Tuesday, November 27, 2007

2007-the year of books and travel, part one.

I decided to write a series of posts about the books I’ve read this year because many of them have been truly wonderful, some not so much, and also occasionally there’s no one to blame but me. Because I’m lazy and don’t always have patience with even the greatest of books.

So I started out by reading What is the What by my long time favorite Dave Eggers. I even reviewed it here, so I’m not going to say much about it now, except that it gave me a good start. The tears on my cheeks had barely dried before I bravely jumped right into the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, a book Ohmygodimmike had given me the previous summer. I had gone back to Sweden with almost no intention of ever reading it, knowing full well that books like that ( sad ones) are not for me, the one who cried for 2 days after seeing the movie Monster. I’m glad I read it though, because it was as great as my dear angry friend said, and it might sound stupid, but it also really made me want to fly kites. I read that book in February and I made great kite-flying plans. I even consulted several kite construction books, but sadly, I have not yet gotten around to it, and it’s November already.

The History of Love came next, which was a beautiful epic story of a couple torn apart in Europe during WWII, a long lost book and many other things. I decided to try and read something more cheery after that one though. So before I left for Cairo I started reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow, which DJ had given to me for Chrismukkah. Now that's a book that I would never think to buy for myself, even though the title is pretty catchy. And the book was catchy too, ”catchy sci-fi” I’ll call it. I guess I never actually cared how the big future war among the various attractions and rides at Disney World went, but I did love a lot of the ideas and future gadgets. Not having read much science fiction I’m still very easily impressed by people’s abilities to call each other up with their brain...chips and talking by subvocalizing and stuff like that. I know that that particular example isn’t very extravagant, but I just really wish I could do that so that’s why I remembered it. I even told my friends about it, and they... were not very excited. In Cairo, my friends and I all got a book called Cairo- City of Sand by Maria Gulia, published by the American University in Egypt. If you ever go there, and you want to learn something about the city’s history, politics, peoples, customs, swears, sayings and jokes you need to read this book. Because it’s a real ( well written) book and not some obnoxious guide.

When I got back I was really excited to see that Jonathan Lethem had come out with a new book, and it was called You don’t Love Me Yet, named after the 13th Floor Elevator song. I had very big expectations to say the least, especially since the Fortress of Solitude is one of my all-time favorite books. But, sadly, Jonathan Lethem let me down this time. And it hurts me to say it, but he must never write books from a female bassist’s perspective even again. Because things can go very very wrong, like for instance saying ” she made love like she played the bass”. That’s just silly. But I still have faith, and I believe that his next book is going to be excellent, with no more fooling around with LA and bands.

Next I read a Swedish book called Feberboken ( The Fever Book) by Stina Aronson, mostly to prove my friends wrong about me never reading Swedish books. It was about a woman who writes love letters to this married man (that she’s having an affair with) who is enjoying life in Paris while she was doing nothing in Sweden. I think. Even though it had a good ending I was glad to get the hell out of her head and start The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami. After I read Kafka on the Shore a year before ( what a rhyme!) , I didn’t know what to make of him. Did I love it? Was Murakami annoying? I was very confused. But after reading The Elephant Vanishes which is a collection of short stories I realized that that’s exactly what he’s great at, the short stories.

What happend next was greatness. It was spring. And I started The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. I can barely believe how much I loved that book. It seams childish almost. It’s like that book is Jason or Mark Owen from Take That, and I’m 11. I rarely read noir-type detective murder mysteries, and it's a pity really, because they're a lot of fun. This was so much more though, because of the unique place he created for the world's Jewish population in Alaska, because of the brilliant characters and the wonderful language. Seriously, it was so great. And that’s how I got obsessed with reading everything by Michael Chabon...

The Book I Read- Talking Heads

Borscht Riders in the Sky- Mickey Katz


Monday, November 26, 2007

Why I Don't Love Radiohead and also, Hyenas and Spam Fiction

Whats that? you say, You don't love Radiohead?

No, no I don't.

Why is that? you say, How can you not love the greatest musical artists of the 20th and 21st centuries?

Okay, okay, well, if you insist I'll break it down.

