Someone please explain the appeal of horror movies to me.
Someone please explain the appeal of horror movies to me.
Sometimes my obsession with Ted Leo scares me1.
I have either RJ or Marie to thank for introducing me to him, not sure which. Both of them made mix CDs for me within the same six month period, one with “Me and Mia” and the other with “Biomusicology.” Or maybe “Bridges, Squares” was on one of them. At some point the name Ted Leo and the Pharmacists cracked the caseyanthony barrier and I knew them as someone to look for. RJ burned me a few tracks and I buried myself in a dark cave2, listening to Shake the Sheets until I had it memorized.
Last week, Meghan saw Julie Klausner record her podcast live. She tumbled about how much fun it was, and how Fred Armisen was there, and oh, Ted Leo played the opening song. Reading that, my first reaction was a a brief spasm of jealousy that a friend of mine had seen Ted Leo play more recently than I had.
I don’t feel this way about any other artist. There are plenty of writers, directors, actors, musicians, etc. whose work I love. There are a handful of artists whose work I examine obsessively for hidden meaning: Gene Wolfe, Jay-Z, and the like. But Ted Leo is the only artist at work right now who I can’t pretend to be cool about. I can’t sit in my comfy chair, glass of Scotch in one hand, and hold court on his merits. I can’t be a detached borderline hipster with pretensions to cultural criticism.
I hear his shit and I just need to rock the fuck out.
Trying to pin reasons on an obsession demeans both reason and passion. But this is a blog, so that’s my job3. So I’ve tried to untangle the reasons that I’m so unreasonably fixated on Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and I’ve found four.
First, there’s the political content. TL/RX hit me at a point in my life where I was finally swinging from right-libertarian to left-libertarian to … whatever you want to call me now. I hadn’t pinned all my aspirations on Obama the way a lot of my friends had, but the fact that no one was taking him to task with the furor that Bush had been was frustrating. Along comes this punk from D.C. who, like me, can’t “deal with trying to process / pigeons acting like they’re doves.” I hear this for the first time, then the fifth, then the fifteenth, and I can’t get enough of it. Not only is it the frustration I’ve been feeling, but it’s so artfully expressed.
Which leads me to my second point, and that’s the political passion. It’s one thing to dismiss the inability of a two-party system to constrain the agglutination of power with a disillusioned wave and a bon mot. And I’ll never get tired of that. But it’s another thing to channel that sentiment into emotion. Disillusionment doesn’t mean deadening; your “good-bye to all that” doesn’t need to be a weary sigh. It can be angry. It can be joyful. It can be hopeful. It can be a lot of things, not all of them bitter. I’ve written before about the need to separate the anti-war movement from the hippies with which it’s traditionally linked, to give voice to “full-throated pacifism.” TL/RX run the gamut.
My third point: words. Lyrics and vocals matter more to me than almost any other part of a song, which probably explains why I like hip hop so much4. But if the musical composition is great as well, that’s a pearl without price. I’ve loved what little Elvis Costello I’ve been exposed to because of his gleeful blend of pop rock style and subversive lyrics. I loved the Hairspray musical for the same reason. Ted Leo plays in that same field. He can turn the passionate-but-doomed-but-inspiring struggle of an anorexic into a blaring rock anthem. He can get a crowd singing along to a cheery ditty about the sad tendency of radical movements to turn in on themselves. For someone who loves language as much as I do, every Ted Leo song is a feast.
And finally, the music is just really damn good.
The dispassionate critic I’ve been trying to be for thirty years is crying out for help. This is ridiculous. It’s like there’s a different person living in my head, a person with ripped jeans and a studded leather jacket and an encyclopedic knowledge of Operation Ivy. Some day Ted Leo’s going to die (everyone is) and I’m going to be bent out of shape for a week because, as far as I know, there’s no one else giving voice to the same issues with the same passion and skill in the form of awesome indie rock. I don’t know how to fix this. I’m not sure I want to.
1. A value-add, for people who know us both, is to imagine this entry read in the voice of Kevin Quigley.
2. For which read “my apartment.”
3. It’s not.
4. The white suburban adolescent fascination with the authenticity of black urban poverty and anger explains the rest of it.
