My Star Wars Pitch

Kylo, Poe and Han Solo stop off in a seedy bar following rumors about the whereabouts of Luke.

As the camera pans the room, the audience sees a variety of bizarre, but strangely familiar alien forms.

Without warning, Hans face explodes. The music stops. In shock, the group is too horrified to respond when an alien walks up to the table holding a blaster. He stares at Hans slumping corpse and says “Message from Greedo, ‘How about a ‘heads up’ next time.'” Continue reading

Kris Kristofferson’s Feeling Mortal: An appreciation

I would like to invite you to listen to Kris Kristofferson’s album Feeling Mortal. I struggle to write anything useful about it, but it means a lot to me.

I hear it as a concept album, not about death, but about seeking.

Kris Kristofferson is a country music legend in his 70s. By honoring and embracing this specificity so honestly, the album reveals more universe themes.

I want to describe the music, the voice, and the words as having all been condensed to their bare essentials. The album combines the relaxed feel of musicians with nothing to prove with the delicate flourishes, the subtle harmonies, and the precise inflections that are only possible in the studio.

I invite you to notice the words that open the album.

Wide awake and feeling mortal
At this moment in the dream
That old man there in the mirror
And my shaky self-esteem

Feeling Mortal, embraces death, but as a backdrop to highlight much more.

I invite you to notice how quickly and economically the tone is set, within a song that stands alone.

…a sense of life as dream, but also being wide awake and embracing it, whatever it is. looking into the mirror, and examining a shaky self esteem.

Pretty speeches still unspoken
Perfect circles in the sand
Rules and promises I’ve broken
That I still don’t understand

I invite you to recall this theme of openness as we explore the rest of the album.

Mamma Steward moves us into a personal story. One which expands this theme of vision and acceptance.

And the things she said reminded me
Of things I’d grown too blind to see
And feelings that I’d hidden deep inside
And when she said goodbye and kissed me
I was thankful she couldn’t see
The sudden tears I couldn’t hide

And also lauds a character who is at once at peace with life as it is, but also and grateful for miracles.

But the miracle of medicine
And good old time religion
Removed the veil of darkness from her eyes
They said she praised the Lord
And thanked the doctor
And didn’t even seem at all surprised

At this point I want to acknowledge that I am veering dangerously close to just printing the lyrics and wishing I could put the music in as well. The album rewards listening, but defy’s my ability to comment usefully on it.

Yet I feel drawn to try.

Because life is a song for the dying to sing
And it’s got to have feeling to mean anything

I love this line, from Bread for the Body. It does not say something new, but nobody ever does. The best most can hope for is to say something old in a new way. This does something even better, it says something true, extremely well.

Notice the inflection on… fear my eyes. Notice how well the band swings.

If the narrator in Bread for the Body is looking back on life with a new sense of perceptive and new life lessons, the narrator of You Don’t Tell Me What To Do, inhabits a these lessons.

So the highway is where I believe I belong
Losing myself in the soul of a song
And the fight for the right to be righteously wrong
It’s a story that’s sad but it’s true

Notice the tone here. It is assertive, and may have faults, but it is not aggressive.

With Stairway to The Bottom, the album pivots slightly. This is an old song, from one of Kris Kristofferson other great underrated albums (Spooky Lady’s Sideshow). Indeed many of the themes in the album are extensions of a careers worth of artistry.

The narrator in You Don’t Tell Me What to Do was honest but unrepentant about his faults and bad behavior in the previous track. Now we see the other side of that equation, as the narrator follows a number of country tropes, but is forced to face their consequences in the mirror.

But each lie that you’ve spoken
And each vow that you’ve broken
Was a new nail in the coffin of your soul
If you think someone’s cryin’
For the love that is dyin’
With the trust that you betray each time you fall
Look around you on that stairway to the bottom
No one’s watchin’ but that mirror on the wall

It shares with Just Suppose the tradition of great county songs: a chorus refrain that reflects something new on each turn as the song progresses.

And I expect you to expect me to feel guilty
For not giving back the love you threw away
But just suppose you really love her now like I do
What do you suppose you’d do if you were me

It could be singing directly at the narrator of the previous track. It has sympathy (Yes I guess you feel ashamed and I can’t really say I blame you/ I suppose I’d feel the same if I were you) but ultimately remains unwilling to back down.

We are now also in the realm of love songs, a new theme to which the album returns after a detour into Castaway.

One day as I was sailing on the Caribbean Sea
I spied a little fishing vessel drifting aimlessly
Her sails were torn and tattered
And her wheel was spinning free
I told myself that little boat sure looks a lot like me

On many days my favorite track on the album. I relate to it deeply. To quote myself: “The best most can hope for is to say something old in a new way. This does something even better, it says somthing true, extremely well.”

For my eyes grew accustomed to looking at you
And my arms found a body they hungered to hold
And the rest of my senses surrendered to you
But my heart was the last one to know

And in My Heart Was the Last One to Know, these themes come together, a realization too late that in matters of the heart, the eyes are sometimes not enough.

Because of the difficulty of writing about music, I have avoided it. But sounds matter. They make or break an album. Notice in The One You Choose, that not only does our narrative culminate in a confession of love…

Maybe what you see is what you got and what you wanted
Take me at my word that it’s the best that I can be
I will go down trying hard to teach you how to trust me
And I’ll love you ‘til it happens darling or eternity

… it incorporates some simple but masterful licks and honest vocals.

