Monday, May 30, 2005

hippity hippity f-cking hooray

I have finally finished the dissertation chapter I've been working on since I arrived here in Los Angeles. I am devising an appropriate reward for myself, if you have any suggestions. The weekend in itself was full of hijinks that you can see for yourself below.

los angeles plays itself

I ventured out to Grauman's Egyptian Theater (whose beautiful ceiling is pictured below) to see Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen's love letter to L.A. (He hates that abbreviation, by the way.) Andersen's voiceover narrative takes us through thousands of film clips that depict the way that Hollywood has used the landscape of Los Angeles. He'll take an architectural landmark, such as Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis-Brown house, and show how it's been used in films from the 1930s through the 1980s, amidst numerous entertaining and informative tangents.

Later: The Ennis-Brown House is listed as one of America's most endangered historic places this year. (via

Among the many landmarks mentioned was my neighborhood packy.

overheard in los angeles

As you may have noticed, I'm a big fan of the website Overheard in New York. Until Michael Malice and his crew decide to come west, I'm going to post my overheards here and you're welcome to post any of your own in the comments. (This means you, S.H.)

A tourist is taking a picture of her daughter in front of the hieroglyphics mural at Grauman's Egyptian theater.

Girl: Mommy, Mommy, take my picture.
Mother: Great. This way if you ever have to do a project on Egypt, you can say you were there.

(This is actually quite likely. I was chatting with my favorite nine-year-old a few months back, and she was working on a project where she had to research, report on, and draw three items about Egypt for every letter of the alphabet. Egypt is my anti-drug.)


I was happy to get to check out the Hammer Museum's THING exhibit before it closes next weekend. The exhibit is a review of contemporary sculpture with any contemporary review's hit-or-miss possibilities. I most enjoyed Jedediah Caesar's 1,000,000 A.D.: a ton of studio junk preserved in an 800 pound cylinder of resin and then sliced into pieces like an old tree.

Hannah Greely's Muddle is made entirely of coconut fiber.

Kristen Morgin's dessicated ceramic low-rider was a highlight of the exhibit. This artist profile made me wonder if she's driving my old pick-up.

houellebecq, lipsyte, and topless dancers

What drew me to the Hammer was the scheduled conversation between Michel Houellebecq and Sam Lipsyte on Houellebecq's recent publication of a book on H.P. Lovecraft. A few hundred people filled the Hammer courtyard before we were let in to the auditorium. I was surrounded by quite a few elderly museum-goers, out for an afternoon of literary stimulation, when the man below took the stage. The "museum snobs," as he called them, were in for it when he started telling jokes about things like a new Viagra for women called Oil of Old Lay. The woman next to me, clearly horrified, said, "Isn't this supposed to be a lecture?"

But the poor woman's sensibilities had only just begun to be assaulted. The MC introduced our next entertainer for the afternoon: the talented burlesque dancer below who stripped down to nothing but a G-string and some glitter. She was followed by a zaftig blonde and a diminutive brunette, at which point my older audience-mate just put her fingers in ears and looked down.

The dancers were part of the Velvet Hammer Burlesque troupe which, from what I could tell, has nothing to do with the Hammer Museum. Unless this is a fixture of the reading series, something I doubt, I believe the talent was bidden at the behest of Monsieur Houllebecq.

My heart went out to Sam Lipsyte who had to conduct himself as if he wasn't following a striptease act in a museum and then interview Michel Houellebecq whose English was...let's say...a challenge. The talk made me want to read Lipsyte and Houellebecq more than it made me want to read Lovecraft.

all access

I went from strippers to showgirls at the House of Blues where my friend was filling in for the tour manager for Low Millions, fronted by Leonard Cohen's son Adam. I spent Collective Soul's set backstage with a number of entertainers, like the aforementioned showgirls and Elvis impersonator Tom Bartlett, who were there to commemorate Las Vegas's 100th birthday.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

crime rate drops dramatically overnight

If you haven't seen this wonder woman's response to a purse-snatching in an elevator, go now.

Friday, May 27, 2005

empty tropes of transgressive fiction

People throw the word "transgressive" around with abandon - I, too, am guilty - but here, Harper's finds Neil LaBute, A.M. Homes, Will Self, Chuck Palahniuk, and Dennis Cooper (natch) deserving of the label. (Via Bookninja)

money to burn?

Pitchfork has two featured recommendation articles: "Best New Music" (I'm glad to hear The Fiery Furnaces have "scaled back the bombast") and a "Summer Reading List" (that includes the intriguing Rock Snob's Dictionary and a book for white girl hip-hop wanna-bes that gets panned in the review, so I'm not sure what it's doing there).

speaking of crushes

I'm not a frequent reader of lad mags, so I had never heard of Danica Patrick, the 23-year-old who's thought to have a shot at being the first woman to win the Indy 500.


I've had a crush on Umberto Eco for years, an infatuation that was only heightened by seeing his effusive charm in person at a reading in New York. I came across his new book, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, in a bookstore the other day and it's a gorgeous illustrated novel about "a rare-book dealer who loses his 'autobiographical' memory - he doesn't know his own name or recognise his wife - but still has his 'semantic' memory and so is able to quote from every book he has ever read." The crush deepens. The Telegraph has an excellent interview here. (Via Bookslut)

unintentional fakery

In a recent article from Scientific American Mind, David Livingstone Smith argues that lying is essential to survival of the fittest.

