Thursday, December 22, 2005

God bless you, Mr. Hitchens

I have a strong love-hate relationship with Christopher Hitchens. Mostly, he loves hearing himself talk and I hate it.

However, I often find myself in agreement with Mr. Hitchens when he discusses religion, and in particular the problematic intersections of religion and public policy and culture. Case in point, it's Christmas again, and Mr. Hitchens is not terribly happy about it.

Hmm. . . Seems to me that I've written more about Christopher Hitchens in the past.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What to do with the arts?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of the arts in academia. For example, it's tough enough for a sensitive and creative reader to find his/her way through the contemporary theory-driven English department, but how much more so for the writer? The uselessness of a writing MFA is a cliche.

Thus I was interested to read in today's New York Times a discussion of college dance programs.

I love college-level arts instruction, but it seems to me to be doing people a disservice to offer a degree with so little expectation of a resulting career.

At the same time, the problem only exists because college-level education has become so career-driven. There is little room for dance instruction in a pre-medical program, and so the choice seems to become all or nothing. Take a dance BA, or don't study dance at all.

In a perfect world, an arts program wouldn't need specific numbers of graduates to justify its continued existence, but I fear that with declining state funding for public universities, administrative "indulgence" for arts programs without demonstrated revenue enhancing capacities can only decline.

It's incredibly stupid, but I couldn't stop laughing

For your friends, your enemies, and your pets, a Chewbacca Xmas card. (Courtesy Entertainment Weekly online.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

More year-end books

Salon has just posted their eleven item list of the year's ten best books. (Everyone really seems to like Kafka on the Shore. Maybe I'll have to give it another chance when it comes out in paperback.)

Interestingly, the New York Times' Public Editor has just written an examination of how that newspaper's Book Review decides who gets reviewed and by whom. On the whole, it's rather dry reading, but I found interesting that the editors attempt to maintain objectivity by keeping watch over their mealtime company. Byron Calame writes that "Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the Book Review, [says that] he and his top editors 'do very few lunches with publishers or agents' where they could be lobbied about decisions."

While I'm at it, here are some other publications' lists of the best fiction of 2005.

And Publisher's Weekly's list, which is not so much a best-of, but sort of an inventory, and is perhaps the most entertaining of the bunch.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Not much, really

It's been a slow week, at least in my head. I feel like I'm starting to trim the edges and tie things down in anticipation of the new arrival my family is expecting in January. I have been certainly feeling an itch in the back of my head to start working on a new project, but at this point I would rather take some notes and set them safely aside than to try to set something in motion and then abandon it in a newborn-induced haze of sleepless nights and dirty diapers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


The Detroit Free Press reports that today WDET is removing its daytime music programming in favor of news and additional NPR programming. (Click here to read my previous post on WDET.)

Another reason that I'm not sad to have gotten the hell out of Detroit.

Friday, December 09, 2005

. . . And tigers, and bears, oh my!

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is in theaters today. In addition to taking the prize for unnecessary lengthening of an already long title, this movie adaptation should remind us of C.S. Lewis's one true stroke of genius.

Jesus lions. Every children's book needs Jesus lions. My first children's book is going to have a whole army of them, along with a second army of Jesus lionesses to do all of the hunting necessary to feed the army of Jesus lions.

It's going to rock holy.

No, really, I actually love Lewis's Narnia books. The movie looks like it could be fun, but I've already filled my British magical adventure movie quota for this year, thank you very much.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A voice here rarely heard

The text of Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize speech, presented by video last night in Stockholm, is available here. (Courtesy of the Guardian.)

As a U.S. citizen, it is difficult reading. It is also quite possibly essential. The difficulty of being a U.S. citizen, a member of the world's most powerful democracy, is that we cannot deny responsibility for a government that increasingly wishes to inflict itself on the rest of the world. Our current administration may be a particularly sickening embodiment of this tendency, but the it is a taint which touches every administration, Republican or Democratic, of the past fifty years.

And through them, it touches us. The government is mine, whether I voted for the other guy or not. If these things are allowed to continue it is through my support, because I allow the security and prosperity of my family and my children to blind me to the poverty and death inflicted in my name.

As a citizen, it is a matter of an immoral and unsupportable government. As an artist, I face the possibility that my language will become an immoral agent of its own. I love English, but if my literature does not begin to express its outrage and the possibility that the world could exist in some other fashion, I will be guilty of an unforgivable abdication.

For a political philosophy that claims a monopoly on absolute truth, our president seems to have forgotten a few things. Torture is unforgivable. Our comfort cannot justify the deaths of innocents at our hands. It is time that we count the Iraqi dead. It is time that we demand economic opportunity for all, at home and abroad. It is time to demand the rule of law, on individuals and states. It is time to take a seat in the international community as an equal, not a demagogue.

I have no desire to renounce my citizenship, even though I cannot deny that the idea has at times held appeal. I must instead recognize my obligation, and begin to work to fulfill it, in any way I can.

As I deflate, and consider the limitations of my pen and my keyboard, I can at least mention that Pinter's Paris Review interview from 1966 is available here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Promo CD problems

The Detroit Free Press is reporting this morning that WDET DJ Martin Bandyke has been "allowed to resign" over accusations that he "trafficked in recorded music and accepted free concert tickets in violation of WSU policy." (WDET is Detroit's Wayne State University-operated NPR affiliate.) Apparently, Bandyke had been taking duplicate copies of promotional CDs provided to WDET for airplay to used music resellers and exchanging them for additional titles to add to WDET's library. He also, apparently, had been obtaining free concert tickets from music label representatives.

Unlike many NPR affiliates, WDET plays little or no classical music. Instead it airs new music between NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered." Spending most of the past year in the Detroit area, I found myself listening to WDET almost exclusively, especially given Detroit's dearth of original radio programming. (Old 90s standbys 88.7 and 96.3 have become exactly that--stations that split their broadcast between the music popular in the 90s and the MTV track of the week, which, more often than not, is deservedly removed from the playlist after a few days.) Last year's regulars ranged from Beck and Kraftwerk to John Prine, Sonny Landreth, and Mary Gauthier. I worked in a music store, and I discovered far more new music through WDET than I did at work.

At the same time, as the circumstances I've described have hinted, WDET is a bit of an exception, and I'm sure that they have to work pretty hard to keep it up. There is something of a perception that working at a radio station or music store means that you're swimming in free CDs. I can tell you from experience that this is far less true now than it was ten years ago. Ease of CD pirating has meant that labels are far less likely to distribute free CDs before a release date, and since so many commercial outlets have installed digital listening stations, there's far less of a need to distribute promotional listening copies at all. Since the promotional CDs we did get came in after release dates, we tended to only get copies of discs that were selling well, and different sources would end up sending us multiple copies of the same few titles. I imagine that this was often the case at WDET as well.

