Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Safe as Maron

So, Melanie and I were trying to figure out something to watch Saturday night, and because Netflix streaming kind of sucks, and perhaps because we both would have rather been reading, but were afraid to admit it to each other, we spent like, ten minutes--more--scrolling through choices and rather apathetically dismissing them.

Marc Maron Thinky Pain
Finally, a little exasperated at our bland and unadventurous selves, I came across Marc Maron's taped standup gig Thinky Pain, and after a moment's thought (still struggling to slay the reluctance) I pounced.

"Let's just watch this," I said, as emphatically as I could manage, and Melanie, who'd seen snippets of Maron's IFC show a couple times, and probably just wanted the agonizing selection process to be over, said alright.

I knew Maron from when he hosted the morning show on the ill-fated Air America radio network. If you recall, Air America was an attempt by corporate cash on the left to create a network similar to the one under the control of Rush Limbaugh on the right--only it didn't go so well. Debuting on April Fool's Day of 2004, Morning Sedition with Marc Maron lasted less than 18 months.

Air America logo
But I listened to most shows during that year and a half. The Bush presidency seems so long ago, now. Listening to that show, I felt like a full-fledged Member of the Opposition. In between Maron's stories about his cats, and his other neurotic expositions, I learned quite a bit about the sneaky methods and the truth abolition of the dangerous right.

I was first able, for example, to put all those "litigious society" stories I used to think were so funny in proper context because of something Maron said on Morning Sedition.

And then the show went away. I listened to the ESPN morning show with Greenie and Golic for a while, and then I bought an iPod. Started a music blog. Morning talk radio has never been a regular thing for me since.

Nor has Maron, though I did read an excellent a 5-10-15-20 piece he wrote for Pitchfork recently, and it did alert me to something I didn't know back in the Air America days: that the comic's something of a music fan.

But more on that later. for now, here's the thing that leaves me a little conflicted (as ever, right?) about Maron.

Marc Maron's WTF pdocast
He's since become pretty popular with that podcast of his, and he's got a TV show and specials and everything, and his schtick involves him talking about what a mess he used to be. Drugs and ex-wives and employer issues and job-related failures dredged from the bad old past . . . which in some cases is exactly the time when I became familiar with his work.

I thought he did a good job, you know? In talking now about how crappy he used to be then, he kind of discredits my own experience.

It is of course all about him, as he'd be the first to tell you, but it's that kind of conflict I was kind of dealing with as we began to watch the 2013 special.

But it's funny. Watch it, if you can at all stand the Neurotic Jew thing.

And quite apart from all the riffage on that, if you're a music geek--and why else would you even come across this site?--there's another treat.

Early on--really, it's the first funny bit--Maron's talking about how he woke up one weekend morning and his GF was sick. So he suggests walking down the street and getting her a breakfast burrito to make her feel better or something. But what he actually wants to do is to go into the used record store, and pick up that Captain Beefheart album he'd been thinking about.

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band Safe As Milk
So he kind of times it all out, ordering the burrito, then going down to the record shop, picking up Safe As Milk, and then walking back to the breakfast place, feeling all hipster superior as he clutches the Beefheart debut under his arm. And then some dude at the breakfast spot--have I said I *didn't* think this was in Brooklyn?-- peaks into his bag, and says yeah, Safe As Milk is "a good start," and Maron is all like his podcast, WTF? I just ran into a major Beefheart fan at the breakfast bar? Who the fuck does he think he is?

Me, I have never gotten Captain Beefheart. They say he was like some genius painter, so there's that, at any rate. Cerveza tried to get me into Doc at the Radar Station when we were in college. "Ashtray Heart" conjures the sounds of scratched chalkboards and dislodged phlegm, for me. I tried Trout Mask Replica right around the formative days of this blog. Couldn't name a song these days without looking it up.

No dice.

Butthole Surfers Cream Corn From the Socket of Davis UK EP
All of Beefheart sounds like "Moving to Florida" to me, except that it's not as well-played. I've read some criticism, read reviews, message board postings, the whole bit. I've tried. Still I don't get it. I don't get it, and won't ever get it. (Unless writing this post spurs me towards trying <sigh> yet again).

