Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Not-Really-A-Review: Short Fiction from the Not-so-Distant Past

Instead of reading a novel last week, I decided to read speculative short fiction from several of the collections I have in my possession. The last two novels I read were Embassytown by China Mieville and The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, both of which are thought-provoking, dense works that, frankly, left my brain a little addled. I thought I'd read something shorter for a week and pick off some of that crispy fried goodness left on my brain. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), these stories proved to be quite contrary to my needs. These were as dense and thought-provoking and downright entertaining as the aforementioned novels - some of them perhaps more so.

J.G. Ballard, from The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard - "The Concentration City," "Deep End," "The Garden of Time," "The Atrocity Exhibition," "Plan for the Assassination of Jaqueline Kennedy," "The Drowned Giant," "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan," and "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race." The earlier stories in this group - particularly "The Drowned Giant," "Deep End," and "The Garden of Time," - concern themselves with the greenhouse effect and/or global warming, though I don't know if such terms existed - or, if they did, if they were as much a part of the public consciousness as they are now, but perhaps it is so - when these stories first appeared in the magazines. Ballard's eye for detail in "The Drowned Giant" is magnificent; and "The Garden of Time," about a man keeping a rampaging army from his gates by picking time flowers, is simply one of the best stories I've ever read. Ballard's later work is more experimental, both in subject matter and style. These pieces illuminate the sometimes tenuous and strange connections between sexual arousal, politics, and psychopaths. They are difficult to read and to understand in one sitting, but can be "rewarding" (which is hardly the right word here, but "disconcerting" or "terrifying" might not entice you to read them even a first time) if read more than once.

Theodore Sturgeon, from Dangerous Visions - "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" I've heard many great things about Theodore Sturgeon and fortunately found what most in the field consider his masterpiece, More Than Human, a few weeks ago at a used bookstore in Chicago; however, I wasn't impressed with this particular story. It had nothing to do with the story's subject matter - which makes a case for the benefits of incest and, though offensive to our notion of sexuality, Sturgeon does his best to give an opposing argument to such notions - but because I thought the narrator of the story was inconsistent from beginning to end. It wasn't that he was unreliable, which is fine by me in a narrator, but that the narrator wasn't as fully realized as a character at the beginning as much as he had at the end. Again, that might've worked, but the story began near the end with the narrator relating the story to someone else; thus, he should've been who he was at the end at the beginning. How's that for convoluted?

Sonya Dorman, from Dangerous Visions - "Go, Go, Go, Said the Bird" The story begins with a woman running from something. She knows she is about die and does not want to. In her final moments, she sees "snapshots" of her life in the frightening post-apocalyptic world Dorman has created, a world of starvation and cannibalism and strange rites and stranger peoples. Dorman rules the word, and each sentence builds on the tension of the last, but she is also able to pack a wollop of emotional depth in the story's harrowing swiftness. This was hands-down a favorite in the Dangerous Visions anthology for me.

David R. Bunch, from Dangerous Visions - "Incident in Modern" and "The Escaping" In the first story, a momentary truce has been declared by warring machine-like peoples. During this interim, a person of the flesh thanks one of the machine people's officers for letting him bury his dead without the sounds of war, thinking the cease-fire was meant for respect. Of course, it was nothing of the sort and when the machine person explains this, the flesh person is angry and embarrased. In the second story, a prisoner escapes into a fantasy of flying, of going up and up and up. As Bunch says in his afterword, both stories say "something...about truth and untruth." They're very good and very ambiguous.

Roger Zelazny, from Dangerous Visions - "Auto-da-fe" Zelazny, like Sturgeon, has a near-mythical status as a writer (see: Lord of Light, one of the greatest works of fiction in the last 100 years, seriously) but, like Sturgeon's, I wasn't impressed by this story. Though Sturgeon's had an emotional heft to it, Zelazny's was a trite affair. The concept is this: in the future matadors perform with near-sentient automobiles. Zelazny, like Gene Wolfe (see below), writes well at the sentence leve and handles a turn-of-phrase nicely, but I really thought, while reading this story, if he hadn't written this as a kind of burn-you-at-the-stake joke.

Harlan Ellison, from Deathbird and Other Stories - "Neon," "Delusion for a Dragon Slayer," "Bleeding Stones," and "The Deathbird." At the beginning of the book, Ellison advises the reader not to read all of these stories in one sitting as it would likely prove too much to handle. He's probably right. Each of these stories considers gods, goddesses, God, blasphemy, fervor, and pretty much everything inbetween. The four listed above are the only four I've read in this collection. "The Deathbird" is an experimental work, asking the question, what if Satan wasn't the bad guy, and God was a madman? "Delusion for a Dragon Slayer" is one of the most upsetting - in a good way - pieces I've read in a while because it deals with a hero who just isn't good enough and, well, a lot selfish (something I think about constantly) and the consequences. "Bleeding Stones" is a fairly ridiculous and graphic affair of a gargoyles coming to life from the tops of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan. "Neon," about a man implanted with lungs that glow after a bad accident, was anticlimactic in my opinion, though this story, out of each of those I've read, had some of the most striking images.