I have two reactions to the news of Mr. Bandyke's habits. Working in a store that sold used CDs, one of my pet peeves used to be label reps and employees of other music stores that would bring in big piles of promotional CDs to sell. In part, my frustration was my employer's apparent "plausible deniability" policy. If "promotional CD -- not for sale" was actually printed on the CD or booklet, I couldn't buy the disc, but if the CD were marked in one of the handful of other ways that labels use to distinguish promotional discs without the words "promotional" or "not for sale" actually appearing, I was supposed to accept the item as saleable. While selling promotional merchandise as "used" could have led to a lot of trouble were we to get caught, the attitude seemed to be that so long as we could plausibly say "oh, I didn't notice that the bar code had been punched out," that it was no problem.

On the other hand, in contrast to the label reps and music store employees that used to tick me off, Mr. Bandyke was not exchanging the discs for personal gain. This is a big gray area. While ethically, Mr. Bandyke's defense that "everybody on staff" was doing the same thing carries little weight with me, the fact remains that not only is the selling and reselling of promotional merchandise rampant, but that while record labels claim that promotional discs are "property of the label and must be returned on demand," I have never heard of a case where a label has ever asked that a promotional disc be returned, and I believe that you would be hard pressed to find anyone who was aware of such an event ever having actually occurred.

Thus, promotional CDs, for all practical purposes, do not remain the property of the label. They are distributed with no intent of return, and it is arguamble that the intent is all but for employees to take them home for their personal collection (at least after a period of broadcast or in-store play). While I still have issues with promotional discs being sold for cash, which still makes Bandyke's actions questionable at best--he may not have been selling the discs, but he was trading them for eventual sale--I have a hard time working up much in the way of outrage over Mr. Bandyke's apparent motivations.

There are big problems with the music industry, not the least of which being that if you want to run a radio station that broadcasts a wide variety of new and archival music, you have to resort to shady dealings to get your hands on the music you can't get from the labels.

(There is of course, room for a great deal more discussion, including the fact that WSU was not able to produce a copy of the policy under which Mr. Bandyke was asked to resign, and Mr. Bandyke's apparent feeling of entitlement to free concert tickets for personal use, but I think that 850 words for a blog entry is more than enough. Click here for my October 17 posting on a new proposal for copyright law, which also links to an October 11 post on Snarkmarket which discusses the ethics of selling used books and CDs.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Past glories

When I was in college at Michigan State University, a few friends and I started a literary magazine, The Offbeat. The magazine actually still exists today (check out the new, updated web site), and you can find most of the back issues at either the MSU Press, or at

Quite a while ago, I compliled an annotated index of the issues of The Offbeat printed while I was editor. I'm still looking for a print home for the index, but with a little bit of additional work, I indexed the remaining volumes and put together something of a statistical analysis. I'd be surprised if anyone not familiar with The Offbeat would find that much of interest in the information, but most of the few people who read my blog know my old magazine, so here goes.

The Offbeat, since its founding, has had four editors:

In the full run of The Offbeat (counting Spring 1999-Fall 2000)

139 writers were published
251 pieces were published

67 female writers published 108 pieces (48.2% of writers, 43.0% of total work)
72 male writers published 143 pieces (51.8% of writers, 57.0% of total work)

89 writers had one piece published (64.0% of writers, 35.9% of total work)
30 writers had two pieces published (21.6% of writers, 23.1% of total work)
9 writers had three pieces published (6.5% of writers, 10.8% of total work)
11 writers had more than three pieces published (7.9% of writers, 30.3% of total work)

3 writers had four pieces published: Jeremy Campbell, Micki Evans, and Kathryn Tucker (Poetry Editor, 2000-2001, Editor, 2002)
2 writers had five pieces published: Josh Guilford (Poetry Editor 2004-2005) and Rachel Murray
2 writers had six pieces published: Meg McClure and Steven Rajewski

Colleen Farrow had seven pieces published (across three issues)
Andrew Hungerford had ten pieces published (across five issues)
Gavin Craig had eleven pieces published (across five issues)
Timothy Carmody had fourteen pieces published (across six issues, and including one piece published under a pseudonym)

It seems like it might be interesting to get a title/page count for fiction, poetry, and drama, but that's far too much work for me.

Ten things everyone should know how to do

In my travels through the omnimedia world, I came a across a certain celebrity’s list of thirty things that everyone should know how to do. (Don’t ask me who the celebrity was, or I’ll be forced to tell you.) Being neither a celebrity, nor an expert I certainly don’t have thirty tasks that I think that everyone should be able to execute, but Danielle and I got to talking, and we were able to come up with ten. Our list differs in its philosophy from the original (click at your own risk), but every one of our items is, without a doubt, a good thing.

Ten things everyone should know how to do (in no particular order):

  • Perform CPR
  • Stop bleeding
  • Change a tire
  • Wrap a gift
  • Change a diaper
  • Cook one full meal
  • Balance a checkbook
  • Compute a tip without a calculator
  • Do your own laundry
  • Turn off the water/operate a household circuit breaker

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

. . . Is my two front teeth

I promised thirty or so titles in my last post, so here's the other fifteen or so.

Five books that I've already read, but for some reason are not on my shelf.

Five books by or about Shakespeare that I really want

Five books in translation I really want

And of course, the one book I really want

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, of course, came out this year, but somehow didn't make the NYT Book Review's list, which should call its credibility into question all by itself. Sure it's really neither "fiction" nor "nonfiction," but what's the point of a list if it leaves out the best stuff?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

All I want for Xmas. . .

In thinking about Tim's comment on my last post, I realized that I was comparing the thirty or so fiction titles on NYT's 2005 Notable Books list with the thirty or so titles from recent Western literature that I really want to add to my bookshelf. In all fairness (and because I love making lists), I decided that I should share those titles with you, divided into neat subcategories.

The five Penguin Classics I really want

The five Library of America volumes I really want

  • Eugene O'Neill, Complete Plays 1913-1920
  • Eugene O'Neill, Complete Plays 1920-1931
  • William Faulkner, Novels 1930-1935 : As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, Light in August, Pylon
  • William Faulkner, Novels 1936-1940 : Absalom, Absalom! / The Unvanquished / If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem / The Hamlet
  • William Faulkner, Novels 1942-1954 : Go Down, Moses / Intruder in the Dust / Requiem for a Nun / A Fable

The five new-ish novels I really want

(More to come.)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Those good old year-end reviews

The New York Times has posted its list of Notable fiction and general nonfiction for 2005.