But, boy, do I get Maron trying to brush up himself. I'm a music nerd. Of course I understand. There's no canon like the music-geek canon, and it is so very much like a music geek to not only buy the Beefheart album, but then to start feeling all superior over it.

It's all fun for the most part; I don't really think I'm all that great when I school Cerveza's kid about Dust, or Free, or turn the kid out in the warehouse on to Russian Circles and Atheist. But, you know, I kind of do. That son of a bitch Maron in his self-loathing was describing behavior I exhibit myself.

Which was why I found it so hilarious.

I mean, let's be honest. If I *wasn't* a music person, or if I were forced to look at my music fandom from an outside perspective, if I had to evaluate the whole thing with its "essential" canon of relative obscurities like The Stooges and Wire and Nick Drake and Skip Spence and fucking Boris, I don't doubt that I would find it all tremendously annoying, with its received knowledge and hipper-than-thou namedropping.

Original pressing of the first Faust LP
But of course, I *am* a music fan, so any annoyed headshaking from outside the camp of the sort that I would surely provide if only I *were* outside the camp is looked on very negatively in these parts.

They can't talk about our club that way. Only we can talk about our club that way.

Marc Maron is clearly part of the club, so in my book, he can say whatever he wants.

And I'll laugh and laugh and laugh, and then go find me some crucial wax, something like Sweep the Leg Johnny, or Faust.

File under: Hipster Assholes, and others like me

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Properly Prepared Oyster Shooter

Feel like Jim Morrison, all badass, sorta: Woke up this morning and made myself an Oyster Shooter. Had several Friday, too. And it goes without saying that I partook of three or four on Thanksgiving, also. The Oyster Shooter is well nigh a holiday weekend tradition here at the rastronomicals fortified compound.

What's that you say? That I haven't shared my recipe for the things?

No sooner said than done.

Three fingers of North American Lager -- Myself, I always use Bud longneck, though in a pinch, Corona will also work. Avoid skunky German pilsners at all cost, however: you need a fairly transparent medium for the rest of the ingredients. And something well carbonated.

Tablespoon of Cocktail Sauce -- Melanie picked up some from Whole Foods on Thursday, and their version doesn't include High Fructose Corn Syrup. Yet I found it indistinguishable from other brands, and I have to imagine the HFCS, whether it's present or not, is irrelevant to the success of the recipe. Never done it, but if you wanted to further break things down into components, and simply add ketchup and horseradish and vinegar, rather than buying something, I'd imagine that'd be fine, too.

Dash or three or four of Hot Sauce -- Been using the very fine Cholula brand this weekend, but I know for a fact that Tabasco and even Crystal are suitable for this purpose, as well. Avoid the (usually superior) chunky Jamaican varieties, however. You want to up the acid content, and the easily available commercial stuff has plenty of vinegar.

Squeeze or three of Lemon Juice -- Like I was saying, acid.

One oyster -- Not enough of a connoisseur to advise a varietal here, though I will say that the Sewansecotts I've had over the last three days have a flat base that makes them a true pain in the ass to shuck. I've had to resort to a hammer in some cases. Include as much brine as you can.

Method -- Dump all ingredients into a highball glass, stir well, watch it become frothy. Down the hatch in one smooth drought. Take a bite of the oyster as it goes past.




File under: Accesories to the La Historia lifestyle, Recipes

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lavie Tidhar - Osama A Novel

Just wrote what I thought was a decent review of this book at Goodreads, and given the dearth of new material here, thought I might crosspost, expecially since Goodreads gave me the option of copying my html easily. Fans of music only please forgive, but I'm scrambling for content here, you know?

I recently discovered Tidhar through the new Dozois Year's Best, which included "The Book Seller," a tale told in the author's "Central Station" universe. Dozois describes this universe as being set ". . . during a time when humanity--including part human robots, AIs, cyborgs, and genetically engineered beings of all sorts--is spreading through the solar system."

