Sunday, December 30, 2012

Falling Into Place

Often I find that nearing the end of a manuscript can be the hardest. I have no problem beginning a novel. If all I ever had to do was to write the first fifty pages of a story, I'd excel at it. I love the sense of mystery the comes with leaping into the middle of a story and slowly unraveling what exactly is going on. But the end...that is a place where great care is needed, unlike the reckless fury of beginnings. 

It's not that I don't know how a story is supposed to end. Okay, sometimes I don't know how it's supposed to end, but usually I know generally where the manuscript is supposed to go for its big finale, even if I don't know what happens once I arrive. But the real challenge is constructing the elements that get you to that big finale. 

As I approach this critical point in the manuscript I'm working on, there have been several critical pieces of puzzle that I'd been trying to figure out how to fit together. During my brief holiday vacation, I kept running different scenarios, playing the old what if this happens, and this happens, and then this happens game. That game never quite gives me a solution, but it does provide me something to work with. I was able to solve one important piece of the puzzle and once I had that, the others began to fall into place over the next few days. Now, after what feels like months of confusion, a clear path to the conclusion seems in sight. 

A steady hand on the wheel should guide me home....but of course, shipwreck lurks around every corner when navigating the waters of novel writing. We shall see.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas...

Happy Holidays...
May You Dream of Great Things!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup (Songs of the Year)

Though the end of the year is still over a week away, it's time to collect and gather the individual songs that I couldn't get out of my head this year. And even though I have a slew of albums to listen to before I can make my final Best of the Year list, the songs are not going to change, as one week is hardly enough time for a song to become infectious. Well, that's not completely true I suppose, but it certainly isn't enough time to knock any of these others off. Please enjoy, but be warned, you may get hooked on the sheer awesomeness of these tracks.

Guided by Voices - "Blue Babbleships Bay" from the album Class Clown Spots a UFO.

The Hives - "Come On" from the album Lex Hives.

Sivert Hoyem - "Where is My Moon?" from the EP Where is My Moon?

Jason Molina - "First Footing" from the album Autumn Bird Songs.

Andrew Bird - "Give It Away" from the album Break It Yourself

Andrew Bird - "When That Helicopter Comes" from the album Hands of Glory.

Nacho Picasso - "Naked Lunch" from the album Lord of the Fly.

Blur - "Under the Westway" from the single Under the Westway.

John Frusciante - "Ratiug" from the album PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone

The View - "Tacky Tattoo" from the album Cheeky for a Reason.

Jack White - "Sixteen Saltines" from the album Blunderbuss.

The Wooden Sky - "Angelina" from the album Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Driftin' Back" from the album Psychedelic Pill.

Yeasayer - "Reagan's Skeleton" from the album Fragrant World.

Langhorne Slim - "Coffee Cups" from the album The Way We Move.

Langhorne Slim - "Song for Sid" from the album The Way We Move.

Fiona Apple - "Every Single Night" from the album The Idler Wheel Is Wiser...

Silversun Pickups - "Make Believe" from the album Neck of the Woods.

Ruby Throat - "Shoe" from the album O' Doubt O' Stars.

Alexander Ebert - "Truth" from the 2011 album Alexander.

Friday, December 21, 2012

'Tis the Season for Strange Movies

Like gifts and ornaments, food and decorated trees, the holiday movie has always been part of the Christmas tradition for me. This year, I've steered clear of my usual suspects and decided to watch some of the lesser standards that I'm not as familiar with. By "lesser standards" you can read "completely strange and bizarre movies." With exception of Micky Mouse's Christmas Carol, I've watched two really odd movies, ones that prove studios will make script if they think they can tie it into that Christmas cash that flows freely this time of year.

First up on the list is The Nutcracker, a rarely seen 2009 piece of surrealist cinema. I remember reading about this in Entertainment Weekly's Holiday Movie Guide a few years ago and thought it sounded great. The look of it reminded me of the Narnia movies and the idea of bringing this fairy tale ballet to the screen seemed really promising. So when I got a few free months of Showtime recently, I saw this on the schedule and recorded it. 

Words can't really describe this film. It was part family entertainment, part CGI mess, and a good dose of Terry Gilliam-esque weirdness. There were so many strange choices made in the editing room on this one that I found myself wondering what it was I was watching. It couldn't decide if it wanted to be a fairy tale or some twisted version of Pink Floyd's The Wall

Some highlights of strangeness include John Turturro's amazingly odd Rat King, Elle Fanning interacting almost entirely with computer generated characters, and Nathan Lane as Albert Einstein (yes, you read that right). There are two moments in the movie where his character address the audience for no apparent reason, and then it never happens again. Rat soldiers riding on motorcycles and talking in thick Brooklyn accents, even though the movie is set in Vienna. Alice in Wonderland-like size shifting, which loses all of its logic about half-way through the movie. And two out-of-context allusions to Freud being somewhere off screen, though given the Snow Fairy's scene with Elle Fanning, perhaps not so out-of-context after all.