And to pay it all off, we pull back from personal songs to a look at how to live in the context of all that the album has taken us through:

And I know he ain’t afraid of where he’s going
And I’m sure he ain’t ashamed of where he’s been
He has paid a little piece of his soul
For every seed that he’s been sowing
And he made his own mistakes, and love, and friends
Ain’t that what matters in the end

 

See also: Pilgrims Progress
Let the Walls Come Down

CHILDISH GAMBINO: Indivisible constant of the universe

“Then we get to believe that the laws of randomness break down in at least one place around actor/musician Donald Glover….

this god is a laissez faire ruler of the universe who allows for famine and war and almost infinite human misery. But as far as we can tell, there is one place this god cares to intervene. This god makes sure that whatever else happens Donald Glover will always be Childish Gambino…”

Rolling Stones Autobiography

a tagline: To stare into the infinite darkness and embrace our finitude
a motto: something about vulnerability

I think a lot about how I might start a biography. Early on I want to highlight the unreliability of the narrator.

I think a lot about how I might start an autobiography. I have a conceit about the lessons the Rolling Stones taught me. It’s a good conceit, and I hope to pursue it.

But the quote that inspired these rumination comes from Henry Miller, by way of Erica Jong.*

I read this quote while on a trip through central america. It meant a lot to me then. Something about it’s logic was inherently appealing. It was exciting to consider myself a God.

But now it means even more to me, I feel as if I have a deeper more nuanced understanding. That I have walked much farther along the path it points to, and I think that I understand it’s truth on a more intimate level.

Like the Rolling Stones, I reflect on Henry Miller as a deeply flawed being, who was morally reprehensible in many ways. What I took from Erica Jong’s book was that what redeems him, if anything, was his willingness to reveal himself.

Most of that was lost on me when I read him myself, I was in it for the power fantasy, and as a result I still harbor some judgement.

But I do think that vulnerability is key. The narrative provided by Jong scares me as much as it attracts me. What if I am vulnerable and open and find that I am Henry Miller. I think I could accept that I hold repugnant thoughts, but what if, like him, I did not use that acknowledgment to avoid causing harm?

What if I found that unrestrained, I just enacted my worst impulses on the world.

The Rolling Stones are rarely willing to be vulnerable in this way.

All of which is a distraction, carried along by the narrative logic of the words that came before, as opposed to my true intent. Some writers are capable of coming much closer to resisting that tide, and marrying their words with their poetry and their meaning. They can make the barrier between their words and their inner reality seem paper thin, and that can be magnificent and powerful.

But what I want to highlight at the start of my theoretical autobiography, is that the barrier still exists, however thin.

Did Miller know what he was saying when he said it? Did he mean what I thought he meant 10 years ago?  Was his openness to the world bringing him ever closer to the revelation it reminds me of now? Perhaps the beauty is that it contains all of this and much more.

Magnificent. The words themselves deceive even as they reveal. Powerful.

What they do not necessarily do, is convey any true sense of history, or what it meant to be inside his head. And as I cobble together stories about my life and try to cram them into a narrative conceit about the Rolling Stones**, I may aspire to poetry. But I want it to be clear from the outset that I have no capacity to convey the truth of my existence, or even my history, nor can I know the truth of yours.

The things that seemed important moments ago, flitter away.

All we have are these words to communicate with. They can be great.

*Where is the quote? It is here: “Like every man I am my own worst enemy, but unlike most men I know too that I am my own saviour.”

Why is it at the end? I wrote this draft with only my memory of the quote. In that draft it was inserted into the text 3 times! When I finally tracked down the quote it was so far from what I recalled I would have given up the whole endeavor, if this was not exactly the point of this piece.

**I came very close to telling this same story using a Keith Richards quote about the lack of and real security in the world. But that was not the quote that inspired these thoughts. All that stopped me was the knowledge that I could highlight  that I had NOT done so, and it would reinforce how unreliable the construction of narrative is.

Preview of Rolling Stones lessons: Something about being open to encountering the worlds most famous band as new, about the power of myth to both illuminate and distort, about the power of controlled chaos, about rhythm that moves and withholds, about how that’s achieved in the studio


Cohen’s Poetry

I want to think there are better uses for my time than writing confessionals.

One of the things poetry can do is capture a reality so completely that you can begin to understand its multifaceted truth. It can take that reality and redeem it. It can show you something about grace.

Leonard Cohen was a poet before he was a songwriter.

The ninth song on Leonard Cohen’s 1979 live album (Field Commander Cohen) is “Memories”.   Sung to a do-wop track, the music and vocal swells until Cohen croons

I said “won’t you let me see”
I said “won’t you let me see”
Your naked body?”

It is a moment of sublime beauty, helped along by some biographical knowledge.

A man known in later years for his impossibly deep voice, in this moment, he croons.
Continue reading

Quotes from an interview between bell hook and John Perry Barlow

I read this interview today, and I thought it deserved a wider audience.

