December 31, 2008

The Year of Staring at Screens and Typing Furiously

Yeah, because I wrote and blogged in 2008 way, way more than any other year. For better or worse, maybe, but there it is. Or rather here it is:

DV Politics/Gonzo: Cross-posted
The Last Binge of SupaDupaPhat Tuesday 2.4.08
Ripping Fiction from the Facts 4.10.08
Beware the Terror of Campaign Bloat 5.16.08
When the Banshee Screamed for Thatcher 2.0 6.4.08
I Will Speak Ill of the Dead 6.14.08
Five Vulgar Pictures 6.26.08
Sneers and Gloating at the FISA Hearings 7.9.08
Yeah, What Winston Wolfe Said 7.24.08
Dinnae eht Mehke Ye Proud tae be Scottish? 8.6.08
Brand America Goes for Broke...Sort Of 8.28.08
John McCain is Doomed, and it's Bono's Fault 9.8.08
How Many Barricades Have You Stormed Today? 9.21.08
Happily Chugging the Toxic Stew of Dumb 10.2.08
The Crippling Nostalgia of Naranjastan 10.9.08
Desperately Seeking the Holy Grail of Epic Fail 10.26.08
More Meaningless Presidential-Baseball Voodoo 10.28.08
In Which Al Franken Steals My Act, Yo 10.28.08
Everything Was Fine Until I Looked Down 11.4.08
Projection Now, Projection Tomorrow, Projection Forever 11.13.08
Ringing the Mighty Cowbell of Rageohol 12.19.08

DV Series: Shameless Revisionism
UCSB Daily Nexus Artsweek #1 (1997) 6.14.08
UCSB Daily Nexus Artsweek #2 (1997/98) 6.20.08
Santa Barbara Independent (2001-2003) 6.29.08
@U2 Essays (2002-2005) 7.5.08
Genre-Bending Dubious Ventures (2002-2005) 7.12.08
My Band Rocks: The Mojo Wire (1997-2001) 7.19.08
My Band Rocks: Honey White (2002-2007) 7.23.08
Soapblox Rants #1 (2007) 8.1.08
Soapblox Rants #2 (2008) 8.9.08
Unfinished Fiction #1 (2002-2003) 8.15.08
Unfinished Fiction #2 (2003-2007) 8.23.08
Election Rants, 2004 Edition 11.26.08
Soapblox Rants #3 (2008) 11.29.08

Fiction: The Weapon of Young Gods
The Disagreeable Ones 1.27.08
The Precipice 1.27.08
Immobilized At Dawn 1.28.08
Vanishing Points 1.29.08
Scrambled Shame 1.29.08
Last Train Leaving The Abyss 2.9.08
Crippling Nostalgia 2.9.08
Your Time Is Not Your Own 2.10.08
Jeopardy On Crack 2.11.08
It's Quiet Up Here 2.16.08
The Morbid Frieze 2.18.08
Tourniquets 2.19.08
Fending Off Implosion 2.21.08
Concussions 2.29.08
Circle Of Envy 3.1.08
Treating The Symptoms 3.29.08
Sounds Like Screaming Mimes 4.4.08
Gauchoholica Uber Alles! 4.7.08
Narcoleptic Blues 4.16.08
Fragile Equilibrium 4.27.08
Backwards Fear 4.29.08
Accidental Recon 5.5.08
Salvage Some Dignity 5.17.08
Ruinous Smackdown Fallout 5.26.08
Electric Hubris 5.28.08
Shatter The Surrounding Splendor 6.10.08
Starting Fires 6.13.08
Immortals On the Loose 6.23.08
The Vortex of Angst 7.18.08
The Bait and The Switch 8.2.08
Artificial Archaeology 8.3.08
Perverse Psychic Penance 8.7.08
Echoes of the Womb 8.8.08
Thrashing Even Harder 8.19.08
Fitful Mind Games 9.2.08
Leave the Rest in Ruins 10.1.08
Frantic Improv 10.3.08
Crushing Heads 11.11.08
Frayed Strands 11.17.08
This Won't Hurt a Bit 12.27.08
Open-Heart Surgery 12.31.08

DV Gonzo: When Web Geeks Invaded the Commonwealth
I’d Still Rather Shiver Than Fry 12.7.08
Skittish Creatives Desperate for Respect 12.8.08
The Snide Lashings of Aesthetic Deconstruction 12.9.08
Pondering Potentially Damaging Trade-Offs 12.10.08

DV Series: Requiem for a Music Geek
It Began with a Book, and Died with a Film 9.20.08
The Decline and Fall of Juvenile Idolatry 11.12.08
Slouching Toward Sonic Domesticity 11.24.08

DV Gonzo: DV-Exclusive
Fanning the Flames of Terminal Narcissism 7.15.08
Death to East Coast Baseball Snobbery 9.22.08
Mighty Radical Awesome Power in the Sandbox 9.28.08
Working on a Cocktail Named “Damn, You’re Old” 11.2.08
When Living in Paradise Totally Blows 11.18.08
Remember that Wisdom about Land Wars in Asia? 12.25.08

MBR Series: Audio Archives
Low Tide Edition 1.16.08
Bryn Goes Solo Edition 1.23.08
Best Seven Grand We Ever Spent #1 9.19.08
Best Seven Grand We Ever Spent #2 9.27.08
Quick and Dirty Edition, Pt. 2 10.5.08
And Then We Became a Jam Band 10.19.08
The Biggest Balls in Keir's Canon 11.1.08
Rude and Crude Edition 11.11.08
Alone and Bored Edition 12.29.08

MBR Series: Unrepetant Fanboys
Bryn's Favorite Songs 8.1.08
Brian's Favorite Songs 8.5.08
Billy's Favorite Songs #1 9.3.08
Billy's Favorite Songs #2 9.10.08
Billy's Favorite Songs #3 9.14.08
Keir's Favorite Songs 9.15.08

DV: Photo Posts
You Know You're a Grown-Up When... 4.24.08
Fiction Location Shots #1 6.3.08
Fiction Location Shots #2 6.6.08
OC Location Shots #3 6.12.08
East Ventura by Bicycle 7.19.08
Fourteen Years of Creeping Nostalgia 7.3.08
South Ventura by Bicycle 7.20.08
Summer of Baseball 2008 7.29.08
Random Ventura by Car 9.23.08
Creeping Nostalgia: High School Edition 10.21.08

That's not necessarily "everything," but that's most of it. We'll see how 2009 stacks up, but hopefully I'll be staring at screens much, much less.

December 19, 2008

Ringing the Mighty Cowbell of Rageohol

Good goddamn, these new-presidency-birth-pangs sure are pretty fucking loud, aren't they? I don't know about the rest of you, but I thought I was finished for the year—it's way, way, way past my politically-psychic bedtime—and I've been looking for a nice quiet place to lie down ever since Election Day, but no, the infant Obama administration and its erstwhile supporters on the "far left" have both robbed me of my sweet repose. Everyone seems to be swilling the sour grapes of Rageohol this winter, but as the whole world collapses around us all yet again, we still can't seem to admit that Teh Rage is our precious cause of and solution to All of Life's Problems.

Yes, I should have expected this. I was far too green in the winter of 1992/93 to know or care who Bill Clinton threw into the vicious maw of confirmation—but I remember Lani Guiner, Zoe Baird, and Kimba Wood all getting mauled by rabid congress-critters eager to take a bite out of anything Big Bill ever valued. In the frosty post-election winter of 2000/2001, I was graduating college and likewise too self-absorbed to really give a shit who George Bush would appoint as his own vile henchmen (and women), but I do recall the many bricks shat over Ashcroft.

And now? Well, now of course we, the blogging masses, have Insta-Outrage, and we have become highly dependent on its vicious whims and horrible demands. We've had it coursing through our veins since we all tasted blood two years ago—when Harry met Nancy and they both conspired to Not Do Jack Shit About Anything (or at least that's what I think I remember). And that insta-outrage has been building up for weeks now, man. Of course, it was interrupted there for a brief minute by the backslapping, rip-roaring mania of WINNING, BITCHES!—except out here in California, where the death-shrieks continued and the Cold War With Utah began.

Everywhere else, though, has been tagging along behind the Forced March of Consolidation that our President-Elect has been leading ever since he snatched The Prize away from Grandpa Simpson. It has been a gloriously dull slog, hasn't it? Lieberman, Rahm, Hillary, Gates, Vilsack, Salazar, that simpering geek Duncan, that other guy who withdrew, blah blah blah. Oh, but there's Hilda! Hilda is Here, motherfuckers! Who gives a shit about Corruption in Chicago, Part MCCXXVII—or even Depravity and Decadence in Detroit?