First of all, the difference here between the words like and love is key. I don't hate the band.

To me really really great music isn't about impeccable craftsmanship, or an unassailable atmosphere of cool. If you want that, you can listen to Radiohead. You can also listen to Avril Lavine, 50 Cent, Britney Spears, Coldplay, Justin Timberlake, etc, etc, etc.

I like the music produced by all of them, I just don't love it. There is a point, I think, that excessive slickness and polish cannot carry music to. There is a point when a certain element of give and take is obliterated by too much attention to the stance being taken.

Thats not to say I look down upon the perfectionism that whoever ultimately writes these songs has. It's only that my appreciation of these is more on the level of aesthetic or that of craftsmanship, than on the level of really human.

I think we need music like this as sort of guideposts or light houses to remind us of where we are. They're the colossi and mountains that we use to ground ourselves, whether we reject them or embrace them. But we, the humans, are not mountains. And to me music isn't about being something larger than what we are. To me music is about being exactly what we are, even if it is showing that we are in fact larger than we seem at first glance. Listening to their last few years of music I don't really know anything about Radiohead except that they're really super duper ultra mega cool, and to me thats not enough.

Anyways, thats about all I can really say about it. If I do change my mind about the band I'll let you know.

Speaking of super duper ultra mega cool, these photos and others by Pieter Hugo are close.


For maybe one month some spam was getting though my filters on gmail. I think they updated their programs because it stopped happening. I saved a few of those that got through because I thought like I think a lot of people out there think; that the text those spam bots churn out is actually weirdly fascinating. Maybe it's like those big contraptions that make robot art. Can advertisers and scam artists be actual artists?

Today I came across a block of spam text that I had pasted to a notepad on my laptop. After a little googling I found a lot of spam, this site, and that the text was at least mostly ripped out of Harry Harrison's pulp science fiction action stories. Apparently the guys who work these spam engines use a ton of excepts from his books to try and crack though filters.

I guess some asshole out there is a Harry Harrison fan.

Below is Harry Harrison and below that is the text in question:

"...combat, why none of us would be here. Thanks guys. Mission complete bloke one of you what takes me to your boss, Svinjar. Guy what does I just changed the rules. You yourself told me that you are heading take the cretinous colonel or the sadistic sergeant with me. Sure. Fetch. rich and sexy contralto. a bit of fruit juice. The science building was empty when the Floyds help. And stopped. shook his head in a silent no. I did the same. regardless, threat of death or no threat of death. I trotted behind Narcoses, clutching the papers and trying to think I feel sorry for the dog, Floyd said. We both looked at Steengo who face of my inquisitor was touched by a fleeting cold smile. it in some depth. What do you say we all put the weapons down and have then lowered it all down the chimney. Reaching down as far as I could Founder, whose name may not be spoken, who had the inspiration to read"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Discovered Uncovered #3 (Nirvana-rama)

I started writing this post two days before Halloween, and I thought to myself "wow, I may actually post something relevant for once." And then I didn't touch it for almost a month. Granted, there were many things to be done in the city of Taipei, including finishing the process of becoming a legal alien resident, and buying things like cheese graters and mini plastic palm trees for my apartment. Basically I'm groping for an excuse for calling this a Halloween themed post. But I have none. Fuck it; here's the super-spooky edition of Transmissions From Wintermute's Discovered Uncovered. Sorry...

Molly's Lips - Nirvana

Ain't it a Shame - Nirvana

Here She Comes Now - Nirvana

Heartbreaker (Live) - Nirvana

The above covers are of songs by The Vaselines, Lead Belly (most famously), The Velvet Underground, and Led Zeppelin, respectively.

I will always love Nirvana. They changed my brain in high school. Sorry to be such a cliche, but I have never gotten their sound out of my bones.

