Sunday, February 27, 2011

iTunes Playlists - a graphical explanation

Following a lifelong pattern of only adopting new technologies, or trading up, when I no longer have a choice, I finally broke down last week, at the inexorable prospect of another birthday, and gifted myself with a potentially life-changing item: a 160GB iPod Classic. No more carefully selecting which tracks ot albums get transferred to the Pod at every plug-in. Entertainment self-containment at its finest.

Of course, the possibility of carrying your entire music collection around in your coat pocket makes organization and ease of access on the device critically important. Scrolling through the entire "artists" list every time you want to find something comes perilously close to defeating the purpose entirely. And because some (well, one) of my regular readers has expressed puzzlement as to what Playlists and Playlist Folders are good for, anyway, I've prepared an instructive illustration. (Click to view life size.)

Still in heavy rotation:

Nice notice in The Independent: "This is music to which people will be listening in 100 years' time..."


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spring reading

If you're of that sort, the best novel nominees for the Nebula Award may be interesting:

"Native Star", a steampunk zombie novel (combining two commercially hot tropes) sounds like a hoot.... The blurb:

I was quite taken by the concept of an Old West built on a foundation of magic and zombie slave labor. Oh, and giant raccoons.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Album preview

Limited time only.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

PJ Harvey

Uxbal, the character played by Javier Bardem in "Biutiful," says his pick-up line when he met his future wife was "You have the most beautiful nose in the world." And one of the odd things that happens watching the film (one of several) is that after a while you actually begin to see it.

Not the smoothest lead-in, perhaps, to an account of the odd sensations generated by a new record, PJ Harvey's "Let England Shake," but part of the oddness is the feeling of being seduced by something you're surprised to find you even like. Some people I know would be liklier candidates to embrace Harvey. From a glowing review in the Guardian: "Somehow, the recent news that Harvey had frequently received career advice from the late Captain Beefheart didn't come as that much of a surprise." (UPDATE: Going back to the beginning and slowly working my forward I'm realizing just how wrong I was. "Patti Smith without the poetic BS and the self-indulgence," I said, off the top of my head. Not fair because it makes her sound derivative, and she's anything but. Still, a decent starting point.)

The songs on "Let England Shake" are all in some fashion about the British experience of World War I. Trench warfare and body parts hanging in trees. The lyrics seem to contain snippets of soldiers' letters home, possibly samples of Siegfried Sassoon. English folk melodies and folk instruments; Druidic drumbeats; tunes that would not be out of place on "The Thistle and the Shamrock." Echoing the Olde Weird England explorations of Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair and Peter Greenaway. Harvey's drawings related to the project -- the ones she displays during this recent TV interview, as well the seething image she created for the album cover -- recall Eddie Campbell's artwork for Moore's grisly graphic novel "From Hell."

(Click image twice to see full size.)

Of course, these textual observations will be irrelevant if you don't like the music. I find the album holds up way better than most to repeated playing, but YMMV.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

These degenerate times...

There's a new novel out by Joe Abercrombie; we're days away from the new Patrick Rothfuss (which has been delayed to an almost comic extent); and Scott Lynch is right there too. Don't forget that George R.R. Martin is about to go prime time on HBO. A good year for the good stuff all in all.

The backlash has started.

Leo Grin (the former proprietor of the Howardian website The Cimmerian ) has published an impassioned cry from the heart on Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood site. Heroic Fantasy seems an unlikely subject for the culture wars, but Grin, with whom I could not disagree more, does a very good job, writing of "postmodern blasphemies against our mythic heritage" and "cheap purveyors of civilizational graffiti." His best line:

Soiling the building blocks and well-known tropes of our treasured modern myths is no different than other artists taking a crucifix and dipping it in urine, covering it in ants, or smearing it with feces. In the end, it’s just another small, pathetic chapter in the decades-long slide of Western civilization into suicidal self-loathing. It’s a well-worn road: bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field. They co-opt the language, the plots, the characters, the cliches, the marketing, and proceed to deconstruct it all like a mad doctor performing an autopsy. Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein’s monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten.
Abercrombie is Exhibit A and responds on his blog:
When it comes to an epic tale with moral clarity set in a supremely realised fantasy world,(Tolkien) pretty much knocked it out of the park. But that means there’s not much point in my writing it again, is there? Forgive me for saying so, but it feels as if folk have been writing Lord of the Rings again for a while now, and I think we could probably, you know, stop.

