March 31, 2014

Donald Fagen talks about PEG

(via Instapundit.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:02 PM

March 28, 2014

No Worries

According to this, the phrase "no worries" means "you're welcome" and it "infected" American English through Crocodile Dundee and the Lion King.

I've been saying "no worries" for as long as I can remember, though I never say it to mean "you're welcome." I mean it almost literally (even if it's usually a gross exaggeration), i.e. "there is no reason for you to have any worries about anything concerning this situation, my friend." Am I using it wrong?

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:04 PM

With friends like these...

According to the largeheartedboy link I clicked on to get to it, this article is a "defense" of P. G. Wodehouse, which seems unnecessary. It's actually more like a carping, petulant "appreciation." Probably not all that far off per se, I suppose, but still somehow profoundly irritating nonetheless.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:46 PM

March 27, 2014


Brendan Halpin on the "likeability trap" and YA fiction. This apparently increasing phenomenon -- character "likeability" as the central, most important criterion for assessing literary merit -- is one of my least favorite things about the democratization of criticism enabled by the internet. (I assume the internet is to blame for enabling it, at least as a self-validating cultural tendency among readers who post stuff on the internet.)

Brendan's caution that we'll "miss out on some cool books" if editors begin to take their cues from goodreads, et al. and reject books with complex, disreputable, or politically incorrect characters is apt, though I doubt we'd see that taken to the extremes he fears, if only because the resulting books would be completely boring. I still have enough faith in readers and humanity (I know, I can't quite believe I typed that either) to have confidence that such books would eventually weed themselves out. In the borderline cases, though, it's a pressure I can easily imagine could exert an undesirable influence, in the spirit of going along to get along, e.g. toning down a character's vocabulary or unsavory thoughts or feelings in hopes of getting a few more five star and a few fewer one star reviews from random people on the internet.

The more plausible danger is increasing self-censorship on the part of authors, who, having their characters and books slapped down and dismissed time and again by the likeability brigade will inevitably consider shying away from the unfortunate habits that earned the slaps. Authors are just like anybody else, only more so, in craving approval, and moreover in the aggregate these reviews can, it seems, be not insignificant in determining commercial success or failure of a given book or writer. This sort of self-censorship is already a big factor, it seems to me. I think it was Flannery O'Connor (was it?) who described her relationship with her readers as primarily adversarial, and most writers know what she was talking about. This goes with the territory, of course, but it can be exhausting, and the temptation to pull punches and tailor your writing to make it kinder and gentler (and weaker) can be hard to resist. It's one reason characters tend to be so "samey" these days, in YA fiction as well as in other marketing categories.

I'd love a world where "unlikable," challenging, or complex characters were appreciated and celebrated, and seen as the mark of good writing rather than as an indication that the machine has broken down and failed to deliver the warm, fuzzy goods. In fact, that is more or less the world I grew up in, at least as far as literature courses and old style book reviews went. I don't remember any lit professor ever asking me to write an essay on whether Stephen Dedalus or Raskolnikov were "likeable" (though I suppose they aren't.) Has this changed? You know, I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that it has. Dislike.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:13 PM

Of Guitars and Lobsters

I've been told that they'll never do this with guitars, but...

...apparently all it takes is an agency's "order" to ban the import of all ivory regardless of age or context, such that an antique upright piano is now stuck in Japan, apparently forever. I'm pretty sure none of my old guitars has ivory pins, but if they did an order like that for rosewood, it would (effectively, probably) ban every single one of my old, beat-up, but very lovable electric guitars, since there's no way of proving or even knowing the source of their rosewood fingerboards. Also, I'm not even 100% certain that such an order hasn't already happened, and I don't really know how to go about finding out whether or not one has. I assume if it were to happen it would make the news, but, you know, maybe I'd miss the news that day, or I could be the first.