Gene Wolfe, from The Best of Gene Wolfe and The Fifth Head of Cerberus - "The Island of Dr. Death," "The Fifth Head of Cerberus," "'A Story' by John V. Marsch," and "V.R.T." Around these parts, Gene Wolfe is known as "Commander Ambiguous" - in that, a lot of what happens in his fiction resides in that land of "was-it-or-wasn't-it-ness." Part of the reason for this is simple: Wolfe concerns himself with themes of ambiguity: self-identity, the role of the individual in society, social norms, post-colonial thought, etc. There is no definitive right or wrong answer in questions like what is the self? or how much do you really know who we are? or where do I fit in, and how, and when? etc. Any answers are left to the individual to sort out in his or her head and will most likely differ from person to person. Just as important, Wolfe is a master at the sentence level. Each of these stories were phenomenal.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Your Monday Morning Mock Playlist #8

Oh, that weekend. Am I right, Fauxyalists? Here; have some faux musical goodness to start off your work week right. Meanwhile, your humble Fauxst begins a new journey today in the sales industry. This should be interesting, eh?

1. Al Green - "Love & Happiness" - I'm Still in Love With You
2. M. Ward - "Flaming Heart" - End of Amnesia
3. Girl Talk - "Too Deep" - Night Ripper
4. Bob Dylan - "Little Maggie" - Good As I Been To You
5. Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins - "Happy" - Rabbit Fur Coat
6. Wolf Parade - "Bang Your Drum" - At Mount Zoomer
7. DJ Shadow - "Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain" - Endtroducing
8. The Libertines - "Begging" - Up the Bracket
9. Margot & The Nuclear So & So's - "My Baby (Shoots Her Mouth Off) - Animal!
10. The National - "Fake Empire" - Boxer
11. Okkervil River - "The Rise" - I Am Very Far
12. The Beatles - "When I Get Home" - A Hard Day's Night
13. Radiohead - "Go Slowly" - In Rainbows
14. Beck - "Cold Brains" - Mutations
15. Neutral Milk Hotel - "Two-headed Boy" - In The Aeroplane Over the Sea
16. The Zombies - "Time of the Season" - Odessey & Oracle
17. Joanna Newsom - "Three Little Babes" - The Milk-Eyed Mender
18. Spoon - "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" - Gimme Fiction
19. Modest Mouse - "Here It Comes" - Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks
20. Adam Faucett - "Red Casket" - The Great Basking Shark

This Mock Playlist brought to you by clean jeans. Because nothing gives that crisp feeling like clean jeans.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Clarion +1: A Year of Writing

This time last year I was on an airplane, nervous with anticipation, for a 6-week writing "boot camp" in San Diego. I was on my way to the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop. It is an intensive workshop taught by some of the best writers in the field. The instructors during my six weeks were Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, Dale Bailey, George RR Martin, Samuel R. Delany, Jeff and Ann Vandermeer. Their insights, as well as the insights of the seventeen other classmates (all of which I'm proud to call friends and who are some of the smartest writers you'll ever read), have inspired me to not only understand what it is I do better but, simply, to do it better. With that in mind (instead of waxing nostalgic in this post because, let's face it, I miss those Clarionites every day), I'd like to post a few of my accomplishments over the past year.

Since Clarion, I've had two short stories published in Aphelion Magazine, Prime Mincer Literary Journal, and one forthcoming from Digital Science Fiction in July. The story published in DSF is a revised Clarion submission story; and the story published in Prime Mincer was the story I submitted during the final week of Clarion.

Not including these three stories, I've completed 13 short stories - most of which are in the 4,500-5,500 word range, though some are longer, nearing novelette and novella status and some are flash fiction pieces, less than a thousand words. A few of these pieces have been submitted to various markets and are awating rejections/acceptances from editors and, though some have been trunked indefinitely, most are still in the revision process. Altogether, my total word count for short stories is approximately 47,500 words.

In November, I joined the National Novel Writing Month competition, completing half of a novel at 51,180 words. To be honest, I didn't finish it because I had decided to go into the competition without a game plan. It was actually a conscious choice - I wanted to see what it was like to write without knowing anything about the story or, at the very least, having the vaguest, roughest of outlines. The outline wasn't plot-centric; the character description was for only one charater, named Moo, and it went something like this: "Moo is a thief but he doesn't know it." Beyond that and a couple of names for worlds (this was a multi-dimensional galaxy spanning story), I had nothing.

What I've done the past few weeks, however, is returned to this novel to see if there was anything worth scraping. There is, in fact, a lot worth scraping, but I don't think the novel (or half the novel) works together. About two-thirds of the way through I break from the main characters to focus on a character that, though he was secondary to begin with, kept creeping up in the text to the point where 9,000 words was dedicated to telling his story, though his story had nothing to do with the main action. Reviewing the novel has shown me that there was a lot of interesting things going on that didn't have much to do with one another and, rather than try to tie it all up in some forced bow at the end, it seems the best way to handle the situation is to create two or three novellas out of it. This is exhilarating to me for a number of reasons. Chiefly, because it has been a long time since I've written anything over 10,000 words, and I've always enjoyed longer works (yes, I am obsessive over word count). I'm also excited because I really love the voices of several of the characters - Moo, Tok Willow, Nyanna, and Balador - and am looking forward to getting back into writing about them.

One of the other lessons learned from NaNoWriMo is that I need to plan if I'm going to attempt a novel. Between short stories, I've been jotting down notes for just such a task in a faded green notebook with a bird on a limb that I markered in black permanent marker. By the end of July, I'd like to seriously start working on it. (I've always read more novel-length works than short stories anyway and, in much of the feedback from editors and beta readers, I've been told there is enough material within some of my short fiction to extend into a novella or novel. Let's hope that's true.)

My sister Mandy and I also worked on a moleskins project together. This consisted of me writing a very short story (sometimes more than one in a single volume) in a moleskin notebook, leaving blank pages at certain intervals in the tale. Mandy would draw pictures to coincide with the themes or scenes from the story. I think we made eight of these. Several sold at Spencer Bell Legacy shows my band, Tin Tin Can, performed at.

