Monday, February 23, 2015

#tbt photos--and feelings

For the past, oh, two weeks, I've been putting up a photo on Thursday, tagged with #tbt. Which, for my parents and future anthropologists, stands for "throw back Thursday," when people post some old thing, usually (only?) a photo. (Coincidentally, I've been putting up photos for precisely as long as I've had my photo albums here with me in Austin.)

And... I don't know if I'll continue. I can't speak for everyone who does this. There's something joyous and reflective about posting old photos of ourselves and of our lives. But there's something not entirely satisfying about the nostalgia trip that these photos set up. I mean, what's the upshot of posting these photos to social sites, like Facebook? (And there's no non-social site #tbt. No one is holding #tbt parties in real life or even just breaking that old album out.)

This isn't me asking a question I have an answer to. I'm genuinely curious: what's the upshot of this sort of nostalgia? What's the benefit of sharing these old photos?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 265: Virgil Thomson, Taste in Music (#265)

Virgil Thomson, "Taste in Music" (1945) from Virgil Thomson: Music Chronicles 1940–1954:

Thomson was (I'm told by the LoA page) a composer and somewhat controversial music critic at the New York Herald Tribune.

This short (4-page) piece gives a taste of his writing style, which is heady--by which I mean, he sure does love to load up on clauses. There's a point to that, I think: it slows the reading down and makes one take time to absorb. The other way he does that is by some tiny differences that he draws attention to: the difference between a taste for and a taste in music; or how life need freedom of thought and responsibility of action (or something like that), but how intelligent criticism and consumption needs freedom of action and responsibility of thought.

For a dash of Thomson, try this, one of my favorite lines
You can always sell to the world of learning acquaintance with that which it does not know.
If that feels fussy--or fuzzy--to you, congrats! You've got some taste of Virgil Thomson. He says some interesting things about the difference between liking and admiration; and between professionals and laypeople. But... this seems of interest to people interested in the history of criticism, not to many other people.

(Also, I'll note that his comment about the "world of learning" is both true and false: people who are paid for knowing things (professors, computer programmers) may be very interested in knowing more things; but very often, they need to have some connection between the new knowledge and the old knowledge.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ethno-autobio-historico-social-music: the last mixtape, Jason Kohn's Brazil

Well, again, this mixtape is unnamed, so I could give it a name based on the cover that Jason made:

Or maybe I could name it after the music in it. After all "Chimp sex" doesn't really let you know what you're in for, but "Brazil" does capture some of this mixtape's strong Brazilian tilt.

Side A:

  1. Gal Costa e Caetano Veloso - Baby
  2. Flaming Lips - The Spark That Bled
  3. Gilberto Gil - Aquele Abraco
  4. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Raining in Darling
  5. Jim O'Rourke - Women of the World
  6. Jorge Ben Jor - Por Causa de Voce
  7. Jorge Ben Jor - Choue Chuva 
  8. Jorge Ben Jor - Mas Que Nada
  9. Outkast - Rosa Parks
  10. Palace Music - New Partner
  11. Os Mutantes - Adeus Maria Fulo
  12. Arto Lindsay - Simply Are
  13. Otto - Bob
  14. Archers of Loaf - Assassination on X-Mas Eve

Side B:

  1. Commercial - Untitled
  2. hollAnd - Turpentine
  3. Tom Ze - Gene (UI remix)
  4. Dirty Three - I Remember a Time When Once You Used to Love Me
  5. Brian Eno - Golden House
  6. Kraftwerk - Pocket Calculator
  7. Sam Prekop - So Shy
  8. Jorge Ben Jor - Take It Easy My Brother Charles
  9. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I See a Darkness
  10. Modest Mouse - Sleepwalking
  11. The Roots - You Got Me
  12. Brokeback - The Great Banks

Oh man, I just remembered that I went to the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2006 and saw Os Mutantes live. Or at least, I think I did. I'm reading the 2006 lineup and there are so many good bands on the list--Futureheads, Aesop Rock, Ted Leo, Art Brut, The National, Jens Lekman, Spoon, etc. I can't possibly have seen them all. Can I?

