Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #144

Three weeks into the new blog and I'm already thinking of stopping. Not surprised, really. I haven't made a final decision yet, so I'll do my longest running and most consistent feature...

1. My Very Best/Elbow (15)
2. Alone (Alternate Version)/Wilco (9)
3. The Thanks I Get/Jeff Tweedy (8)
4. Mission Control/The Whigs (17)
5. The Shape of the Sum/I Love Math (6)
6. December/The Lemonheads (18)
7. Sing A Song For Them/Jenny Lewis (10)
8. Hot Bed/The Whigs (17)
9. Echo/Always On/Easy Con/Blitzen Trapper (7)
10. California Stars/Jeff Tweedy (9)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Geek Parts

I can't stay focused long enough to get an honest-to-goodness post going because my geek parts are warring with each other.

My TV/science fiction geek part is about halfway through the first episode of Torchwood: Children of Earth. It's off to a really good start and I want to just keep watching.

My books geek part checked 5 books out of the library on Friday. I read Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin over the weekend and loved it. Loved it. Now I'm 120 pages into The Way Home by George Pelecanos and I don't want to stop reading.

My music geek part is trying to figure out how to utilize the rest of this month's eMusic downloads while listened to Pernice Brothers' Live a Little, which I last listened to a year ago today. I also can't stop listening to the Jayhawks anthology or new Wilco album. Is there a way to listen to 4 albums at once?

My comics geek part still wants to write up a big post on all the comics I've bought and read this month but tomorrow is Wednesday again and we finally get the last issue of Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds and another issue of Wednesday Comics and a new Green Lantern on the heels of last week's Blackest Night.

My DVD geek part really wants to buy The Middleman next week, a show that I fell in love with last summer and got canceled way too soon (I love many shows that have that happen).

My baseball geek part is watching the Rays/White Sox game and my Sox are nursing a 1 run lead in the bottom of the 7th. If they can hold on and the Tigers lose, they'll be tied for first place!

And that's why you're not getting a real blog post tonight.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Live Jayhawks

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #143

I broke my streak of 11 straight days with a post earlier this week and it's been hard getting back into the groove. Still, I'm not going to give up and hope today's entry can get me started on another nice run. I may even post something else later today...we'll see. For now, let's just get to the music...

1. What Do You Look Forward To?/Superchunk (15)
2. Out Of Reaches/Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks (14)
3. For Beginners/M. Ward (13)
4. Pictures Of Me/Elliott Smith (13)
5. Red Cotton/Elvis Costello (4)
6. Money In the Afterlife/Saturday Looks Good To Me (7)
7. I'm Not Mad Enough/The Ladybug Transistor (10)
8. Elmo Delmo/Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks (13)
9. Old Hat/Ben Kweller (8)
10. Sin City/The Essex Green (18)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Save It For a Rainy Day

The Jayhawks deal in dichotomies and dualities. They have always enjoyed critical success but it never really translated to commerical success. Their sound was built on the high/low harmonies of Gary Louris and Mark Olson and the marriage of country and rock and folk and more. They also know how to weld a sad song with a beautiful sing-along melody, which is the case with "Save It For a Rainy Day" from their swan song, 2003's Rainy Day Music.

It's a mostly acoustic song and starts with a little descending then reascending guitar line and then the words hit...

"Pretty little hairdo don't do what it used to
Can't describe the living
All the miles that you've been through"

Not the happiest of tunes but then we get a sweet walking baseline from Marc Perlman and a bouncing drumbeat. And that's all before we get to "Don't look so sad, Marina, there's another part to play" with lilting harmonies hitting the "so sad." Drummer Tim O'Reagan takes the lower notes in the hamony that were once Olson's and the result still sounds like the Jayhawks.

A nice little harmonica solo and a little electric guitar solo from Louris and then we're back to that beautiful chorus. Marina is supposed to "save it for a rainy day" and I hope she does.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Books Matter

What would happen if you knew before you were born that the world was going to end in just over 36 years? How would you live your life knowing that fact? That's what Junior Thibodeau has to face in the novel Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr.

Along with that high concept, we also get some interesting structure to the book. Parts of it are numbered and give us the voice of the entities (it's not really clear on how many are involved, but their sections always use a "we") who have burdened Junior with the ultimate fate of Earth. Not only do they tell him things but they also narrate a portion of his life. We also get sections from the viewpoint of the major characters in the book - Junior, his family, and Amy, whom he loves and loses.

It's not a very happy book, unsurprisingly. There is addiction, abuse, cancer, mental illness, and lots of pain. But there is also happiness. And baseball.

There is a science fiction element to this book as well. Junior happens to be the fourth smartest person in the world and under his guidance, ships are built to allow many people to escape the coming apocalypse. But Junior doesn't escape. Instead...well, that's something to be discovered by reading the book.

