Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Warm City Bliss


Okay Chicagoans, we can't really deny what we felt today. It wasn't an April Fool's joke. I checked the 10 day forecast, and we won't go below 50 degrees once. Plus, baseball starts next week. It's earlier than we expected, but I'm officially declaring Winter: D.O.A. (on the arrival of Sunshine!).

Last week I made a summer mix, as a sort of prayer for winter to end early. I wore short sleeves today, and will again tomorrow, and so will be listening to this city sunshine music in 70 degree weather. The mix is just under an hour, and sounds like a nighttime drive on Lake Shore Drive with the windows down. Those city lights harmonize. That breeze sings sweetly through our hair.

Please download and enjoy. The best way to listen to this music is to immediately burn it to a CD after the file has downloaded (the tracks are in a specific order, you'll see what I mean once you listen through), and play it in your car. But if you aren't in the mood to feel good, don't bother. Check the playlist:

1 Beach Boys - Do It Again
2 Delorean - Grow
3 Friendly Fires - Jump in the Pool
4 Here We Go Magic - Collector
5 Caribou - Leave House
6 CFCF - Big Love
7 Toro y Moi - Talamak
8 Beach House - 10 Mile Stereo
9 Cut Copy - Strangers in the Wind
10 Phoenix - Everything is Everything
11 Jonsi - Boy Lilikoi
12 Four Tet - Love Cry
13 Jens Lekman - Sweet Summer's Night on Hammer Hill

DOWNLOAD HERE

Saturday, March 27, 2010

As For Film: The Mascot (1933)


Fans of stop motion, before you watch another Wallace and Gromit, Tim Burton, Jan Svankmajer or Brothers Quay film, you have to get on Netflix or Youtube and watch The Mascot. Miraculously, this film was made in 1933. And it is some of the very best stop-motion animation I've ever seen. You know, maybe it's not miraculous. Maybe it's Satanic. There's a chance that the director called upon demons to possess the inanimate objects in this film as a means of bringing them to life. There are movements and expressions in The Mascot that don't make logical sense to me.

Here it is on Youtube:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

80 years ago. Do you know anyone who's 80 years old? Imagine them as children, seeing that dog run around with his orange. It must have terrified them. Either that, or was so marvelous that it immediately destroyed their imaginations for the rest of their lives.

What I love so much about stop-motion animation is the intricacy. It requires a mind-blowing amount of patience and delicacy. Patience is a lost virtue in 2010. Be it filmmaking or commuting, we have to rush to get to where we're going. But I don't think the principle has changed. I still believe that the best things in life come to those who wait. Patience is a primary ingredient in all great art (be that for the creator, or the one interacting with the art). Life just isn't as good when we're impatient. And The Mascot is a monument to that truth.

The Mascot was made by a Polish-Russian named Ladislas Starewicz, a pioneer of stop motion. I hadn't heard of him before stumbling upon The Mascot, but he created many short films between 1910 and 1965. If you're like me, you probably want to watch all of his films now. If they're even a fraction of the visual spectacle that he created in The Mascot, I'm sure that all of them are worth watching.

Terry Gilliam actually called The Mascot one of the 10 best animated films of all time, right before Pinnochio. I think he's right. The Mascot set the bar so high (and so early on), few animators have ever matched its brilliance.

But, honestly, I can't really review a film like this. It might be full of symbolism and metaphors (I'd be very surprised if it wasn't. Watch and you'll see what I mean.), but I just can't stop gushing over the visual beauty of it. So that's that. It may not be typical of Total Darkness vs. Blinding Light, but in the case of The Mascot, style wins out over substance. And soundly. I mean, it just beats it silly. So watch the film, marvel at it, share it with fellow lovers of animation. I'm going to watch it one more time before bed.

**(If anyone else knows of some great, old stop-motion animation they'd like to share, please post it here!)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Delorean - Subiza


Release date: June 8, 2010

Blisscore is one of those annoying trend-genres that exist only because people got tired of saying "dance-pop." Which is fine, ultimately, because Delorean really doesn't sound anything like Lady Gaga or Kylie Minogue. Subiza would be more comfortable alongside Cut Copy or Friendly Fires. The best I can say is, it just doesn't sound like something an American could manage.

This group comes from Spain, the country in Europe with the most sunshine (I don't know if that's true, but from the sounds of Subiza, I think it's an apt deduction). These songs shimmer like trails of headlights on a Barcelona night. It's summertime city love, parties on the weekend that boring people don't go to. It's music you smile and dance to even if you've never heard it before. Delorean. Blisscore. Oh yes.

So for anyone who's been waiting for that first great summer album of 2010, here it is. And Chicagoans, oh boy, you know how we love ourselves a good summer album. This is one for sunglasses, windows down and cloudless skies.

And Subiza might have the most beautiful cover art I've seen all year. Does anybody else just want to take an afternoon stroll through a sculpture park now? If you don't, check out this first single and see if you can't feel the ice just melting to the beat:

Stay Close

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Good Sub Pop Day


I just got back from a mini-vacation to Seattle, where I experienced winds gustier than Chicago's and dined at the inspiration for Longman & Eagle with freelancer colleague Robert Ham. I probably should have visited Sub Pop too, to thank those good folks for the work they've done over the past two decades. If this day had come last week, I would have.

Two press releases came in my inbox today: Blitzen Trapper's new album, Destroyer of the Void, coming out in June, and a new David Cross album, Bigger and Blackerer, in late May. I just listened to both albums, and will do so again as soon as I'm done with this blog post. David Cross first, because he made fun of Whole Foods.

