All Aboard the Music Chain

Gah! These chain blog posts! I don’t usually answer these type of surveys, but I was interested in seeing what Phil had on his computer. So here we go:
Total volume of music on my computer
3,222 songs from 1,072 artists, taking up 16.14GB and making for nearly 8.8 days of 24-hours-a-day listening.
My work computer (the playlists rarely overlap)
1,320 songs from 512 artists, taking up 6.05GB and making for nearly 3.7 days of 24-hours-a-day listening.
The last CD I bought
Black Cab’s Altamont Diary, as I’d liked the two tracks I’d found on an mp3 blog. An Australia-only release, I found it used and had to manually order it using back-n-forth email with the shop owner.
Song playing right now
Thievery Corporation playing live with a full band on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic
Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me
That changes every day, so currently it’s:
Hot Chocolate – Everyone’s a Winner
Junior Senior – Itch You Can’t Scratch
Nerina Pallot – Everybody’s Going to War
Parry Gripp – Do You Like Waffles?
Go Home Productions – Girl Wants (to say goodbye to) Rock And Roll
For those in the know, look for these on MILLS2005PTONE
Five people to whom I’m passing the baton
Mostly because I want to know how many gigs they’re using: Peter Nacken, William Mellot, Danny Gregory, Patrick Benny, and Jean Snow.


Dir: Mike Nichols
If there was a cartoony graphic for Closer on the movie poster,
instead of the pretty typical glossy shots of the stars lined up like bowling pins, I would suggest this: A circle of four people, male, female, male, female, each with a knife stuck in the next person’s heart.
That pretty much sums up this gloomy examination of honesty and infidelity my Mike Nichols, directing an adaptation of Patrick Marber’s play. Dan (Jude Law) falls in love wtih Alice (Natalie Portman), a visiting American tourist to London, while also wanting to sleep with a more mature photographer, Anna (Julia Roberts, smile still in lockdown since Ocean’s 11). But a practical joke winds up throwing Larry (Clive Owen) into Anna’s arms instead. Let the honesty and bitterness begin!
Closer is a film/play where the characters speak their mind, then wonder why they suffer from the consequences of a fickle emotional core that won’t let them commit or even enjoy what they have. It’s human relationships infected with the emptiness of 21st century consumerism, where desire is all and attainment is crushing and debilitating. It makes sense, then, that after everything has fallen apart (for the 20th time) Larry finds Alice working at a strip club, where desire is for purchase and absolutely nothing is left after the transaction. We do discover later, ironically, that Alice (or Jane, as she calls herself) is actually telling the truth for once in this scene, but in this environment, the message can’t be heard.
It’s a very cruel film, but it does show Owen’s range as an actor, for his Larry is the most complex character of the quartet. I was beginning to doubt him after his blank stare performance in I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. Natalie Portman, who I’ve also read described as “icy”, gives a good performance, though I couldn’t stop looking at her face and wondering if she’d had plastic surgery. There was something off with her mouth and cheeks. Say it ain’t so, Natalie!
Jude Law is very good at playing a cad, though a cad who crumbles easily (he did so later in I Heart Huckabees). And Julia Roberts was equal amounts strength and weakness. I wouldn’t mind reading the play after this, though I’m not too sure when and if I’d want to watch the film again, as it really is a joyless piece. There’s an overview and review of the play here.

The Happiest Death on Earth

Everytime I begin to think that Disney isn’t an evil megacorporation they go and do this: Disney Rejects Pleas Against Serving Shark Fin Soup. Argh. I’ve seen fisherman harvesting shark fin. They pull the live shark out of the water, slice the fin off, and dump the suffering and very much still alive shark back in the water, where it bleeds to death, rudderless. The thought makes me sick and sad. And yes, Disney sucks.

