John Stossel: Please Stop "Helping" Us.
He's talking about the CARD Act. Like its ludicrous acronym ("Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure") it exemplifies irony, having achieved precisely the opposite of its presumed aims. It should been called the RANCID Act (i.e., the Raise Rates, Add Annual Fees, Cancel Accounts, Increase Misery, and Destroy People Act) -- see, I'm good at this legislation stuff. If elected, I promise less than nothing, with better acronyms.
Anyone who knows my extremely uncooperative cat Matilda will understand how difficult it was to get this photo:
Stephen Fry on Douglas Adams's writing procedure:
Douglas's writing routine was painful in the extreme. Sue Freestone, his publisher at Heinemann, would come round and beg, often almost with tears welling in her eyes, for pages from his printer. Douglas would hurl himself downstairs to the coffee machine, hurl himself back up again, thump to his desk and sit in front of the computer. After an hour or so twiddling with the screensaver, the wallpaper, the title of the file, the placement on the desktop of the folder the file was stored in, the formatting, the font, the size, the colour, the margins and the stylesheets, he might type a sentence. He would look at it, change it to italics, swap the word order around, get up, stare at it some more. Hum, curse, growl and groan and then delete it. He would try another sentence. He would look at this one and now perhaps give a little puff of pleasure. He would stand up, stride across the room and hurl himself down to the kitchen, where Sue and I would be gossiping and smoking around the table, and make himself another incredibly strong coffee.
'Dare I ask?' Sue would say.
'Going well. I have the first sentence!'
'Oh.' It would be perhaps July with the new novel already overdue the previous September. One sentence written so far. Sue would smile tightly. 'Well, that's a start at least ...'
Douglas would nod enthusiastically and fling himself back up the stairs, coffee dripping in his wake. We would hear the feet thump across the floor above our heads and then an agonized cry of 'No! Hopeless!' would tell us that the proud first sentence was not, after all, up to snuff, and a banging on the keyboard would register its angry deletion.
An author's day is tough enough, but the writing life of Douglas Adams was excruciating in a manner quite unlike anyone else's I have ever known.
My friend and agent Steve Malk has been forwarding me stories from the early days of baseball, including that of this guy:
In the annals of baseball history, the tale of Charles Victor "Victory" Faust is virtually unmatched for sheer strangeness and improbability. Arguably the least athletic person apart from Eddie Gaedel to play in the major leagues, Faust pitched in two games for the 1911 New York Giants and contributed two stolen bases to their record-setting total of 347. Before those game appearances, however, Faust made his mark as John McGraw's good-luck charm and mascot. His invincible jinxing powers inspired the Giants to win the National League pennants of 1911 and 1912, after which his luck ran out and he faded into oblivion for a half-century...
Jackson posted this pic on facebook. I believe it is of my first ever solo show at the Bottom of the Hill c. 1998 (?) or so. I was so nervous before going on that I was literally shaking, and Kevin Army asked if I was going to have a seizure:
Unlike that guy, but also admittedly kind of like that guy, I have google alerts on me and my stuff so I can keep track of what Mr. and Mrs. Internet are saying about me.
But there are occasional false positives that can be just as fun, almost magical even. For instance, when someone lists one of my books as a favorite in his or her OK Cupid profile, google alerts me with links that amount to a fascinating window into a small-but-burgeoning sector of the alterna-dating world. I also get alerted to a lot of Christian blogs and sites because King Dork is google-ably equivalent to the phrase "D.O.R.K. (Daughter of the Risen King)."
Today, however, marks to my knowledge the first appearance of Frank Dandy's Portman Women's Boxer in my alert-o-sphere.
Dan Handler on the annoying "likability" litmus test for fictional characters:
I’m always mystified by discussions of likable characters. Characters are in books; you’re not going to have lunch with them. Moreover, the best books are full of trouble, so the characters are either in trouble or causing it. Most people aren’t likable in such situations.