When making these types of posts I find myself torn between

I. Thinking that there is something ego-less about curating and pointing towards existing content (as opposed to trying to restate these thoughts in my own crude way)
vs
II. Thinking that there is something terrible about a culture that does nothing but relentlessly remix the peak moments of existing art

Part of the resolution to this may be the need for context. It matters why I am pointing rather than creating.

John Perry Barlow: Without a truly grounded context, words themselves don’t mean anything; metaphors don’t mean anything. A metaphor has to participate equally in the utterly physical and the truly spiritual. A metaphor is kind of a path between those two realms, and it’s a bad bridge that doesn’t have two ends.

But then I use that quote, and I worry it’s meaning is obscured by being placed in this context.

Ah well. By the way, I also took away this phrase from the interview: “the confusion of information for experience”. Read it for yourself if you’d like.

Kris Kristofferson Castaway – The internet fails

Just when I think I’m ready to fully embrace instrumental music as the purest experience, I hear records like Kris Kristofferson’s Feeling Mortal. It includes line’s this good:

“Because life is a song for the dying to sing”

Alongside songs that exemplify the best in pure musical country storytelling.

The coupe de grace for me would have been linking to a sample of Castaway, but the internet has it’s limits.

Thelonious Sphere Monk – Two facts and a video

Thelonious Sphere Monk was criticized by observers who failed to listen to his music on its own terms, suffered through a decade of neglect before he was suddenly acclaimed as a genius; his music had not changed one bit in the interim. – source allmusic 

Monk’s manner was idiosyncratic. Visually, he was renowned for his distinctive style in suits, hats and sunglasses. He was also noted for the fact that at times, while the other musicians in the band continued playing, he would stop, stand up from the keyboard and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano. – source Wikipedia

)

Death, My Unhelpful Obsession

Here is a passage that resonates deeply with me:

The basic premise of The Denial of Death is that human civilization is ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of our mortality, which in turn acts as the emotional and intellectual response to our basic survival mechanism. Becker argues that a basic duality in human life exists between the physical world of objects and a symbolic world of human meaning. Thus, since man has a dualistic nature consisting of a physical self and a symbolic self, man is able to transcend the dilemma of mortality through heroism, a concept involving his symbolic half. By embarking on what Becker refers to as an “immortality project” (or causa sui), in which he creates or becomes part of something which he feels will last forever, man feels he has “become” heroic and, henceforth, part of something eternal; something that will never die, compared to his physical body that will die one day. This, in turn, gives man the feeling that his life
has meaning; a purpose; significance in the grand scheme of things.

From this premise, mental illness is most insightfully extrapolated as a bogging down in one’s hero system(s). When someone is experiencing depression, their causa sui (or heroism project) is failing, and they are being consistently reminded of their mortality and insignificance as a result. Schizophrenia is a step further than depression in which one’s causa sui is falling apart, making it impossible to engender sufficient defense mechanisms against their mortality; henceforth, the schizophrenic has to create their own reality or “world” in which they are better heroes. Becker argues that the conflict between immortality projects which contradict each other (particularly in religion) is the wellspring for the destruction and misery in our world caused by wars, bigotry, genocide, racism, nationalism, and so forth, since an immortality project which contradicts others indirectly suggests that the others are wrong.

Another theme running throughout the book is that humanity’s traditional “hero-systems” i.e. religion, are no longer convincing in the age of reason; science is attempting to solve the problem of man, something that Becker feels it can never do. The book states that we need new convincing “illusions” that enable us to feel heroic in the grand scheme of things, i.e. immortal. Becker, however, does not provide any definitive answer, mainly because he believes that there is no perfect solution. Instead, he hopes that gradual realization of man’s innate motivations, namely death, can help to bring about a better world.

– Wikipedia.

As a work of nonfiction I find that I want to distance myself from this. There are very real practical implications of this worldview that I vehemently disagree with.

And it is far too simple.

But in quiet moments – as a thought experiment – these ideas resonate with me. I am susceptible to the idea that the whole world is motivated by a fear of death, because I see the world through the lens of my own ego.

Death has stalked my biography, often in ways I am not proud of. The specter of the inevitable obliteration of my existence has threatened to overwhelm me. Modern pop psychology and deductive logic suggest I search my memories for the source of this anxiety in some early trauma.

So far, no luck. I lived a very long time before anything or anyone important to me was taken away.

As a young child, I lay in bed, staring at a handcrafted wall-hanging of a prayer, written in colorful yarn:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I shall die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take

I feared uncontrollable and unexpected doom. Fear was the coping mechanism to avoid  thinking about the reality.

Unlike a world that would someday exist without me, cancer was something I could potentially avoid. By staring into that void, I averted my eyes from the worst of it. So I feared cancer.

Defensively I mention that in college, I majored in religious studies. Through which I encountered a series of philosophies about how to understand the universe and our (my) place in it. I also took courses in psychology, sociology, astronomy, evolution, particle physics, death and dying, philosophy… a true liberal arts education.

Each of these perspectives gave me insight, and made me a better person. But they resulted in very little relief from the core problem.

Years later, I turned to Roger Ebert. At the time, I approached his statements with awe and reverence. A wise essayist posing as a film critic, I worshiped him as a hero. And being a pop critic and not a religious master, his peace with death seemed more attainable.

A false dichotomy to be sure.

He wrote, in part: “I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting.”

I recoiled in horror.