"The Book Seller" takes place in Tel Aviv, but as I discovered when I went back into previous editions of Dozois' series, searching for more by the man, Tidhar's stories in the cycle are just as likely to be set on Titan, or on one of the moons of Pluto. "The Memcordist," a story I found in Year's Best # 30, itself spans the solar system, and is certainly one of the best sci fi short pieces published this century.

These two, and others, beyond presenting a somewhat outsider (read: non-WASP) view of the possibilities in the sf field (as both reviewers and Tidhar himself will be proud to tell you), are extremely character-oriented. Tidhar presents his evocative world, introduces a character . . . and then not much happens, the author being content to present the character and his history against the multicolor background. Let me stress this is not a flaw. His characters are so good, they even make the intoxicating variegated future he postulates recede a bit.

Was reading comments somewhere, and the commenter compared the Central Station stories to a less-dense Rajaniemi. That may give you an idea, since Rajaniemi would be pretty fantastic if he just knew how to write characters.

Anyway, all the excitement I felt about the Central Station stories drove me in the direction of the author's non-series novel Osama, which very famously beat out works by George RR Martin and Stephen King to win the World Fantasy Award in 2012. Those who know me and have read here know I've got a few opinions on Global Islamic Terrorism . . . so you might find the review/discussion of the book I wrote somewhat surprising.

But then, Osama is a surprising novel, a fantastic one I wholeheartedly recommend. It's about what you think it is, but only partly so. Perhaps what I've written below will give you some additional things to look for if you choose to read it.


The deliberate internet contrarians who are starting to pop up notwithstanding, I think the comparisons to The Man in the High Castle you see in many of the reviews here are dead on.

Joe's reality at the beginning of the book has simply unraveled by the end of it, and if that ain't Dickian, I don't know what is.

I enjoyed Osama more than I enjoy most of PKD's fiction, and the reason is interesting to me. Dick, for all the gobsmacking he does, for all the times when he turns the reader's expectations upside-down in the span of one paragraph, was quite ordinary in plot and in characterization. You might well then say that this sets up the greater contrast for him, and I wouldn't argue, but the fact is his characters are boring. They have boring jobs, they're married to boring wives, they live in boring places.

Well, not so Joe. He's a deadpan drinkin' 'n' smokin' gumshoe in Laos. How about that for exotic? How about that for coolness? It's as if Dick had written his Deckard in the way that the movie did. I've been obsessed with cool ever since I learned how to behave and affect my way out of being the grade school nerd; of course I wanna read about Joe. Shit, I'd love to be Joe. Cheap suit, bottle of Johnny Walker in the top drawer of the dusty desk, and always two packs of smokes at hand, in case you empty the first one.

Of course, there's somebody else who deep down wanted to be Joe, and that's the ur-Joe, the Joe that existed before he became a refugee, or fuzzy-wuzzy. And Tidhar wants the reader to think about that well.

Sure, you've got the gradual unmooring of reality. Sure, you've got the pain of these clinically-described terrorist acts, but Osama is also a rumination on how we'd--most of us--love to re-write ourselves in response to social and literary tropes.

There's another book with the word "Castle" in its title that comes to mind when considering Osama, and that's Lord Valentine's Castle. Silverberg's book begins as the once and future Coronal ascends an overlook. We the reader know nothing more, and neither does the character. Like Joe, Valentine has had the entirety of his life ripped away from him by an act of war, and like Osama, the rest of LVC is concerned with the discovery by the main character that the life he is living is on every level a fabrication.

The only thing is, Valentine, when confronted by the facts, chooses to resume his earlier life. Silverberg's book is heroic fantasy, and what else would a hero do? Full of duty, he (at times reluctantly) reassumes the mantle of kingship, and goes back to who he had been.

But Joe's no hero, and neither are most of the rest of us. At the end of the book, Joe is literally slapped into recognition of his former life by the woman whom he had loved, and still--STILL--he refuses to go back. He'd rather continue playing the hardboiled detective in the tropical paradise.

Of course there are other things going on. Joe's wife was murdered in ways both brutal and clinical, and that's a pain he'd have had to deal with every day for the rest of his life had he chosen a return.