Blankets – Craig Thompson

Top Shelf Comics

Blankets is a huge tome of a graphic novel, one that took artist/writer Craig Thompson 5 years to complete, and only took me a few hours to finish.
Ach, such is art.
The story, a realistic tale with dashes of magical realism and fantasy, concerns Craig, growing up in a strict Fundamentalist (are there any other kinds?) household, and struggling with his faith when he falls madly in love with Raina, a girl he meets at Christian Ski Camp. She lives in Michigan, he lives in Wisconsin, and they soon consummate a long-distance relationship that leads to the central action of the novel, Craig’s decision to stay with her for a week at her family’s house.
Craig’s family is ruled by a domineering father (who Thompson draws a little bit like Stalin), an invisible, but not weak, mother, and a younger brother who doesn’t have the most loving relationship with. He’s not exactly his brother’s keeper. The visit to Raina’s house mirrors Craig’s broadening worldview that primes him to leave the church. Raina’s parents are breaking up, but Dad still comes back every day for a few hours and puts on a brave face. The couple communicate through notes stuck to the refrigerator. Raina has an older, more rebellious sister, who has left the Christian home and immediately married a lunkhead and dropped a sprog. Raina also has two adopted siblings, both with Down’s Syndrome, a decision that made sense to the parents when they were kids, but now they are growing up physically, but not mentally, is fully taxing them.
Thompson gets all the details right in this slow, studied portrayal of young love, though tempered with debates over sin and battles with shame. The fundamentalist church comes across as one big gathering of alpha male high schoolers, with little difference between the mullet-heads that bully Craig, and the block-headed churchgoers who will choose ideology over family. With Christo-fascist James Dobson currently pulling the strings in Washington, it’s a shudder-worthy look into a sub-culture that is isolationist and miserablist at its core, but one that has its eye fixed on a theocratic state. The anti-art/anti-creativity propaganda drilled into the children through the church, as seen in Blankets, is, well, it’s child abuse, not to mention the whole body-shame-guilt crap.
Thompson grew up in this sort of environment, but like others who escape the fundamentalist craw, he knows his Bible, and Blankets occasionally departs to tell stories from the scripture that complement the main plot. His explication of Ecclesiastes–one panel the existential angst of the original text rendered in jagged Grosz-like ink work, the other a Sunday School happy bunny version of the Christian “correction” added later–is especially enjoyable.
I don’t know any of Thompson’s previous (minor) work, but his flexibility of style from realism to expressionism shows his young mastery of the form. This is his second book, but the first to be in this realist style. What he does for a followup will be of interest–having purged himself of his childhood trauma, will he have anything left to say? (Supposedly the next book is an “Arabian fairy tale”.)
Craig Thompson has a website and an interview here at Fear of Speed.

John the Valient – Sándor Petőfi


It was national poetry month last month, and Santa Barbara crowned its first poet laureate, Barry Spacks,
who I covered (with some tardiness) for the News-Press in my column. However, I missed publicizing, but still managed to give a shout out to, John Ridland, the poet who was one of my professors at UCSB back in the day. He was giving a reading of his own translation of Sándor Petőfi’s “John the Valiant”. After a few nice email exchanges, I received a copy in the mail. Being poetry, it was a quick read.
According to the introduction, John the Valiant is Hungary’s national poem, a work of children’s lit that speaks to young and old alike. The Hungarians look upon it like we look on Alice in Wonderland or Wizard of Oz, a text that keeps giving. People can quote huge chunks of the text, apparently.
Earlier translations, when they could be found, were prose, but Ridland’s translation returns to the original poem’s four line stanzas, and rather regular, child-like rhythm. This makes for some awkward rhyming, as the original Hungarian (presented here on the left side of the page) keeps the rhythm and rhyme throughout.
The story is simple enough. Besotted young country lad John Crack’o’Corn has to flee the farm and his love Nel after accidentally letting his flock of sheep disappear. He winds up joining a traveling army and fights on the side of France against the Turks, singlehandedly rescuing the King of France’s daughter in the process. He refuses the princess’ hand as he’s still in love with Nell, only to get home after an incredible further adventure (he winds up riding an eagle like a horse) to find Nell dead.
A nice, suitably gloomy ending, but Petőfi was told to keep the story going out of popularity.
The second half suffers a little from the unplanned sequel syndrome, as we find in Hollywood a lot these days, and Petőfi throws in more fantasy–Giants, witches, assorted bad guys–to keep the punters happy. It ends on the island of fantasy, the only place he can ever reunite with his love. It’s a strange book–if there’s anything missing it may be the author’s voice that would successfully link these disparate episodes together, something only found in the original language. I know so little about Hungarian literature that the book is interesting just in the way it has broadened my mind. Plus, it’s short! Thanks to Professor Ridland for having the good sense to pass it on to me.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West – Gregory Macguire