Sadly, I yawned.

There were only four titles that I'm dead-set on reading and adding to my bookshelf, and one of them is the latest Harry Potter. (I mean, I dug it, but does it really belong on a list of the best literature for the year? On second thought, looking at the other titles on the list, maybe it does.)

What were the other three? The new Zadie Smith, of course. (I've never actually read her before, but she takes Howards End as her model, and I'm a huge E.M. Forster fan.) I've also heard good things about Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day was also quite good), and I feel somehow obligated to add Dave Eggers' collection of stories to my shelf. (I've read a number of the stories already in The New Yorker and elsewhere, and a few are very good. McSweeney's books are just damn fine pieces of bookbinding.)

Still, that's only four out of 39 fiction titles cited. (And I even tried to read the new Haruki Murakami. Blah.)

Am I missing something? Am I being too negative? If there's anything else worthy of mention, I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Most of the time, however, I am well behind the curve

Earlier in the week, I stopped by my local, lovely independent bookstore, which gives away out-of-date copies of the New York Times Book Review, and discovered the Oct. 30 issue, most of which I had avoided online, because it reviewed several books discussing the war in Iraq.

I missed a jewel. Book-length discussion of any topic tends to discourage the worst of the ideological polemic that has marked most public discussion of the current war in Iraq (Ed note: this is a rule of thumb. The author freely acknowledges a lack of universal application), and the reviews were each thoughtful, insightful, and excellent. As is all too rare, I came away feeling not reaffirmed in my previous views, but more informed, and more able to engage in further argument.

Normally I would offer some summary of the discussion, but in this case, it would be a waste, especially when this is a war whose discussion on all sides has been irresponsibly abridged.

If I can offer only one incentive, one taste to entice you to sample the full meal, it would be Dexter Filkins' review of Michael Goldfarb's book, Ahmad's War, Ahmad's Peace, which discusses the time Goldfarb spent in Iraq with his translator, Ahmad Shawkat, who was murdered in 2003. (My apologies for the extensive quote, and slight restructuring of Filkins' review. The full, original version is available here.)

One of the oddities of being a foreign correspondent is that the person you often end up learning the most from is someone who never makes it into your articles - your interpreter. This is a shame. In broken, war-ravaged places, the men and women who offer their translation services are frequently extraordinary people, who in more stable societies wouldn't bother with such work: they're deposed university professors, persecuted newspaper editors, surgeons whose clinics have been destroyed. Whatever cultural nuance creeps into reporting is often thanks to them.

Shawkat had been a lecturer in anatomy at the University of Mosul's medical school, and was clearly an exceptional man. . . . By the time Goldfarb engaged him, in March 2003, Shawkat had already endured several stints in Hussein's dungeons, suffering through beatings, electrical shocks and interrogations for crimes no greater than discussing an alternative future for his country or writing satirical, heavily allegorical stories about Hussein. . . . When Hussein was swept away, Shawkat came back to Mosul and turned his prodigious energies into helping build a democratic Iraq.

[A] great many of [Iraq's] people saw precisely the opportunity that presented itself on April 9, 2003, when the American Army chased Saddam Hussein and his confederates from their palaces on the Tigris. These Iraqis realized that they had to seize the moment, that it might not come again. And they knew, better than anyone, how difficult it would be to carry their broken and brutalized country with them. So they started newspapers, they organized political parties, they called meetings to start a national conversation. Some of them, surveying the psychological ruins that Hussein and his torturers had left behind, formed institutes to teach their countrymen to think for themselves.

And now, today, many of these Iraqis, if not most of them, are dead. They have been shot, tortured, burned, disfigured, thrown into ditches, disappeared. Thousands of them: editors, lawyers, pamphleteers, men and women. In a remarkable campaign of civic destruction, the Baathists and Islamists who make up the insurgency located the intellectual heart of the nascent Iraqi democracy and, with gruesome precision, cut it out. As much as any single factor, the death of Iraq's political class explains the difficulties of the country's rebirth. The good guys are dead.

The Americans who planned the invasion could hardly have hoped for a better ally on the ground than Ahmad Shawkat: he was educated, secular, articulate and absolutely fearless.

With American money, he started a weekly newspaper, ruefully named Bilattijah, "Without Direction," which he used to defend the democratic project and assail its enemies. Goldfarb does a fine job of recounting the heady days of Mosul's liberation, and the collapse of the American-backed efforts to create a liberal society before the onslaught of the insurgents. That failure has been documented elsewhere, but it is particularly stinging to witness through the eyes of someone like Shawkat, who tried so hard to construct a more humane Iraq.

Shawkat was one of the good guys, and now he's dead, shot in the back on a rubbish-filled rooftop. It is one of the more pressing questions of our day whether the democratic experiment in Iraq can survive without more people like him.

I'm a bit of a sap, but when I read that, I nearly cried.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The redeeming value (at least in theory) of an otherwise disappointing little press

William T. Vollmann won the National Book Award for his new collection of stories Wednesday night.

On the whole, I'm not a big William T. Vollmann fan. (I have neither read nor have I any plans to read any of his work.) Seeing his name in the Times, however, prompted me to think a little about his last major work, a treatise on violence and an attempt at a moral calculus entitled Rising Up and Rising Down.

The original version of Rising Up and Rising Down was a seven volume, 3000+ page set published by Dave Eggers' McSweeney's Books.

I've complained in the past about the fact that books published by McSweeney's are often not very good. Eggers himself often uses McSweeney's as something of a vanity press, exemplified nowhere better than his first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, which in its original form was visually striking, but felt rushed to the press. There were major copyediting errors, and the book itself was heavily revised before the paperback was published by Random House's Vintage imprint.

Still, as a lover of books as objects, I'm pleased that a press like McSweeney's exists that is still willing to put something like a seven volume set in print. In practice, I have little doubt that the single volume paperback gives you the heart of Mr. Vollmann's argument, but it is exciting to see that a magnum opus can be given a deserving (and encompassing) presentation.

(11/21/05--BOOKFORUM asks me to reconsider my Vollmann apathy.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Why so many remakes?

Last Thursday I disputed an attractive but wrong-headed assertion that inexpensive DVDs of great old films will promote more originality in the movie industry.

Adam Leipzig in the New York Times yesterday provides some insight as to why we are seeing more remakes as the DVD market expands, and not less.

The movie business [now] turns on DVD sales. Strong DVD sales are generally propelled by strong theatrical box office. And what propels theatrical box office?