But lately, I find this more palatable. Perhaps all my Buddhist readings have paid off. My brain cells are dieing as I age.

I still lie awake at night. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of death, and I’m paralyzed by it. But on good days, I can at least see what feeling at peace with being just a blip of life against the background of vast nothingness might be like.

I exist. Someday I may not. But that is ok. I … no, I can’t find the words. When I stare at it directly the peace flutters away.

Still, it’s progress. Death to the ego!

Leonard Cohen, albums -The Dove Is Never Free

Leonard Cohen’s work is so good it tends to lift up those who write about him.

For instance this line:  “… given that “Hallelujah” was as much about triumphing over waning potency as it was about anything religious… ”

Today it has generated the following thoughts from me.

His newest album, Old Ideas, is perfect example of what I fear I am losing as I indulge myself with more singles and move away from the concept of albums.

The first time I heard the album, the only song I liked, or even understood for that matter, was Different Sides.

The second time I listened to it, I also came to have a deep and profound experience with Banjo.

If you could hear what I hear when I listen to Banjo…

That would be something… that really would be something.

I would love to know what you hear as well.

 

Then I put the album away for a while. But I came back now and again, and now I count Going Home and parts of Amen among the songs I feel like I understand.

Going Home alone is worth the price of the album for me.

But more importantly I look forward to coming back to the album over the next few years to see what other surprises it has in store for me.

I tend to be dense when it comes to art so my particular experience is likely tinged by this. That is part of the attraction for me. But I suspect the thrill of coming back to a large complicated piece and finding new nuances is a more universal experience.

I don’t begrudge the evolution of how we consume music (although I worry about mp3 sound quality). The form has always been dominated by its limitations, and our current distribution model has many advantages.

But the experience I am having with Old Ideas is one that I have to work harder to find.

More quotes:

“For a Zen monk who started his career as a poet, Leonard Cohen has used a lot of synth horns.”

http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16228-leonard-cohen-old-ideas/

Possibly apocryphal:

I’ve come to the conclusion, reluctantly, that I am going to die. So naturally those questions arise and are addressed. But, you know, I like to do it with a beat.

Leonard Cohen, when asked at a recent press conference whether he had “come to terms with death”.

Has there ever been a musician with as consistently good album titles? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Cohen_discography …

And because it cannot be avoided:

Psychedelic Pill – Art and Ageing

Neil Young & Crazy Horse have finally released a follow up to 2012’s Americana.

As Neil Young has gotten older, the artifice of his songwriting has fallen away. This leads unashamedly clunky to passages like this:

I was born in Ontario
I was born in Ontario, Ontario, Ontario, Ontario
(Guitar solo)

But it also means we get 25+ mins of Driftin Back, including the lines:

“Hey now now, hey now now
I used to dig Picasso
Then the big tech giant came along
And turned him into wallpaper”

Ok… that passage doesn’t quite prove my point.

But when this loose, unencumbered style works, it is brilliant.

The best of these songs play with lyrical and musical themes that come from the deepest instincts of a band that has been doing this for a lifetime. They are vital and alive, not afraid to experiment, to breathe, and the band is good enough to pull it off.

I want to walk like a giant.

)

Three thoughts about the Rolling Stones – Gloom and Doom

The emotional heart of my recent science-fiction/corporate espionage short story was inspired by Rolling Stones imagery.

I am not entirely comfortable with my proclivity to treat real people as mythological figures in my internal cosmology.

Nonetheless I recently returned to thinking about music through autobiography and started reading Ronnie*. This has inspired the following thoughts in no particular order:

1). Keith Richards autobiography Life might have been a better biography if he had demonstrated a greater degree of self-awareness, but as a literary work, that awareness could have been fatal.

Adherence to reality aside, Life conjures up a portrait of a man overflowing with raw talent and passion for which he is rewarded with enormous success.

It also reveals a man trapped by the limitations of narrowly defined masculinity and his own image. He seeks redemption in friendship and art, even as he fails to acknowledge his own role in undermining the efficacy of these elements in his own life.

None of this would have the same layered depth, the same nuance, if you had a fully self-aware author. The phrase “show, don’t tell” is overused writing advice, but it applies here. As a novel, it leaves the reader wondering if the narrator is even a good person. What does it mean to leave to leave that kind of trail of destruction and not have any real sense of responsibility for it?

As it stands, Life is a beautiful portrait of undeniable talent mixed with obliviousness.

2) The commonly cited theory that the Rolling Stones recent albums are mere retreads of past glory’s holds up if you narrow your focus to their greatest hits. But their critical success rests primarily on the their streak from Beggars Banquet – Exile on Main Street.

Listen to those albums with fresh ears and you’ll notice that the Rolling Stones (for good or ill) have not even attempted to replicate the same heady mix of blues and folk that that they exemplified during that period.

If nothing else, their recent production relishes in clarity, while these albums are confident attempts to to bury their dynamic riffs and simplistic lyrics** behind layers of atmosphere.

At their worst the last three albums (Voodoo Lounge onward), are cynical retreads of Start Me Up, but they have not attempted to ape triumphs such as Jigsaw Puzzle, Loving Cup, or Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.

The trash on their recent albums are clearly throwaway Rock and Roll McSingles, but for my tastes I can cobble together a pretty good album with selective editing. But even that mix-tape of an album has few of the sonic influences that they were playing around with at their peak.

