Monday, January 25, 2010

Football Postscript and No I Didn't Forget About Bon Iver

Sure the Vikings lost but look at it this way: In each of the last three seasons, playing for three different teams, Brett Favre has thrown a crucial interception to essentially end his team's season. Two of these (2007 for the Packers, 2009 for the Vikings) occurred in conference championship games, the other (2008 for the Jets) in a crucial game the team needed to win to make the playoffs. In other words, we were all witnesses to history. Such under-pressure incompetence is nearly impossible to replicate.

Also, you can arguably say that the last two crucial moment interceptions (Jets, Vikings) were so over-the-top stupid that Brett Favre may possess a low enough level of intelligence to receive the DSM-IV (TR) diagnosis of mild mental retardation or, if not an Axis II diagnosis, he could at least be suffering from an Axis III condition that only manifests itself in high pressure situations. It takes a lot of guts and poise to overcome such an unfortunate circumstance.

Now, maybe I'm off base. One could claim that Coach Childress's underuse of Adrian Peterson is the true reason for the Vikings' loss, that if Peterson were utilized as he was during the 2007 season, or to a lesser degree, 2008, then the Vikings would have either won the game or would have had home field advantage which would have improved their chances.To this, I say: yeah but let's say that Peterson was given the ball more often. Let's say that Purple Jesus carried the ball 1.5 times as often. Now, allow me to use the statistical technique of extrapolation: Rather than fumble the ball 1 million times, he would have fumbled the ball 1.5 million times. An extra 500,000 fumbles would actually make victory more elusive.

Yes, I know that I just spent three long paragraphs complaining about a Hall of Fame quarterback that took my favorite football team to the NFC championship game and a young talented running back with a nickname suggesting son-of-God status who scored three touchdowns yesterday Perhaps I should keep things in perspective. The Packer fans might be gloating but didn't the Vikings season last two more weeks than that of the Packers? Yes it did. Don't Packer fans attach foam souvenir heads representing blocks of cheese to their own oversized heads? Yes they do.

Also, doesn't the obsessive identification that Wisconsinites have vis-a-vis cheese look a little sad when they refuse to acknowledge that California outdoes their state in every aspect of the domestic cheese debate: quantity, quality, variety, and distribution? This is true for the hard cheeses as well as the soft.

I realize that California's size gives it an advantage in terms of cheese quantity. So I'm willing to remove quantity from the comparison if the Wisconsin Cheese Board would just stop spreading* their propaganda regarding the other three aspects. If you want to whine about per-capita or per-square mile cheese production, then let's just give the award to Stilton-rich Vermont and cease our petty squabbles.

Still, I don't feel satisfied that I've demonstrated the clear superiority of my former home state (Minnesota) in relation to the fly-over / drive-through state with which it shares a border. I will end with a comparison of musical geniuses originating from each state.

Minnesota: Bob Dylan, Prince, Replacements, Husker Du (visualize umlauts over each 'u'), Lifter Puller, 40% of The Hold Steady, Trip Shakespeare, The Jayhawks, that one girl from season 6 of American Idol, Solid Gold, Tay Zonday, Gear Daddies, The Time, that one Mason Jennings song, Sex and Candy, Funkytown, and the great long lost studio band Lock Up Your Daughters.

Wisconsin: Violent Femmes, 20% of The Hold Steady, Sigmund Snopek III, and the first BoDeans album.

Even if one were to dock Minnesota one genius point each for Soul Asylum and Peter Himmelman and deduct three genius points for Owl City, the State of Many Lakes still musically outshines the State of Questionable City Planning. I rest my case.

Oh - I should point out that I'm fully aware that I go from an imagined California vs. Wisconsin battle to a made-up Minnesota vs. Wisconsin battle. And this was in reaction to a Minnesota vs. New Orleans football game.

Also, I could amend the MN/WI music comparison to reflect Hold Steady keyboardist Franz Nicolay's departure from the band. With four remaining members, I believe half the band is from MN and 25% is from WI. But let's hold off until the mustachioed one is replaced. Better yet, let's deny he ever left.

*In the original draft, this sentence looked a bit different, as I tried to squeeze** in a gratuitous analogy. It may seem obvious to any writer possessing even a minimum of pride that the use of the word "spreading" requires a cheese analogy here. So go ahead and try it if you think it should be done. The first part is easy: "...if the Wisconsin Cheese Board would just stop spreading their propaganda of cheddar..." But on what is it spreading its propoganda? On the cracker of public relations? On the French bread of state pride? The joke really doesn't work without an object on which the cheese is spread. And there is no universal spread-recipient of cheese that would make the analogy flourish. Besides, while Wisconsin may pride itself on its spreadable cheese production and consumption, here in California we have evolved far past the cheese-in-squeeze-bottle stage of development.

**This would have been pushing it. Trust me, it can't be done.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Vikings: My Fourth Favorite Sports Team in Minnesota*

I get the question all the time. Sometimes it's in the form of an email. Other times, I'm stopped in the street or the hall with someone who looks me in the eye as I look them in the spot just to the right of their right shoulder. No matter, it's the same thing that everyone wants to know: Why aren't you more excited about the Vikings?

The Minnesota Vikings are about to play in the NFC Championship game, one step from the Super Bowl. In past years I've written occasionally about good, bad, and mediocre Vikings teams. This year, as they have their best season since 1998 (deep, exaggerated sigh) behind the improbable perfect fit of Brett Favre, they barely merit mention.

Even away from BpB, I discuss them rarely. Yet, the Minnesota Timberwolves, a sad sack wretch of a basketball team in recent years gets the overanalysis from me that is normally only given to DF Wallace, Craig Finn, and my mother. (During the current season, I haven't written much about the Wolves but that's because they started out so poorly that not even their beloved suckiness could sway me. Then, there was the top 100 list. Then, there were the 4 moments and here we are... more than halfway through the season and "we" have got 9 wins.)

So the Vikings sign Favre to go with an offense led by an amazing running back nicknamed Purple Jesus (Adrian Peterson) and a rising-from-out-of-nowhere wide receiver (Sidney Rice). A team that barely made the playoffs last year and didn't make the playoffs in most of the previous years of this decade sits one win from football's pinnacle game. And, seemingly, I don't care. Why? Let's run through the possible reasons:
  • Is it because I don't like Brett Favre. Do I still resent his success with the evil overlords that are the Green Bay Packers and I so dislike their doughy orange-vested green-foam-fingered round-faced fans that to see him in a purple uniform sickens me. No. No. Not at all. I'm glad he's on "our" side. I especially relish the pain it causes the cheeseheads in Wisconsin. I say pile it on. Let's secede those chunky grumps deep into Canada. Let's shore up the borders so no more of "them" make it across. Especially at the St. Croix River crossing over by Hudson. Back to Favre though. I think he's doing a fine job. But I contend - SERIOUSLY - that the Vikings would have still gone 12-4 with Tarvaris Jackson, that they would still be in the NFL's Final 4. But the Favre reason for not mentioning the Vikings much has been quashed.
  • I don't live there anymore. Ha! Like that's ever stopped me. This reason has ALSO been quashed.
  • I really do love this team. I live for this team. So much so that I don't want to jinx anything by talking too soon. No, I don't live for the Vikings. And jinxes aren't real. Quashed.
  • Football is not nearly as much fun to watch as basketball. This is actually true and explains 30% of the reason I don't write much about the Vikes.
  • I never truly felt the Vikings were my team. Shortly after I moved to Minnesota, the Twins won the World Series. And being a lifelong baseball fan, I was hooked on those lovable punks. I remain to this day a Twins fan. And then the Wolves were born in 1989. Sure, I was on my Brea pilgrimage then but I was back in the twin towns the following summer (only to leave again yeah yeah... only to come back again yeah whatever... only to leave again yeah yeah yeah whatevs). But the Wolves were the first team that I rooted for since the beginning of their existence. I grew with the Wolves. I may not have lived there for their first season but I was there for season #2, their first in the Target Center. I was there for the coronation. Which explains another 30%. Which reminds me: (ignore the video; listen to the song)

  • Another 27% could be chalked up to what happened in 1998 when they lost the NFC Championship game in the most painful series of events to strike a sports fan (me) since the 1981 Philadelphia 76ers. Normally, that would make me more of a fan. But with football there are only 16 games a year, not enough to motivate a crushed fan out of his figurative warm foamy bathtub of escape.
  • Another 11% I'll chalk up to the jettisoning over the years of many of my favorite players: Randy Moss, Randall Cunningham, Daunte "Good Boat" Culpepper, etc
  • The remaining 2% of the explanation is due to unknown factors - possibly error or statistical "noise."
Still, I will watch the game Sunday. I will root for the Vikings. I will jump up high (very high) if they win. If they lose, I'll be sad for a minute, I'llshrug when asked if it stings, be told that the sting I don't feel would have been pride fucking with me if I had felt it, and go online to find out the latest on the Timberwolves.