Currently, I am working on four stories. Two of them are science fiction, a third is horror, and the fourth has elements of heroic fantasy though it isn't quite that. The first of science fiction pieces, tentatively titled "The Contra-Tuba's Soul," is coming along nicely though it, like a lot of my fiction, wants to be longer than I initially thought it would be; the other science fiction piece, tentatively titled "Sleeping Bird," is in its beginning stages, even though I had the idea for it the fifth week of Clarion. The horror piece is a story I wrote at Clarion, titled "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Aye," but I never submitted it for critiques because it really wasn't a story yet - it was a piddly thing of no significance, full of gratuitous sex and violence (instead, I wrote and submitted a terribly sentimental piece about an elderly lady taken to a sock hop by an alien and which caused Jeff Vandermeer, co-instructor that week, to exclaim, in full lambasting glory, "It's as cheesy as Beaches!"). After some thought, however, I've decided to retool the story because, despite most of the action, I'm fond of the narrative voice. The sort-of-heroic-fantasy story concerns a small island village and the soldiers who return home from a war. It is a melancholic piece. It's the kind of story where all of the elements fall into place and the world is so vividly realized for me that all I really have to do is type.

Looking toward the future, I'll be working on the above-mentioned novel from my bird-on-a-limb notebook, as well as piecing together - or pulling apart, rather - the two or three novellas from the NaNoWriMo half-novel. I also have several ideas - some of which have been floating around in my head since December (and one since 2005, eesh) - for a few other novels, so I'll begin writing notes for these soon. I also hope to continue writing short fiction: thankfully, every time I fear I'll run out of ideas for short fiction, another one inevitably comes along.

So. The final word count - it always comes down to the final word count, doesn't it? - for the first year post-Clarion is 98,680 words. I've had 3 acceptances, 4 currently pending, and 43 rejections. Before Clarion I wasn't serious about writing - I had written one and half novels when I was 19, five short stories in college, and two since graduating that were rejected from one literary magazine each and trunked. In fact, I'd only decided to get serious about writing shortly before being accepted to the workshop, starting off by writing something - anything - every day, no matter what. I've done that, almost without fail, for over a year now. But, since Clarion and my wonderful classmates' and instructors' techniques and insights, I do so with a better understanding of the craft and labor of writing. Thank you all.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What's for Dinner: Steamed Tilapia on Rice & Tiramisu

Over the last few weeks, Moddang and I have been watching a lot of Iron Chef (the Japanese original) and Oliver's Twist, the cooking show starring Food Revolution's Jamie Oliver. Moddang cooks mostly traditional Thai dishes, never sparing the spice; my "expertise" lies in sandwiches - I have special concotions that include sesame salad dressing, chili sauce, and other various assortments atypical to sandwiches. After much discussion, however, we've decided to try our hand at recipes outside our safety zones. Last night was our first go at it.

Our appetizer was very simple and, in fact, took no cooking. It was Sartori's Balsamic Bella Vitano cheese sliced atop rice crackers. The cheese is mildly crunchy with a very fruity taste. The cheese itself was wonderful. The rice crackers were actually quite flavorful and, in my opinion, nearly smothered the refined taste of the cheese.

For the main course, we steamed tilapia fillets wrapped in aluminum foil. Added to the fish were diced tomatoes, fresh cilantro, a dash of extra virgin olive oil, pinches of salt and pepper. Once the fish was sufficiently steamed, we cut the fillet into chunks and placed the chunks in bowls of rice, squeezing lime juice from fresh limes over it. The great thing about tilapia is that it has a very light scent so, if you don't like fishy-smelling fish, this is the fish for you.

We got a little lazy when making the tiramisu. Instead of doing two layers, which is most common, we did only one; neither did we let it set in the fridge for 2-3 hours, chiefly because we wanted desssert right away. For our tiramisu we used one egg, separating out the egg whites, and whisked the yolk in a bowl, adding sugar. Once the egg was whisked nicely, we added half a tub of Mascarpone cheese (saving the other half in case this all went wrong), and mixed it with the yolk and sugar. We then dribbled about a shot of rum to the mix. Next, we dipped ladyfingers into coffee (you might want to use espresso though) and placed them in a glass pan (we used a round pan, but it's more common to use square or rectangular pans), and dribbled two more shots of rum atop the ladyfingers. Moddang spread melted cookies'n'cream chocolate over the ladyfingers and then spread the cheese topping over that. We sprinkled cocoa powder and crushed coffee beans on top and put it in the fridge to settle...for about ten minutes before saying "to hell with that!" and flaked some dark chocolate on it, and ate.

Everything tasted quite good, regardless of our laziness in certain areas. I don't recommend being lazy, but it was getting late and we were really hungry. Anyway, I hope we keep doing this because I enjoy cooking, to the extent that I can cook, and will try to post whatever recipes we come up with. Until next time: Don't forget to masticate!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tin Tin Can Recording: Father's Day Sessions, Day 2

Our second day of recording was a 14-hour session. It was initially plagued by some technical difficulties, but our engineer and studio owner, Mark Baykian, is pretty quick fellow and the difficulties were fixed in no time. The band set a grueling pace, doing take after take after take of each song. I think we got some really excellent stuff to tape, and I know the five of us are excited to share it with the world. We'll be working on vocals and overdubs over the next few sessions.

Here are some interesting things to note about the recording sessions:

1) We used two and a half reels of 2" analog tape to record the songs on.