3). It is surreal is it that they have released a Greatest Hits Album (containing up to 80 tracks) entitled GRRR!

Seriously…. GRRR!

It is even stranger that barely anyone comments on the absurdity of this.

On the other hand, GRRR! contains one of their better McSingles titled: Gloom and Doom. The music is serviceable, gritty and on the right track, but lacks dynamism.  It’s lyrically great and it grew on my after repeated listenings.

It’s the kind of song that in a different context would make me think “this band is really onto something – I can’t wait to hear what they do when they get an album together.”

Who knows what they could do if they cared to really try.

*Random non-music autobiography book recommendations:  The Swerve (which demonstrates how old modernity is) and End This Depression Now! (which functions as nice economic’s primer for mainstream liberal thought and shows that money does strange things in large groups).

**My internal struggle with the content of most of their lyrics merits its own post.

On the Marriage Equality Issue

EDIT: here is the link.

What I really wanted to post here was a link to an NPR interview I heard years ago with an evangelical involved in the creation of the Moral Majority.

I wanted to post this because I don’t have anything original to say about the recent controversy’s regarding marriage equality, but I felt the need to say something.

I felt the need to comment, because despite the fact I should be inoculated against it by now, I am shocked and dismayed that this is a legal controversy.

Not because I don’t understand how someone could be against it. I just don’t understand how such large numbers of people can feel as if it’s acceptable to give that dislike voice in the law.

The interview I wanted to link to was with a sincere evangelical who believed that homosexuality was a sin. He talked about the calculations required to raise it up over other sins such as money lending.

I despair over our ability to handle complex problems if we cannot agree on minority rights. If we can’t say, “I don’t like it but it’s not really my call.”

If we cannot agree that if marriage is a big enough term to legally encompass all the non-christian weddings, the loveless marriages, the sexless marriages…

If it includes the people who don’t have ceremonies,

If it’s a concept that (legally speaking at least) really just involves two people declaring that they want to bind there lives together in some amorphous way….

then it is also big enough to include people irregardless of their gender.

If the libertarians can’t show up in force for this issue…

If slippery slope fallacy is able to stand uncontested…

If we can’t acknowledge that in the “culture wars” same sex marriage is the next logical step now that we’ve made marriage about romance…

If a hundred other things I’m forgetting to mention. Then how are we ever going to solve the complicated problems. The policy problems.

So, I couldn’t link to the NPR article, and I didn’t have anything new to add to the issue. But apparently I felt the need to say something anyways.

Also, the last link, the “made marriage about romance…” one. Is worth reading if nothing else.

Playing favorites: Cameron Crowe, redeeming Elizabehtown and trying my hand at film criticism

Q: What is your favorite film?

A: An unhelpful question. “Favorite” is vague enough to be meaningless and my answer is likely to change based on a variety of social contexts – none of which come into play when questioning myself.

Q: What’s a film that reveals something about you that you value?

A: Slightly better. Although my answer will still be random, at least we’ve eliminated Braveheart.

Q: Fine. What’s the movie you’ve had the most radical change of heart about?

A: Well now see Bravehearts back in the mix…

In this way we eventually approach Elizabethtown.  The linked trailer does justice to my first viewing. I almost walked out of the theater, casually dismissing the film as an unremarkable pat romance with some uninteresting family drama and a too long scavenger hunt at the end.

History has not been kind, and the general consensus seems agree with that interpretation.

Then I read Roger Ebert’s 3-star review, and I found an extra detail that caused me to reconsider. You see, at the start of the film, the protagonist is fired from the shoe company. This is the great professional failure that sets everything into motion (oh yeah- spoilers ahead for Elizabethtown & Almost Famous). Ebert writes:

“In the first cut of the film, there was a great deal more of the journey, followed by a pointless epilogue in which the Spasmodica shoe turns out to be a hit after all, because with every step you take, it whistles.” (emphasis mine).

It was this absurd detail – the idea that his great failure had been turned into success through some Jiminy Cricket like insane optimism.

Upon reading that I was suddenly able to see the movie not just as a long dirge with some manic pixie girl thrown in, but as a metaphor. Once I stepped back an inch everything else fell into place.

The scenes worked on there own just fine, but their power came from wielding larger concepts around with them.

Concepts about death. About love. About the meaning of life and parenthood and optimism and truly knowing someone else.

This highlights a few things:

1) I’m not so bright.

2) Context is everything. I could have gotten this context from knowing Crowe’s work.

Or from the opening of the film which signals it like a bat signal if you’re looking for it. Or maybe if I’d had a better breakfast that morning – who knows.

I do not mean to imply that detail about the whistling shoes should have been left in. Rather that viewing the film requires that we bring something of ourselves to the experience and what I bring can be unpredictable and may say more about me than the film.

3) Really good art can inspire interesting commentary even if the commentary isn’t particularly approving. Try searching for reviews of L. Cohen’s Old Ideas.

Once I saw the film with these larger themes in mind – it became a masterpiece.

The love plot became a layered balancing act of meaningful dialogue that commented both on the history of “meet cutes” as well as counter-balancing the foreboding sense of death, failure, suicide and regret.

Her manic pixie girl status wasn’t just a cheat or lazy writing, it was a conceit that opened doors.