New post on Overthinking It, giving a recap and light analysis of Achewood, the best webcomic the 21st century has produced so far:
Yes, drum machines can be confounding. Why is Philippe standing on the instructions for the drum machine? No reason given. Five-year-olds just do odd things sometimes. Why not get him to move? Maybe because the simple pleasure a five-year-old gets from standing on an arbitrary thing is worth more than finding out how to play with our complex electronic toy right this second. Maybe because we get more satisfaction out of positioning ourselves in relation to products – wanting, owning, maintaining, discussing how utterly confounding they are – than we do out of using them as instruments to achieve our goals. Maybe because there’s a Taoist simplicity in saying the thing that you observe. Panel two: “Philippe is standing on it.” Panel three: Philippe is standing on it.
I lost my class ring some time over the weekend. I wore it to work on Friday and I couldn’t find it on Sunday evening, when I was dressing up for the Yelp event at the Artists for Humanity Epicenter.* At some point in the intervening time I took it off and set it somewhere. I’ve checked my dresser, the pockets of every pair of pants I might have worn over that period, and (now) my desk at work. Nowhere.
I’m not heartbroken. I liked the ring, but it was a very light stylistic choice: maybe two steps removed from an affectation. I’m proud of my school and the quarterbacks it produces, but not as proud as some. I just liked having one piece of not-so-flashy jewelry. An accent, not an ornament.
Anyhow, pricing out replacements has helped me come to terms with the loss pretty quick. Hang on tightly, let go lightly and all that. It’s also helped me realize how charmed of a life I lead if the most frustrating loss I’ve suffered in a recent memory is a piece of jewelry that I was fond of but not infatuated with. I treat my body about as well as a car that hits about one in every two scheduled service trips. I save money but don’t pay attention to it. I live in a safe city, surrounded by friends who give me the time and support to pursue my dreams. I’m a lucky guy.
* This is a signpost so my future self can place this event in its time, not an attempt at namedropping.
Updates on writing:
I commissioned a cover from Ryan Sawyer. The back and forth on design elements took about a month. Coming from a job where I deal with imprecise client demands all day, I tried to be considerate and clear in my comments on each draft. Ryan says I was fine to work with – and he stuck with me long enough to take my money anyway – so I must have done something right. I did not use the words “pop” or “wow” or “slick,” at least not in their most annoying contexts.
I also solicited an editor on Guru. There’s something daunting about having over thirty strangers compete to offer you their services. It’s also exhilarating: I can see where clients get it from. After a week of bids, a winnowing to a final seven and a stab at a sample edit, I picked a winner. Guru is holding some money in escrow for us and the novel is in their hands.
(By the way, nothing will depress you more at the future of self-publishing than asking a freelance editor, “Show me something else you’ve been asked to edit.” Some of the hack jobs that people try to turn into novels … I admire the patience of anyone willing to edit it. I think my stuff is good – I know my stuff is better than that, anyway – but reading my future peers makes me feel uneasy. Then again, I had to get over my snobbery sometime. This is as good an age as any)
Now, of course, with the current project off with an editor, I have nothing to do at the moment. Except start writing another novel, obviously.
So after an unending series of Presidents spur money into the housing market as well as institutional investing, to the point that the best investment for an exorbitant FY-over-FY rate of return is real estate, even above and beyond what the market could plausibly sustain – condos in the shittiest parts of Florida flipping four times before they’re even carpeted; fifty-story condos on the strip in Vegas – leading to a cottage industry of robosigners, skeevy lenders and unqualified borrowers that, shockingly, implodes, causing the destruction of several ancient banks, and inspiring their brother moneylenders to pick up the phone to their boys in Washington – you know them, their photos are in the international terminals of major airports – and say, hey guys, a little help, prompting an unaudited, multi-trillion dollar bailout of those same banks that created the implosion in the first place, said bailout flowing immediately back to the fever swamp in the form of T-bill purchases that buy no groceries, lay no bricks and fill no libraries (although they do help finance wars #4 through 7) but instead pad the account books of several investment managers and allow the banks to claim that they’ve repaid their graft in full, prolonging a recession and destroying what little wealth the debtor caste has accumulated, leading a few souls to timidly say, “Hey, maybe we might voice our displeasure at what’s been done to us, provided we fill out the proper land-use permits and don’t raise a fuss if the cops (illegally) shut off our cameras or spray noxious chemicals in our eyes, and so long as we don’t shoot any of the people who deliberately conspired, both among themselves and with those in power, to sell each other shitty investments and inflate their numbers, those shitty investments being our houses and their numbers being wealth that somehow failed to trickle down, thus creating an entire mandarin class that can profit off of our misery but never suffer off of our loss,” and after this idea catches on, as it might in a country with 20% unemployment, resulting in a nationwide movement that has so far produced fewer injuries than the audience at a Raiders game, your objection is they don’t have a clear policy?