The mirror orchid, for example, displays beautiful blue blossoms that are dead ringers for female wasps. The flower also manufactures a chemical cocktail that simulates the pheromones released by females to attract mates. These visual and olfactory cues keep hapless male wasps on the flower long enough to ensure that a hefty load of pollen is clinging to their bodies by the time they fly off to try their luck with another orchid in disguise. Of course, the orchid does not "intend" to deceive the wasp. Its fakery is built into its physical design, because over the course of history plants that had this capability were more readily able to pass on their genes than those that did not. Other creatures deploy equally deceptive strategies. When approached by an erstwhile predator, the harmless hog-nosed snake flattens its head, spreads out a cobralike hood and, hissing menacingly, pretends to strike with maniacal aggression, all the while keeping its mouth discreetly closed.

Of course, falsehood is not restricted to the animal and flora kingdoms, and Livingstone believes humans have an added dimension to our deception because we can deceive ourselves. boing boing posted this link within days of another link to an APA release that explains that people lacking certain cognitive skills have an inability to recognize irony, and therefore, sarcasm.

The Israeli psychologists who conducted the research explain that for sarcasm to score, listeners must grasp the speaker’s intentions in the context of the situation. This calls for sophisticated social thinking and “theory of mind,” or whether we understand that everyone thinks different thoughts. As an example of what happens when “theory of mind” is limited or missing, autistic children have problems interpreting irony, the more general category of social communication into which sarcasm falls.

The misunderstood sarcasm becomes an unintentional lie in itself. If you add the complexity of language to the mix, truth appears to be just as elusive as philosophers have always claimed it to be. Or maybe I just made this all up.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

the wooden tongue

Christopher Hitchens turns in a caustic and clever review of The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism:

The French, as it happens, once evolved an expression for this sort of prose: la langue de bois, the wooden tongue, in which nothing useful or enlightening can be said, but in which various excuses for the arbitrary and the dishonest can be offered. ''The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism'' is a pointer to the abysmal state of mind that prevails in so many of our universities. In another unconsciously funny entry, on the Kenyan Marxist Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Nicholas Brown appears to praise his subject for a postcolonial essay entitled ''On the Abolition of the English Department.'' Like the other contributors to this shabby volume, Brown ought to be more careful of what he endorses. The prospect of such an abolition, at least in the United States, becomes more appetizing by the minute.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

google: the best procrastination tool ever

As if Google Maps and Googlefight weren't fun enough, along comes montage-a-google. I decided to montage Aldous Huxley rather than read him. (Via eXclaim!)

cure for the homesick

Now, thanks to Google Maps, whenever I miss my old Brooklyn 'hood, I can instantly soar above it via the magic of satellite technology. Now if only I wasn't prevented from capturing the image, all would be right with the world.

Later: Who gave this hater five whole pages to whine about how Brooklyn's stealing all his buddies?

quoth the rambo

While I'm on the entertainment tip, Sylvester Stallone is set to direct a biopic of gothic granddaddy Edgar Allen Poe. Rumor has it that Robert Downey, Jr. will play the writer. (Via Bookslut)

dating a virgin makes you insane

I have attempted to stay out of the fray regarding Tom Cruise's manic meltdown on Oprah, but I just can't. Although I was home and able to watch the appearance, I could only stomach about ten minutes. If you take a look at this post on Defamer, you'll see why. I have followed all the speculation about promotional-partnering-as-beard, which I totally buy, but what explains young Holmes's behavior? I can only come to the conclusion that the rumors about her virginity are true. Katie is able to avoid addressing Tom's ambivalent-at-best sexuality, and Tom is over the moon that he doesn't have to fake it. Over the moon, I tell you. Oprah's lucky to have emerged without being bruised by Tom's frenzied zeal. If there's any doubt that there are some bats loose in the belfry, check out Dr. Cruise's rant that women suffering from post-partum depression are a bunch of drug-addled has-beens who are ignoring the wonder drug that will save them all: vitamins!

See Also: Nice 'n Generic Adjectives to Use to Describe Your Girlfriend When You Don't Actually Know Her That Well

pay attention, suitors

Thanks to the marvels of modern scanning, you too can now learn essential mating skills, such as "How to Tear a Telephone Book in Halves" and "How to Lift a Man Overhead with One Hand." (Via Boing Boing)

kick them in the belly

I'm currently reading a book by Ludwig Bemelmans, the possibly unstable Austrian author of the Madeline children's books who was shipped to America at 16 after he shot a headwaiter. He then lost another job because he showed up wearing one white shoe and one yellow shoe, and he was shipped off to the Army. (Yellow shoes?) The novel that takes place in L.A. is called Dirty Eddie, the title character being a pig that shoots to stardom. It's actually not as bad as it sounds, but the best part about the research was coming across this plan for my dissertation when it's done:

I don't keep any copy of my books around... they would embarass me. When I finish writing my books, I kick them in the belly, and have done with them. - Ludwig Bemelmans

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

hilarity & horror at the hammer

This Sunday, the reading series at the Hammer Museum presents a schizophrenic line-up, throwing together Sam Lipsyte (Home Land, Venus Drive) and Michel Houellebecq (The Elementary Particles, H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life).