2) A D19 mic was used to record scratch vocals with; this is the same mic used in a lot of Beatles recordings.

3) The cats' names are Lucky and Mikra. They did not allow their pictures to be taken.

4) Chris's guitar was recorded in an echo chamber beneath the studio, not unlike a dungeon.

5) Mike tuned a piano.

Here are some pictures of Day Two:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Your Mid-Week Mock Playlist

Fear not, Fauxyalists, Day Two of the Father's Day Session with Tin Tin Can will be posted soon (once blogger allows me to upload pictures again!). In the meantime, here is a list of the records we listened to on our way to Detroit, both weeks, in no particular order. Your Fauxst is working from memory here: apologies if a record is left out.

Away we go!

1. The Black Fortys - Jnana Veda
2. Arcade Fire - Funeral
3. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
4. The Pixies - Surfer Rosa
5. Sleeping in the Aviary - Great Vacation
6. Paul McCartney - Ram
7. Outkast - Stankonia
8. My Morning Jacket - Circuital
9. Man Man - Life Fantastic
10. Bob Dylan - Hard Rain
11. Ben Folds Five - Whatever and Ever Amen

Your Fauxst can remember no more. This Mock Playlist brought to you by yummyinmytummy.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tin Tin Can Recording: Father's Day Sessions, Day 1

These next few posts will mostly be pictures because, umm, recording is hard and hasn't left me with lots of free time. We worked diligently for thirteen hours yesterday, getting some really good takes on songs; today will be no different. I will have a rundown of antics and other nefarious deeds done in Pontiac later this week. Until then, enjoy these. I'll post more as time allows.

Mike tuning up.

Mike's guitar pedals. I'll see if I can get a pic of the elusive Chris B.'s tomorrow.

 Mike and Pierce in the studio.

The head and cab. It sits high up and away from all the rest of the amps, in the cold mountainous regions of the studio.

The carefully placed paperback and money. This book is amazing! So is that money!

The elusive Chris B., blurred and shrouded by the flash of a camera, as always.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tin Tin Can: Hot Town

"Hot Town" is a song we don't play live much these days. However, we've discussed bringing it back into the set, with some retooling. HOT TOWN FUN FACT: In the lyrics, I mention "Marion," a town east of Carbondale, IL where I went to school. It always seemed like a town of drifters to me, more so than Carbondale, because of its proximity to I-57. It's also home to Marion State Prison.

Thanks to alynnmonk for posting this video.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tin Tin Can: Animal Bones

For the next two days, I'll post a video of Tin Tin Can performing as we begin the trek to Detroit for the Father's Day Recording Sessions. The first video is of "Animal Bones," from Confetti Machete EP. ANIMAL BONES FUN FACT: Inspiration for this song struck from Chris's constant noodling. Justin said, "What's that you're playing?" Chris said, "I'm just messing around." I like to think that's how the universe was made too.

thanks to melliehays for posting the video.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tin Tin Cat at the Viaduct

The Viaduct was one of our weirder shows. The venue is typically for theater performances and there was a stage set into one wall with lots of open space around it and a smattering of chairs set against the other walls. Also, it was very dark. Looking out from the stage was like looking down a mineshaft or into a dark cavern. We played well, which is the important thing, but it was a very surreal experience. It really did feel like, at any moment, a stalactite might fall from the ceiling and split the top of my head wide open; or an illuminated, blind fish might wriggle out of the depths and onto the stage, flapping and flipping about.

So, then. The photos.

Don't forget: I'll be blogging and tweeting from inside the studio as Tin Tin Can works on our upcoming full-length this Saturday and Sunday. Look out!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tin Tin Can at Empty Bottle

So begins the countdown to Detroit. I'll be posting something Tin Tin Can-related for the rest of this week, as well as blogging about the recording process this Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, so be ever-watchful of this blog. Or don't. That's okay too.

Anyway, here are some photos of Tin Tin Can performing at The Empty Bottle in Chicago.

 Above: One of the walls in green room at The
Empty Bottle. To the right and just below the
jellyfish is "Tin Tin Can" in Thai.

Right: Let me tell you a secret about being up on
that stage: it is hot. Damn hot. And the lights are
bright. Damn bright. And my throat was parched.
Where was my beer?

In the green room feeling lonesome without the band.

Mike sings background and Chris looks very studiously
at his guitar.

More of dapper guitarists, Mike and Chris. Adorable, really.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What Happens in Kearney, Stays in Kearney

A few weeks ago Moddang, my mother, and I traveled to Kearney, NE to celebrate my daughter Nova's 10th birthday. The Ramada we stayed at had two weddings that weekend. Moddang and I were fortunate enough to accidentally wander into one while the bride was walking down the aisle. Oops.

There was much swimming in ice cold pools and pizza and ice cream; there was even a frantic search for the elusive "Nookman's Books." Here are some pictures not of those events with witty(?) captions.

Above, left: This is out side the Children's Museum of Kearney, though I don't know why this "Surf Shack" is here. It was cold that day and, umm, it's Nebraska. Unless...corn-surfing, perhaps?
Above, right: Moments after this picture was taken, I collapsed. I have weak arms.

I think this picture speaks for itself.

It turns out the Children's Museum is really more for those 3 year olds. Nova pretty much made fun of everything. I, clearly, fit right in.

 My mother playing a "Yankee Doodle" fugue.

Yes, I am that guy. "Put the helmet on or no ice cream, dearie. I don't care if you're embarrassed."

 This was the coolest thing the Children's Museum had to offer and, as you can see, not that cool. I do like beetles and moths, but I've seen better.

