the humor reminded me of Kafka, and there’s probably a thesis in comparing Schweik and K. from The Castle; where K. employs all the intelligence at his disposal in struggling against a vast, almost metaphysical bureaucracy to gain admittence to the caslte, Schweik uses his idiotic blank grin and the deep incompetence of the Austrian army bureaucracy to constantly frustrate their efforts to get him to the front. Seems like it’s often called an anti-war novel, and the novel does preach at times, but Schweik’s honest idiocy seems impervious to all kinds of cant, and he seems like as basic and original a comedic character as Don Quixote. It ends abruptly when the author died of TB.

The Last Tycoon— We got this in our great plundering of Terri’s parents’ book and record collection last weekend and I blew through it in a couple of evenings. It’s F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel (which ends abruptly when the author died of a heart attack) about a movie tycoon. Seems patterned after any number of film tycoons, but the one that comes to mind most to me is Irving Thalberg. It’s pretty uneven at times, and you suspect that it would have been seriously rewritten and cleaned up a lot once it was finished. But that in itself is part of the charm; the edition I read had author’s notes and outlines of what Fitzgerald expected to happen, so you get the interesting task of finishing the novel for yourself, as well as an interesting vivisection of a novel in progress. The main character Stahr is a workaholic producer who, while driven into the future out of dissatisfaction with his past a la Gatsby, seems to genuinely love his work, and the scenes where he is prodding his writers and directors to work creatively are alone unlike anything I’ve read elsewhere and are themselves worth the price of admission.

I Will Soon Be Invincible by Austin Grossman — a friend recommended this novel about superheroes and supervillains that are all too human. I liked it a lot (I blew through it it last night and this morning), but if you’ve seen The Incredibles, imagine it as novel, make it slightly moodier and less cartoony, and you’ve got the idea.

Devo @ the Bank of America Pavillion 27-Jun-08

So this was our big brand-name rock show of the year. Terri instigated it (I kind of peaked with Devo sometime in high school), but I figured what the hey.

Tom Tom Club opened. I wasn’t really a fan of their music back in the day and I’m still not. But I really enjoyed their set; they were really pretty solid, and they had a ton of energy and they were just a great dance band. And now that I have gotten a little more of a taste for the NYC post-punk scene, I kind of get their context a little more– they easily could have showed up in Downtown 81 alongside James White and The Blacks or Kid Creole and the Cocoanuts. It was also much harder back when the Talking Heads were still in operation to see them as their own thing, but that is a little more obvious to me now. And the very afro-beat / world music sound of the last Talking Heads record seems less of a David Byrne tangent.

Devo was pretty faithful to their schtick– no big deviations in their stage show from the DVD we have of their 1980 stage show. Pretty similar set list, too. Their yellow hazmat suits are a little wider. But the spirit was still intact, and they had people up and dancing from the start. Some of the little films that they projected were clearly vintage Devo, but seemed like they might have been re-dubbed. And for the last song, Boojie Boy came out wearing some kind of frock and a pink baseball cap with a rhinestone skull-and-crossbones on it; during his nonsensical diatrabe I could sense the mood in the place was patient, but there was just a touch of “um, maybe you could take that stupid mask off and play Whip It again?”, but I think it was probably my favorite part of the set. And you know, it really is something to see the little film of them from 1981 in their Duty Now for the Future outfits with the wind in their hair, projected 30 feet high, with the Devo Corporate Anthem playing, with a few thousand other people in a place called the “Bank of America Pavillion” drinking a fluorescent green “margarita” from a slushee machine on a summer night. Mmmmm. Devolution.

The Eno/Bowie Cook/Moore connection

From this Telegraph article on Brian Eno turning 60:

“Heroes” was famously made in Hansa Studio 2, shadowed by the Berlin Wall and once used as a Gestapo ballroom, while Bowie grappled with smack addiction, “living at the edge of his nervous system,” in Eno’s words. But the latter’s talent for relaxing fragile superstars with creative play was already apparent. “We slipped into Peter Cook and Dudley Moore characters,” he recalled. “Bowie was Pete and I was Dud, and for the whole time we stayed in character. ‘Ooh, I dunno about that synthesiser part, Dud…’”

I hope that I get old before I die

Sorely disappointed in the TMBG show tonight.