Michel Houellebecq has that delightfully squeamy edge already, without focusing it on a discussion of H.P. Lovecraft. I've been looking forward to reading this McSweeney's publication for a little while now, so I'd be going even if Houellebecq was all alone on the bill.

But he's not. I first saw Sam Lipsyte read at Sin-é during a benefit for Yeti, combining readings and live music. Lipsyte had to get up on-stage and follow a band, something I hope never happens to me. It only took him a minute or two to get the room's attention, and it only took another minute or two before his wit had us all laughing so much I was afraid we offended him.

I don't know who put this duo together, but I thank them in advance. If you go early, you can check out the THING.

Monday, May 23, 2005

flash mob founder speaks out

I was surprised to discover one man could take credit for the flash mob phenomenon, but Francis Heaney interviews "Bill" at Stay Free! magazine. Negativland's Mark Hosler also interviews a man who makes robots and murals for Christian theme parks. (Via panopticist)

Someday, I'll be talking to my grandchildren (which is what my wife and I will call the creatures cloned from our genetic material, grown in a vat, and raised by robots) and they'll say, "Tell us again about flash mobs!" And I'll say, "You lazy kids, why don't you just read that interview I did with the guy who came up with flash mobs?"

fantasies of wealth

If I had mad money, this is the kind of thing I would spend it on: the first 150 titles from New York Review Classics are being sold as a package for $1,081.67.

fantasies of time

If I had all the time in the world to install my own home studio and learn how to mix music and spoken word samples, I would enter this contest from Penguin UK. (Via Booksquare)

aziz hearts MIA

M.I.A. is hotter than hot. It's got to be a totally surreal experience to blow up so quickly. Even stand-up comics are working her into their routines. See Aziz Ansari profess his love to M.I.A. (played by Eugene Mirman) and get some love in return. (Via Brooklyn Vegan)

M.I.A. - Hombre (Xerox Re-Tug Mix)

hollywood beckons and harper lee answers

Reclusive one-hit wonder Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) made an appearance at the Los Angeles Public Library last week at the request of Gregory Peck's widow.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

the spirit of spider boy pays a visit

One of the most enjoyable parts of my research is finding old books that haven't been read forever. Yesterday, I picked up Carl VanVechten's Spider Boy, A Scenario for a Moving Picture (1928), which I had bought on Alibris about a year ago. I was reading this passage about the Chicago appearance of a screen goddess...

Her public could have been no more turbulent, Ambrose fancied, had she been on her way to heaven. He made her out now, on the platform of the observation car, bowing and smiling, with that taut smile which so easily may be transformed into an expression of malice, her unnaturally pale white face framed by her short black hair, her slender figure emphasized by her gown of white crepe georgette, partially concealed by a chinchilla cloak. In her arms she carried what Ambrose computed to be about seven hundred dollars worth of orchids...

when suddenly, out of the back of the book, a loose page fell onto my hand and it was this full-color cover from the original edition:


Friday, May 20, 2005

who couldn't use a cure for sadness?

McSweeney's has an L.A. novel forthcoming by Salvador Plascencia: The People of Paper.

After his wife leaves him, Federico de la Fe and his daughter Little Merced depart the town of Las Tortugas, Mexico and head for Los Angeles. There, with the aid of a local street gang and the prophetic powers of a baby Nostradamus, they engage in an epic battle to find a cure for sadness. Mechanical tortoises, disillusioned saints hiding in wrestling rings, a woman made of paper, and Rita Hayworth are a few of the players whose destinies intertwine in this story of war and lost love.

At La Bloga, Daniel Olivas points us to an excerpt from the novel here.

with cheerleaders on top

Thanks to artist Peter Max, somewhere in Brooklyn, there are 36 Corvettes calling out to me to be released.

There are 36 vintage Corvettes in the garage below the former Daily News printing plant in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. They’re dusty, and secure behind a chain-link fence, as if being held as evidence: one Corvette for each year they were made, starting with a pearl-white ’53 convertible and ending with a red 1989 model. Some of their windows are open. Some have flat tires. A lone white ’61 rests outside the fence. On its back end, someone has scrawled NO ONE LOVES THESE VETTES! in the grime.

Via artkrush
Also, check out their links to the PeaceMech and Prince Harry in trouble again!

I'm his midget & he can do what he wants with me

Guitar World collects Spinal Tap moments from rock superstars.

As the Rolling Stones get ready to head out again on the road, Ron Wood can laugh about it - the night he and the lads thought they were all going to be busted.

"We were doing drugs in the dressing room," says Wood, remembering a concert in the early '80s. "Suddenly the tour manager stuck his head around the door and said, 'The police are here!' We all panicked and threw our drugs in the toilet.

"Then Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland walked in."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

bittersweet breakdown

Top 5 Things I Like About L.A.

1. Indie 103: This is the best all-music radio station I've heard in a long time. Former Sex Pistol Steve Jones does radio like it should be done. Recently, E from The Eels was a guest and rather than showcase the new singles, they broke out their guitars and played covers of songs they liked, whether they knew the lyrics or not. Now, even the Suicide Girls have a show.