Regan Books

Recommended on a list of “socialist (leaning) sci-fi” which I think you can still find here, and then doubly recommended by my friend Chris,
and then found for a dollar that very afternoon in a used book shop (dontcha just love syncronicity?), I finally zipped through this after it sat on the To Read pile while I finished Austerlitz.
Now ten years’ old and adapted into a musical of all things, the novel takes the Wizard of Oz and retells the tale from the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view, opening up Oz into a rethink, where the Wizard is an authortarian ruler, Animals who can speak are persecuted like Jews, and Elphaba (the witch’s real name) is a misunderstood atheist who suffers from being on the wrong side of history. History, as you know, that is written by the winners.
Not to say that Elphaba is good and Dorothy bad–the novel is not just a mirror-reverse. Instead, the tale is a complex journey of conflicting desires and sad figures, and a slowly dawning sense (for the witch’s atheist beliefs) of predetermination, which we readers sense is Nabokovian in nature. Gregory Maguire creates characters that breathe, and successfully places within a completely different world without snarkily referring to our own, or breaking the fantasy. Characters talk from within their subculture, and we have to divvy out their belief systems. Explication be damned. Elphaba (the name comes from, ah-ha, L. Frank Baum’s initials) winds up a tragic, misunderstood character, and Dorothy a well-meaning but oblivious agent of death.

Getting Things Done – Dave Allen


If last year’s “Most Important Book” was City Comforts, this year’s has got to be Getting Things Done,
by productivity guru Dave Allen. My personal path to Allen was this: wondering what shareware/freeware apps were essential once I had my G5/OSX…Phil sending me a selection of links…one of those links being the blog 43 Folders…them recommending (nay, internalizing) Getting Things Done, or GTD as the hep cats call it…the library having a copy.
I have since turned into a prosyletizing GTD-head, turning on my friends Jon and Jeff to its tips and tricks, and on a bigger level, making large adjustments in thinking to handle the amount of tasks the creative person has. So many ideas we have, we artists, so little time to do them. Allen writes for the executive, but his system of lists and folders, and his mental system of prioritizing (the classic triple Ds of “Do Defer Delegate”) and solving tasks is for everybody, and has already paid off for me in big ways. The desk at home remains clean…every night. Small tasks, like phone calls, emails, and the like get taken care of right away. Large tasks and projects are broken down into smaller to-do lists. The email has been sorted out and in one night I took care of an Inbox that was spilling over with 450 emails. There’s nothing so edifying as crossing out completed tasks one after the other.
I haven’t done everything (yet) suggested in the book, and not everything applies or is of use. For example the “43 Folders” idea that the blog has taken for its name would be good if I was an executive with many paper-based projects and a big filing cabinet (the 43 includes a folder for every day of any particular month and one each after that for each following month). But I’m not, so that can wait. I still need to clear my desk of crap (mostly magazines), and I still want to have a proper sorting out of the filing cabinet and toss out old bills. (This sort of talk would lead to a sarky quote from Jon: Ted! You’re not Getting Things Done!!!)
In conjunction with the book (which I have now bought, because it’s something you want to have around), I am using the “hipster PDA,” an idea that grew out of the geeks who champion GTD. It’s a daytimer made out of 3×5 index cards and a metal clip. Totally customizable, and requires no batteries, stylus, or expensive software. You also don’t feel like a twat if you lose it. The missus is embarrassed about this because she thinks it’s a cry for help (or a least a cry for her to buy me a PDA), but I assure her that it’s not. Jon now has one, to which his sister responded, “Hipster here means poor, you know that, right?” So we are now calling our HPDAs the iStack. (Jeff recommends pStack, as there’s nothing “i” about it, but I don’t know.) You can see a photo of mine here.
43 Folders also has a rough summary of the book here, but the book is so dense, it might not make too much sense (or have the necessary impact).