At The Big Apple, Nova played some sort of Price is Right rip-off. Did she get the 1,000?

It's hard to see, but there were tons of these windmills in the Iowan countryside. Our great-great-grandchildren will call these "windmill graveyards."

Your Monday Morning Mock Playlist #7

Good morning, Fauxyalists! Your Fauxst has been away for awhile, but now he's (I'm) back. Where did he (I) go, you're (you're) asking? Well! Let me tell you about a little place called Blind Knife. It's exact coordinates I do not know, but I can tell you it is a city somewhere east of Plum Island and south of Greenland. I don't know if it's underwater, perhaps it is. I breathed easily enough, however. Anyway, it is a city famous for its salt (of which I am bloated on) and its silk (of which I bought many green and gold scarves), and, perhaps most of all, its pork sausages (of which I am also bloated on). I followed a girl there. It's a simple story, really, involving kidnapping on the cattle seas by that most dubious of picaroons, Cap'n Ten Mouths, and his beetle-legged pirates; an unexpected death and an expected one; an evil archaeopteryx who flew in darkness, his poisonous prehistoric excrement raining upon the city; a daring (and unsuccessful) rescue by pear tree; a parting sausage filled with sliced pig kidneys and heart; et cetera.

Anyway, here is your first Mock Playlist in six months. Enjoy!

1. Arcade Fire - "Ready to Start" - The Suburbs
2. The Brian Jonestown Massacre - "She Made Me" - Methodrone
3. Radiohead - "Scatterbrain (As Dead As Leaves)" - Hail to the Thief
4. The Streets - "Who Got the Funk" - Original Pirate Material
5. Pavement - "Gangsters & Pranksters" - Wowee Zowee
6. Modest Mouse - "Four Fingered Fisherman" - Sad Sappy Sucker
7. Sun City America - "Voice of America #1" - Horse Cock Phepner
8. James Blake - "I Mind" - James Blake
9. The National - "Mr. November" - Alligator
10. The Notes & Scratches - "The Finest Words" - To The Other Side
11. Avey Tare - "Cemeteries" - Down There
12. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - "Lament" - The Good Son
13. Animal Collective - "But You'll Fly" - Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
14. Weezer - "Tired of Sex" - Pinkerton
15. Surfer Blood - "Catholic Pagans" - Astro Coast
16. Kurt Vile - "Hunchback" - Childish Prodigy
17. Bill Callahan - "All Thoughts Are Prey to Some" - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
18. Brother Truck - "Around the World" - The Knave
19. Paul Simon - "Let Me Live in Your City (Work-in-Progress)" There Goes Rhymin' Simon (Bonus Tracks)
20. Muslimgauze - "Last Mosque of Herzegovina" - Sufiq

This Mock Playlist is brought to you by White Gourd Drink. It's a product of Malaysia; it'll give you synesthesia.

Friday, June 10, 2011

10 Hilariously Bad Songs (to me)

For your Friday, I present to you, 10 Hilariously Bad Songs (to me):

Rush's "The Spirit of Radio"
Geddy Lee has one of the voices that, when goes high, just makes me laugh. This could list could be filled with Rush songs, but this one has an hilarious opening guitar riff, a reggae-ish breakdown, and the lyrics, right before the guitar solo, are a silly homage to "The Sounds of Silence": "For the words of the prophets are written on the studio wall - concert hall - and echoes with the sound of salesmen. Of salesmen!"

Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"
What else need be said about this song? Rod Stewart sings it. It's called "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" It was the late 70s when, apparently, anything went.

MC Hammer's "Pray"
Full disclosure: as a 10 year old, I loved MC Hammer. I thought he was top of the pops. I once remarked to my younger sister, "Whenever I feel down and out, I listen to 'Pray' and feel better."

Meat Loaf's "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)"
Hilarious opening piano line a la Bruce Springsteen at his most dramatic! Squealing guitars! Powerhouse drums! And then, and then, Meat Loaf's ridiculous vibrato. This really is a bad Boss song. Oh, Meat Loaf, you may not do "that" for love, but what won't you do for money (see: Celebrity Apprentice)? Also, why is this song so incredibly long?

The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive"
Like Geddy Lee from Rush, Barry Gibb's falsetto is a thing of sheer awesome comedy. And the swagger of the rhythm section in this song is really great too. My listening experience of this song is forever linked to John Travolta shaking his ass. (Sidenote: Saturday Night Fever is a really, really good movie, despite this song.)

Huey Lewis & The News's "A Couple Days Off"
There is nothing not funny about this song. It's like Dire Straits meets Buster Poindexter. When Huey sings, "Yeah eeeee yeah!" I bleed laughter.

Cheap Trick's "I Want You (To Want Me)"
Most people are familiar with the live version of this song, as it's the only one radio stations play, but the studio recording of this song is the one that's particularly hilariously bad. The singer, for whatever reason, decided it was best to sing like a dead fish on a beach until the chorus, where his faux-scruff makes him sound more like a petulant child than a singer with grit. Then there's the end of the song, the fade out, which is pretty funny too.

REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Lovin' You"
My high school band played a "Star Search" contest in a downtown Bloomington hotel. It was our high point: we werer sixteen and pretty naive, but even then I knew it was a joke, a scam, ridiculous. One of the other bands playing there was AKA and the drummer was the drummer (one of myriad, I suppose) from REO Speedwagon. I haven't respected REO since. Oh...this song. It's stupid.