Surely the hallmark of western civilization is variety, richness, experimentation. If we all settled for repeating the same-old we’d still be stuck in the dark ages, no? We’d certainly have no Tolkien and Howard, who were bold enough to try to do new things with established forms, cook up new combinations of influences with their own stamp. Isn’t that what it’s all about? I don’t honestly see myself as nihilistic, really. Cynical, for sure. Surprising, I’d hope. Occasionally filthy, no doubt. Bankrupt, certainly not, thank you, baths in my literary sewer are in great demand as my new four book deal certifies. But it’s got nothing to do with tearing anything down, and certainly not with suicidal self-loathing. I see myself as working within a form. Experimenting with the same stuff Tolkien and Howard pioneered. Tweaking, commenting, examining, hopefully in the sort of way that Sergio Leone does with John Ford, and Clint Eastwood does with Sergio Leone. That’s how genre works, no? Darkness, despair, and lack of moral clarity in fantasy isn’t even anything radical. Look at Lovecraft. Look at Howard, for that matter.
And then, John C. Wright, fantasy writer and alumnus of my college, gets involved:
It is my judgment, shared of many ancients, that there are certain proper emotional reactions and relations one ought to have, and improper ones one ought not. A child raised to curse and despise his parents, trample the crucifix, burn the flag, abhor kittens and Christmas scenes and motherhood but adore torture porn and satanism and deformity, that child’s tastes are objectively perverse and false-to-facts. He has been trained to spew his mother’s milk and drink venom. Fair to him is foul, and foul is fair. In the same way that to say A is not-A is an offense against logic, to hate the lovely and love the hateful is an offense against aesthetics, a disconnection from reality.
Jeff Vandermeer has the story at the Amazon book blog.

I don't take blasphemy against myth (what a great phrase!) seriously enough to take this slugfest as seriously as it probably warrants, but I admire Grin and Wright for their passion and will accuse Wright (and maybe Grin) of harboring a sense of humor, to boot.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

Where "Deadwood" came from

Jeff Bridges and Ellen Barkin in Walter Hill's "Wild Bill" (1995). Keith Carradine appears briefly as Buffalo Bill. Same final hymn as "True Grit," but not sung as well.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Close to perfect

"The American" - George Clooney as Takakura Ken


The Sweet Spot, part 2

Combining the interests of all four of the readers of this blog: The publication of the English translation of a novel by Roberto Bolaño, written during the last five years of his life and discovered among his papers. The hero of "The Third Reich" is a wargamer, skilled at a board game called "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", which actually exists.

Published a year ago in Spanish, the book has already gotten a lot of on-line interest in the gaming community...

Adding to the hysteria in certain circles is the planned initial publication of the translation in The Paris Review in four installments over the next year.


Should all movies that aim to be hard boiled... shot low-budget -- spare resources for a tone similar to abstemious prose?

"Winter’s Bone" director [Debra] Granik, the only woman on the panel, related how the low-budget film was shot with $2 million, in part by using practical locations, a small lighting package and a fleet documentary-style crew that could move quickly and re-set shots. “I don’t think it would have made it a better film” to have $4 million, she said. “A frugal budget was commensurate with our goals.”


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Sweet Spot

Jeff Vandermeer's top thirteen list, which seems a bit too posh even for the level of pretension around the Tulkinghorn house (Czech fantasies!), does mention this book, which I had missed, and which seems to push all the local buttons. And it's part of a series!

Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey (Eos)
The Sandman Slim series is urban fantasy on speed, with Kadrey mixing of noir, pop culture, horror, hardboiled fiction, and everything in between. The result is endlessly inventive and high-octane—it should be difficult for reader to keep track of characters and the plot with so much kinetic energy flying off the page, but Kadrey’s an excellent writer who’s able to juggle all of it without dropping a single pin. Zombie plagues, vampires, angels, and more populate Kadrey’s Los Angeles, the appeal of his fiction the ability to rejuvenate the familiar. Kill the Dead is a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, with its even more down-and-out freelance detective James Stark in danger of going to Hell for his crimes. It’s hard not to steal William Gibson’s description of the first volume as “like watching Sergio Leone and Clive Barker codirect from a script by Jim Thompson and S. Clay Wilson.”


Tura Satana 1938-2011

Netflix delivers.

C.I.: Tulkinghorn.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Can't remember the last time...

...I pre-ordered new music.

Wanted to put up a video of the Old School country song "I Wanna Die Young (At a Very Old Age)," by the recently deceased Charlie Louvin, but couldn't find an embed. The sentiments, though ("Wet behind the ears though my hair is gray"), I endorse heartily.