*The official rankings alluded to in the post title:
1. Timberwolves
2. Twins
3. Gophers (Univ. of MN) basketball
4. Vikings
5. Gophers football
6. Wild
7. Gophers women's hockey
8. Gophers men's hockey

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Four Moments in My Life When I Asked "What am I DOING with my life?" Number 3 of 4: Oh No! They're All the Same

I promised to follow up the first entry last Friday. I'm a little late. Also, I'm saving the final entry for a future date - an anniversary of sorts. Enjoy my woe.

Date Unknown, 2009: What's Wrong With My Shoes? Am I....? No I Couldn't Be.
I arrived at the parking structure at work about an hour late. This was better than most days during the middle part of '09. Since moving to Long Beach, I simply was unable to get to work on time, no matter how much I planned. The days I woke up on time - traffic got me. The days I overslept - no traffic, just the imability to reverse time. Add to this the fact that I could easily fall into a freakishly coma-like deep sleep in that godforsaken 1st Street apartment. Sure, while I was living there, I felt the walls closing in on me, as the trash can fought the washing machine for that one corner of kitchen real estate and boxes of old cassettes, New Yorkers, and records fought IKEA bags full of mail for living room floor space. (Meaning: The place was too small. I don't have a lot of stuff. But on 1st Street, even a little is a lot.)

BUT I sure could sleep hard in that place. I would sit on the couch with my night cereal as Conan began his hopeful-for-the-future Tonight Show monologue. Next thing I know, my phone alarm is vibrating its fourth alarm of the day and I'm stretching my haunches and hunching my sternum as I rise from the couch and ease into the workday and OH FUCK I'm an hour late and I live 45 minutes away from work.

I decided I would drive to work in the clothes I had fallen asleep in. It was a warm day I think. And I figured I would grab my work clothes and get changed in the parking lot at work. If I remembered correctly, I had my sweet black dress(y) casual shoes in the car. Still, I don't always remember correctly, so I brought an extra pair just in case. I also grabbed a clean dress shirt, a gray T-shirt, and those most awesome of pants I had picked up at Macy's (Are they brown? Yes! Are they black? Yes! Are they gray? That too! Do they match all possible pairs of shoes and socks, and every single shirt one could imagine wearing? Yes, yes, yes! Most importantly do they LOOK good? Yeah.)

Off to my car, wherever the hell it was parked. I've since moved, as you all know - half-block to the east (south), four blocks to the north (west), still in Long Beach (Why? Some day I'll know.) I no longer have to fight the natives (the confident lesbians, the angry hippies, the quiet quiet gay men, and the steadfast others) for parking. In my new place, I have a parking space. Sure, I have to park at a 10-degree (not 15-degree, not 5-degree) angle and my driver's rearview mirror is inches away from the alley's driving space and will likely be amputated one foggy morning, but I don't have to walk.

(Those of you who read even the blog entries that I delete the next day will remember a story about a gang of female hoodlums accosting me in a park. Others have heard of the shadowy figures lurking near the park restrooms. The hoodlums and the lurkers were only there because I had to walk a long way to the apartment, through that park. Now, there is no one that upsets my trek from car to door. No one but God or Mother Nature or whoever pulled down the rain that is currently flooding my beautiful lovely baby, my preassigned parking space.)

This is getting ridiculous, Ali. FINISH the story!

Okay. I go to my car. I drive to work. I park on either the second or fifth floor of the parking garage. I make sure no one can see me as I disrobe in the dimly lit garage. I take off my dowdy clothes. I put on my nice clothes. Everything but my shoes. I put on one shoe. I put on the other shoe.

I get out of my car. I begin walking. Something feels funny. I think something is wrong with my left shoe. Oh no, I think - another good pair gone. It feels like the structure of the shoe has been disrupted. I consider gong back to my car. I have that other pair in the back. Actually, it doesn't feel so bad. I'll walk it off... repetitive motion will return the left shoe to its normal integrity.

I get outside. I wait at the light. As I cross Figueroa, I realize something is amiss. I think to myself: What's wrong with my shoes? Am I....? No I couldn't be...I couldn't be wearing...TWO RIGHT SHOES.

I stop in my tracks and look down and I feel everyone - the students and other USC folk crossing the street, the 20 or so cars at the massive intersection, the 100+children at recess in the science magnet school across the street - looking at the man with two right feet in the middle of the crosswalk. I keep walking but once I get across I stop and confirm the obvious. The "pair" of shoes I had grabbed in haste as I ran out the door actually consisted of the right halves of two nearly-but-not-identical pairs of shoes, the Fast Decision model from Kenneth Cole (pictured; also known as the Lack of Foresight Lazy Man Snooze Button Express) and a seemingly discontinued laceless stretchy slip-on model from Steve Madden.

Now you might be saying, "Come on dude, it's not that bad. A lot of shoes look like that. Honest mistake. But you don't know WHY I had on two right shoes. I know why. It's a long story, one not being told in its entirety here. There weren't one or two circumstances that needed to happen. They ALL had to happen. Bullet point time:
  • I had to wake up so late that I couldn't waste any time putting on my clothes before I left the apartment.
  • I had to be in such a hurry that I just grabbed two black shoes that upon close inspection are clearly different. (I always double-checked my similar black shoes. Except that day.)
  • The two right shoes had to be close together and far away from all other shoes (This is the part I wish not to discuss.)
You might ask: What about the shoes you wore in the car before changing? Why not put those on? I suppose my very ragged black Adidas Sambas would have been better than bare feet. But somehow wearing such casual shoes with mid-week business wear seemed far worse to me than exposing my two right shoes. Still, I had an out. I had a pardon from the governor of clothing malfunctions. I had my Skechers back in the car. Interestingly, my Skechers were a perfect mathematical average of the K. Cole and S. Madden shoes - still black, laceless, and likely out of fashion. They had the patterned stretchy core of the former and the slightly flatter shine of the latter. (Did you see those internal rhymes there?) No matter (ha!). I just had to slip those Skechers on my feet and I was on my way. Plus, they were 1,200 times more comfortable if a little ragged from overuse.

They were just barely on the acceptable side of "professional" before they got overused, what with their chunky soles and pseudo-mystical-surf-y raised logo. Used and scuffed, they were now barely unacceptable for work but they sure beat wearing two right shoes.

I arrived at my car. I looked in the back seat for my emergency Skechers. I found one of them on the floor - the right Skecher. The other one wasn't around. It's got to be under the seat. Nope, no shoe under either seat... no shoe in the trunk of the CR-V. No shoe on the ski rack or in the spare tire sleeve. Nothing. Nope, now I had THREE nearly identical shoes, all of them RIGHT shoes. I also had a meeting in five minutes.

