Thursday, July 27, 2006

rocky mountain high

I'm off to the land of these folks for what I've been promised is "the social occasion of the summer." If there's something I shouldn't leave Denver without doing, please speak up...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

roller coasters have inclines and boxers have fists

Pitchfork's summer reading list includes the new collection from rock critic Frank Kogan, Real Punks Don't Wear Black:

What sets Kogan apart is his deep, sincere, wildly enthusiastic embrace of (scare-quote alert) "crap." L'Trimm and Teena Marie and Toby Keith and Spoonie Gee and Sophie B. Hawkins get the same obsessive rave-treatment as the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan or Lifter Puller, whose greatness Kogan documented before just about anyone else. Kogan is also as likely to dote on fan-magazine letters from teenage girls as on actual lyrics and he actively despises what he calls the "PBS path" of indie rock, the canon-building impulse that flattens out tangles and turns consensus into accepted truth. But it's not a pose: If you doubt Kogan loves L'Trimm with all his heart, the spun-out joy in his writing should be enough to dispel any such foolishness.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

much ado about untitled

Slate examines the mystery around Thomas Pynchon's Amazon page.

Was this a hoax? A jump-the-gun glitch? A hype? In any event, one Amazon customer must have gone through his Web browser's cache and reposted the thing on the customer discussion board, touching off an instant classic of that kind of chatter where M.F.A. meets LSD. The following comments are fairly typical: "I am saying that the blurb is Pynchon parroting Pynchon … viral-marketing or, more hopefully, a Swiftian self-parody and critique of Internet subcultures (a sort of new, updated Tale of a Tub.)" Whee!

Also at Slate: A survey of bloggerdom, a review of Joseph Epstein's exposé of friendship, and a look at how need to vanquished have to, must, and should.

Monday, July 17, 2006

surrender to the terrible

I once applied to write a monograph on J.G. Ballard, and while I'm glad I wasn't saddled with that project before I had even completed my dissertation, I still have a soft spot in my heart for him in all his perverse complexity. John Foxx of Ultravox does, too.

From the late 70s to the early 80s, it seemed that most “post-punk” artists were happy to claim Ballard as an influence: Numan, Siouxsie, Ian Curtis, Cabaret Voltaire, yourself… Why did Ballard have resonance for such a particular group of musicians back then?

I think some of this may have been an attraction to the new modes of physical and intellectual violence on offer and to the uncompromising outer edge stance. This attraction naturally alters as the ‘mode of the music’ changes. Many other writers have since begun to colonise what JGB established, and elaborated that grammar to deal with new technological events, but it’s still essentially the same stance.

He was the first radical and relevant novelist of this technological age in Britain. You had Burroughs and Philip K Dick in America but they were connected to the beat movement, using drugs as a lens, reflecting an American landscape. I always enjoyed JGB’s Englishness, living in a middle-class suburb writing about a new landscape we’d only just come to live in – more akin to McLuhan’s academic/romantic take on the unrecognised present.

I think what Ballard maps out so well is that moment of surrender to the terrible. A total, inevitable, final embrace. After Hiroshima we really had no choice. It was impossible to pretend that the world would ever be the same again. We all sleep there every night, now. Ballard blueprinted all that like no one else I’ve ever read.

Friday, July 14, 2006

that's a really long name for a software program

I'm a longtime fan of John Hodgman, so I can't help but agree with Seth Stevenson that the new Mac ads backfire.

My problem with these ads begins with the casting. As the Mac character, Justin Long (who was in the forgettable movie Dodgeball and the forgettabler TV show Ed) is just the sort of unshaven, hoodie-wearing, hands-in-pockets hipster we've always imagined when picturing a Mac enthusiast. He's perfect. Too perfect. It's like Apple is parodying its own image while also cementing it. If the idea was to reach out to new types of consumers (the kind who aren't already evangelizing for Macs), they ought to have used a different type of actor.

Meanwhile, the PC is played by John Hodgman—contributor to The Daily Show and This American Life, host of an amusing lecture series, and all-around dry-wit extraordinaire. Even as he plays the chump in these Apple spots, his humor and likability are evident. (Look at that hilariously perfect pratfall he pulls off in the spot titled "Viruses.") The ads pose a seemingly obvious question—would you rather be the laid-back young dude or the portly old dweeb?—but I found myself consistently giving the "wrong" answer: I'd much sooner associate myself with Hodgman than with Long.

Now VH1 has come out with a series of parodies that underscore Stevenson's point. (Link via Old Hag from whom, in a nice neat little circle, I won a copy of Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

scenes from a small town fourth

I can't remember the last time I celebrated a Fourth of July without fireworks over the East River, so it was a unique treat for me to spend this year's Independence Day in a small town in Vermont.

While my hosts joined the town parade on their bikes, I volunteered to act as photographer.

I was happy to see these folks giving out Choose Peace pins at the front of the parade.

There were two of these guys and dueling pop-a-wheelies.

I have no idea what this creature represented, but I dug it.

Many of the parade attractions showcased vehicular power, including this fierce Volvo.

The parade ended at this park, featuring a BBQ attended by the whole town.

what nourishes me also destroys me

I couldn't keep my hands off these ten-week-old Vermont kittens and I paid the price in allergies.

closer to god

My brother was married in the most beautiful church I've ever entered in the U.S. The interior walls were crafted entirely of wood, arching gorgeously above the altar.