Once I wasn’t watching just another romantic comedy, but engaging it as a something of substance it opened up and rewarded me for it.

Allow me to use an example from a better regarded Cameron Crowe film (since it has a youtube clip available – and because I’m slightly intimidated by Elizabethtown).

Sample Scene: Here

Here the “talent” of the band is getting back on the tour bus after a night of ill-advised partying. When they last left, it was unclear if he would return, or if the band was done for.

More importantly, the lead singer of the band, has made it clear that the rest of the band simply does not like him. The core of the tension is unresolved. This theme is hammered home throughout the movie. Time and time again when crisis hits – when you’d expect them to pull together and find a deep love for each other – they come up dry. They come up with selfishness and bitterness.

So why does the band stay together? Is it money/fame (partially yes). But then why do we care about them?

This scene argues compellingly that the answer is: music.

Sure they are all failures as human beings and friends.

But then there is the music. A theme (one of many) echoed throughout the film, from the rock critic to the too-wise band-aid. It is the heart of the film. It’s where the film begins, and ends.

Or maybe the movie is about a rock critic trying to maintain his distance so he can write about the music. Or maybe it’s about his love of the girl who puts her head on his shoulder, but is not with him.

It’s all there. The whole film is in that scene.

It also gets him out of the party, back on the bus and keeps things moving along pretty quick.

Or maybe it’s all in that song choice. It has the right kind of fame and feel to be sung on a bus. Not a bus I might be on, but a bus full of rock stars reaching for a way to show some appropriate manly sensitivity.

Not just a song that was famous around this time, but like the film, a song of this time. All enchanced if you bring certain cultural knowledge to bear on the moment, but works well on it’s own.

And of course it says a lot about the band-aid as well.

What I’m saying is, if you think Almost Famous has layers, give Elizabethtown a second viewing.

Or maybe it’s that I’m usually a lazy viewer and I woke up this one time.

More on this when I get the courage to break down Elizabethtown in detail. And if you beg, I’ll talk your ear off about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Beyond Problematic: Dr’s lying to patients in Kansas

I don’t have any special expertise in politics and even less in medical ethics, but thankfully some issues don’t require it.

“Arizona and Kansas are considering bills that would ban lawsuits in cases where doctors fail to warn their patients about birth defects… the Kansas provision, part of a sweeping, 69-page anti-abortion bill, would allow physicians to lie to women who might otherwise terminate their pregnancies.” Full article here.

They are attempting to make it consequence-free (read: legal) for doctors to lie to their patients about their health without oversight or fear of consequence.

This law is beyond problematic for many reasons (it decimates the patient-client relationship in ways that fall along gender lines; in practice it will have class implications; even people who are extremely anti-choice probably don’t want there doctors to deceive them), but here is one of the less intuitive ones:

It literally prioritizes the fetus over the baby. Many anti-abortion efforts have this effect, but here it is particularly stark. Imagine a fetus that will be born with a defect that will only allow it live outside the womb for a brief period of time in extreme pain.

This provision is aimed at making it possible for that fetus to be born at all costs, irregardless of what that means for the actual baby (let alone the uterus-possessing person who will then be responsible for it).

Plus there is this: Cobbs v. Grant, “The patient, being unlearned in medical sciences, has an abject dependence upon and trust in his physician for the information upon which he relies during the decisional process, thus raising an obligation in the doctor that transcends arms-length transactions.”

Courts, gender issues and legislators aside here is an article that thinks more deeply about the issue of lying to patients from a medical perceptive: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2673833/

Twitter Thoughts

I was considering changing my status message in my chat client to “My heart is in the highlands”.

Most of the people who would see it would ignore it. Some of my friends would either look it up, or know instantly that it is an allusion to a sprawling song epic by Bob Dylan.

But the selfish, grasping part of me thought “I like my old status message – I am creating story-telling arc through my messages and the old one has not been up long enough yet. How sad it will all just disappear. How can I share this arc with the world?”

Twitter.

Being a good tweeter is a marketing act. That does not invalidate it. It simply is a selection of all the possible things one might do – and choosing the ones that fit into the norm and goals of that medium.

If you care deeply about me already, then you may find the allusion to the song interesting.

If you don’t, the inevitable onslaught of nonsense from my default take on twitter would be a cacophony of noise and song lyrics.

All social interactions are presentations of self, and my preferred mode of self presentation is through narratives that allow me to pretend that I’m not talking about myself.

So what to do with twitter. Be smart? Pretend like only real life friends are reading it? Use it as a promotional vehicle for my brand?

Time will tell.

Insanity is smashing up against my soul
You can say I was on anything but a roll
If I had a conscience, well, I just might blow my top
What would I do with it anyway
Maybe take it to the pawn shop 

Highlands by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

 

 

Disclaimers; Non-Canonical Editions and Drafts

Disclaimer: I’m cheating, or at least playing a different game.

I am using distribution channels (Kindle, Nook, Diesel etc…) to push out something that is not quite what people expect from them.*

When I give my book away in the gift economy feel some guilt because I worry that I might be undermining others. Not just those who charge money, but also those who give away their creations as part of a larger plan.

I wrote some words because it brought me happiness to do so. Avoiding Space Madness was the result of those efforts.