Boston's "Cool The Engines"
Ahem, full disclosure, again: I loved Boston. Loved Boston. I still like their first record. But, let's face it, Third Stage makes a mockery of what was once a great band. And "Cool The Engines" is the centerpiece. Why wasn't this song in Top Gun? Screw Kenny Loggins. (Also: why is that Bradley Delp can sing super-duper high and it doesn't make me laugh, but I split my sides every time Geddy Lee does?)

Barry Manilow's "Avenue C"
Why would you do this to Count Basie, Barry? Why???

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Books Is Cool

I haven't had time to review all of the books I've read recently. For now, here is a quick rundown what I have read over the last couple of months and some I'm looking forward to reading soon. I hope to get reviews in for most of them, but preparations for and the act of, recording has been taking up a lot of my free time - that's a good thing, even if it cuts into writing for this blog.

So, without further adieu, here is a short list of books to consider (or not, depending on your opinion of me or this blog):

Books I've Read Recently:

Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine
Really loved this book. It follows a steampunkish circus (albeit without the "steam"; would "circuspunk" or "clockworkpunk" be more apt?) in a war-torn world. A private war is also waged over a set of glorious wings. Valentine writes with skillful grace.

The Door to Lost Pages by Claude Lalumiere
This set of interlinked stories runs the gambit of style - between pulp-ish to literary. The danger here is that some of the stories, somewhat sloppily executed, don't add to the larger context.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
There are some really fun, inventive and wholly original ideas at work this is over-the-top SF novel, but, unfortunately, I didn't connect with any of its characters. A shame, because I was genuinely excited for Rajaniemi's book.

Embassytown by China Mieville
A book about language, you say? Sound cliche, well-worn, SF trope? Mieville is at the top of his game here. It's one of the best books I've read all year with one of the most original alien species I've encountered in SF - that, friends, is only the tip of the iceberg of awesomeness going on in this novel. If you can get past its, at times, "exposition-y" sections, you're going to love it.

The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories by Angela Carter
Carter is famous for exposing what she has said is the "latent content" of folk- and fairytales. Within these pages, you'll find stories based on "Beauty & the Beast," "Bluebeard," "Little Red Riding Hood," and more. Dark and twisted stuff here.

We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ
I found this short novel to be of disturbing quality. A group of people traveling in space are suddenly thrown off course. They find a planet. They decide to live on it. Except the narrator: she decides to die on it. Russ's insights as the predicament unfolds are enlightening and terrifying. One of my favorites of the year (though it was originally published in 1977).

The Jewel-Hinged Jaw by Samuel R. Delany
This book of essays and criticisms on the "language of SF" are "jaw"-droppingly awesome. In particular, I've loved the essay "Faust and Archimedes" wherein Delany expounds upon the differences and similarities in Thomas M. Disch's and Roger Zelanzy's writings, likening their works to the title figures of the essay. Everything here is fantastic, however, and worth reading if you like SF or literature at all.

Books I'm Looking Forward to Reading

Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison
For being a Grandmaster of SF, Ellison's works sure are hard to find and I'm not a big fan of ordering online (yet). I like going to used bookshops and perusing the shelves, finding bent-up, worn-and-torn treasures. I found this book at a store in Kearney, NE, of all places. (Actually, I found 17 SF books there, most of which are out of print or not available at the local Borders, and bought them all.)

The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz
I've had this book since Christmas and have been waiting for the right time to read it. Now seems the right time. It concerns a trip to an unnamed island where the islanders make no distinction between "reality and representation." I can't wait!

The Book of the New Sun: Volume 1 & 2 by Gene Wolfe
I have only heard how wondrous these books are, but I have refused any information offered of their subject matter. I love Gene Wolfe's short stories and, as is aforementioned, am assured of the awesomeness contained within these books.

Up Against It by M.J. Locke
I'm hoping this novel is somehow a counterpoint to Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (another of my favorites this year, reviewed here in May, and released this month), in that both books are concern asteroid colonies. Other than that I don't know much about the book (though I own it), but I loved Locke's novella in global warming anthology Welcome to The Greenhouse.

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Of course. Yes. If you haven't read these books or watched the HBO series, get thee to a bookstore/Amazon or a subscription to premium cable because you must. All must. It is the only way, now.

Looking forward to reading books is, of course, an endless list. I could go on, mentioning these: The Magicians, Love in the Time of Cholera, Illuminations, The Savage Detectives, Your Face Tomorrow... and on and on and on, but I won't. What've you been reading? What are you looking forward to?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Recording in Detroit

This past weekend Tin Tin Can were in the Motor City to record demos of the song that'll make up our upcoming full length. We recorded 11 songs at Magnetic Studios. I could tell you it was a seedy area of town, but it's Detroit, so... When we got there, the owner of Magnetic, Mark, was laying down tar (I think) on the potholed side alley. Beneath the alley is the echo chamber he's been working and where Chris's guitar will most likely be recorded when we return in two weeks.

Altogether we'll have 13-14 songs (we recorded a few previously) to choose from after the Father's Day Recording Sessions. After these sessions we're hoping to have to do some only some vocal work and overdubs on a few things and then it's just mixing and mastering to finish it. I'm going to give any specifics on release dates because we've done that in the past and, obviously, time has proven us wrong. But we're very excited about these songs (some of which no one has heard as yet) and we're doing our best to get it in your hands.

Magnetic Studios was, once a upon a time, a venue for live music. There is a balcony-of-sorts with vintage sofas for lounging in. There are cool little tables and booths on the ground level. There are two cats - one black, one black and white - who love to have their backs scratched.

Here are some more photos of the band during the sessions.