This woman had no idea that buying lobsters in plastic bags would put her in prison for eight years, and there was no way for her to "check" even if she had thought to wonder whether putting lobsters in plastic bags was illegal, because the government that prosecuted her didn't know itself till it had done months of research to find something, anything, to charge her with. I guess there are two kinds of people in this world, those who see a story like that and think "well then, I'll just avoid lobsters in plastic bags from now on," and those who think "if it could happen with lobsters it could certainly happen with guitars."

Anyway, I'd really think twice about bringing a vintage guitar to Japan, or anywhere foreign at this point. Maybe get a new, travel-only guitar, keep it "clean" and keep all the documentation, like they advise you to do with laptops. Having to prove your innocence is hard enough for a human, but a dumb guitar really doesn't stand a chance.

(Also pre-order my book.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:17 PM

March 26, 2014

Getting realer and realer...


Just got a few galleys of King Dork Approximately in the mail. (That's not what the actual cover is going to be, so it says "cover to come!" on it.)

Call me old fashioned, but a book you can touch and take a picture with feels around 800% more "real" than a pdf ever could. It just does.

(Pre-order here.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:05 PM

March 25, 2014

Behind the "music"

When I was a kid just getting started on my future career as a pretend rock star, one of the first things I came up with was an arrangement of the Beatles' "Yesterday" with the lyrics of the Spiderman theme song, Barnes & Barnes style. I thought it would make me at least as famous as Little Roger and the Goosebumps (whose famousness I drastically over-estimated anyway, as it turned out.) It was not to be, but I guess it came out about right in the end anyway.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:54 PM

March 24, 2014


Paul and George had a quota of anecdotes from these early days of a strengthening friendship, like the time they heard how someone had a copy of the Coasters' "Searchin'" and made a long bus journey to Bootle or Kirkby or Knotty Ash (it varies in the telling but apparently it involved two changes) simply to ask this person if he'd play it to them. Why they didn't just buy it is never explained. However, as Paul once confessed, having accepted the generosity of this stranger who let them sit in the living and listen to his record they relieved him of its ownership, doing a runner with the precious disc stuffed under a jacket.

Another of Paul's warm anecdotes is the one where he and George heard about somebody in a distant Liverpool suburb who knew the chord B7. Again, they got out the bus map, planned a route, knocked on the unknown door, and asked the man to show them.

-- Mark Lewisohn, Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:39 AM

March 23, 2014

Somehow, I appear to have been left off this list

33 Literary Geniuses Who Happen To Be Super Hot

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:02 PM

This is apparently the pub where the cover photo of the Muswell Hillbillies album was taken


Closed for renovation, unfortunately, but basically still recognizable through the window screens.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:24 PM

The closest I have ever come to weeping at a gravesite


Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:17 PM

Flowers on Karl Marx's Grave, Highgate Cemetery, London


(Full sized photo here. The best part about this is not just the stereotypical "girl writing" but also the fact that these were both orders obviously placed over the phone with the same florist. These phone calls as they play in my imagination are among the most hilarious things in there.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:41 PM

March 14, 2014

London Girls


Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:50 PM

Diddie Wa Diddie

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:10 PM

"That time I got beat up by Donovan"


Found on Instagram.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:08 AM

March 13, 2014

Foiled Again

So my system has been as slow-moving as John Banville's The Sea, with continual beach balls and freeze-ups and inexplicable delays where what I type gets displayed what seems like hours after I hit the keys. Checking the logs I identified the culprit: Microsoft Office, which has been "phoning home" every three seconds... I can only assume it is nothing more sinister than Bill Gates et al. wanting a sneak peek at the King Dork Approximately glossary and discography while I was still reviewing the copy-edits. I believe the ostensible reason is to search for updates and report problems, and, just to play along, I'll give them a little feedback on this system: MSW itself is the problem. The solution is command-Q.

