Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fear Itself


I've spent the entire month of October watching horror movies. Drag Me to Hell, Lunacy, The Frighteners, Re-animator, Pontypool, Demons, The Blob, Dracula, The Dead Zone and many others. I don't know why I did this, but I can't wait to quit starting tomorrow. Four and a half weeks of this shit... It's been brutal. And what have I learned from filling my head with all this horror and evil? Well, not much. But if you know me, you know that I love Halloween and horror films. I believe that Halloween provides us with a time to vicariously live out our deep fears through costumes, scary movies, and jack-o-lanterns. All of the girls who are afraid of being sluts get to dress like hookers on Halloween weekend. Goth kids don't feel like minorities during this month. Gourds receive illuminated faces for some reason. It's a time when nothing is as it seems, and everything is as it should be.

Right?

Halloween is a holiday like any other. A time to celebrate life in spite of the awful, boring reality that we endure every other month of the year. It's a time to engage in fearfulness and oddity. We party about things that aren't necessarily concrete, but we all relate to anyway.

Possibly the best movie I watched this month was David Cronenberg's The Brood. Even though virtually ALL horror films/stories do this, The Brood is one of the only horror films I've seen that KNOWINGLY reveals its monsters as psychological manifestations. But this is what Halloween is all about. It's looking at our inner fears and monsters, metaphorically interpreting them, and laughing the metaphors off (thus laughing our fears away). It's about mocking our fear, while maintaining a respect for those demons that haunt every human being.

You all know the feeling. When you get freaked out and jump during a scary movie or when you're surprised by the chainsaw guy in a haunted house, you normally respond by laughing out loud. During those awkwardly quiet, or weird, or frightening moments, we have to react somehow. It's like the sheriff said in No Country for Old Men: "It's alright, I laugh myself sometimes. There ain't a whole lot else you can do". But it's that laughter that signals just how human we really are. We can't look at something absurdly horrifying without reaction. We have to laugh at our fears, otherwise be overcome by them.

None of us are without demons. We all have fears. Halloween gives us the opportunity to interact with those things on a level a little bit closer to the surface. So don't just celebrate "Fall," celebrate the knowledge of your own fears. You're a human, and that means you're afraid of things. When you're dead, you won't get to experience fear anymore. So have fun with it while it lasts.

I've been growing less scared every year though. I think it means I'm getting older. The Muppets would occasionally make me cry when I was a kid, and now, I can't think of anything that really chills my blood. Maybe death. I think death is actually very scary. We fear what we don't understand, right? We'll I don't understand death. I will absolutely experience it, but it will be the last thing I experience. With every other experience, it leads to another. And every past experience informs my present experiences. When I die, it will be a culmination of every single experience I've ever had, but it will not teach me anything. It's like taking the ultimate final exam. Everything you've lived for comes down to this moment. But when it's over, it's just over. You don't get an A or an F. You just finish. And I don't understand that. So I'm afraid. 

On Halloween, I'm afraid. Maybe I'll go write a story about the grim reaper. Or the guy who tosses a coin and tells me that it's over whether I'm ready or not. I'll still be afraid of him tomorrow, but I won't be able to laugh at him.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ugliness is Easy


I turned the television on today, and caught a bit of the Tyra show.  The topic of her talk show was all about helping people achieve their sexual fantasies. Whether it was helping a black couple find an Asian woman in the audience who would participate in their threesome, or letting a couple have sex in front of over a hundred people (while videotaping), Tyra was all about making dreams come true today.

...

I think I've heard that Tyra Banks wants to be a role model to young girls. I don't know what she thinks that means, but I'm pretty sure encouraging shameless public exploitation of sexual fetishes isn't something that a role model is supposed to do.

When I first laid eyes on Tyra Banks, I couldn't find anything about the woman that I didn't like. I think I was in junior high when I first gazed upon her, and if I'm remembering correctly, she was on the cover of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition pulling her bikini bottoms down at the sides. I had no complaints.

Hearing Tyra Banks talk today made me a little sick. And it confirmed how important a personality actually is when it comes to the attractiveness of a woman.

After a couple decades of our Married With Children and American Pie culture doing its best to degrade women back down to the state of sexual objects, we've found ourselves in a pretty contradictory place. Tyra Banks is totally unambiguous when it comes to sex, yet preaches a "girl power" message for the contemporary teenager. "Smile with your eyes" she tells her skinny freaks on America's Next Top Model. There's power and strength in femininity. You'll get your way if you can be confident in your natural womanhood.

It's kind of ironic, right? The woman who pushes for tolerance and acceptance of all body types, would never have gotten the chance to broadcast her voice to millions of people had she not been the skinniest, sexiest, largest-breasted black woman to ever grace a Victoria's Secret catalog. She never would have made it in radio though...

But I learn something about myself, and attraction in general, through Tyra Banks. When she's just a lingerie model, I listen to her with my eyes. When she's talking out loud (about basically anything), I want to stick knives into my ears. Tyra Banks may be beautiful on the outside, but she has shit for brains, shit for morals, and shit for a personality. Maybe it's just because I'm not a teenager anymore, but all that shit easily trumps her physical attractiveness. I think she's ugly. And it's completely because of her shitty personality.

So if you've heard that the most attractive part of a woman should be her personality, but never believed it, I dare you to watch the Tyra show and maintain your opinion. Personality is everything. Tyra Banks is one of the clearest examples of how a person can be totally hideous, even if she looks like the girl in the picture above.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Phonebooth Resurrection


Some of us have been born again, others have dreams in which we're not ourselves. Artists write stories and create pictures that take them away from their reality, but tonight we abuse substances. Tonight, our metamorphosis is temporary and hallucinatory. Our fingers become carrot sticks, sex organs reverse functions, faceless dark figures strangle and clear voices echo independent of eardrums.

