some clarity behind a #vaguepost

I was out of commission earlier this week, and that’s maybe not even the right way to say it.  I was run over by a virus, which left me as a barely functioning human being.  My kid had been sick, and then my wife got sick, and between helping them both out and dealing with getting the driveway cleared of 2+ feet of snow, followed by a few too many celebratory glasses of scotch, it was only a matter of time before my immune system collapsed.

There are sick days, and then there are sick days.  Some sick days I can still get some stuff done; I can read, I can sit on the couch and play a game, I can try to do some writing.  But whatever I had earlier this week just completely wrecked me.  I spend most of those days horizontally, unable to keep my eyes open yet also unable to sleep, alternating between freezing and sweating every 20 minutes, just trying to stay comfortable as best I could.

So this is why I have very little to report.

I have.. um.. quite a lot I want to say, but this is probably not the best spot for that sort of thing.  If I could remember my Livejournal password I’d probably talk about it over there.  But the short version is that in December 2014, after going through my college diary for research for a writing project I was about to start, and then crumbling under the weight of 10,000 memories I’d completely misplaced and all these friendships that I’d allowed to wither, and especially all the romantic relationships that ended in something just short of chaos, I’d sent what I thought was a very sincere, heartfelt apology to someone that I’d hurt.  I had no ulterior motive.

Two days ago, I heard back.  And.. the response sorta defies belief.  My apology may have been “self-indulgent” and “masturbatory”… but the response is so bewilderingly inconsistent in its tone and message that it almost doesn’t make sense.  (You can’t write an email this hostile and then say, with a straight face, that you literally don’t care.)  The response also made sure to tell me that my original apology – which was, again, written in December of 2014 – was also apparently used as a stand-up comedy routine, so… there’s that.

I can’t even get mad at the fact that the email was used in a comedy routine, considering that I’m currently trying to finish an album that covers that specific period of my life.  It’s funny, though, because for all this time I was approaching this particular angle in a very specific way, and now, suddenly, the angle has changed utterly and completely.  The door is closed.  That question is answered.

I stopped playing those sorts of games at least 16 years ago.


As for regular pop-culture stuff, again, I don’t have much to say.  Before I got sick I was trying to grind my way up to an appropriate level in Witcher 3 so that I could finally play some of the new DLC, but I’m still a long ways off; then the cold got me, and I knew I didn’t have the motor skills to even pretend to be competent.  On Tuesday I played the first 30 minutes or so of The Witness before getting stumped, but in fairness, my brain was a bowl of cold oatmeal at the time.  I’d like to get back to it shortly.  I did finish the Baba Yaga DLC for Rise of the Tomb Raider, which was 2-3 hours of more Tomb Raider, which I’m happy to have.

I’m around 2/3 of the way through Cixin Liu’s “The Dark Forest“, which is still very absorbing.

I’ve not been listening to much music beyond my own tracks; I’ve been trying to work on lyrics for a bunch of things at once, and I need to focus on them as opposed to listening to outside stuff, which at this point is a distraction.

Anyway: I’m alive.

 

where did monday go

1. I feel like I’ve been out of the general loop of things for a few days now; my son was sick for most of last week, and I stayed home with him twice, and between that and having yesterday off, I’ve simply lost track of time and space.  And all I can offer in response is a quote from one of the more haunting tracks on Blackstar:  “Where the fuck did Monday go?”

2.  I don’t like abandoning books; there’s something about the act of giving up that makes me feel guilty in ways that I don’t feel with regards to music, movies, games.  But I gave up on Paula Hawkins’ “Girl On The Train” over the weekend (for reasons I’m still struggling to articulate), and the only reason why I haven’t yet given up on China Mieville’s new novella “This Census Taker” is because it’s very very short, and I could probably finish it on the evening commute.  (I’m very hit or miss with respect to China Mieville – I’ve given several of his books a try and the only one I finished was “The City and the City”; there’s something about his prose that makes my scalp itch, I have to read and re-read every sentence 4 or 5 times because I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.)

