Wednesday, September 29, 2010

(2666) Makes Me Feel Good

Oh, 2666.

Since the last time I wrote about it, I read another 300+ pages. It went quicker now that the world has been introduced and we're getting into the characters. Also: photos are obviously not mine.

The story only starts kicking into high gear when a woman is involved. For the first book, (the author Roberto Bolano, left , now dead, suggested to his family, just before his death that the five parts of 2666 be split up and published as five separate pieces) the woman, called Liz Norton (an critic of a fictitious author called Archimboldi) starts having sex with two (Pelletier and Espinoza) of the three men (Morini) in the group at the same time and then the three of them (minus Morini) head off to Mexico where Archimboldi is rumored to be.

The four are all professors at European universities.

They don't find Archimboldi, but the tenured academics end up having a three way and interacting with the residents (the two men visiting hookers) after the woman chooses neither of them leaves. The distance between the white European professors and the residents is understated, with the tension being between what the residents feel and the professors don't see or recognize.

When they get back to England (where the woman teaches) Bolano is sharp, with one of the two professors beating an angry cabbie to the point of almost-murder and the other professor simply kicking the cabbie when he's on the ground from the beating. Espinoza, the professor doing the beating is terrified to return to the country, while the other professor thought that it simply wasn't sporting to kick the guy when he's down.

The second book is about a philosophy professor (Amalfitano, living in Mexico) being driven insane by his deranged ex-wife who writes him letters from her hitchhiking trip, where she swears she had sex with a gay poet. She casually mentions that the poet's partner, has AIDS, which can't have gone unnoticed by the professor. Their daughter is perpetually in the background, but by the end of the portion (much shorter, 60some pages), it's not the father making lunches for his daughter, it's the other way around, which is a great indication of who is still all there and who will factor into the story later more heavily.

It's here that the book starts going into the really long paragraphs (three ish pages), but at least this time, there's periods, which are tiny, tiny oasis' in the swirling sand that is Bolano's writing. (Related note: I don't know the plural for oasis.)

My favorite quote from the book so far, from page 227:

Now, even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters...they have no interest in real combat when the great masters struggle against something, that something terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.

Yes, that is Bolano calling readers posers for choosing the safe works where authors don't make mistakes and are on all the time. They want to see the flawless, pretty youtube instructional video and not the false starts and trip ups that must accompany the brightest shining and proudest moments of the authors. A(nd yes, I chose that picture right there because he looks super nerdy and more accessible to me than the picture up top.)

I wonder if I'm guilty of that myself. I can't say why, since I'm technically sworn to secrecy, but I can assure it's far more pedestrian than I make it sound. I mean, I like Crime In Stereo's The Troubled Stateside perhaps more than the rest of their discography, but that's one of their in-genre (Long Island hardcore, if you were wondering) records, where every song feels like a bomb, but it's something where the lineage is extremely clear and there's immediate parallels (Kill Your Idols, Silent Majority, Millhouse) for the whole enterprise.

Crime In Stereo's final (so far) studio full length, I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone, has a lot of great songs, and songs I like better than The Troubled Stateside, but overall it's shaky and uneven. Queue Moderns leads into Drugwolf, but Exit Halo after that one, goes a little long, say, for the majority of Exit Halo's six minute running time. There is no song like that on Troubled Stateside.

Anyway. 2666. I beginning to slow down on it, now that the perspective has shifted yet again to a detective who lives at the heart of the book, in Santa Teresa, (the Ciudad Juarez analogue), but the detective stuff is currently just a little bit plodding. The women dropping like flies advertised in every review I could find, are dying faster now. Currently, the detective is being assigned to other cases, but the dead women just keep piling up on the periphery of the story. If there's anything I've learned from Bolano's writing, it's that what's on the periphery now will become hugely important later on. A final note: the picture to the immediate left is one when the writer was 23, according to where I found it on the internet. He died at 50.

Here is the first song on the new Iron Chic record, Not Like This. The song is called Cutesy Monster Man and it's...gruff punk rock from the guys who used to be in Latterman (a band I mentioned here before) and Small Arms Dealer (a band who'se first CD I own but never listened to). It's a live take, because I can't find the studio version.

Monday, September 27, 2010

On the Bird in the Cage.

Sometimes the best weekends are the boring ones where nothing happens and there's little, consequently, to write about. So here's things.

Last post's title, A View of Something Beautiful, is a direct Crime In Stereo lyric from one of my favorite songs of theirs, from one of my favorite records, The Troubled Stateside. The song it comes from is called Bicycles For Afghanistan, and is not political at all, surprisingly. It's about the literally, the amazing moments of being on tour and how you want it never to end, but also the distance between the performer and the family but also between members of the band. It's like every tour song in that it expresses highs and lows, but unlike every tour song in the fact that it mentions balance sheets and doesn't mention a girlfriend. The last line, to that effect, is usually hysterically shouted by the crowd: This is not a lonely soul!

The full context of the lyric is below.

So I wanted goals, saw all I needed was:

-a home with a view of something beautiful
-a woman that I trusted,

-the friends that I grew up with

But it was asking too much for just us to pray things stay in exactly the same way.