2. Recycling: In New York, I would diligently separate my paper products at home, just to see my super lump everything together in the same bag. At work, I would place all the paper products in the blue bin, just to be told by someone that both bins ended up in the same place. Here, there are three bins:
- blue for recycling everything, and it doesn't even have to separated
- green for mulch
- black for miscellaneous garbage that can't be recycled, which is picked up by a separate truck so I know it's for real

3. Trader Joe's: Oh Joe, I love you so. I used to have to drive to Connecticut to procure the inexpensive delicacies offered at this wonderful store. During the first trip I made to TJ's upon my arrival, I found myself loading up my cart like a maniac until I thought, "Wait. I can come back tomorrow."

4. Friendly Fellow Bloggers: When I had this blog in New York, I linked to some fellow bloggers and never heard a peep from any of them. When I was about to move here, I decided to link to some L.A. bloggers, and I heard from almost every one of them, welcoming me or just saying hello.

5. Space, space, space: I can spread out and do yoga in my bedroom. I can have a lane just for turning. I can park really close to anywhere I want to go. I can do things without having to wait in an hour-long queue. I can run laps in the backyard.

Top 5 Things I Miss About New York

1. Knowing Where to Go: I know I lived here before, but that was seven years ago and a different neighborhood. I miss being able to set out for my day and visualize in a minute where to go for anything I might need.

2. Desegregation: I could walk one block in New York City and pass more people of color than I see in a whole week here. According to the film Crash, this is partly due to the fact I live in the Valley, but it's still a distressing situation.

3. Celebrate Brooklyn @ Prospect Park Bandshell: One of my all-time favorite things to do in New York is walk through Park Slope and arrive at Prospect Park with my basket full of picnic goodies, listen to excellent music for free or see a silent film with live accompaniment, and wait until the sun sets, so I can see how the green lights illuminate the trees overhead.

4. Walking Distance: There are neighborhoods here that advertise a "semi-pedestrian way of life," but all that means is that there are some places to which you can walk, but you'll eventually need to get in your car and go somewhere else. Plus, "walking distance" here is a hike, not a stroll.

5. Eastern Standard Time: When I lived on the East Coast, I could ramble in at 1:00 in the morning and still have people to call on the West Coast. By the end of the day here (or at 9:00 when my "night minutes" begin), everyone I want to call is asleep (or should be).

prospect park trees

this week's netflix

Enduring Love: I was quite sad to discover that they took one of my favorite novels, a rich psychological study of how a couple navigates the aftermath of a tragedy, and turned it into a slasher flick. Even with a powerhouse cast, including Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton, and Rhys Ifans, it couldn't be saved. At least they did a decent job with the balloon scene...

Birth: Despite the bad reviews (and the critics' prurient reactions to what is a fairly harmless bathtub scene), I enjoyed the performances and the original subject matter. There was something of a European feel to it that I also liked.

Deadwood, Season 1, Episodes 8-10: That Al Swearengen is steamy enough to turn me to whorin'.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

congratulations... Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A.'s first Latino mayor since 1872.

Cristobal Aguilar
1866-1868, 1870-1872

Aguilar, a former county supervisor and city councilman, was born in Los Angeles in the early 1820s and watched the construction of the city's first municipal water system, which included a 40-foot waterwheel that lifted water from the main ditch to a storage tank in the plaza.

Elaborate improvements, including wooden and iron pipes, were made. But after a flood in 1868 wiped out most of those improvements, a frustrated City Council offered the rights to the water system to the highest bidder. Aguilar defied the council and vetoed the sale. His move would eventually lead to creation of the city's Department of Water and Power.

His action made him a hero to voters. But he knew that the most important public office in Los Angeles was not the mayor. He wanted the prestige of being the zanjero, the water czar, who had power and a salary 50% higher than the mayor's. So, for several months after his second one-year term ended, he was hired as zanjero, watching for water thieves who would cut into the ditch at night and seal it up before dawn.

He was again elected mayor in 1870, this time for a two-year term, at a time when Latino voter registration was about 22%.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

all dark and mysterious, I hope

Turn your discomfort tolerance meter up high (maybe to Curb Your Enthusiasm level) and join Batman (Sam Rockwell) and Robin (Justin Long) on Robin's Big Date.

Monday, May 16, 2005

city of LA...made in mexico

This goes well with my City of New York doorknob.

iPod wars

When people talk about the dog-eat-dog (or in this case, hipster-eat-hipster) world of New York City, this is the kind of shit they're talking about. C'mon, people. There's a real war on.

Via Gawker

can gus pull it off?

Gus Van Sant's fictionalization of the Last Days of Kurt Cobain premiered at Cannes on Friday. Although the main character is named Blake, Van Sant does not deny the story was inspired by Cobain's death in 1994.

Blake is played by Michael Pitt, who is listed on IMDb as appearing in a 2004 Asia Argento-helmed film version of JT Leroy's The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, an author with whom Pitt is listed as being good friends. (I'll have to tell my actor friends to list me as their friend on IMDb.) The question is: did I miss this Argento film? (She's also in Last Days, along with an ageless Kim Gordon and Harmony Korine.) I can't imagine I wouldn't notice its release. Or is it buried in a vault somewhere next to Fiona Apple's album?