There are a few changes that should suffice the human experience. Puberty is one of the most vicious natural transformations that takes place in every person's life. It seems that a much more gradual change is becoming old. Either I haven't yet experienced this, or am still in the process. But sometimes the physical isn't enough. Sometimes a spiritual change must take place. Whatever that means, it's different from puberty, and occurs in an individual's mind.

So what did I experience tonight? It occurred after my wife went to sleep. I told her that I'd pack her lunch and get the coffee machine ready. But sprinkles were on my cereal. Count Chocula's mouth chewed on the box like a mirror. He wasn't saying anything, but still made fun of the way I ate. My long face looked even longer munching big mouthfuls.

I whispered "shhhh." And he started blinking his eyes like a butterfly and hummingbird. One eye blinked at a faster rate than the other. Until the floor became crowded with woodchucks. Every furry animal escaped my eye at every twitch. As soon as I saw one moving, it was behind a corner or under the furniture. None would look me in the eye. None would sit still.

Did I finish my cereal? Someone did. But either before or after, I chewed on an empty aluminum can of Diet Dr. Pepper. I bit into the side of it, dripping fizzy, sticky residue down my chin and neck. Eventually this mixed with blood. As my gums and cheeks found the sharpest snags of the broken can, I became excruciatingly thirsty.

I don't remember putting shoes on, and I might not have. If I went outside, I don't know which door I used. But there were windows of fat punk rockers with pink hair and dirty mustaches, having sex with the lights on. They were so disgusting, and I wouldn't leave their window. It had to be neighbors, college kids who are just interested in a good time.

My good time became full of dogs. I was in a fenced-in yard, getting my arm tugged around by an angry, growling, hairy bag of teeth. I knew that I could beat it, but it had a ferocious grip on my forearm. When I took it by the neck, I used my fingernails. If I was in pain, I didn't care. Other dogs were barking, but they were in their own fences on other streets.

But when I escaped the jaws, I tripped over the fence onto a cold sidewalk. For whatever reason, I could not get off of the sidewalk. It was like we became magnets, and gravity was a dark demon on my back, squeezing its claws around my neck. Now that I was stuck, I wondered how (and why) I was fighting with a neighbor's dog. I hoped that I didn't hurt it, and so called out, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean it doggie! You're a good doggie!"

I yelled that over and over until my throat dried. I remembered my thirst. Grass was a few inches away, just off the edge of the sidewalk. With my fingers stretching, I pulled my lips closer to the dew. I strained for what seemed like hours, stretching for this grass. When my mouth touched it, I sucked the blades. I sucked the grass until it was more dry than the back of my throat, and then I puked. This new liquid acted as replenishment. A re-soaked lawn, tinged with my own insecurity and foolishness. How many times I was able to drink the wetness off of the dying October grass seemed a number not worth counting, but it went on and on.

And here I sit. Writing about human transformation on a piece of modern technology. My mind is here, altering itself like a reversi game between Wayne Coyne and David Cronenberg. The beat poets are jealous of us, but we refuse to thank them for any goat's blood they may have spilled. We drink what we abuse, and restore that which was never really there.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Making a Leap of Faith Year


2009 has been a bad year.

I've heard it said, and I've said it myself. It's been hard, this year. People have been fired, committed suicide, lost their wills, given up on God, murdered strangers, lost the Olympic bid, devoured human brains, raped cousins and step-sisters, puked and shit at the same time, threw interceptions and contracted swine flu.

Fortunately, 2010 is coming. And we can make it a good one. It will be a year for new hope and a bright future. Why will the next year be better? Ah, what a fine question to ask. If I didn't know any better, I might even say that it is, in fact, a "great question". And the answer is as remarkable, if not more so, as the question. It is an answer that I have devised from my own intellect, and will call upon every living human to withhold.

2010 will begin and end in 24 hours. It will be a day and a year, at the same time. The day itself will be dedicated to peace and love, and no one will do any harm to anyone else.

Of course, you're asking, "how can you make a year and a day the same? It's not physically possible!" and to that point, you'd be correct. But remember the leap years. Some people born in 1984 (specifically, those who were born on February 29) have only celebrated six birthdays. Are they 25 years old? Kind of. But not in terms of birthday counts.

If these people can play with the days/years categories without circumstance, why don't we all do the same on the first day of 2010? Let's play with the categories, and let's make it the best year in the history of mankind. This will be a real leap year. A leap so fast, the year will be over in a day. The day after January 1st, 2010, will be January 1st, 2011. We'll all be one "year" older and wiser. And for the rest of our lives, we'll reminisce about the best year.

This really is something we should try to bring to pass, because if we don't, it's very possible that another 365 days could result in shitty shittiness again. If we cut down on the quantity, we will automatically bring up the quality.

In 2010, we'll drink good wine, kiss our loved ones, play the best board games, eat our favorite foods, and high five everyone we see. The air will be permeated with the aroma of baking brownies and spiced chai. Mosquitoes will be held hostage for this year, and babies won't cry. Cartoons and comic books will be consumed in place of news channels and politicians' hardcover biographies. Romance will be hastened. The weather won't matter. Pastors won't preach and bums won't beg. We might not even have to poop in 2010, depending on what happened the year prior.

It will be a great year. One that will go down in the history books as the year Dylan Peterson brought happiness to earth.

As for 2011, I have no comment. If it's another 365 days, there's a good chance it will suck. But if we can keep 2010 to 24 hours, we can have ourselves a good year. Let's do it guys!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

As For Film: Where the Wild Things Are


There were moments when I was able to relate to Max, but I did so as a childish adult relates to another childish adult. Even though I have childhood memories of playing in the snow and exploring fields and forests by myself with a scepter made out of a tree branch, I don't think my emotions were as developed then as Max's are in Where the Wild Things Are.