In most cases, nearly half of a movie's total audience turns out in the first week of release, which means there has been very little or no word of mouth motivating most of the audience. In other words, many people go to a movie without any real information about it - without even reading a review. Or, put most cynically: Most of the time, there is no relationship between how good a film is, and how many people turn out to see it.

So what makes people go to a movie? Generally, it is awareness - or now, in Hollywood parlance, "pre-awareness." Since studios cannot spend enough on advertising to buy awareness (there is so much advertising noise in the marketplace these days), there is a tendency to make movies with familiar titles, characters and stories: "The Dukes of Hazzard," "Spider-Man," "War of the Worlds," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." In the past decade, most box-office revenue has come from pre-aware titles, which includes sequels ("X-Men 3," set for a May 2006 release) and remakes ("King Kong," Dec. 14).

In short, the theatrical release of a film now is little more than a commercial for the DVD release, which will follow in four months or less. Leipzig points out that Wal-Mart's inventory tracking systems will have decided whether a DVD is a success or a dud by the time that LA executives are in the office on the morning of a new release date. (Wal-Mart alone, after all, accounts for more than a third of all DVD sales.)

Even all this does not eliminate the possibility of a renaissance of quality filmmaking. It simply means that it is naive to think that DVDs by their existence alone will push us in that direction. Sadly, for the moment, the opposite seems to be true.

Every once in a while, I get to be ahead of the curve

Kathryn Gursky of Los Alamos, N.M., with her restocked library. Photograph by Rick Scibelli Jr. for The New York Times.

For those of you who are curious to find out more about the enigmatic owner of the complete Penguin Classics collection whose photo of her library, posted on, I borrowed and posted here, The New York Times published a short profile of her today.

Interesting tidbits? While the Times names her as Kathryn Gursky, and states that she has "acknowledged her ownership in a review of the collection on Amazon's Web site," the customer name as listed on is "Kate Bolton." (of course, there are a million reasons why the names might not match, and many other particulars line up: New Mexico residence, the appearance of the bookshelf in both the Times and pictures, and the description of the arrival and unpacking process of the collection on both Amazon and in the Times article.)

Also interesting is that Penguin acknowledges that the set as sold is not, in fact, complete. There are, apparently, a little more than 200 titles which are either awaiting redesign and reprinting, or are simply not in sufficient stock at the publisher to allow inclusion in the set.

So one more reason for me to hold off on my order.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The revolution will not be televised

I have found it interesting that so often by the time someone gets around to declaring that a revolution is underway the fundamental shift that they are trying to describe is already well in the past.

Case in point, Norman Lebrecht writes for La Scena Musicale about how DVD is making film an individually accessible and archival medium much as the LP and CD did for music, and in a way so fundamental that we hardly even think about it anymore, the printed and bound book did for literature. (Short-Schrift has already weighed in with his thoughts on the matter, and you should probably head over and read his post, and then come back and finish reading this one.)

Lebrecht is certainly right that DVD has made the history of film available for individual viewing in a way that can only be compared to the printed book--able to be stored easily and permanently, and accessible in a way that lends itself to both the viewing of the whole and quick reference of indexed segments. Now films can be studied like poems, examined for meter and subtle metaphor. Lebrecht is the first person I've read who has pointed out that not only has the ease of manufacture and sale meant that vast catalogs of film history have been made available to a broad commercial audience, but that the nature of the disc itself has made the film itself easier to examine. There will, I believe, come a time when people have as difficult a time imagining that moving images were once only viewable in large communal theatres, just as we find it difficult to comprehend that Homer once could only be recited, and not read.

At the same time, however, I think that Lebrecht fails to grasp the nature of his revolution.

[DVD] will, for instance, make it that much harder for Hollywood to remake its own milestones when half the world has the originals to hand for instant comparison. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), with its dream cast of Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Janet Leigh was unlikely to be bettered by Jonathan Demme's 2004 reshoot with Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep. But if anyone had foreseen that the original DVD would be around in the public hands, Demme's studio would never have raised the finance, let alone the enthusiasm, for an otiose update. . . .

But it is in public hands that DVD will make an impact, and one that is beyond present calculation. Television will be the first to suffer. Why zap through 139 brain-rot channels when you have just bought Some Like it Hot at Woolworths and can play it without adverts, programme trails and other network interpolations. Beside frenetic TV directors who change camera angles 20 times a minute, the long, cool takes of Billy Wilder, Fellini and John Ford make a sweeter ending to the working day. TV will have to change its ways.

I find little evidence for Lebrecht's first assertion. DVDs were available when Demme's Manchurian Candidate was in production, and don't seem to have acted as much of a deterrent. Likewise this summer's Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Tim Burton, this fall's Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightly, or Peter Jackson's upcoming King Kong. Indeed, the list of recent and upcoming remakes seems to be getting longer rather than shorter.

Sadly, Lebrecht's second assertion is equally questionable. In fact, the quick, jump cuts of television programming and advertising seem to have had far more influence on film than vice-versa. While Rob Marshall's Chicago was heralded, at least in some circles, as demonstrating the continued marketability of the large-scale movie musical, the finished product had far more in common with MTV than Singin' In the Rain. Especially as more films are produced with small-screen home viewing in mind, we will see more tight framing and quick cutting, instead of the long grand shots that filled the auditorium screens.

Lebrecht is right that television will find itself changed. People will be less tolerant of set, scheduled programming times and being forced to sit through blocks of advertising that interrupt programming. This is already taking place, but it will not be DVD but other methods of delivering content-on-demand such as TiVo and improved streaming video technology which will continue to drive current trends.

Lebrecht's revolution is already taking place. In fact, it started eighty years ago when radio, and later television, took entertainment off the public stages and into family living rooms. It started with cinema multiplexes and three national networks offering multiple choices through one TV set, and has exploded into today's digital cable and satellite television. DVD may put the great films onto more shelves, and we are the richer for it, but it will not keep them from becoming antiques.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Because, really, we need to lower the level of intellectual debate in this country

So this morning, I was trying to ease into my day, when I come across Jerry Falwell, Bill Nye (yes, the science guy) and, uhm, some comedian, I don't know her name, arguing creation and evolution on CBS's The Early Show. (The headline graphic was "the Chicken or the Egg?" I can only imagine that the piece was prompted by arguments over teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom, but I don't really know for sure.)

What's worse is that this apparently isn't the first time CBS has paired these two up on air.

If you ask me, I think that the sight of those two arguing with each other is proof enough that when it comes to human beings that the words "intelligent" and "design" have no place in any discussion of our origins.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ain't fake politics fun?