Speaking of Cannes, apparently a number of Bush-themed films are up for the Palme d'Or. I'd put my money on La Whorisma di Bushi.

read this!

After much anticipation, The Litblog Co-Op has chosen the first recommendation for its Read This! campaign: Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. It's interesting to read the comments that debate whether or not LBC has lived up to its mission to "draw attention to the best of contemporary fiction, authors and presses that are struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace." Since LBC's decisions are committee-driven and this is only their first recommendation, I think the critics should back off and see what they get up to next. One book does not a policy make.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

get your girl rock on

Although the playlist could step a little further out of the mainstream, I am all for Rock Chicks Radio. Listen to them so they don't go away...

I turn my camera on

My photos from the Spoon in-store appearance at Amoeba on Wednesday are almost, but not quite, as bad as I thought they were, so I figured what the hell.

You can get a little taste here:
Spoon - I Turn My Camera On

just shoot me now

After a week of debating whether to go solo to the Brendan Benson show at the Troubadour on May 4th, having no luck wrangling a wingman/woman in my new town and locating not a single Benson fan among my friends, I decided not to go. So today, in the midst of a terribly below-average day all around, I discovered my beloved Jack White made a surprise appearance. I'm feeling in need of new profanity. (Via The Modern Age)

Later: A little ditty via songs:illinois to express my mood...
Mary Lorson and Saint Low - Oh Regret

Saturday, May 14, 2005

busted tees

Oh my God, I so want this T-shirt. Visit the site for more Ts like "Prose before Hos," "Pray for the Olsens," "and "Without 'Me' It's Just 'Aweso'...

in junior high, their popcorn is like movie popcorn

Unless this is a joke (or some held-back teenager), this brand-spankin' new blog is completely adorable. Make sure you scroll down to the lightsabers.

finally, some good news

Somewhere over the rainbow in the land of make-believe where all my dreams come true, I'm not expected to hit my peak as a novelist for another decade and a half. Wow, I am so relaxed now.

sugar on the floor and uproar

The 60th birthday of freckled troublemaker Pippi Longstocking caused me to flash back to playing the braided firebrand for an elementary school play in the 1970s. The highlight of my performance was a rendition of Drifters classic "Up on the Roof" in a red wig atop a miniature house. Little did I know that I was sent down the wrong path that very day.

The first appearance of Pippi -- full name Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraims Daughter Longstocking -- caused an outcry among some parents and teachers who saw her as a threat to public morals.

Not only did Pippi live alone in a big ramshackle house, with her monkey Mr Nilsson and her horse Little Old Man, but she refused to go to school and told tall tales about foreign places she had visited with her sea captain father from the South Seas.

One sceptic was Swedish publishing baron Gerard Bonnier who turned down the manuscript saying: "Sugar on the floor and uproar in the children's room? No, I don't dare take responsibility for that."

Friday, May 13, 2005

notice forest

In a conversation earlier today, I was reminded of my favorite installation from PS1's Greater New York 2005 exhibit. You can see some more designs from Yuken Teruya's series Notice Forest here.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I know John Steinbeck, and you, sir...

Ethan Hawke will not be daunted by those damn critics. Posterity will reveal him to be the literary powerhouse he sees in the mirror.

"I don't think it's up to us to decide if our things are of quality or not. I know that sounds a little pretentious."

And yet...

Via Elegant Variation
Later: The dream hits another road block...

or a girl can hope

Iris director Richard Eyre will deliver the film version of Notes from a Scandal (a variation on the subtitle of Zoe Heller's novel What Was She Thinking?), starring Cate Blanchett as a British Mary Kay Letourneau and Judi Dench as her meddling colleague. This is one case where I'd put money down that the film will be better than the book.

the room

Considered by many to be the best short story writer out there, William Trevor is featured (again) in this week's New Yorker.

“Idleness is upsetting,” she had said while they danced, and had asked her future lover if he had ever heard of Sharon Ritchie. People often thought they hadn’t and then remembered. He shook his head and the name was still unfamiliar to him when she told him why he might have heard of it. “Sharon Ritchie was murdered,” she’d said, and wouldn’t have without the few drinks. “My husband was accused.”

untimely deaths all around

Last night, I saw a sneak preview of Malfunkshun, a documentary profiling Andrew Wood, a pioneer of the pre-grunge Seattle scene who died of a heroin overdose at the age of 24. Keep an eye out for it in your local theatres. In the meantime, you can check out Malfunkshun's Return to Olympus, Mother Love Bone's Apple, or the Wood tributes on Temple of the Dog.

When we returned home, my roommate and I discovered that the bird who had been taunting her cat for weeks in the backyard had been killed and left as a gift for us on the livingroom carpet. The horrifying part was that we walked by it for about an hour, thinking it was a cat toy.


Later: Upon discovering the cat lying in wait for another bird earlier today (taste for blood and all that), I found myself scolding her, "Don't kill!"

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

motherless hollywood

Jonathan Lethem's next novel will be a romantic comedy about a failed rock band in L.A.

And it's set in Los Angeles, a place I'm merely curious about. I'm sure I'll get it wrong in a million different ways, but it's not a real Los Angeles at all. It's more like a proscenium arch for the little play I want to put on.