Yet it remains that Joe took the easy and lazy path. He uncovered the truth and ignored it, and I can only assume it was because he liked the fantasy life--the cardboard fantasy character he was playing--better.

You see criticism of Tidhar's characterization in Osama here and there. I find that interesting because his Central Station stories are almost exclusively focused on character, at least given their particular exotic milieu. So, what? Did Tidhar forget his characterization skills for Osama?

Not likely. Instead, I'm sure that he wrote to pulp trope to serve a purpose, to highlight an uncomfortable truth about us: that we'd play a fantasy role, even a stock one, rather than inhabit the well-rounded, if mundane, one we are all heir to.

OsamaOsama by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sunday, October 5, 2014

As A Matter of Fact I Like Beer

Love living on the northwest corner of the intersection of pop culture components. It's not just like that Heavy Metal Burger Joint in Chicago you've heard about*, or like that not-quite-as-cleverly-integrated Death Metal Pizza joint in Austin*. They don't just mix the music with the food, they mix it with the beer, as well. How about that?

One of my errands yesterday was to go down to the Total Wine & Spirits, and pick up a four-pack of the new Fat Head's pumpkin beer for the lovely curvy missus. It's called "Spooky Tooth," and that got me thinking . . . .

Coolest Music-Inspired Craft Beers

10. "Wake Up Dead" from Left Hand Brewing - Russian Imperial Stout
Named of course after the third- or fourth-best track from Megadeth's revolutionary Peace Sells album of 1986, the label of this heavy duty dark bad baby, like several others on this list, has the iconography down pat.

9. "Racer X" from Bear Republic Brewing - Double or Imperial IPA
Might be higher on this list, except I'm not exactly sure that the beer was actually named after the Big Black EP that got the band going on its path to noise-rock greatness. It may have simply been named after the Japanese proto-anime character, you know, Speed Racer's significantly more badass brother. Which would be cool, but not as cool.

8. "Hellhound On My Ale" from Dogfish Head Brewery - Double or Imperial IPA with Lemon

Well-crafted reference to Robert Johnson, don't you think? After letting it sit on our wire shelving rack for three years, I learned to my dismay that "Hellhound" wasn't actually all that great a beer. But the label is beautiful, and throwing some lemon in there and then saying the tart citrus was in honor of Blind Lemon Jefferson was both too clever and just clever enough.

7. "Fade to Black" from Left Hand - Black Rye Ale
More great iconography, and this is in my opinion, the best-tasting beer on the list. It's damn near a classic. The coolfest is tamped down somewhat by the fact that they honored probably the weakest song from Ride the Lighning. If someone out there wants to do a "Call of Ktulu" Cream Ale, I'm right there, dude.

6. "Bitches Brew" from Dogfish Head - Imperial Stout with Honey and Gesho Root
Haven't had this one yet, and got to admit, I'm unsure about "gesho root," but it looks so pretty on the rack with the Mati Klarwein artwork, plus, you know, Miles.

5. "Spooky Tooth" from Fat Head's Brewing - Imperial Pumpkin Ale
I'm not sure the world needs an Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Yikes, 9%. But Beer Advocate gives it an 86, and getting a pointer in to the wiseacres who brought us You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw is nice. Even if not all that many get the rock and roll reference.

4. "Brown Shugga" from Lagunitas Brewing - Barley Wine
Everyone gets this reference, which is, perhaps, to its detriment. How come you taste so good lyrics on the box, for sure, but no Stones iconography, which would have helped hammer it all home. Still, as far as I'm aware, this is the best Barley Wine anywhere, the completely over the top and ridiculous Bigfoot notwithstanding.

3. "Purple Haze" from Abita Brewing - Fruit Beer
Perhaps the most well-known brew I've included in this list, but a review at the top of the page at Rate Beer suggest it's a little "artificial seeming." I would suggest it's sort of like Hendrix' pop-rock work in that it's a bit overrated.

2. "Brother Thelonious" from North Coast Brewing - Abbey Ale

Best taken straight, no chaser, this is a beer so good it gets up from the piano bench and starts dancing around while the rhythm section carries the groove.