Yes, it's been horrible, hasn't it? You know how I know? I heard that slimy bastard Juan Williams sneering at the "far left" today on NPR, and I knew that the warnings about the Heathers were true. Ho ho, that's some honeymoon, Barry. And not only that, but our very own orange vortex of angst has wrenched open its pit of despair, and the accompanying soundtrack has been such a sustained back-and-forth of hyperbolic projection and snide condescension that I believe I'll never be able to get to sleep again. Woe is fucking me.

Indeed, and by the time I latch onto something it's usually over, or at the very least over-staying its welcome—but that doesn't seem to be the case here. No, I will not be yet another voice of white straight male entitlement to join in the cynical chorus of "Be Angry at the Sun," snidely shouting down all the angry Kirks raging at Khan throughout the President-Elect's transition. But neither will I continue to shriek like a naked banshee over Warren the Hutt, Ruler of Saddleback, because I am too tainted by the same things that led him down the tunnel of filth where he now makes his home.

No, not because we're both white, straight, male Orange Countians. I ditched that Bircher preserve many years ago, thanks very much—though I do occasionally perform heroic sorties to bring sanity to my relatives still behind the Curtain—but I have never been able to shake off its foul stench of Suburbia. I've said all this before, of course, and flagellated righteously many times—and I thought that I was done with all that back in the heady days of November, but of course it was not to be.

Not with the spiritual successor of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" howling through the land. Not with the Beast of Bipartisanship terrorizing innocent party hacks whenever they dare to step outside. Not with the threat of socio-economic collapse continually fucking up our chosen commercial winter papering-over-previously-pagan holidays. And of course that goes double for all of us who waste our lives staring at websites. No meta can save you now, people—not even when some asshole points out that some other assholes have been secretly colluding their assholery for months now—no, no soap opera will divert the Great Eye from its laser-like focus on our new Temporary Capital of Chicago, D.C.

You might laugh, but it's True. When a sitting President of the United States gets the Random Task treatment from Iraqi gonzo journalists, and when his annoited Successor can't shake a toupéed leech like Blagojevich off his stylish pant legs, when these symptoms of a crumbling civilization simply won't go away no matter how much we hope they will, it's time to change the channel. It's time to go out and get fucking blitzed, dude. Maybe in 20 years our queer friends will get to join us, and—oh Christ, who gives a shit. The Padres traded Khalil Greene to St. Louis and the NFL playoffs suck balls.

Well, damn. Throw up my hands. Welcome to the majors, Mr. Hobbs. Don't let 'em give you any shit about your ponytail, and if they do, give me a call. We'll kidnap their children and ship them to Provo. No one will ever know. The time for civility has passed—there's still a war on, after all.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, fsz, mlw

December 11, 2008

Pondering Potentially Damaging Trade-Offs

The jets floated like silent wraiths through the fog outside the airport window, while I sat inside, marooned in heated comfort. Yes folks, I was at Logan for quite a few languid hours yesterday morning, pondering the potentially damaging trade-off between ugly gray rain outside and disgustingly festive holiday music piped in over cable radio. A poor choice of brunch was already oozing maniacally through my guts, but I had to ignore it for the moment and lash together a Meaningful Finale for this Frigid Trip to the East.

Not only that, but I felt I needed to justify the considerable expense to the Company this whole trip would incur. Was the Web Design World convention worth it? Had I learned anything? Had I grown, personally and professionally? I'd tried, while packing the night before, to explain the whole thing to Emily over the phone, but she was in the middle of packing too—for an emergency flight to Oregon the day after I returned—so her demeanor was understandably distracted.

I'd also attempted to condense it all into friendly small-talk during the cab ride to Logan, when the Ugandan driver asked me the usual stuff about coming-or-going, business-or-pleasure. He was far more interested, however, in my tangentially tenuous association with his homeland—via the two degrees of separation granted by my celebrated Africa-traversing buddy Sean Blaschke—so while happy to talk about that, I still found myself hamstrung when attempting to explain What It All Meant.

I had, for good or ill, befriended two of my fellow creative professionals at the opulent convention. They might not really agree with that in toto (especially if they ever read this blog), but they were Good People, and it Worked at the Time, so forget all that silliness about Tyler Durden and his single-serving friends. I had also soaked up more techno-geekery than I'd planned to, thanks in no small part to the admittedly expert testimony of the phalanx of presenters. The panels and seminars and professional discussions and stuff were all Informative, sure, but I felt a bit like I did after the San Francisco convention last year. Well, except I didn't have a five-hour drive ahead—I had a cross-country flight ahead.

But whatever. There was too much mental detritus to sift through that early in the morning—yeah, I was still on California time after four straight days in Boston—to slap a Coda on my ugly dispatches from the Commonwealth. Especially when the terminal began filling up with cute, but noisy, children, and CNN's reporting about the disgraced Democratic Governor of Illinois gradually drowned out the wretched Christmas music. I figured it would only get more intense from there, and then of course I'd have to repeat the whole process again in Denver. It was going to be a long, long day before I'd have the cognitive skills to prepare a True Report of the convention and all its proceedings, so—with a wary eye on my Mac's dwindling battery power, I gave it all up for lost.

Indeed. No one should have to worry about Professionalism when there are other ugly, preposterous things to look forward to in 2009: a new U2 album, a San Diego Padres team destroyed without Jake Peavy (and definitely without Trevor Hoffman or Khalil Greene), and the lazy-ass media whirring to life as it attempts to hound President-Elect Obama out of the White House before he's even sworn in. Good goddamn, how can a man pay attention to ridiculous shit like Web Standards and CSS/XML Best Practices when the world is still going to shit? Ye Gods, not after a soul-crushing nonstop Boston-to-Denver run with turbulence bumpier than Edward James Olmos' face. Not after a mad dash from Denver Gate B17 to Gate B88. Not after a cramped pencil-plane trip from Denver to Burbank, seated next to a Random Corporate Man-Whore from Indianapolis. Endure that, and maybe you'd understand why I might've been ripe for all manner of insane stupidity once I landed.

Which almost happened, actually—when I got a "put this fire out tomorrow" voicemail from The Boss, and was reminded that I'd need to be awake at 5 am the next day (by now, earlier this morning) to take Em to the SB Airport. It was a short trip from there to complete mental crack-ups, which thankfully my lovely wife endured with all appropriate aplomb, and that's all you'll ever need to know about that, sports fans. So that's all for now. Stay tuned for more ruminations on the future of Mr. Greene, as well as many more music-geeky requiems. Thanks for enduring it all.

December 09, 2008

The Snide Lashings of Aesthetic Deconstruction

The Mass Pike on-ramp sign up ahead hung like a demented beacon over St. James Avenue, and I shivered nervously while making my way to the Westin Copley among the huddled commuting pedestrians of Boston. The sign's huge blue-and-red, Interstate-90 designation of "West: New York" seemed to taunt me as a blunt reminder of how far East I'd dragged myself, all for the self-satisfied sake of those twin demons known as Art and Commerce. By the time I staggered into the Westin for Day Two of the Nerd Convention, breakfast was being served, and the assembled attendees were getting themselves psyched up for a full day of marketing strategies and programming solutions. I quickly caffeinated myself to catch up with the frantic semi-professional discussions already taking place in the foyer, but soon settled into my chair in the main hall. It didn't take long, however, for the collective momentum to shudder and stop.

It was the day's first speaker who began that screeching halt; a nervous Russian elf-man rambling about data clouds tried valiantly to earn his keep, but his heavily-accented English was soon surreptitiously heckled by two socially leprous geeks to my left. Their insidiously snide vibe slowly permeated the entire audience—so much so that when the poor speaker finished up with a Q&A segment, only one half-hearted conventioneer was able to throw him a token softball. He quietly slunk offstage, bequeathing it to the second speaker, a professionally enthusiastic programmer named Joe who spoke about operating system compatibility at approximately eight thousand words per second. Everyone was instantly jolted back into consciousness, and order would have been restored were it not for one straggler: Me.

It happened like this: Joe the programmer had been cheerily speeding through his presentation when, abruptly, his empathy switch flipped on and he asked if anyone had questions. "I don't want to confuse you guys, okay?" he said, "so if anyone has a better way to describe the awesome advantages of cross-platform compatibility, please, let's hear it!"

I raised my hand. "Um, how about 'give me convenience or give me death?'" A few people around me chuckled politely, including a girl who I recognized from the night before as the giggly one from North Carolina. "Yes! That's perfect!" said the programmer, raising his fist in exultant agreement. "Give this man a prize. I know who I want to have drinks with later!"