I made the decision that still haunts me. I decided that, of the three shoes, the two that looked the closest were the Madden (currently correctly placed on my right foot) and the Skecher. I put Skechy on my left foot. But I could feel the shoe practically begging to not be humiliated. I switched the two shoes, letting Madden bear the small portion of the shame that wouldn't be oozing out of my physical self. That was better. (Funny, I thought the kind-of-metrosexual Steve Madden shoe would be the whiny one and the working class Skecher would be resilient. Other way around. And am I really assigning human traits to shoes?)

I strode fake-confidently to my meeting, all the way on the other side of campus. I pretended to limp so people would be able to imagine a better reason for the two different shoes. I hoped they didn't get close enough to see two different shoes of the same foot. I made it to the meeting and I worked that entire day with two right shoes, avoiding crowds (lunch at 2 instead of noon) and choosing the emptiest paths. I made it home by 7:00. It took me 10 seconds in my bedroom to find all three left shoes.

(Note: The mystery of why the right Skecher was in the car and the left one was still at home has never been solved.)

I wrote in the last paragraph that "I made the decision that still haunts me," the decision being which, of all the possible combinations of right shoes, made the most sense, aesthetically and physically? I don't regret the decision. I regret that it had come to this: A man with a Ph.D. and a full head of hair... a poet with an office full of charts, graphs, and statistical assumptions... had to make a decision on a college campus populated by students half his age and experience... a decision that came down to: Which two right shoes should I wear and which one goes where? I should not have to ask OR answer that question. I should simply have a pair of shoes, one right and one left and both identical in brand, style, and model.

So, to sum things up and to end this sad tale of shoe woe: Two right shoes. No, make that three right shoes. Fake limping so as to draw attention away from my feet. This strategy may backfire. Oh what am I saying? No one cares. No one is looking my way. I'm stuck going through this alone. No commiseration with others who've made the same mistake. Picture me arriving at home, parking my car too far from my door... Picture me walking. The solo sundown silhouette of a man, wondering What am I doing with my life?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Puppet Shows, Helium Balloons, and the Mango Incarnations

I just spent an hour re-reading my blog entries from Year 1 of this blog: 2005. Some observations:

I complained a lot less back then. I wasn't free of the whining that has infiltrated this blog space in recent months. But my complaints were petty, one-off comments about something that irked me.... nothing approaching the gigantic woe-is-me mopefests you may have read earlier today. Do I really have it that hard? A handsome poet with the hands of a lumberjack and the heart of a lion? I have a Ph.D. and a doored office at the hottest school in the nation. I have 1 or 2 cats in an apartment conveniently located in a bubble bordered by the world's best noodle house, the world's finest ocean, a couple of Yogurtlands, a perfect record store, and a coffeehouse that surpasses all others when it comes to mismatched furniture. So, my newest new year's resolution: less complaining.

I tried harder to be funnier back then. Sometimes, I failed. But when I succeeded, look out!

The blog changed names several times, from Blueprint Blues to The Mango to Mango Mush to Incarnation of Mango to Blueprint Blue to Puppet Shows and Helium Balloons and back to Blueprint Blue.

I was extremely good at keeping my personal life private. These days, it's more difficult to keep some stories untold.

The Four Moments in My Life When I Asked "What am I DOING with my life?" Parts 1 and 2 (of 4): The Day of the Chicken and The Worst Motel Ever

March 22, 1991: The Day of the Chicken.
It was a rainy Friday when I stopped at a KFC in St. Louis Park, Minnesota on my way home from somewhere. In Minnesota, rain instead of snow in March is a welcome thing but the overall gray gloom of the weather made my Seasonal Affective Disorder worse. This was near the end of my second stint in the Gopher State - the time period I don't talk about mich. I first lived there during my undergraduate days (1984-1988). Then, I piligrimaged to the promised land (Brea, 1988-1990) and received a well-earned master's degree in psychology. I then had one particularly bad panic attack (7/8/90 - dig the numerical pattern there) and immediately packed a U-Haul to come back "home" to Minnesota to find my post-master's job.

Eight months later, I still hadn't had any luck finding that job. I was working three jobs, actually but none related to graduate degree. One Friday afternoon as winter neared its end and I seriously considered a return to California (my parents had a rental property that would soon be vacant in the "good" part of Pomona). Anyway, on this Friday afternoon, I felt it was necessary to buy lots of chicken. I was living alone and I had no real plans for the weekend. I thought to myself, why not buy a giant bucket of chicken? I can eat a little now and save the rest for later, storing it for safekeeping in my refrigerator. After all, this was March Madness time, the second day of the NCAA basketball tournament. The chicken wasn't as much for me as it was for basketball as an institution. By incorporating a giant KFC bucket into my game-watching ritual, I was paying tribute to Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of the game.

Time passed and all of a sudden I found myself on the floor of my apartment in Minneapolis, with a blanket over me and the TV on. The sky was dark and I felt around for the remote control so I could turn off CNN Headline News which had been bringing my subconscious down. I had no memory of switching from basketball to news. I had fallen asleep on my floor, though I did have a real bed in the apartment.

I began my search for the remote. As I flailed at the floor space around my makeshift floorbed (3 comforters on floor + 1 flat sheet + 1 more blanket on body = floorbed), I felt the chicken bucket. I lifted the bucket only to find the discarded fowl carrion that my binge had wrought. All skin and meat were gone, from every piece; only bone remained. I had no memory of eating any of it. I looked at my fingers; my fingers remembered eating the chicken. From the looks of the filth around me - empty mashed potato container, large drink emitting condensation, a half-dozen soiled napkins thrown around randomly, I participated in a fierce binge.

I looked to the window. It was either sunrise or sunset. I hoped it was sunrise. I looked at the clock. 6:00pm. It was sunset. I  looked at the window again. It was either Saturday and Sunday. God, I hope it's Saturday, I thought. I did not want to have fallen into a 48-hour chicken coma; please let it be a 24-hour sleep. (Yes, this was a possibility. The insomnia which I sometimes suffer today began showing up in '90, '91.) No, it was worse than that. It was still Friday. I bought the chicken at 1:30 in the afternoon. I had consumed 14 pieces of chicken in a 4 hour period and woke up without remembering. There were no other people or cats living with me at the time. It was all me. I moved back to California 11 days later. I became a vegetarian 19 years later.

To sum up: Darkness, disorientation, on the floor, waking up to find chicken carcasses, loneliness. What am I doing with my life?

August 26, 1996: The Worst Motel Ever
It was a Sunday evening. I was living in Amherst, Massachusetts. Those who have heard about my Amherst stint know I was only there for 12 days. Despite such a short stay, I felt the need to get away over the one full weekend I had while I was there. I drove down to visit my friend Patrick in New Jersey. I had a nice time that weekend. There was a pizza place with a jukebox. There was an old-timey drug store where I bought a giant fan for my new apartment. Then, on Sunday, I headed back to Amherst, first making a stop in Greenwich, Connecticut to see my ex-girlfriend. She had moved there from Los Angeles a year prior; she met a young man on the Internet. Things didn't work out with him but she stayed on the east coast, a spry L.A. girl braving the rest of America. Later, she moved to Minnesota (not because I was there, she says) and then Hawaii. She now lives in Wisconsin. We had dinner. We talked. I felt sad. Then, I began the rest of my drive home. I had three hours to go.

Shortly after I began driving, I felt really sleepy. I didn't want to fall asleep on the highway and crash, not with two angry cats waiting for me in a deserted college town, relying on me for food. I didn't have Joe Piscopo to shake me from my slumber. So I decided to stop at a roadside motel. Somewhere between Greenwich and Hartford (yeah I know - that doesn't narrow it down), I got off the highway and checked into what seemed like a decent enough place. I got my key and entered the room. The bed was flanked with not one - but two - machines that allowed one to make the bed vibrate. No reading lamps, just bed vibrators. This amused me; I'd be telling stories about this place.