3. Work continues (at a glacially slow pace) on the new album.  I need time to finish lyrics, but I don’t have the time; and when I do carve out the time, I don’t have the inspiration.  Even now, when work is somewhat slow, I’m simply not feeling it.  I’m tempted to sign up for this year’s RPM Challenge just as a way to kick myself in the ass and finish what I started last year.  I do have some friends who have been politely kicking me in the ass, too, but I think I need to stare a deadline in the face and deal with it head-on.

4.  Oh, but distractions continue to haunt me.  For example, the new iOS game, “Swapperoo“, which is maybe the best and most novel use of the match-3 template since Bejeweled.  I’m helplessly addicted and I’m just hoping that’s because it’s brand-new, and that I won’t be playing this until 3 in the morning for the next month.

5.  Some movies of note:  the wife and I finally saw “Ex Machina” over the weekend, and WHOA.  Absolutely fantastic; terrific screenplay, great cast (and it was especially neat to see Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac together in a non-Star Wars context), hauntingly evocative cinematography, incredible soundtrack (co-written by Geoff Barrow, of Portishead fame).  I’m a little troubled by an element of the plot that I’d rather not discuss unless we’re OK talking about spoilers, and I’m not sure that too many people who’ve read this have seen it, so maybe we’ll talk about that in the comments.  But man.  GO SEE THIS MOVIE.  It’s free on Amazon Prime, if you have that, and it’s totally worth it.

And the wife and I also finally got to see the new Star Wars together; it was my second time, her third.  It’s arguably even better the second time, now that I wasn’t distracted by my foreknowledge of spoilers and such.  I think Rey is the best, and I can not fucking wait for Episode 8.

on David Mitchell, writing lyrics, and celebrity deaths

Between Bowie and Rickman alone, I’m just shredded to bits.  I have work to do, and I can’t focus.  I have emails to respond to, and I don’t know what to say.  I’m writing this post if only so that I can remember how to put words together.

I have completed my chronological journey through David Mitchell’s work, tidying up my second read of “Bone Clocks” during this morning’s commute.  Even though I’m a little sad that this “project” is over, and that there’s nothing of his imminently appearing on the horizon (even if there are a ton of things coming out eventually), I’m glad that I took the opportunity to read it all.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that he’s become my new favorite author.  I haven’t felt so overwhelmingly book-nerdy since finishing “Infinite Jest” back in college.  Certainly my 2nd reading of “Cloud Atlas” was much more enjoyable than the first, if only because I now have a much better sense of the grander scale that Mitchell is working in.  And seeing familiar characters pop up in different contexts is always neat, and yet it never felt particularly gimmicky; given that all these books are connected, it really just makes them feel somehow truer.  For example:  you already get a really thorough sense of Hugo Lamb when you read his chapter in Bone Clocks, but when you read Black Swan Green, you see him as a teenager through the worshipful eyes of his cousin, and suddenly you have a greater sense of how deep Hugo’s charm is (as well as a brief glimpse of his cunning manipulations).  Similarly, it’s only once you read everything that you see how deep a character like Marinus actually is; it’s one thing to hear him recount his history in Bone Clocks, but it’s quite another to actually be with him in the 1800s in “Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”.  And it’s also interesting to see how larger-scale events correspond throughout his work – one can suddenly see that the futuristic, very troubled Earth presented in the two late sections of Cloud Atlas are part of the same cataclysm that takes place in the coda of Bone Clocks.

Speaking of which – against the recommendations of all my Facebook friends who are also hard-core Mitchell nerds, the wife and I ended up watching the filmed version of “Cloud Atlas“.  Although, if I’m being honest, we only made it through the first hour or so, before we both started fading out.  I have seen enough of it to know that I probably don’t have to finish it, and my wife (who hasn’t read the book) had little to no idea what the hell was going on, and so I don’t think she’s inclined to finish it either.  That being said, I don’t outright hate it, though there’s plenty of things to be intensely disappointed by.  Yes, the chopping up of the book’s structure is terrible – though I suppose I can understand why the filmmakers felt that they had to do it, given that the book is not necessarily jam-packed with excitement and that fitting this entire book into a 3-hour package is going to mean you need to amp up the pacing a bit.  I suppose I can even get behind the idea of having actors playing multiple roles, although that’s not really what the book is about, and it also means that Tom Hanks is horrendously miscast in nearly every role he steps into.  (To be fair to Tom Hanks, though, I’m also dangerously close to overdosing on him, because my son is obsessed with “The Polar Express“, another film in which Tom Hanks plays multiple roles; I think I’ve seen Polar Express at least 30 times since Christmas.)  And to the film’s credit, I am somewhat astonished at how closely some of the film’s visuals matched my own imagined set design – the Frobisher segment in particular is nearly note for note.  Indeed, for all the film’s flaws, you can’t say that the filmmakers weren’t passionate about the project; this is clearly a labor of love.