Even if by “likable” we just mean “characters we enjoy reading about,” rather than “characters who seem like people we’d like,” then we’re not really talking about characters at all. Otherwise, the characters would be fully portable, and readers would find Lady Macbeth equally compelling in a Harlequin novel and in Macbeth. (I suppose there are people who consider Han Solo to be an equally compelling character in Star Wars novels #12 and #43, by separate authors, but, um, give me a break.) It’s like saying that the great thing about Kind Of Blue isn’t Miles Davis, but the trumpet itself. Such a compelling instrument!
Thus, character is bunk. There is plot, and there is voice, and they conspire to create an illusion we call “literature.” It is a glorious illusion and a compelling one.
Hear some of HP Lovecraft's Christmas poems read in quick succession over at the HPL Literary Podcast site.
via Cthulhu Chick, who also posts this pic:
May the ghouls of the neighbouring regions, and the cursed necrophagous things, lay aside their dark habits in legions for the bliss that Brumalia brings...
Searching the Chick Publications website for a suitable link for the Archies item below, I discovered that you can order an assortment of all the currently in-print Chick Tracts for $15.95, and my first thought was, "what a great gift idea." (Sadly, the best one ever seems to be out of print.)
(via Bookshelves of Doom.)
Last week I recorded a vocal track in Oakland, CA for a session happening in Madison, WI, with all the tracks uploaded and downloaded through a series of tubes. So yes, people can make rock and roll and not be in the same room as each other. Maybe this is old hat to all you people who have been living in the future for longer than I have. (I am imagining someone rolling his eyes going, "come on, Portman, who hasn't done that?") And I suppose even in the olden days they used to ship tapes on wagon trains or sturdy vessels to accomplish the same thing with just a bit more waiting around. But it was my first time, and it was just like living in space.
I hadn't been in Sharkbite Studios since the Yesterday Rules sessions in 2003, when I accessed the same series of tubes by hogging the studio phone line, having no idea how much business that busy tone might have been costing them. So that was weird, too.
Anyway, it was a vocal cameo for a track on the new Screeching Weasel album. I did the bridge on a cool, extremely catchy, song called "Frankengirl." I hope I did all right!
added: got a few messages about this tune and how great it is -- it's here. And Stars Time Bubbles Love is sheer, feel-good psych genius, one of the best vocal pop albums of all time by my reckoning. Pretty good "best of" here, too.
Huffington Post readers have a go at the new Archie:
That's number three on Captain Beefheart's Ten Commandments for Guitarists, via Don in the comments to .
The unnervingly prolific Brendan Halpin (whose Long Way Back is likely the best novel about punk rock and Catholicism you'll ever read) has some awfully nice things to say about Andromeda Klein in his top ten books read in 2010 list. Seriously, though, the guy has approximately a gazillion books in print. How do they do that, those people who do do that, plus read all those books, too?
ADDED: If you've never seen the John Peel-narrated BBC documentary on Capt. Beefheart, it's on youtube in six parts and it is well worth a look. Part one:
My old bandmate Jon von reached Bob Feldman of the Strangeloves by phone in an attempt to get permission to release a French version of the song "Cara-lin," and lived to tell the tale. Spoiler alert: he didn't get it. (One day, Jon or I should tell the story of our weird meeting and impromptu jam session with Johnny Thunders. Now that was a brush with something. Don't loose your wires, Jon!)