I wish we lived in a MS-free world (if Pages is spying on me, it's doing a way better job -- I hardly ever notice its shenanigans, despite the automatic "cloud" updating.) But MSW is the way everyone does the interlinear track changes commenting, so MSW it must be for this purpose. I try to use it as sparingly as possible, launching it only as needed and quitting immediately thereafter, like walking on hot coals, or using cell data in Europe, or turning on the Central Heating in a village in a post-war Agatha Christie novel. Sometimes, though, I forget and leave it running, and the result is carnage.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:11 PM

From an ebay listing


Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:55 PM

March 07, 2014

"His words reignite fires you thought long extinguished in parts of your soul and bring you to a state of glorious adolescence no matter what age you’re feeling."

Interview with yours truly in Audio Ammunition web-zine.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:05 AM

March 06, 2014

Viva Foghat Redux


Every now and then I'll receive an angry message from someone who thinks the most interesting thing to say about King Dork is to note that it strains credibility to imagine a contemporary teenager who has an opinion on Foghat.

And in response I always send this link.

I've always found it a little puzzling when people pounce on Tom Henderson's hostile retrograde tastes in music as a kind of "gotcha moment," an indication that I as a writer am clueless or out of touch or something, like I imagine that all teenagers these days are walking around thinking deeply about Thin Lizzy. You know, that's, like, part of the joke, dude.

ADDED: from my comments on the face thing:

"..what I'm pointing to is this trend (not just with my books by any means) on goodreads etc. for readers to assume that the primary role of criticism is to spot "inconsistencies" kind of like (I guess) scrutinizing movies for anachronisms or historical inaccuracy. I'd disagree that that's the most interesting thing to do when commenting on a novel, but even setting that aside, it often leads to absurdities where the central conceit of the novel or a primary feature of characterization is noted as a glaring "problem" that renders the whole enterprise null and void. Like criticizing Hamlet by saying "you know there really aren't any ghosts. The editor should have caught that."

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:28 PM

March 05, 2014

Guitar Saga


As you may know, I've been posting pictures showing the progress of the custom acoustic guitar that Jason Ingrodi has been building for me over the past few months. This wasn't something I'd ever expected to do, especially since I've recently come off several years of being dead broke. But Jason noticed me complaining about my guitars on the internet and offered to build me one at around the same time I finally finished my book and had a little cash to work with. The ensuing process was really not like I expected. It was much more emotional and personal than you'd think it would be. I learned a lot about guitars and, corny as it may sound, about what's really important to me in an instrument, which is kind of like learning about yourself.

Previously, I'd just pretty much taken guitars as I found them, adapting to their idiosyncrasies and making do with their deficiencies and not really thinking too much about how suited they may have been to what I wanted to use them for. And in the case of my preferred electric guitar, the mid-60s Epiphone "batwing" Coronets I usually play, that has worked out quite well. (It was Kent Steedman of the Celibate Rifles way back when who introduced me to them, saying in his Australian accent that I can still do a fair imitation of, "eh Frank ya gotta get one of those Epiphones, P-90 pickup, they scream." I randomly acquired one and he was right, it screamed, and everything clicked.)

Acoustic guitar was another story, and these days quite a lot of my guitar playing is acoustic. For most of the time I've been alive, my only acoustic has been a Yamaha that was a Confirmation present from my parents. It was a great present for a 13 year old and it served me fairly well considering but as I started to play out more solo I was always very conscious that I was usually the worst-sounding guy on the bill. I recently played with the Smoking Popes and was completely devastated by how much better his guitar sounded in the solo bits, and when I toured Europe with Kepi using his swell sounding Martin all I could think was, boy, Doctor (because I actually do call myself "Doctor" in my head) you need to get your act together. So that was the source of the complaints I'm talking about. I subsequently acquired a couple of other acoustics, an old Gibson B-15 with a lot of character that is kind of challenging to play, but which I love anyway, and a more modern Gibson J 150 that is beautiful and sounds great, and totally works for the purposes of replacing the Yamaha. But in the meantime the idea of having my own bespoke guitar had been planted and grew, so once things were a little less desperate with the rent and such, I decided to spend a bit more of it on a guitar instead of a sword like I'd been sort of planning to.