Oh: While I'm here, Gaga's meat dress seems less cruelty enhancing and more simply absurd. I got nothin'.

I finished something up for a magazine and I tried to explain to a fellow writer that I don't finish the pieces, I abandon them. There's always something else to take another look at or another sentence that I could always tighten up a little more, and that gigantic deadline of tomorrow (errrr, today, when this is posted) is the best way for me to leave a column/introduction/whatever in a way that I feel comfortable sending it in to be published.

The schedule is not some terrible invention meant to rob creatives of their freedom, but instead, to make sure the motherfucker is ever finished. Think of it like this: When you have thirteen years to work on a game, you don't get Deus Ex, you get Duke Nukem Forever, which looks like it's only going to be published now because it was going to fucking die and have a toxic half-life as a part of a lawsuit until a good friend to both parties stepped in and gave the 3D Realms team a manageable, but fuck all deadline with the only stated goal being shipping the product.

As for what this means to me, well, I've done my best writing under a deadline. I've done some of my worst when I haven't. The reverse is also true, but, since high school, I've written for publication with the understanding time is an extremely limited resource, second only to vespane gas word count. The fact that we didn't stick to the schedule and let ourselves get a little precious with our material was one of the things that sunk Eleven Names and letting the schedule dictate publication, while bad from a creative perspective has lead to the last this blog getting updated consistently this month and gotten me started on 2666, a book I'm devouring and only 1/3rd finished with want to go back and re-read when I'm done.

Apropos of something, of course, this praising of the deadline comes as I'm the closest I've ever been to missing one for this website. (And it will be backdated roughly 1 a.m., but don't worry, that's just so it gets published when I think it should and not according to some mystical inbetween time that only the Blogger server seems to be aware of.) But there's something, the schedule keeps me honest and will keep content coming. The schedule precludes me from becoming too precious with my updates, that I might be able to get away with not publishing an idea for a couple days, but nothing more reliably than that.

In other words: The beast has to be fed. Thank God.

Oh! The new video from Japan's Envy comes out. I don't understand a word of it, but it's pretty, kinda slow at the start and intense, like the record the track comes from. Enjoy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A View of Something Beautiful

There's always a temptation for me to be pessimistic. I'm a glass half empty person, historically and it's taken a concerted effort for me to vocalize and act optimistic. Changing my behavior patterns to ones that favor and foster optimism is hard work. (It's more often Fuck my life and hardly ever Fuck! My life!) So, when my roomate, a ditzy gay kid maybe 4 years my junior, clogs the sink in the room while cutting his own hair and leaves it filled, 80ish percent with water and then is about to leave to go dancing for the night, I immediately feel the years of my age on my back.

(I make him clean it up, which requires he find a cup and literally scoop out the water and pour it into a trash can. That's how much water was in there.)

So that's not good, but on average, this is a fantastic change and something that I have really to thank globalization for. Case: I was listening to the new record from Envy (called Recitation, below), a Japanese screamo band, while reading 2666, by a South American and Spanish author translated into English, in an Italian bistro where I would soon get gelato.

It is hard to argue with the thesis of these months. Sure, I recognized that I am incredibly privileged, five or six times over to go on this trip, but man, this couldn't have happened thirty, twenty or even five years ago. Yes, I am immersing myself in many other cultures and seeing what works out. I am so very cosmopolitan.

Or am I?

2666 is a book nerd's book, Envy's a screamo band that is loved by maybe 10,000 people tops in this world and both of those pieces of media are things that are intimidating to people who want to interact with me. The headphones shut out verbal communication and if there's movement meant for my consumption, I'm too absorbed in the book to see it.

Even as I'm supposed to be absorbing new culture and different ideas, I'm still listening to the same bands I was before and as opposed to changing my behavior, becoming a little less obviously anti-social and interacting only in a way that is prefunctory (Can I buy a coke? Yes, it will be 2 Euro. Okay, thanks.) Yes, I'm not going out to the usual bars for entirely mediated behavior where expats and dudes looking for American girls speak the language.

Am I just contributing to the rise of the American mono-culture around the world? Am I an unknowing agent of the societal chlorine that is Americans abroad? Okay. Societal chlorine might be going a little far and is extremely insulting to the kids going out who are a) trying to have a fun time in a familiar-ish setting, but also b) didn't sign up to be a kind of post-globalization punching bag.

Still, we're all caught up in systems, few of which of are our choice. And now that I think I see the system and the ripples of my behavior, I can't look away, right? I am far more fettered than it is fashionable to admit. But even including fetters, this is an incredible opportunity, one that I'd do well to take advantage of. I'm not entirely sure I am, and even if I were...I'm not sure I know what it means, which sounds like a great subject for another blog.

A friend, however, IMed some sense into me: you're in fucking rome. I'm somewhere beautiful. I have friends in and outside of the screenbox of my laptop and I'm comfortable. Life's good, but I still wonder about what's obscured in the view....

The song comes from the Canadian punk band, the Flatliners, off of their reinvigorating 2010 disc called Cavalcade. Lyrically, the song is about accepting your faults while being in a world that is more fantastical and wider than you can believe. Also, they rep Chicago in it, so there's a little bias on my end. But still: It's a song about being on tour, seeing crazy shit and realizing that it's awesome.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Me and John Rawls Down By the Schoolyard

Titles aren't always great. Sorry.