In a comment to my recent post about Monkees derangement syndrome, Lexington Green said, of the rock groups of the 60s: they were ALL the Monkees, and he had a point. The Strangeloves are a further example, perhaps. Their records' justly deserved status as rock and roll classics is in no way compromised by the fact that they were, in a sense, an almost entirely imaginary conceit, the brilliantly conceived product of a production company led by Feldman and Jerry Goldstein. If you're going to be a stickler for literal authenticity, virtually everything about the Strangeloves, from the charmingly gormless bio (they were, it was claimed, a team of brothers from a remote sheep farm in Australia, whose invention of a new breed of sheep provided the wherewithal to finance their rock and roll dreams, fueled by the haunting aboriginal rhythms of their homeland); to the accents (they reportedly hired a voice coach to train them to "talk Australian"); to the crazy jungle-y costumes and funny, supposedly Australian, hats; to the variable cast of studio musicians hired to play the role of these brothers on stage -- it was all, in the Monkees sense, fake. But the songs were real, and the recordings of them were great, and that's what matters most.
I have heard people expound the sheep farming story with complete credulity and fervent belief, so that magic still works. And I'm not surprised, as it rules. And you know, it is show business, after all.
"Cara-lin" is, of course, great (and be sure to check out Les Drageurs' "unreleased" version here.) And though I imagine the world doesn't really need another cover of it, this will probably always be my favorite:
This case has consumed an inordinate amount of taxpayer resources, and has no doubt devastated the defendant’s personal and professional life. The defendant’s former employer also paid a price, footing a multimillion dollar bill for the defense. And, in the end, the government couldn’t prove that the defendant engaged in any criminal conduct. This is just one of a string of recent cases in which courts have found that federal prosecutors overreached by trying to stretch criminal law beyond its proper bounds…
This is not the way criminal law is supposed to work. Civil law often covers conduct that falls in a gray area of arguable legality. But criminal law should clearly separate conduct that is criminal from conduct that is legal. This is not only because of the dire consequences of a conviction—including disenfranchisement, incarceration and even deportation—but also because criminal law represents the community’s sense of the type of behavior that merits the moral condemnation of society... When prosecutors have to stretch the law or the evidence to secure a conviction, as they did here, it can hardly be said that such moral judgment is warranted.
There are a lot of very bad best-of lists that don't include any of my books, but here's a iist that does.
ADDED: another good list of "road tested" books for teenaged guys.
Here ya go, Gurt of the pop punk message bored. (Drag it into the artwork box of your i-Thing.)
While we're on the subject, I have digitally "signed" pdf files before by editing the title page, though I bet the editing and file transferring would be hard to accomplish with Kindle, Nook, etc. Not sure though, since I've never tried it. But if it's not possible, someone should make it possible, because I bet people would like it. I know it's kind of silly, but am I wrong?
The weirdest thing I've seen in quite some time, unless I'm forgetting something:
The Andromeda Klein paperback releases officially tomorrow (Tuesday, December 14.)
I've been getting quite a few requests for signed books and records and such lately, probably owing to it being the Toys 'r' Us time of year, so I figured I might as well lay it out clearly here so I don't have to type it out every time. My "order stuff" sidebar has been a mess lately, so I've tried to fix it up, and this post is in aid of that general project.
Basically, the deal is: I'll sign pretty much anything that can be mailed. So buy a book (or record or what have you) from a store or on line and send it to me with along with a stamped, self-addressed mailer and any instructions for the inscription, and drop me a line when you do so I know to look for it. The address is: P. O. Box 12093, Berkeley, CA, 94712. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
The books are available from all the usual places where you'd expect to find them. Because people are so nice, they often ask me which venue or site would do me the most good if they order from it, and the answer is that all venues are equally good in that sense. But if you really want to help me or any other author out, buy new rather than used copies. (It is really surprising how often I hear from people who are under the impression that authors get paid for sales of used books or records. There's nothing at all wrong with buying used stuff of course, but the fact is, we don't, so if you're serious about wanting to be a one-person charity for wayward content-providers, that's always a good way to begin.)