Great. Another alternative religion to add to my dissertation. Like I don't have enough work.

"Unlike Scientology, which is based on empirically verifiable scientific tenets, Fictionology's central principles are essentially fairy tales with no connection to reality," the AIR report read. "In short, Fictionology offers its followers a mythical belief system free from the cumbersome scientific method to which Scientology is hidebound."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

big sunday, big fun

Now in its seventh year, Big Sunday is a celebration of community spirit where volunteers fan out across Los Angeles to work on over 150 different projects designed to improve neighborhoods and uplift spirits. Volunteer organizations, which range from the Catholic Archdiocese and a number of churches to several synagogues and Buddhist groups, private and public schools to the Daughters of the American Revolution, spend the day on worthy efforts such as making brunches at homeless shelters, repainting inner-city classrooms, visiting seniors in nursing homes, performing beach cleanups, providing battered women with haircuts and manicures and distributing gift baskets to needy children.

Sign up now...there are limited spots for each project.

maybe I could get a job as a newscaster

I just heard a broadcaster for the local news, reporting on the murder of six people at a California ranch, say, “We’re in a beautiful area here in Riverside County, where things like this shouldn’t happen in real life…but they do.” Dude, you work for the news. It’s always real life. He then went on to describe one of the victims as a former firefighter “before she became just a homemaker.”

For more events that shouldn't happen in real life, click here and note the phrase "unarmed suspect."

at what point do I give up and watch deadwood?

I've been trying to write for hours now with no success. I think this might partly be a result of the fact that I picked up a gig teaching on-line, so I've bought myself some more time without a 9-5. Or it could possibly be that there was an embarrassment of riches on the web today.

  • I could take a tip from these masochistic writers profiled in The New York Times, who have locked themselves in (albeit designer) boxes and are expected to complete a novel by June 4. Maybe if I had a gourmet meal waiting for me at the end of the day (and a profile in the NYT), I'd be more motivated. (Via Large Vibrating Egg)
  • FD5000 links to a collection of artists who were commissioned to make one-of-a-kind sets of four plastic plates. You can even order a kit to make your own. That sounds like an excellent procrastination tool to me.
  • FD also introduces us (or me, at least) to the illustrious and incredibly moving PostSecret, where you can mail in your deepest & darkest on a homemade postcard. My secret is that I wish I had a secret just so I could make a cool postcard...

advice for the geographically challenged

In all my cross-country relocating, I missed the release of my friend Caroline's great new how-to handbook, The Long-Distance Relationship Guide. Finding it hard to start a long-distance relationship or a relationship of any kind? Maybe you need her other book, How to Behave.

Monday, May 09, 2005

new york notes

The good news: You'll be able to see two alt-country stunners - Neko Case (with New Pornographers, although the backing band from her last solo tour, The Sadies, are opening) and Kasey Chambers - at Prospect Park this summer, thanks to Celebrate Brooklyn.

The bad news: If someone doesn't do something soon (e.g. help out this project), CBGB will join the list of historic New York venues to close in the past year or so. I have very fond memories of my last time there - at an all-ages, early-evening Distillers show, where my then boyfriend and I were twice (if not thrice) as old as anyone else in line, except the parents dropping their kids off. But once inside, it was all about the rock.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

good vs. evil: the battle of the bands

In a rare attempt to discipline myself, I'm only allowed to browse mp3 blogs on Sundays. Today, I couldn't help but notice there was an epic battle going on between Jesus and the forces of the devil.

Glow Jesus Glow - The Cherry Blossoms
(via Popsheep)
Jesus Is a Rock - Cumberland River Singers

The Eyes of Our Youth Are Evil - Birds of America
Evil - Misty's Big Adventure
You Gotta Sin to Be Saved - Maria McKee

double dog dare

A Fool in the Forest recently threw down the gauntlet and passed on this meme to me. There's also a musical version floating around out there to which I haven't been invited, but maybe I'll give it a go some other time. It was sort of hard to pick just one answer to some of these questions, so I decided I didn't have to.

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?

If I were feeling particularly dissolute, I wouldn't mind going on a bender Under the Volcano. If I could live in a non-fiction book while single, I'd love to hang out as a Bachelor Girl. However, if I had to pick just one fictional world, it'd probably be the mysterious, romantic, and literary Barcelona of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind.

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Maybe it's the Michael Jackson trial, but the last crush on a fictional character I remember having was on Ender in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. It's much more likely for me to have a crush on the author who created the character.

3. The last book you bought was...?

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

4. The last book you read was...?

Queer People, Carroll & Garrett Graham

5. What are you currently reading?

6. Five books you would take to a desert island...

7. Who are you passing this stick on to and why?

Anyone listed under "Music" to the right...

Friday, May 06, 2005

doing just enough, but never too much

LA Weekly's Jay Babcock links the insta-release of the new White Stripes single to The Who's insta-defense of Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, when they were picked up on drug charges in 1967. He sees "Blue Orchid" as the spark of a possible revolution in musical immediacy.

If instant music became more widespread - if more musicians exploited digital technology to decrease the time between music's creation and distribution - it could signal a positive shift in the pop-culture loop: Musicians could make direct commentary on what's going on day-to-day in the world, as griots, troubadours, and bards did for most of human history pre-phonograph. Instant music also means less hype - and a far less mediated interaction between musician and audience.