The problem, really, is that the book’s most visceral appeal (for me, at least) is in its use of language, and in seeing how language evolves in each of the story’s eras, and in the futuristic sections of the film the viewer is never really given an opportunity to let the language’s evolution sink in.  This is most notable in the post-apocalyptic future, which is damn near unintelligible without subtitles.  If I were scoring this using Nathan Rabin’s “World Of Flops” system, I might feel generous enough to give it a “Fiasco”… but I haven’t finished the film, and it’s probably best if I don’t.  But in reading Rabin’s WoF column about the Wachowski’s “Jupiter Ascending“, this paragraph seems pretty close to capturing what’s up with Cloud Atlas:

…the Wachowskis are auteurs whose failures are as audacious, ambitious, heroically sincere, and achingly romantic as their extraordinary early successes.

As far as filmed adaptations of David Mitchell go, though, I would very highly recommend checking out the 13-minute short film “The Voorman Problem“, which is an adapted excerpt from Mitchell’s second novel, “number9dream” (and which is also later referenced in “Bone Clocks”, as a matter of fact).  It’s very short, excellently cast, exceedingly faithful to the source material, and feels very much like some sort of Twilight Zone nightmare.


 

I was home with my son on Tuesday – he had a bit of a fever – and during his nap I downloaded and started playing Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India.   I’m playing it on XB1 instead of PS4, if only because, for whatever reason, it was available for download on XB1 several hours before it was on PS4, and I needed something to do.  (I suppose I also bought it there because I needed to further justify my purchase of the XB1’s Elite Controller, which is, without a doubt, the greatest game controller ever made.)  I like these sorts of 2.5D stealth platformers, and I just wish I wasn’t so goddamned terrible at this particular one; I can’t tell if the game is really difficult, or if I’m just very bad at it.  It could be both, frankly, for all I know.  It’s certainly very pretty to look at.  If nothing else, it makes me very hungry for Mark of the Ninja 2, which I very much hope is a thing that exists.

I’m not really playing anything else, though, which I’m strangely OK with.  Like I said at the top of this post – I’ve been very much a book nerd for the last few weeks/months, and I haven’t felt so excited about reading in years, and it’s a really pleasant feeling to have.


I’m hell-bent on getting some lyric-writing done, because once I have lyrics I’ll be able to finish this album, and I need to get it out the door while I still like the music.  Have I talked about my struggles with writing lyrics here?  I might have, which is why I’m reluctant to repeat myself.  In any event, the album was conceived under some heavy-duty emotional stress, and even as I’ve managed to extricate myself from within all that baggage, I still have to look at it in order to write about it.  And it’s hard to write about parts of your past when you’re not particularly proud of yourself.  I feel like I need to apologize to everyone I know, which is difficult when the two people I most need to apologize to won’t respond.  (This is actually true; last year I sent out some emails which were quite difficult to write, and never ended up hearing back.)  That said, it’s still gotta get done, and so I’m pleading with whoever’s in charge of this stuff to PLEASE STOP WITH THE DEATHS OF IMPORTANT PEOPLE.  This is hard enough as it is.

 

starman

Of all my many musical blind spots (i.e., musicians that I really ought to have listened to and studied before now), none sting quite so forcefully as David Bowie.  This was as true yesterday, only a few days after the release of “Blackstar”, as it was this morning, when I woke up and looked at my phone and saw the news.  I couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it, somehow thought it must be a hoax.

I have long been an appreciator of Bowie’s cultural influence, even if I never really got into his music.  Indeed, you didn’t even necessarily have to know his music to appreciate his massive cultural impact and influence.  My first exposure to David Bowie as cultural icon was the quote that led off “Breakfast Club”.