North Carolina Girl looked impressed, and another guy to her left reached out to shake my hand. 'Ho ho,' I thought to myself, while basking in the glow of professional goodwill. 'Who rolls with the big boys now?' Unfortunately, my self-gratifying reverie blocked out the rest of the compatibility presentation, so I missed the programmer when he ended his gig and bounded out of the room for his next workshop.

Which was fine, because the third speaker was well into his own presentation when I came back to myself. This new guy, Lance, was a marketing guru, and held us rapt with attention via a zen-like charm and a somewhat covert appeal to all our nascent, smug inner-designer selves. His "ROI & Best Practices" forum wasn't much different from what I saw back in March 2007 (when I'd previously caught this convention in San Francisco), a how-to for shopping carts, e-mail forms, and general site appearance—so I wasn't missing much by taking time to re-introduce myself to Handshake Man (Rich, who worked for a local biotech firm) and NC Girl (Laura, who came from a marketing agency).

The session ended and we went to lunch in a room next door, piling our plates high like freshman in a dorm cafeteria. "I think I took too much," fretted Laura as we sat down. "I couldn't drag anyone out to the city for dinner last night, and had to order a pizza and eat it all by myself." I smirked knowingly, having done exactly the same thing the night before. "That won't happen tonight, though," she continued. "I want to go find some real food! I've never been to Boston before. Who's with me? Let's all get dinner later!" I looked at Rich for help. "Well, you're a local. Where should we go for...for some good Italian, say?"

"Probably the North End," he replied. The rest of our lunch hour was spent decrying the bizarre irregularity of Boston's street layout, its illogical naming conventions (i.e. the North End was still south of much of the city), and other idiotic yokel griping, which Rich endured stoically—a credit to his city and state. We did find time to drop in on a "lunchtime session" web design seminar, presented by a guy whose business card read "Senior Evangelist" (which obviously outed him as another Corporate Sponsor), but I don't remember anything about that one at all.

Anyway, Rich and Laura were getting comfortable for the next regular session, but I had to get my shit together for another go-round with Joe the Programmer. They looked puzzled, but when I explained that I was overdue for some XML refreshers, they merely grimaced in sympathetic amusement. "Bummer for you, sucker," they both laughed. "Guess we'll see you in a few hours, then."

"You'll thank me one day, goddamnit," I said, shaking my fist at them. "I'll not soon forget this cruel display of your faithlessness." The XML session itself was just as gloriously interesting as I'd feared, and despite Joe's trademark manic enthusiasm, I was barely able to hang onto his ankles in desperate comprehension. By the end, though, I felt less stupid than I had at the end of the same session the year before. "Hey thanks, Joe," I said. "I really appreciate you taking the time to wait for those of us too incompetent to keep up. I might forgive you if you buy me those drinks you mentioned."

"What drinks?" He looked puzzled, but I shook my head and waved him off as I turned to go. "Never mind," I grumbled, retreating to a third room to endure a second go-round with Accessibility Requirements, presented by the same woman from the W3C who'd shamed us all so effectively yesterday. She once again listed a myriad of ADA-compliance standards, begged us to "please, please, pleeeease follow these," but for some reason people weren't as receptive as before, and several walked out or began to whisper amongst themselves. It was a disgusting, callous display, and I left to find my new friends to gripe all about it.

I never got the chance, though—the next session sucked up all our remaining energy, and left Laura a trembling mess of anxiety. The premise was "Deconstruction" of a cross-section of submitted attendee websites, but it ended up a weird hybrid of snide comic roasting and brutal American Idol insider-snobbery. I'd had an inkling this might happen, back in October when registering for the conference, and wisely ignored the invitation to include my company's website among the pool of choices. Poor Laura wasn't so lucky, though—her rising vibes of silent fear were all too contagious, and when we asked her what was up, she almost went to pieces right then and there.

"They're going to pick my company's site, I just know it," she squeaked. "I have this weird sense of intuition, and it's never wrong." We tried our best to distract her, but even my ultimate fail-safe method of freehand-map doodling couldn't help the poor woman when, just as she feared, her agency's home page came up as the final contestant in this vicious game. "Oh God!" she whispered, "there it is! I'm doomed!"

The panel—comprised of several lecturers from the convention—was not kind. Indeed, while we'd been attempting to staunch the flow of Laura's worry, the whole session had passed in a frenzy of snickering at the various design and programming faux-pas that infested the submitted websites. The witty, agreeable presenters who'd only hours ago regaled us with their combined brilliance had suddenly turned on us, their benefactors, with a smug vengeance that only creative professionals could muster. Laura's company site was eviscerated, just as the others had been, and Rich and I watched helplessly as she collapsed before us in a frenzy of shame.

"This is terrible!" she moaned. "I'll never be able to show my face in Raleigh again! Everyone will know I'm a failure!"

"Don't be silly," I said. "Did you design that site yourself?"

", no."

"Well, there you go, then."

"Exactly," said Rich. "None of this is your fault. It's not like they mentioned your name or anything, either. You're home-free."

She sniffed softly and nodded, but wasn't fully consoled. "I still need to get out of here. I've had enough of these jerky bastards for a lifetime, and there's still one more day of this stuff. I need a drink, damnit!"

"Forget about all that," said Rich, a consoling hand in the air. "Come on, I'll take you both out on the town. We'll go see the bar that they based Cheers on—it's right down the street."

"Not me," I replied. "You both go have a ball. I've only signed up for the two-day convention, and I've got a plane to catch tomorrow—something I can't do hungover. I have to go home and pack."

"Suit yourself," they said, smiling as they walked out of my life to join a gaggle of other young, beautiful, and talented people—all ready to paint the town with their own vibrant red plasma.

I shrugged, accepting my fate, and went to the coat-rack to dig out my heavy-weather gear for the rainy trek back to the hotel. It had been a momentous gathering—I knew that much—but I worried that I'd have to gin up some serious fiction to pad my Professional Report that The Company demanded. It would be a dirty job, for sure, but a dirty job for another day, and nothing that a judicious helping of Room Service wouldn't cure.

Next: Pondering Potentially Damaging Trade-Offs

December 08, 2008

Skittish Creatives Desperate for Respect

It shouldn't really be a surprise that Day One of the Nerd Convention opened just as dark and cold as yesterday, but I didn't actually see yesterday morning what with the jet lag and various other travel-induced deliriums, so a violently brisk Boston morning was certainly news to me. Oh sure, the first three minutes of the approximately eight-minute walk were almost pleasant, but it didn't take long for my trek from the Park Plaza to the Westin Copley to become a stoic and grim affair. Like a good spoiled suburbanite, however, I was soon rescued from Oblivion by the life-giving ambrosia that is cardboard-coffee, and settled in well enough once I followed the other nerds up to the Westin's third floor.

The tone was set right away: a criminally chirpy emcee welcomed everyone with a jolt of enthusiasm right out of high school student government, but that was tempered soon enough by the day's keynote speaker. A grizzled veteran of the early '90s web biz, he regaled us with horror story after horror story, gradually creeping toward the obvious thesis of "Web Designers Ain't Got No Props, Yo." Which is true these days, more or less—now that giddy, venture-capitalistic investors aren't throwing money around like they were a decade ago. It was a twelve-step keynote speech of Doom and Danger, leavened by a single slide with the word "Trust," accompanied by the Elvis Costello album cover of the same name, and somewhere, Bret Easton Ellis shuddered with adolescent embarrassment.

The somnambulant masses were then treated to what was surely the sweetest punch of shame ever thrown at such a gathering, when the second speaker used her friendliest Midwestern charm to genially berate us all for ignoring the coagulating standards of web accessibility. "Deaf and blind people want to pay for internet porn too," she shrieked, fiercely gripping the podium, "so all of you better make damn sure your .jpg images carry the proper alt tags!" That was definitely a cause I could get behind. Hell yes, madam, whatever you say. Equality, justice, and the pursuit of happiness for all. This is still America, right?

Precisely, and I ruminated on that very concept all the way through the next lecture—about "innovative web standards"—but for the life of me I cannot remember a single thing about the speaker or his chosen topic. That mattered little, though, once the free lunch was rolled out, and we were all encouraged to flock to marked tables labeled with certain interests, so as to "facilitate discussion" in a presumably Athenian-Academy kinda way. It did, sort of—I naturally chose the "blogging and social publishing" table, and was deep in a discussion with a Florida grandma and MIT administrator about the endless vagaries of Drupal, Joomla, and other fiendish Content Management Systems, when the same chirpy emcee strode into our midst with two aging beauty queens on his arm, yapping away about the NFL and how terribly the Packers had failed this weekend.