His many emotions are manifested as dreamy monsters from another world. Sometimes he's shy, but he can talk too much too, or even go crazy and break things. He's a very complex little boy, a storyteller with a powerful imagination. But instead of letting his imagination take him to places of joyous cosmic destruction and exciting alien worlds, Max goes to a place where all of his painful emotions are extrapolated.

This is when I can't relate to Max. To be so young and so emotional is something I don't remember. I was more like Calvin. My imagination was more concerned with killing monsters than it was befriending them.

Where the Wild Things Are kind of depressed me. Watching a kid gain self-awareness at such a young age was troubling. The fun part of being a kid was the total lack of self-awareness amidst self-absorption. I always say, life is still worthwhile simply because we used to be six. Those memories are enough to keep us going through this meaningless world, where the sun will eventually burn out and we'll all forget that while we were here we just spent our time judging and being mean to each other.

But without that unaware self-absorption, life becomes unbearably painful. What Max goes through in the movie is a complete revelation of his self-absorption.

The strange thing about Wild Things is that a seemingly imaginative child is taught a very heavy and "adult" lesson, but all within the child's own mind. He comes to his own conclusions about the way life works.

How horrifying.

But maybe that's why so many people are saying that this is a movie for adults. I'm not sure if kids can actually relate to Max. As I sat in the theater, a birthday party of small children sat behind me, occasionally commenting out loud on what they were watching.

"Ohhh, look at the flowers! They're so pretty!"

"Ewwww! That's disgustiiiing! He's coming out of her stomach!"

"Aw, that looks like so much fun!"

And in those moments, I felt like the movie was succeeding. I agreed with the kids, and I felt like we were all relating to a purely human experience. Beauty, disgust, fun. It was universal. It didn't require some mature emotion to understand.

I just discovered an amazing television show on Netflix. It aired in 1987, on HBO. Jim Henson's The Storyteller. Old, dark folk tales that might scare kids, but will express themes that both adults and children can share. It is at times creepy, amazing, and deep. Things that Wild Things tries to get at, but only occasionally achieves.

I'm troubled. Sure, the visual effects of the creatures in Wild Things were amazing. Probably the most wonderful creature creations since the Jim Henson days (which is saying a lot!). But I have a feeling that this story is not for both kids and adults, as the Jim Henson productions were. The Wild Things movie is for adults, and that's it. NOT because it's "dark" or "violent," but because kids probably just won't relate to it.

So as an adult viewer, I'm going to forget that Max is a kid. Instead, I'm going to just assume that he represents my own "inner child". Who is my inner child? He's that selfish little brat who wants to be heard at all times, be the boss of everybody, do whatever he wants whenever he wants, and so on. I don't really want this person to come out very often, because he will hurt people when he does.

But sometimes, I just can't help it. I become a man-child. When I do, I look a lot like Max. I try to escape from the rest of the real people in my life and just make myself feel better in my own head. Sometimes I write stories, or draw, or play some music. I try to escape from reality and drown myself in art. And it's always a great tourniquet. I feel a lot better after some alone time.

Is that the moral of Wild Things though? As an adult, what does it mean to run away from my fears? Does it mean running to imagination and creativity, only to return to rationality once I'm settled down? Can I eat cake when I come back home?

In the end, I really enjoyed watching the movie, but I've come away from it confused (as a critic). I don't know what to do with its message. I'm not disappointed in it, but I kind of hoped that it might have been a film that would have resonated with me on a deeper level. If anything, it just made me want to go and read old Calvin & Hobbes strips and watch more Jim Henson stuff.

The film told me that it's not fun to grow up, which is true I guess. But being a kid is wonderful, and Wild Things didn't really express that. Maybe it didn't want to. Why not? That's what I can't figure out.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

As For Film: A Serious Man


Someone once told me that since I don't offer solutions, my opinions cannot be taken seriously. Two emotions struck me when I heard this. First, I felt offended. Another individual tried to negate my personal opinions. And that hurt. What else do I have but opinions? If I can't share opinions, I can't share anything of my own (spoken like a true Stoic, right?). But this emotional reaction quickly subsided in place of something bigger. I realized that this individual had pointed out some truth about me. He said that I don't offer solutions.

The weird thing about this conversation was that it occurred between two Christians. We both believe in Jesus, but we have very different opinions of him. I refuse to believe that God gives a human being an infinite answer. He gives us a lot of questions, but keeps the answer for himself. So of course I won't offer a solution, I don't believe in one.

Unless we're talking about Ecclesiastes, which has to be the Coen brothers favorite book of the Bible (either that or Job). Ecclesiastes offers an answer in the second verse of the first chapter that I find quite remarkable:

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."

With that inspired word of God in mind, let's have a look at A Serious Man. We see a character suddenly struck by misfortune. Coincidence after horrible coincidence seems to tell Larry something. Something... important. Something about life, himself, and the meaning of it all. Larry asks questions, but only because he wants a competent answer. "Why is God doing these things?"

... (crickets keep chirping) ...

One of the funniest scenes in the film tells the story of a gentile who gets a checkup from a Jewish dentist. The dentist notices that on the back sides of his patient's teeth is an inscription of Hebrew lettering. The dentist lies awake, trying to figure out why the inscription is in a non-Jewish person's mouth. Every day at work, he looks at all of his patients' teeth for more Hebrew messages on incisors, but never finds a thing. The dentist goes to the rabbi for advice. And the rabbi tells him to help out in the community more. This is apparently good enough for the dentist, but not for Larry. Larry wants to know why that inscription was chiseled into those teeth.

The rabbi offers a suggestion. He wonders if, perhaps, the search for life's answers is like a toothache. Suddenly there's great pain and confusion, but after a while, the ache simply goes away.