As I'm sure everyone knows (the commercials were pretty ubiquitous), the West Wing live debate between Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda (oops, I mean Santos and Vinick) aired last night. (Click here for Entertainment Weekly's live blog of the episode.)

True to form, post episode "discussion" seems to want to focus on who "won" the debate. If anyone has a strong opinion one way or another, I'd love to hear it, but on some level I'm more interested in viewing the exercise from the left-ish warm-and-fuzzy liberal wish fulfillment lenses that seem so fitting when the show is at its best.

More than many other shows, The West Wing seems to treat itself as an exercise in politics as they should be. (This is especially illustrative in contrast to Gena Davis' Commander in Chief, which is even more an exercise in wish fulfillment, but seems to have used that premise as a license to entirely disregard plausibility. For example, there's no way that any first lady would continue to reside in the White House after the death of her husband.) The entire debate episode launched itself from that premise when the two candidates, who never much liked the idea of a two-minute-at-a-time debate, even though their staff appeared to insist on it, spontaneously agreed to go no-holds-barred.

While the episode wouldn't have been much good without such an event, it also served, not entirely intentionally, I think, as an illustration of why it could never, ever happen. Hillary Clinton's opponent for the Senate effectively lost the election when he stepped out from behind his podium and addressed her directly during their debate. Without the comfort zone of the West Wing's script, such tactics tend make both the viewing and immediate audience very uncomfortable. Violating the other person's space looks very aggressive, in an already confrontational atmosphere.

Even beyond the wandering, insults, yelling, and loss of control of the audience, the whole undertaking seemed a bit stilted. Alda is the more experienced stage actor (and I would argue the better actor as a whole), and he seemed much more comfortable and delivered, I thought, a much more nuanced performance than Smits. Smits, however, had the script on his side. While, as a whole, the writers seems to put good words in the characters' mouths, and seemed to want each character to explain a popular political philosophy as best they could, I think it came across, in the end, that they sided with Santos. His position contained more of a concrete vision, and more proposals to achieve that vision. Vinick, at the end, had little more to promise than less government and a tax cut.

Personally, I agree that the liberal agenda is better for the country than the conservative agenda. (At least in terms of what passes for "liberal" and conservative in the contemporary popular political argument.) At the same time, it seems cheap, and sadly dishonest to reduce the conservative platform to "less taxes, less government," particularly in contrast to a vigorous, concrete liberal platform.

Would that it weren't true, but there is far more than that to the conservative argument and appeal, and far less, at the moment, to the liberal.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Slight addendum

Above center, Scott Jones for The New York Times; other book jackets from “Chip Kidd, Book One: Work: 1986-2006,” published by Rizzoli, courtesy of the New York Times

Let me modify one of my ambitions. Not only do I want to have a book published, I want to have a book published and for its cover to be designed by Chip Kidd.

Mr. Kidd has a new book out collecting his cover designs, a novel of his own (I haven't read it), and the New York Times writes about his too-cool apartment.

I mean, the dude loves Batman. What more do I have to say?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What comes next?

I. Grad school

  • Nah
  • No graduate creative writing program at MSU
  • MSU graduate literature program is theory-heavy
  • I hate critical theory
  • I could only attend part-time
  • Most graduate programs are not part-time friendly
  • Working at a university, I could get a full tuition waiver/reimbursement
  • So it seems silly to do nothing

II. Writing

  • Yes!
  • Uhm. . . how?
  • Scripts

    1. Screen for Mattison

      • "Songbird" expansion/adaptation
      • "Meeks" (tells-the-future comedy)

    2. Stage for Hungerford

      • I love Tennessee Williams
      • Read, read, read

        1. Chekov
        2. Odetts
        3. Ibsen
        4. Pinter
        5. Others, I'm sure

  • Stories

    1. I've had that photographer idea kicking around for a while
    2. Retail semi-comedies? (write what you know)
    3. Sentences first, then paragraphs

III. Reading

  • More classics
  • I'm sick of bad contemporary novels
  • Find a way to find the good contemporary stuff now that I don't get free copies of the book reviews
  • See list of playwrights cited above, add "Miss Julie," "The Lion in Winter," "A Man For All Seasons"

IV. New baby

  • January 19
  • 'Nuff said

V. Conclusions

  • Give up on sleep
  • But I like sleep
  • Sissy
  • That's just mean
  • Well, why don't you curl up in bed then?
  • Maybe I will
  • That's too bad, because that's a really nice list you put together
  • It is, isn't it?
  • It would be a shame to see it not come to anything
  • But I like sleep
  • Sissy

(Apologies to Timothy Carmody and his "Outline For an Essay on Bulworth.")

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Photograph by Kate Bolton, courtesy of

I'm sure most of you have heard that is selling a set of the complete Penguin Classics collection. (A steal at $7,989.50, and free shipping!)

In case you were curious (I know I was), Amazon customer Kate Bolton sent in a picture of what the set will look like after it takes over a wall of your library.

You'll notice the occasional green spine, as well as the two volumes standing out just above and to the right of the easy chair (Robert Fagles' translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey), and the row of books on the second to last shelf on the far right with the white tops (the Pelican Shakespeare). Penguin is in the middle of redesigning its entire line of classics, and, as you can tell, they're not quite done yet.

I, for one, will certainly miss the old puke-green Penguin Twentieth Century classics, but it seems to me that if I were to spend eight thousand dollars on a showpiece complete collection, I'd like them to be a bit more visually unified.

Perhaps by the time I can afford it, they'll have completed the redesign.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The good news and the bad news

Actually, there are a couple of batches of both:

The good news: I have an office. Whoo-hoo! Yes, that's right, a real, honest-to-goodness office with a desk, a bookshelf, four walls, a door, and a window. No cubicle for me! Sure, I've had a desk before, but this is a whole new ball of wax.

The bad news: Apparently, one has to decorate an office. I don't need window treatments or anything, but at least two people have told me on two separate occasions that I "really need to do something" to spruce up my big blank empty walls.

The good news, part 2: I actually do have a handful of old prints and drawing that we didn't have wall space for in the new apartment, and I've even finally remembered to drag them in to work.

The bad news, part 2: I bought the wrong kind of mouting hooks, so with one exception, all the prints and drawing are sitting on the floor, more or less below where I expect to hang them, whenever I get around to exchanging the mounting hooks for the right ones, and as long as it took me to get this far, who know how long that will be.

A related dilema: I still have a lot of space on my wall, and I have a large paiting by a friend of mine sitting behind the entertainment center at home. It would be pretty cool to have an original work in my office, but the painting has a semi-nude cartoonish mermaid figure featured prominently in the composition. I hate feeling prudish, but it's a very big, colorful work, which would certainly atrract attention, and if a student is coming to me for advising, I really don't want to make them uncomfortable.