"Excuse me," said Mrs. MIT, "but do you have anything to say at all on the chosen topic?" The emcee smirked and her and, without missing a beat, shot back "I do indeed—I could tell you all about my favorite Steelers blog, but you're not that into football, are you?" His arm candy tittered in vapid acknowledgment, and I took that as my cue to leave. I wasn't away long, though—the home office in Ventura was running just fine without me, thanks very much—and so came back to the table to find all antagonistic parties had gone in favor of a social publishing guru, who held court among several Twittering acolytes.

"It's all in my new book," I heard him say, and he looked up as I approached, dodging the nimble Westin wait staff. "Here man," he smiled, tossing me a flimsy paperback, "have a copy. I've got, like, eighteen of them to give away. Vanity presses are weird like that, you know?"

"Oh, tell me about it, dude," I gushed, thankful for the opportunity to spew forth about my own recent forays into the world of Self-Publishing. Turned out that this guy's lecture was next up, so I slipped in to absorb some reheated wisdom about Moveable Type, Facebook, Digg, Delicious, and all that other wide-net-casting awesomeness that the kids these days are so into. It was a nice change of pace from the insistent doom and gloom until the guy asked about how our companies were doing in the current Bush Recession. We exploded into myriad tales of woe—going on and on about personnel cuts and mountainous expenditures and ditches of debt—but he just stretched into a knowing smile.

"Relax, you lightweights," he said. "This is nothing like 2001. I mean, it was so bad back then that I had to quit everything and work for UPS! As a driver!" He backed it all up with a quote about "being unique and interesting" from Morphine's Mark Sandman, and we "mm-hmmed" in sympathy, but the session timed out at that point, and everyone herded back into the main conference hall for a double-bill of Style Sheets and User Interfaces. It was a bleak, marathon session, presided over by a designer-turned-programmer with a background in stand-up comedy.

"This is some awfully dull shit," he said, grudgingly admitting that CSS might not be everyone's cup of tea. "Seriously, folks—most of you will probably be bored to fucking tears, okay? I dare you to stay awake!"

"I'll take that bet," I hollered from the left-hand corner. "I'm not afraid of your piddly style sheets!" He gave me a sidelong glance, but kept his cool. "I'll take guff now and again from random peanut galleries," he sneered, "but there is some shit I will not eat. I know your kind, dude—I'll bet you're an inline CSS user!"

The audience gasped in fright, and I hung my head in shame. "You got me," I said. "What can I say—it was a low-budget job and we were desperate for the work."

"Never mind that," he replied, waving away my worries. "It takes a big man to admit when he has fucked up, and your strength will not go unrewarded." I then got several personal insights about the labyrinthine secrets of Photoshop, much to the envious ire of my fellow conventioneers.

Two hours later, we slouched out of the main hall famished—but the conference was feeding us dinner, and no one was about to pass that one up. My two drink tickets were gone within minutes, however, and I soon found myself slightly drunk and standing around the bar with Social Publishing Guy, two nursing home IT people from Maine, and a giggling marketing girl from North Carolina. They all ranted and raved about how awesome the next conference would be—at SXSW in Austin—and considering those variables, I had no choice but to agree. Austin would be a great place to talk shop and then go party.

After throwing in a few choice, relevant anecdotes about the dangerous social hazards of my past life in Isla Vista, though, it was time to brave the elements and trudge back to the hotel. There would be plenty of time on Day Two for more technologically enhanced, hyperbolic enthusiasm.

Next: The Snide Lashings of Aesthetic Deconstruction

December 07, 2008

I'd Still Rather Shiver Than Fry

Well, here it is almost 2pm Eastern, and I have yet to step outside my swanky room at the Park Plaza Hotel and experience the Balls-Ass Frozen Tundra that is Boston in December. Yeah, because for me, it's still 11am Pacific, and I am in the merciless grip of Jet Lag. None of this is unusual, mind you—as the Christians among us have learned from Cain, traveling East is always Perilous and Shameful—because I'm a bitchy traveler at the best of times, and I'm sure that if I weren't going solo on this one, erstwhile touring companions would be righteously frustrated by my temperature-induced Sloth. All the same, if I'm going to Do My Best and Represent The Company at the Nerd Convention tomorrow, I'd better get my shit together. Hopefully I won't cripple this trip to Beantown the same way I did last time, when Em and I swooped in here during October 2005 to hassle Lis as she attempted to study hard at BU.

It'll take some effort, though, and I'm glad I have today to recover from the twelve-hour Air Travel Cycle Of Doom that I had been enduring all day yesterday. "Relax," said Emily as she left me in the Burbank terminal at 9am. "You'll be a Man On The Town all week. It'll be fun." I grimaced and meekly submitted to the vagaries of the local TSA before jumping on a pencil-plane flight from Burbank to Denver. Now, I've heard nasty stories about flying into Denver. Everyone from my brother to Ted Leitner (the Scourge of San Diego) has told tales of the frightening air approach to the Mile-High City—but it didn't happen. Short of listening to some idiot a few rows back enjoy the sound of his own voice, it was an easy flight. I even got some work done proofing the Dubious Ventures book.

Ah, but then there was the Denver Airport in all its glory. I'd likewise been hearing ugly stories about this place, but was disinclined to believe them since they came from a heartless girl who dumped me without a second thought, way back in the Twentieth Century. So when the wait time at Gate B46 was easier to deal with than the rubbery food available, I was pleasantly surprised. The Denver to Boston run itself—in a big-ass 757—was only 3 hours, but I was robbed of one of my favorite air-travel games: guessing where the hell we were just by looking out the window. Takeoff had been at sunset Denver time, and flying East into the dark winter night rarely allowed glimpses of the Purple Mountains and Amber Waves below. When city lights poked through the constant cloud cover, it was hard to make out discerning features—is that formless clump of glowing humanity Kansas City? St. Louis? Indianapolis? Chicago and Detroit had been easy to see last time, but the ground below became black and blank within an hour.

Landing at Logan had also been a piece of piss—especially when I had the soothing sounds of Loud Rock Music in my ears and the distraction of more Dubious Ventures proofing. I also got to explain my reason for traveling to the woman next to me: a grandma with a slight Massachusetts accent who had apparently been a local elected official some years back. Explaining web design—and conventions dedicated to business-tripping web designers—to people over a certain age is always fun, because even at this late date there are still some who are a bit confused as to how it works and what you can do, so fiction can always gloss over the bits about which you're not so professionally educated. She was an enthusiastic listener, though, so I didn't fudge much.

Then, after a quiet $30 cab ride through the bowels of Boston (Yeah, I'll take the T on the way back, thanks), I ended up at the Park Plaza, still dazed from the plane's recycled air combined with the icy sting of the East. The fastidious hotel desk attendant, a sharp-dressed young black man, did get slightly confused by my multiple exotic French names, but it was soon sorted out—hell yes, the Gentleman has a Major Credit Card; don't you know who you're talking to?—and within minutes I was ensconced up on the ninth floor, scarfing through the trappings of room service and peering out onto the frigid streets below. It was loud and boisterous outside—Boston is a City of Youth, with approximately 236 colleges in or around town—but I was in no mood to mingle with the spoiled children of Cambridge or Back Bay, even as they cavorted like wild dingos in heat. I am, after all, a Professional—not, as my lovely wife described me, "a man about town."

Even so, it's probably about time to get out there and stomp on the frozen streets with Authority. Pay no attention to the Wailing Police Sirens Of Fear you hear, dude. Them's just the sounds of Sunday Afternoon In The City. Indeed—it may be bitterly cold outside, but it could be so much worse, especially at the opposite end of the spectrum that is Phoenix in summer. I'd still rather shiver than fry.

UPDATE (2 hours later): Jesus creeping shit, it is really that cold outside. I found this out after a few laps around Copley Square, while stray snowflakes wafted into my face and pedestrians dashed across every intersection at top speed to keep the blood pumping.

I ducked into the Copley Place mega-mall just to get warm again, but could only take about twenty minutes of walking around in there; a distinct Last-Days-Of-Rome whiff always comes off a shopping mall in December, but I must have stumbled into one of the Major Hubs of such phenomena. Beautiful Rich Young People abounded, whether native or otherwise, and though as an OC child I'm well aware of how they behave, I still had to beat a retreat posthaste.

And yes, I'd seen it before—my sister took Em and I through Copley three years ago, but that was in October, when the huddled masses were not yet Seeking Warmth at all hours of the day. We shall see how crowded the Westin is on the convention's first day tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Next: Skittish Creatives Desperate for Respect

December 03, 2008

Blood & Chocolate + Wires & Waves

You know your wife loves you when she brings home a Filter mag starring these two people.