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When Derek Zoolander and Hansel are about to have a “walk-off”, of course David Bowie would be the judge; when Christopher Nolan directed his first post-Batman movie and needed someone to play Nikolai Tesla, of course he’d use David Bowie; when Ricky Gervais needed someone to deliver the ultimate piss-take, David Bowie fucking destroyed him.   David Bowie has been the de facto coolest person on the planet for nearly 50 years.

It’s a shame that I never heard his music during those formative years when he would’ve done the most good.  When I was in my early teens and going to performing arts summer camp, I was getting introduced to prog bands and other stuff like Zeppelin, Rush… and from there it was a short hop skip and jump to jam bands like Phish (who, of course, have a song called “David Bowie“).  I of course had heard his ubiquitous hits – “Let’s Dance”, the “Dancing In the Streets” thing with Mick – but I didn’t necessarily know that Vanilla Ice had committed blasphemy by ruining the bassline from “Under Pressure”.  It really wasn’t until a few years ago that I started trying to correct my Bowie deficiency; I’d bought the 30-year anniversary reissue of Ziggy Stardust, and then a little later I took a crash course in the Berlin trilogy on Spotify, but it was a little too obtuse for me; I can be somewhat of a stubborn curmudgeon as far as my musical tastes go, and Bowie was just too weird for me.  (It also drove me crazy that his bandmates’ instruments never seemed to be in tune – Exhibit A is the bassline in “Suffragette City“.)

Still and all, though, I grieve today as most of the world grieves.  Bowie was a singular talent, a visionary, a man seemingly not of this Earth.  His loss cannot be overstated.  He will be missed.  We are fortunate to have had him in our lives, in whatever capacity that might have been.

The stars look very different today.

[See also this collection of tributes.]

Weekend Recap: The New Year

1. In case you missed it, I wrote up some quick off-the-cuff thoughts about Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night.  Now that I’ve slept on it, I can say with confidence that I still feel the same; it’s a very good Star Wars movie, and as far as rankings go I’d put it in my top 2 along with Empire.  In fairness, that isn’t necessarily saying all that much; the prequels are garbage, and both New Hope and RotJ have moments that we’d all rather forget.  Even if Episode 7 is simply a reboot of Episode 4, it’s really well done, and I feel like it’s OK to be excited for Episode 8 now.

2. My wife had attempted to buy me the Xbox One Elite Controller via Amazon, but even 3 weeks later there was no sign of it shipping any time soon.  As it happens, though, I was running some errands over the weekend and happened to be in a Best Buy and – lo and behold – there were three (3) Elite Controllers just hanging out, ready to be bought.  I bought one.  I had a tough time justifying the expense, especially since the XB1 isn’t my primary console, but.. I mean.. goddamn, once you hold this thing in your hands it makes as strong a case for itself as you can imagine.  It’s pleasantly heavy, the buttons and triggers have a remarkably more pleasing feel, and even if I never use the alternate buttons and back-panel triggers, I’m happy to know they’re there if I change my mind.

2a.  On a related note, I now feel contractually obligated to get back into Halo 5.

3.  I also bought Rock Band 4 for the XB1, and my old drumset and 1 of my 2 guitars still work, so there’s that.  I’m happy to have Rock Band back in my life, but HOLY SHIT the game feels barely half-built at this point.  How is it that in 2016, I can’t program my own setlist?  And the process of re-downloading songs I already own is beyond tedious; thankfully, I only have to do it once.

4.  I’ve read all the David Mitchell novels now, and so I’m back to re-reading Cloud Atlas, which was the first one of his that I’d read.  I didn’t necessarily see what all the fuss was about the first time out; I could certainly recognize his talent as a writer, and I appreciated how each story tied into the next one, but I didn’t really understand the point.  (I also felt similarly about Ghostwritten, his first novel, although the interconnected stories in that novel at least have a vague sort of butterfly-effect thing happening.)  This second time through, however, I’m feeling much more at home with it – and I also recognize many more of the characters from other novels, so that stuff makes it a bit more interesting.  All that aside, I feel like I need to read Bone Clocks again, and immediately.  I know I’m one of the few people on Earth who prefers Bone Clocks to Cloud Atlas, but what can I say?  That book affected me in a deeply profound way that few books ever have before.