This definitely isn't a good movie, but that said, I was thoroughly entertained. I can only imagine the confused joy that would have greeted me had I seen this in the theater, in glorious 3D.

The other movie I watched recently was the 1979 animated Jack Frost, done by the same makers the beloved Rudolph movies. I'd seen this as a kid and remembered it being one of the stranger ones. So naturally, I also recorded this off the TV.

The oddness hits right at the beginning. That's because the first several minutes make one believe they recorded the wrong movie because it's all about Groundhog's Day. But by a convoluted twist, we go back in time to a Christmas past when Jack Frost fell in love and wanted to be a real human. 

The most amazing sequence in this movie is the visit to Father Winter's kingdom in the clouds. It's modeled off of what I believe is every child's imagining of Heaven. There is an army of snow sprites and one old sprite named Snip who cuts all the snowflakes. Then there's Holly, who is a child for some reason, and the only female. 

From there on, it morphs into a more traditional holiday tale of overthrowing some evil Slavic king and the return of a crusading knight. There is also a bit about ice money and imaginary presents. Mechanical horses and soldiers round out the cast of crazy. Then at the end, we return to complete the Groundhog's Day connection with a conclusion that doesn't seem to take into account that our narrating groundhog must be hundreds of years old. Needless to say, I loved it.

Though both of these movies were strange, neither of them compare to the classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Sadly this wasn't on TV, and probably hasn't been in decades. But growing up, we had this on VHS and it's amazing.

The basic story is that Santa is kidnapped from the North Pole by Martians and ends up bringing Christmas to the red planet. I do believe nothing more needs said.

Though I've enjoyed my trip to surrealist Christmas, I think from here on in I'm going to stick with my favorites. Lots of hi-jinx, lots of laughs, and whole lot of holiday cheer.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where Do We Go Now?

Like most everyone else, I've spent much of this week thinking about the tragedy that occurred last Friday. In that time, we've heard so many opinions on what needs to be done, what should be done, and what shouldn't be done. Some ideas have made a lot of sense to me. Others have made none. 

The obvious suggestion has been reinstating the Assault Weapons Ban. I couldn't agree more with this and was shocked several years ago when the right wing Congress decided to let it lapse. When you look at these mass murders, nearly all of them are committed with these weapons. There is no practical purpose for a gun that fire almost 50 rounds in one minute except to kill people. 

I've also heard people who don't understand the need for guns at all, pointing to other countries as examples. This gets a little tricky. The gun culture in this country has deep roots dating back to the Revolution and the days as a frontier nation. Americans have a intrinsic distrust of government, which fuels this notion that the people need to be armed in order to defend themselves against tyranny. That was the real intent of the 2nd amendment, not for hunting, as many argue. Given my own distrust of authority and it's proven tendency to abuse power, I do strongly believe in the right to own guns. Though I'm a huge supporter of stricter gun control, stricter licenses, background checks, and mandatory instruction, on some level, I feel safer living in the country where the police and military aren't the only ones allowed to have guns. But that doesn't mean there can't be regulation. We regulate every other amendment, why should this one be any different?

Perhaps the most absurd solution I keep hearing is this idea of arming teachers, or creating secure rooms within classrooms. First off, the idea that more guns will solve anything is absurd. We heard the same thing a few weeks ago after the NFL player murdered his girlfriend. There were people saying that if she had a gun, she could have protected herself. Well, the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter did have guns. They didn't help her and they enabled her son to murder 26 other people. And honestly, think about it for one moment, putting guns in schools and around children...the chances of an accident increase exponentially. And besides that, transforming the school atmosphere into a prison atmosphere has NO part in the solution. 

Another idea that, as I expected, the right has put forth is the idea that prayer in school would somehow lessen the risk of these incidents. As far as I'm concerned, that is a ploy to use this event as a way to push an agenda that has no part in the conversation. 

The way I see it, though guns certainly play a huge role in this discussion, the core problem is the overwhelming number of children who are not getting the help they need at an early age. When you look at all of these crimes, so many of the perpetrators share a common profile. They are kids who feel ignored, misunderstood. They are outcasts. They are bullied. They are people who never got the help they needed. If you want to prevent mass murder, you need to deal with those who will potentially become mass murderers. In most of these cases, these people can be identified at an early age. We know the signs, we know what to look for, and yet, too often they are ignored. 