I guess you can’t go home again.

I tried to make sure it wasn’t just me being all jacked up and trying to hold them up to what they meant to me when I was 16. But no, I just didn’t see the guys born of some wacky DIY art scene Brooklyn of 1986. it was very much the ZZ Top vibe you mentioned, Marco. It was all rock, with a full band, none of the feeling of “holy crap, what are these guys going to do next”.

And I felt like I was bumming out the dorky girl standing next to me who seemed super excited to be there and was doing some dance that was a cross between playing the air keyboard and flailing like a beached squid.

I walked out during “Birdhouse in your soul”, and waited for Terri and Doug in the upstairs lobby, trying to figure out if it was the 2nd or 3rd worst show ever. (1st was the Godspeed You Black Emperor show we saw at the Somerville Theater in Feb 2001, 2nd or 3rd was the Screeching Weasel show in Bloomington IN that I fell asleep at in 1995 or so).

I sort of wish that the economics of pop music were such that they could just stop touring, like the Beatles or Glenn Gould in 1964, and just make brilliant studio music and sell it to millions. This may be the last time you ever hear me lament the heyday of recorded music, but there you go.

Why is the world in love again?

At one point I had seen They Might Be Giants more than any other band. Since then, that record was beaten first by Sterolab, then Yo La Tengo, then Interpol (though let’s face it, Dubs was the mastermind behind the latter, not that they are not a fine, competent, entertaining band, just that without her I perhaps might not have seen then 8 times in a year).

Anyway, it’s been 12 years since my last TMBG show (which was either at the College of Wooster in Ohio (Pere Ubu opened) or at Depauw University (Brian Dewan opened)). Tomorrow (well, tonight technically) I break the hiatus at the show at the Somerville Theater. It’s been a long time, but it doesn’t seem like it. While I haven’t thought about them much in the last decade, if I’m honest, both my worldview (which can shift from despairing nihilism to giddy levity within the space of seconds), and my sense of aesthetics are both but ripples flowing out from the grenade they dropped in the placid pond of my 15 year old brain.

Some links to get you in the mood. First, you must go here. You must watch the John Hodgman intro. You must watch Charlottesville (especially, especially if your name is John Sayles). You must watch one or two more. If you are from Pittsburgh you must watch the one about Mr. Smalls. And then, my friend, you must watch Dallas (also especially if you are John Sayles, because if you are, you will appreciate how frighteningly much it sounds like…)

That’s how we laugh the day away in the Merry Old Land of Ez*

Today I didn’t do a bunch of things I set out to do, and I ended up doing a lot of things I thought I wouldn’t do.

Well, truth be told, I did end up doing a lot of things I really did need to do (got the IP phones working @ work, did a walkthrough of the new site with one real live actual user. I also had dinner w/Terri@ the Middle East, and then, did some RPP work (got the cards I promised Nora printed [hmmmmmm... what did Nora order from me? Inquiring minds want to know, but I can't say... yet...]))

Because of all of this action, I fully thought I was going to blow off the Sons and Daughters show at the Middle East (a Monday show– urgh, I’m old!). But I managed to wrap up the Nora printing project early, and through the magic that is California wash, cleanup now takes 15 minutes instead of an hour. So I decided, I had a ticket, why not? The very fact that it was a Monday show sort of suggested that it would be a pretty laid back affair where I could have a beer or two and maybe even sit down if necessary.

So I drove over, and made it to the show at about 11:15, about a song or two in. The celebrity math on Sons and Daughters is (refinements encouraged):

X 2 [that’s X, the LA punk band, not the algebraic x] * Camera Obscura) + ( (Johnny Cash + The Clash)/2) + (The Jam * .25) + (Yma Sumac’s whip & eyeliner / Avogadro’s number).

The guitarist had great hair. Terri bought a CD from him.

*once again, credit where it’s due, “The Merry Old Land Of Ez” is yet another Terri coinage, following yesterday’s posts/discussion re: the Wizard of Oz