(I could just enjoy the mystery and unknowability, but who do you think I am, the Serial podcast? If you want to know all about my Pitchfork experience in 2006, I wrote up a report on my old blog.)

This is the last mixtape from my car; and, just like the first mixtape, there are some songs here that are carved into my skin, Kafka's "Penal Colony"-style, and some that never got in me, Kafka's "Before the Law"-style. Enough with the Kafka, already, let's talk about Modest Mouse and Kraftwerk and Archers of Loaf and Os Mutantes and the Flaming Lips and Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil and Jorge Ben Jor...

Maybe we should talk about Jorge Ben Jor since he's most represented on this tape and I don't really remember his stuff. Though now, thanks to the magic of the internet, you can find songs like "Take It Easy My Brother Charles."

And it's still good. I haven't listened to these tapes in a long time; even before I sold my car, its tape deck wasn't consistently working. (And when was the last time you heard someone say "tape deck"?) And somewhere along the way, I guess I started listening to more books on tape and podcasts. But, guys, music can be really good. That's a dumb conclusion--vague and impersonal--to a very long, specific, and quasi-personal trip through my mixtapes, but that's what I got.

That and: I miss mixtapes.

Or how about this as a thought: Before the internet made us all curators--and apologies to my friends who are actually curators!--the mixtape was the primary form of curation. Before the internet made it easy to reach out your hand (or your, ahem, Napster) and for all the music you wanted to come to you, getting music like this was a more personal or at least more physical act. Sure, it was harder back then, but there's still something very ineternety about the mixtape.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 264: Charles W. Chesnutt, A Matter of Principle (#264)

Charles W. Chesnutt, A Matter of Principle (1899) from Charles W. Chesnutt: Stories, Novels, & Essays:

I don’t know how I can say it differently, except maybe to be as explicit as possible: read Chesnutt and be a better human being.

Or maybe the second doesn’t exactly follow from the first. After all, the LoA headnote says that Chesnutt is humorous when he writes about the color line in America and sometimes tragic, whereas it seems a lot more accurate to say that Chesnutt is humorous about a tragic situation that he also emphasizes the tragedy of. 

Which reminds me of Dean Howells's response to Marrow of Tradition. I hate to go back to this (i.e., I love to go back to this), but when Chesnutt writes about a white riot and Dean Howells says that the book is “bitter, bitter,” it feels less like a problem of Chesnutt’s than a problem of Howell’s. (It’s like blaming the whistleblower for the problems of the institution. It IS blaming the whistleblower for the problems of the institution, except here that institution is American racism.)

This story is like the great movie The Women, sold with the tagline, "It’s all about the men." Here’s a story about the black community of Groveland (a disguised Cleveland) which barely mentions white people at all--but the story is really all about white-black relations. And yet, and here’s why I think you should read Chesnutt, he also brings in class awareness and gender awareness: the protagonist is a well-off, light-skinned black man who is interested in marrying off his daughter to someone who is as well-off and light-skinned.

Naturally, this being a Chesnutt story, things don’t go well for the protagonist, whose prejudice against dark-skinned blacks gets in the way of marrying off his daughter to a congressman. (Instead she marries a poor relation who has gotten into the family business, which is to say that the poor relation is marrying up and she’s marrying without moving up. So she’ll still be able to employ a white maid, like her parents do, but she’ll probably not be totally accepted by the whites.)

That praise said, I do have to note that the story does sometimes make a joke and then make sure that we understand it, which feels a little old-fashioned.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ethno... are we still doing this?: Christine McKeever's "le mix francais summer 99"

I'm not making up the title for this mix. Really, I should probably write it like "lemixfrancais," because:

Christine, you may need to correct me on this, but I seem to remember that this picture--

--was something I took in France and used on your mix. Is that correct?

(For those keeping track of how old I was when I got these mixes: while most of them are high school-era, this would've been after sophomore year of college, I guess--which, hey, was the summer I went to France to study French!)

(One minor note about that: when I got my French report card from the Institut de Touraine, my teacher noted that I hesitated and ummed and repeated myself; to which my college friend responded that he didn't think it fair for her to mark me down for that, since I did the same thing in English.)