What we need in schools are smaller classes where teachers can spend more individual time with students. We need mental health professionals who can work with these children in a way that doesn't feel like they are being punished. We need parents who are more involved with raising their kids. We need people in the community volunteering to give children at risk more positive role models, especially if they aren't getting them at home. And yes, we need gun control to keep weapons out of the hands of those who aren't helped, or can't be helped.

But perhaps the most important step has already been taken, because as a society we are seriously talking about these issues for the the first time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup (Child Artist Edition)

The horrible events of Friday really shook me as I wondered how anyone could take the lives of so many children. As someone who has devoted their entire professional career to bringing joy to children, it is inconceivable to me that someone could commit such a unthinkable crime. For the roundup this week, I decided to share some of my favorite albums sung by children. One of the things that is so inspiring about children is the enthusiasm and joy they bring to most everything they do. With every child we lose, the world loses a little bit of hope and happiness. I think all of our hearts go out to everyone who will miss those who were taken long before their time.

The Collins Kids - The Rockin'est: In the '50s, this brother and sister team appeared regularly on TV and played fantastic rockabilly. This compilation includes 22 of their best toe-tapping songs.

Maya Bond - Pink Drums, Purple Lights: This is a four year old singing & talking over music. The music is pretty interesting and the stories are pretty fun. The album is like having a four year old tell you a story that makes no sense...if you enjoy that, you'll enjoy this. Sample lyric:"There was a castle and it was very dark, And there was a beast live inside the castle. There was 125 + 3 wolves that been there."

The Langley Schools Music Project: Innocence & Despair: A collection of pop/rock covers done by school children, this was the first album I ever bought sung by children and it opened my eyes to how amazing it could sound. You haven't heard "Desperato" until you've heard it sung by a gradeschooler.

The Children of Sunshine - Dandelions: Two 8 year old girls who wrote their own songs and recorded them back in 1971. This is a playful record of beautiful hippy folky stuff. It's also one of a handful of "Holy Grail" records that I constantly search for. I recently communicated with one of the girls, now in her fifties, who is still overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for this album. "It's a long way to heaven, but I know we're gonna make it." 

Shisho - Shisho Will Punch You: In 2008, these two sisters put out this hilarious EP. "America Will Punch You" is brilliant, and their cover of "True Faith" is great. Silliness is something kids do best.

Shirley Temple - Oh My Goodness: The charm of Shirley's songs is that she sings like every child. She doesn't have a grown up voice...that's what makes the songs endearing. 

Smoosh - Free to Stay: These Seattle sisters have made three wonderful albums, this 2006 sophomore effort being my favorite. Beautifully sad music from the mind of middle schoolers.

Karine et Rebecca - Moi je dors avec Nounours: A blend of old world organ music and a voices that sound like the little white mouse on Tom & Jerry combine to make these very intriguing and entertaining 45s from the '60s. Perhaps the fact the girls sing in French adds to the appeal because I can't understand the more than likely silly lyrics. Delightful stuff.

Tiny Masters of Today - Bang Bang Boom Cake:  The 2007 debut from Ivan and Ada, two Brooklyn siblings, is one of the shining records of the mid 2000's Kidcore scene (kids making rock music). The music is heavy garage rock, though with some interesting turntable action here and there. The brother and sister take turns singing songs, which are surprisingly political and not-surprisingly insightful. This an album of kids rebelling against the materialism and imperialism of the Bush years. "K.I.D.S." and "Hey Mr. DJ" are great. A solid rock record no matter what age the performers. 

Care Bears on Fire - I Stole Your Animal: In 2007, these middle school girls released this debut album of garage rock derived rock. Though simple, it really rocks.

For more great Kidcore albums, see my list here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

Travels Through Interzone

The moon was full this past week, lending a strange quality to my dreams as always. On more than one occasion, I found myself encountering places that I'd been to before in other dreams. While looking at a subway map, trying to give directions, I remembered to tell my friend to avoid that intricate maze of a station she would encounter at 42nd Street. After all, I'd spent an entire dream trapped in that fictional station earlier this year.

In another dream, I was driving with a friend en route to a record store that I'd been to before, though couldn't remember where it was. I ran through a list of nearby towns, knowing it wasn't in any of them. In the dream, I even called the Missus at her work to ask her if she remembered where the record store was, the one located in the brick fronted shopping center with a canopy walkway, the one with two floors, with "St-Z" being in that weird corner and the vinyl kept upstairs. There was a moment in the dream when I felt maybe I'd only dreamed the store before, but quickly shook that away and proceeded to a town doesn't really exist, only to wake up before ever finding the store.