I truly believe that grammar is the etiquette of the written word, and poor grammar is the written equivalent of showing up for a formal dinner party dressed like Radagast the Brown. You look incompetent and nobody knows what your doing. More importantly you make things awkward for everyone else (especially those who want to like you).

So before putting it into the world, I edited it to the best of my ability (to my dismay, I am not a very good copyeditor).

There is no marketing plan around giving away the book. I am not engaging in the same dynamics as most other authors.

I am giving away the book to stop myself from continuing to edit it with diminishing returns and diminishing joy. This enables me to have time to write more and bring myself joy.

It is my hope that it brings entertainment to others. It is amazing to think that other people have read my words.

*To highlight this, the book is labeled thusly:

“non-canonical edition disclaimer:

This is a draft. This is only a draft. If this were a real book, all of the sentences would have both subjects and verbs.

If I ever have a publisher or access to a copyeditor, I will publish a canonical edition. Until then, I wrote something approximating a book and put it out for the world to take as much pleasure in it as the world would.

Then I wrote this disclaimer to answer some questions I received about what my intentions were.

I hope it helps.

Et tu Amazon?: Meet the new boss

I am contractually obligated to have an opinion on the amazon controversies (here and here), so I thought awhile and got one.

My first instinct is to side with the small startup ebookshops (yay Diesel) and local businesses.

But why I wondered? I want to say that this is about power, about Amazon leveraging it size, distribution chain, and capital reserves to unfairly hurt its competition. And certainly that’s true. That is what this is about.

But that dynamic is also standard operating procedure. It’s why Amazons items are routinely cheap; it’s why they operate at as close to a loss in the short term as they can.

So what makes this a bridge too far?

Well, I don’t know that it is. I think some of the fuss is just old anger at leftover at the above battles.

But if it is too far, here is my stab at why:

1. It’s rubbing the losers nose in it.

By way of analogy: It’s one thing for the tall handsome football star to be elected class president. Sure he had some advantages handed to him, but he also worked hard at football, and he is basically a nice guy.

In this scenario Amazon went from just winning the election against the bookish policy wonk it ran against, to taunting the loser afterwards.

Amazon said in effect: We aren’t content with the hidden ways we have advantages over you, we want to flaunt it too. Then it drove away splashing sales tax and overhead costs at the nerd’s shoes.

2. The whole thing makes explicit the advantages Amazon has long enjoyed.

This bothers me. I want to think of the online retailers I shop at as wonderful and unproblematic. This makes it harder to do so.

3. It’s unsustainable. I’m often willing to accept that sometimes Starbucks going to come in and destroy the local coffee shop. After all I like my Frappuccino’s a certain way.

But the kinds of promotions listed above are clearly aimed at the competition and will not survive them. It’s not sustainable savings. The logical endgame is a monopoly where the discounts all go away once they are done using your local Target as showcase.

You could make the case that the same dynamic is true of big boxes stores in general, but again it’s largely hidden (see #1).

4. I had at least one more point in mind when I started this, but I can’t recall it anymore. Sometimes I think this economic stuff is complicated.

Does my free novel devalue entertainment? OR Why do I hurt the ones I love?

Note: This post was originally conceived of as a forum topic here.

Exhibit A: I believe that creative/intellectual endeavors frequently bring value into the world, even when they are digital objects.

Exhibit B: I have decided the best thing (for me) to do with my novel is to give it away.

Providing my novel for free meets a variety of my goals (I am not convinced that it alone maximizes my readership, but that’s a topic for another day).

But doing so puts me in a precarious position vis a vis exhibit A.

In theory, some readers will hopefully enjoy the book and think that it was of value to them. It will be value they did not pay for, which could contribute to the general devaluing of electronic entertainment.

Once people are used to getting something for free, it loses value. Similar to the race to the bottom (read 99 cents) in the iTunes store, where many people no longer even consider purchasing a 5-dollar game, I wonder and worry if giving away my book does not help train people to think they should be able to get e-books for free.

I finesse the problem slightly by mentioning gift economy a few times, encouraging people to share the book with friends and so on. But even that has problems, because it can lead a fan to assume that I am simply operating within a successful business model that they simply do not understand.

That model does not exist. For me at least.

That’s ok for me (except inasmuch as it means people don’t bother to try the book because of perceived value problems) but I wonder if it wouldn’t have been the moral thing to do to charge something as show of solidarity to my fellow authors.

All of this is probably taking the impact of a single book by an unknown author too seriously, but the larger question seems worth considering.

Thoughts?

Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney died a few months ago. Today I came across the column of his that made me fall in love with him. I loved that created a solid, entertaining column about his love of wood. I came to his work with irony in mind. I wanted his job. To simply absorb life’s details and report them without pretension.

In retrospect that column was not his best work perhaps. For his best you really need to grab a copy of one of his books. Even then what he was after was something that doesn’t link well. It was not flashy or attention grabbing.

But in his own way, like Roger Ebert and Miss Manners he was so good for so long that he came to define a genre, and the quality of his work hovered on being taken for granted. The joking was usually in good fun, but if you look his work with fresh eyes it holds up on its own.

 

Life – Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Media Images and so on

Eventually this post will resolve into a minor point of media criticism. But it starts with…

I just finished “reading” the Keith Richards “autobiography” Life.