I think this is my photo, which is why I want to make sure that no one judges Christine for the cover. There's nothing really choco or crack related to the mix; but it is very French. Or at the very least--

--it starts French--

Side A:

  1. Air, "La femme d'argent"
  2. Bjork, "Human Behavior"
  3. Soul Coughing, "Blue-Eyed Devil"
  4. Leftfield, "Release the Dubs"
  5. The Pixies, "Wave of Mutilation (surfer mix)"
  6. Violent Femmes, "Color Me Once"
  7. Franklin, "Major Taylor"
  8. Radiohead, "Meeting in the Aisle"
  9. Josh Wink, "Autumn Dayz"
  10. Cornelius, "Windy Hill"

Side B

  1. Grieg, "Aases's Death"
  2. Morphine, "I'm Free Now"
  3. Moby, "So"
  4. REM, "Lotus"
  5. Squarepusher, "Iambic 5 Poetry"
  6. My Bloody Valentine, "Joan"
  7. Massive Attack, "Daydreaming (blacksmith remix)"
  8. They Might Be Giants, "In the Flowers"
  9. Yves Montand, "Rue St. Vincent"

--and it ends French.

And the stuff in the middle is its own thing. There are some undeniable great songs / bands on here, like Bjork, whom I love almost enough to put the energy into putting the umlaut over the "o." (I'm a type nerd, but I'm typing lazy, go figure.) And also, while I own all the Pixies discography, whenever I think of "Wave of Mutilation," I think of this particular remix.

Even though there's not a huge overlap between this mix and the soundtrack to The Crow--just Violent Femmes, really--I feel like this is a good time to mention how much I liked that soundtrack, which I might have bought or might have taped off of Christine's copy.

I'm now realizing that this all probably does not fall under fair use. What's the legality of mixtapes?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 263: Gideon Welles, The Giant Sufferer (#263)

Gideon Welles, “The Giant Sufferer” (1865/1960) from President Lincoln Assassinated!! The Firsthand Story of the Murder, Manhunt, Trial, and Mourning:

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles recorded his thoughts and experiences on the assassination of Lincoln; and while this was revised by him and by his son, a 1960 version of his memoirs is (supposed to be) close to the original. And that's what we have here in this new collection from the Library of America, entirely focused on this one event.

(Which, like the volumes on WWI poetry, seems like an interesting departure for them. I'm not sure I'd be interested in this book, but I know there are some Lincoln enthusiasts who would be.)

As for Welles's recollections, they are the sort that many people may recognize from their own brushes with history or any sort of trauma:
  • initial confusion and denial (the messenger isn't making any sense, there's no way that Lincoln and Seward could've been both attacked);
  • a mix of sharp memories ("I exchanged a few words in a whisper with Dr. V. Secretary Stanton who came almost simultaneously with me spoke in a louder tone.")...
  • ...and more vague perceptions ("Several surgeons were present, at least six, I should think more.");
  • and the ever-present ordinariness pressing in.
In Welles's account, that last part has to do with the struggle for political power, or at least the appearance of struggle and politicking. Did Stanton purposely not invite him to a meeting? Did he come late for real reasons or as part of a power play? Etc.

Still, if you're looking for an argument about the power of simple language to carry maximal emotional force, you could do worse than Welles's memory of Lincoln on his deathbed:

His features were calm and striking. I had never seen them appear to better advantage than for the first hour, perhaps, that I was there. After that his right eye began to swell and became discolored.

I mean, there's a moment of almost saintly sanctity: Lincoln looks even better now that he's been martyred. And then Welles punctures the moment with that swollen, discolored eye. There's an image for you.

[Note: I missed this last weekend, so I'm putting it up late, but backdating it, so I can find it more easily.]

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ethno-memorial-musico...: Mike Pace's "Ben... The Last Mix"

Mike Pace's first mixtape was "Ben Blattburg Looks Just Like Jesus Christ." So it's only fitting that the last has some reference:

If you can't read that, it says "Ben = Jesus." The other side is blank, but we don't come to the mixtapes for the packaging. (Packaging just makes it all better.) We come for the music.