Why bring this up? Simply because I feel there is an order to the randomness of the world within our dreams. We each have our own personal Interzone that can be mapped and navigated, however unwieldy the logic may seem. In some ways, writing novels is a similar type of chaos. A collection of images, impressions, and fragments of conversation that need pieced together in some semblance of sense. In that way, dreams not only lend inspiration to story, they also serve as an implementation to the process. So for that, I say to you...dream on.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

I'm finally catching up a bit this week on a bunch of albums that I've been listening to over the past month or so. There really isn't a theme to this week. They are not even typical winter albums, even though this week saw the first two snowfalls of the season. It's mostly a list of things I'd been meaning to check out for a long time. Oddly, it's also a collection of many things I probably would have loved in High School. There is only one new release on here, but it's amazing. Hopefully there something here to strike your interest. Enjoy.

Fang - Landshark!: This is the 1983 debut EP from the Berkley hardcore band that would later inspire the heavy punk sound to come out of the great northwest in the years to come. This album made it onto Kurt Cobain's 50 Greatest Albums list that was published in his journals and I'd always meant to check it out, especially considering my love for Nirvana's cover of the opening track "Money Will Roll." When I came across the list again a few weeks ago, I was reminded of it and sought it out. At just over sixteen minutes long, it's a perfect piece of proto-grunge. I've been loving this record. You can certainly hear the record's influence on Nirvana's earliest work.

M.D.C. - Millions of Dead Cops: Another album off of Kurt Cobain's fifty favorites is this 1982 debut from the Texas punk band. Typical of hardcore punk, the songs are short and aggressive, spat out in a violent fury. The rage behind the genre has always appealed to youth anger and is exactly what made me a fan of it in my teen years. But those are also the very elements that make it hard for me to truly love it today. While I can certainly dig this album in small doses, it is done very well after all, I have a hard time not growing bored with it during the course of the 27 songs on the reissue. Perhaps the original release with only 14 songs would be more digestible. I can still support the politics of it though, it's just not as musically compelling as say Minor Threat

Sivert Hoyem - Where is My Moon?: Any followers of the Roundup would be able to vouch for my love of this Norwegian singer songwriter and his former band Madrugada. His fourth solo album, Long Slow Distance was on my best of the year list last year. He has deep haunting voice that pulls me into his songs of sorrow and longing. These four songs are no different, and the title track may be one of his best. The Missus picked this up on vinyl at his show in Switzerland last month. I was unable to go, but she was able to get it signed to us and got to talk to him briefly. Needless to say, it is now a prized possession.

Red Sparowes - Oh Lord, God of Vengeance, Show Yourself!: Despite hailing from the sunny shores of L.A., Red Sparowes is anything but light and breezy, or even glitzy and sleazy, as is typical for L.A. bands. Instead, they create seven to ten minute soundscapes filled with a hint of doom and despair that would seem born from northern dreariness. On this, their second album dating back to 2005, they remind me of a cross between Earth and Godspeed You Black Emperor. They really fall somewhere in the middle of those two, without the pretentiousness of Godspeed, though they do have paragraph long song titles which tell a story when read in order. And they aren't quite as sludgy as Earth. They've been able to strike the right balance and create a wonderfully listenable post-rock instrumental record that never grows boring. They have two newer albums that I look forward to finding.

GWAR - Scumdogs of the Universe: The demons of metal's second album, released in 1990, is their transition into thrash metal, moving away from their punk roots. The thing that makes GWAR relevant when it might be so easy to dismiss them as a novelty act, is that they can really play. These demons know how to play metal and this album is some of the best thrash metal out there. "Sick of You," and "Vlad the Impaler" are real stand out tracks for me. They may be gimmicky, but they back it up with songs that are HEAVY.

The Beatles - Artifacts II: Alone Together: With material dating mostly from White Album era of 1968-69, this bootleg chronicles a strange period in the Fab Four's history, and one of my favorites. The title stems from the already fracturing relationships forming within the band, and also colors some of the material, suggesting that though they were a group, they were four individual artists who were "alone together." There are amazing acoustic, scaled down versions of White Album songs as well as strange little pieces that always seem to find their way onto Beatles bootlegs. I really love hearing them in this loose and creative way. This album is probably better than the sessions released on the Anthology album from the period, more raw and slightly more powerful. Definitely a must for fans.