This is a book worth reading, for the ideas and for the quality of writing. I had a hard time putting it down and I have a feeling I will be thinking about it for quite a while.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #142

This morning I wanted to get to my chores and just shuffled up a few songs on iTunes but now it's after 7:30 and I'm in the mood to follow my tradition. So, here we go...

1. Scene From #12/M. Ward (11)
2. Gold Soundz/Pavement (15)
3. Great Dane/Mates of State (6)
4. White Winter Hymnal/Fleet Foxes (10)
5. The Coroner's Gambit/The Mountain Goats (13)
6. Dead To Rights/The Twilight Singers (16)
7. Cardinal Points/The Essex Green (21)
8. Stand Ins, Three/Okkervil River (7)
9. Act Surprised/Superchunk (16)
10. Little Fern/Portastatic (5)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Big Star

In the mid-90s, The Jayhawks were at a crossroads. Mark Olson had left the band and while the band was a critical success, commercial success hadn't materialized. Gary Louris had to decide whether to continue on with the band or if they should break up. Obviously, they stayed together and gave us 1997's Sound of Lies, an album that is one of the most underrated of the 90s if not of all time.

The first (and only?) single was "Big Star." Louris talks with self-deprecation and a bit of pain about how that success hasn't yet materialized...

"Yeah I'm flat busted
Wild-eyed and free
Couldn't get arrested if I tried
A has-been at a mere thirty-five"


The song is a rocker, though it does slow down in the middle when Louris sings "But it's so hard/So hard/So hard getting by" and again at the end for the last chorus, "I'm gonna be a Big Star someday." It has some nice plaintive harmonies on the main verses and a great guitar solo in the middle (remind me to talk at some point about Louris as a guitar player). But again, it's the lyrics that really make this song and he gets in some good lines throughout...

"Seems it's high noon and I ain't got no gun"

"I'm perfecting the finest art of wasting hours"

The 4:25 of this particular song is anything but a waste.

Friday, July 10, 2009

That Spark

When I read, watch, or listen to something for the first time, I'm hoping for that spark. I need something to take hold of me and pull me into the piece of art, whether it be a melody or a character or an idea or an overall aesthetic. I think that's what we all look for, isn't it?

There's another part to the equation, though. Your state of mind, you mood, can have a big affect on whether you feel that spark. I'm sure I read or listen to things at the wrong time for that particular piece of art. For example, I grabbed the last album from Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, fairly quickly after it came out. I was in love with the song "Mr. Tough" and was expecting the whole album to sound like that. It doesn't. I thought the album was okay and stopped listening to it except for random pop-ups on shuffle. Lately, though, I've rediscovered it and dig the variety of styles through the songs. It's good stuff but stuff it took me a couple years to fully appreciate. I experienced something similar with Jarvis Cocker's debut solo album recently as well. Granted, that kind of approach works with music that exists as digital files you can keep around. But what happens when you're dealing with books?

For the past two years, I've been doing most of my reading by checking books out of the library. That means I have a finite amount of time in which to decide if that spark is there or not. As recently as a couple of years ago, I would read every book I started. I would feel I was letting a book down if I didn't. These days, though, I'll give a book anywhere from 50 to 100 pages to really grab me and if it doesn't, that's the end.

I mentioned in my Asimov's review earlier this week that Stephen Baxter's story made me want to check out the books set earlier in the story's timeline. A few days ago I checked Flood out of the library and settled in. The problem was it didn't really grab me. The characters didn't really hook me and all the water was repetitive after 50 pages and the prospect of 450 or so more was not appealing (and yes, I know the book is called Flood and I should probably have known better). So, I stopped reading my 5th book of the year (as opposed to 19 I read all the way through).

The next book up in the reading queue? Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. That spark was there from the first page, in which a baby in the womb was getting advice about not moving around so as not to wrap the umbilical cord around itself further and face dire consequences. The next 50 pages have upheld that promise and I look forward to seeing how it all turns out.

I do feel bad when I don't get that spark from a piece of art. I'm sure some of the time it's me. Of course, other times it's the work of art (don't get me started on the mess that was Greek Street #1, which I am thankful was only a buck). But when that spark happens? Magic time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Waiting For the Sun

Let's start with the song that introduced me to The Jayhawks, the first song on Hollywood Town Hall, "Waiting For the Sun."

It starts with a piano plunk and then the electric guitar comes in. A chug-a-lug beat with the bass running in between. The piano and guitar work with each other. Then in comes a high voice, "I was waiting for the sun..." and we're off.