Whew, that was a lot of hyperlinks.  The word reading is in quotations because I listened to the audiobook rather than using a print copy (and the link goes to Stephan King’s thoughts on the practice).

Autobiography is in quotes because the book’s creation process strains the word “autobiography” without quite breaking it.

Overall the book was well-written enough to offer some insight into Keith Richards, the human being, despite the fact that it never quite escapes being based on interviews with someone who has spent years cultivating a very limiting media image (and potentially a limiting self-image).

For instance, the book manages to capture the contradictions and insanity of the junkie logic Keith still uses to defend his past addictions even as it also includes his protestations that heron is bad.

How much you will enjoy these ramblings may depend on your tolerance for an insightful portrait of a rock and roll star who defines a certain kind of “cool”.

Or more to the point of this post, the book conveys some of the depth and breadth of the complicated relationship Keith has with Mick Jagger (his co-song writer in the band the Rolling Stones), without actually spending that much time on it. It captures the sense of two men who have the capacity to create something greater than themselves even as they are weighed down by years of history and very petty infighting.

Certainly Keith comes out looking better than Mick in his telling, but again, the book is good enough that a careful reader will notice the broad outline of why Mick may not be the only villain in their story.

This doesn’t answer the question of why you should care about their petty infighting. But it does offer some insight into to how small it must be to have to be Keith Richards all the time.

The most limiting factor of the book is that it’s written by someone who knows in his media-savy bones that of all the nuanced, spiteful, loving, and childish things he says about about his relationship with Mick, the headlines will boil it down to a particularly juvenile penis joke.

If not that, then something like that was always going to be the cage. And it was one he played into. Maybe he did that to himself, and maybe it’s not a problem for him, but the willingness of the world around him to reduce and celebrate that kind of nonsense probably didn’t help to broaden anyone’s horizons.

I wrote the rest of this to give me an excuse to actively avoiding perpetuating the myth that the worst thing he says about Mick is that joke. Because the media seems to think it is, and this does a disservice to everyone involved. The book portrays the man as something much worse, and more nuanced, even within its severe limitations.

The book is a glimpse into the mind of someone who knows they live in in a cage made of gold and beauty and myth. But can also make music like this.

The Value of Publishing

“Anybody who likes writing a book is an idiot. Because it’s impossible, it’s like having a homework assignment every stinking day until it’s done. And by the time you get it in, it’s done and you’re sitting there reading it, and you realize the 12,000 things you didn’t do… And when you’re done, people tell you “Well, gee, I’m not interested.”

– Lewis Black

Everything I write is a reflection of me (yes – even a genre fantasy novel). The relationship may not be intuitive or straightforward, and it may not be the relationship you assume, but it exists.

Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.
– Goethe

Towards the end of Avoiding Space Madness, Darwin starts ranting about how hard it is to find a truly comfortable chair. This is a minor scene, but it does a few things. It illuminates Darwin’s temperament and history; it fills in some details about the world he inhabits, and it was fun to write. It’s a good solid piece of writing.

I wrote the first draft of it over four years ago, and I am no longer same author now that I was then. I would not disavow it, it is a scene that I fully stand behind, but my mind now understands that interaction in subtly different ways.

The last time I edited Avoiding Space Madness, I was tempted to cut the scene out. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but it’s no longer how I would solve the problems it solves. Alone that is an edit, but the ranting about chairs scene does not exist in isolation. Every part of the book affects everything else and I could not simply delete it without doing damage to the rest of the book. The problem is not the scene. The chair rant fits perfectly fine into the book I wrote.

The problem is that I probably would not write the same kind of chair rant anymore (instead I might write a sophisticated diatribe about lawn art).

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
-Leonardo da Vinci

To truly get at the heart of the changes I’ve undergone as a writer large parts of the book would need to be gutted and re-written. Which would be worthwhile if it would produce a better novel, but it wouldn’t. It would simply produce a different novel. And that novel is the one I am now working on.

At the same time I want to honor the book I wrote. Trying to work on the sequel with an unpublished manuscript in the same series in the drawer was apparently more trouble than it takes to just put it out into the world. So I did.

Part of the story is that I worked on and off on a sequel for a few years. But progress slowed and then stalled.  It didn’t help that every year or so I took a couple of months to go back and revise Avoiding Space Madness.

What it really needed more than anything I could provide, was a copy editor. Since I could not give it that, I kept flailing away at it with the talents I have, rather than the talents it needed. But when book 2 fizzled under the weight of my excitement for what I wanted to do in book 3 I knew I had to change something. Writing for me is a slow process, made slower by the fact that I actually enjoy my day job. It also requires a certain sustained passion for the story I want to tell. I need to care enough about what I am creating to write the boring scenes, to walk away from my partner and write for an afternoon. One day I had to admit to myself that I had been living with my ideas for book 2 for too long, and it had proven fatal. Time to move on.

Time to throw the dead weight overboard.

Putting any work out to the world provides a snapshot, a definitive moment captured. It is the final step in the authorial process.

More importantly, I was shocked to discover that nobody had registered Fantasyofanovelidea.com and had to capitalize on my good fortune.

My first priority for any profits I receive from my donation button is to purchase fantasyofanovel.com and fantasyofanovelideal.com as redirect sites.