So much of their b side material, as well as all the live and unreleased stuff floating around the intra-net, and recently released on With The Lights Out, is covers. I always found this slightly odd because of their general standing as a band with a very distinct style and a seminal place of importance in rock history. Probably not that strange though with Cobain's acclectic musical taste and appetite. Nirvana was certainly always first to claim, even broadcast, their influences and idols, usually downgrading their own uniqueness. However, whenever they covered anything, it instantly became their style, just drenched in their personality and the sound of the early 90s. I kinda think this was Nirvana's power in general, the ability to absorb and synthesize so many of the rock, punk, and pop breakthroughs (or breakdowns) of the late 80s-early 90s, along with Cobain's personal imagination and outlook. They took all this amazing noise happening around (and before) them, and turned it into this loud, full, coherant sound. It was challenging and personal yet widely appealing.

Anyway, it's pretty fucking hard (I said "fucking" to sound more "punk") to find a bad Nirvana cover. At the top are four of the best I've come across. The Lead Belly cover was done as the grunge supergroup, The Jury (consisting of Kurt Cobain on vocals, Krist Novoselic on bass and backing vocals, and the Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan on guitar and Mark Pickerel on drums). According to wikipedia, it was done as part of a planned Lead Belly tribute album which was never finished. Also, the VU cover isn't the rockin' version they did as a Sub Pop split with The Fluid, but is rather an acoustic version I found online. If anyone out there in blogland has any idea where it's from, please hook it up in the comments.

Sub Pop has a way cool site with a bunch of original Nirvana press photos and one sheets from their Bleach days, as well as a really comprehensive discography. Here is how they described Nirvana back then:

NIRVANA sounds like mid-tempo
Black Sabbath playing the knack,
Black Flag, the Stooges, and a
pinch of the- Bay City Rollers.
Their personal musical influences
include H. R. Puffnstuff, Speed
Racer, divorces, drugs, sound
effects records, the Beatles,
rednecks, hard rock, punk rock,
Leadbelly, Slayer, and, of course,
the Stooges.

And if for some reason you're still reading, here's an old and unidentified film of them playing Seasons in the Sun, (Made Famous by Terry Jacks).

Hope you enjoyed the tardyness.

Happy late Canadian Thanksgiving!


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Skrivena Kamera Banka

Pitchfork's most recent Guest List went to Thurston Moore. In the slot ">> Favorite Song Ever," he mentioned a few contenders, and that most people will say the most important songs to them come from their youth. A song that makes an early impression on someone has a bigger impact than one that comes later in life. On of the songs that Thurston mentioned from his own early years was Patti Smith's Godspeed. He says "they were recording at Electric Ladyland one night, they started improvising and she has these words that she sings on top of this improvistation...It was a really sort of odd and unorthodox b-side for this hit single." It's a really elusive song I think. "Love is a vampire/energy of the dead"? I know it's a little cliche to say this, but I'm pretty sure she was trashed when they played this one. You notice the looseness and the slow burn of the song and it makes perfect sense that Thurston would choose it. When I think of Sonic Youth's sound, like most punk-era bands, I think of a sound that is basically totally original. Nobody sounded like the Ramones, or Television, or The Psychedelic Furs until those bands actually came along. Here though, I think you can actually hear some DNA ancestor of the "Sonic Youth Sound," especially their more recent stuff a la Rather Ripped, tucked away somewhere between the guitar riffs.

Patti Smith Group - Godspeed

Sometimes I wonder if the only reason I listen to so much world music is some stupid exoticism that my liberal mind imposes on any third-world peoples. Sometimes I don't like music, yes I can admit that. I think that it's a really good exercise to try and find some redeeming humanity in any song, but at the same time you're entitled to not like something. ie. I know Radiohead is good, I can hear it, but I'm still entitled to think Thom Yorke is a pretentious, whiny rat bastard. So when I do find something good, like this Yugoslavian garage-punk band Zabranjeno Pušenje, the No-Smoking Orchestra, it makes me realize that there exist things in the world that are totally awesome in their own right although you would never have heard of them because of the cultural and geographical barriers that exist around all of us. They classify themselves as New Primitives, not punk, because they are anti-West. But really what could be more punk than being anti-West? Here is my favorite song of theirs, and also a youtube clip of the popular communist tv show, Top Lista Nadrealista, which the band wrote and starred in during the '80s and early '90s

Zabranjeno Pušenje - Srce Ruke Lopata

Saturday, November 03, 2007


In other news, it's snowing.

Stephen Malkmus- I love to turn you on