5.  I’d been meaning to put up a Music of 2015 post – I even have a draft here, but I’m not particularly happy about it, and in any event all the navel-gazing I was doing about it is probably less interesting than all the other navel-gazing I do here as it is.  So, instead, I’ll cut to the chase and post two Spotify playlists:

 

 

Gut Impressions: Star Wars TFA

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I am kinda procrastinating at the moment (also a little tipsy, but hey) so here are my quick, hopefully non-spoilery Star Wars Thoughts (and some necessary personal context as a prelude):

  1.  For starters, I’m pretty sure that this was the first time I’ve ever gone to the movies by myself.  That’s weird, right?  I just turned 40, and yet this was my first solo movie experience.  Also: it was a Sunday, 10:00am showing, and the theater was basically empty.  I’m so used to watching movies in NYC where you have to be at the theater at least an hour before showtime in order to get a halfway good seat, but here in the burbs I was the first one at the theater by at least 30 minutes.
  2. I’m not a huge Star Wars nerd, at least not to the extent that my wife and our friends are.  Star Wars was certainly a big part of my childhood’s vocabulary, and the Bespin Freeze Chamber was one of my all-time favorite toys, but I was never, like, obsessed with it, and the prequels left an awful, awful taste in my mouth.  My impatience at seeing this new movie was more about knowing that everyone I know had already seen it , and I was missing out on an important cultural event.  And I did want to watch it before the whole movie got spoiled for me.  Speaking of which…
  3. …I did have at least 2 very significant plot points spoiled for me before watching the film, but as it turned out it wasn’t a big deal; both things were telegraphed pretty early on, and I’m not sure either of them were ever intended to be a head-spinning plot twist.
  4. I do understand George Lucas’s reluctance to embracing the new movie, but I also think he’s a fucking asshole for his selling of the franchise to “white slavers”.  It’s not like he didn’t get paid BILLIONS OF DOLLARS for it.  And let’s be honest, here:  the Lucas prequels are borderline unwatchable at this point.  J.J. Abrams had a near-impossible task at making Star Wars meaningful to people again, and he knocked it out of the goddamned park.
  5. The movie is still too fresh in my mind for me to feel like I can be objective enough to “review” it.  Was it the best movie I’ve ever seen?  Not by a long shot.  But did I giggle and ooh and aah and have a goofy smile on my face and did I feel like an 8-year-old kid all over the goddamned place for the entirety of the film’s running time?  Goddamned right I did.  The casting is perfect – I love Rey and Finn to pieces, and I loved seeing the old gang together again, and I legitimately got chills at the final scene.  The cinematography is fucking epic.  The score is fantastic.  J.J. is maybe the only director alive who could pull this particular task off, and – again – he killed it.
  6. It’s OK that it’s basically a re-make of Episode 4; Episode 4 was an origin story about mythic figures, and it makes sense for this new trilogy to touch on familiar feelings, even if it has the potential to go in wildly different directions.  I don’t know if I trust Disney to allow it to go too far out, but Star Wars isn’t necessarily meant to be avant-garde. I do feel that this movie was made with confidence, and that the creative team felt good about the product they were putting out, and if nothing else the box office more than bears that out, and maybe some of these side stories can be a little more daring and risk-taking as a result.
  7. That said, I do worry about Star Wars overdosing – a new trilogy plus all the side-story stuff might get exhausting.  I’m starting to feel that way about the Avengers movies, at any rate.  BUT:  we’re gonna be taking the kid to some of these movies at some point, and I’ll be happy enough to be his guide for those experiences.
  8. It is weird to see a new Star Wars movie as a parent!  I watched this movie all by myself in the theater – 3D, non-IMAX, which to me is the best way to see it (if only because IMAX gives me vertigo) – and all I could think about was watching it with Henry and wondering how he’s going to react to it; anticipating his excitement; preparing for his hiding his eyes in my arms during tense moments (as I did with my father for Temple of Doom).
  9. I said I won’t get spoilery, and I won’t.  But there is a spoiler-y theory floating around that I really like, which I’ll hide behind a link – I really like this idea, and I hope it’s true.
  10. Bottom line:  I can’t wait for Episode 8.  I can’t wait to see this movie again.