FYI: According to "Blue Orchid," what's going on in the world is that you got a reaction, didn't you, when you took a white orchid and turned it blue. And you don't act your age. (No disrespect, Jack. I'll always love you.)

who wouldn't stick around for a $250 ice bucket?

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum compares runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks to Jane Eyre:

But where Jane Eyre merely defied her era's conventional morality, it seems to me that the Wilbanks story also underlines some ambiguities in our conventional morality. Nowadays you're not supposed to marry for money or status, although we all know some people do. You're supposed to be happy at your wedding, even though some people aren't. At the same time, it's still considered selfish and immature to run away and abandon the caterers if you're distraught -- even though lots of people probably want to. Part of the culture says the conventional, social bits of weddings don't matter, and part of the culture says they do. Part of the culture says weddings are about true love, and part of the culture says they're about Cuisinarts.

It's undeniable that Wilbanks greatly inconvenienced a large number of well-wishers and law enforcement officers, but I fear the threat of criminal charges betrays something of a double standard. Entire television programs have been dedicated to the recuperation of women left at the altar (my favorite being women who went on to whoop it up at the reception anyway), and never once did I hear of the absconding man being hauled into the hoosgow.

overheard in new york again

I've made my second and final appearance on Overheard in New York. Scroll down to the entry for May 6 that's been titled "You Know, the Wrong White."

(Caution: Not work-friendly.)

try telling hemingway he wrote like crap

Northwestern University is boasting that its creative writers don't use depression as a crutch, and they are fairly outspoken about their eschewing of tragedy in favor of "something beautiful in the broadest sense of the word."

Peter, a senior who is on the fiction track, agreed that depression doesn't foster the best writing. "Emotions are useful in the writing process, but if you're just writing when you're depressed, you're going to write a lot of crap," he said.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

literatura de méxico

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I thought I'd put up a list of some Mexican writers to check out in all your free time. I tried to link to English translations where possible.

The Book of Lamentations, Rosario Castellanos (1962)

Thirty years before the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas brought this little-known corner of Mexico to the world's notice, Mexican author Rosario Castellanos created a similar rebellion in her 1962 novel The Book of Lamentations. Castellanos has framed her story, which is set in the 1930s, around an actual 1860s uprising of Maya Indians against the Chiapan white ruling class. History and fiction meld seamlessly, mainly because conditions in the Chiapas Castellanos knew as a child hadn't changed much in the intervening 70 years; as late as the 1920s, impoverished Indians still served as mules, carrying white landowners strapped to their backs.

The Answer/La Respuesta,
Sor Juana Ines De la Cruz (1994)

After Sor Juana (1648-95) was overheard privately refuting certain arguments made by a Portuguese Jesuit concerning God's greatest gift to humanity, the Bishop of Puebla asked for a written copy of the refutation, published it without the nun's knowledge, and added to it a pseudonymous reprimand. It was this disingenuous reminder not to meddle in the affairs of men that prompted Sor Juana to write The Answer. (See also Sor Juana, or The Traps of Faith by Octavio Paz.)

The Astonishing Story of the Saint of Cabora, Brianda Domecq (1998)

Mexican novelist Brianda Domecq has painted a fictional portrait of legendary nineteenth-century Mexican heroine Teresa Urrea, commonly known as the Saint of Cabora. The illegitimate daughter of a Yaqui Indian servant and a hard-hearted ranch owner, young Teresa was determined to capture her indifferent father's attention and become a welcome member of his family. After educating herself and gaining her father's recognition, Teresa began exhibiting signs of extraordinary healing powers. As her fame as a healer began to spread, she became a spiritual icon for the ill and underprivileged and was eventually accused of organizing a subversive peasant revolution aimed at undermining the harsh dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. Juxtaposing Teresa's story with that of a contemporary scholar obsessed with unearthing the true details of Urrea's life, Domecq has fashioned a psychologically compelling tale of a seemingly ordinary woman who managed to overcome societal constraints in order to fulfill her remarkable destiny.

The Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz (1950)

The Labyrinth of Solitude addresses issues that are both seemingly eternal and resoundingly contemporary: the nature of political power in post-conquest Mexico, the relation of Native Americans to Europeans, the ubiquity of official corruption. Noting these matters earned Paz no small amount of trouble from the Mexican leadership, but it also brought him renown as a social critic. Paz, who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, later voiced his disillusionment with all political systems--as the Mexican proverb has it, "all revolutions degenerate into governments"--but his call for democracy in this book has lately been reverberating throughout Mexico, making it timely once again.

The Skin of the Sky, Elena Poniatowska (2004)

Mexico is as much a character in Poniatowska's epic novels of personal discovery, political awakenings, and cosmic heartache as the questing men and women she so poignantly animates. In her latest munificent work, the author of Here's to You, Jesusa (2001) and Tinisima (1996) portrays an inquisitive, stargazing boy who, against tremendous odds, becomes a renowned astronomer.

