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.

 

Invisible Ink

I’m in something of a holding pattern right now with respect to the new album; well, maybe “holding pattern” isn’t the correct phrase.  What’s the best way to say “I’m starting to work on lyrics and I’m incredibly intimidated because I’m not as good a writer as I’d like to be and I really want these lyrics to matter“?  There’s one song in particular – it’s been one of the stronger songs right from the beginning – and I think I’ve come up with a chorus for it, but now I need to find a verse.

As I said the other day, writing lyrics is really, really difficult for me.  It’s particularly difficult this time around, though, because I’m not just writing one song; I’m writing an album, mostly from scratch, and while I’d hesitate to call it a “concept album” (because ugh) there’s definitely a thing that spurred this whole project on, and that thing is where all of this music is coming from.

I’ve never been a lyrics-oriented listener.  With a few notable exceptions, when I sit down with an album I almost never pay attention to the words; I’ll listen to the voice, but I’m almost always focused on everything else.  And when I was in my songwriting heyday (1993-1999, back when I was in bands and thinking about music 24/7), I almost always wrote lyrics only because I needed something to sing, rather than because I had something I needed to say.  I dearly wish I could simply be abstract the way Beck and Stephen Malkmus are, but I can’t (and believe me, I’ve tried, and it’s awful).  More often than not, I’m painfully and awkwardly sincere, and to my eyes and ears the words I come up with are cliched and lack any poetry.

I’m trying my best, is all I can say.  In the absence of a lyric-writing partner, that’s about all I can do.  And I’m hoping that with a little creative focus, the words can come a bit easier.


In the meantime, I’m also trying to keep myself distracted, because nothing impedes lyric creativity more effectively than me staring at a blank page for hours at a time.  So I’m getting back into my gaming backlog.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I bought a bunch of indie games; now I’m starting to play them.

I remain frustrated by the Xbox One’s apparent inability to download stuff while in a powered-down state, which was a feature I heartily enjoyed on the 360 and which I still enjoy on the PS4.  It means that I had to leave it powered on all night in order to finish downloading Ori and the Blind Forest, which I’m hoping to get my hands on this evening.  (It doesn’t help matters much that my apartment’s internet is spotty at best, which makes a 7GB download take that much longer.)

I am currently mostly enjoying Never Alone, which is absolutely gorgeous and fascinating and charming and adorable, but marred very occasionally by frustrating controls and unclear platforming puzzles.  Be that as it may, when it works, it’s wonderful.

I’m a little frustrated with Pneuma: Breath of Life; like I said the other day, its over-the-top self-awareness can get exasperating, and not all of its puzzles are fun to solve; it doesn’t do the greatest job of teaching you its rules, and while I certainly don’t need my hand held at all times, I’d appreciate some sort of guidance, however opaque it might be.  Still, though, Achievements!

I was tempted to buy Hotline Miami 2, but then I remembered that I’d never gotten terribly far in the first one on the PC, and that I’d maybe want to replay the first one to make sure I’d even be interested in the sequel, and you know what?  I don’t really like that game.  The controls make no sense to me at all, and one-hit-kills make the learning process incredibly frustrating.  It’s got style out the wazoo, but as a game it makes a rough first impression.

I’m also dabbling in Munin on the PC, which is a puzzle game I bought during the most recent Steam sale.  I forget why it was on my wishlist, but I’m enjoying it nonetheless; it’s a 2D platformer where you progress through each level by rotating each area on the screen in order to move; it has some sort of mythical Nordic art style, and it’s rather beautiful.