I'll be writing extensively about both of these albums, hopefully another interview with Blitzen Trapper too (I won't count on such a thing with David Cross, but you never know. Stay tuned.). So watch the blog for more. For now, here's a download of the new track from Destroyer of the Void (It's not even close to the best tracks on the album though):

Heaven and Earth

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Here We Go Magic - Pigeons


Release date: June 8, 2010

I know there weren't many Chicagoans there, but Here We Go Magic played at a little Logan Square street fest called Metronome last year, at which it totally captivated its tiny audience. I was one of the happily captivated on that particular summer day, but you too can fall under Here We Go Magic's spell if you go to Pitchfork Fest this year. Actually, if you go to Pitchfork for any reason, make it Here We Go Magic. Yeah, I know that LCD Soundsystem, Modest Mouse and Pavement (and Lightning Bolt!) are playing this year, but isn't the real reason we go to that festival to hear exciting new sounds? That's why I go, to see what a band like Here We Go Magic sounds like a year after their first seven inch and fresh off a debut full-length album.

Readers are probably sick of hearing me rave about Secretly Canadian, but this label just won't quit. They're the best indie record label in the world right now simply because they pick the best new indie artists to join their roster. Here We Go Magic's first stint with Secretly Canadian is Pigeons. It's actually quite startling how far they've come in a year. They sound like they've been a band for a decade, and I don't know what to credit that to since they're so new (they don't even have a wikipedia page yet), but it doesn't matter anyway. This is a great record, and that's all I care about right now.

Their self-titled release from Western Vinyl glittered with reverb (that didn't remind of the Beach Boys) while drifting ethereally like the best kind of Radiohead. Along with the oscillating Panda Bear-ish chant-alongs that stacked synthesizers upon hypnotic guitar tones and tribal rhythms, it was music to get lost in.

On Pigeons, the haze has cleared and it's easy to hear what Here We Go Magic is made of. An album as rich in melody as it is noise, there's no telling how the next track will turn out. It could be a slow drizzle of soft keyboard tinkering and barely-there percussion, a poly-rhythmic clap and stomp around the jungle campfire, or a fuzzy freak-out of Flaming Lips atmospherics and trudging guitar distortion. When I listen to this album I don't know whether I feel like I'm on the Fantastic Planet (Savage Planet) or out too late at the hole-in-the-wall bar wondering what's playing on the jukebox. Either way, it feels so good to hear after midnight.

Here's the first single from Pigeons: Collector

Monday, March 15, 2010

Maryanne or Ginger (Why Nobody Ever Picks Ginger)


"Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." -Carl Jung

I rarely write about my red hair. And to be honest, this is because I am ashamed of it. Ironically, the above quote doesn't work in my case. My shadow (that part of my self that I try to ignore the most, that which receives the most repressive attention) is my red hair, and oh how I wish it were "blacker."

The only man who has successfully shown how awful it is to live the life of a redhead is Conan O'Brien. He is mercilessly self-deprecating when it comes to his hair, and I look up to him for it. I hate my red hair so much, I dye it darker colors and cover it up with hats.

I call it "redhead dread," because being a male redhead is so depressing. Women generally don't find you as attractive (honestly, if you can pick between a guy with blond hair, dark hair, or red hair, we all know who's getting picked third), other guys don't take you seriously (Ronald McDonald is the world's most famous redheaded man. And he is a clown.), and most redheads are self-loathing losers too.

And so much other negative shit comes with being a redhead: pale skin, "fire-crotch," Irish stereotypes (even if you're not Irish...) and Carrot Top. A man with red hair is doomed for life. Everybody mocks us, and we know it. We're not the type of scapegoats that will rise up in unification the way people with black skin did in America. This is because redheads hate each other. There are no "red-headed brothers." We wish that we didn't exist. We don't want people to accept us, because we don't accept ourselves. I see another redhead and think, "look at that asshole." Then I look at myself in the mirror and cry. I don't even go to barber shops anymore, looking at all of the beautiful people with their perfect dark hair. I cut my red hair by myself in the bathroom, in shame.

And yes, this is only true for men. Redheaded women can be proud of their fair skin, freckly cheeks and crimson locks. There is just something so pathetic about a man with red hair. The only people who compliment my hair are 80-year-old ladies. They touch it and say, "Oh my gawd! This is so beautifullll! I wish I had this hair!" I mean, if elderly women want to have hair like mine, that should say enough.

That whole rumor that came out a few years ago about redheads going extinct within 100 years was great news. It's a disease! We have a pigment imbalance that results in sunburns and skin cancer. Seriously, people with red hair can't go out into the sun without getting cancer on their skin. Have you ever thought about that? It's like being allergic to water. The source of life and growth on this planet is a detriment to redheads. It's not funny! It sucks!

So there it is. A little bit of my online shadow, exposing itself to the blog world. Ridicule me, I'll join in. I know there's nothing worse than a ginger, there's no hyperbole too extreme when it comes to the awfulness of redheads. ...I hate myself.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

As For Film: Antichrist


Lars von Trier's Antichrist hasn't, and wouldn't, be reviewed in any Christian publication for many reasons (most of them unfounded). The title tips most editors off that it's a 'no-touchy' in Christian media. Sometimes I miss the days when I wouldn't even let myself watch a movie like Antichrist due to my Christian convictions and moral presuppositions. But impending heresy implores I experience von Trier's latest piece of art-horror with an open mind and willing stomach.