Review: Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott

Last Dragon, the debut novel from J.M. McDermott, is a visceral, magical, and at times indefinable, experience.
At first glance, the “plot” (in quotes because the story is only marginally concerned with it) is simple enough: Zhan, a warrior-in-training from the north land of Alameda, discovers that her grandfather has savagely murdered her entire family, excluding her Uncle Seth, a shaman; Zhan journeys south with Seth to bring her grandfather to justice. However, Last Dragon’s nonlinear structure—relying on the beauty of a mosaic, a constant folding in on itself—and Zhan’s unreliable narrating create tension making an otherwise formulaic fantasy story sizzle.
The story is recounted through a series of vignettes written by an imprisoned Zhan, as morbid love letters to Esumi, her former lover. How and why Zhan is imprisoned is important and the revelation unexpected; however, what’s strange about it is the incident that led to her imprisonment takes place outside the events contained in Last Dragon. Regardless, the animosity toward and—contradictory—pleading for Esumi to respond to her letters adds complexity to Zhan’s character early on: “Esumi, you have promised me forever, too. Where are you now? You choose an empire over your own heart. This pain I endure every day, where you are missing, is more painful than any cough.” And later: “Should I tell you anything? You who does not write to me. You do not speak to me. You whom I love. You, my love.”
There are several beginnings to Last Dragon, but McDermott has chosen to begin with Zhan in the southern city of Proliux, already having been separated from Seth. Zhan lives on the streets, searching in vain for her grandfather. Here, she meets Adel—a well-connected woman with a dubious past, who was once a paladin of the last dragons. Sympathetic to the young Zhan’s cause, Adel agrees to help her find her uncle and grandfather.
The story then folds back on itself, beginning again with Zhan and Seth as they travel south through the forests and hard lands of Alameda. Eventually, they find passage on a ship heading south to Proliux. Because Zhan was training to become one of the warrior-women of her people, she must rely on Seth’s recollections of how her grandfather had murdered her village. But Seth is a moody shaman and mostly silent on the matter, instead keeping to himself. Indeed, as they reach their destination, Seth intentionally loses Zhan in the crowded docks. With Adel’s help, however, Zhan eventually finds Seth living with Staf Sru Korinyes the gypsy.
It is rumored that Zhan’s grandfather may live under the protection of a Proconsul, one of the city’s leaders. Adel, having once been married to such a Proconsul, is able to get Zhan and Seth an appointment, to see that justice is done. Korinyes, a suspicious woman by nature, believes Adel may have other motives in play here. Regardless, Zhan seems to trust the paladin implicitly. However, Korinyes’s suspicions are not far off.
The Proconsuls have hired mercenaries to invade northern Alameda and conquer it for Proliux. Knowing this, Zhan and her small troupe journey north, managing to stay one step ahead of the encroaching armies, hoping to make contact with Prince Tsuin, the one who might be able to stave off invasion. If there is a flaw in this tale, it’s here: the motivations behind conquering a cold, hard land are never satisfactorily explained, except that conquering lands is what empires do.
Along the way, in the frozen north, Adel relates to Zhan the last moments of the last dragon: “His wings were cobwebbed with war wounds, and I don’t think he could fly anymore.” She also tells Zhan that “dragons live a long time because when they eat a person they acquire the life of the person. They never eat evil, or feebleminded things.” This conversation between Adel and Zhan is crucial to the story because it also asks the question: who is the dragon and who is the ant? Who eats whom?
Last Dragon moves around and beyond and around Zhan’s encounter with her grandfather. This, like the conversation about dragons, is a heavy experience, and one that shapes Zhan thereafter. Yet, the telling of it is difficult. As she explains, “My fingers are like spiders drifting over memories in my webbed brain. The husks of the dead gaze up at me, and my teeth sink in and I speak their ghosts. But it’s all mixed up in my head.” As two or three plot threads knot together, a new thread (or two) unravels. This process of knotting and unraveling is continuous throughout Last Dragon, so much so that even the end of the story is also a beginning.
In other words, Last Dragon requires a healthy amount of focus from the reader. This is not something that should deter; rather, a concentrated reading rewards the reader with deeper insights into Zhan’s motivations as her world changes around her. Make no mistake: McDermott’s gorgeously poetic prose is most certainly compelling, though some might deem this a “difficult” novel. The only thing difficult about it is that every sentence, every word, carries weight. Though it may, in some instances, rely on fantasy tropes (read: dragons and magic and smelly cities and epic quests), this cannot be stressed enough: Last Dragon is foremost a reading experience and, if engaged with appropriately, an entertaining one too. Recommended.

Friday, June 3, 2011

5 Terrible Movies & What Makes Them Terrible (to me)

1. The Fountain, directed by Darren Aronofsky
This film is a giant tragic spitwad. Not only does it have some of the worst acting by an already bad actor, Hugh Jackman, but it is so poorly edited and its script so hilariously shallow, the concepts it tries to portray (love and mortality, I suppose) are utterly confused. Well. Maybe that's the point. And maybe with a better cast and a stronger script, the interwoven storylines might've worked. Apparently, the script went through several drafts over several years; perhaps Aronofsky should've worked on it a little more, or perhaps, not quite as much. There are some really pretty scenes though.

2. X-Men III: The Last Stand, directed by Brett Ratner
After Xavier dies there is a scene of his wheelchair in his office or whatever with some sad music playing. I laughed so hard in the theater at this ridiculous moment that, not only did the two friends I was with begin laughing, several rows of people in front of and behind us snickered and giggled as well. That's how bad this movie is.