For pity’s sake, man. Policy got us into this mess.
Anyhow, quit your fretting. These unemployed electrical workers, college kids and perpetual punks aren’t going to do anything. The Ruling Party is already figuring out how to co-opt their movement. They’re already forming general assemblies and voting on (ugh) resolutions. Peter Finch has already been called into Ned Beatty’s office and had the nature of the cosmos explained to him. Sorry for the delay in your commute.
But come on, people. If policy will accomplish anything – and I remain skeptical – that’s later. Dissent comes first. Dissent always comes first. And when you’re up against a system so pervasive that even the protesters are documenting its abuses on iPhones, dissent may be all that you get.
Referencing “Stuff White People Like” in my post on Hipster Thanksgiving inspired me to check in on the site and see how it was doing. Apparently things are going really well or really poorly, as the last update was February 3rd of this year.
I’ve written before about my belief that not all media translates well to other media, and I think SWPL is an object lesson. Show of hands: how many of you read an entry on SWPL and chuckled? At least one? Now those of you with your hands up: how many of you bought the book? Either of them?
Now I’ll never fault a brother for trying to cash in on a blog – agents, editors, my email’s in the sidebar – but it can’t last forever. Remember that “Stuff My Dad Says” TV show? Remember the Geico cavemen sitcom? I’d feel better about giant corporations trying to make the new forms of media more entertaining than trying to co-opt them into the old forms of media. You’ve got some unemployed writers, NBC. Give each of them a blog and see what happens. Or just keep optioning Reddit threads as movies; see how that works.
Forbes.com has published an op-ed that is the least literate thing I’ve read since the last time I read a Forbes.com op-ed. And I’m not talking about content. I’m talking purely about the ability to string a sentence together and make its meaning clear.
Call me prejudice [sic], but if the credibility of an organization is inversely proportional to tattoos and body piercings per square inch, this is a movement of dim prospects.
Since attending the Houston rally, the movement has metastasized globally to include hundreds of thousands or even a several millions. [The movement attended the Houston rally? It could now number 'a several millions'?]
Notwithstanding, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, even egged on by our president, so far, in my opinion, has little more than nuisance value. [Not enough clauses separated by commas. Could you add seven or twelve more?]
Apparently, it was monumental injustice that the big bad bank was enforcing its contractual rights in light of over a year of non- payment. Comfort in being surrounded by the same species of fish. Engulfed in a haze of nescience was all I could feel. [Could someone tell me what that second sentence is describing or modifying? And is there an easier way to phrase that third sentence?]
And that’s just a casual scan. This is embarrassingly poor writing. If someone found this on my blog, the same blog where I write about video games, I would be mortified. Forbes is a respected business periodical.
Finger seeds his rant with words like “metastasizing” and “nescience” to give the illusion of being well-read. But people who actually read a lot know how to string a sentence together. I can’t say with certainty that Finger used a thesaurus to find the densest possible synonym for “ignorance” (“ooh, nescience looks promising”). But Finger can’t say with certainty what a protester’s “indeterminate hair color” looks like. C’mon, Dick: greenish? pinkish? Take a stab at it.
While it would be irresponsible of me to judge Richard B. Finger of Ariadne Capital as an investor based on one column of garbage, that doesn’t stop Finger from judging the rigor of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement based on a few colorful characters, so here I go: Richard B. Finger of Ariadne Capital is a fraud. He puts tremendous effort into appearing smarter than he is. He is incapable of clear and insightful language, suggesting he’s incapable of clear and insightful thought. I can’t say that his inability to form a coherent sentence guarantees that his investments will fail, but I can say it doesn’t make them more likely to succeed.
To bring it from style back to subject: Forbes.com is so desperate for anti-protest content that they’ll throw a sub-literate peasant, the sort of ranting hack who would make a LaRouchie roll his eyes, on their op-ed page. They’ll throw him up without any sort of editing, or vetting, because they need the pageviews. Righteous conservatives will link to it to make fun of hippies; irate progressives will link to it in order to get mad. This is the face, or rather death mask, of traditional media.
This past Saturday, I was coordinating gaming schedules with Fraley, RJ and Brandon. Next weekend wasn’t looking so good. “So that’s the 22nd out,” I said. “And the weekend after that is Thanksgiving. I mean, Halloween; the hipster Thanksgiving.”
Fraley gave me a quizzical look.
“Well, you get to dress up, but you’re doing it ironically. And you go to someone else’s house and eat a lot and drink with your friends.”
“I wasn’t buying it,” Fraley said, “but now it has that ring of authenticity.”
# # #
Later that evening, I was at a housewarming party. Alex L. (of Manthorne and The Baron fame) was talking about an improv class he had taught that afternoon. “They’re coming along,” he said. “None of them murdered each other today, so that’s good.”
“So you’re saying because nobody you know got killed today, it was a good day?”
RJ laughed out loud; Josh M. snickered.
“But seriously,” I said, “if you wanted to do an SWPL update of ‘Today Was A Good Day,’ you could do worse than ‘Nobody I know got killed in an improv class today.’ ”
I am just coining phrases all over the place.
What else is there to do in Hong Kong, besides eat dim sum and buy cheap merchandise? Try a foot massage! But get a recommendation first, because every block has the sign of the smiling insole poking out of one building or another. We got a recommendation from Josh and Emma (echoed by Fodors, so we marched through Central to Happy Foot Reflexology Center. $200 HKD (about $26 US) apiece got Sylvia and I 45-minute foot massages. And these people do not waste your time. They will grind, roll, buff and pummel your legs from the knees down. I appreciated it, but Sylvia, who dances when she’s not accompanying me through Asia, felt like she’d been given a new pair of feet. Highly recommended.
Speaking of typical tourist stuff: Victoria Peak is worth the hype. Find a way to get your tickets ahead of time (lots of tour buses offer packages) and plan to eat at a restaurant on the peak gallery. Take a public bus down for cheap and save yourself some time, too.
Expats drink all over the city, but the best place to find them seems to be Lan Kwai Fong (LKF). Picture New Orleans spread through a series of near-vertical alleys, only accessible by steep, cobblestone paths. Josh and Emma took us to a couple of bars in the neighborhood our last night there. I remember none of their names.
Sylvia found us two museums. The Hong Kong Museum of History had a permanent exhibit on the history of the island, taking us from its geological formation (I skipped that) through the days of its early tribes, up to British rule, Japanese occupation and the present day. The Hong Kong Museum of Art featured a lovely exhibit on calligraphy, the history of Chinese “export painters” who reproduced British sketches en masse and the art of scroll paintings. Each museum advised us that their doors were disinfected eight times per day.
Hong Kong seems prepared to funnel users into and out of the city better than anywhere I’ve been. Free shuttles loop from every hotel in Kowloon to Kowloon Station, where you can take a reasonably priced monorail across the water to Hong Kong International Airport. You can even check in for your flight at Kowloon Station. Only Walt Disney World (where you can do flight check-in from your resort hotel) beats it for convenience.
Several people asked what was my favorite part of the trip. I always have a hard time with this question. Small talk remains a mystery to me, and this question seems like such an obvious conversational gambit (e.g., “Tell me about a time you overcame a challenge”) that it shakes me out of the moment. I wonder if I’ve failed at my end of the conversation: if I’ve just been staring blankly, rather than providing entertaining patter, and the other person is prompting me.
But here’s a contender: one night, Sylvia and I took dinner in the lobby lounge of the Intercontinental Hotel. The lobby features two-story windows that sweep through a lounge the size of an auditorium, looking out over Victoria Harbor. As an effusive waiter served our cocktails – a Ruby Dragon for the lady; Laphroaig, neat, for the gentleman – the daily light show began. Lasers beamed from one end of the bay to the other while the tallest buildings in the city – the Bank of China Tower, the World Trade Center, the ICC Building – lit up from within. Ferries and party yachts glided across dark water. I sat before one of the finest views of a city I’d spent a decade longing to see, scotch in hand, and thought: I win.