A few things are obvious. Antichrist is graphically shocking, cinematically beautiful and uncompromisingly original. But upon first viewing, there was a lot that didn't line up. And my problem was that I didn't really want to sit through the film a second time. I didn't appreciate what von Trier subjected me to, nor did I want to think into any greater detail about what the director might have been saying with this bizarre film.

Heading in, I expected this film to make some biting criticism of Christianity. But when it was over, I couldn't remember where, or if, that criticism occurred. Why was this film called "Antichrist" if Christianity had so little to do with it? So, I threw out that first assumption, and checked out a few reviews. Upon a quick scroll through Metacritic, I found the 360 spectrum of interpretations and opinions. What I simply felt was a pretty movie with a weak plot was garnering the broadest range of criticisms I'd ever seen. So I gathered a few ideas, watched it again, and things became a little bit clearer.

While I'm not the most well-versed in matters of psychology, I did minor in theology, and Antichrist just doesn't have much to say on that level. There's the allusion of Eden (the cabin), and "Satan's church" (nature), but these seem like little more than tools used by any run-of-the-mill horror film as a means of resonating quick, relatable symbolism upon mass audiences. I don't think von Trier was saying much about religion at all in Antichrist (Nietzsche had already done that well enough in his book. And yes, I do think there is a sort of connection between the book and film. Read on, dear reader.).

What I think the film's title refers to is not a religious concept, but a psychological one. I feel comfortable making this claim because of the context in which von Trier worked on the film. Apparently von Trier was deeply depressed before he made Antichrist. And I believe that this is key to understanding what the movie is about.

Depression is treated by therapists, cognitive therapists like the film's protagonist. These therapists are educated and trained to treat the psychological health of the human being. In modern times, psychologists often act as saviors for troubled people. But von Trier doesn't allow therapy to win out in the film. The therapist wields his psychological knowledge like a weapon for the majority of the movie, until abandoning it for physical violence. And it's only then that he rids himself of his problem. His problem? The antagonist: the opposite sex.

The therapist's wife continually tries to tell him what her real problems are: "Anxiety? This is physical." She doesn't care about her psychological problems, she hurts physically. She tries to fight against his psychological help. If She is the "Antichrist" in this film, it is because she is the antagonist against the salvation promised by modern psychology. She even says, "Freud is dead." Not, "God is dead."

If this film helped von Trier deal with his depression as he claimed it did, I assume that the caricature of the therapist was a reaction against his own shrink. Mr. von Trier didn't respect his therapist because he wasn't healed by him. The help his therapist promised never came, so von Trier turned to art instead. An abstract yet physical manifestation of images and feelings. This was what von Trier needed, not psycho-babble.

Just as in The Antichrist when Nietzsche claims that Christianity is a religion of pity that leads to depression (a very bold claim to make in the 19th century), von Trier is claiming that psychology works by the same sort of bullshit (a rather bold claim to make today). It's the sole thing he must come back to as his means of attaining peace of mind, yet it never seems to completely relieve. "Antichrist" means something like "anti-healer" in this film. It's not really anything offensive towards Christ at all. The real sin of the film is that it's just a bit pretentious and dull.

All this, and graphic, disturbing sex. Absolutely, this film was gratuitous. There was no reason to show a close-up of a clitoris being cut off with scissors. That and a lot of other unnecessary garbage, too. There was some useless, inexcusable stuff in Antichrist, along with a messy plot. And for that I just can't call this a very good movie.



But one interesting aspect of the sex/violence in this movie is its correlation with nature. Watch any nature documentary and you'll see how violence and sex are always in close proximity within the animal kingdom. Animals fight each other, and the winners get to mate with a female. And the sex itself can often be a violent act. Animals have sex without love, simply out of natural necessity and primal urgency.

When the therapist tells his wife, "maybe I don't love you" simply as a way to appease her during sex, he might be telling the truth. When she screams (irrationally and randomly) at him, "you're leaving me!" she's onto something. In nature, which is the setting for Antichrist, males come in and mate with the female. Afterward, they usually leave. And eventually, they mate with a different female.

As nasty as this is, once the therapist abandons his rational, "human" efforts and resorts to his physical nature to kill his wife, he then frees himself to seek out another female. He leaves his wife at the end of the film, and a thousand faceless women walk around him. I could be way off on this, but I saw this as the male's opportunity to mate with any number of females. The face doesn't matter, because he's no longer a rational man but an animal in nature. Love and murder don't exist in nature, only sex and violence.

Of course, I wouldn't call that chaos, but whatever talking fox.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Jonsi - Go


Release Date: April 5 (ish), 2010

When artists leave their band to create a solo project, it's normal to expect something "less." This isn't true in the case of Sigur Ros' Jonsi. The lead singer's solo album, Go, is as exciting and ambitious as anything released by his band. Plus, we now get to hear what it sounds like to hear him sing in real languages.

The music sounds like an indie fag's wet dream. As offensive as that sounds on so many levels, I mean it in the best possible way. It has the emotional sensibilities of a Death Cab for Cutie album, with Peter Gabriel production values and the frantic energy of Parts and Labor or Dan Deacon. Try piling all of that on top of the already ethereal beauty of Sigur Ros, and it makes for a wildly unique musical experience.

I got into Sigur Ros slowly and cautiously, as I always do when artists seem to claim their fame on gimmicks ("sounds like glaciers" and "singing in a made-up language" being Sigur Ros' main offenders) but my interest in the band peaked with Takk. And then, amazingly, Sigur Ros averted a possible wash-up disaster by releasing music via different projects. One of the most underrated ambient albums released in 2009 (one of the most underrated albums, period) was Riceboy Sleeps, an instrumental project Jonsi created along with his boyfriend, Alex.

