Friday, July 22, 2011

knock me your lobes

Firstly, to promote myself: I'm writing a new column for TSB Magazine (my first installment is here), and I've got a reading coming up next Thursday, the 28th, at the University of Baltimore at 7pm.

Second item: new laptop is here! I am the proud owner of a new Dell XPS, which is a huge improvement over the last Dell I had. The backlit keyboard is taking a little getting used-to, and some of the keys are in weird places, but it's a welcome addition to the home office, that's for sure.

I finished two books during my computerlessness; Mykel Hansen's Help! A Bear Is Eating Me and Ishmael Reed's Yellow Back Radio Broke Down. Both of them were short but fulfilling experimentalish works that are well worth your time.

Help! A Bear is remarkably straightforward: a high-level executive gets trapped under his SUV during a company wilderness retreat and gets partially eaten by a bear. The novel, therefore, is a surreal monologue from said executive's POV as he pops painkillers and rants about his observations, philosophies, and pain-induced hallucinations. When people I know see the cover, they always ask what the book's about, and are always surprised by my response - there's no winking irony here, only a delightful sort of lunacy that would make George Saunders proud. It's also a satisfying read, as the narrator is an unlikable yuppie asshole who gets exactly what he deserves on nearly every page, and yet somehow his physical endurance and obvious pathology make him sympathetic. Much as you may dislike his hyper-capitalistic misogyny, it's hard to really hate someone who, to judge by what he remembers of his childhood, never had much of a chance to be a decent human being.

Yellow Back Radio is a little more complicated. If Cab Calloway or Lord Buckley had written a western, it would have been this book. It concerns a voodoo-practicing black cowboy named the Loop Garoo Kid and feud with the murderous, greedy white landowner Drag Gibson. The story is told in a combination of black jazz slang and hilarious anachronism - Thomas Jefferson and Lewis & Clark both appear (as violent drunks and rapists, respectively) alongside closed-circuit television and helicopters. It's a little hard to explain. The Harvard Crimson said that the book "works the way a poker game does, depending entirely on the player's tricks, timing, and style," which is pretty accurate, so we'll go with that, but Reed is as witty as he is scattered, and his novel is one that confuses, but that's okay because the payoff is worth it.

So that's that. Back to sound design!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

is it even broad-spectrum

New laptop should be coming in tomorrow! Thank god. Having to schlep over to campus every time I need to type anything is getting old, old, old. And yes I know, first world problems etc., but it's doubly annoying when you need reliable computer access to make a living. I can't exactly send handfuls of scribbled-on notebook paper and coffeeshop napkins over the Mojo Wire in 2011, you know.

Anyway, I've been busy with tech work, first for a one-act festival at Load of Fun here in B'more, then for High Zero's Worlds In Collusion experimental music festival at Artscape. I had a nice chat with HZ organizer John Berndt about how he finds performers to book - he told me that he looks for people who cut through his cynicism and sweep him up into whatever they're doing. He likes being a fan, I think, and I just got done listening to the audiobook of John Waters' Role Models, a volume entirely dedicated to his numerous deviant fandoms - Johnny Mathis, outsider pornography, Tennessee Williams, etc.

But then Max Garner's "Sphere: The Thelonious Monk Story" has a section where Thelonious is laughing at his beatnik fans who thought he was "their Dalai Lama or something." Would he have had more respect for his white, beret-wearing fans if they'd been more detached, less obvious about how much they respected his music? Do all performers look down on their more dedicated fans, even as they feed on their support?

Speaking as an artist and a fan of other artists, I'm with the two Johns (and Patton Oswalt, who's been championing nerdery for years) - I like it when my interests excite me, even to the point where I come off looking like a mark or somehow (gasp!) uncool for it. And I think jadedness as an affectation is boring, really, even if it is considered more appropriate for working artists/writers these days.

Anyway, time to log off here and get back to my book. I finished a couple of books yesterday, and will be posting about those next time.