I'm a big fan of a band called Camera Obscura, and I read an interview with their lead singer where she explained the genesis of their song "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken" as a tribute to the song "Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?" by Lloyd Cole And The Commotions. She described how her and Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian would geek out about Lloyd Cole and his music and how he was such a big inspiration to both of their bands. At these point I was so twee'd out that chunky glasses I definitely do not wear had spontaneously appeared on my face, and I mopely fished my hands out from the depths of my enormous sweater and clicked on over to iTunes and bought Lloyd and The Commotion's whole first album, and boy am I glad I did.
Lloyd makes (or made, it's a record from the 80's) catchy jangly pop with fun, wry lyrics that it is probably more fun to listen to, or even walk around in the sunshine listening to, than it is to hear me describe. So here are a couple songs from that album, "Rattlesnakes." Go buy the whole thing if you dig it. I apologize if you are the creative force behind a popular Scottish band and this guy is old news to you.
And also, the above interview's lede describes Camera Obscura's lead signer/songwriter injuring herself after getting drunk on straight whiskey, which made my heart make this noise: THUMP THUMP, THUMP THUMP, THUMP THUMP, and protrude cartoonishly from my chest.
There is a band named after "Saturn Unleashed," a made-up student film in the DERRICK sketch "Girls Are Not To Be Trusted." I love naming fake bands so the fact that we could contribute to the stock of REAL band names is truly an honor. Check them out here!
STORIES, REMASTERED! - A couple years ago a weird glitch fucked up a bunch of short stories I'd posted. I am (slowly) going back and fixing them. Here are some I've fixed.
There are nine bars at Pixar. The ones we saw were in the middle of makeshift shantytowns that look like those two-dimensional houses that encircle Old West sections of themeparks, except instead of nothing, the houses are filled with mad-genius animators. At least two of these animators' offices have secret passages that lead to swanky closet-sized lounges lined with photos of the Rat Pack and celebrities' signatures. When we walked by it on the tour, one of the bars was teeming with animators hooting and shaving each other's hairstyles into mohawks to celebrate the beginning of principal animation on "Toy Story 3."
When the lights go down in the main screening room, a skyful of stars appears overhead and two shooting stars streak across the fake sky. "Ooooh," go the Pixar employees in unison when the first star goes, practiced and ritualistic. "Ahhhh," go the Pixar employees along with the second. Their nonchalance is super-endearing.
There is a row of shot glasses perched on the windowsill of a room that houses their impossibly powerful computer rendering system. A sweat-drenched animator breaks off from the head-shaving ceremony to chase Donald down and geek out about 30 Rock. I see two people I know from New York who now work at Pixar and I do an awesome job of hiding my envy.
Three of my five favorite movies are Pixar movies and it is the kind of place that you would hope in the best of all possible worlds the things you love deeply come from. Everyone is sweet and open and great to talk to. Everyone seems benevolently obsessed with their work. I recognize several people from behind-the-scenes DVD featurettes and make no secret of the fact, because I supect, in part thanks to all the Muppets and guitars hanging from the walls, that I am in good and geeky company.
Towards the end of our tour I had a feeling I feel like you get less and less as you get older, which is, "Aw...soon this day is going to be over forever." It's the sort of feeling I'd get most acutely as a kid at Disneyland. When you go to Disneyland as an adult (or a cynical teenager) it doesn't quite cast the same spell because you see the pecuniary interests at work behind the whole thing and the veneer of "this is a place to feel like a kid" doesn't quite hold. But Pixar seems like this place where they have tempered the wonder of being a kid with the reality of being a grown-up and having to work. It seems like the Platonic ideal of the "cool office," where play enhances rather than distracts from the work, play is in fact necessitated by the sheer mind-busting intensity of the work, play infuses the work with life and joy that is impossible to manufacture. It is the sort of place where they bring filmmakers out to show their movies just for the fun of it in the middle of the day on a Monday, and then some of them go right back to work, and then some of them go shave their heads and hoot and holler in a mid-office Tiki bar and THEN go back to work.
We got to see the new short "Partly Cloudy" and three minutes of "Up." It was no surprise that they ruled.
Also I acted a fool up in the gift shop.
Thank you for having us, Pixar. It was one of the best days of my life.
Heading to San Francisco to show "Mystery Team" at PIXAR. I am ecstatic.
Then we'll be in Los Angeles for the rest of the week.
It is sunny and one thousand degrees in New York today.
It was not surprising at all that you came under the sway of the charismatic lead singer of the psychadelic band, and not in the least surprising that you slept with him. It is disappointing because we’ve been dating for six months but it’s not at all surprising.
In a more bitter situation I might remark “Is he even the lead singer?” After all, all he does in performance is sit on the floor, long hair covering his face, surrounded by effects pedals and panels with which he modulates his voice. He doesn’t have the most compelling or conventional stage presence. But again, I’m not surprised. I see how it is part of the appeal. He is so effortlessly charismatic, so clearly the center of this whirlwind of creativity, that his lack of affect becomes its own sort of magnet, and no part of me is shocked that you went home with him to the old house on the edge of town where he lives with the rest of the band and some other people in their loose collective.
I am relatively clean-cut and hard-working and straight-laced so it would be very easy to make disparaging comments contextualizing him as a “dirty hippie,” but in my limited interaction with him at their shows and also in the couple of times he has come into the video store, I have seen that he has an authenticity and an intensity that belies any cheap jokes. His band’s consistent high-quality work in a genre of music I don’t even particularly like speaks volumes about his work ethic, and his clear and thoroughgoing commitment to a lifestyle so far from my own tells me his is in touch with a strand of mysticism I would ordinarily dismiss but in this case find alluring because he is such a charismatic figure on so many levels, so when you didn’t show up to the condo last night despite the fact that we had plans to stay in and watch “Metropolitan” once I got home from work, and when my three cell phone calls to you went unanswered, and when you finally knocked on my door at six-fifteen in the morning, waking me up from the sleep I had drifted into while sitting on the couch worrying about your safety and half-watching old episodes of “Comedy Central Presents,” and I opened my front door and you were standing there in the gray half-light of dawn with your hair back in a messy pony-tail wearing a sweater I’d never seen you wear before, and you told me you had just had sex with Raedawn Shiningtrue, lead singer of Ferlinghetti Darkstar, I was not all that surprised.
Except now I want do to like his song says and fade away into the woods.
This is all the stuff we weather
to get through to
the actual greatest gift of the modern world,
which is that we can choose
who we want to be with
and spend a long life with them
away from rain
Dear mustachioed tourist dads of Germany:
Release your more attractive daughters to my custody,
and in return I promise you
a lifetime supply
of too-short shorts
and too-small baseball caps,
unlimited memory for your digital cameras
and a library of full-color guidebooks,
enough to sustain you for a lifetime of dragging your families through
cathedrals and ruins.
I promise an authentic, enlightening
She looks so bored.
How could anyone bored
in New York?
Dear mustachioed tourist dads of Germany:
I will take it from here.
Some skyscraper notes:
Last night I noticed they no longer leave the Chrysler Building on after midnight. At least they didn’t last night. And if it’s true and they really don’t anymore and last night wasn’t just an anomaly, that really bums me out. The Chrysler Building is my favorite skyscraper (every mid-twenties white person oughta have one) and part of the reason for that is its art deco crown glows all night, whereas the Empire State Building extinguishes itself after midnight. It’s as pretty and astounding in the daylight as it is at night, in a totally different way, but at all times it’s the best example I know of a building that makes me go “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” but is also timeless, hell, futuristic: predictive of a future that still hasn’t (and will probably never) arrive where everything is classy glittering steel. A World’s Fair world. It has big eagle-head gargoyles jutting out at the top and if every time you see them up there you don’t think of a superhero standing on one of them, cape billowing around them in the wind, then you don’t deserve your imagination and you should trade it in the next time you get the chance.
It makes sense that they would start turning it off late at night. It’s probably a big waste of energy, and money, and it’s the goddamn CHRYSLER building, even if they still have the money it’s probably not a good time for an American automotive company to be perceived of as wasteful of energy or misspending the money they’re supposedly so short on. But it bums me out nonetheless. You want your skyline to be on all night and shining. It’s totally insignificant, and totally significant.
Also on the way home last night: I saw a taxi-top ad for the Empire State Building that said: “TAKE ME TO ESB! OPEN ‘TIL 2 AM.” People responsible for this ad campaign: your client is the fucking EMPIRE STATE BUILDING. Nowhere, nowhere in the world are you going to find a thing so impressive coupled with a name so goddamn cool. Why, in some incredibly misguided bid to seem youthful and hip, would you shorten it to “ESB?” As though that’s how anyone refers to it? It’s a dumb ad, I’m not worried that calling the tallest building in New York “ESB” is gonna take off, I just think it’s indicative of a general cheapening impulse I hate. The monolithic, powerful, and impressive never want to stay that way. They want to be perceived as young and hip. And in awkward bids at imitating something they could never be (that is, new and young) they end up diminishing the capital they had.
The Empire State Building, you’re cool because you’re the Empire State Building. Don’t try and pass yourself off as a cool young hangout called “ESB.” No one is fooled. EMPIRE. STATE. BUILDING. What unironic fucking majesty. It makes me sad that somebody in marketing somewhere thinks you need to be more than that, especially when pretty much everything on a remotely similar scale that’s been built in the past twenty years is called, like, “THE COSTCO ARENA.”
We need big imposing stodgy institutions and we need tiny responsive of-the-moment movements. It’s when we start cheapening ourselves to be something we’re not that we run into trouble. Sometimes good things forget what makes them good. Our quality of life goes down every time that happens.
I would like a world with more mystique and dignity. They’re ineffable, intangible qualities. They’re not practical in the least. They rarely feed or clothe anyone. So I get why they’re the first things out the window a lot of the time. But sometimes it’s silly not-practical stuff like leaving your skyscraper’s top burning all night that make what we do every day feel more like living than surviving.
My good buddies at CollegeHumor were kind enough to have me at their live show a couple months back. Here's the resulting video of my stand-up.
I just finished reading a book. It took me a good month. The book was "V." by Thomas Pynchon. I was going to write a little review here but then I clicked over to Wikipedia to see if Pynchon is still alive, (he is, and kicking) and I came upon this passage where Pynchon says he and another writer started a "micro-cult" around a book called "Warlock" by Oakley Hall, which is apparently a western. And I said: "A western called 'Warlock' good enough to inspire a micro-cult? I gotta read that!" And then I said: "Oooh! Micro-cults!" And I thought about micro-cults, and how maybe some suicides, like people who hang themselves alone in their room, are just members of suicide cults of one. People who are their own charismatic leader and also emotionally vulnerable follower. if most religions are based on the precept that they're right about the universe and everyone else is wrong, then people in cults of one believe that once they take their own life in the way they have proscribed to themselves, they will ascend to a very lonely heaven, maybe behind the tail of a comet.
So I won't review "V." but I will say that when I started reading it I thought, "Why is this not more popular than 'On The Road?' It has all the ramblin' and restless aimless youth and 50's-ness and drinking with bongo players and being hungover the next morning sitting on a bus station bench with your coat wrapped around somebody you don't really like, but it's written better and it's cooler and funnier! And the main character is hunting alligators in the sewers of New York, and there are allusions to a system of tunnels people from a mythical land will use to come into our world and kill us all!" and then as I got further along I realized: "Oh, here's why: because every forty pages the main action is broken up by floridly written flashbacks to characters we haven't met yet and won't meet again in Paris or Florence or Africa, and they will stumble around in a haze convinced everyone else is mechanical, and eventually you get to a point where you realize there are only so many pages left and none of it is ever going to really pay off." And that's why it was never as popular as "On The Road:" because no one their Freshman year of college is all that interested in reading aimless flashbacks about madness and slave torture. Also, because according to Wikipedia Pynchon is very reclusive and there are few images of him, whereas Kerouac had the good sense to get lots of pictures taken of him staring inscrutably at a jukebox with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and thus Kerouac is way ahead of Pynchon in terms of people having posters of him hanging in their dorm rooms.
That said, I will read that "Warlock" book, and I will still read "The Crying Of Lot 49" by Pynchon because apparently it features a secret postal service, and that sounds cool as hell.
Some people don't like the horns in "Can't Hardly Wait" by The Replacements. These people are wrong.
Also, if you don't like The Replacements, you want might to start. As Jay-Z said, "I can't vouch for you if you ain't a part of this."
I am beginning to think the subway runs on disappointment. When we emit the kind of brain waves we emit when we think the phrase, "aw fuck, really?," little receptors behind the eyes of happy students in Learn English Now advertisements collect that radiation, and it is sent back to switching stations in deepest Queens and pumped back into the system as electricity. And regular garden-variety disappointment doesn't work, either: it has to be the type that comes from being really perfectly dicked over just when you thought everything was going to be fine.
Two things that happened to me today that put so much disappointment-brain-wave electricity into the system that I should probably get a week of free rides:
- I dashed down to my morning (read: afternoon) train and just made it, with that satisfying interval of time between hopping on and the doors closing for good and the train pulling away that says "If I would've not hauled ass just then, past less motivated and at this very moment probably less sweaty commuters, I would still be standing on the platform right now." Feeling like a real transit cowboy, I took a seat a few feet into the mostly empty train car. One second after sitting down, I realized I had somehow picked the one empty seat that was covered in spilled coffee. There were so many other empty seats.
I started my day with a wet butt, and your day can really only be so good when you kick it off with a wet butt.
- Tonight, I was taking the train home in that confusing lawless time a little after midnight where a lot of express trains are running local but a lot of local trains that aren't supposed to be running at all after midnight are still finishing their routes, so the E train I was on I was relatively sure would take me all the way home, but then, where I'd normally switch to the local, a local R train was pulling in across the platform at exactly the same rate as our train. I had fun for a second looking at the other train going exactly as fast as ours, frame of reference making it look like we weren't moving and they weren't moving but everything else was (There's a reason trains are always used in metaphors about frame of reference, they illustrate the whole thing in a really nice way) and then I stopped having fun and thought, "Aw, fuck, if the R is still running, does that mean the E is still running express?"
Just to be safe I decided to hop the R train, as it would take me home no matter what. The subway always forces us to make these kinds of time-greedy split-second decisions, and because they have to keep the disappointment-circuits humming, they juke it so we almost always chose wrong. I got off the E just in time to hear the automated voice say, "This is an E local train." So it would've gotten me where I needed to go. Whatever, I thought, I don't want the people on the E to see me bolt off like I don't need them and then come rabbiting back all tourist-like. I got on the R just in time to hear the conductor come on the loudspeaker and say, "The E train across the platform will be leaving first." I knew full well that the R would take me home. I didn't need to be anywhere on time, I was just going fucking home for the night. I was attempting to save two to four minutes that did not need saving. But we are so often robbed of time by the capricious transit Gods that we will do dumb shit to save a few seconds even when we don't even need to.
Me and a couple other recent E-train transplants jogged off the R train and across the platform towards the E, and the E's doors shut just before we got there. It pulled away. We all ran back on the R before it, too, could reject us. The good old R, with its actual conductor on the loudspeaker instead of an automated voice and its Tetris blocks of yellow-and-orange seats, the kind that so conveniently kept spilled coffee cupped in one place until I could come along this morning and plant my jeans in it, the good old R let us back on even though we'd been so eager to abandon it when the shiny E was the hot prospect. We held in the station for a minute and then we started off towards home.
This evening's disappointment was, granted, not as long-term annoying as this morning's, but they both typify the sort of low-stakes, high-frustration disappointment the New York City transit system is powered by, where you think, because you're human and you want to control your own destiny, that you've somehow gamed the system and you, savvy traveler, will get where you are so desperately needed while others are stuck on the platform, when in fact there is only enough logic there to let you think there's a logic to it and make you feel a little complicit when the uncaring trains fuck you once again.
And you will go "Aw, fuck, really?" and the eyes of the Learn English Now student nearby will twinkle with a little blue spark and the energy of your disappointment will already be halfway to the switching station in deepest Queens, where it will help keep the system running pretty well for something more than a hundred years old that transports millions every day, but not TOO well, or we'd all be happy and the thing would shut down entirely.
When I was writing the first novel I didn't title the Word document what the book was actually called. I called it "Cookie Bookie." I guess I didn't have a title when I started working, but even after I had a title, there's something nice about sitting down to work on something you probably feel crappy about and resentful towards (if you're a writer, you feel this way all the time, right?) and instead of it being called what it is, it's called "Cookie Bookie," and you can pretend for a second you are about to continue a yarn about an old-fashioned green-visored bookie who deals entirely in cookies, and the consequences of his unorthodox business practices.
I've started work on the next one. I know what it's called, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the Word document is called "The Long And Pudding Road."
There will never be enough halal stands and taco trucks for my taste. If it were up to me all traffic on every road would be just food trucks, and they would all be stopped and open for business. A street-food society where the only three condiments are white sauce, hot sauce, and barbecue sauce, and we are all appreciative drunks with five dollars in our pockets moving among good-smelling smoke clouds.
Also: I think I enjoy saying "hi" to the kebab guy on the busy corner near my apartment more than I enjoy love, or food itself.
I did my taxes today on my laptop at the library. I recommend it. You can look around at the library and go "I guess it's okay if there are more of these," and pretend semi-successfully it's the only place the money's going.
I think it's a bummer that when we describe something that was amazing we say, "it was almost unreal." "It was like in a movie or something." "It was like it was fake."
This goes for sights and sounds and events and conversations, things we see on the street or in the sky, things we think are amazingly good and things that we think are amazingly horrible. But it's mainly the things we think are amazingly good that I'm addressing here. Because it means that we think things that are really beautiful are incompatible with our own lives, that our actual lives are the domain mostly of e-mail-checking and awkwardness, and anything that goes beyond that feels as though it belongs in someone else's more glamorous life, or a TV show, or a song.
I can't remember who I was talking to exactly, I think it was some friends who'd been to Europe, and we were comparing exotic-trip notes (mine are pretty limited) and we all noticed the same thing: Americans abroad, among the legitimately awesome and historical, and the really beautiful stuff we couldn't help feeling like it was Disneyland. Like it was fake, a copy, even though it couldn't get any more authentic. And there's no denying that the sights themselves were authentic, it was just our presence, our seeing them that made them feel artificial. Like, if I'm allowed to see this, it must be cheap. These eyes have also seen my room back home with all my name-brand clothes all over the floor, and these eyes have also taken in an entire "Real World/Road Rules Challenge" marathon on MTV. Anything these eyes can take in must be a little tainted and downmarket. Nothing cool ever happens to me.
It bums me out that we think special stuff is reserved for other people, or worse yet, that the really beautiful is the province of fiction. I like to think that if we make ready for adventure, we might start to see it everywhere. I like to think that if we demand it, we might actually get it.
I want to look at the moon in the sky over New York on a really clear night, seeing every little detail of it hanging there, and not think "It looks unreal." I want to think, "This is life, and the world, and we see and do the amazing all the god-damned time."
It would be terrible to be in a band with me. I would have formed the band under the stated goal of being a straight-ahead cars-and-girls rockabilly outfit, kind of like a pre-Clash Joe Strummer sort of thing, and on my insistence we would all go the full nine and cut our hippie hair and slick what as left back, wear tight jeans and white tees with packs of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve, and if you didn't already smoke I'd give you shit about it 'till you started, and we would pool our money to buy an old beat-up muscle car despite your very reasonable insistence that a more sensible vehicle for a band to buy would be a van for, you know, touring.
We would be driving back from the junkyard with the windows rolled down, on the one hand so we could look cool and feel cool with our sleeves rolled up and our newly tatooed arms hanging out the window, but on the other hand because the windows are broken and won't roll up, and we would be stopped at a stoplight and I would hear a subwoofer in a passing vehicle go THOOM THOOM THOOM THOOM and I would say, "As soon as that light turns green, you make a u-turn, we're going back to the barbershop where they cut off our hippie hair and we're all getting hi-top fades."
A few weeks later with the Nike swoosh still freshly shaved on your left temple you would be saying to Matt our one-time drummer who is now our DJ how you could've never foreseen it ending up here when you answered that ad in the paper looking for a rockabilly bassist but you had to hand it to me, I had turned us into one mean fucking rap trio heavily influenced by the music and fashion of the late 1980s, and you would be saying to Matt how you really couldn't be more excited for our first gig that night, that you really thought we were ready to control the crowd, when I would burst in with an enormous ghetto blaster on my shoulder. And you would compliment me on the find, and say how it really completes the whole 1988 effect, but I wouldn't answer, I would have this weird gleam in my eye, and I would place the ghetto blaster down in between you and Mike and the sound system Mike traded in his drum set and maxed out a few credit cards to purchase, and I would say, "This is how I think we should sound."
And as my finger went to press the chunky play button you wouldn't yet be worried, because undoubtedly this ghetto blaster would be about to pour out some boom-bap not too distant from the kind of thing we were already playing, I mean look at it, it practically belongs on some Bronx teenager's shoulder in the coffee table book full of early hip hop photography I handed you two weeks before this and said "THIS IS YOUR BIBLE NOW." But instead of hip-hop, when my finger hit the button the speakers would start blaring the dead center of a bossa nova song. Weird psychadelic bossa nova but bossa nova nontheless, in Portuguese and everything. And swear to God, behind his vintage Gazelle shades, Mike would start crying.
And you would ask me why I would put a tape of tropicalia music in a ghettoblaster more suited to the current incarnation of our band and I would say I didn't put it in there, I found it like this on a streetcorner, full of D batteries. And how it was a sign. And you would say we had our first gig that night and it was really too late to change anything and I would say it's never too late. And you would say that if I was so interested in all these different musical genres, how about instead of constantly shifting what kind of music we played, and how we dressed, and lived, in line with some cartoon version of the past, how about I worked to fuse my various interests into something entirely new. And I would call you a traitor and say that if you weren't down for this journey, then you should have never joined The Four On The Floors, and then stuck with us when we became Frenetic Assault Featuring DJ Mike-Skee, and how you definitely should not stick around for our live debut tonight as The Thunder Brasileira.
You would call me a mean name and sarcastically ask me how to say that mean name in Portuguese. And I would tell you to get the hell out of my father's garage.