I've been doing a lot more fingerpicking lately, and one thing that I've never liked is how feeble and indistinct it can be in comparison to strummed songs. If you've just played a loud strummy song, it's kind of hard, psychologically, to switch to the quieter sound and not worry you're just going to lose everyone's attention and look kind of lame. But I had been going to stores and trying out guitars and it turns out there is something that can be done about this. Out of everything I played, the best sounding overall by far was a (had to be custom built) Santa Cruz L-00 sized guitar with a cedar top and maple sides. And in my "let's just see" conversations with Jason, he mentioned that cedar tops are known to be better for fingerstyle and are used on classical guitars for that reason. (See this seems like very commonplace knowledge to me now, but at the time I was utterly clueless.) So even though I was still considering things, it was the cedar that did it for me. It felt like a crazy thing to do, and it felt really weird even to be considering it, but the back of my mind had already decided that we were going to go through with it, and it let me know in no uncertain terms later on. So we decided to go ahead with it, bought a pile of wood, and commenced the guitar-making. (For anyone who is interested it's the cedar top, rosewood back and sides, ebony fingerboard, mahogany neck, and flamed maple binding: pretty much all the "tonewoods" no plastic, on the basic Martin OM style model. Plus a fun Dr. Frank logo inlay that is a saga in itself.)

What followed was a long, dramatic process of incredibly fast progress, delays, setbacks, breakthroughs, and triumphs that stretched over several months. I grew to look forward to the almost daily progress reports and pictures to the extent that now that it's over I feel a kind of loss. It provided structure to my day at any rate.

As for the guitar itself, it arrived yesterday and man is this thing incredible. It is much, much louder than you expect from a small bodied guitar, louder even than the jumbo Gibson. And yet it also has that classic slightly "boxy" parlor sound as well, which is just what I was hoping for, as in my mind I see much of my guitar playing future as basically settin' back and playing for my cat on the porch, though the porch is actually a couch as well as clubs, bookshops, cafes, etc. (It's compact enough to be easily portable, which is one thing I liked about Kepi's guitar, and which will help in taking the porch on tour.) It is hard to describe sound in words, but the tone is very rich and very alive sounding, and has a character all its own, quite different from any other guitar I've played. In "quality," whatever that means, it is comparable to the Gibson, and I think also comes pretty close to matching the awesomeness of the Santa Cruz I mentioned above. I'm still getting to know it and no doubt will have more to say as time goes on (not that anyone would really be interested in hearing me babble on like this again!) It has an old-style retro neck that feels a little bulky at first, but that's something I'm quite used to and in fact it plays like a dream. And those individual plucked notes really do ring out, both the highs and lows very present within each note.

So basically it came out great. Jason Ingrodi did a fantastic job, something he should really be proud of, and it's something I'm proud to own. So glad I took the plunge.

(I can't say the same for the US Postal Service, who managed to deliver it with a puncture through the shipping box that went all the way through the case, causing superficial damage to the lacquer finish of the guitar -- at least, I hope it's superficial. I'm told it takes something like an act of Congress and several pleading visits to the postmaster to get USPS to pay anything on its insurance, but I guess we'll find out about that. So yeah, that's another thing I've learned: close enough for government work isn't the standard you want for shipping a priceless, one of a kind, fragile object. Best advertisement for UPS/Fed Ex ever.)

(Oh and also, pre-order my book.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:19 PM

March 04, 2014


So apparently King Dork Approximately is on the 2014 BEA Buzz Books list. Whatever that is, I can't help but think it's got to be good.

(You can pre-order it here.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:34 AM

March 02, 2014

Pretty Ballerina

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:23 AM

March 01, 2014

Biting my style, boys?


(From here, via Kristina.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:24 PM