November 29, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: Soapblox Rants #3 (2008)

As promised earlier this week, the continuation of my Shameless Revisionism series, this time dedicated to more ridiculous spew from Election '08. There's a lot to cover, so for better descriptions of the five W's involved, check out my previous Soapblox Rant revisionism here and here. Okay, let's get to it then—click on an essay title link to see the whole post:

Brand America Goes for Broke...Sort Of (Aug. 28, 2008)
In which I try (and fail) to explain my preposterous "PermaGov Seeks Re-Branding" theory of Election '08. It capped off a week's worth of Democratic Convention/Barack Obrouhaha in Denver, so I'd been simultaneously titillated and repulsed by the supersaturation-level coverage from TV, radio, and the web, and therefore my intellectual capacity was too sapped to offer up a coherent distillation of said Theory for the education of all. Which was fine, of course, because a day later all thunder was stolen by the screeching, sneering Republican Veep nominee: Alaska governor Sarah Palin—but more on her later.

So...this was originally supposed to be something about how Brand America/Monied Interests/PermaGov/The Man is, in 2008, finally grudgingly acknowledging certain global sociopolitical realities by conceding the nomination of a major American political party to a black man. About how said black man and his crew had been following in the footsteps of great political marketers and ad men of the past—specifically, the past of 1960 and 1980—in creating an indelible brand with which to sell themselves to the American consumer population. About how, after all, this is the American Way, and that's just what we do here.
John McCain is Doomed, and it's Bono's Fault (Sep. 8, 2008)
This one was a happy confluence of two extremely nerdy, time-wasting obsessions of mine: American Presidential Politics and U2. Like the "PermaGov Seeks Re-Branding" Theory mentioned above, this essay also tackles a similar idea: the "U2 Election Year Album Release" theory—and in the interests of thorough, complete analysis I thought I should include relevant supporting data from U2's past 18 years of touring. So yes, I called the election for Obama in September based on shoddy, nebulous evidence—but hey, isn't that just as good as any shit you'd ever see on cable news? Yes. Yes it is.
Now, by the album theory, this year was all set to be locked up for Crash McCain, what with plenty of substantiated rumors about a new U2 album looming in the fall. However, it seems that someone in the U2 camp—be it the nefarious Edge, the sullen Mullen, the libertine Clayton, or the socio-capitalist manager McGuinness—has overruled Yer Man Bono, and forcibly delayed the new release to 2009. One could argue that Obama has already telegraphed this, what with his make-it-stop overuse of U2's recent single "City of Blinding Lights" during the eternal Democratic primary, but I don't think so. No, Barry's not as big of a U2-booster as the Big Dog, but he probably does realize that the universe is now aligning a bit more in his favor. Yeah, you only think he had a bad week. Whatever, man. We're ready for the laughing gas. We're ready for what's next.
How Many Barricades Have You Stormed Today? (Sep 21, 2008)
Like a good spoiled suburban jerk, I'm capriciously fickle when it comes to respecting or disrespecting the passionate beliefs and cynical snark of my fellow bloggers. In Left Blogistan, nowhere is the gulf between those poles wider than in the space between the ultracool, snide, overeducated "leftists" (who understand that the Democratic Party is merely the lesser of two viciously compromised evils), and the seemingly naive, idealistic, blindly loyal Party People who fall in behind the nominated candidate. In this essay I bitch and moan at both of them—and perversely, its cross-posted Daily Kos version was "rescued" from the dark depths of obscurity. Go figure.
You don't want to be uncool, do you? You don't want to, like, become exactly what the chickenhawks always said you were, do you? Just another dirty fucking left-liberal hippie armchair activist who doesn't have the balls to publicly state how much you hate Bush/the Iraq War/Republicans/whatever? Even after the massive (and massively ignored) anti-war protests of 2003? Even after the whitey-frightening brown-power marches of 2006? Because arm-chairing it is, like, so uncool, dude. For serious. I mean, even I know that, and I would never in my wildest nightmares do anything remotely politically active. Registration? Please. I couldn't sell candy bars door-to-door for Little League twenty-five years ago, and I sure as fuck ain't walking around some leafy green neighborhood full of Nice People Who Might Not Hate Me just for the sake of the fucking two-party system, man. And phone-banking? Don't even start. Some days I can't even call for a fucking pizza, okay? Forget it.
Happily Chugging the Toxic Stew of Dumb (Oct. 3, 2008)
Over the course of the 2008 election campaign, I decided that I didn't like Sarah Palin, and I didn't much respect people who admitted they liked her, but thankfully, we know by now that a decisive majority of American voters apparently agrees with me. However, the night she squared off against notorious blowhard Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debate, things didn't seem as certain to me (though they did to certain others), so I was hoping to see Palin get mauled at the podium before changing the channel to watch the Dodgers get stomped by Chicago. Of course, it didn't exactly happen that way: Palin crashed and burned, sure, but so did the Cubs, so by the time I posted this thing it was more about the concept of political reincarnation than anything else.
Palin's arrival on the national stage is just as timely as that of George W. Bush, our jabbering dupe of a forty-third president. It's generally agreed upon by nearly all sentient presidential scholars that Bush is the farcial reincarnation, politically speaking, of Ronald Reagan. Both men were genial twits fronting a den of thieves and pimps who held the government hostage while stoking fear of foreigners and hatred of liberals. Reagan himself represented the political mutant hybrid of John Wayne and Barney Fife, and Bush is basically a diseased Morlock with the brain of Reagan and the heart of Richard Nixon. Nixon's spiritual successor is, of course, Bill Clinton (who also shows traces of Warren G. Harding), and if we really wanted to waste time, we could take this presidential if-they-mated bullshit a step further and note that Barack Obama is probably the farcial hybrid of Reagan and JFK, but I was supposed to be exclusively shitting on the Republicans tonight, so let's just get back to the point, which is that Sarah Palin is the logical next step from the notoriously stupid vice-presidential punchline known as Dan Quayle.
The Crippling Nostalgia of Naranjastan (Oct. 9, 2008)
Writing a book report may seem like an extremely silly and useless thing to do, but I needed a break from election stupidiity, so I chose to opine on something that I almost literally stumbled across one night at Borders in Oxnard: Gustavo Arellano's second tome entitled Orange County. It was a fun read for an OC native like me, and re-energized me in terms of writing my first novel (which is set there for half the plot), so naturally I thought I should share it with the wider world. "Naranjastan" is actually my own made-up name for OC, but it has also been used in creatively pejorative ways to reference the liberal mega-blog Daily Kos, so imagine my surprise when the damn thing became my second "rescued" diary there.
Thanks to Arrellano's book, I know that I'm not the only one in thrall to the slow creep of crippling nostalgia. His Orange County is full of strange rumblings in Aztlán; a deft combination of frank, poignant personal memoir and gloriously reviciousnist history, it explores his family's roots in both Zacatecas and Anaheim, against a backdrop of John-Wayne-Birch-Disney-Dornan-Saigon-Surf City-Citrus-Coto OC insanity. His family anecdotes and extended epics fit—obviously and perfectly—into the eternal continuum of American Borgification that has chewed up and spat out every immigrant group from the Pilgrims to the Irish to the Chinese to the far-flung scions of El Cargadero, Mexico. Arrellano pulled me in with his incessant localized appeals to my inner history-geography-culture nerdiness, and it worked like gangbusters.
Desperately Seeking the Holy Grail of Epic Fail (Oct. 26, 2008)
And the rescued DKos diaries just keep on comin'—and yes, this has been the last one of those to date, but it was aptly described there as something like "an exhaustive search for the definitive political face plant," which is basically true; picking on losers is one of the most American things anyone can ever do. Speaking of—I also got to beat George Will with a baseball bat, but even that wasn't enough, because I came back for more in two additional instances, the first outlining how the Phillies' World Series win would bookend the era of Reaganite government-emasculation, and the second bitching about how I can draw a better map of the U.S.A. than Al Franken. But back to flogging losers:
We don't celebrate Halloween and Día de los Muertos at this time for nothing, folks, and baseball is not the only Haunted Game in our nation's twisted history. No, politics has that market cornered for the conceivable future. Oh sure, epic political failure has always been a lurking menace in American politics, but recent history has thrown up more examples of massive electoral defeat than you can shake a hanging chad at. Landslide losses at the presidential level by Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, and Walter Mondale are just the tip of the iceberg, of course, but since I don't have relevant data at my command right now, let's just make my thesis skate on some ice thinner than the 2000 election results and ignore hard facts, because like, everyone's been doing that for so long now that it's just routine, right? Aimless speculation's all the rage, right?
Everything Was Fine Until I Looked Down (Nov. 4, 2008)
In which I argued, somewhat lamely, that with the election of the uber-serious Barack Obama to the U.S. Presidency, petty, sarcastic bullshit would quickly be going out of style, what with the legions of humorless liberals swamping Washington D.C. with their commendably earnest do-gooder insticts. Snark jumping the shark, as it were—which is indeed a pretty dumb idea, since it's not likely to ever happen, but whatever. I sensed it turning on me as I wrote the thing, so I slipped in a fun email I wrote to Bryn that was sort of a how-to Lesson in Gonzo:
Brother of mine, verily I say unto thee that this is Good. In fact, it's better than 90% of the Daily Kos diaries out there. You are a worthy student of Thompson and Taibbi. However, for this piece to truly cross into the realm of Gonzo, you must shamelessly embrace your inner hyperbole. Throw "objectivity" to the feral hyenas, man—that shit is for do-gooder wimps. You know the Truth. You're not just right. You're righter than the most miserably wise guru who's ever been stuck up on K-2 without a decent porno for all eternity. You've ruminated on these evil aphorisms of our sick age for so long that they simply must be vomited up like...well, you get the picture. Compound those similies, and never be squeamish with the nastiest metaphors, for Gonzo is a caricature based on a grain of truth, where fiction and reality collide violently, and the Author is irreversibly self-injected into The Work.
Projection Now, Projection Tomorrow, Projection Forever (Nov. 13, 2008)
For many progressive political junkies, the Obama win on Election Day was tempered soberingly with the passage of the odious, queer-hating Proposition 8, and it led many activists to, somewhat justifiably, freak out with the same sort of cornered-animal behavior that the McCain/Palin crowd showed in the campaign's waning weeks. It was an enduring lesson to me that, as Dusty says, "they don't make it easy," and that changeovers always trample some good underfoot. I threw in one of my pet co-opted phrases as a title to boot, but so far it's been the last piece of political gonzo I've been moved to barf out this year, which may prove to be a Good Thing.
Changeovers can be brutally destructive things. Many re-inventions happen in the wild and chaotic aftermath of massive, revolutionary change, but many more take place during the subtler transitions. Inevitably, though, naked avarice, cognitive dissonance and crude denial reign supreme. The winners scramble for as many spoils they can get, and the fleeing losers become scattered refugees, wailing in wide-eyed, desperate panic. Once-apt definitions no longer apply, as all forms of communication are pulverized into malleable blobs of Play-Doh, ready to be built back into whatever lingua franca the victors see fit to impose. They also, of course, get to write history, which can be fun—believe me, I've met more than a few contortionist historians, and they were always winners—but for the most part, writing history is sloggy, boring transcription work, and that's where the projectionists make their real money
Okay, so it's only been a short spasm of relapse, but I think today's helping of Shameless Revisionism may be the last one for a while, until I work up some more substantial work worth anthologizing. Until then, stay tuned to the DV for more random gonzo, including my new series Requiem for a Music Geek, which will be showing up a little more frequently, I hope. Thanks for enduring.