Anyway, the in-print options are currently:
Andromeda Klein hardcover
Amazon :: Barnes & Noble :: Indiebound
Andromeda Klein for Amazon Kindle
King Dork for Amazon Kindle
As far as I'm aware Interpunk is still the official sales hub for the Lookout Records titles that are still in print. A lot of them are also available on Amazon. And most of it is on iTunes, too. There are mp3s of a handful of songs from the records (as well as all the acoustic King Dork songs) on my website, if you want samples, as well as links to some of the records still available. (And all the ordering links in this post are now on this page as well. I tried to get rid of the bad or obsolete links, but I'm sure some slipped by me, so if you happen on any, let me know.)
I think that's about it then.
If you click on a link called "Gossip Girls and three-ways: visit our smokin' hot teen zone" on the front page of this new lit mag, you'll arrive at a thoughtful essay about a mother's uneasy truce with the "embarrassing new world of way-too-adult YA titles." (She has complaints about King Dork, which is why my google machine alerted me to it. The description of the library's "teen zone" is quite funny and there's some truth there -- but it's also funny, perhaps, in the context, that it's being used as a link-teaser.)
Looks like quite a good magazine, btw.
Beppe forwarded me this guy:
You might want to brace yourself, or back the volume down a bit, at around the three minute mark, as it gets a little intense at that point. And if you found that interesting, you will most certainly want to check out "Jospeh Stalin (Man of Steel)".
Further to my comment about how the thrill of perceived sub-cultural "signaling" tends to endure beyond all rationality (on the Necronomicon/wikileaks "connection" post) here's a case in point.
Every time something like this pops up on boingboing (as this one did) or elsewhere on the internets, I immediately think, in spite of myself, "ha, wow, that is so great. It's the Cheese Shop sketch, except instead of John Cleese and Michael Palin and cheese, it's Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep arguing about human heads! I've got to post about that."
Then, of course, the entire world lights up with posts about it. It's not all that sub-culture-y anymore, to the degree that it ever was, but the thrill remains, only slightly tinged with the shame that comes when you must acknowledge you're not as special as you like to think you are and you're caught thinking it.
Even if every single purchasable product were emblazoned with Lovecraft-ian icons, I guess I'd still have that reaction. Wow, Shub-Niggurath dishwashing liquid, toothpaste, and cat food, an umbrella that says Fhtagn! and a Charles Dexter Ward defibrillator! Man, that is so awesome…
I touched on this a bit here, and even here, when PBS stations were hawking their Clash tote bags.
But of course, I want the cards. And most of the hundreds of other items on that site, truth be told. I'm just not sure I understand precisely why anymore.
I have a feeling that this is one of those opinions you're not really supposed to have, or to admit to having, but I like Mel Gibson, warts and all. He makes great movies, even if he is a bit of a kook and probably a Bad Person. I'm not saying I like the warts. The warts are bad. Okay? Anyway, I've been looking forward to The Beaver ever since I heard about it.
That said, this is fair, and funny (and NSFW):
I had a Swedish friend who called himself Elk on odd days and Godflesh
on even days. Don't ask why. As far as I know he's isn't bisexual, and
being Swedish, who was counting? Yet a man with a foot in multiples
worlds seemed like a good place to start. Elk (for the day was mod
2 == 0) listened to my quest for cryptographic myth. He pondered, and
uncovered a diamond in the rough. MARUTUKKU.
The third name is MARUTUKKU, Master of the arts of protection,
chained the Mad God at the Battle. Sealed the Ancient Ones in
their Caves, behind the Gates.
F a r o u t. Master of the arts of protection. Chained the Mad
God. Sealed the Ancient Ones in their Caves. Behind the Gates.
Even the very word MARUTUKKU looked like it had been run through a
Is there a word for the original phrase that a spoonerism is a spoonerism of? Because they can make pretty good band names.
I wanted to find the Ronnie Barker sketch on the funeral of Dr. Spooner where he does a whole eulogy in spoonerisms, but it doesn't seem to be on youtube. This one's pretty good though:
Well, as a connoisseur of the black arts, I sure did: it's "Pickman's Model" on Rod Serling's Night Gallery, all three seasons of which are on hulu. And here's "Cool Air," as well, adapted by Serling himself.