Much of what I read was preface. Someone said it takes a philosopher a couple paragraphs to clear their throat and there's at least 10 pages of throat clearing before the main feature starts. Admittedly, it's an explanation of the changes made for the 1999 revision of the book published in 1971.

And, honestly, it's kind of impenetrable to me. I don't think I got as far as the parts that were revised, so I can't tell where a difference was made. The preface also sees Rawls talking about the changes he would have made to the book had he written it now, which include Chapters II and III. As an editor, it almost makes me want to scream. If a book is going to be reissued, especially in the case of a book that has a shadow like a crater in Hiroshima, then give the author the opportunity to revise it completely.

Then I look again at the reissue date: 1999. Printers and word processing programs were not as ubiquitous as they are now. And even if they were, maybe it was too much work for the aging Rawls. There might not be enough hours in the day for him to devote to a revision that sizable. It might not even be the same book.

In the words of my spiritual adviser, X-Man Bobby Drake, that's probably a thing, right?

(Then again, when the first edition of the book has a printing for the sole and express purpose of students seeing what mistakes were made in it, there's a precedent set.)

On a third hand, just doing a book with a word processor is hard enough, let alone a 500+ page tome where you need to connect every goddamn dot, leave no link in the chain unattached and do so when word processing programs and computers are only really coming into not exclusively techy use. Shit, this book that has not just defined its field, but made an entire other one in critical commentary, was written on a fucking typewriter, if not by hand.

Think about that. Now think harder. I can't even write 50 pages on Word without changing topics, so writing 500+ on a typewriter or by hand is as foreign to me as our favorite extra-terrestrial, Galactus, Devourer of Worlds. And, it's not like their jobs or responsibilities go away when they're writing, unless they've got grants. Sorry, this idea is mindblowing. I'm writing this on a word processor, with like 4 printers within a 45 second walk. How do you even review a chapter, just to cast another eye on it?

Anyway, the book get to the thesis pretty quickly: Justice as a social scheme, is to be understood as how rights and privileges are distributed. This would be arrived at from the original position, a position that sees people, without knowing how they would fare in the lotteries of birth, ordering a society. Rawls believes it is reasonable for human beings to protect the downside, to use a colloquialism, if they don't know how life is going to turn out.

It's called the veil of ignorance. From behind that veil, Rawls believes that human beings would freely and rationally choose to order a society where the minimum standard is as high as possible, because he believes they'll believe the odds are they're gonna be near it. I'm only four chapters into it, but the idea that jumps out to me is that this presupposes a level of education between all parties that may not be equal.

Aside from that, I don't have much else to say about the first four chapters. I'm a B.A., and this all makes sense to me, with enough re-readings. I'm capable of synthesizing and analyzing information, but...damnit. I don't want to sell myself short here, but this is a stone cold classic that makes a bit of sense at least in the first four chapters. I mean, sure, one could choose to gamble and argue that the baseline should be set lower, with more opportunity to accumulate wealth and advantages. But that's a point other people made that I read about.

That is the point of this feature, to go and see what, if anything I find, synthesizing regularly. 2666 next week! Somehow, that's the easier book to read. Who knew?

I've been listening to Katy Perry's song Teenage Dream non-stop. Here it is, to stand, happily in defiance of the super-abstract and unfun Rawls. Love the dissonance, folks.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Back to the Marathon.

I left the Marathon thing unfinished and now, I'm trying to figure out how to put it back together. I'll explain. My old blog I did with a couple other kids, by the end of it, the other kids stopped and I was left to my own devices. One of the devices I came up with was the Marathon series of blogs. It's a series dedicated to applying the songs from Marathon's self-titled record to my own life.

Since the death (or at least deep hibernation) of that old project Eleven Names, the songs themselves aren't available to me on the internet, so I have to go back to the iPod for them, which doesn't sound too bad except that I crave, in this case, the synchronicity of having my music on the same screen as my everything else. There's less to manage, and with the history of my Marathon pieces, getting started is the hardest part.

I know if I write long enough, or cruise on the internet, I'll find something to pin the song to and it will get done. But now, if it's going to come out, it's going to have to be here. Eleven Names isn't under my direct control, and one of the other parts of the triumvirate (Zach, Tom and I) is unreliable (Zach) and impossible to get a hold of for any period of time where I can... Hell. All this is backstory. I did Subsidized Sincerity so I can get away from it, but the past ain't through with me. Or, the two projects are similar enough that James writing flows from one thing to the other. Ultimately, I'm going to have to bring it here if I want to keep it alive.

And I thought all that, when I went out, on Sunday night, to chew on the details of Marathon number 7, Names Have Been Changed To Protect the Guilty. I threw on the Strike Anywhere hoodie (heaven sent, truly) and went out to get gelato to figure out how I was gonna apply the 45ish second song to my own life. I didn't want to get gelato from the place in the campus, I needed the air. I eventually settled on the topic of Eleven Names founder Zach. He's a year or two older than me and I wanted to impress him back in the day. I wonder if I still do now. But, like I said, we don't talk anymore and I miss him. So, I get to the first gelato place (it has a orange awning), and it's closed. Alright. It's a little further down the hill to a nicer one that's probably more expensive.