It seems that there are two choices we all have. To worry about things, or to not worry about things. And this can be applied to every area of life, be that spiritual, romantic, physical, visceral or intellectual. If this wasn't the message that the Coens were trying to get across in A Serious Man, then I must be taking them too seriously.

But I don't want to take them too seriously. They're pretty much the single reason that I still love film. They are such masters of their craft, it's easy to give them high praises. Again they've brought cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins in as their director of photography, and the film couldn't look more beautiful as a result. The casting is perfect as always, making the audience wonder if the Coens actually paid actors for these roles or just found local townspeople in rural Minnesota truck stops.

And above all, the writing is superb. I can't wait to watch this movie again, find little details that I missed the first time and connect them to things I forgot about. The dialogue is as funny as anything in Lebowski, Fargo or Burn After Reading. From a schoolboy obsessed with saying "fuck" between as many words as possible to a self-prescribing psychiatrist with an eminently overambitious vocabulary that runs dry quicker than he cares to realize.

All of the elements are there, and this is as good as the Coen brothers get. And with that said, A Serious Man is as good as movies get.

In the history of cinema, we have a short list of truly artistic American directors. But Joel and Ethan Coen do us proud. Every one of their films is undoubtedly American. Slowly but surely they go through each decade and give it their own funny hat to wear. They're never preachy, never stupid and never boring. A Serious Man is certainly one of their best, most closely aligned in style with the still underrated masterpiece, Barton Fink.

Whatever they believe seems to be somewhere in the metaphysical mathematics of an eternal chalkboard or a personal metaculus. But I don't want to know it. I don't want them to give me a solution. Luckily, they never do. Instead, they make me laugh and ask questions. And that's enough. I don't need any more solutions or answers than what I've already attained. After all:

"For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief."

That wise writer of Ecclesiastes knew something then that the Coens know today. That it's not necessarily a benefit to have an answer. As Bulgakov wrote in Master and Margarita, "Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that." It's just that we can never say for sure what "right" really means, only God can say that. Maybe we should just continue to ask questions without counting on any answers. And all that is to say is, let's not get too serious about our selves.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Not Godard's Weekend


On Thursday afternoon, Jamesovich and his wife, Dee, left their home city to visit friends in the state to their west. The University of Iowa is where Konrad and Aerin work towards their PhDs and Masters degrees. But though the town they lived in was one regarded for its academics and literary history, there would be no philosophical discussions on this trip. No, this weekend was about brunches, dancing, and The Temptations. The only conversations were those between friends. Networking was cast aside in place of pouring coffee pots. And even though only one member exists in the band today, there's still cause to sing along to all the hits. "My Girl," "Get Ready," "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." From the Mathematics department office window, the beers taste colder and the music sounds a little bit more reassuring. It takes two nights on an air mattress for Jamesovich and Dee to become acquainted with Iowa city, and by the time they do, it's goodbye to Konrad and Aerin for a 24 hour horror film fest at the Musicbox Theater. It's over three hours there and over three hours back, but a trip is always worth six when the only word on the itinerary is "friends". Through red and yellow leaves, the Midwest waves as they go. Not a goodbye or hello, but a perpetual welcome. No time to stop at home, bags still in the car, park a block or two away and get into that theater and out of the cold air. Black clothing and bloody projections, Cronenberg and Leatherface need paparazzi. But they can only last a little more than half a day. Sleep rem comes at the end of the night, and straight through the first part of the day. By the time it's all over, Jamesovich and Dee are watching Curb Your Enthusiasm for the fourth week in a row. The show that comes on after it is pretty good too, but it was funnier last week. Now that they're back to work, and money's coming in, life is absolutely horrible again. Why can't they just make every day a weekend?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

You Should Not Look at Me

If you think you're alone right now, turn around. Did you see anything? Probably not. But that doesn't mean that you're alone. Ever since I was a boy, I felt something behind me in the dark, staring at the back of my head. While light warmed my face, shadows darkened the nape of my neck. But every time I turned around, it was nothing but a dull, empty hallway.

Check again. Behind you now. Maybe one of these times you'll catch those eyes that never leave. Demons, spirits, angels and shadows. Are these the terrors that haunt us in the evening?

I believed so until I actually caught the fiend who stalked me from behind. It was only a slightly fearsome discovery, one that will surprise you. How did I catch him, you ask? It wasn't too difficult, really. I lured him in, with aromas and spells. By process of elimination, I lured invisible phantoms towards my back. One by one, Lucifer, Michael the Archangel, Mephistopheles, the boogie man and the ghosts of Native Americans. None of them took my bait, which ranged from skull shavings and blood soaked scarves to dream catchers and dead toads. Not one brought its nose close enough to my hair, not until I washed it with a shampoo made of raven beaks and gold-bug guts.

It was when I got out of the shower that I felt his presence. He stared at me, but wouldn't at first show himself. I used two towels to cover my naked body, chilled by his breath and scared of his skin. Would it be rotten? Would I even see it at all? Oh the torture that it was to turn my head and see nothing but familiar furniture! I knew that I wasn't alone, but I couldn't prove it!

So I sat down on the bed, towels dropped to the floor. My hair still damp, my back with a few clinging beads of water. The chill caused me to shiver uncontrollably.

He spoke, "turn around." I did.

A man with a white face, in a dark suit that looked a hundred years old. Like a photograph from the Civil War, the figure was cracked and faded. His hair as dark as his clothing, combed messily to one side. And small lips, that looked like they haven't moved in decades. Above his lips a mustache, small and sinister.

It was Edgar Allan Poe. All this time, the creature lurking behind me was a mere writer. A man with an imagination, who created poems and stories with his mind. Poe is nothing to fear, I thought briefly, he is an artist.

And yet, here he is, resurrected or ghastly in my apartment bedroom. He has been hiding behind me for my entire life, refusing to reveal himself to me. I've felt him so many times, but this was the first time I'd actually seen him.