November 26, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: Election Rants, 2004 Edition

Oh, so you thought that Shameless Revisionism was gone forever, didn't you? did I, but the final months of 2008 proved extremely fertile in the Gonzo Political Rant department, so those would have to be anthologized eventually, right? However, that day is not today (though it will be soon). No, today we delve back into the past once again, back before Democrats were winners again, when Republican crazies claimed infinite power, and American liberals despaired of any future electoral victories. Remember, that was before the Dem congressional gains in 2006, let alone Barack Obama's coronation as the Great Re-Branding of America this year. Now, I'm as happy about his November victory as the next squishy liberal, but lest we all get too cocky, we should remember what it was like back in the dark days of not so long ago, of 2004, when we lost—lost narrowly, and lost badly.

Yes, folks, 2004—when Massachusetts senator John Kerry teamed up with North Carolina senator John Edwards to wrest the Democratic Party nomination from Howard Dean, governor of Vermont, only to be sliced and diced by the evil Bush/Cheney ticket on Election Day. As I might have said before, that particular day was my 28th birthday, so it wasn't a happy day in many ways, but it did herald a great return to form in terms of me writing for fun and amusement, and sharpened my skills enough to begin spewing out my protracted, long-suffering Great Suburban Novel. I held back on anthologizing this stuff in the original Dubious Ventures compilation, but what with my continued output in 2008, I figured I should throw in some of the other stuff to see if any evolution happened.

So let's get to my four-year-old posts, which all show me shaking off the dust of illiteracy and, once again, crudely apeing the style of Hunter S. Thompson in a desperate effort to find my own twisted linguistic voice. Click on a post's title to read the whole thing.

The Ghost of Muskie Haunts Iowa (Jan. 20, 2004)
When I began this silly thing called Dubious Ventures in late 2003, I'd promised to never make it a "political blog," but then I broke that vow pretty quick once the presidential campaign began kicking into high gear and Howard Dean was stomping on the terra. It was all too easy to get caught up in the quasi-excitement and bookie-enthusiasm of like-minded political junkies, but for some strange reason my ego failed me and I still didn't have the guts to post this stuff on the various liberal political blogs that I read so much of back then. Anyway my first one dealt with the Iowa caucuses:

The freak finish, Kerry-Edwards-Dean-Gephardt, certainly looks strange at first glance, considering the amount of Dean-frenzy in the past year, but the inside-baseball talk is already calling the nomination for Big John. Oh sure, Kerry will now have to face General Clark, who abandoned Iowa, and who's been hiding out in the New Hampshire snows for weeks now, and the two old soldiers may indeed maul each other to death yet, because if Kerry's victory speech was any indicator, El Lurcho is still tired and listless despite regaining his precious frontrunner status. His main line of assertion at this point, that of "electability," is eerily similar to that of another glowering golem from primaries past: Ed Muskie of Maine, who crashed and burned at the feet of George McGovern way back in 1972, despite wide acclaim for Muskie as the only man who could beat Nixon.
Watching C-SPAN so You Don't Have To (Jan. 28, 2004)
As the campaign staggered into New Hampshire and began to shake itself out, I realized that I wasn't writing anything that professional pundits and goofy bloggers across America weren't saying already, never mind the Thompson re-treadings. That didn't stop me from continuing down the same well-worn path of insanity, of course—it merely made me a willing tool down in the minor-minor-minor-leagues of opinionated self-importance—and since I'd done the whole DIY thing with bands, why not make that excuse here, even if everything was hopelessly derivative? I even dragged a fictionalized version of Honey White's illustrious guitar player into things:
Brian and I argued briefly over the quantity of bullshit coursing through the bowels of "electability," and my genius guitarist observed that perception, in this case "perceived electability," holds a voodoo-like sway over so-called "Flyover Country." We sneered in unison at our own cleverness, and finished our conversation beating up on Joe Lieberman. "He's behaving like a crazy old lady," laughed Brian, phoning it in from San Francisco, "like some inverted, Faulknerian she-troll that keeps a decaying corpse of Scoop Jackson in her attic."

"Totally," I replied. "Only in the world of Lieberman-gothic would we ever hear a crime against English like the word 'Joementum." After we hung up I pondered some more confusing minutiae. For instance, throughout the week Kerry kept insisting that he was not the frontrunner and kept campaigning like he was fifteen points down, as if he could almost smell the inevitable media barbs that always aim for Number One. Kerry further insulated himself behind a phalanx of veterans, who manned the phone banks on his behalf, repeating to anyone within earshot that "outsider anger" was a losing formula that would drag the party back into the wilderness of defeat.
Enduring a Frigid Interlude in New Mexico (Feb. 10, 2004)
Bryn and I really did jet off to Santa Fe to spend some quality time in the snow with our aunt and uncle, but things weren't really as crazed as I tried to make it appear in this essay. We really did have big plans, but each and every one of them succumbed to a violent bout of sloth once we finally got settled. So not such a bad stab at travelogue, but still not great.
That's right, for the past week or so, I've been hunkered down in one of America's weirdest locales, shivering like a popsicle and unable to rouse myself into few activities more complicated than eating, excreting, and sleeping. Santa Fe has turned me into a hibernating animal, and all because my brother and I needed to get the hell away from Isla Vista for a week. We were long overdue for a visit—I'd last been in 1999, and it had been longer for Bryn, so with a break in Honey White rehearsals before a show later this month, we decided to fly up the mountain to endure the last lashings of winter. This being an election year, I thought maybe we'd observe the aftermath of the New Mexico Democratic caucuses, preferably in the company of our good college buddy Crazy Jon Neal, who had somehow elbowed his way into Wesley Clark's fizzling campaign. Ideally, we could do it all while taking in a Cracker show—the rootsy alterna-clowns would be rocking the Paramount on February 4th.
Super (Thanks for Asking!) Tuesday (Mar. 3, 2004)
I posted a slew of tiny rants leading up to Super Tuesday, when about 16 states held primaries—including here in California—because lots of other newsworthy things had been going on: the Dean campaign's implosion, a baseball exorcism in Chicago, and a Honey White gig at UCSB. Once again, I fictionalized a band member—Bryn this time, ranting about John Edwards—so clearly my priorities were running headlong-Gonzo away from normal journalism, but since I'd never really been a journalist in the first place, that was okay, I guess.
As for Johnny Sunshine, he put up a good fight against Kerry in WI but his wave had already crested in that state, and after coming close only in one other primary—Georgia, by 3.5%—Edwards closed his campaign early on Super Tuesday, peppering his concession speech with lots of praise for John Kerry. My brother was livid at this—the California polls hadn't even closed before Edwards threw in the towel. "That Crisco-headed bastard!" fumed Bryn. "I was still registered as a Green, so I had to write in his name on the goddamn ballot—probably at the same time he was verbally fellating John Kerry!"