Pedro Paramo, Juan Rulfo (1955)

A masterpiece of the surreal, this stunning novel from Mexico depicts a man's strange quest for his heritage. Beseeched by his dying mother to locate his father, Pedro Paramo, whom they fled from years ago, Juan Preciado sets out for Comala. Comala is a town alive with whispers and shadows - a place seemingly populated only by memories and hallucinations.

rethinking my bright eyes crush

Whatever one might say about Conor Oberst, it's brave of him (and Jay Leno, too, unless he had no idea) to take on the president and God on national television in this political climate. Just look at what happened to gutsy Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

changing lanes

A temporary resident of L.A. comments on the rash of recent freeway shootings in The New York Times:

If nothing else, these good driving manners express the centrality of the freeway system in the consciousness of Southern California. I've begun to think of those lanes as a giant public square spreading all across the city, a square where most people try to contribute their mite of civility in hopes of keeping the overall experience as tolerable as possible. But there's another way to look at it. The civility on display may reflect nothing more than the profound hostility lying just below the surface.

What strikes me as most foreboding about the freeway shootings is the way law enforcement tries to reassure us by pointing out that we're actually behind schedule:

Even as they announced the stepped-up enforcement efforts, officials released figures showing that despite media coverage in recent weeks, there have actually been two fewer freeway shootings this year than in the same period last year.

"We don't want the public to think there's an onslaught" of shootings, Assistant Chief Art Acevedo said Monday. "We are actually on pace to have fewer shootings this year, and remember, these shootings are taking place in three counties that are heavily traveled with high populations."

According to data released by authorities, there were 36 freeway shootings, with one person killed, in 2004. In 2003, there were 46 incidents and four fatalities.

chicka chicka boom boom

In case you're looking for a little background music to some slap 'n tickle...

at play in the fields of delillo

White Noise on White Noise collects fragments from the Don DeLillo classic - as if you're flipping through the text in a bookstore - and then adds not-so-random hyperlinks to various words or phrases. Brilliant.

speaking of delillo

From Chris Offutt's contribution to the first issue of Swink, "Maybe DeLillo Is There!":

Writers don't have it easy just because they live in New York. They might even have it harder. More people doesn't mean less loneliness, but it does increase the odds that the phone might ring. There is nothing wrong with my life. The problem is with the phone.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

this week's netflix

Abortion! Pedophilia! Oppression of the indigenous! Welcome to the Escapegrace film festival of the most depressing movies ever gathered under one post...

Vera Drake: Forget the authentic acting and faultless art direction; Mike Leigh's deft handling of this politically charged story of a 1950s wife, mother, and abortionist is quite remarkable. Imelda Staunton's Oscar nomination was well-deserved.

The Woodsman: Nicole Kassell also gets high points for execution in this film about a convicted pedophile trying to reintegrate back into society after his release from prison. Character motivations are fully demonstrated, and the pedophile (as played by Kevin Bacon) is not portrayed as entirely malignant or necessarily deserving of sympathy. However, despite Kevin Bacon's strong performance, it was still Kevin Bacon! Kevin Bacon doesn't molest children!

The Motorcycle Diaries: Yummmmy. How can all that hot be concentrated in one person? Oh right, the indigenous people of South America are oppressed, and Che Guevera (the delicioso Gael Garcia Bernal) and Alberto Granada (Rodrigo De la Serna) travel through some breathtaking scenery, learning that their mission is to try less to get laid and to try more to unite the South American people through providing medical assistance.

are you annoying?

...'cause I know I'm not. Some of these people might be touch and go.

movin' on up

Well, thank the Lord, I've moved from the 11th most depressed city to the city tied for 17th place. The joy and ecstacy should be kicking in any minute now.

I am going to make it through this year if it kills me...
- The Mountain Goats

Monday, May 02, 2005

los angeles almanac

I came across an impressive website while doing research today to avoid writing: Los Angeles Almanac. In addition to helpful census bureau data and fun facts like old telephone exchange names by neighborhood, you can find all kinds of trivia. For example, I have always wondered why traffic reporters refer to "sig-alerts" when there's an accident on the freeway. Wonder no more:

During the 1940s, the LAPD began alerting radio reporter Loyd Sigmon whenever a major automobile accident occurred on city streets. These notices became known as "Sig-Alerts," and were later issued to alert all local media. The term "SigAlert" eventually came to apply to any incident on greater Los Angeles area freeways which blocks two or more lanes of traffic for two or more hours.

I also found this very reassuring entry on vampires in L.A.:

In 1995, the late Stephen Kaplan, a parapsychology teacher at the Vampire Research Center in Elmhurst, New York, reported that Los Angeles was home to 36 vampires -- the highest concentration of vampires in the world. He described vampires as sexually charismatic, high-energy people, who fit well into L.A.'s mainstream, drawing less attention due to L.A.'s acceptance of the unusual. Kaplan explained that vampires were not to be feared. They are pleasant people who require only a very small amount of blood.

(Before you New Yorkers start to bash L.A., do note that the Vampire Research Center is in Elmhurst.)

an instrument we all can afford

I ventured out to Highland Park last night to surprise an old friend who was rumored to perform at an open mike night every Sunday. Of course, as these things usually go, it was the one Sunday he couldn't make it. However, I was treated to the musical stylings of a "balloon bass" player. What could that possibly mean, you ask? Fortunately for all concerned, he has a website to tell us.