For the first 5 or 6 years of my Jayhawks fandom, I didn't which voice was Gary Louris and which was Mark Olson. It wasn't until my first Golden Smog record that I knew the high voice was Gary's and the lower voice coming into harmonize was Mark's.

"It was not lost on me."

We get a nice guitar solo and then the guitar comes back as the song works itself to a conclusion. It's a guitar that speaks to me, that works within the context of the song and also has a yearning to it.

"I never made amends for the sake of no else."

The song perfectly encapsulates what you're going to get from the album - great music with a tinge of sadness, harmony mixed with yearning. Let's go "walkin' on down the road," indeed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Year in Books

I read 19 books in the first half of the year, which is a decent total for someone who was working two jobs and taking 6 credit hours in addition to having a family. My book habits have changed over the past almost 2 years, when I began utilizing the library. I have been able to read more books and keep more current with my reading than in years past.

That point was drive home when I read a list of the year's best books so far over at Omnivoracious (Amazon's books blog). I have read 2 of their overall Top Ten - Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead and The City & The City by China Mieville. In addition, I am on the request list at the library for a third - Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. I liked both books very much.

Furthermore, I have read a book on their Fiction Top Ten - Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower - and have another on my shelf waiting to be read after Stephen Baxter's Flood (Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.).

When I look over my reading list for the year, I see that 11 of the books I've read were published this year and the rest were either published or reissued last year. I'm much more current than I ever realized.

Of course, I haven't read nearly as many books as I've wanted to. I do still have 5 weeks left of summer, so I should be able to knock out at least 5 more before all the craziness of the school year starts up again.

I won't go back and review any of the books I've read up until now (I'll save some of that for my year-end list) but here's what I've read so far this year...

1. Prince of Stories by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden, and Stephen R. Bissette
2. The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford
3. Memoranda by Jeffrey Ford
4. The Beyond by Jeffrey Ford
5. End of the Century by Chris Roberson
6. The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
7. The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko
8. Midwinter by Matthew Sturges
9. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
10. The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay
11. The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips
12. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
13. Walking Dead by Greg Rucka
14. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
15. Busted Flush edited by George R.R. Martin
16. Stalking the Unicorn by Mike Resnick
17. The Women by T.C. Boyle
18. Stalking the Vampire by Mike Resnick
19. The City & The City by China Mieville

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Jayhawks

I'm not sure when I first heard The Jayhawks. It seems likely that WXRT in Chicago would have played "Waiting For The Sun" when it first came out and that was my first exposure to the band. It also seems likely that I read a positive review of Hollywood Town Hall in Rolling Stone, since that was where I did most of my music reading back in 1992. Whatever the case, I bought that album and it quickly became a favorite. They were at the vanguard of "alternative country," though I'm still not sure what that means (and it wasn't anything they claimed themselves). They had guitars, both acoustic and electric, and harmonies. Maybe their songs sounded country and maybe not but I was buying the music.

Their next album was 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass and I was all over it when it came out. More great music. And then, word came that Mark Olson had left the band. Well, that was the end of The Jayhawks. Or rather, it was for me. Sound of Lies came out in 1997 and I didn't buy it.

Meanwhile, I become a fan of Golden Smog, for which Gary Louris is a main songwriter and contributor. I like his stuff quite a bit and think that maybe I was hasty in my dismissal of The Jayhawks as uninteresting with only him at the helm. Still, I do nothing.

Cut to 2000 and I'm listening to WXRT. I hear a new song by The Jayhawks and it sounds great. On the strength of "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," I pick up their new album Smile. I am once again and ongoing fan of the band (I had still listened to the previous two albums over the years, no doubt about it).

At some point I find a used copy of Sound of Lies and pick it up. I wonder how I could have let it pass me by all those years ago. It's a brilliant record and one of the most underrated of the 90s, hands down.

When 2003's Rainy Day Music rolls around, I pick it up the day it comes out and love it. Turns out it's their swan song and I am terribly disappointed. The members continue to put out music, like drummer Tim O'Reagan's gorgeous solo album in 2006. Louris pops up here and there, notably on another Golden Smog record and then his solo debut Vagabonds last year. Early in 2009, Olson and Louris reteam and give us Ready For the Flood. It's not a Jayhawks record but it doesn't matter - they sound great together.

Still, that's not the end of the story. Today saw the release of a Jayhawks anthology, Music From the North Country. I, of course, bought the deluxe edition with a second disc of rarities and a DVD (however, it is still snaking its way to me through the mail). I can't wait to dig in. There are also plans for reissues of all their albums (and you know, I never did get around to buying their debut, Blue Earth; a fact I will have to remedy).