I walk a little further, wave back to a group of fellow students in a restaurant that miraculously is still open and keep walking. Only a block now. Down the street from the second gelato place, I don't see any lights on in the windows and I lose hope. It turns out the nicer one is closed too. (I left the compound at 1o p.m. I never said I was real bright.)

Up until this point, I was listening to an acoustic version of Gaga's Alejandro, and eventually, got off that song while walking back up to campus. I listened to a little Latterman, a gruff, silly punk band outta Long Island with songs like My Bedroom Is Like For Artists Pt. 2, For Someone So Easygoing, You Sure Wear Pants A Lot and If Batman Was Real, He Would Have Beat the Shit Out Of My Friends. After that, I finally decided I should listen again to Names Have Been Changed, to see what I can gleam from it, from the perspective of the distance between Zach and I.

It is as this point that I feel an unfortunate smoothness at my next step and see that I've stepped in dog feces. For the record: It is hard to be pensive and angsty when you're wiping dog shit off the underside of your shoe.

Dog turd scraped off, I scroll down to the song, and I see something I didn't realize: I didn't leave off at Names, I left off at the song before it, Where We Hide. Where We Hide has lyrics like "we just scrape at something real to let out how we feel" and talks about basically being posers because they haven't really faced oppression and hide themselves in the songs and every so often peek out and see if anyone is catching on.

Well, shit, that sounds perfect. I've been leading double lives for years and truth is always something I've meted out like I'm a propagandist. It is almost impossibly well themed for the feature's crossover to Subsidized Sincerity.

Hopefully, it's moments like this that validate my "write long enough with a fuck all deadline over your head and the answer will be found" thesis. This is obviously only something that will show up, or not, in retrospect. But from right here? I'm not real bright, but this is my broken clock moment. It might only be twice a day, but right now is that moment and it feels pretty good.

Yeah, today's song is the acoustic version of Lady Gaga's Alejandro. If all the acoustic versions are as good as this one, I'd actually be more interested in Gaga stripped down than I am in the regular songs.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Strike Anywhere At the Spanish Steps

I visited a museum dedicated, oddly enough, to the life of Shelley, Keats and Byron today. It was literally next to the Spanish Steps, on the tiny fourth floor of an old building that looked more like a Tetris piece than something made with stone. But. Shelley is especially interesting to me now because of his association with Strike Anywhere.

I'll explain. Strike Anywhere, as you may remember, is a band I plugged here before. But! I always knew that somehow, their song Blaze (from Exit English, a 2003?4? record) referenced something from Shelley, the Masque of Anarchy, but I was never sure how much. Sure, I didn't recognize the first verse, for frankly, the last six years. It was always something garbled before the second verse and the bridge.

And that's okay. Not all lyrics have equal weight.

But, I was listening to an interview with Thomas on Monday, I want to say and he said off-hand something to the effect of, yeah, the first verse is ripped straight from the Masque of Anarchy. I had time and I found the verse. It is as follows:

We! Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake these chains to earth like dew

You are many, they are few!

First: Unvanquishable. That' old word, alright. That explains why I never understood the first verse, I can count how many times I've heard that word before on one hand.

Second: Man, Shelley makes that shit sound so noble and awesome. The truth, of course, is different, as you can count on many, many more hands the number of people that have died in unsuccessful revolts.

But. The song's pretty fantastic even without knowing the first verse. The rest, well, my favorite lines are the switching between "human solution" and "human pollution" in the choruses along with "amplified adrenaline". It might sound super nerdy out of context, but you'll hear it below.

Back to the surprisingly well appointed museum, literally overlooking the Spanish Steps. It was a low-lit oasis of a reading room and a place to catch my breath in a place that was bright, filled with loud tourists all taking pictures of their friends on the Steps. It gave me, for 4 Euro, a spot to recollect myself and exhale.

Strike Anywhere is not a quiet band, nor are they a quiet place to take a breather. They've got a couple songs that allow me to exhale and catch my breath (Instinct, Notes On Pulling the Sky Down, Asleep, First Will and Testament, Till Days Shall Be No More and Postcards From Home) but the majority of their songs are 2-3 minute long bursts of occasionally sung punk that places a premium on speed and heart. They're a cup of Gatorade along the marathon, the extra tank of gas in a cross country trip. Strike Anywhere, for me, is a constant re-dedication to the ideas and beliefs I fell in love with years ago, that bad things, no matter how ubiquitous ought to be noted and worked against.

I also wouldn't be at that museum if it wasn't for Strike Anywhere, obviously, because without them it is significantly less likely I would have cared at all about Shelley, but more so, because Strike Anywhere represents a lot of the emotional and social decisions I've made in the past few years. If I hadn't listened to Strike Anywhere, maybe I'd be happier or less aware, or have taken a right as opposed to a left at certain crossroads. If I didn't listen to Strike Anywhere, I couldn't have walked up those stairs, because I wouldn't have a reason to care.