Side A:
  1. Avail, "Tuesday"
  2. Lifetime, "Rodeo Clown"
  3. J. Church, "No Surprise"
  4. Blink, "Apple Shampoo"
  5. Clockwise, "She Was"
  6. Rocket from the Crypt, "Ball Lightning"
  7. Mighty Mighty Bosstones, "Rascal King:
  8. The Suicide Machines, "So Long"
  9. Less Than Jake, "How's My Driving?"
  10. Plow United, "Plow II"
  11. Jawbreaker, "Bad Scene"
  12. Archers of Loaf, "Greatest of All Time"
  13. Frank Black, "Headache"
  14. Man or Astroman?, "Transmissions from Venus"
  15. NWA, "Automobile"
  16. Fall Victim, "3rd Movement"
  17. Willis, "Harvey Keitel"

Side B:

  1. Snapcase, "Caboose"
  2. By the Grace of God, "Fissures"
  3. Bad Brains, "Rock for Light"
  4. Snuff, "Martin"
  5. NOFX, "Last Caress"
  6. Ten Foot Pole, "My Wall"
  7. Downset, "Empower"
  8. 108, "Solitary"
  9. Silent Majority, "Polar Bear Club"
  10. Texas is the Reason, "Back and to the Left"
  11. Face to Face, "You Lied"
  12. Mephiskapheles, "Bad John"
  13. Public Enemy, "911 is a Joke"
  14. Orange 9mm, "Glistening"
  15. Christie Front Drive, "Field"
  16. Gorilla Biscuits, "Time Flies"
  17. Mighty Mighty Bosstones, "Toxic Toast"

So there's a lot here that might sound familiar from other mixtapes, like Texas is the Reason's "Back and to the Left"; others that might sound familiar just because you're culturally aware, like Public Enemy and NWA; and at least one that you probably never heard of, unless you went to my high school--and even then, you might not remember Willis. Willis was a friend's band and whenever I want to hear Jay Travis growl "Harvey Keitel," I know where to find it.

(I can't remember exactly, but Willis was either the later name of, the later form of, or the replacement for their earlier band, Ketchup Enema.)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Some Notes on Being Old

[Note: I'm interrupting my mixtape deep dive for this note on something I've been thinking about recently. Mixtape recollections will continue in my next post.]

Well, "older." Since moving to Austin and getting into web development, I've been put into the company of ::shudder:: twenty-somethings more than usual. Sure, when I was teaching composition in grad school, I occasionally taught to twenty-somethings--which was one of the things that drew me to teaching in the first place: I liked the idea of being around young people, who were curious and excited and open-minded.

None of which really describes the majority of composition students in practice. But the theory is still good.

Still, those students were students and I was their teacher; and except for one awesome group of MA students, that division clearly marked the relationship as hierarchical. (Man, when was the last time I got to use the word "hierarchical"?)

But now my roommates and colleagues and even mentors--and especially my friends--tend to be, on average, around 8 years younger than I am. And that's the highest estimate. (One of my best friends in Austin is 10 years and 9 months younger than me and won't ever let me forget those 9 months.) That and some recent life changes (hello, mid-thirties career shift!) have got me ruminating on my elder status.

And I mean ruminating in the classic herbivore sense: as soon as I think I'm done with my age as a topic--urp--here it comes again, ready to be re-chewed.

To be certain, most of the time, this is my issue, and no one really cares about it. When I started attending MakerSquare, the first few days I made comments about how old I was and no one really responded. Most of the time, my age comes up in regards to something I lived through that is a dim memory or history for them, like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the movie Titanic. But it's not like my age was a looming iceberg, overshadowing any conversation.

Except for me, it kind of was--maybe not an iceberg's blueblack shadow, but the more traditional Jungian shadow, the darkness of me that's always there. Whatever the topic was--money, education, experiences--I felt that shadow, nudging me and arching his eyebrows (he's my shadow, so he arches his eyebrows) and whispering: "You're not as far along as you should be."