The red bedspread looked old and faded. I lifted it and tossed it aside because my dad always took off the bedspread in every rented room he found himself in. "Because they never wash it. It's diz-GUST-ing," he would say. I found this hard to believe: so they wash everything else - the sheets, blankets, towels, pillowcases - in a diligent fashion, but they go out of their way to not wash the bedspread? No matter. I needed someone's advice at the moment. I was at my life's crossroads and I was tired. (If you know me, you understand that I have been to many many "crossroads" in my life. Ralph Macchio told me there'd be only one.)

The blanket was a faded yellowish-beige, with not one but two perfect circle holes burned into it,. Horrified, I decided I would use the bedspread as my blanket. First I had to remove the blanket. And underneath the blanket was... a plastic sheet. A clear plastic, see-through sheet. You could see right through the sheet and see the mattress. The filthy splotch-stained mattress. In a queasy panic, I covered it up again with the blanket and picked the bedspread up off the floor. I slept fetally on a small strip of clean yellow-beige blanket, with the blood-red bedspread on top of me for warmth. The plastic sheet horrified me. Why would they do that?

So, these were the three sleeping layers they had given to me:
  1. unwashed bedspread
  2. fire-damaged blanket
  3. see-through insane asylum sheet 
I should have asked for a refund. I had not yet developed the character trait of complaining about every little thing and demanding immediate justice. This trait, since removed from my personality, manifested itself most often at motels and hotels. (Personal aside to the desk clerk at that Hilton in Baltimore's Inner Harbor back in '98: I was an ass. I'm sorry.)

I slept for four hours, waking up in time to avoid Monday morning traffic. I was back in Amherst by noon, cursing my decision to move east. (No offense to anyone who lives on the east coast but seriously - it's like the third world out there, with your dial-up and your uncomfortable chairs.) I moved back to Minnesota three days later. I have not been to Connecticut since that day, nor have I ever seen clear plastic sheets again.

No. I didn't vibrate my bed.

To sum up: Darkness, disorientation, fetal position, avoiding burn-holes and mattress blood, bed vibrators, awkward meal with ex-gf, rootlessness. What am I doing with my life?

The final two "What am I doing" moments will be published tomorrow. I felt that including all four in one blog post would be kind of ridiculous.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Women Who Write: A Tale of Five Men and Their FFLs

My friend Jason's entertaining Brief History of the Rise and Fall etc. blog has a new URL. Jason also has a mission this year to read only books by women. Here, he tells a fascinating story about a mutual friend who does not read books by women. This seems a preposterous philosophy to follow - who reads books by only one gender? - until one thinks about it more deeply.

I think of two of my good friends. Let's call them Jike and Mohn. Jike and Mohn are erudite educated independent-minded men. They consider themselves well-read. I consider them well-read. But... can I think of a single book by a woman that either one of them have read? No I cannot. It's just that they never admitted to having a philosophy - a rule - of never reading books by women. In practice, they're no different from the no-read-women guy.

Yes, I could be wrong about Jike and Mohn. They may have read books by women. I don't follow their every book purchase or library loan. Maybe there's a female author in there somewhere. Perhaps an instructional manual on how to program early 90s synthesizers written by a FTM? Or maybe an ESL teacher certification manual penned by a half-Madonna half-whore domiNUNtrix? Maybe. But they never mentioned these girlbooks out loud.

And who am I to judge? Am I a prolific reader of women of letters? Yes, as a matter of fact I am. I can think of at least 12 completed novels and at least seven short story collections written by women. That's at least one book every two years of my life. Okay that's not a lot. But I've also read tons of non-fiction written by women. Does all this approach the number of things written by men that I have read? A little, yeah. But no, I've read a bunch more by men. I can't help it if the basketball histories, rock bios, and World Almanacs I read as a kid were mostly written by dudes.

So I read more books written by women than Jike and Mohn (and perhaps Jason and the Sexist) combined? What has it gotten me? Well, let's see: All five of us are admitted  heterosexuals; three of the other four are married, two of these three have (or will have) happy multi-child families, and the fourth has a girlfriend. Me? Unmarried. No children. Am I single? Well, that's to be discussed in private. Not in this forum. I keep my privates private.

BUT... is that really the measure of the benefit of reading women writers? Our marriage/relationship/family statuses? There must be some other way to understand a man's ability to understand women, to see in them what they truly are, as writers, as thinkers, as doers, as people. God, am I really writing these words?

There must be some other way. And, being a man with a Ph.D. in (essentially) Statistics, there must be a quantifiable empirical way. There must be something I can demonstrate via numbers to prove that my reading girlbooks makes me more acceptable to women. Yep, I'm really going to do it. Okay. I'll take care of the counting. I'll be right back.
  • Mike: 147 Facebook friends total; 72 are female; 72 div. by 147 gives us a 49.0% FFL (female friend likelihood)
  • John: 84 Facebook friends; 39 are female, one (Matrixsynth Jones) is undetermined, so let's divide 39 by 83 to get an FFL of 47.0%
  • Jason: 81 Facebook friends; 36 are female; 44.4% FFL.
  • Mutual Friend Who Does Not Read Women : Does not appear to be a member of the Facebook community. He's probably proud of this fact. As if not belonging to such an insidious dubiously dubbed "social" network where the definition of "friend" is loose enough to include people who likely do not exist (Sui Solitaire? Come on Paulson.... really?) makes XXXXXX better than us. No XXXXXX, it does not. Numbers don't lie. The rules are pretty simple. If we can't access your Facebook stats, if you have no Facebook stats, your FFL is ... I hate to say it ... equal to the number of female authors you've read relative to all authors you have read which, according to your self-report, is ... ZERO.
  • Blueprint Blue (Me): 71 Facebook friends. 42 are female Facebook friends, one (Tarpaulin Sky Press) is undetermined, so 42 out of 70 gives us a clean even 60% FFL, which means I win!
Now the skeptical among you may offer various reasons for my 60% WINNING score. You'll contend that my frequent singlehood in this Facebook era has created great opportunities for me to bump up my female numbers, that my winning personality, cultivated shyness infused with quiet strength, and Clooney-in-Oceans-11-meets-D'Onofrio-in-Things-to-Do-in-Denver strapping good looks easily gets me to the third date by which point Facebook friendships are enthusiastically accepted. AND you'll say that my honorable behavior and artful decency has ensured that I simply do not have bad breakups which would lead to friendship rejections/cancellations. Yes... with that one exception. What was I to do? I'd never dated a girl from Sherman Oaks before. I didn't know. I'll just say I'm glad we were in a public place.

Or you'll say that being married keeps three of you out of the female-friend-getting loop. Sorry... that's what you signed up for when you said "I do." But you do get a tax break. Or maybe you'll say that growing up in a matriarchy gave me an unfair advantage. No.
Wait. Do I have the fewest friends out of all of us? I need to go out and network. Still, 72 friends is nothing to sneeze at. I remember high school. I had two friends and one of them lived in another state. Back to the topic at hand.

In conclusion: Read good books. By anyone. In any era. In any language. Enjoy good art In any form(at). In any medium. If you find yourself deficient in a particular area (like women authors), read a bunch of them. I probably need to increase my numbers of dead authors. But it's just so difficult to connect with them.

(Aside to Jason:

So yes Jason, reading books by female authors is a clear win-win. These books are generally less expensive (about 84 cents to the dollar) than books by men. You'll impress your wife with your well-intentioned project. But most of all, you'll get to read some great books. To expand on my Facebook comment suggestions:

Zadie Smith is my favorite from that list. And On Beauty is my favorite of hers. It is a little college-y. And I know you live in a provincial if not precious college town but she's a badass Brit who can write better than pretty much anyone on the planet AND with a badass Brit perspective. I've only read a couple of her essays but I'm sure her new essay collection is awesome.

Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a solid, poignant, and seemingly fantastical but actually grounded novel about a teenage girl and her dad. They travel from college town to college town because he's a rootless professor. She comes of age, in a way. The father is a kook. Interestingly, the book doesn't seem college-y at all. The fact that every single character suffers from sort of eccentricity may be tough to deal with at first. But if you can get through Jonathan Lethem novels with his ridiculously-named characters (Mingus Rude??) you can get through this book.

The Lydia Millet book is one I haven't read (yet) but I went to a reading where she discussed it and it sounds great. It's about Oppenheimer and the bomb and all that.

Good luck! I think I'll read a book written by a man. I've heard Harper Lee is quite good.)

I Used To Be A Poet

And I am a poet once again! Read my new math poem here. And the two poems that precede it are interesting too, UiELA#5 is interesting for its trainwreckness and UiELA#4 is interesting for its forthcomingness. (Yes, I'm forthcoming about something entirely fictional but still...)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

2009: The Year in Review - Ruminant Streetfruit vs. The Mustard Apology

I'm not done with looking back. In reviewing the thoroughly awesome music of the decade, I neglected to wrap up the year that just ended, a year that could be described in one or more of the following ways:
A. An IV drip of pain, discomfort, misfortune, and comical predicaments, delivered with laser precision by a team of invisible nurses, each armed with an illustrated annotated catalog of Ali's Trigger Points and a carefully formulated Schedule of Inconvenience.

B. A dull year in which nothing much of interest happened.

C. A delicate balance morphing into a prickly imbalance morphing into a doddering pile of laundry.
By the way, that IV drip is delivered directly into my psyche, with acute residual specks peppering my big caring heart and Clooney-like hair.

I should begin my review of 2009 by apologizing to each and every one of you. I will use my patented LIST/APOLOGIZE/FORESEE method, also known as the LAF Cycle:

1. First... allow me to LIST my transgressions, dusting the pile of reasonable excuses with the occasional inexcusable behavior:
The explanations I have given for being late to lunches, for not making an effort to connect, for appearing aloof, and for not reciprocating particular gestures were, for the most part, honest ones. There really was construction-related traffic on the 710 that one day. The check for that part-time consulting gig really did take 8 mailing days to arrive from Pittsburgh. The phone charger really did inexplicably work in the car but not in the wall (and vice-versa the next day). That email really did end up in the junk folder. And there really was construction-related traffic on the 710 later that same day. And if I ever told anyone a lie, it could easily have been perceived by me as the truth.
2. Next, I will sincerely APOLOGIZE while simultaneously magnifying and minimizing the "sin" for which the apology was proffered.
Still, my unreliability was too consistent to be dismissed with such excuses. My detachment was too ever-present to not be a symptom of something larger. Now, I just need to identify that larger something. I don't like to disappoint others. I am sorry.
3. Finally, I complete the LAF Cycle by FORESEEing better times ahead, employing the time-tested strategy of predicting warmer, truer connections in the immediate future (this weekend) AND in the distant future (this summer) but concluding with a "qualified" intention that is intended to lower your expectations of me without you knowing it had I not just told you what would have happened. There will also be wordplay.
I will change. I will change for the better. I will change for the better on a permanent basis. I will not be late to lunch this weekend. I will not change my flight time or originating airport this summer. I may not successfully identify the bigger, more incessant problem(s) that periodically perplex and plague me but I will try.

And now, the Best of 2009, as interpreted by me:

Best Film of 2009: An easy one. Inglorious Basterds

Best Meal of 2009: Breakfast, El Buon Gusto, Atwater Village, Los Angeles, July

Best Blog Entry of 2009 (Me): On February 6, I wrote this spry detailed interesting blog entry about an "extended family" vacation in 2002. Heart problems, William Shakespeare, and scoutmasters play a role in the true story I tell. I show restraint when necessary. I don't get all fatalistic. I minimize my woe-is-me Sedarisesque schtick. Good photos too.

Best Blog Entry of 2009 (Others): The Heart is an Organ that Pump Blood on cats, condo boards, mothers, and fathers

Best TV Series of 2009: Parks and Recreation

Best TV Episode of 2009: Yes it was super sappy but... the Community episode where Winger engineers a salsa-dancing-to-Greene-Daye reunion between Senor Chang and his estranged wife

Best Drink of 2009: The second one at The Fling, Santa Ana, August

Best Coffee Drink of 2009: Regular coffee, with cream and lots of vanilla powder, that one Friday morning in April at the then-new on-campus Coffee Bean at USC

Best Night of Sleep of 2009: December 21-22, my first night of pure dead-to-world deep-as-dirt sleep in my new place in Long Beach

Best Book of 2009: Lifter Puller vs. The End Of

Best Article of Clothing (Casual) of 2009: My Oakland Oaks T-shirt from Retro Sport

Best Article of Clothing (Not Casual, Not Formal): My Mustard Incident jacket from Penguin

Best Article of Clothing (Formal, for me): Gray/black patterned dress shirt, Target

Best Album of 2009: God Help the Girl

8 Other Great Albums:
The Ruminant Band - Fruit Bats
Album - Girls
I'm Going Away - Fiery Furnaces
Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective
The Ecstatic - Mos Def
Eskimo Snow - Why?
The Satanic Satanist - Portugal the Man
Klamath - Mark Eitzel

Best Website (Words): A.V. Club

Best Website (Visuals): In a Dream House

Best Music Reissue: Lifter Puller reissue their entire catalog

Best Gummi Bear: Trolli (last minute comeback vs. Harbro)

Best Fruit: Streetfruit (mango, melon, pineapple, watermelon), Glendale Blvd., L.A.

Best Poem Verse (Me): Final verse of Honor in a Misnomer

Best Cereal: Archer Farms (Target) Hearty Grains and Fruit Muesli

Most Difficult Experience: Saying goodbye to Seymour (he's the big one) after 16 years:

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

"This is the story of the kids called the Crabs": Top 100 songs of the '00s, Part 16! (of 16): #3 - #1

(Edited to conceal bizarre misplaced sentences peppered throughout 1st draft)
I'm satisfied with my top 3. I'm happy with my whole list actually. Sure, there may have been too much critically acclaimed indie pop and a few genres were drastically underrepresented (American hip hop, Scandinavian metal, jazz). I still favor clever over heavy, words over beats, quiet over croon, sadness over despair... everything over chillout. But I confounded expectations with my engineered absence of Radiohead, The Arcade Fire, and Outkast's Hey Ya. The latter is inexplicably beloved (it's a nice song but it should not have changed your life.) Radiohead and Arcade Fire (and The Album Leaf and The Duke Spirit and all bands with names like that) are more album bands than song bands, Or that's just a polite way to say that they just weren't top 100 material.

I've been hemming. I've been hawing. I've been comparing the three songs mentally and aurally. I have to make the cruelest cut with my writer's knife (aka, my pen, which is actually letters on a keyboard.) I have to just come out and admit that as much as I want to put the #3 song at #1, it is not a better song than the other two. Sorry, Facebook friend (and American Music Club lead singer) Mark Eitzel, your song is only the third best of the decade.

3. Long Long Walk - American Music Club (2008)
This song is nowhere to be found. Out of print. No mp3/YouTube/bittorrent presence. I suppose I could figure out how to upload an mp3 from my rare CD and then post the mp3 file right below these words but I think this song's aura should be presided over by the lure of the unattainable.

When I saw AMC at the Echo in Los Angeles in 2008, they were selling a limited edition CD of outtakes, live songs, and other songs called Atwater Afternoon. I've spent a few afternoons in Atwater (the one in Los Angeles.)  It's nice. It's lonely.

Atwater Afternoon is currently "sold out" on the official pages of AMC and Mark Eitzel. Its fifth song, Long Long Walk, is about a friendship between two young men - Mark (the reliable narrator) and his friend Larry. Though only in high school (I think), the pair see themselves as the "secret conscience of men" as they walk the streets of a city to which they've been given "the keys."