I'm still on 2666, and by page 100, we're finally starting to get to the plot. There's been enough dream sequences that I'm pretty sure I'm missing something. You know which song this is gonna be, right? It's gonna be Blaze and its intro, We Amplify. Sure, Blaze sounds great on its own, but that extra minute of a buildup is worth it. Trust me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Announcing A Theory of 2666.

I was talking with a couple kids about snap decisions on the way back from St. Peter's yesterday (a monument that took over 120 years to build) and I ended up dispensing sage advice to the effect of "sometimes, the only way you're going to do something is to say you're doing something gigantic and then start doing it before you can stop and think better of it."

In that vein, I'm announcing A Theory of 2666, publishing every Wednesday. As I mentioned before, I brought Robert Bolano's 2666 with me on the trip, but I also brought the classic of modern philosophy and ubiquitous judicial citation, A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. I got about 90 pages through A Theory of Justice before putting it down for something that would fit more easily into a satchel and I never got back around to picking it up again. I'm intimidated by 2666 (It is supposedly a rejuvenation of the Latin American literary genre and I've read an entire one book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez), as I've mentioned before and used that as an excuse to let it sit on the shelf or on the dresser. No longer.

I'm reading both, starting now. Well, I'm switching between the two, this week it's 2666, next week it's A Theory of Justice.

I'm only 35 pages into 2666, and already, there's a love triangle that must collapse at the worst possible time, a strange and reclusive author with no pictures that inspired four main characters, one of those characters, as a reader, I expect to die. But, what's most surprising to me is a sentence, starting four lines from the top of page 18 that ends near the bottom on page 22. Now, in terms of width and height, 2666 is 8x5, which seems normal to me.

5 pages without a fucking period or, more crucially, a paragraph break. First things first: If you can construct a sentence like that and have it work, as it does in 2666, my hat's off to you. You're unreal at what you do. But as a reader on a bus or between classes, it's a display of virtuosity that is infuriating. Well, aggravating. As a person that plays with words, I'm humbled and immediately aware I am watching a person who has truly mastered the written word. Comparatively, I play with blocks. Legos, if I'm lucky. As a person that has to read it and does so in a world where I have to negotiate other human beings and the bookmark slips, I pray, feverishly, for a paragraph break or period or a chink in the armor of the paragraph to save my place.

There is no such solace. Then again, I'm reading 2666, not some trashy Chandler ripoff. The message I take from 2666 is that I need to up my reading game. If not that, then, at least understand this is the terrain I am getting myself into now. I am getting into books that more is expected of me. Oh! I like 2666. I mean, it's challenging reading, but I enjoy the time I spend with it. How did I not get to that?

I can get to that next week! Two weeks! See you Friday.

Today's song is Far's Mother Mary, as covered by Thursday at Hellfest, with the aid of Far's singer. One of the things I have a weak spot for at shows is male camaraderie and this video is saturated with it, a five minute piece of bro-ing out onstage overflowing with emotion. Yes, this is what I love and hardly often get. The song is about how we're gonna die and the only way we're gonna be remembered is for what we do, in what media we leave behind, which has a thematic simliarity to 2666, as there are four main characters chasing a reclusive author, whom they only know about through media.

I would say I planned it, but I didn't.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chrono Roma

Hey: There's going to be talking about places in Chrono Cross, which might be spoilerific, if you haven't played the game yet. Then again, since it came out 11 years ago (gulp), you probably should have by now. If you haven't, get on it. It's $15, with shipping from Amazon, and you probably have a PS1 memory card lying around somewhere.

Insomnia's been hitting a little hard, so I've been putting on the Chrono Cross soundtrack (a behemoth 3 disc OST) as something to give swaths of mental color to the greys, blacks and browns of nighttime. Composed by Japanese musician Yasunori Mitsuda, the first 30 or so tracks are less intense than I remember, with a lot being based on ambient sounds accompanied by minimal acoustic guitar. (That is to say: It is very not rock and roll and the opposite of the bombastic Kingdom Hearts 2 opening.)

Also: Images are from Chrono Cross and Rome. Obv. Less obviously, none of them are mine.

Listening to the songs brings me back to my memories of playing the game, which for the most part are light adventure, with a sense of wonder and awe, which I hope is the right tone to explore a city that's basically unknown to me. Shit, it's not for nothing that I remember Chrono Cross after its story for how wide and deep its color palate is. Listening to the songs, even down side streets, the sense of adventure and awe, (A&A, apparently) leaves me with a strange sense of familiar adventure in an unfamiliar landscape. Were I to guess, I think it's something about the gaslights and the brownish light on the sides of buildings that makes the experience more ethereal and otherworldly. Roma, at least past 10 p.m. in relatively nice areas is made up of those colors, along with a little bit of wear.

I feel a little bit sutpid repeating this, since it might be so obvious to you, dear reader, but Roma is exciting and new and shiny and filled with interesting graffiti, most of it not swastikas. Yeah. Fascists. Last time I paid attention to that sort of thing, it was a H2O cover of the Dead Kennedys "Nazi Punks Fuck Off", but in Europe, shit is real, man. Roma is familiar, but tweaked. Like a city, but with a couple degrees of separation, or more accurately, like a cityscape imbued with magical realism. The real-life elements are still there, Roma's expensive, the metro doesn't run after midnight and drinks are cheaper for girls, but listening to the Chrono Cross OST, the ubiquitous motions of tourists and employees at night becomes fantastical and maybe cosmic.