3. Atonement, directed by Joe Wright
Atonement has an amazing five-minute tracking shot two-thirds of the way into the film. It's a beautiful, moving moment of soldiers on the beach at Dunkirk. Unfortunately, it's really the only thing that's worth watching in this film. Otherwise, I found the film messy and stilted; in particular, the plot and its "twist" at the end were so ridiculous that any sort of meaning or resolution was lost to me.

4. 300, directed by Frank Miller
I haven't counted how many times Gerard Butler screams "Sparta!," but I'm pretty sure it's around 90, which is almost once per minute. The film is historically inaccurate in a lot of ways, not that that always makes a film suck, but add to it the stupid dialogue, the over-the-top special effects and the portrayal of the Persians, and what you have is a trite action-packed film that is unaware of its own ignorance.

5. Garden State, directed by Zach Braff
This film supposedly has all the quirk and charm of an "indie" movie and the sappiness of your typical Hollywood rom-com, which is apparently why it has had such mass appeal. I don't think the film has much of either of these characteristics and, the parts it does emphasize, I found to be grossly amateurish. Granted, it's Braff's first script and he may, if he continues to write and direct, make something less pretentious and less like "a kid who's watched too many indie movies," but until then, this is what we have. And it isn't original or compelling.

Do you agree or disagree with any of these? Why? What movies have you seen that are terrible and why?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

10 Songs I Personally Despise

There are some songs which I loathe. I mean loathe; say it long and slow, say it with eyes rolled, say it with your head tilted back slightly, as if the mere thought of these songs leaves you lightheaded with contempt. It doesn't matter their position in the canon - some are iconoclastic, while others are widely regarded as la musique terrible. Of course, everyone has their opinion (and that's all this is) and you may find yourself disagreeing loudly with me (especially for the number one loathsome song on this list). You may call me a fool, my rationale unjustified. Perhaps your faith in my musical ability (should you find yourself with such faith in the first place, which is, in itself, a bit strange, don't you think?) will have been shook. But, in the end, these ten songs...just...suck.

So, without further adieu, ten songs that I hate the most:

10. America's "A Horse with No Name" - "The heat was hot," is an actual lyric in this song. The song is quintessential late 60s/early 70s crappy popular music, even including Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young harmonies.

9. The Eagles' "Take It to the Limit" - So incomprehensibly bad. It's like adult contemporary went adult contemporary on itself. It's the strings that really make me cringe. A real shame that Paul Simon's album, Still Crazy After All These Years, has hints of this exasperating foulness. It's just embarrassing.

8. Chicago's "You're the Inspiration" - Why? No, seriously, why? Every time I hear those terrible 80s drums kick in, a little piece of my soul hangs itself. Then, what's next? Ahh yes: echoed voices. The key change climax. Utter cheese.

7. Joel Walsh's "Life's Been Good" - I'll admit, that guitar riff is almost kind of cool. Almost. Even the acoustic breakdown, though it's a little reminiscent of anything Led Zeppelin. But then Joel Walsh starts singing about all the perks of being a rock star. Well, okay. I guess I just don't care.

6. The Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling" - Really, it's the melody of this song that I can't stand. It sounds like a lullaby, which is probably the point, which is why I despise it.

5. Nickelback's "Rock Star" - Everything about Nickelback is bad. I could've chosen any song off any of their records; instead, I chose the most ridiculous song I could find. Who is that low-voiced idiot that speaks between Chad Kroeger's "sweet" melodic lines? "Tell me what you need," he says. Please, sir, stop.

4. Staind's "It's Been Awhile" - The acoustic version of this song was popular when I was in high school, and my friends and I couldn't help but parody it as much as possible. I mean, can that guy even play the guitar? Also, his voice is terrible.

3. Phil Collins's "I Can't Dance" - How could the man responsible for "In the Air Tonight" have made this rubbish? The guitar riff is lame, the lyrics are dumb. The song has faux-soul, it has no soul. Whenever I hear this song on the radio - which is, thankfully, quite rare - I turn the volume way up and just fume. (Do you thikn the video is intentionally hilariously stupid because even Phil Collins knows what a travesty he's created?)

2. Avril Lavigne's "Complicated" - Does anyone like Avril Lavigne anymore? I think we all see through the "dangerous enough for mainstream" punk, right? But this song...I mean...It's complicated. Wait - no, it isn't. I'm actually listening to this song as I type and I'm grinding my teeth so much I can barely write. Something about her voice, especially during the chorus, kills me.

1. The Eagles' "Desperado" - I hate this song. Always have. It is the worst song I have ever heard. From the opening piano chords to the first line of the song to the last. Ultimately, it is simply lame and, unsuprisingly for The Eagles, full of cheese. One of my music professors in college performed this song on his acoustic guitar for a few of us after choir practice and it was everything I could do not to smash his guitar and run screaming from the room. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic. But still. I hate this song.

Honorable Mentions:

Hootie & the Blowfish - "I Only Wanna Be With You"
James Taylor - "Fire and Rain"
The Eagles - "Take It Easy"

Now, you're asking yourself: aren't there hundreds of worse songs than these? What about anything Bieber? Haven't I heard Rebecca Black's "Friday?" Yes, yes, I will tell you. There is much cringe-worthy music being produced today, much of them huge hits; however, the above despised ten songs are songs I've lived with for years and, in some cases, years. Obviously, I hate The Eagles. Something about the music and their voices, the melodies and lyrics, really pisses me off. Oh, it feels so good to get that off my chest.

These songs are so bad they aren't funny, but in a few days, I will have ten of the most hilariously bad songs for your reading pleasure.

So...what songs do you just loathe?