In celebration, I am going to be taking a look at their catalogue over the next few months. I plan to cover not only the songs from the albums but also take a look at the side projects and solo albums as well. It will not be complete by any means; for starters, I've never picked up any of Olson's solo records. But I'm going to do the best I can two or three times a week to celebrate a band I wholeheartedly love. Please come along for the ride.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Asimov's July 2009

Following on the heels of a strong June issue, Asimov's delivers another high quality issue with the July 2009 edition. There are three excellent stories and a couple of solid stories, with only one real disappointment. When reading a magazine or anthology, it's hard to get a better percentage of stories you like.

The issue gets off to a great start with Michael Cassutt's "The Last Apostle." Joe Liquori is Omega, the last of the Twelve Apostles, the group of astronauts who landed on the Moon and were dubbed by a writer. He is on the mood again in his 80s, sort of living in a retirement home on the Moon, and he makes a return trip to an unscheduled stop he made years ago with his landing partner, the Alpha Male. That return doesn't go as planned but has unexpected consequences that will forever cement his name in history. The story is an interesting look at an alternate space program that could have been and has a very strong sense of character and mood.

I did not much care for Kit Reed's "Camp Nowhere" and she is a writer I usually like. I think the voice of the main character, a teen whose parents resent him and take him to a sinister psycho therapy-like camp, was too whiny. I didn't care at all what happened to him. So it goes.

I was happy to return to R. Garcia y Robertson's future of SuperCats and Greenies in "SinBad the Sand Sailor." The titular character gets into trouble when he drops his cargo of drugs (that he is smuggling) to pick up a pretty air hostess who has been thrown overboard. He is soon forced to rob a wind wagon, be hostilely be taken aboard another ship, only to be accepted and then outcast, before going back to reresuce the woman he resuced...but she ends up rescuing him more than once. It has a cool setting and is just an entertaining story. Someone needs to collect all the stories Robertson has written in that setting - it would be a big book of stories that are tons of fun.

The next two stories were solid - "Sleepless in the House of Ye" by Ian McHugh and "Shoes-To-Run" by Sara Genge. The former is a tale of aliens trying desperately to keep their offspring alive amidst harsh weather and attacks by worms; the latter is about a girl who wants to be a man instead of a woman as well as a tale of a future where Paris has sealed itself inside a dome and what the people outside the dome try to do.

Finally, there is Stephen Baxter's "Earth II." I have always enjoyed Baxter's appearances in Asimov's, though it's been a while since his last one. This one is set on a world in the future where inhabitants of Earth fled after a disaster. The story deals with the legacy of those Founders and the future of the world, with its coolsummers and hotsprings and Purple all over the place. A society where women are the warriors and the men stay home. Xaia Windru pushes on to find the City of the Living Dead and learns more about herself and her world than she though. This story takes place in the same world as Baxter's current novels Flood and Ark and I'm going to have to put those on my reading list.

As a bonus, Paul Di Filippo points me toward a few books of interest (I would love to get to read as much as he does) in the On Books column - Nick DiChario's Valley of Day-Glo, Robert Freeman Wexler's chapbook Psychological Methods to Sell Must Be Destroyed, and yet another poetry collection from Bruce Boston (my favorite poet regularly appearing in the pages of Asimov's).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday Shuffle #141

I know this feature isn't very exciting for readers but I've been doing it for close to 3 years with only a short break. It's a Sunday tradition of mine, along with watching Sports Reporters, and I don't want to give it up.

I pull up my iTunes, turn on the shuffle, and write down the first 10 songs that come up (well, the first 10 that I loaded onto iTunes, since I share it with my wife and son). That's it. I could promise to actually write about the songs as they come up but that might be an occasional feature...or it might not.

Here are today's ten...

1. Welcome, Ghosts/Explosions in the Sky (9)
2. Tractor Rape Chain/Guided By Voices (8)
3. Secret Meeting (Remix)/The National (7)
4. I'll Follow You/Oakley Hall (5)
5. Sinking Ships/Sloan (12)
6. Videotape/Radiohead (28)
7. We Are Sleepyheads/Belle and Sebastian (13)
8. Nothing Can Hurt You Now/Glossary (7)
9. daisychain/Matthew Sweet (7)
10. Mermaid Eyes/Luna (8)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

American Geek

I am an American Geek. I love music, books, comics, TV, movies, and all aspects of pop culture. I love highbrow and lowbrow and everything in between, as long as it is good. This blog will document my search for that good stuff and discuss the good stuff I have already discovered.

Why Season 3? My first blog was Shooflypie and when I stopped doing it, I deleted it. My second blog was Another Piece of Shooflypie and it was full of good intentions that never went anywhere. My hope is that this relaunch, the new season, will be much more entertaining. So please stick around and see where it goes.

Why relaunch on the 4th of July? I'm an American geek.