Yes, I'm filled with stars. So far I haven't been robbed, pick-pocketed, mugged, held up or even threatened or harassed by a drunk. There's still illusion. A feeling, since inaugurated here, is still around. From Chrono Cross, I remember volcanic geysers that could erupt at any moment, the walls surging with red hot magma, sleepy, brightly colored island towns and pristine white halls of forgotten mechanical utopias. These, of course, don't mention the dank sewers that every JRPG seems to have at least one of, marble lined city-scapes and lush jungles (more than one!).

With the exception of the marble cityscape, there's nothing like that kind of color in nighttime Roma. It simply does not exist, and bringing those reams of color to mind, should not work. It should be an aesthetic cacophony, but somehow the two reinforce each other. It's something I never thought would happen, or even really gave it a serious thought until a couple days ago, but now that I know, I'm looking forward to each night I can get away from people who might actually want to be around me and be acceptably anti-social with my headphones, a map and updating a fairly important piece of media for me in a new decade.

Not surprisingly, the music today is coming from the OST. I'm starting you off with the intro to the whole thing (60-ish songs), leaving you with the related videos and letting you go.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Faster Faster Faster

Today's update is rather scattered.

The Daily Show is taking shots at Fox News for deliberately editing videos to remove the context from President Obama's statements. (They turned If the Bush plan stays in effect, taxes will go up for everyone to I will raise everyone's taxes.) It's bad and disingenous, but kind of expected. Far better was the Staten Island Supreme Court piece (by Wyatt Cenac with John Oliver guesting) that seemed like it was edited down a little too much.

That's only an entree to Jon Stewart's interview with Meghan McCain (promoting her new book Dirty Sexy Politics, one of the most generic titles I've ever heard), daughter of well, duh. Mr. Stewart, I thought, spent too much time trying Meghan McCain as a proxy for her father and not enough talking to Meghan McCain. I would have liked to hear more about Meghan McCain's experiences with the Republican image consultants, who said she dressed like a stripper and was hurting her father's campaign. Maybe it's a little voyeuristic, but hell, these image consultants are often just bitter punch lines that hearing about them from someone my age who seems like she's saying something she believes is interesting listening for me.

Ms. McCain is an interesting person in her own right, as someone who is obviously out of step with the GOP machine and the daughter of a former maverick and presidential candidate. How much is her and how much is her father's influence or how much is her father's friends who still believe in the party? I wish that, also, had been explored. Sadly, no dice. Most of the time was taken up with Mr. Stewart being funny and both people trying to work through the awkwardness of the interview.

Being in what is a Mediterranean paradise with few worries or responsibilities reinforces something: I miss hardcore punk shows more than I let on. And it's almost impossible to explain this to my peers without the experience sounding like a punchline. "So you want to go to a concert where you can't sit down, you might get jumped on or punched in the head? And these things are positives?"


In other news: Last night I was invited out, just as I was about to get on the city bus to go back to campus, to an Irish pub. I declined, mostly because I didn't want to feel like an American that late with not enough money for a cab ride back. But, it raised a question afterwards: Should I have said yes? Yeah, yeah greener grass, but the point of this trip is new experiences, right? If this is true, then going to a supposedly Irish bar would count, since I don't go to any back home.

And, honestly, it's not every day that I feel adventurous and really able to go out on my own. Sometimes, not being adventurous is okay. My operating procedure out here is not being adventurous should happen less often than being adventurous. Anyway. This Irish pub has a place and a time, which could have been last night, but wasn't.

I've been having trouble sleeping, still, so I've been listening to Till Days Shall Be No More by Strike Anywhere pretty much every night, hoping it'll settle me down. The second half of the chorus is the best and the outro is surprisingly listenable. I usually dislike outros, but there's something so relaxing and surprisingly tender about it that it makes the cut.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Exile And The Downward Kingdom

Today, you're getting Camus and Reznor circa the Downward Spiral, but hopefully not in the way you expect.

It's a sea change, I admit. Camus was a strident anti-nihilist, whereas Reznor (circa Spiral) was a drug addict who'se songs were dense, cacophonic blasts that saw nothing in the world worth anything. Hurt, now famous because of the Johnny Cash cover, was a self-pitying track, written in a rare moment of distance and clarity that was Reznor's lucid plea to himself to get away from the bad influences (read: cocaine).

Somehow, despite most of my friends listening heavily to the disc (at least two ex-girlfriends and two good friends) I never really, truly got into the record. But Monday, I remembered that March of the Pigs existed (Thank you, Pitchfork!) and then put it on and just let the record go on my iPod. The next song Closer, kicked me in the face. Suddenly, almost a decade removed from their experiences with it, I began to see what they saw in it.

And that's when I realized: I am on another continent. I am removed from them.