Night Gallery is fairly high on the list of things that warped me beyond repair in my formative years -- most were TV shows, of course. It used to scare me quite a bit. Sadly, as so often, it can no longer quite perform that feat. But the regressing picture frame intro, the music, and even the cheesy thing where clips of the guest stars are shown framed in an eyeball still do, all too briefly, turn me into a wide-eyed eight-year-old. Emotions are funny.
(As an aside, I know it's the term they use, but I feel awfully silly referring to a year's series of a television program as a "season." I never quite got used to that. It's like how they want you to walk up to the counter and ask for a "whopper." I got over that one, though, I suppose.)
(As another aside, speaking of the occult demonology witchcraft, the paperback Andromeda Klein is out on December 14 and you can pre-order here or here or here. The hardcover is still available but I don't know for how long it will be, so if you like it, now would maybe be the time.)
Sometimes it seems as though the Internet is always listening, and contrives to place documents before you to prove you wrong from time to time, just to show you that it can.
To wit: just last week I was telling tales of days of yore to a person who wasn't around all the way back then. She was amazed and I believe a bit shocked to learn that there was a time when the Monkees would often be cited as the defining example of "lame" when it came to pop music. If you wanted to say something was devoid of value and beneath contempt, you would compare it to the Monkees. If you wanted to insult someone's musical taste, you had only to say "he probably thinks the Monkees are real boss," or something like that. This was standard. It worked on people, too, though it didn't work on me. I was weird. I loved the Monkees back when people still mentioned them primarily as an easy insult, and I love them even more now, if such a thing is possible. They may not have been Dylan or the Beatles, but their records hold up quite well compared to those of everyone else who wasn't Dylan or the Beatles, and even compared to some of the ones recorded by people who actually were Dylan and the Beatles. Everyone can't be D. and the Bs. Not being Dylan or the Beatles is a category that encompasses the entire population of the world, other than five people. If you're going to judge pop music that way, you're going to have to rule out a lot of great stuff. I mean, do it if you want, but it's your loss. (In fact, though, in my time, the Great Big Important bands people were always comparing the Monkees unfavorably to were apt to be, like, Boston, Rush, and Jethro Tull rather than Dylan and the Beatles. So that's funny.)
I believe this Monkees derangement syndrome had its roots in the 60s generation's misguided pretensions about authenticity. How could something be good, I imagine them to have reasoned petulantly through a haze of marijuana smoke and unkempt bangs, if it didn't spring from the ground of its own accord, like the Doors, man, or, you know, a flower? (I guess I'm kind of picturing a room full of stoned Lori Partridge-y TV hippie daughters complaining to their parents about how things aren't "relevant.") How could something contrived , fabricated, and hyped by the great brainwashing machine of commercial culture be worth listening to?
Well, genius songwriters, top-notch arrangers, engineers, producers, and musicians, as well as genuine talent (Mike Nesmith is the celebrated one, but let's not forget Mickey Dolenz, one of the truly great pop vocalists of his era) -- that all had something to do with it. It's not much different from the elements that allowed the more authentic-seeming acts to spit out great records. If Boyce & Hart (not to mention all the other Brill Building greats who wrote so many of the Monkees' songs) weren't quite Lennon and McCartney, they were formidable songwriters nonetheless, and I don't see how anyone could deny that. Ironically, once upon a time, this material was often unthinkingly derided with the same breath that heaped extravagant praise on people like Barri & Sloan or Curt Boettcher. But this substantial group of American pop songwriting's best and brightest wrote, and the collective project known as the Monkees duly recorded, some of the shiniest pop gems of the time. Why should it matter so much that they were sung by television actors playing recording artists rather than by recording artists whose frequent television appearances didn't happen to include membership in the cast of a weekly sitcom?