Ah well. I'll figure something out.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Oddly enough, good Batman movies help

I don't often get to revel in capitalist materialistic fetishism (my book budget is even in doubt, which puts me in a place of deep anxiety), so I'm reveling in my current bought-it-on-the-first-day two-disc mixture of comic book goodness and rock 'em, sock 'em American action filmmaking.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The biggest little question

I suppose that the musings in this post may stem from my recent realization that my problems are not all that interesting, but perhaps not entirely.

My first formulation of the problem on my mind was "is it really possible to be an artist outside of New York," but while that question my be a bit shallow on its own, it echoes a deeper query: are the resources of a large urban area necessary for certain modes of artistic expression?

Of course, my first thought is the theatre, which does seem to require the large concentrations of both resources and audience in order to exist, particularly as contrasted to film. Making a movie and staging a play are both prohibitatively expensive endeavors. In the cinema, however, the costs of producing a film (which are extremely high) are distinct from the costs of screening the film (which are extremely low). Thus, if the resources can be marshaled for production, it is relatively easy to drive a return through multiple screenings across a broad geographic base as well as sales of copies of the film to individuals for home viewing.

In the theatre, the costs of production and the costs of performance are inseparable, the size of one's audience are limited by both by the capacity of the performance space and by the demographics of the immediately surrounding area. A film can travel across the country for the cost of shipping a print. A traveling theatrical production is a bit more demanding.

Of course, all this is obvious. Broadway is Broadway for a reason.

A novelist can live anywhere he wants. It is easier to live in New York and be close to one's publisher, but certainly not necessary. Is the same thing true for a playwright?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Copyright law

I've had a number of reasons to think about copyright law in the past week or so. The first was a post by Robin Sloan on Snarkmarket, which generated some interesting comments, some of them even my own. The second was this opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune, found on Arts & Letters Daily, and the third was this article in the New York Times on the increasing difficulties in licensing copyrighted material for use in documentaries.

I think it's pretty clear that copyright law in this country has been stretched to the point that it makes little sense. There's no real purpose in extending copyright until 70 years after the death of the original copyright holder. While I believe that an artist (and, closer to my heart, a writer) has the right to make a living from their work, I do not believe that the same privilege extends to an artist's children and grandchildren. I may not believe that collage is the highest art form, but I think that the public is better served by a broad definition of fair use rather than a narrow one. I think that a compelling case can be made that even artists themselves are served best by specifically defined, limited term copyrights.

Worst of all, copyright law has been extended repeatedly over the last century not to benefit the ability of individual artists and creators to participate in the financial benefit of their work, but to serve the interests of large corporate holders of intellectual and creative property. (In fact, in recent years, much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Disney, which has successfully kept Mickey Mouse out of Public Domain.)

As an aspiring writer, my initial reaction to the International Herald Tribune's proposal for limiting copyrights to a single one-year term was negative. Upon further reflection, however, it is hard to argue with. The vast majority of revenues generated by creative properties, be they book, film, or music, are generated within the first year, and even the first six months of public release. Furthermore, with an increasing market overload, and decreasing production times (think about DVD releases--it is becoming more unusual for the DVD release of a film to follow its theatrical release date by more than 90 days, and increasing market discussion focuses on simultaneous release) that profitable window is shrinking.

With more and more titles being released and going out-of-print within any given 12 to 24 month period, the rationale justifying indefinite possession by corporate copyright holders seems thin indeed.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Of note

Harold Pinter was announced today as the winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for literature.

I suppose now I should actually read the man. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

One tasty Apple. . .

As most of my small group of loyal readers know, the computer sitting on my desk at home is the old sunflower-crossed-with-a-grapefruit iMac, and its predecessor was one of the original, revolutionary, bondi-blue first-generation iMacs, so I have some history with the box that saved the house that Jobs built.

These days, iPods get all the attention, and, sure enough, Apple today announced an iPod update that allows video to be played on the higher-end models, and a deal with ABC that will start making individual episodes of popular television shows available for purchase and download a la iTunes.

This is all well and good. At the same time, however, the iMac is quietly fulfilling and surpassing all the predictions that Mr. Jobs' box was going to revolutionize home computing and lead to the sort of multifunction convergence that would make Bill Gates drool. The new iMac models are looking more and more like an interactive flat-screen TV (the new model even comes with a remote), and my guess is that the ability to access ABC's "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" marks the beginning of the next logical step in the TiVo revolution.

Imagine making micro-payments for the content that you want, when you want it. No re-runs, no commercials, and infinite potential for specialized content to find the audience it so richly deserves.

Down with the DVD market, I say, and up with iTV!

(If only I had a digital graphic genius to work the apple logo into the "Desperate Housewives" Eve-and-Adam-with-the-apple image, then this post would really rock.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The story of O.

It's been a while since I've written about Oprah's book club, mostly because it doesn't figure anywhere near as prominently in my thinking now that I'm no longer working in a bookstore.

The update, in short, is that finally having fulfilled my prediction that Oprah, a huge Toni Morrison fan, would have to pick a William Faulkner novel now that her book club was reading "the classics" (in fact, she picked three simultaneously, which seems a little ambitious even to me. I love Faulkner and I've only read three of his books.), Oprah has now reopened the club to living authors, including biographies, memoirs, and historical works. (This is not actually news. Oprah's book club has already included at least one memoir.)

Oprah's first new pick is James Frey's memoir of addiction and recovery, "A Million Little Pieces." Salon has a pretty good take on the whole deal, aptly summed up by two of the concluding paragraphs:

A literary novel that sells 20,000 copies is considered a success; many books bearing Oprah's stamp have moved a million copies or more. As Sonny Mehta, the chairman of the literary publisher Knopf, told the New York Times recently, "The fact that [Oprah] had 300,000 people reading William Faulkner over the summer—she should be given a cabinet post."

Like practically everyone else in America, I love Oprah. However, I can't help but hope that she'll return to fiction again soon or, at the very least, choose a different kind of nonfiction book for her next club—something that seems more distinct from the other content on her show. The problem isn't that Frey's book is a memoir per se; it's that it's a memoir of addiction, of recovery—and a bad one at that. The books in her club—especially during the "classics" years—were markedly different from much of the rest of Oprah's show, which already covers this terrain. With James Frey, the book club is losing its identity as a literary feature, morphing into yet another vehicle for self-help. His story might be shocking, but it isn't art.