So I just kept listening, and then I couldn't help it: I tried to place myself in their shoes. I tried to see through their eyes and see what they saw in this record. All except one now are very straight up people that don't...advertise the influence of the record, for lack of a better phrase. By which I mean, they're no longer kids and are angry at the world in an existential way.

At the time when they listened to it, I was scared of the record. I think I saw a Nine Inch Nails video once, and it just looked so disturbed and creepy that I didn't go back. I dove into punk as fast as I could since it was safer and more easily accessible.

(Oh! Quick note: I'm linking you to the remix portion of the Nine Inch Nails website because I like the idea of the music being something that's continually grappled with and lived in, even after the band broke up and the site that hosts remixes from fans across the world does just that. Enjoy!)

But the fear is the important part. It's something like the fear of the main feature in Exile and the Kingdom that I have. I think I bought a book of Shelley's poetry just to get away from it. I bought Shelley because Thomas from Strike Anywhere stole a line in a song and everything else in the English language bookstore was craaaaaaaazy expensive, and for the Philosophy volumes, I'd have to take out a small loan to afford them. (Kids: Philosophy books are a racket. Be aware.)

I don't know how else to relate. I'm afraid of Exile in the abstract. Unlike the Guest (another story in the anthology), I didn't see a context in the introduction that made appealed to me. The Guest was Camus' statement about the Algerian French war, from a person who was both Algerian and French. The Exile sits there, in the book. This shit feels heavy, like it weighs a ton, even when I'm 4 floors below the volume.

I ought to get to it, but I don't. There's homework, or Torchlight. Or Going Out, which is something I actually should do. There are any number of reasons to run from it. Hell, part of the reason why I said Wednesdays are for media was so I would force myself to think critically about something I was consuming and sooner or later, it would have to be books. Operative phrase being sooner or later. I get the feeling Exile will be something that is ongoing, since the story can be broken up into parts.

Yeah. That's the ticket.

This video of March of the Pigs is fun. It's a little bit more punk rock than Reznor is known for, and it sees the performers actually interacting in a way that energy bounces off each other literally and figuratively.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Dryer Sheets As Epistemological ICBM

First: The title. I'm proud and a little embarrassed of it. Then again, if you've read Eleven Names, then you should know, I'm no stranger to stretched military-industrial complex metaphors and conflicting feelings.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge and while philosophy is wide-ranging (and applicable almost everywhere) I never expected that I would be playing Newton and dryer sheets would be my apple.

I'll explain.

I was washing my clothes in a washer and that was going okay. Well, bad. It costs 1.5 Euros to do a load, which comes out to roughly $2, so that's suboptimal and a lot more expensive than I'm used to. I had put both loads in the washers and around the 20 minute mark on the first washer, I realized: I didn't bring dryer sheets with me. The vending machine outside the washing room, which sells detergent (thank God!) does not sell dryer sheets.

I went downstairs (since the washing facilities are on the fourth floor) to ask anyone I could find if they had dryer sheets. They didn't. So, I went further downstairs to ask the helpful security guard who was okay with English if he had any dryer sheets. He pointed me, sincerely to the flyer for the sheet exchange on Tuesday. "No, no," I said, "dryer sheets. The things you put in the dryer with your clothes." He looked at me with a look that said I was describing something alien to him.

I sighed and tried explaining the concept of dryer sheets: "You know, dryer sheets, the little sheets you put in with your clothes that help...uhhhh...with...cling...and...uhhhhh..." That's when it hit me: I have no idea what dryer sheets do. I don't know what I don't know. In other words, I am unaware of what I still need to learn. For example, I know for goodamn sure I don't know Italian, which is something I need to learn. I am aware of this deficiency.

But it wasn't until I needed dryer sheets that I had no idea what dryer sheets did and could not explain what they were to a person who was not fluent in English. He thought I was talking about the sheet exchange. I could not explain why, for God's sake, one would use dryer sheets. I used words like cling, but cling is a bad introduction to the concept to a non-native speaker.

I know I don't know Marx and he's a relatively important thinker these days. But dryer sheets defeated me. Dryer sheets. It's always the stuff that's mundane and not fantastical that gets people. Like how the Brooklyn Dodgers are in Los Angeles for Steve Rogers.

The next question, of course, how do I find out what else I don't know? Looking around the room I'm in, it's filled with kids (like me) all on their computers Skypeing home to their friends or talking about how they're going to a bar sometime next week. Safe to say I probably won't find it here sitting at the computer. But there's few other places to go where the internet access is reliable, so here are all the lovers and the kids who pretend they want to get work done.

And man, I've been playing Torchlight for most of the time that I've been here, with the occasional dalliances into Facebook or Twitter, both of which are data-mining the shit out of everything I write, as does Google every time I want to search for something. I'm as guilty as all of the kids here. It takes work and willingness to be uncomfortable for an un-mediated "authentic" Italian experience.

To add to that, I think it's incredibly self-aggrandizing to continue down this line of thought, since it leads to self-satisfied "I'm adventurous" bullshit, so I'll just say that I'm not as successful as I'd like to be in putting myself in new or interesting or different situations where I feel out of place. I mean, yeah, I've done a couple things, but by and large, I haven't been eating food I'd consider strange or really Gone Out on my own.