It shouldn't, it needn't, and it really doesn't. Since those days, we've learned, I believe, that authenticity per se isn't ever all it's cracked up to be; that is, you have to work pretty hard to create the impression of authenticity. Nothing just springs out of the ground, not even the Doors. In other words, if there is a great brainwashing machine, everything's part of it, man. Haven't we learned that? And given that, the precise difference between playing the role of a pop star on a TV show, on the one hand, and playing the role of a pop star in "reality," on the other, can be a little hard to spot. (But chances are that Glen Campbell, rather than the actual guy, would have played guitar on the record either way.)
Now my point in this conversation was that using the Monkees as a synonym for lame, or dumb, or vapid, or, God help us, "irrelevant" isn't something that people do anymore, though they used to.
But the internet knows better, and lo and behold, the words were scarcely out of my mouth before I clicked on an essay (via Andrew Sullivan) that cited the Monkees in precisely the way I had claimed no longer happened. The author enlists them to help sling a backhanded compliment at rap-rock star Kid Rock, absolving him of his "cultural irrelevance" like this:
Slowly, he has turned himself into the turn-of-the-millennium answer to the Monkees or, maybe even the late Rolling Stones: quintessentially shallow, timeless pop music that does nothing new and enforces old clichés, forever recapitulating them until, at the end, we can finally come around to enjoying it.
I fail to grasp how anyone could listen to "I'm a Believer" or to the carefully constructed compositions of the Boyce & Hart songbook and hear nothing more than a "recapitulation of old clichés." But even granting that that's all that's going on in there, the recapitulation of such clichés (e.g. love, loss, pain, joy, anticipation, frustration, verses, bridges, choruses) in the hands of a great writer can be uniquely, even transcendently, thrilling when it is done right. There's no accounting for taste, of course, but if the Monkees conglomerate didn't do it right, I don't know who could. Dismiss those records if you like, but in doing so you are dismissing, in a way, an entire era -- some would say the best ever era -- of American pop songwriting. I would put my Brill Building Wrecking Crew Monkees up against your Boston or your Hold Steady or whatever it is that is supposed to be all big and important and authentic these days, and they'd win. So do what you have to do, but I'm listening to "Valleri" now and it's ruling my shallow little world, irrelevance, clichés, and all.
Okay, back to work now.
Note found on juniper bush in North Oakland.
1. "I'm Not a Loser" -- Descendents
2. "Excitable Boy" -- Warren Zevon
3. "Rockefeller Skank" -- Fatboy Slim
4. "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" -- Rachel Bloom
5. "Caucasian Guilt" -- Noh Mercy
6. "Fascist Dictator" -- The Cortinas
7. "Holy Diver" -- Dio
8. "Club Action (Chris Bagraiders Sailing to Baltimore Edit)" -- Yo Majesty
9. "You Look Good in Blue" -- Blondie
10. "Absolutely Sweet Marie" -- Bob Dylan
11. "Whole Lotta Rosie" -- AC/DC
Each of these has "happened to" me. The last two are less because of the lyrics than the involuntary accent.
...doesn't it seem like AT&T (or some other big competitor) could essentially kill Comcast dead by offering a pledge not to block netflix as part of their "switch" campaign? They already offer cash. Every time I go into an AT&T store for phone reasons, the offer to switch gets sweeter. (It was $500 cash last time.) I've been too lazy to do it so far, but I believe the netflix thing would cause mass defection, including me, if there were an option.
I mean, that was fast: TSA sets up shop at Greyhound Station.
Good grief. The "homeland security" and counter-terrorism pretext is laughable. What they're really after is drugs, "excess cash," immigration violations, whatever they happen to find in your bag, etc.
"And for the folks who travel like this day in and day out, it's a comfort in troubled times," the TV announcer says. By "it" he means, apparently, the effective, incremental, de facto, swiftly accelerating bureaucratic repeal of the Fourth Amendment. My, how comforting.
ADDED: Here's the video: