Riddle me this, art-cognoscenti? Why is Frederic Church not as well known as William Turner? Does the Hudson not inspire as great art as (my alma mater) Heidelberg? Is it just that Church was American?
Such is the theme of a group show at Royal/T. In Bed Together is what it's called. I think it's metaphorical. Or, in the case of a signature piece in the show that also happens to be a painting that was presented upon my marriage, it may be partly literal. Some readers may have also been revelers at the vernissage thrown by Me, Ronni, and her twin sister, Marina, earlier this summer. Here is what I promised in the invitation:
To commemorate our nuptial adventure, Ronni's sister Marina has made a painting. That’s right: paint, canvas and stretchers — the old fashioned way of capturing epics afield for the audience at home. It is a huge canvas, one befitting the vistas of the Great Rift Valley. I do not what the canvas contains. No one does. It is a secret! But it is a secret that will soon be revealed — at the artist’s studio. Please join us for the unveiling. There will be red cloth and a gilded rope and singing horns. (Really; my brother is a brass master.) It will be just like when Manet unveiled Olympia. Except there are no nudes. Or maybe there are! Who knows? Not me!
That Saturday everyone was surprised when we pulled back the curtain on our very own personalized homage to Olympia! Everyone thought that my perspicacious goofing in the invitation meant I was in on the deal. I wasn't. Precisely because of my goofing, I was most shocked of all when I saw this:
As promised, the esteemed members of the Salon were scandalized.
And so now all seven feet of this painting now hangs on our wall. Or it did until yesterday, when it was borrowed to be featured in the show at Royal/T. It was requested for its depiction of a complicated relationship -- our complicated relationship: husband, wife, and twin, appearing together in symbolic composition. What it means exactly I'm not sure. I might be afraid to ask. But it was chosen as the poster image, which was flattering to all. Such a thing happened once before, in Japan, when a painting Marina had made of Ronni wearing a fake fur panda hat was chosen as the poster for a big museum show that was opening while we were all three in Japan, resulting in the odd experience of us wandering the streets of Tokyo and looking up to see an anime version of panda-headed ronni smiling back down at us. Like so, but much bigger:
That was the handbill we took home. If we could just combine these to have Ronni nude in a panda hat -- now that would be one vigorous artistic hybrid...
Among the 70 dials (and 122
indications) are: a perpetual calendar, leap year cycles; sunrise and sunset; local times at seventeen world-wide places;
and animated tidal charts in eight different French ports.
Now that I am a seaside denizen of Malibu, and attuned to the ways of the waves, I appreciate such fine detail. Surfline is handy, but just doesn't have the charm of an intricate machine with 40,000 moving parts. All the Besançon timepiece needs is a dial for Pt Dume tides. And a window indicating the precise, universal and astronomically accurate arrival of 4:20!
So there was a great piece in the LA Times last week about Art Laboe, an 84-year-old veteran radio host in Los Angeles whose long history and oldies show has forged a deep cross-cultural connection with the Latino community. Laboe may be old news to some, but that's all the more reason to say hats off to the LA Times for putting a story on him up front. Better late than never. (Even the LA Weekly hasn't done a cover on Laboe, although Ben Quiñones has mentioned him several times.) Esmeralda Bermudez's story was well-told and refreshingly written for the stuffy ol' front page. Human interest can have real heart. (As always, in Column One.) The piece could been longer, a real profile -- but, well, you know... Still, really satisfying:
Phone lines flash six nights a week inside a dimly lit Hollywood studio
where Art Laboe sits before his microphone, faithful to his
old-fashioned format: playing sentimental oldies and taking
dedications. For more than 50 years, his deep, soothing voice has been
as cherished among Latinos in the Southwest as Chick Hearn's rapid-fire
staccato once was among Lakers fans.
The 84-year-old disc jockey helps them celebrate anniversaries, mourn
their dead and profess their love. He is the intermediary who
reconciles arguments, encourages couples to be affectionate, sends out
birthday wishes and thank yous.
His program, which is especially popular among listeners 25 to 54 years
old, has consistently ranked near the top of its evening time slot,
according to the ratings firm Arbitron. The Art Laboe Connection plays
in more than a dozen cities in four states and draws about a million
listeners a week.
"His show was the first place a young Chicano kid had to air his
feelings, the first place you could say something and be heard," said
Ruben Molina, author of two books on Chicano music and American
culture. "It was like an intercom where you could tell the world -- our
world -- 'I'm sorry' or 'I love so-and-so' and everyone knew the next
When rock 'n' roll struck in the 1950s, Laboe launched a live broadcast
from Scrivners, a drive-in restaurant in Hollywood. Masses of teens
crowded around him to request songs and dedications, and his career
He wanted to be a concert promoter, bring in big bands. But the city of
Los Angeles banned youths younger than 18 from attending public dances
and concerts. So he decided to host shows in El Monte, which attracted
teenagers from the Eastside and its growing Mexican American population.
Latinos poured in to see Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis
at the now-defunct El Monte Legion Stadium. Laboe played the
rhythm-and-blues and doo-wop these youths craved. He compiled his fans'
favorite songs on vinyl records, eight-tracks, cassette tapes and
ultimately compact discs featuring Mexican American acts. He learned to
pronounce Spanish names.
"It was never intentional," Laboe said. "The connection was there and when they came, I welcomed them with open arms."
Laboe became part of the emerging Chicano identity in Los Angeles, his
voice and music the soundtrack of lowrider shows and nights spent
cruising Whittier Boulevard. He is the only non-Latino selected as
grand marshal of the East L.A. Christmas parade and is a favored award
recipient among Latino organizations. At their functions, he says, he
is often "the only white guy in the room."
Architect Jakob Tigges suggests putting Berlin back on the monumentalist map by erecting a 3,000-foot mountain on the site of the recently decommissioned Tempelhof airport. Summer hiking, winter skiing, Teutonic myth-making -- all convenient to the S-Bahn! A nifty idea that will never happen, and not just because the architect's own video presentation features him, along with digital images of the Berg plan, set to Looney Tunes cartoon music. But that doesn't stop this imaginary mountain from tweeting! And the pictures are neat:
Exciting news: I have an article in this week's New York Times Sunday Magazine! Yes, that's yesterday's paper. (I'm on Malibu time these days.) And no, I can't understand why my piece wasn't put on the cover instead of that Megan Fox either. Especially since there were such great art opportunities, like so:
Nutshell: technology and distribution has enabled a do-it-yourself, 'zine movement in video games. It's a raucous avant-garde, and wants to upset its medium's apple cart while also — dare one say it — making video games that aspire to artistic greatness.
This I learned at the Game Developer's Conference, during which the indie designers all convened in Room 131, in a far corner of the Moscone Center, to celebrate their own insurrection against the establishment. Which is where I saw an incredible lecture by a legendary indie gamer named Cactus. Sadly, this scene got cut from the article at the last minute. It happens! But thanks to the magic of the internet, the Director's Cut is already available. That slide above comes from Cactus' presentation, as does this slide:
They were all that good. Want to hear more? Press SPECIAL FEATURES. Now press DELETED SCENES. Now press CACTUS! Here goes:
FROM THE BOWELS OF THE GAME DEVELOPERS CONFERENCE, MARCH 2009
Room 131 was filled to capacity when Cactus took the stage, flat drunk on Malibu Rum, to give his talk: How To Make a Game in Four Hours. Cactus is the handle of Jonatan Sondstrom, a 23-year Swedish amateur who has made over 100 video games over the past five years. For many of the people in the audience, this prowess made Cactus a folk hero. And he looked the part, in torn-up vans, red jeans, and green army cap. Cactus’ games are sensory overload experiences, where the player is thrust into a strange world of psychedelic imagery and must quickly resolve the ensuing confusion. This would also be a fitting description of Cactus’ presentation, which was mumbled, heavily accented, accompanied by colorful slides, and opened with a rudimentary animation of a digital turd. "DON'T MAKE GAMES IN FOUR HOURS IF YOU STINK," the text admonished. "END OF LESSON ONE."
Unlike Jason Rohrer, who programs in C++ — “I feel like I’m working with the grain of the machine,” he says — Cactus uses GameMaker, a drag and drop software tool that makes it possible for anyone to make a working game. GameMaker, which costs $25 for the “pro” edition, has allowed Cactus to spend his days in his childhood bedroom at his parents house in Gothenburg, Sweden, transmitting his bizarre output to the world for free.
Whereas Rohrer might start programming with a premise, Cactus and other designers like him approach each game as new experiment with no hypothesis. They start doing something, and see what happens. The process is somewhat algorithmic: constantly branching out, discarding duds, finding occasional breakthroughs. “You make a game a month, or every week,” a young Canadian designer named Chris Lobay later said, “And you’re going to have a few eurekas.”
Over the course of the next half hour, Cactus delivered what seemed at times like a mixed-media performance experiment in PowerPoint comedy. The aesthetic was like his games — crude but clever. The point: a video game can be anything. “Games don’t need to be fun. They can get intensely weird and freak you out.” He said from the stage. “More people should make games that are not for children, but for adults. And, like, mature people.” Cactus did not explain precisely how to do this (or make a game in 4 hours, for that matter), but he did say that anyone can try. His one caveat: “Don’t make games that suck.”
By the time it was over, Cactus’ talk was already becoming a matter of GDC legend. He personified the indie game movement’s anti-establishment cultural ethos, and although his actual games don’t speak to a broad audience now, the example he set for relentless innovation excited the room. “If you were talking about music,” said one indie designer, “then this would be like seeing the Ramones play for the first time.” Cactus left the stage, and was quickly surrounded by a posse of like-minded indie designers and admirers. “Let’s go get more drunk,” he said, and wandered off. It was 4pm.
This right here is some shit that I seen with my very own eyes:
Believe it! A real rarity, this beautiful mobile relic, with homemade artwork faded, and invaded by rust (some would say patina), and gloriously unchanged since '77 (I would guess, as the imagery is unadorned with any sequel references). Note the clever transformation of the rear porthole window! And yes, the mural circles the entire vehicle:
I guess that's Luke below the door handle? And If you're wondering who that weird cross-eyed dude next to Chewbacca is, how about a close-up? Han Solo, obviously:
I didn't realize Han Solo had a Roman nose, or that he broke it boxing. So maybe the artist had a little trouble with humans. But he's good at robots!
And I think that placement of our old friend R2-D2 is situated by the disintegrating wheel well out of solidarity for when R2 gets all jacked while co-piloting with Luke in Return of the Jedi.
Speaking of which, aww shit -- here comes the Empire on the flip side!
Hook, line and sinker, despite what my old pal Manohla said, and the fact that my other onetime LA Weekly pal Ella Taylorpiled on, because I have been vindicated by reality. Even if you don't know from Lars and The Real Girl, listen to this segment from Radiolab about Stu Rassmussen, a transgendered man from red-state, small-town, Main Street USA, who is not only accepted by his town but elected as Mayor and then defended when right-wing crazies show up to make a fuss. It's twenty minutes. Do it when you can really focus. It's just great, although it feels more like a top-notch TAL story than Radiolab -- but who cares. And so Ella -- I'm talking to you! I know you love radio. Don't miss this one.
Godin is a writer and critic but is best known for throwing cream pies in people's faces. Since 1969, Godin has planted cream pies on the novelist Marguerite Duras, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and Bill Gates. Godin is somewhat like a Van Helsing armed with baked goods to the eternally self-important dandy (and thinker too, I guess) Bernard Henri-Levy, whom Godin has "entarted" many times over the years.
Did you know that for 800 million years after the Big Bang there was darkness -- until the re-ionization of the gas throughout the universe enabled the first rays of starlight to shine? It's true! Until recently, we hadn't been able to see much from this dark period. And then some gamma rays revealed a giant cosmic explosion from about 630 million years after the Big Bang. This is the most distant and oldest celestial discovery. We never saw it before because the radiation from the event/object took all those billions of years to make it this far. When did that high-energy evidence arrive? Oh, they showed up around last April. Hello!
I guess I finally rode McSweeney's coattails into a graduate English department: McSweeney's 17 forms a key part of the honors thesis of one Flora Feltham, at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Some time ago, she emailed me the following:
The section I'm currently working on is about the blurry distinction between fiction and non-fiction in the issue and how the dynamic between the fictive and the non-fictive informs our relationship with a potentially literary text. What I would love to know, then, is what degree of authenticity your fantastic Yeti Researcher has?
Of course, I love over-intellectualizing my own work — I mean, who doesn't, really? — so I will admit that I was thrilled that someone else decided to pile on. I answered Flora's questions, and a little while ago, she sent me the relevant chapter of her thesis. Incredibly, Yeti Researcher is mentioned in the same breath as Erasmus Darwin's The Botanic Garden, part of which is a scientific work in the form of a poem:
This combination of “metaphor and scientific material” (Emery, 1) – a tangle of fictional rhetoric and factual content – is, obviously, uncommon to both literature and scientific writing. About 200 years later, “Yeti Researcher” jumbles up the conventions of fiction and non-fiction in an equally atypical style. The difference is that Darwin was writing demonstrable scientific information using the medium of poetry, whereas the editorial-board at “Yeti Researcher” uses the conventions of scientific prose to write about a fictional creature in the context of a literary magazine.
Fletham later goes on to offer an analysis about how stylistic prose choices helped define Yeti Researcher as a distinct form of "non-narrative fiction," which itself is situated in turn in the grand sweep of literature and fiction in our fragmented (super-post-)modern culture. Whew! And by way of my answers, Feltham addresses the question most often put to me back when Yeti Researcher first came out:
“[T]he idea was to make something that McSweeney's readers would think is amusingly, fascinatingly compelling and that bigfoot researchers would be able to read with satisfaction” (Bearman, e-mail). Thus, though their intention was fictional, every step of the research and writing process was subject to rigorous fact-checking in accordance with the pseudo-scientific field they were working within: the information in “Flores Man and Sumatra’s Orang pendek” could “have survived the fact-checking process at a real magazine." They did not make-up any of the information, insofar as, according to common-sense it was not already made up. “[T]he information in the articles is real. By which I mean we didn't make up any bigfoot sightings, records, theories, etc. It was all researched and cited.”
OK, so the ads were fake. And the Classifieds. And Jim Shepard's contribution, which was clearly a piece of fiction masquerading as a real document inside a magazine of fiction masquerading as a real document! And there may have been a few other fudged things. But otherwise, YR (as we at the Society for Cryptic Hominid Investigation like to call it) stands by its work. Which, I'm now reminded, was really fun to put together. Does etiquette say that four years is too late to publically acknowledge Mark Sundeen, Jim Ruland, John Silver, Jim Shepard, Erik Bluhm, Eli Horowitz, and Brian McMullen? Hope not!
All this nostalgia made me go back and take a look at the fine writing and designing and editing that went into YR, which, if you don't own that pile of ingeniously disguised fake junk mail that was issue 17, is hard to come by. Which is why, if anyone is interested, I'm going to make the whole thing available right here!
A while back, as a nice gesture, my pal Sean McDonald gave me George Saunders' (at the time) new book, The Braindead Megaphone. It was in galley, since Sean edited it. I was excited. Here in my hands, was one of the few perks of being in a publishing-related field — an advance copy book! And free! Plus, I like that George Saunders guy too.
But I had no idea how much more I would like Saunders when I read his non-fiction, nor did I even know that he wrote non-fiction, since I had entirely missed the fact that GQ had stolen a page from the early 90s Harper's playbook by sending an idiosyncratic and wildly inventive fiction genius on major journalism assignments, which, collected, now formed (in my opinion) the best part of The Braindead Megaphone.
Reading them, I got the sense that Saunders' non-fiction stories were the first real conceptual challenge to the magazine article since David Foster Wallace's expansive, footnoted, densely erudite and analytically observational opuses shed entirely new light and cruise ships, state fairs, and Presidential campaigns. Like Wallace, Saunders also appears in his own journalism as the bumbling, inexperienced journalist, but Saunders is more believable as a bumbler, which is to say that he is a bumbler, which is part of the charm. And the narrative drive too. While Wallace feigned ignorance as he supplied copious reporting, Saunders seems to do very little reporting, eschewing most external detail for his own empathetic internal conflicts and observational experience among, say, The Minutemen, or in Dubai.
That was the first piece I read, at which point I thought: of course! Why did it take so long for someone to think of this? The almost supernatural-seeming and vaguely sinister techno-consumerist Potemkin fantasyland that is the real Dubai seems like a fictional place cribbed from a George Saunders short story, so why not send him there to blow his mind?
The result was an incredible read, as Saunders attempted to resolve the tension between the reality of the un-reality of the place out loud, or at least on the page. (Although on the reporting front, Saunders did punt on the shady finances that coax the mirage of Dubai from the desert.) My favorite piece was another GQ story, "The Incredible Buddha Boy," in which Saunders goes to investigate a claim that a boy in Nepal had been meditating for seven months without any food or water. What follows is true greatness, which you'll have to get the book to experience.
Notice there are no links above, despite that the two articles references are from GQ, a large-circulation, fancy glossy magazine that surely must have a website! Yes, there is such a website, but it is so bad that most of the stories are not available there in their entirety, and those that are are split into so many screens, with fussy type, and bad colors, and such generally poor design that the stories are basically unreadable.
Which is why, even though I had a link to George Saunders' latest non-fiction epic, "Tent City, U.S.A.," in which he lives for a week in a homeless encampment in Fresno, I couldn't bring myself to read it, as it was split by GQ into twenty seven screens. Until, that is, someone went to the trouble to combine all 12,000 words in one place.
To whomever got down to business with Tumblr: thanks a million! I love this story, although I was skeptical at the beginning of the format, which frames the article as a pseudo-sociological field study. For some reason, it didn't sit right with me at the very start, despite that I could tell how much fun it was as a writer to refer to oneself in the third person as the Principal Researcher (PR). But the PR's eye for detail and presentational capabilities are irresistible, especially when combined with his confessional asides, as in this scene where he meets a guy named Ernesto:
the pr looked good. Too good. Ernesto himself tried to look not too
good. The PR better park that van somewhere else. There were crackheads
living up in here. After dark the crackheads would break into the van
and steal everything. Even the van. This was not a good place. These
were not good people. The PR better take off his wedding ring. They’d
come in the night and steal it, taking the finger if necessary. The PR
would see tonight how wild it got. A friend of Ernesto’s had stayed out
here once, to learn about the homeless. After two weeks, he was dead.
They killed him? the PR said.
He killed his own self, Ernesto said. It made him so sad to see how
the people are living. He stayed a couple nights. Then two weeks later,
he kill himself. I don’t want that to happen to you.
The PR observed with some interest that his reaction to the
clarification that Ernesto’s friend had not been murdered, but had only
killed himself in despair, was relief.
And here's Saunders' first real encounter on his first day:
Wanda was a woman of uncertain ethnicity between 30 and 50 years of
age whose face consisted of a series of sun-darkened red-and-purple
rounded structures, like rosy cheeks, but located in places on her face
where cheeks would not normally be found. Nevertheless, Wanda exuded a
wry joviality, as if aware that there were comic aspects to the fact
that she was seated, sunburned and barefoot, on a street of houses made
of garbage, wearing what appeared to be a set of maroon hospital scrubs.
How are you? the PR inquired.
Could be better, Wanda responded.
Wanda reported that she had recently been hit by a train. (The Study
Area was located illegally on railroad land, and its western border was
a busy switching yard.) She’d been trying to cross the tracks with her
bike. That train could have at least honked, she said. Wanda inquired
as to whether the PR would give her a hundred dollars. The PR demurred.
Wanda asked whether the PR would give her a kiss. The PR demurred.
Wanda stated that the PR “looked rich.” The PR protested that he was
not rich. Wanda looked pointedly at the project research vehicle, a
late-model rental minivan. Wanda showed the PR her train-injured foot,
which was red, glazed, and infected. Her big toe was bent at a right
angle, as if someone had snapped the big toe at the joint and set it
ninety degrees from the correct orientation.
The PR expressed his desire to put up a tent of his own.
Wait, you staying here? Wanda said. How long you staying?
Maybe a week? the PR said.
You married? Wanda said.
Twenty-one years, the PR said.
I’m a rape you, Wanda said.
There's a lot more where that came from, and none of it feels exploitative, since Saunders is such a softie and humanist (like me!) that he wants to do justice to every single person he meets. He even wants to help them himself, but knows he can't. And he wrestles with that in the piece, giving the tragic humor of a marginalized wasteland some poignancy for balance. Saunders also confesses that he knows — and regrets that he knows — that he will not think about these people much once he's home and never has to come back. In the meantime, Saunders has a chameleon-like ability to tell their stories in their voices while also inserting his own, which manages to humanize his subjects along with himself. It is quite something: funny, moving, and very real — so real from the tact you don't even need to see the one worthwhile link at GQ, a slide show of the real people of Tent City, U.S.A.
Travel writing is mostly bad. It's partly the fault of the form; contemporary travel magazines are filled with 10 Best New Hotels/Bars/Spas on Yet Another Tony Exclusive Island or How to Eat Fabulously in This Most Glorious Setting You WIll Never See. Sometimes, quality sneaks in. And every so often the glossies still let Paul Theroux into the works so as to keep their bonafides burnished. But even he (I'm going to guess) doesn't get 15,000 words any more, which is what you really need to tell a story about a really far off place. Instead, we get magazine pages full of short and trite pastiches of breathtaking vistas, italicized delicacies, and instantaneous eurekas. This is the opposite of the actual experience of travel, which is both contemplative and confusing, internal and external, a messy surge of sensations both exciting and frustrating. And that includes the dynamic with travel companions, which can be the messiest of all. The point of good travel writing, it seems, is to mediate all that for the audience in a way that draws them into the writer's experience. Rather than spin a thin fantasy of something that will never happen (the reader lays out on St. Barthes), why not woo them with what did happen (George Saunders goes gonzo in Dubai).
Such is the mode of Wells Tower's "Meltdown" in Outside, in which he tells the tale of his and his father's (and ornery brother's) family trip to Iceland and Greenland. Tower's travel dispatch is fundamentally non-traditional: he doesn't know much about where he is, and doesn't really try to find out. The story is mostly about how Tower and his father, who survived cancer several years ago, have made an annual trip to celebrate his father's beating the odds. The trips are all ill-conceived, difficult, and, according to Tower, have often been nearly lethal themselves. Here's the set up:
Eight and a half years ago, when the oncological bookmakers gave my father three years to live, we sat together in his hospital room and vowed that, if he survived, the two of us would take a trip each year to celebrate his outliving his expiration date by another twelvemonth. When we cooked up this scheme, I think we both privately thought we were merely following timeworn etiquette that calls for grand travel fantasies when someone is dying. (Think Midnight Cowboy, Joe Buck to Ratso Rizzo in extremis: "When we get to Miami … .") But when Dad surprised us both by beating his rogue cells into remission, it would have been a thumb in the eye of St. Christopher to go back on our vow.
Tower is such a good prose stylist and humorist that you forget the story is not about the traditional travel poles of chasing a destination, or the destination itself, but how his bizarre familial relations are thrown into relief by plopping them down in some of the world's most inhospitably population locations. I could have used about 5% less jokes, but jokes are hard, and the others are so good that they compensate. Witness the lede:
In the Inuit village of Tasiilaq, on Greenland's east coast, in a bar whose name, as far as I can tell, is Bar, people are enjoying themselves as though the world will end tomorrow.
There are maybe 30 folks in here, few of them women, nearly all of them catastrophically drunk. Two men who look fresh from a seal hunt are locked in a dance that is part boxer's clinch, part jailhouse waltz. One of them falls. I can feel his skull hit the floor through the soles of my boots.
I'm on vacation with my father, Ed Tower, an ebullient man of 65 with a belly that strains his parka nearly to the point of rupture. We are not handsome men, but, as a result of their near-lethal intake of Tuborg beers, the few local females (none under 50 or so) have taken a shine to us. My father is flanked by two. One looks like Ernest Borgnine; the other, Don Knotts...
..."Do you dance?" the woman asks Dad. "Why not?"
I can think of several reasons, actually. One, those men by the bar
are not looking at us kindly, and, it should be noted, you can buy guns
in the grocery stores over here. Two, my father, survivor of an exotic
strain of lymphoma, is still in delicate shape from a bone-marrow
transplant a couple of years back, and I'm not eager to see him shake
his fragile moneymaker on a dance floor that looks like a fourth-down
blitz. Three, and most important, is the fact that, in my father's
company, trips have a tendency to spiral into disaster. The mishaps are
sometimes large and sometimes inconsequential, but the specter of
calamity always rides in his sidecar. Here, on our ninth day, we are
both still in one piece. We fly out tomorrow. The smart thing, it
seems, is to quit while we're ahead.
A grinning elderly woman approaches me
unsteadily. I hold out my hand and she falls over, bashing her face on
my shin. I help her up. She thanks me, lists hard to starboard, and
It's so good for the most part that I could blockquote the whole thing! I won't. But do read on!
More reading catch up! This time, I'm just learning about the vaporous gold in them there Catskills! This from a New York magazine piece last year by David France. Basically there's a gas rush going on in New York and Pennsylvania, beneath which sits the Marcellus Shale, a 385-million-year-old seabed that now holds 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Extraction just got cheap enough to make it economically viable and so this untapped fossil fuel source, and the undeveloped country land above it, is now subject of a sudden and intense competitive prospecting craze. As France discovered from a note on his own bucolic property, "landmen" are cruising the back roads, furiously signing up land, strategically contiguous if possible, so as to corral competitors and make plans for pipeline routs. France follows one Daniel F. Glassmire VI, a 26-year-old, My Morning Jacket-listening, David Foster Wallace-reading, newly minted landman, as he tries to close prospects for his concern, Cabot Oil & Gas. Glassmire doesn't make a pitch with his partner, H. W. Glassmire VII, but maybe he will in the coming HBO series!
Just getting around to reading David Rohde'sepic, five-part series on his capture by, and escape from, the Taliban, which — along with the nifty interactive add-on feature — is as gripping as one might expect. I hate to say it, but what a lucky break — from a writing and reporting perspective. Months face to face with the Taliban yields a much richer picture of such an enemy than could otherwise be gleaned from regular reporting, no matter how dedicated and diligent one might be. Spending time in close quarters yields unique detail, such as the Taliban's use of Hannah Montana-branded bedding (Rohde's own blanket was a Barbie comforter), and their predilection for The Beatles. The best part of the piece is sort of an anti-Stockholm syndrome, where Rohde hates his captors, but is forced by monotony to sing for them — Sinatra, Springsteen, and the Fab Four:
After dinner on many winter nights, my guards sang Pashto songs for hours. My voice and Pashto pronunciation were terrible, but our guards urged me to sing along. The ballads varied. On some evenings, I found myself reluctantly singing Taliban songs that declared that “you have atomic bombs, but we have suicide bombers.”
On other nights, at my guards’ urging, I switched to American tunes. In a halting, off-key voice, I sang Frank Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York” and described it as the story of a villager who tries to succeed in the city and support his family. I sang Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and described it as a portrayal of the struggles of average Americans.
I realized that my guards, too, might have needed a break from our grim existence. But I felt like a performing monkey when they told me to sing for visiting commanders. I knew they were simply laughing at me. I intentionally avoided American love songs, trying to dispel their belief that all Americans were hedonists. Despite my efforts, romantic songs — whatever their language — were the guards’ favorites.
The Beatles song “She Loves You,” which popped into my head soon after I received my wife’s letter from the Red Cross, was the most popular.
For reasons that baffled me, the guards relished singing it with me. I began by singing its first verse. My three Taliban guards, along with Tahir and Asad, then joined me in the chorus. “She loves you — yeah, yeah, yeah,” we sang, with Kalashnikovs lying on the floor around us.
The Zombie Zeitgeist A full scale movement is on the lurch. But why the best zombie movie ever made a video game?
Believer interview with Mark Allen Digital artist and awesome gallerist Mark Allen talks about Tekken Torture Tournament and other projects where people were wired to machines and did strange things in public.
Believer interview with Marjane Satrapi Enlightening Q & A with the Persian cartoonist, memoirist, quick conversationalist in which she declares: “THE WORLD IS NOT ABOUT BATMAN AND ROBIN FIGHTING THE JOKER; THINGS ARE MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.”
Yeti Researcher Yet another 100-page issue of the world's top academic journal devoted scholarship about the Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasqatch, and other mystery primates worldwide. For researchers and lay audiences alike, the latest YR features a history of Sasquatch sightings in southern California, an update on the wily orang pendek of Sumatra, and a new look into Teddy Roosevelt's obsession with bagging a Bigfoot. As Editor-in-Chief, I promise you won't be disappointed.
Panda PowerPoint! I guess I don't mind being "the entertainment" when it's at Mark Allen's second annual Holiday Fry-B-Que. Presented: preliminary findings from my ongoing research into the most charismatic megafauna of all: Giant Pandas.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Dec 9, 2006 For those who missed it, there will be more. World, Explained is going strong! Money was raised, laughs were had, and for those paying attention, small amounts of useful information about things like the aurora borealis were transmitted. Plus: Michael Cera = lovably funny. And Nick Diamonds' renditions of Dumb Dog and Hanging Tough are still in my head. As is that horribly catchy Fresh Step jam.
Jest Fest at Skylight Books Somehow I wound up hosting the 10th anniversary jubilee for Infinite Jest at Skylight Books. Because who doesn't love a jubilee, right? Despite being delirious with Hepatitis A (that's the mild, non-lethal kind; I'm not at risk for Hep B since I always go the needle share and choose clean-looking prostitutes), I managed to not mis-pronounce anyone's name and make an erudite joke and poke gentle fun at Michael Silverblatt.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | June 10, 2006 Number Three! Last one was sold out so we moved to a slightly larger theater. Andy Richter hosted, and his opening exegesis of CSI: Miami warmed the people up right. Evany Thomas presented her very scientific findings on the Secret Language of Sleep; Starlee Kine bared her neuroses to the world (or at least the 300 people in the audience); Josh Davis showed video of his 135-lb self sumo wrestling a 550-lb opera singer from San Bernardino; and Davy Rothbart closed it out with some Found Magazine magic. Grant Lee Phillips, Sam Shelton and Zooey Deschanel provided the music punctuation! I can still hear their rendition of We Are the Champions.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Feb 11, 2006 The second in our series of precision comedy and fact-based entertainment extravaganzas benefiting 826LA. Patton Oswalt was kind enough to host, and Jon Brion joined in on the piano and guitar as thematic accompaniment. Presenters included: David Rees, Michael Colton, John Hodgman (along with his hirsuit troubadour, Jonathan Coulton), and me. Plus: a fashion show of exciting multi-user garmentry.
Little Gray Book Lecture at Galapagos How to Observe President's Day. Jonathan Coulton's technical wizardry has made this entire show available online. The summary from PRX: Sarah Vowell, John Hodgman and Joshuah Bearman on Presidents' Day, along with a fifteen-piece marching band and a new song about all forty-three presidents. My contribution? Yes, from Yeti Researcher. Again. Actually that was the first one. So I have only five stories!
July 25: TJ to LA -- A Night McSweeney's Readings I was honored to be part of a strange triptych along with Salvador Plascencia and Josh Kun. Sponsored, somehow, by La Ciudad magazine, we all packed into Beyond Baroque with no air conditions. 150 people showed at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening, which we took as a good sign of something. Sal held up and anxiously discussed drawings from his novel, Josh delivered an essay on the Dr. Moreau of Tijuana, and my shtick (again) was Pac Man and metaphysics, this time with fun slides.
October 8th: Skylight Books w/Stephen Elliott Fun times were had by all. Someone in the audience actually mistook me for an expert on the psychology human character. We ate shrimp cocktail and drank cheap wine and laughed at Bush and celebrated the certainty of right besting wrong in American democracy. A lot of good that did.