Yes, that's not just one key to the city; he said "keys." They got them all. They tried all the doors to see which ones would open. I don't know why but I picture this key-testing to be happening, well past midnight... Cool and not cold outside... Alleys and streets are haunted... Nobody sees Mark and Larry so they see each other.

Suddenly, in verse 2, "some hillbilly fuck" sporting nunchuks confronts Mark and Larry in front of a supermarket. It's not explicitly stated why the two men (boys) trigger such a reaction but, judging from the slow simmer in Eitzel's voice as he tells the story and Larry's status as a beautiful "high school champion" who always stood tall, it's probably because at least one of them and probably both of them are gay. Larry, likely more outward in his presentation of self, is the one the hillbilly is after. This is made clear by the tone in Mark's voice.

A decision needs to be made. Soon. Yes, it's 2 good guys vs. 1 bad guy but the 1 has a weapon and all the 2 are holding are a bunch of keys, the great majority of them unable to open doors.

Larry, in addition to his superhero credentials, has much wisdom for a teenager. As Mark relates the story (and I'm guessing this story is 98% true and based on a real friend)... Larry is the one that decides to meet this nunchukker head-on, right here right now. Larry says "I know what this is. I'm not butter for any man's knife."  This sentence sends chills up and down me: "I KNOW WHAT THIS IS." Larry has been victimized before. It's clear that he's gained strength, perhaps not from the initial physical/psychological victimization but from not choosing to run away in quiet resignation as his default first defense. Nope - Larry fights back. And he knows what THIS is and doesn't need to name it. THIS is someone taking away Larry's life force and Larry fights back to protect that life force.

We don't know what happens in the fight. We jump to Mark the narrator's defiant exuberant pride in his friend's strength and in the fact that the two of them didn't go anywhere, they didn't run and hide from the bad man. They dealt with the hillbilly fuck and then they walked and walked some more.

There could have been blood and bruises, or just some circling around with fists and sharp fingers at the ready. The fight or the lack of it disappears from the song which ends with the chorus. "We were on a long walk. We were on a long long walk."

Larry and Mark will get to their destination but it will not be without some work, some fight. That's what the song is trying to say I think. They will spend a lifetime walking a long walk.

I hope they're still friends. Long Long Walk only saw the light of day on that purchased-by-few Atwater Afternoon album. Supposedly, it was considered to be one of the tracks on American Music Club's album The Golden Age released that same year. Now, the songs on The Golden Age are quite good and Long Long Walk may not fit thematically with most of them but I think the band should have found room for this song on their "legitimate" '08 release. If not, it should find a home on the next real AMC album or the next Mark Eitzel solo project. Larry deserves at least that.

2. Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand (2004) 
As someone who has spent 16 of the past 20 years as either an undergraduate college student, a graduate student, or an employee working in a college, I am familiar with the notion of "extra credit." I think it's overused in higher education but it doesn't seem to cause pain so I'll stick with it here.

If I were assigning extra credit points, Franz Ferdinand's Take Me Out would garner bonus points so huge and vast and heavy that a song which normally would get relegated to the midpoint of the chart would leapfrog to #2.

But you see I've already taken into account degree of difficulty or past performance or rehearsal styles. My extra credit is just regular credit.

What did Franz Ferdinand do to deserve such esteem? If you know this song, you likely guessed where FF went the extra kilometer. It comes at the 52 second mark when they CHANGE THE SONG COMPLETELY and go from "I won't be leaving here" to "take me out." The thrusts that signal the changeover should always - ALWAYS - be accompanied by jumping in place with mad happiness. Like them over on the left.

You see, they didn't have to change the song completely. They could have started the song at the 52 second mark with the hard beats that signal the changeover. They didn't need to write an entirely different song. They could have coasted on their crisp suits and Scottish charm and still had a hit with a reduced-size Take Me Out.

Back in 2004, I got a phone call on a Friday night. My friends Monica and Hallie were going to see this new Scottish band called Franz Ferdinand the following night at the Palace in Hollywood. They had an extra ticket. Did I want to go? Of course! Monica's husband (yo Jason!) had something else to do, Hallie was inexplicably single at the time, and my then-wife was on a spiritual retreat in the Arizona wilderness. So, three young unfettered people found themselves in a spacious dark club to see a band that I knew little about, save for this very song.

I tried not to make assumptions or create expectations but I thought Franz Ferdinand were another cleverly packaged UK band of handsome lads in sharp suits who would coast on the charm of their hit single. Not even close. They were simply the tightest, most professional, rockingest live band I had seen in years. Again, they didn't have to be this good. But they were this good. Extra credit is just regular credit.  And yeah I jumped up and down like a little boy when they did that thing at 52 seconds. I always do.

Finally, how did it take me 5 years to find out that Franz Ferdinand lead singer Alex Kapranos is dating Fiery Furnaces lead singer Eleanor Friedberger? FF + FF! I'm happy they found each other. If they have a child, he/she will be so musically talented and so skilled at performing live in a spontaneous charismatic fashion that you just might see him/her appear in the upper reaches of my top 200 songs of the 2020s list in a couple of decades

The second best song of the century so far. Enjoy:

1. Math is Money - Lifter Puller (2001)
In the end, I went with my original choice. I gave you clues a while back. Remember?

I told you that the song "was not released in a traditional manner. More precisely, it was not first released as a song on an album of songs by the particular artist or band."

The amazing Math is Money first appeared on the Hangin' on the Devil's Tree compilation put out by punk magazine Your Flesh in 2001. Later, it would appear on two Lifter Puller compilations.

I also gave you the clues that the song was released in the first half of the decade (3/27/01) and that I first heard it in the second half of the decade (7/19/09).

And then I said that it is "a song performed in a particular genre by a band or artist not known for performing in this particular genre." Some may squabble with this assessment but this is a punk song. Lifter Puller was not really a punk band and if they were, it's more along the lines of "art punk" or "post-punk art-rock." Otherwise, put them in the rock or indie rock or bombastic beats categories. Nowhere on their discography do LP get this punk. Nowhere do they even get close. Sure, Roaming the Foam marries Iggy Pop and Soft Cell which seems like a punk move but gives you back something uncategorizable (and awesome) but not punk.

My final clue mentioned that the song's lyrics "include the following words":
  • and
  • a
  • smart
  • me
  • you
  • toilet
Yes I was trying to be funny with some of the words on the list. In fact, there are several top 100 songs that contain all the words here save toilet (can you name them?) For Math is Money, you can verify my clue here.

But WHY do I rank this song as the best of the decade? Me... Ali... a decidedly non-punk guy (with a healthy respect for punks in general) loving above all other music a manifesto of a group of teenaged thugs/drug dealers/rogues - the Crabs (see the title quote for this post;  the line opens the song.) Am I not the sensitive poet who likes gentle witty love songs of poignant regret? Those can be nice but sometimes I attend the very same events you imagine me running from.

This song just has so many amazing exhilarating moments. It contains weird funny prescient lyrics. And, for the hell of it, LP gives you TWO choruses and then positions them in an unexpected way (putting chorus #2 immediately after the second instance of chorus #1). The second chorus happens to be the best chorus in the history of music. 

What else do I like? The guitar that punctuates the second chorus. Slug from Atmosphere showing up for exactly 7 words - "MiM and MiM."  The way Craig Finn says "handbags" in verse 1. And at the end of the song, what about the manner in which the singer asks for amnesty once again, this time in New Bedford. He needs to be granted amnesty in a new strange place and he can't even ask politely. Misdirected frustration and anger.

After we meet the Crabs and learn their mantra ("you only get what you grab") and their big dreams ("grand to a gram if they could decimate these other gangs"), we listen to the narrator offer his very own sloganeering life philosophy, the narrator having been Peter-Panned here from all the way out in Springfield, Mass and who is not a member of the Crabs (I think). According to the narrator: "math is money and money is math." Well, I agree... if A = B, then B = A. But what if A = B is not really true and there are people more in-the-know about this than me? What then? Let's change the subject:
(pause for regroup)

"Leather vests and assless chaps" is the next line in chorus #1. Huh? That imagery was unexpected. It seems the narrator has a more complicated life than we initially thought. How the Crabs fit in, I'm not sure. Perhaps the narrator just wants to tell a story about some dudes he knows.

Then, in the next verse, the moment of truth comes. Some rich kid gets stabbed. He's lost in his eyelids. Something goes down the toilet. Someone mentions that the product is short by an ounce. And they pounce, the kids called the Crabs pounce:
This ain't smart dude, this ain't art dude
This is sonic economics and I'll put it on a graph for you to prove

The narrator (Who is he? A Crab? The rich kid? The ounce counter?), he repeats his narrator slogans. Not much has changed with the first rule: One is still money, the other math.

Okay so the deal broke down and there was pouncing. What is the narrator going to do? In verse 3, he speaks of getting Peter Panned BACK INTO Springfield, Mass. So now it's clear: when the Crabs pounced, they pounced on the narrator, at the very least. He's got to get the hell out of Minneapolis (where the Puller dudes were based back then). 

Up in Northeast Mpls., you will find the previously cited Jefferson Ave. though I gotta ask: Could they have been singing about another city? Jefferson does not seem to be the kind of street where Crabs pounce on an ounce counter with lost eyelids. But that's what my research seems to indicate. Wherever we are, everyone goes a separate way, though a couple of quiet observers note the eerie silence and make sure each man hidden in the Sunday bushes knows that he was noticed.

(Note: I have no idea what I was getting at with that last sentence. But it sounds good; I'm leaving it in.)

(I've ignored your question long enough. I will now answer you. You ask "What the hell does it mean when someone is "Peter Panned"? I thought I knew. It turns out that there are many many interpretations, the most interesting ones being the most sexual. Go ahead - read all 29 definitions at Urban Dictionary. I vote for #4 or #23, either one splashed with a bit of #15.)

All of that going on into one song, that should be enough. But we get a lot more, just like with Take Me Out. We get a second chorus. All hail the second chorus! Note: This is not a bridge; the instrumental bridge actually follows the second chorus, which goes:
Twin Cities! They're gangin' up on me

Twin Cities! They're double-teamin' me
Yeah, narrator Craig needs to get the hell out of Minneapolis (and St. Paul) and go to the relative safety of the Northeastern United States. The Crabs may be young and a certain level of stupid but they scare people. They scared me and I'm fully aware this is a song, filled with fictional events and caricatures of characters.

When "Twin Cities" is yelled out, I pump my fist. As long as no one is watching. I don't fist-pump too often. This is significant.

More of what makes this song #1: We still await word on the long and tortured mystery of why assless chaps were required or at least desired. Any LP members out there? Email me (see upper right corner of screen) and explain it, okay? 

One day I'd like to hear this song live On chorus #2, I would jump higher than I did that night I heard Take Me Out live. (Because LP is #1 and FF is #2, that's why I'd jump higher.)

Thus, one of the final songs Lifter Puller ever recorded and released is my #1 favorite song of the whole past 10 years. 

And to you math-phobes: It's true. Math IS money. Money IS math. But sometimes math and the accompanying knowledge of risks and rewards lead one to actions where math is most certainly not money; it is the absence of money. The vests and the chaps just come with the territory.

Now, my lunch break is over and I will go back to my mathematical operations consistent with statistical analyses. Which will earn me money.

If you read all 16 entries and all 100 songs, you're a saint. If you read at least half, you're on your way to being exalted.

Here's the link again for the song. Don't be afraid. Listen. It's right there / Look down. I don't want you to hurt yourself scrolling up. In a few days, once we've all had time ro reflect and rejoice, I will create a new gigantic post of all 100 songs, substituting links for actual embeds (I think) so it doesn't take 20 minutes to load for those of us with iPhones.

Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your time.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The New Year. My New Life. In List Form (not about music)

The year is 2010.
20 - 10 = 10.
The list will go up to 10.

1. I said goodbye to 2009 with such happiness. I was happy to see it go away. It was an unlucky year. 2010 has started out with cleaner kitchens, better vibes.

2. I now live on Bermuda Street. Still in Long Beach. I have a view of rooftops and satellite dishes from one window, more rooftops and antennas from another window. I like the place very much.

3. I keep trying but I still can't spend that damn Kohl's store credit. Target is easier.

4. I need someone to tell me what book I should be reading next. I usually know these things but books have bewildered me lately. But I implore you - in advance - don't suggest the dead Swedish guy or the time traveler woman or Chabon or anyone with a beard. I mean ANY kind of beard. Yes, I am very unreasonable.

5. My keys are color-coded. I like it this way.

6. This is the year that I finish watching The Wire. (Anyone have DVDs they want to send my way, go ahead. You know my street and my city. There is no apartment number. My zip code is my old one plus 12. My house number is 4 digits long and the first and third digits are identical. If one were smart enough to look at a map, one would see that my street is 3 blocks long, thus limiting the possibilities. Final clue: The first two digits are my age when I got my first 4.0 semester. The last two digits are my age when I saw my first Leonard Cohen concert.

7. I will not try to push the whole "woe was me in '09" thing too far. But my epic post about last Valentine's Day is still under construction. It is my Mona Lisa, my To Kill a Mockingbird, my  Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend... and oops I mentioned music. Twice (Cohen, Sweet). Sorry about that. But yeah - last Valentine's Day. You think you know the story but there's so much more.

8. I'm inching toward vegetarianism. 

9. The Timberwolves aren't that bad.

10. I don't want to talk about it.

"You won't lose the beat if you just keep clapping your hands": Top 100 Songs of the '00s, Part 15 of 16: #8 - #4

I do the hard work so you don't have to. After a mere two songs yesterday, I give you FIVE today.

8. The Ruminant Band - Fruit Bats (2009)
My favorite song of 2009 lands at #8, a shock considering this song didn't strike me as all that interesting the first time I heard it. I remember reading (on another blog) someone's opinion that this song could very well be an anthem for a generation. Again, upon first listen, I didn't feel the same way. But then first listen became second became third became twentieth and I think I listened to it three times just last hour. It is the anthem for a generation.

But... not so fast. On December 26th, knowing that this song was slated for a spot on the list somewhere between 5 and 9, I experienced a small panic: I had no idea what this song was about. I couldn't make out most of the words. Any generational anthem has to be about something, even if that something is mystical bluster or blustery mysticism. I noted the singing of the song's title (uttered only once, in the final verse) and I made out a few other phrases ("buckets of love" and "mustard seed" being the best). And Wikipedia told me that a "ruminant" is a mammal that chews its food, regurgitates it, and chews it again (aka chewing "cud"). It also means to "ponder" or to "chew on" a topic.

These meanings appear to have little to do with the song though. For days I searched for the lyrics and came up empty. Sure the song appears to be recognizable to thousands of people (tens of thousands might be a stretch.) But no one bothered to post the lyrics. (Yes if I just bought the CD, I'd apparently have access to a lyric sheet.)

Finally, someone came through and posted the lyrics; it appears that the song lyrics are simultaneously childlike and priestly. At other times, they seem like gibberish and then suddenly poetic. I still don't know what it means but I think they're getting at a communal vibe between man and nature, between animals and insects, between a merle and a murder. In other words, Tad, Ben, and Pete may be alone on one level but they have grubs and bread and music to carry them through, Tad clearly benefiting from the presence of an Indian girl. Or I can do a copy-and-paste and let y'all figure it out:
You'll always have smokes if you always give buckets of love
Like little sad Tad who was living on beetles and grubs
He had a blue-eyed merle
and loved an Indian girl
Lived alone in the warm wet fields in his corner of the world

You'll always eat bread if you always have seeds to sow
LIke old Zen Ben who lived with a murder of crows
He wore a crown of beans
And a belt of weeds
Slept alone in the warm wet fields on a bed of mustard seed

You won't lose the beat if you just keep clapping your hands
Like sweet sweet Pete who clapped for the Ruminant Band
He had a broken lung
And a bit-off tongue
Lived alone in the warm wet fields under moon and sun

7. Benton Harbor Blues - Fiery Furnaces (2006)
I used to think that Hold Steady / Lifter Puller lead singer Craig Finn polarized listeners more than any other vocalist. Those who love him idolize him; those who don't love him want to smack him and remove his vocal cords. I never understood people's resistance to Finn's talk-rap-shout-singing; his style fits perfectly with his (his band's) songs.

Then I noticed that the same people who disliked Finn loathed  Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces. Friedberger made it safe for me to play Finn for these folks. I have likely been de-friended by Facebook friends who can't stand the FFs but mostly can't bear to listen to Eleanor's seemingly classically trained yet jazzy in an indie-rock-sort-of-way vocal style. This truly puzzles me.

Look at her. She's a doll. She couldn't possibly rub people the wrong way. Is it the way she treats every word out of her mouth as the final word up to that point in time and nothing else needs to be said until the next word comes and so on. Like going to an opera where the singer has no short-term memory. In other words - MY kind of singer!

Of all the songs she's sung, Benton Harbor Blues may be her most subdued vocal performance (unlike say, Charmaine Champagne). You don't hear her voice until two minutes and 17 seconds into Benton Harbor Blues. And you feel the protagonist's quiet pain; you sense that these blues are real and, like most real blues, they're disjointed and static... fascinating to watch but ultimately sad. And the high temperature tomorrow in Benton Harbor is a seasonably average 23 but I bet it feels like 6.

As far as I know, her brother and main Furnace writer Matthew Friedberger is the one who penned the song and its killer of a line "I thought of the ways that I've broke my own heart" but Eleanor, by seemingly not wanting to sing those words and singing them anyway, owns the line. How do you recover from that? Breaking your own heart.

It's probably best that I never heard this song until 2009. It wouldn't have helped in 2006. By the way, I'm choosing the 7+minute epic version, with the instrumental quirks and odd pauses, rather than the more straightforward 3 minute version (Benton Harbor Blues Again) which gets more than twice as many listens as the other version on lala. I expect that my link will launch the long version up the lala play frequency list.

6. I'm Waking Up To Us - Belle & Sebastian (2001)
I wrote enough about them yesterday. Read what I wrote yesterday but pretend that their evolution to expert craftsmen was not complete... pretend that it's 2001, not 2004.

Also, keep in mind that Stuart Murdoch likely wrote this song intentionally as a "clueless narrator" whose arrogance is his downfall. Only he doesn't realize it. Sure, he sings "She was the one love of my life. And I let her go" so he knows the stakes are high. But then, in the same verse, he stops trying: "I fed her with a spoon. I made her mother smile. I helped the kid survive." He grabs the small victories where he can and lets the string section take over the longing.

(Some say that the song was written by Murdoch as a break-up missive directed toward soon-to-depart bandmate Isobel Campbell. But no one is that self-critical and self-aggrandizing in the same song. Not even Scott Weiland. No, it's a story, a story Stu can relate to, but a story all the same.) He would deal with Isobel more directly in 2006 with Dress Up In You. Enjoy the live version; it's practically identical to the real one.

5. The Wind and the Mountain - Liz Phair (2005)
I went up a mountain. And I saw another mountain. And then I saw yet another mountain. So I parked. And then my car wouldn't start. Then I got it jumpstarted but not before I got a parking ticket. They say the curb was painted yellow; I thought that was just a reflection. But the car - yeah it was a battery. I used up too much juice when I parked in the strange structure by the freeway and went to sleep. In my car. I was tired. Yeah, the strange structure is just a parking garage. But those were really mountains. And here come some more. And... NO! I've got food poisoning. Flat tire. Alone, stomach flu, car accident. "In love" vs. love. Fixed the tire but now the house key won't turn; did I take the spare and give the good one away. Left my wallet in El Segundo. Now the key works. But I'm not home. Why am I using my house key if I'm not home. Home is farther up and away. Went up a mountain. And there's another mountain. Yet another one. I stop. I gather my pen and notebook. I write something down, something that will soon be forgotten.

(What I did there was take the comically ridiculous frustrations that defined 2009 for me and addressed them in the context of the mountains-after-mountains message of the song, a message that probably should have been defined before my experiment began. Because only four people have ever heard this song and three of them are me and two people I played the song for.)

Yes. I truly love this song. It's truly inspiring. Though Liz Phair is not the inspiring type, it suits her well. I miss her. I'm counting on her comeback. How can I mount a comeback if Liz is still formulating hers?

4. I Trawl the Megahertz - Paddy McAloon (2003)
Here I take the most shameful of shortcuts: I re-post what I wrote about this song 3 years ago, with some edits:

Many of you know that one of my favorite bands is Prefab Sprout. They don't really exist anymore as a band but 4 years ago their lead singer Paddy McAloon released a solo album called I Trawl the Megahertz. In the 22-minute title track, a female narrator speaks Paddy's words. She tells his life story, a story that is poignantly sad and a bit amusing and - to me - infinitely meaningful and amazing. The piece begins:
I am telling myself the story of my life,
stranger than song or fiction
We start with the joyful mysteries,
before the appearance of ether,
trying to capture the elusive:
the farm where the crippled horses heal,
the woods where autumn is reversed,
and the longing for bliss in the arms
of some beloved from the past
(Present-day interruption: I'm told by a friend and by some cursory Googling that the song may actually be about a woman telling her own story, that this is why Paddy had such a person narrate, that it isn't necessarily about him. I'll accept this as a possibility but I can't say for sure.)

And with a beginning like that, I'm hooked. The story continues - absent father,  search for meaning, astute perceptions of the surrounding world. But ultimately there's a frustration in the story of his (her) life:
Ever the dull alchemist
I have before me all the necessary elements:
it is their combination that eludes me
Forgive me ... I am sleepwalking.
When he wrote this song, Paddy McAloon was 49 and suffering from both an unfortunate haircut and a temporary disease that caused him to be almost completely blind:
Repeat after me: happiness is only a habit
I am listening to the face in the mirror
but I don't think I believe what she's telling me
I love the sweeping European imagery of the song (since the Middle Ages) coupled with its small personal yet universal details (face in mirror, unseen). Not only has he handed the narrative duties to a woman, but he chose a young American woman, Yvonne Connors, to do the honors. And Paddy was a man who wrote and sang every one of his band's songs, a man who loved to be photographed as the embodiment of Prefab Sprout.
By day and night, fancy electronic dishes are trained on the heavens
They are listening for smudged echoes of the moment of creation
They are listening for the ghost of a chance.
They may help us make sense of who we are and where we came from;
and, as a compassionate side effect, teach us that nothing is ever lost
If he can't see and can only hear, then the lines and swirls that send the radio voices to his ears are the most important thing in the world. The universe is always here even when we - or a loved one or our ability to see - are not. It's "a compassionate side effect" which may seem like not enough but it's the most the universe (or any entity/thing) can do.

I won't give away the song's ending. The lyrics are here (just scroll down to the first song with words) and an interview with McAloon is here. If you want to hear the song, just ask me to play it for the next time you see me (assuming you have 22 minutes to spare). I can't find a good link.

Only three songs left. I know who they are. These are your clues (in NO order because there is no order yet. I have no idea what will happen):

    • One song is about danger.
    • No - make that two songs about danger.
    • I'm not sure what the third song is about.

    • One singer dates another singer mentioned in my list.
    • Another singer seemingly dates no one.
    • The other one keeps his/her private life private.
    Still don't know how they'll be ranked. But any one of them would make a fitting #1.