I couldn't speak to him. I was afraid and naked. But without moving a muscle, he spoke to me again.

"You should realize that you're not well. Only a mad person can gaze upon me as you do now."

What did he know if I was mad? He was Edgar Allan Poe, and a dead one at that. He's the mad one.

"If you continue to stare at me, you will never be able to turn away from me."

A threat or a dare, something sinister regardless. My hands were in my crotch, covering my genitals.

"You've been trying to look at me, twisting your neck around time and time again. But you should not look at me. Only I can look at you. And not even I should look at your face, not even when you're sleeping."

As I looked on, I noticed how formless his face actually was. Even though I could describe every feature, his countenance was strangely flat. Not in the physical sense, but there didn't look to be a way to touch his skin with my hands.

"So decide now. If you choose to look at me, look at me... Get up and walk around. You'll never be able to turn away from my face."

Slowly I stood, and sure enough, whether I moved forward or backward, right or left, Poe would not remove himself from my vision.

Poe moved toward me slowly, placed his hand into his pocket and pulled out a knife. He held the handle loosely, with a single fingertip even. The tip of the blade was pressed against my chest. It was the coldest steel I'd ever felt, and it made each hair on my body stand out stiff.

"Well," Poe went on, "It's too late to turn your head away now. If you no longer wish to gaze upon me, take what I give you and look no more."

As he spoke, his fingertip became my own. And then I grasped the handle of the knife.

I looked hard into Poe's eyes. They were dead black cats. I hated him. I didn't want to look at him anymore.

Until a flash of light washed through both of us. There were shrill screams and dizzying falls. There was a rescuer, a beautiful woman in my room. Poe was gone, and I could only see the eyes of my wife in front of me.

But she didn't look herself. She wasn't smiling at all, but crying and mad. Her eyes were fiery and pained. I couldn't look away from her. But I didn't want to. There was a torment in her, it was all I could see. I reached out to embrace her, to comfort her, but my stretch was weak and short.

Behind my head I felt the palm of a hand. Its fingers massaging my hair gently. I couldn't tell if the hand belonged to my wife or Edgar Allen Poe. And I would never find out.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence


Release date: October 20, 2009

Hey guys check out my band's new CD. You know me, I'm the tall, skinny guy with red hair and big glasses. Actually no. That King of Convenience is Erlend Oye. But he might be inspiring me to grow my hair out and shave my face.

Kings of Convenience came out around the same time as Kings of Leon, earlier this decade. I always confused the two, but knew that one of them sucked and the other was great. Over the past couple years, it's become all too clear which tyrants are deserving of music-lovers allegiance. (It's the Norwegians. Not the Americans.)

Declaration of Dependence is no better or less than the other two Kings of Convenience albums. It's just right. Just like the other albums were, just right. I can't think of another band who defies rank like this, but I couldn't tell you which albums were better if you held a gun to my head. "They're all good! Please don't kill me I have a wife! They're all gooood! whaaaa!"

I'm not sure why that image of violence just popped in there. Sorry.

But it's true, Quiet is the New Loud, Riot on an Empty Street, and now Declaration of Dependence are almost like a triple-album, spread out over 8 years. If you put the three albums on shuffle, there isn't a bad mix. And while I love it when a band is willing to take risks and try something new every few albums, I think it might be a mistake for Kings of Convenience to mess with something so perfect.

All it takes is two voices, harmonizing, and two instruments. Sometimes it's two acoustic guitars. Sometimes it's piano. And every now and then, they bring in some strings (but only if necessary).

Declaration of Dependence is a soundtrack to soft romance, best heard while walking down a leaf-littered city street that's lined with barren trees. Add a scarf into the mix and you become one with the music. And I'll bet it works even better in northern European countries. God, these guys make me want to move to Berlin or something. They never play in North America either. That's reason enough to move to Europe, to get a few chances to see these guys live. Let's hope they hit the States later this year. I don't care what it costs, I'll be at the Chicago show.

As with all of the other Kings of Convenience albums, Declaration of Dependence lets out dangerous emotional radiation. It will remind you of love and love lost. Keep as far away from it as possible if you've recently experienced a bad break-up. But buy it right away if you're pursuing a new relationship. Let your crush borrow it for a weekend. The Kings of Convenience make all of the lovers melt.

Watch these videos for proof of the beauty:

Mrs. Cold

Boat Behind:

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Best Albums of 2009 (25-11)

It's finally November. And that means pretty much every leak that could have leaked is out there. Therefore, it's officially time to make AOTY lists.

This particular list is based entirely on my personal taste. Some of it is a result of how much I've listened to an album, but I think there's some objectivity going on as well. In my vanity, I believe that the music I listen to is unarguably "good". But that doesn't mean I've got the best list on the block. If you think I'm wrong or forgetful, let me know (and why). Sometimes I make mistakes, but they can usually be corrected.

Anyway, the best albums of 2009 (according to Dylan Peterson):

25. Sufjan Stevens - The BQE

Points for effort. In Sufjan's discography, this is one of his weakest releases. But The BQE still contains enough impressive moments to make my list. It's good when Sufjan goes instrumental. Let's hope it's even better next time.

24. Dead Man's Bones

Halloween bands don't come around often enough, but Dead Man's Bones makes up for our deficiency of creepy organ rock. This album also takes Ryan Gosling up a big notch on the "cool guy" list. I kinda want to hang out with him.

23. Vitalic - Flashmob

I think this might be the most "synthetic" 'top 25' list I've ever made. A lot of electronic, instrumental stuff on this list. Vitalic makes me feel okay about it all though. Flashmob drives hard with intensity, I'd have to be an asshole if I didn't include it in my 2009 synthesizer party.

22. Telefon Tel Aviv - Immolate Yourself

Telefon Tel Aviv wins the 'Most Unassumingly Exasperating' award. Immolate Yourself is soft, but loaded with depth. Listening to this music is meditative and engaging, so you can listen to it while working out, studying, or falling asleep. It miraculously works on every level.

21. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic


The Flaming Lips are masters of the psychedelic, so it's a good thing they released this album during the second half of 2009 just before the return of grunge comes and smashes all of our precious reverb to smithereens. Embryonic is a trip that doesn't require any drugs. Sound like fun? Absolutely, it is.

20. Lymbyc Systym - Shutter Release


Here I go again with that instrumental synthesizer music. But Lymbyc Systym stretched out a little with Shutter Release. Who the hell really knows how artists create sounds anymore, but it sounds like they've brought in a lot more players for this one. At least more strings. But the best part is that they haven't started singing. It's still devastatingly perfect drumwork and warming melodies from the Bell bros.

19. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

Oh yeah, this did come out in 2009, didn't it? It's not Andrew Bird's personal best, but when he's not at the top of his game it's still usually going to out-talent most indie bands out there. This album won't make or break Andrew Bird, but it'll keep his fans happy and hold any naysayers at bay.

18. Lightning Bolt - Earthly Delights


I don't think I've ever put Lightning Bolt on one of my year-end lists before (probably because I didn't always give noise a chance). But these guys are still intense. Chippendale is as brutal as ever, and still kinda scares me. All of the hardcore kids should just listen to these guys and get over that "phase" that's become so tired. Come on kids. Just get into Lightning Bolt already.

17. Mew - No More Stories, Are Told Today...

The singer of Mew is the most pathetic excuse of a man I've ever seen. Even though the girly emotional version of Emo died quite a few years ago, this dude still seems to think he can harness the power of tight jeans and tangled bangs in eyelashes. But his pathetic frailty aside, Mew is still excellent. Some of the most surprisingly catchy melodies come out of this band. They're absolutely pretentious, but it works to their own strange grandiose advantage.

16. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

This is one of those albums I didn't want to put on the list just because everybody assumes that it must be on every AOTY list. Fuck that. Getting on this list occurs solely as a result of how much I enjoyed it on an individual level. So that's why the hype band of the year is here. Veckatimest was an album I found myself throwing on when I didn't know what else to listen to (first sign of a great record). It sounds like indie rock in 2009. But, I guess that's not necessarily a bad thing.

15. Saxon Shore - It Doesn't Matter

Post-rock Chicagoan, that's me I guess. Saxon Shore isn't from Chicago, but they should probably move here. They're one of the most 'cinematic' bands I've ever heard. It's time for them to broaden their scope and start composing some film scores. It worked for EitS, and (in my ridiculous opinion), I'll take these guys over Explosions any day.

14. Volcano Choir - Unmap

Our friend in Bon Iver found himself a quirky little indie rock band to play with, how darling! Seriously though, hearing Justin Vernon's voice used in a slightly larger musical context is exciting. Volcano Choir isn't as heartwrenching as Bon Iver, but it's an album that signals a potential evolution for Vernon. And 'Island Is' is a good enough song to put Unmap on my AOTY list even if it were the only track on the album.

13. Wilco - Wilco the Album

I've never heard Wilco so comfortable. I guess their stupid album title is apt. This band has been surprising, unsurprising, disappointing, confusing, and amazing depending on the album you're talking about AND depending on who you're talking to. But Wilco the Album wasn't any of those things, it was just... Wilco the Album. And, apparently, that works.

12. Built to Spill - There is No Enemy

So this return to the 90s' we've experienced in music this year, this is a pretty weird thing, right? Well not for Built to Spill it isn't. Because they've always been there. The 90s' never left them! Upbeat tunes and simple lyrics aren't as bad as we all thought. It's just that they were overdone by a lot of really bad bands. But BtS was never bad. And they're still not. Who cares if they're stuck in the 90s'? Good music is good music, and that's what we have on There is No Enemy.

11. Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

In a way, this is my favorite album of the year. I guess I didn't put it in the top 10 because I haven't listened to it as much as everything else. That's one of the problems of making a list so early. But if somebody asked me right now "so Dylan, what new music should I check out?" The answer, without hesitation, is Fuck Buttons, Tarot Sport. So go get it now if you haven't yet. And if you don't like it, Fuck you.

[Top 10 will be posted next Monday]

Friday, October 02, 2009

Interview with Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls, Menomena)


Did anyone follow Pitchfork’s “Best Tracks of the Decade” thing a few weeks back? Do you want to hate music now? What was “All My Friends” doing at number 2? I mean, it’s a cool song, but the second best song of the decade? What a bizarre list.

Immature Pitchfork bashing aside, one of my favorite bands’ tracks ended up way back at #442. “Wet and Rusting” by Menomena. The wonderful little voice you hear singing on that track is a Portland man named Brent Knopf.

I asked Brent if he feels honored to be a part of the list. “I find the most gratification in just creating music, so I’m not too concerned with “honors,” per se, although I’m grateful to people who spread the word about my music.”

Brent’s music seems to spread itself around naturally. Ramona Falls is the name of his latest project, and the first album under that moniker, Intuit, is out now on Barsuk Records. This music is for Menomena fans who enjoy the more melodic and pop-friendly sides of the band. Fans of Arcade Fire will definitely dig Brent’s multi-instrumental indie rock, too. It’s full of synth-heavy, rhythm-happy, quirky-introspective loveliness. The album was sort of a community project of Portland musicians. “I’ve lived in Portland my whole life,” Brent explains, “and I’m amazed by the number of incredible musicians here. The Ramona Falls project was a great excuse for me to call up lots of musicians that I admire and ask them each for 3 hours of time.” Just a few of the contributors to Intuit include members of Mirah, The Helio Sequence, Talkdemonic as well as some of Knopf’s Menomena brethren.

Portland people might even recognize the project name as one of Oregon’s most stunning waterfalls. Intuit is a community album in every sense, and you can feel the love when you put it on. “I didn’t want it to sound like a “solo-album,” I wanted it sound like an “album.” So, I reached out to viola, trombone, and upright-bass players (among others). Tons of folks sing on the record, including a small New York church choir. It was fun to take these new instruments and voices and distill them into an album that I hope feels cohesive.”

The album is certainly a collaborative effort, but the songs all come directly from Brent Knopf. Where do his hoards of creativity come from? “I piece the ideas together like a jigsaw puzzle. …Oh yeah, I also eat a ridiculous quantity of chocolate, so maybe that’s my secret.” Whatever he does, the result is always a massive juxtaposition of avant-garde sensibilities and simplistic melodies.

Creatively and spiritually, Brent has an astute ability when it comes to relaying a visceral idea through song. “I was taught Christian stories as a child, and my comfort with incorporating religious imagery (mud/ash in eyes, crown of thorns, holy water, etc) in lyrics reflects my particular upbringing.” But he doesn’t take his religious influences lightly either, he includes them in his art. “One of the trickiest aspects of talking about spirituality is definitions. We often assume (wrongly) that people agree on what words like “religious” or “spiritual” mean. So, I’ll instantiate a temporary definition of the word “spiritual” and define it more as 'questions and paradoxes that inspire wonder and compassion.' In this way, music-making is quite spiritual : a song is often a place where I try to grapple with questions or paradoxes I can’t easily resolve.”

Brent isn’t the only mastermind of Menomena to release a solo album recently. Danny Seim (Menomena’s drummer and Ramona Falls’ touring bassist) gave us Lackthereof last year. "I’d like to see all the projects (Ramona Falls, Menomena, Lackthereof) positively reinforce each other,” Brent hopes. But Brent reassured me that another Menomena album is well on the way, “I think the Ramona Falls and Lackthereof records reflect that the recording of the next Menomena album is taking longer than we expected. But we’re working on it.” No rush, Brent. There’s still more to take in from this project. Ramona Falls’ Intuit is an album that demands replay.


** originally published by Burnside Writers Collective, where an additional interview can be found on Intuit's cover artist Theo Ellsworth **

Thursday, October 01, 2009

How Much Walking Space Should You Have Around Bedroom Furniture? (A Collage of Single Sentences from 150 Different Articles)

If you are a beginner, try knee push-ups. It's also easy to deflate an air mattress and store it away in a confined place. Grip the back of the mattress with your hands and begin to tightly roll it as if it were a scroll. Maybe try having a personal bread-breaking ceremony by yourself. Paired with exercise and a healthy diet, you will eventually become so self-confident that you never knew you had a problem before.

A person of any race can become a blues man, but the music's history is inherent to African-American culture. One of the proudest aspects of American history is that of black culture. A white person should never wear black makeup, because it will look like blackface and will certainly appear to be in poor taste.

Once it is dry, you'll have a woolly sheep mask for all your bah-bah pleasure.

Keep jackets at home, and don't even think about legwarmers. Legwarmers are an icon of 1980s women's fashion that have experienced a resurgence in recent years. If your dress doesn't seem appropriate for a fall or winter season, legwarmers won't make it work. For one thing, the clothes might not fit, but more importantly, the teen probably won't like whatever style you've picked out. Keep your ankles straight and don't think about falling.

As you plan your next vacation, keep in mind your trip might not be as fun for other people as it is for you. Orlando is one of the tourist capitals of America, for good reason. A family vacation isn't always an enjoyable experience when you take your kids to a place they don't care about. But remember, not all of the exhibits are indoors, so make sure you're both bundled up as you walk from one building to another.

Put a chair on the court and use it to practice your crossover move before you use it in an actual game.

A hookah session usually lasts about 45 minutes, a perfect amount of time for a small group study of a passage of scripture. Understanding the Bible and applying it to your own life is not like reading a car manual before driving. Christianity did not yet exist when the OT was written, for Christ had not yet been born. The 10 Commandments cannot be taught in public schools, so these activities are off-limits there. When you come home with your new pumpkin, you can either use it to make pumpkin pie or you can paint it (just be sensitive to the Spirit's leading as to how you should decorate the pumpkin). This will actually look like an open page of the Bible, and you can eat the sweet Word of God in reverence of its inerrant authority.

Critical Mass sees hundreds and sometimes thousands of eclectic bicyclists clogging the streets of the city in protest of motor vehicles. If you're a hipster, don't wear a neon retro fanny pack anymore. The Ukrainian Village has experienced gentrification over the past couple of decades, and it has more young, white professionals living in it than ever before. Modern hip hop clothing was also enhanced by punk and hipster culture, which infused skateboarding and European styles into the fashions of the streets.

Organic cotton candy offers unusual flavors like bubblegum, cinnamon, licorice, root beer and maple.

As with any strenuous activity, having sex will burn calories. Spermicide should be put directly into the vagina before sex. If you don't wash the cream off before sex, it will make the partner's vagina numb and will possibly weaken the erection. Women place them in the vagina and use their pelvic muscles to hold them there, increasing the vaginal muscles for heightened sensitivity during intercourse. If he keeps the penis inside of the vagina during ejaculation (and as long as no birth control has been used), there is a very good chance that conception has taken place.

Occasionally watch movies that you don't think you'll like. For guys who have short hair and want to find a cool style, the best way to get inspiration is to look at celebrities. Johnny Depp, Justin Timberlake and Brad Pitt always have cool hair, and depending on the length of your own hair, so can you.

Some of General Mills' cereals are marketed directly to children, using cartoon images on the boxes and surprise toys stuffed inside.

CD packaging began in 1982, one year after the compact disc was invented. It doesn't have to be stereotypical either, the Chicken Dance and the Macarena are not necessarily the best ways to celebrate the new couple's marriage. Start with your legs and feet straight below your body, cross them quickly with a bounce on the first beat. (The first beat of the song's chorus will say "Soulja Boy.") This is the technique of taking two separate tracks and layering them together to form an entirely new sound.

What are the best ways to rough it in nature and still enjoy a tasty and nutritious meal? If the baby deer is still wet with uterine fluids, don't attempt to feed it. Although their production is controversial (real animals are often used to make the hats), they are known as the warmest hats that can be worn during the wintertime.

A slingshot is an old-time weapon that has been made popular by cartoons like Dennis the Menace and Bart Simpson.

Have the kids draw a skull on one whole side of the plate with their markers. Your dinosaur now needs a face, toenails and color. Toward the middle of the century, Andy Warhol revolutionized the still life by displaying objects as mass-produced pop iconography. If all you can remember is something generic such as "baby tonight," you'll get all sorts of results--Whitney Houston, Bob Dylan and Jeff Jarrett (all very different artists).

While most plastic cups are entirely safe to drink out of, there are a few warnings and considerations to keep in mind when using them. Always clean these funnels after each use, and wear rubber gloves. Basically, if you see no hints of white in your tea leaves, you probably don't have white tea. You can tell a soup spoon by its shape, its serving end will be much more circular than that of the the oval-shaped regular spoon.

Summerfest is best in small doses. It's actually Chicago's "tourist" venue due to its downtown location and VH1-worthy acts. If you want to find a good show in Chicago, there's a very good chance that the Goodman Theatre is hosting one.

With the song highlighted, hit delete on the keyboard. One half- hour of video alone will fill more than 300 megabytes.

Some men decide to let their beards grow long and wild, but for men who want a cleaner look, they must shave. Come dressed as your favorite "Big Lebowski" character, or just drink White Russians all night.

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to learn German is when you're driving around in your car. Some people like to put their name on their license plate ("DANNY09"), referential message ("BEERMAN") or other important combinations of words and numbers ("J0HN316"). Open the hood of your car and locate your battery. The lane farthest to the left of the highway is usually the carpool lane, and is oftentimes marked by either diamond shapes that appear in the center of the lane or by signs on the side of the road that indicate the boundaries of the carpool lane.

When societies care less about their internal well-being than their personal possessions, the result is almost always materialism. Due to greater numbers of human beings on the planet, the level of environmental danger has risen significantly. In Chinese culture, Yose Use usually contains an odd number of trees, but never four. If you want your flag to represent patriotism, hoist it to the very top of a flagpole. Never salute a petty or non-commissioned officer.

A staircase is a number of steps grouped together for the purpose of vertical advancement.

When pouring the wax (or whenever you're touching something hot), use oven mitts or potholders. Of course, use general fire safety rules also--for example, don't touch hot cinders with your bare hands. On the other hand, it can get painfully cold. Natural gas is not a liquid, it is what its name indicates, a gas.

Desk lamps help provide light for someone who is reading, writing or working at a desk. The more lanterns you have in one space, the trendier. The old-fashioned triangular lampshades or chandeliers do not fall under the category of "modern."

Mayan hammocks bunch up like a cocoon.

A puzzle game can be many different things, but the object of the game usually requires the player to use his mind as the primary weapon to win. Some examples of puzzle games include crossword puzzles, sudoku, word jumble, hangman and word search. The "u" makes a long sound when it is followed by an "e" (examples: cue, blue, flute).

A red mole does not refer to an animal, but to a skin condition. Not to be confused with the slang term for men's facial hair, face fungus is a red, rash-like abrasion that appears on various areas of the face. If inhaled in great quantities, it is possible for diphenylmethane-4.4 diisocyanate to invoke hypersensitivity pneumonitis, asthma and inflammatory upper respiratory tract diseases. But the most commonly attacked area is the big toe.

The nunchaku react to very subtle movements in the wrist, and the free stick will have a lot of force even if you don't use much arm strength.

Thrift stores often have piles of old VHS tapes and VCR paraphernalia in the electronic devices nook. Old VHS tapes often require tracking, which assists in clearing up white, fuzzy interference. Press and hold the play button down for about three seconds. The picture will look blank, but this is normal. If an unsuspecting friend uses the wrong button, you can gleefully laugh at her slight misfortune. Wide-screen televisions eventually became popular status symbols of wealth and success in the 1980s.

A Native American shield is commonly known as a "medicine shield" because it is a symbol of spiritual health.
The noodle is a popular exercise device for elderly citizens who are too frail to work out with free weights. If you are an elderly person who has a history of back problems, you'll probably prefer the recumbent bike to the upright. With the center of the band at the soles of your feet, extend your legs straight up into the air and do reverse crunches (lifting your butt, not your head). Don't mindlessly throw your weights around.

What determines the perfect glass of draft beer? There is no lava in a lava lamp. A house party can be a pretty good time, but a themed house party is a surefire blast. When the Red Skywalker falls on a cosmic sign, it is known as an archetype for the balanced, conscious self of an individual.

There are men's shoes designed for every part of life. Shoelaces are the long strings that lace through the top of a shoe and can be tied to secure shoes onto your feet.

Cleaning toilets not only requires the scrubbing of the surface of the toilet, but the disinfectant of the water inside the bowl.

Sometimes, PVC pipes can be catalysts for creativity and fun. There's no shame in giving inexpensive and/or homemade gift as long as the proper sentiment is attached. You can make up your own billiard game that allows for as many balls as you want on the table. When you come to a puddle or muddy spot, throw the cheap jacket down onto it. Perform a mime routine, wear a hot dog costume and ask if she'll eternally be your bun, give her a fake ring first that you accidentally drop down a sewer or grate before pulling the real one out of your pocket, whatever you think will make her laugh then and for the rest of your lives.