As seems increasingly rare these days, I actually have a bit of insight of my own to offer. Back in my Schuler days, we tried to get a public book group going, and one of the first picks was Mr. Frey's book. (Primarily because it looked interesting, there was a fair deal of hype surrounding it, and the author was available for a phone-in store appearance.) I tried reading the book, and gave up two thirds of the way through. Salon's writer, Hillary Frey (no relation to Mr. Frey), seems to take "A Million Little Pieces" at face value, as a relatively factual account of Mr. Frey's time in rehab. I do not. I became more convinced as I read that Mr. Frey was taking great liberties with, if not creating entire characters and situations.

Having never been through rehab myself, I recognize my lack of authority on the subject. But the book read too much like a junkie film, and all the characters that Frey likes have happy endings, save one or two, and all the characters he dislikes die unpleasant deaths. Sure, unpleasant death and addiction are constant companions, but it's all a bit too neat and tidy for me.

I think Oprah was stretching her book club by focusing on the classics. It may have been an admirable stretch, but I can't be surprised that she wasn't able to keep it up, and I couldn't criticize her if she simply looked at the sales numbers and decided that her audience would simply prefer something else. Oprah is a juggernaut, and there's no reason for her to run a second-tier book group, even if I'm not interested in anything she's reading.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Shockingly self-centered

It's nice to not have world-historical problems. It's also somewhat dull.

There have been times when my life has been at least somewhat interesting. The past year was not one of those times, but with a little luck I'll soon be able to regain some interest in the near future.

I just have to figure out exactly how I'm going to do that. I'm back in a university environment, and so it would seem logical to take a few classes and work on an advanced degree. I don't really know that I'm Ph.D. material, though, and I need to do some digging and find out what sort of MA options I'd have here in East Lansing, and figure out which of those would be worthwhile. For example, I'm not terribly interested in an English MA in critical theory, and I'm not certain that the creative writing concentration is still being offered.

There are other things I can do. I have friends starting to work in film and theatre, and I would love to put together a script or two. I did some dramatic writing in my undergraduate days, and it was a form that made sense to me. (Of course, like most undergraduates, I had some poetry printed in local 'zines, but I don't really count that for much.)

If only I were Truman Capote, then I would be deeply interesting, but then, he wasn't very happy, was he?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Yet another passing

For those of us who live outside of the New York area, it can be tough to gauge what's going on in American theatre, much less what's really important.

August Wilson was one of the exceptions. His plays have been staggeringly important not only to the telling of the 20th Century African-American experience, but to American dramatic literature as a whole.

Mr. Wilson died on Sunday of liver cancer. He will be missed.

I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Wilson speak at Michigan State Univeristy on April 15, 1998. Click here to hear his lecture.

Good old Mr. Bush

This may not be the most intelligent post that you'll read regarding President Bush's new nomination to the Supreme Court, but it's an honest gut reaction.

I'm sick and tired of Mr. Bush's seeming inability to reach beyond his list of pals when trying to fill vacancies in important positions. It's the sort of thing that doesn't merit complaint were it to happen simply once or twice, but how bad is it when the head of a search committee simply recomends him/herself for the position, and Mr. Bush seems to not only have no problem with that, he seems to consider that the best case scenario.

It was one thing when Dick Cheney, after conducting extensive interviews, no doubt, simply says "hey, I'd kind of like to be the Vice-President," but how much worse is it when the White House Counsel, a person with no experience on the bench, says "hey, I'd kind of like to be on the Supreme Court"?

In all fairness, Harriet E. Miers seems to have extensive and impressive experience in a wide range of legal and civic positions. I don't have any specific problems with any of her actions or postions, even compared to Alberto "The President can use torture if he wants to" Gonzales. Maybe she'll be a great justice, and part of me is happy that Bush nominated a woman.

I'm not the first person to say this, and it's disgusting how it continues to hold true no matter how often it's said, Mr. Bush's administration seems to have missed the memo about avoiding even the appearance of impropriety.

Hell, maybe we'll at least get a Democratic Congress back in 2006, if things keep going the way they seem to be going.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Back in the saddle

Yes, it has been more than two months since my last post, but I do have something resembling a good reason. I went on an intense "I can't handle working in retail anymore" job hunt, and after a year of cover letters, resumes, and the occasional interview, I'm now coming up on the end of my first week at my new job behind a desk in Lansing.

So in a little more than six weeks, I spent a long weekend in New Jersey for a couple of interviews in New York, sent in an application for an unexpected opportunity at MSU, interviewed twice in Lansing, got an offer, put in my notice, and moved my family to our new apartment.

*phew!* I get winded just thinking about it.

Sadly, it has meant that I didn't finish reading the new Rick Moody novel before its release, but I do have all of my books out of storage again, so it all evens out.

My e-mail box is open if any of my readers (if there are any of you left) want details of the move or to send good wishes, and hopefully it'll mean I put in more appearances here as my life approaches something resembling stability.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Harry for your water cooler

So you need an opinion on the new Harry Potter book, you say? 600+ pages not quite as intimidating as the 900+ pages of Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix, but you still feel behind all your co-workers who stayed up all night to be the first person to finish the book? Not to worry. Here, for your convenience from your friends at Wordwright, is your opinion of Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince.

WARNING: Serious spoilers ahead!

1. Ms. Rowling's sixth book is very entertaining, but oddly Baby-Sitters' Club-ish. There's really not much but hormones going on in the first 400 pages or so. Still, Ron and Hermione's orbits seem to finally intersect ('bout damn time!), and there's a great deal of satisfaction when Harry lays one on Ginny Weasley. (Good for you Harry. No Luke Skywalker monkish celibacy for you.)

2. Which reminds me, whatever happened to Cho Chang? Not that I really liked her, but a whole lot of minor characters who played big roles in the last two books all but disappear in this one. And we spend a lot of time with the Weasleys, but what about Hermione's parents? They seemed cool when mentioned in books 1 and 2. Let's see a little bit of them, eh?

3. Yeah, Dumbledore dies, and I even teared up a little, but we all saw it coming. (In fact, one of my co-workers at Schuler Books in Lansing was predicting that Dumbledore would be the casualty in book 5 before it came out.) If Dumbledore is around, he'll try to put himself between Harry and Valdemort, so in order to set up the final showdown, he had to go.

4. You know, the revelation of the identity of the Half-Blood Prince seemed kind of anticlimactic, especially compared to all the other surprises that Ms. Rowling has layered through her other books. Snape earns his place in the title, but the fact that he was the "Half-Blood Prince" doesn't really seem to matter to anything.