I laughed at the time, but soon realized that Kerry would be in for some tough weeks courtesy of the Illiberal Media, and El Lurcho may not have the long-term stamina to survive such an onslaught. It would have been hard on Edwards, too—he surely would have crashed into negative numbers during the long wasteland between now and the August Democratic Convention in Boston. Edwards would have ended up at some low-rent exorcism of bad karma, like the one held in the Harry Caray Restaurant in Chicago a few weeks ago, where the infamous "Bartman Ball" from the Cubs' ill-fated 2003 playoff appearance would be ceremoniously destroyed for all to see.
Three More Weeks of Nail-Biting Insanity (Oct. 12, 2004)
I brought almost everyone in the band into this one, a semi-ficitonalized account of Honey White's 3rd long weekend in the San Francisco studio where we made our How Far is the Fall album. Unfortunately, we all sound like puppets of the same point of view, what with spouting off about polls and stuff. Perversely, only Billy was spared inclusion, since he wasn't actually there, but he is conveniently replaced in this piece by our engineer Jonathan Mayer. The whole thing was supposed to be a bent commentary from all of us on the circus that was the Bush-Kerry debates late in the campaign, but it turned into much more of a band thing:
2004’s campaign inevitably poked its hideous head into the studio several times. One bad joke about Bush from Jon and we were off—no dipshit Republican was safe from our passive-aggressive liberalized vitriol, and Joe Lieberman would have felt skittish in that company, too. The tipping point came and went earlier this month, though, when Brian joined up with DJ Monkey Mike and his crew of canvassers on a registration drive to Reno. Our genius guitarist had already skipped out on one session back in September (as it degenerated into simultaneous diva-tastic displays from Bryn and I) to go see the Pixies with Owen in Berkeley, so the rest of us were only mildly impressed when Brian sauntered into the studio at our most recent session, dispensing Kerry/Edwards buttons like they were shiny new silver dollars. “Oooh,” said Jon the engineer, “they’ll look great next to my vintage McGovern and Mondale buttons. All I need is a Dukakis, and I’ll have the complete set!” I smirked at him and turned to Brian. “Yeah, don’t get cocky, dude. You should know that by now; when Democrats get the hubris bug, they’re almost guaranteed to crash and burn.”
So all in all, nothing too earth-shattering in terms of writing quality—indeed, I would discover later that year that none other than Matt Taibbi had penned an awesome screed on the 2004 campaign, Spanking the Donkey, and he of course did it much better and funnier than I could ever hope to do. By the bitter end, of course, I turned into a jabbering puddle of weepy goo, but since I've included that in another Shameless Revisionism post I'll spare everyone the ugly flashback.

Anyway, like I promised, we'll get to the crazier crap from 2008 next time. Hopefully that can be as early as this weekend, since it's a holiday.

November 24, 2008

Requiem for a Music Geek: Slouching Towards Sonic Domesticity

For nearly fifty years now, "domesticity" has always meant the opposite of "rock." The mellow sounds of '70s singer-songwriters soothed the transatlantic sonic savagery of the '60s; the album-oriented radio and slick Philly soul of the Carter-Thatcher-Reagan era blunted the triple threat of reggae/ska, punk and hip-hop; and the fiendishly wretched "Adult Album Alternative" radio format of the mid-'90s cut off the spasms of alt-rock right as it hit the mainstream. By the turn of the 21st century, rock had become the new jazz—a niche genre of music meant for listening, not dancing; a squalid vacuum of insular sniping and revisionist desperation.

Of course, that's a pretty generalized, and harsh, paragraph to slide in right under a photo of Elbow, the genial British proglodytes who roam the vast chasm between Coldplay's lyrical mega-idiocy and Radiohead's willful, semi-arch obtuseness. Whether they like it or not, though, the fivesome from moody Manchester has been one of two twin poles of my own gradual slide into musical middle age—that terrible time of early adulthood when your job owns your day, you don't get out as much, you move into cohabitational bliss, and your social radius shrinks like Chris Martin's credibility. Besides, in my last music geek screed, I mercilessly slashed away at the horror that was Sting in late-career suckitude, so I guess it's only fair to turn the tables on myself this time.

Well...sort of. I don't have to lose all of my self-respect in one shot, though, and I hope to Elvis that grasping frantically at the periodic lyrical excellence of Elbow frontman Guy Garvey will leave a few shreds of aesthetic dignity. Now, in some circles that's veering perilously close to Sting territory, but whatever—some humorless assholes will never be happy with anything, and on my good days I don't identify with them very much. Obviously, worrying about it is the definition of navel-gazing bullshit, but if I didn't do that there wouldn't be anything to write about anyway, right?

Maybe so, but that silliness can be dumped for now in favor of more Elbow—as I know them, that is. I'd picked up their first disc Asleep in the Back a bit late—sometime in early 2002, I think, long after it had been released to favorable bleatings from the UK music press. However, I was pretty caught up in jump-starting Honey White with Bryn, Brian, and Billy; with the exception of some Eels, B.R.M.C., and other stray random crap, most outside musical stimulus was pretty weak back then. "Red," "Powder Blue," and especially "Newborn" made some heavy dents in my aural consciousness, but harder hits would have to wait.

Despite my revitalized epic indie-rock hobby, though, I'd already settled into the deadly formula of domesticity—moving in with my girlfriend, slaving away at dull office jobs, and teetering on the edge of that awful concept of "finding myself." Twenty-six is pretty late to be fucking around career-wise, or so I thought—I never had the itch to strap on a backpack and busk my way through Europe like my brother did in 2003, and so that fall, before I stumbled into night school and Em advanced to grad school, Elbow's second album Cast of Thousands was well on its way to ruling my endless hours of semi-employed solitude. I'd picked it up as an import, and the tour-de-force ballads immediately grabbed my windpipe; "Fugitive Motel" and "Switching Off" ground the record in tarnished beauty, but the rest of it doesn't exactly slouch either, from the burbling intensity of "Ribcage" to the massive celebration of "Grace Under Pressure."

So for me and Elbow, it's been all uphill from there; sure, on 2005's Leaders of the Free World (which I bought in Boston while visiting my sister) and this year's Seldom Seen Kid, the Potter brothers may have simplified the tunes a bit, but Garvey has become a masterful lyricist and, as I saw at two shows in L.A.'s fabled Avalon ballroom, an epic singer. The whole band just works, and if getting sucked into their agreeable sound means I've settled for the gradually rounding edges of "maturity," then I can deal with that. If well-made pop-rock is the mushy center of the musical spectrum, well, I don't mind checking in when Elbow's topping the bill. We are all, by now, professionals, are we not?

Naturally, that goes double for Chicago's own Wilco. The myriad musical whims of Jeff Tweedy have finally landed him and his revolving cast of sidemen in a weird side-street of American rock commerciality, where tour-chasing concert-geeks and dazed VH1 refugees alike meet in a public-radio sponsored forum of rootsy, feel-good (or at least feel-better), semi-diluted art-rock. Some have called the phenomenon a throwback to the Grateful Dead, but to me, it's a little more yuppified and Eagles-y than that; there are less trustafarians and more suburbanites at any given Wilco show—or at least at the four SoCal shows I've seen from 2003-2007.

Yes, that's right—even though I missed all of Uncle Tupelo and A.M., really enjoyed Being There as a college sophomore, and Summerteeth was pretty much my favorite album of 1999, I completely failed to see Wilco live until the apostate Jay Bennett was expelled from Eden, which means the Wilco that I've seen supporting A Ghost is Born and Sky Blue Sky, for all their collectively manic brilliance, is pretty much the Jeff Tweedy Show at this point. Now, that's fine—I've seen Tweedy once solo, too, so obviously there is a difference—like Elbow's Garvey, Tweedy has grown into a lyricist that, though not as tight over the course of a whole song, has nevertheless become comfortable with himself and what it is he does.