"I'm going to start putting more into my 401K [you're not as far along as you should be]; and I've really learned a lot about programming in the last few months [you're not as far along as you should be]; and I could see myself as a dad [you're not as far along as you should be]; and and and-- [you're not as far along as you should be and you can't catch up]."

So yeah, my shadow can be a dick. But he's a Jungian shadow, which means he's part of me and what he's saying is just what I'm saying to myself. [Note: I don't know I've ever read Jung, but I've read Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, so that's close, right?] How do you deal with a shadow that tells you what you already believe?

I'm not sure. But I was talking to a friend recently--younger than me, naturally--and when I commented on my advanced age, she said, "Fuck that."

Which is somehow liberating. It's not repression and denial ("what age issue?") and it's not sadness and self-pity ("oh, you poor old thing"). It's recognition and moving on. Now, if you know me, you know I dislike rah-rah sentiments, so I don't want to say something like: "Sure, I'm older and not in the same position as my peers, age-wise, but I can still do things!" (Urgh, even that anemic attempt strains my rah-rah muscles.)

But here's something I can get behind and push on: as my shadow's comment indicates, my age issues are precisely located at the distance between where I am and where I think I should be--and fuck that word "should." I'm here now (urgh, I feel the rah-rah rising, bilious in its own way--another form of "should").

I recently read Brene Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection which hits on that note, an idea that has been swirling around in various fields of interest: Julia Cameron touches on it, I think, in The Artist's Way; and it's come up from various improv teachers (both in real life classes and in podcasts I listen to). You are here now and to live that story of the here-now, you have to relax your hold on the shadow stories of other lives, the shoulds and parallel dimensions. 

Here. Now.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 262: Sarah Orne Jewett, In Dark New England Days (#262)

Sarah Orne Jewett, "In Dark New England Days" (1890) from American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps:

I recently wrote a story--first draft, nothing I'll share with you--where I avoided the big action scenes (not that they were all that big or full of action) and instead wrote around them. Should I show the hero getting captured by aliens? Nah, let's show the hero in a cell instead and let everyone imagine what happened. (What happened? He got captured by aliens.)

Why? Because it doesn't really matter how he gets caught; what I was really interested in was how he and his captor would get along afterwards.

And in her own way, Jewett does something very similar. Not with aliens--I'm not that lucky. But her story of two daughters dealing with two losses gives us a very particular view of the scenes that would make up this story.

We don't see the daughters dealing with their overbearing and stingy father. We see them after his funeral. We see them uncovering the treasure he hid all these years--but then we skip the robbery and jump straight to the court case against the neighbor, given the ultra New England name of Enoch Holt. And we don't see the younger daughter's curse take effect, we hear two townsfolk talk about how the Holts have a tendency to, well, lose their right hands.

Given my taste for the Gothic and horror, I tend to love these ambiguously eerie tales of Jewett: the narrow towns, the open secrets, the simmering feuds, and the great unknowable world that envelopes it all. So here, she's certainly at her ambiguous best: is there a real curse or just happenstance? Are the daughters really visited by the cobwebby ghost of their tyrannical father?

But I'm still hung-up on the structure, which seems to capture something of the themes of the story: here we have a story where two adult daughters are waiting for something to change their lives--and it never quite happens. That is, the death of the father should free them up, should enrich their lives, quite literally with all of dad's hidden gold. And instead, poof, the wealth disappears. It's a story about absence: the marriage that never happened, the wealth that was only there for a moment, the neighbors not invited to stay the night, and the empty sleeves of the Holt family members. Goddamn, she's good.

(If you wanted to, we could connect this notion of absence with the idea of patriarchal power and the nullification of women. One of the first man-woman scenes we see is one neighbor carefully crafting her response so as not to set off her husband. Though the wife is upset, she has to cover those feelings.)

I mean, look at that final scene: two friends walking home (one will stay over because the other's husband is absent), out of breath (another absence), the landscape suffused with golden light of sunset (both a presence--gold, like dear old dead dad's treasure--and the upcoming absence of sunset), and Enoch Holt making his way across the landscape with only one good hand.