5. So is Snape really a bad guy after all? I think yes and no. Killing Dumbledore is a really big thing, but there is at least a possible (twisted) altrustic motivation--to save Draco's life. (Valdemort would have killed Draco if he failed to kill Dumbledore, and Snape saved Draco from having to do it when it really looked like he wouldn't.) Look for Snape to stick it to Valdemort by the end of book 7, and I bet that Draco will perform a good deed or two as well.

That's my opinion, anyway. Feel free to appropriate it as necessary. Impress your friends and coworkers, without any all-nighters.


Friday, July 15, 2005

Three down, 18 to go. . .

I finished The Alienist--good read, somewhat disappointing ending. Which means that I've read three books so far this year. In a broad sense, that's not bad, but it's quite a bit off my general pace of 20 books a year. (The new Harry Potter should help me catch up a bit, though.)

I am excited about the next title in my queue: an advance copy of the new Rick Moody novel! (It's so nice that Schuler Books still loves me.)

Rick Moody! Rick Moody! As always, I'll let you know how it goes, but I'm damn well going to finish it before the hardcover comes out in September.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


I don't know anyone who lives in London. I don't and I have never lived in London. I spent eight weeks there in the summer of 1999. I took a writing class. I saw a lot of plays. I spent a lot of time at the National Gallery. I traveled everywhere on the Underground.

I am not a news blog. I don't need to tell anyone what happened today, and I don't have any real insight to offer.

My study abroad program was housed at the University College London on Marchmont St. Russell Square was my home Tube station. The point of the study abroad program was to make the world a smaller place. I don't know anyone who lives in London, but today someone set of a bomb in my back yard.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Celebrating Independence Day

I did something a bit out of the norm for me, broke free, if you will, and declared my independence. I put down a book that I wasn't enjoying. I've certainly abandoned books before, but this was one that I had been looking forward to, one that I felt that I should read in order to have a complete opinion on something.

I put down (and I say this quietly for fear of sounding like an ignoramus) the new Jonathan Safran Foer novel. I didn't make it very far, maybe 10-20 pages. Part of me feels guilty for putting down a book before getting far enough to really form an opinion on it.

When it came down to it, I couldn't take the narrator. I've never read much Salinger, so I don't feel I can make the big "overly precocious New York kid narrator" complaint, but I decided I couldn't spend 300 more pages with this kid, especially since it just took me four months to read the 200 pages of Gilead, by Marianne Robinson, which was a slow read, but not a four-month slow read.

My reading time has become ridiculously precious. I read forty books over the past two years. This year, I've read two.

So I picked up The Alienist by Caleb Carr. Theodore Roosevelt chasing serial killers. Very cool, and, perhaps more importantly, moving right along. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bloomsday +2

Well, no Bloomsday post, but I have a good excuse. I had a funeral to attend--a friend of the family passed away about a month after a cancer diagnosis.

Someone drink a glass of Burgundy for me; I did my part. Here's hoping that your Bloomsdays were brighter than mine.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Cover letters

I should be writing a cover letter right now, but I'm sick of writing cover letters. My stepfather was encouraging me a few weeks ago to do more writing, and I told him that I'm actually doing a great deal of writing, it's just all resumes and cover letters. He didn't entirely buy it, and I have to admit that it wasn't exactly the truth. I have three or four resumes at this point that are about as good as they can get, and that cover just about every position for which I could reasonably put myself into consideration, so it's really been nothing but cover letters. I hate that every application requires an entirely different cover letter, especially since most postings never respond at all. If I'm going to write for a vacuum, I'd rather be keeping a journal. Preferably one with lots of hearts and flowers, and a little lock so it would keep all of my secrets.

Not that I ever really keep secrets. Oh, I have them sometimes, but they all seem to have very specific lifespans. Something along the lines of "this would make a fabulous secret. Let's keep it unil next thursday, and then we'll let everyone in on it."

What good is a diary is no one reads it? Although my journal, such as it is, is really quite dull. Large gaps and rather pedantic ruminations.

My cover letters, though. Wow. :-)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Non Sequitur

It may not be a popular opinion, but there are times when I wish that Robin guy over at Snarkmarket would give up on all that political stuff and just talk about comics.

After all, Cheney and Rumsfeld may be assholes, but even John Bolton can't hold a candle to The Joker.

(Keep up the good work, RoSlo! Props on MSNBC giving a shout out to your web page when they had Matt on the air.)

(And yes, one day I'll post something of substance again.)

Monday, January 24, 2005

I love Gershwin

Over the past several weeks, several of my friends have sent out "Best of 2004" mix CDs. (Embarrasingly enough, even though I work in a music store, I haven't put one together myself.) In addition to the songs I've happily added to iTunes, I garnered an insight. While most of the songs I would have included are on one or more of the discs I've received, there are two fairly substantial omissions: "Take Your Mama" by the Scissor Sisters, and "Musicology" by Prince. The first is really just a hyper-catchy ditty, but the second comes with an observation.

The world was a better place when white people listened to Prince. Hell, even Motown was a grand and glorious thing, a brief, shining moment of deeply integrated audiences.

Now there's a whole field of scholarly articles to be written (and being written, I'm sure) on the tension and exchange between black and white popular music. (Elvis back in the day, Justin Timberlake and rap-metal more recently.) I am continually amazed however, at how segregated the listeners are. The Detroit/Windsor "New Rock" station, 88.9FM, consistently plays the new Eminem and Beastie Boys tracks, but no other rap. Ice T's band Body Count and Rage Against the Machine may have blazed the way, but who had even heard the term "rap-metal" until Korn and Limp Bizkit came along?

There, of course, is still a fair amount of crossover. Usher sells wherever he goes. White kids buy "Chappelle's Show" DVDs in droves. But I think we white folk would all be a bit better off if we didn't wait for some kid breaking out from his boy band to drag us into the Neptunes. Matt from Snarkmarket speaks highly of John Legend. (Scroll down to January 17.) Go pick up some Prince. Hell, go buy a Temptations "best of" disc. Or, better yet, "Keep It Simple" by Keb' Mo' is fabulous.

Alright, I didn't quite get where I was going, but the point of all this was supposed to be how I was almost in tears at the end of Claudia Roth Pierpont's New Yorker article on George Gershwin. From the glissando that gets "Rhapsody in Blue" rolling to the gorgeous lullaby "Summertime" from "Porgy & Bess" (Leontyne Price's version is beautiful, but I have a soft spot for Peter Gabriel's as well), Gershwin is an important crossing point for black and white music, if for no other reason than that he started to infuse jazz into classical music. (If you don't know about jazz, I'm not the person to bring you up to speed, except that it's one of the few places in U.S. history where "black" and "white" have meant so little.)

So, Gershwin's the man, and go buy some Prince.