That's all you really have to ask for from an artist—that they be themselves—and of course Tweedy is just as susceptible as any of them when it comes to vacationing up his own ass (his father-of-boys streak of childishness can be a weird mix of Paul McCartney and Henry Miller), but thankfully I don't usually have to consider any of that ridiculous shit when listening to his albums or attending his shows. See, by the time of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's belated release in 2002, I had of course ended up living in the comfort of connubial sin, larded with a steady paycheck to sustain any remaining youth-rock pretentiousness—and I won't apologize for any of it. Why? Well, you know how some couples have "their song?" For me and Emily, Wilco is "our band." There's no real need to elaborate on that, and if people think that's cheesy, then fuck them.

Yeah, because John Stirratt is one of the steadiest bassists in rock, Glenn Kotche will never be simply a time-keeping drummer, and guitarist Nels Cline is a fucking six-string monster in ways guys like Satriani or Van Halen will never ever come close to touching. Cline is a fiend, a classy genius wielding a '59 Fender Jazzmaster, and both his humongous tornadoes of sound and his razor-sharp leads have injected new life into the entire Wilco back catalog on stage. Like I said, I've seen them four times now—one opening for REM (2003), once on a double-bill with the Roots (2005), and twice headlining (the Wiltern in 2004, the S.B. Bowl in 2007), and if that means I'm nothing more than a sucker for the New Eagles, well, I'm okay with that too. If Elbow and Wilco are the best mainstreamy examples of how Adult Men Bring The Rock, then the Rock will be in good hands until some other gang of gangly yahoos decides to stop milking their youth and instead learn to Write Songs.

And yeah, so what if I'm projecting a bit—or even a little more than that? I know that the best artists only really get going in their thirties—where Garvey is now, and where Tweedy was not too long ago—so color me unconcerned about the supposed terrible ramifications of emotional, circumstantial, and yes, "domestic" stability. Many men (and women) have mapped out this territory before, and hopefully I'll get to play in it for a good long while.

November 18, 2008

When Living in Paradise Totally Blows

As a lifelong Southern California resident, I should be used to it by now: autumn, my favorite SoCal "season" of the year, is gradually losing its luster to hysterical rages from Mother Nature. Yes, hellish firestorms, torrential downpours, and paralyzing mudslides have all played deadly parts in the recent history of our semi-arid Gomorrah-by-the-Sea, of course—but the real culprit, in my mind, is one of the all-time demonic Grendels of California climatology: the ferocious Santa Ana winds. More and more, it seems, my home has become the wretched center of a whirling blast-furnace, a hideous vortex of meteorological angst—and those are the good days, mind you.

And yes, folks, I'm gonna be one of those people who whines and bitches too much about the fucking weather—the weather that we Southern Californians are somehow not supposed to understand or experience. Indeed, many of us go all to pieces after the first rains of the season trickle in, forgetting how to drive in inclement conditions and devolving into idiot teenage speed-demons on the slick freeways of the Southland. But good goddamn, when the fiendish easterlies begin booming in from Death Valley—and certain other places someone like Cain would recognize—and start sparking violent orgies of flame from the San Andreas to the sea, it doesn't just ask to be whined about; it demands a full-scale hair-tearing and Hawaiian-shirt-rending. And yet somehow, this appropriate and necessary reflex is waved off as a weakness by some of my more esteemed neighbors.

You see, last year at around this time, eruptions of fire decimated the hills of not only Malibu (a perennial victim) and Orange County, but also threatened to engulf the entire greater San Diego area—and ladies and gentlemen, when Tony Gwynn, the King of San Diego, must evacuate his Poway mansion, there is a massive Disturbance in the Force. Massive enough for the more literary-minded people of SoCal to yet again disinter that fabled passage from Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem and plaster it all over every newspaper, magazine, screenplay, billboard, and ass crack from Palos Verdes to Pomona. You know the one—say it with me now:

There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension. What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sand storms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to flash point. For a few days now we will see smoke back in the canyons, and hear sirens in the night.

I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air. To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.
Sounds about right to me. She continues:
It is hard for people who have not lived in Los Angeles to realize how radically the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination. The city burning is Los Angeles's deepest image of itself. Nathaniel West perceived that, in The Day of the Locust, and at the time of the 1965 Watts riots what struck the imagination most indelibly were the fires. For days one could drive the Harbor Freeway and see the city on fire, just as we had always known it would be in the end.

Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The winds shows us how close to the edge we are.
Now that's a cinch, right? Violence, doom, and the end of the world all rolled into one. Didion's #1 fanboy Bret Easton Ellis, for one, let more than a little of that shit seep into Less than Zero, didn't he? Of course he did, man. As for me, well, it certainly seemed like the apocalypse when I walked out the door one morning in October 1993, smelled smoke, and looked west to see Laguna Beach consumed by flames and belching smoke miles into the sky. Ash flakes fell like snow and refugees poured into my high school, which served as a disaster relief area for the next two weeks. People lost their fucking homes, and yet the Homecoming Game still went on as planned. Rock and roll, bitches! Shut the hell up and as you were, you pussies!

So naturally, when flaming destruction stomped SoCal with a vengeance in 2007, the literati went all Didion on us, and some people backlashed immediately—L.A. denizens who really should have known better, natives who baited the Furies with their every posturing keystroke. Local luminaries like noted political bloviato-blogger Kevin Drum:
I'm curious about something. I've lived in Southern California my entire life, and this just doesn't bear any resemblance to anything I know about the place. Santa Ana winds are just....Santa Ana winds. They do whip up brush fires, as Didion says, but otherwise her description seems way, way over the top. Sure, the weather feels a little weird when Santa Anas kick up, but teachers don't cancel classes, pets don't go nuts, people don't stay inside their houses, and Los Angeles doesn't get gripped in crime waves. At least, not as far as I know.
Kevin, Kevin, Kevin. You knew better than this. Nothing is too over the top, too excessive, or too hyperbolic when describing this foul phenomenon. But macho climactic projection was not only strong with the Calpundit—it ensnared my fellow Gaucho and then-L.A. Times opinion editor Matt Welch, who seconded Drum, backing him up thusly with this tidbit from Jon Healey:
This, I believe, gets close to the heart of the Joan Didion Problem. She is such a gifted descriptive writer that she often can't resist the temptation to wrap her otherwise keen observations with some Chandleresque hyperbole, just to see how the language turns out. It's delightful to read, and leaves lasting impressions on your brain, but many of the impressions are, regrettably, not true. Not only that, but they advertise some near-secretive knowledge -- hey wait, all this time I've been living here and I didn't realize that the Santa Anas were the primordial force unleashing the dark side of human desire?? -- allowing readers to congratulate themselves on being among the minority to break the SoCal code. It's like when postgrads first stumble upon the sunshine/noir dialectic, or when yet another searing cultural critic sees a book-length metaphor in the fact that (gasp!) Brian Wilson couldn't surf.
Dude, even if "sunshine noir" weren't a super-sexy, trendy, Keir-come-lately obsession of mine, I'd still be ashamed if I wrote that. Mock the vicious halitosis of Mother Nature at your own personal risk, man. I have no idea what prompted Welch to let that one squeak by—perhaps his impending fatherhood and move to D.C. was dulling any resistance to moody metaphysical metaphor—but all of these otherwise incisive and talented men totally whiffed on a beautiful, fat-hanging-curveball of embarrassing opportunity. Hell yes they did—because as anyone with simultaneous functioning allergies to bone-dry heat and chilly, recycled air-conditioning will tell you, old Joanie didn't go nearly far enough in her searing indictment of the Santa Anas.

Fuck no she didn't, because the Santa Anas are always, always an unregenerate force of Satan, which they proved yet again last week when they caused fires—or perhaps caused people to cause fires, but who gives a shit, it's the same thing anymore—to char both Montecito (in the laist photo above) and Sylmar into stinking, smoking cinders. Obviously, something or someone in those cities had offended the Gods to a heinous degree, because when Christopher Lloyd's house is destroyed and Oprah's remains intact, the universe is way, way out of balance. Like totally, dude.

So no, it shouldn't be a surprise that terrible disaster-by-fire prompts the Bethlehem passage-quotes out of people who admire that piece of writing (which my three antagonists above nevertheless acknowledge was pretty damn good). The ominous sense of foreboding is a direct result of a healthy respect—based in bowel-shaking fear, of course—of eerie karmaic judgement from a force far, far beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals. It's never a sign of weakness to acknowledge the awesome destructive power of metaphorical doom, gentlemen. It's certainly a sign of dangerously tone-deaf denial to pretend otherwise.

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