1. "Johnny Cask" from Dogfish Head - IPA Blend with Maple Syrup
Actually now simply called "75 Minute IPA" and the whys of it may make an interesting story. It appears some on the internet believe that Dogfish Head may have gotten a cease and desist from the Cash Family Trust. Which is why they put the glasses and bushy mustache on.


*Wait. You mean you haven't heard about that Heavy metal Burger joint in Chicago? (Return)

*It's here. (Return)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

McCartney Forgets Song He Wrote


  Just read on CNN that Paul McCartney signed the open letter asking the Scots to vote to stay in the UK. The article mentions "Mull of Kintyre," but fails to mention another, earlier song.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Name of This Band Is . . . .

Boing Boing directed me to an interesting article at The Atlantic about the use of the definite article in orchestral and popular music band names.

The history lesson it gives going back to the 1890's is illuminating, but me being me, I'm most interested in the bands I listen to, most of which have flourished since the beginning of the '60's.

In thinking about music going back that far, it seems to me that the use of the definite article was the more usual one. The Beatles named themselves in deference to The Crickets, who themselves had taken inspiration for their name from the doo-wop groups of the '40's and '50's, who were almost invariably had names of the form /The [songbird]s/.

The Byrds got generic with it, and a little freaky. The Yardbirds got in a jazz reference. And everyone else figured that even if you moved away from our fine feathered friends, you still had to put the word "The" in front of the name of your collective.

The Rolling Stones and The Who and The Kinks and The Beach Boys and The Ventures and The Turtles and The Monkees and The Zombies and The incredible motherfucking Sonics and The Kingsmen and The Trashmen and The Shadows of Knight and The Mindbenders and The Count Five and even The Beau Brummels.

Starting in 1966, that began to change. Small Faces were sometimes advertised with the The, but on their albums were always just Small Faces. They were instantly huge in Britain, though they didn't make the American charts until 1967. Strangely--or maybe not so much--the single that broke them in the US, "Itchycoo Park," credited the band by using the definite article.

American bands to pick up on the trend started by Messrs. Marriott and Jones and Lane and Mclagan were led it seems by San Franciscans. Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane come rapidly to my mind. A more detailed search of Billboard's Top 100 by year shows that "Somebody to Love," released as a single in April of 1967 makes Jefferson Airplane the first band in Billboard's Top 100 to skip the The.

"A Whiter Shade of Pale" from May of the same year makes Procol Harum the second. Small Faces could have been third, right? In 1968, Billboard's list would include Cream, Steppenwolf, 1910 Fruitgum Company, Blue Cheer, and Vanilla Fudge.

So, raise your consciousness and drop the definite article, everyone.

But consciousness-raising is hard, I guess. It's worth noting that Jefferson Airplane and Cream, although they were never credited on a record with the definite article, were often credited on posters and gig flyers that way.

Status Quo made Billboard's list for "Pictures of Matchstick Men" of course, and when they did so, they went by their name with the definite article attached. In 1969, they decided that they wanted to drop it, so you can date your copy by whether or not "The" appears on the sleeve or the label.

A little similarly with Pink Floyd. Syd Barrett originally named them "The Pink Floyd Sound" which got shortened to "The Pink Floyd" before they signed and then was further chopped to "Pink Floyd" after the release of their first single, "Arnold Layne."

Pink Floyd's mates at the UFO club took a little longer to figure out which they preferred. The Soft Machine was the name of the debut from Robert Wyatt and company, and Volume Two was credited to The Soft Machine as well. But Third was distributed without the "The" on the cover, and every album thereafter while the band was extant. The posthumous--and uneven--Kings of Canterbury revived the definite article, though most other posthumous releases just called 'em Soft Machine.

And give credit where it's due to the collective defined by David Byrne but made great by Eno--they never had any doubt about eschewing that definite article. Maybe it was that the band felt locked in once Eno had written "King's Lead Hat" in their honor, or perhaps they couldn't convince Mr. St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno to write another anagrammatic tune entitled "Led Giant Shaketh."

File under: Nomenclature