Lots of Moorcock

A fabulous interview/analysis in the Guardian by a guy named Hari Kunzru. Moorcock looks a lot like Fidel Castro these days... Cool quotes:

In contrast to the rural decencies of Tolkien, Moorcock's writing belongs to an urban tradition, which celebrates the fantastical city as a place of chance and mystery. The wondrous spaces of M John Harrison, China Miéville, Fritz Leiber, Gene Wolfe and Alan Moore are all part of this, as are Iain Sinclair's London, Judge Dredd's Mega-City One, the part-virtual cyberpunk mazes of William Gibson and the decadent Paris of the Baudelarian flâneur. Like these other urban fantasists, Moorcock delights in a kind of sublime palimpsest, in imagining an environment that through size, age, scale or complexity exceeds our comprehension, producing fear and awe.


Elric, a decadent albino weakling, is amoral, perhaps even evil. As a not-so-metaphorical junkie, Elric allowed Moorcock to revel in unwholesomeness, and helped return fantasy to its roots in the late romanticism of the decadents, a literary school close to Moorcock's heart. ... Elric is part Maldoror, part Yellow Book poseur and part William Burroughs; within a few years of his first appearance in 1961, British culture suddenly seemed to be producing real-life Elrics by the dozen, as Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and others defined an image of the English rock star as an effeminate, velvet-clad lotus-eater. Moorcock was very popular among musicians, and it's tempting to see him as co-creator of the butterfly-on-a-wheel character, which still wanders the halls of English culture in guises ranging from Sebastian Horsley to Russell Brand.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Dog

Two passages from The Dog of The South, by Charles Portis, copied by opening on the desktop my Kindle's "clippings.txt" file. Turns out to be so easy that the temptation will always be to quote too much. No page numbers, of course, just "locations."

The Dog of the South (Charles Portis) - Highlight Loc. 278-85 | Added on Saturday, January 29, 2011, 04:21 PM

I decided that she was probably out for an afternoon of city obstruction and I went to the west side of town and cruised the parking lots of the big shopping centers looking for her car. On certain days of the week she and several hundred other biddies would meet at these places and get their assignments, first having taken care to park their Larks and Volvos and Cadillacs across the painted lines and thus taking up two parking spaces, sometimes three. Then they would spread out over town. Some would go to supermarkets and stall the checkout lines with purse-fumbling and check-writing. Others would wait for the noon rush at cafeterias and there bring the serving lines to a crawl with long deliberative stops at the pie station. The rest were on motor patrol and they would poke along on the inside lanes of busy streets and stop cold for left turns whenever they saw a good chance to stack up traffic. Another trick was to stick the nose of a car about halfway into a thoroughfare from a side street, thereby blocking all traffic in that lane.
The Dog of the South (Charles Portis) - Highlight Loc. 312-23 | Added on Saturday, January 29, 2011, 04:34 PM
In South Texas I saw three interesting things. The first was a tiny girl, maybe ten years old, driving a 1965 Cadillac. She wasn’t going very fast, because I passed her, but still she was cruising right along, with her head tilted back and her mouth open and her little hands gripping the wheel.

Then I saw an old man walking up the median strip pulling a wooden cross behind him. It was mounted on something like a golf cart with two spoked wheels. I slowed down to read the hand-lettered sign on his chest. JACKSONVILLE FLA OR BUST. I had never been to Jacksonville but I knew it was the home of the Gator Bowl and I had heard it was a boom town, taking in an entire county or some such thing. It seemed an odd destination for a religious pilgrim. Penance maybe for some terrible sin, or some bargain he had worked out with God, or maybe just a crazed hiker. I waved and called out to him, wishing him luck, but he was intent on his marching and had no time for idle greetings. His step was brisk and I was convinced he wouldn’t bust.

The third interesting thing was a convoy of stake-bed trucks all piled high with loose watermelons and cantaloupes. I was amazed. I couldn’t believe that the bottom ones weren’t being crushed under all that weight, exploding and spraying hazardous melon juice onto the highway. One of nature’s tricks with curved surfaces. Topology!
This is fairly representative material. Amusing, but the book is just one passage like this after another, organized as loosely as humanly possible around a journey, and by the mid-point it left me feeling slightly nauseous, as if I'd eaten too much marzipan.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bellow twice

Opening sentence of "The Adventures of Augie March":

“I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle, and will make the record on my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.”

From a letter to Bernard Malamud, setting out his intentions for "Augie":

“I took a position in writing this book. I declared against what you call the constructivist approach. A novel, like a letter, should be loose, cover much ground, run swiftly, take risk of mortality and decay.”

(h/t Paris Review Daily. If all Bellow's letters are that good.... Seems like a proper book to me.)