That will be this week. A friend of mine who was in Rome before me gave me a list of places and I'll have the time to capitalize on that this week. I need to get uncomfortable again, because it's in that discomfort and unsure feeling that knowledge is transmitted and unceremoniously dropped. Unless something crazy happens, Wednesday will probably be about Camus, again. If things work out, the embryonic D&D game will be on Friday.

Today's song is Comadre's cover of I Think We're Alone Now. Comadre is a punk band that has a muddy, raucous screamo edge and this cover is so loose and fun that it captures the spirit of Comadre really vividly. The guy's voice, even for hardcore punk, is rough, but after 20 or so listens, it's charming. If you need a RIYL for the song, think the Bronx, and that's close enough.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Stranger And The Traveling And Finally, Music!

The Stranger

SPOILERS. You've been warned.

I finished the Stranger on Monday. It's written in a pretty matter of fact style until the killing happens and then it goes into a more passionate style. It's a bit of unreliable narrator but also nailing understatement. The narrator feels more often than he lets on, which is used to great effect in the beginning of the book when he's watching his so called friend basically entrap and beat up and ex-girlfriend for some imagined crime.

There's a trial and every action that we've seen through the narrator's eyes is warped and twisted by the public and everyone outside him. That maybe, he just doesn't have the words or doesn't feel that badly about his mother's death at the beginning of the novel, as the two people didn't speak for the last 10 years of the mother's life. By the end, the narrator is screaming at a priest about God just before he dies and refuses to accept any kind of last rites or acknowledge divinity on the ledge before his own death.

It's also under 150 pages, which, at least the edition I have, makes it an infuriating size. It's tantalizingly close, almost at the point where it can be stuck in a back pocket, but it's just a little too big to transport that way. He's simply a depressing author to read at the moment. Maybe it's a product of where physical I am. Or, it could be where I am mentally.

Where I am mentally is acclimating to the new place. Classes will help that, give the weeks some definition, but without a working alarm clock, I'm in a kind of "I get up when I get up" schedule, which, considering I have to wake up today to see the Coliseum neither earlier nor later than I'm used to, but instead right in that middle that I haven't hit yet, my life feels like a crapshoot. I walked last night listening to the Chrono Cross soundtrack, in an attempt to do something with my insomnia, and while it was interesting going back and reliving those memories, it made me wonder, ought I to be listening to music I already have a powerful attachment to and visual of when I'm in Rome, or should I be doing everything new, straight?

It's something to chew on. The crapshoot, somehow, remains fun thus far.

Since I didn't put a song when I posted this originally and that was an oversight, I'll fix it post-facto. The corretto (Italian for generic alcohol put in coffee to "correct' it) for this post, is a silly AMV for Reel Big Fish's Hungry Like the Wolf cover to Lupin the III, which is not just a great pairing, but a great way to offset the dead serious Camus. So! Lupin the III and Camus. A match made in, well, here. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The City & The City And Sleeping I Swear

New feature, which hopefully, will appear every week on Wednesday. In my attempt to get a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule going, I'm dedicating Wednesday to some piece of media I'm finished with, digesting or still trying to figure out.

I read two books since I left for Rome. The first is China Mieville's The City & The City with the second being Camus' (which I learned recently is pronounce Cam-Ooooooh) the Stranger. I'll talk about it more on Friday.

SPOILERS for The City & The City, obviously, follow.

The City & The City

I liked it a lot, despite the fact that I couldn't fully visualize the conceit of the setting, that two cities share the same real estate, but none of the same laws. I think because it focused more on being a detective story than something more science fiction y, I was able to follow it was easier for me to swallow.

Also, I am compelled to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of insider betrayals on the police force. I was waiting, the entire goddamn time for either the partner from Ul Qora to be secretly informing on him for the bad guys or for the female cop back in Besz that he was flirting with to fill that role.

Of course, it ended up being the least likely person (as it always is, and often should be) so, I was still surprised. The detective himself wasn't particularly memorable, he could have just as easily been called Damn The Rules, Lives In A Shitty Apartment, Lawful Good Detective A and that would have covered just about everything. But that's only if you consider strict adherence to a traditional good guy style to be a bad thing.

I haven't read a detective/crime story (that wasn't in a comic) in a while, so in addition to being worth the money on its own, it's a nice preparation for whatever the hell 2666 is bringing my way. Seriously. The thing is a behemoth. I think I put it in my drawer just so I didn't have to be intimidated by its sheer weight and surprising height.

Anyway. Back to The City & The City. The premise is interesting. There's a murder and then it goes out of jurisdiction is a pretty uniform plot, but in a city where there are two populations that literally cannot look at each other, it makes the tension and distrust between those two cities, a lot more pronounced. And, it makes finding and collating evidence, the process of justice, even harder.

The details (like that the Besz cops are still on dial up) are a nice reminder of how not far in the future the story is set. Hell, some of it even involves a college! So yes. I like it and I'd even recommend it to my mother or father. That might not be a compliment for some people, but I think it's a testament to how solidly the story is written.

This song has little and I'd argue nothing to do with the book, but it's what I've been listening to since I could sit down at the internet. I don't know what it's about, but the chorus is to kill for. Enjoy.

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