And now this. In a way, it's the most accessible music Jonsi has ever made. It's incredibly easy to listen to, practically joyous. He hasn't abandoned his trademark falsetto, but the rhythms are what make Go the type of album you put on repeat for a few hours straight. Go shifts from fast paced spaz-rock to low-key, slow love. But the best moments on the album are those with the fastest drum beats. Jonsi packs a lot of instruments and sounds into a single song, and the result is a sort of soundtrack to children riding big-wheels onto rainbow roads into bright blue skies through puffy white clouds. It's kinda like the feeling you get while making the best lap of your life on Super Mario Kart.

Check out the video for Go Do. It really just offers a taste of the beautiful sounds on Go.

And, as always, the real way to experience this music is through a live performance. Jonsi is touring with a new band in support of Go, I'll try to make it. But even if I can't, you should!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Sweet Old Man in Hell

(In darkness with single spotlight)

NORMAN:

Nurse? Nurse… Oh my goodness. Everyone is gone… And, oh I see it. I see the light… I must head towards that light, and then I’ll finally be with my sweet Anne again. Just as we promised 70 years ago, Anne, “til death do we part!” Oh dear, it’s been 15 long years since we parted but we’ll finally be together again in Heaven! …The light is getting closer. …and stronger. …and hotter! Oh my, it’s very hot!

(Devil approaches as lights brighten)

DEVIL:

Ok, next! Alright, old man Norman. Sign here please.

NORMAN:

What, me? I’m in Hell?

DEVIL:

That’s right, welcome to the gates of Hell. You must sign here for entry.

NORMAN:

But… but I don’t want to go to Hell.

DEVIL:

Yes, yes, of course you don’t. But this is where you’re going to spend eternity, so let’s hurry it up.

NORMAN:

There must be some mistake. I’m a sweet old man. That’s how people have referred to me for the past 30 years. …I don’t belong in Hell.

DEVIL:

I’m sure you were very sweet, but it doesn’t matter.

NORMAN:

Here, watch this... Oh! Look what I found behind your ear!

DEVIL:

Oh the quarter behind the ear trick. Yes, that's very "grandpa" of you. Got anything else?

NORMAN:

Well listen, I know how it feels to work in a monotonous job like yours. When I was a young man I worked 12 hour shifts at the Flivver assembly line. Oh, I can tell a cranky long day at work when I see one, I've been there, boy-o!

DEVIL:

It says here you never accepted Jesus into your heart.

NORMAN:

I… Well I was raised in a Jewish family.

DEVIL:

Well there ya go. Now if you can, please sign here, there’s a long line we have to get through today.

NORMAN:

But… But I’ve been waiting to see my sweet Anne for over 15 years… You’re telling me that I can’t?

DEVIL:

Hey, I don’t make the rules. Take it up with God.

NORMAN:

I… I can’t believe I’m going to Hell.

DEVIL:

Yeah, life’s a bitch. Now please sign here.

NORMAN:

Oh… Don’t you have any compassion? Can’t I at least just see my wife? I don’t care if I go to Hell after that, I just want to see her beautiful smile one more time…

DEVIL:

Wow. You don’t care that you’re spending eternity in Hell? All you want is to see your dead wife? Are you for real?

NORMAN:

If you only you knew how much I loved her. I love my sweet Anne more than anything in the universe.

DEVIL:

See, if you were saying that about Jesus then you wouldn’t be having this problem.

NORMAN:

(teary-eyed)

Ohhh, Anne. Sweet, sweet Anne.

DEVIL:

Huh. You really are a sweet old man, aren’t ya?

(Norman looks longingly at the Devil)

Well… I don’t usually do this, but your pathetic loving-kindness has touched me on an emotional level. I know you can’t tell because of my permanently snarky voice and horned brow, but believe me, you have moved me old man.

NORMAN:

You’ll let me see her?

DEVIL:

Yes.

NORMAN:

Oh, thank you Satan!

DEVIL:

Whoa, whoa! I’m not Satan, just another fallen angel. Last guy who tried to take credit for the Lord of Darkness’s jobs got sent to eternal toilet cleaning duty.

NORMAN:

Ah, okay. Sorry.

DEVIL:

Wasn’t your fault. Okay, gimme a second here. I’ll be right back with your wife.

(Devil exits)

NORMAN:

Thank you so much!

(Devil returns with Anne)

DEVIL:

Heeeere she is!

NORMAN:

…Anne?

ANNE:

Hello Norman.

NORMAN:

What happened to you? You look…

ANNE:

Yeah, this is what happens when you burn in Hell for 15 years.

NORMAN:

Why aren’t you in Heaven?

ANNE and DEVIL:

(looking at each other as they simultaneously remark)

Jesus

(Blackout.)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

No Refills


"I just don't believe in the same things I used to," Cliff admitted. "Maybe God exists, but I have no reason to really think so anymore."

Sitting in the dark corner booth with Eric, his longtime friend and confidant, Cliff was saying things he could never tell anyone else. They drank their beers slowly, deeply contemplating the unlikely possibility of metaphysical realities outside of the human brain.

"I know what you mean," Eric affirmed. "But, sometimes I just want to believe in Heaven. I mean, it's kind of a scary thought, just going black when you die."

"It used to be scary, but now it's a comforting thought."

"Why?"

"It makes sense. It's not a fantasy. It's natural, and, just... how things should be."

"Yeah, but... who cares if it makes sense? Why should making sense equal comfort?"

"Well it doesn't necessarily equal comfort. But it's real. It's not a lie."

Eric looked down at the lack of froth in his beer. Holding each side of the glass with both hands, he was unintentionally warming the ale. The glass still wasn't even half empty.

"I guess I just don't want to believe that all of this is for nothing," Eric muttered.

"For nothing?" Cliff snapped, "We're here now, and this is a meaningful moment. I'm grateful for the life I have."

Eric looked up at him inquisitively. "Who are you grateful to?"

"Ha!" Cliff looked up at the dank barroom ceiling in thought. "I guess I can't say God anymore, right?"

Eric shrugged.

"Well." Cliff sipped his beer. "Maybe I'm just grateful in general."

These two friends had engaged in dreadful conversations many times before. They had always read the same philosophy books together, barraging each other with questions at this same booth every Friday night. But tonight was different. Cliff was asking less questions, and asserting more conclusive opinions on the matter at hand. And this was an unsettling thing for Eric to witness.

"Obviously I don't want to say that God absolutely exists, but I think it does help people when it comes to believing in a life purpose." Eric responded.

"Sure," Cliff agreed, "There are definitely people who need God, er, to believe there is a God. They're followers by their very nature, and they have to believe in something like God to fill that void in their brain."

"Haha, they like to call it their God-shaped-hole."

"Right, a hole that could easily be filled in by reason."

Eric smirked and nodded. "But... reason ends it all at the moment of death."

"But, again, why is that a bad thing? I mean, once you die you won't even realize it. No more pain, no more contradictions, no more anything. Man, life is ridiculous. Especially human life... Look at it: Nazi Germany, racism, greed, slavery, global warming... Humanity has caused more damage than it has helped anything..."

"I don't disagree with you man."

Cliff sipped his beer again, now with a little more haste. "I'm just not afraid to say what I think anymore. I'm just not afraid."

"What were you afraid of before?"

"You know. Hell, my parents, God. But I just can't deny rationality any more."

"What, you don't believe in your parents either now?"

"Hah. I just don't believe what they raised me to believe in. I still want them to believe in all of that stuff, but I just can't."

"What's the difference between you and them?"

"Oh jeez. So much. Haha!"

"Haaa! Yeah, well, I dunno, maybe you should tell them what you think."

"No way."

"Why not?"

Cliff sighed and shook his head, "They would just be sad if I told them I'm not a Christian anymore. They would take it as a personal insult, even. Like, they sacrificed so much to make sure that I was raised according to the Bible... To see all they put into it amount to nothing... There's just no reason to hurt them like that."

"So you're gonna lie to them?"

"I don't know... Maybe... What I believe in now is happiness. Whatever makes people happy, that's all that matters. I mean, we're only here for a few years. Might as well enjoy this shit while it lasts."

"I understand." Eric finally took a swig of beer. "What about Anna though? How does she feel about your loss of faith?"

"Oh you know, she's such a supportive wife. She loves me no matter what."

Eric smiled and nodded.

"Honestly, she's the only reason I should be afraid of death. Love is still totally mysterious, and it's worth everything to me. She's my highest priority in the world... I mean, I don't want to ever die... Not while I have her."

Cliff spoke the truth, though not entirely confident in the things he said about God. Eric wasn't sure if he believed in God or not, but he wasn't going to press the issue on Cliff anymore. Cliff asked less questions now compared to his curious college days, but Eric couldn't force him back into inquiry if Cliff didn't want to go there. For Cliff, the earth formed billions of years ago, he is the descendant of apes, faith is a construct of the human imagination and death is the end of everything. His past spiritual life was nothing more than brain activity. If he had been born as any other species, he wouldn't have to worry about these existential issues. For this, he resents his humanity, but lives with it because he is scared of leaving his beloved wife. And not even for her sake, but his own. Her love brings him more comfort than he ever felt from church, and he wants to keep a hold on it for as long as he can. He knows he's mortal, but when he's with Anna he tries to forget.

---

While dreaming of losing a game, not sure which one specifically, Cliff was startled by breaking glass from somewhere outside his bedroom. He sat up, faintly hearing the glass scatter on his kitchen floor. He looked over at his wife, who was staring at him with frightened eyes. His first instinct was to shut the bedroom door they always kept open at night, lock it, and hide quietly with Anna in the bed. But a sudden irrational fear and simultaneous valiance struck him, and he shouted, "What the fuck!?" as an attempt to maybe intimidate the intruder. Cliff reached over into the top drawer next to his bed and nervously pulled out a knife in its sheath. He stood up and started walking towards the bedroom door which led out into the hallway towards the kitchen. "Who the fuck is that!?" He yelled out once more. He again looked over at his wife, who was huddled under the blankets now, the fear on her face urging the trembling husband to dutiful action.

Instead of intimidating the intruder, the shouts merely let him know where Cliff was at. As soon as he stepped out their door, a dark figure lunged out with his own knife, immediately slitting Cliff's throat. Cliff heard a scream, dropped to the floor while squeezing his hand around his gaping neck wound. His eyes went blurry. He could feel a warm flow of blood running down his fingers. He realized that he was dying, and thought about his mother, God, his wife, Heaven and Hell. Everything went black, and then there was even less than that.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Oscars Are Now On Par with the MTV Movie Awards


Maybe this awards ceremony has been shameful back-patting for years now, but there was one moment that gave me a sort of respect for the Academy. Two years ago, the Coen brothers finally won their Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director(s). And the competition they were up against was worthy: P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood, which Daniel Day Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar for. Then there was that beautiful moment when the Swell Season won Best Original Song for Once. Hell, even Jon Stewart hosted the ceremony. Maybe the best host they've ever had.

Everything seemed right. Popular movies weren't winning, good movies were. It wasn't a year to declare anything "important," it was just a year to enjoy the best films. Then, the very next year, a forgettable movie called Slumdog Millionaire wins Best Picture. Not even a year has gone by and I'm straining to remember what was entertaining about that movie. It may have been decent, but it marked the Academy's return to their old ways: bestowing relevancy to whatever they believe is important to the time capsule of the day.

But this year, it's just embarrassing. Ten Best Picture nominations, most of which belonging to commercially successful films that wouldn't have been there otherwise. The Blind Side? Precious? District 9? Up? I'm just dumbfounded by all of this. Of course, I shouldn't be. The awards are about money. Avatar will unfortunately win, because anything that provides film makers with larger swimming pools and extra room additions on their houses will get a standing ovation.

I guess it just makes me wonder what the hell happened in 2008. Why wasn't it full of cringes and self-congratulation? Is the economy so much worse in two years that people value money-makers more than art?

If there weren't a few good movies interspersed amidst the shit, this wouldn't be such a problem. A Serious Man and Inglorious Basterds are in especially bad company. But I suppose they each have their star directors now. And that's the only reason they're still in there. It's not because these are great movies (which they are), but because famous directors keep the buyers coming to the theaters. And, sure, they still have that "dark horse" in The Hurt Locker. Nobody's heard of anyone in the movie, but there's always one of those at the Oscars. It upholds that "intrigue."

And Up. Ugh. Yeah, I know, you cried. Everybody cried. Great. But this really was the worst Pixar movie since Cars. If Wall-E and Ratatouille didn't get nominated for Best Picture, this is too little too late for Pixar. A much better animated film released this year was Fantastic Mr. Fox, and I don't think that it was nominated for anything actually. But, again, Pixar is the money-maker. People take their family to the newest Pixar movie every year. It's always entertaining. But the quality of the film is not why the Academy nominated Up for Best Picture.

I guess I'm just saddened to see the potential fade so quickly. Doubling the nominations has really devalued the worth of the Best Picture award. For a while, saying "it was nominated for Best Picture," at least hinted at the possibility that a movie might be good. But now that people will be saying "The Blind Side was nominated for Best Picture," it's over. Honestly, I think all credibility is long gone. The last hurrah was 2008, and it was a fun going-away party, but there's no reason for film-lovers to care about the Academy Awards at all any more.

I don't think I'll watch the Oscars. Not this year or any hereafter. This Best Picture nominations list speaks loud and clear about how little the Academy cares about movies that are actually good.

And isn't everybody sick to death of Alec Baldwin by now? He has that one move: the dry, low voice. I laughed slightly the first time, but now it's time for him to stop.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Interview with Daniel Majid (Logan Square Literary Review)

The Logan Square Literary Review (LSLR) is a new quarterly publication for and by the residents of the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. Call it self-promotion if you must (I have a piece published in the current issue), but I thought it would be fun to talk to Daniel Majid, the Review's creator and editor, about the northwest side's latest local literature project.

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Dylan: Tell me the genesis story of the Logan Square Literary Review and why you decided to create it.

Daniel: I've wanted to get into independent publishing since I was in grade school. I used to listen to Boomerang Audio Magazine, which was a youth-oriented monthly cassette that had a wide variety of material. I remember there being everything from pieces explaining the story of Anne Frank to a piece explaining economic inflation. I think that's where my interest piqued. The kind of variety found in a magazine is definitely something I've tried to translate into the LSLR. I have other artistic pursuits, and so being able to work in publishing in this manner allows me the time to step away from the desk and concentrate on other things as well.

Dylan: What is it about Logan Square? What’s special about this neighborhood to you?

Daniel: Five years ago, I moved to Logan Square from northeastern Ohio on a whim, and I have really fallen in love with the neighborhood. There is definitely a sub-set sense of community here, as if it were a nursing child, and the art and activity being produced here strengthened it each day. Without reading as too much of a tourist pamphlet, The presence for independent thought and business is strong here, and I feel that there is also a sense of uniqueness to the neighborhood in its ability to provide the best that Chicago has to offer to its residents. There is abundant green space, welcoming and enthusiastic eateries and pubs, and the creative and industrious people that live here are making it an exciting place to live.

Dylan: What’s your vision for the LSLR? Would you like to keep it as small, local and independent as possible, or do you hope to take it to a higher level of renown and prestige?

Daniel: I think this journal is definitely going to go through some evolution in it's existence. Under my editorship the journal will remain oriented in Logan Square, but if in the future I leave Chicago, there's no reason the journal couldn't continue on. The LSLR is a venue of expression for Logan Square, and I would be glad to hand it off to someone who will embrace its mission, if and when the time comes.

I am also trying to get people to embrace the LSLR's tumblr site. The journal will remain text-oriented, but I've started this site as a venue for people's work in photography, motion picture, audio or realistically anything that tumblr will accept to its servers. Given the decentralized nature of the internet, submitters do not have to be from Logan Square.

Dylan: The reception party for the first issue was held at local Logan Square coffee shop, New Wave. And the reception party for the second issue was at Atlas Café, another local Logan Square spot. Are you going to have a reception for each issue at a different coffee shop in the neighborhood?

Daniel: It is my intention to have each reception at a different Logan Square business. So far I've used coffee shops so people under the age of 21 could participate, and because the noise level of a cafe would actually allow discussion. I'm not opposed to having a reception at a bar, but I think the informal nature of a coffee shop works better for a reception. Supporting the local monetary economy is just as important as supporting the economy of ideas.

Dylan: Are you involved in any other events in Logan Square? When we talked at the last reception you mentioned a music and literature fest sometime in the near future.

Daniel: Yes, Lynn Stevens, who runs the blog Peopling Places, and runs the Milwaukee Ave. Art Walk each year, is organizing what right now is being called a Rhythm & Rhyme festival. The idea is an outdoor spoken-word/music festival at the Logan Square Blue Line CTA stop. We are in the very early stages of organization, and is scheduled for mid-September.

Dylan: The Chicago Zine Fest is coming up next month and you’ll be there to spread the word on LSLR. How is an event like this important to Chicago and its writers?

Daniel: This event will be a reaffirmation that there is still a strong and vibrant community of independent, small-run publishing in Chicago and the rest of the country! There are well over 100 publications being featured and I think it will be a great place to meet people and revel in the creative atmosphere. I encourage anyone reading to come down to the downtown campus of Columbia College on Saturday (March 13) to say hello.

Dylan: Who should write for LSLR? And what do you want them to write about?

Daniel: I want anyone who feels like they have a unique perspective to write about what they feel will contribute to the community of ideas being bred in Logan Square. You never know how your words are going to affect somebody; inspiration can come from anywhere.

Dylan: When it’s not LSLR submissions, what do you like to read?

Daniel: I read a lot of periodicals, I frequent Harpers.org, BBC.news.co.uk, the blog of Naomi Klein, and I currently have Mark Twain, Albert Camus, Howard Zinn and J.R.R. Tolkein on my night stand right now.


TDvsBL


Many thanks to Daniel Majid, my editor and neighbor. The Chicago Zine Fest will take place at Quimby's Bookstore, Johalla Projects and Columbia College next weekend, Friday and Saturday (March 12 and 13).

Buy a copy of the Logan Square Literary Review online, or at local bookstores (Myopic, Quimby's, G-Smart). All residents of Logan Square are encouraged to submit their original work to the Logan Square Literary Review by sending it to Loganliterary@gmail.com.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Out and Hyped: Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me


Music journalism doesn't exist anymore. "Reviews" are actually more like commentaries than they are criticisms. There is no reason to review music anymore, because everyone has a computer. Nobody needs to read somebody's attempt to explain how something sounds, because we can just hear it for ourselves now in less time than what it takes to read a review. If you want to know what Joanna Newsom sounds like, you don't need me to tell you. Here. Just listen for yourself and you skip the middleman altogether. Congratulations and welcome to the 21st century.

So the question is: is there a reason to write about music? We might as well dance about architecture, right? Well, first of all, I'm all for dancing about architecture. Can't find anything wrong with that... But more importantly, the death of music journalism has made someone like Joanna Newsom all the more interesting.

The playing field has been leveled. U2 or Taylor Swift fans should find Joanna Newsom's music repulsive, but this is not always the case. And this is because Newsom, when all else fails, is different. She crafts music our ears haven't heard before. And instead of refusing to hear it, those of us who actually care about music let it play.

Newsom is musically daring, undeniably skilled and sexually enticing. That's the most you'll get out of me in terms of "critical" analysis of Have One on Me. Personally, I enjoy the music. But some won't. But we've gotten to a point at which people only dislike something if they just don't personally connect with it. The concept of cool doesn't exist anymore in America. Now that anybody can be a reality star or YouTube sensation, we don't respect our elders anymore. Even this, it's a blog post. Have you noticed with how much authority I've been speaking? It's all made up. Nobody gave me this authority, but why shouldn't I take it for myself?

So goes your own opinion. It has a greater value than ever. Blame the internet, blame postmodernism, blame whatever you want--we are our own critics now. We can listen to Joanna Newsom and not have to care if somebody disagrees with our opinion of the music. If we love it, we're entitled. And if we hate it, we reserve every right to do so.

This post is basically Dylan Peterson reacting to the good feelings he got after listening to the new Joanna Newsom album. If anybody else enjoyed it, let's discuss the things we liked. If somebody didn't like it, we can talk about that too, I'm open to all interpretations. But if you don't like Good Intentions Paving Company, come on, stop having bad opinions.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

What I Get Paid For


Just for laughs:

How to Learn About Music Genres

There are hundreds of genres of music, and setting out to learn about them can be an intimidating task. But thanks to modern technology and the Internet, teaching yourself about different styles of music is easier than ever. The key to learning about as many music genres as possible is open-mindedness. If you approach a genre with a prejudice or a stereotypical opinion of it, you will not be able to learn about it. Start here: all music has value. If you can accept that, you can begin learning about music genres.

  1. Step 1

    Recognize the basic music genres. For example, do not get caught up with "pop punk," "indie folk" and "jazz fusion" at the outset. Maybe down the road you can unpack some of those subgenres, but the first step is learning the basics. The main music genres may be found categorized at your local record store. Generally, these basic genres are "rock," "pop," "classical," "jazz," "folk," "world (international/latin/reggae)," "hip-hop (rap and R&B)," "country," "electronic" and "experimental/avant garde."

  2. Step 2

    Listen to the most popular artists from each genre. The clearest way to hear the differences in style is by listening yourself. So for "classical," listen to Beethoven, Mozart and Stravinsky. For rock, listen to The Beatles, The Who and The White Stripes. For hip-hop, listen to Tupac, Kanye West and Jay Z. And so on like this. The easiest way to do this is by going to an online music store to listen to all of the music. Expect to put hours of study time into learning about genres.

  3. Step 3

    Take note of what you hear. Disassociate yourself from your tastes and simply hear the music that is being played. Notice that folk singers often play acoustic instruments and that jazz music may seem random. Once you're able to put a song on at random and easily recognize its genre, you're ready to dive into subgenres. But because there are countless subgenres, this is a feat you must perform at your own risk. Music fusions are endless, and if you attempt to follow them it will become a never-ending task. But as long as you keep your mind open and allow yourself to think critically about the music you're hearing, you will be able to learn much about the wealth of genres that are available today.


  • Talk to your friends about music. Find out what other people listen to, and why. You'll get a more rounded view of a genre this way. And if you can, talk to musicians from all genre backgrounds. Getting a personal opinion of what a genre means to a performer is a great way to learn about it.
  • Do not listen without a historical understanding of the music. That means realizing that a song by the Ramones from the 1980s is very different from a Green Day or Blink 182 song. Even though they're all punk, the two latter bands were heavily influence by the Ramones. A historical perspective will help you associate certain bands as more important to genre development.

What Are the Advantages of Reading Books?

  1. From the moment a person learns how to read, he should keep on reading for the rest of his life. Reading books engages the brain, and the action itself keeps the mind sharp. But there is also information in books. The best way to transfer that information to yourself is by reading it.
  2. Vocabulary

  3. When you read books by great authors, it's very likely you'll come across words you've never seen before. This doesn't mean you should feel stupid but that you should take pleasure in this opportunity to deepen your vocabulary. Always have a dictionary nearby while you read. The more you read, the more you'll develop your own vocabulary.

    Be sure you're changing your reading selections from time to time. If you read only sports books, you will miss out on a lot of vocabulary that you could be finding in historical biographies or classic literature.
  4. Entertainment

  5. A myth about reading books is that it's a boring activity. This is true only if you're either impatient or unwilling. For anyone willing to take the time to read, it can be one of the cheapest and most satisfying forms of entertainment. Almost everyone has seen the movie "Jurassic Park," but the book is just as exciting and fascinating in its own way. If you need a half-step between visual and written entertainment, pick up a good graphic novel. "The Watchmen" is one of the most popular, and since it tells such an engaging story it may be your gateway into a book-reading routine.
  6. Education

  7. Anybody can go on the Internet to look for information, but those sources are still not as reliable as a book. A trip to the library or bookstore is like a patient man's web-surf. Hours of information can be accessed from books, and since it requires more time for a reader to ingest it when it's coming from a book, it's more likely to stick in the memory.

    History, science, philosophy, comedy and relationships are all topics that books cover in detail. If you want to learn about something specific or just anything at all, reading a book will continue your education in the school of life like nothing else.

Types and Causes of Natural Disasters

  1. Natural disasters occur all around the world and range in impact. Some natural disasters barely do any damage, and others can kill hundreds or thousands of people. Because they are always the result of natural causes, there is no way to deter one of these events. Preparedness is the best way to properly combat a natural disaster.
  2. Tornado

  3. A tornado occurs on the surface of the earth's land as a result of humidity in the lower atmosphere combining with wind shears. The spinning comes by way of downdrafts and updrafts, but the violent speed is usually due to rapid changes in the air (such as dry air suddenly becoming very cool). When air mass is unstable and storms come through an area, a tornado often results. The reason most tornadoes occur in the Midwest of the United States is because tropical winds from the south Gulf move up to meet the cool winds of Canada's north. When they collide in the middle, it's usually somewhere around Kansas or Nebraska (though tornadoes can occur anywhere if the conditions are right, they're usually not as severe in other regions).
  4. Earthquake

  5. Violent tremors of the earth's surface are the result of earthquakes, which are caused by the shifting of the earth's tectonic plates and fault lines below the surface. When the earth's temperature changes, this causes movement of rock and plates in the earth's mantle. This happens all over the globe, but some stresses are more severe in some areas. Parts of the world that experience more earthquakes usually do so because the plates below them are more brittle and weak. In the Pacific Ocean, there is the Ring of Fire that stretches up and down the coasts of North America and South America and continues across to Japan and down to east of Australia. Volcanic eruption occurs for similar reasons, in that activity occurs below the surface of the earth causing stress and sudden release of molten rock.
  6. Hurricane

  7. Also known as a tropical cyclone or typhoon, hurricanes are violent storms that occur off of ocean shores. High winds are produced by water that has evaporated from an ocean surface in a low pressure area. This also causes a spiraling effect, which gains momentum the more condensation it collects. Minimal hurricanes have winds of about 75 mph (Category 1), but the most catastrophic storms will blow more than 155 mph (Category 5). Once a hurricane hits land, it begins to cool and slow, but this is the point at which a hurricane does its most damage. Destruction of trees, cars and buildings is likely in the event of a hurricane.
Activities for a Jesus Birthday Party

(some "re-purposing" going on this this one... sorry but this is just how the business goes.)
  1. Some Christian families refer to Christmas as "Jesus' birthday." Instead of celebrating with stories of Santa and Christmas trees, they focus on the birth of Christ. One way to have a Jesus birthday party is to have Christ as the theme. In the same way some kids have Spider-Man and Batman parties, if a child's hero is Jesus, then it is fitting for that child to have a Jesus party. Activities for Jesus birthday parties should focus on the Son of God.
  2. Jesus Jeopardy

  3. Have mom play the role of Alex Trebek. The kids must answer various questions about Jesus. Instead of playing with categories like "Potent Potables" and "19th Century Literature," create questions that would fit in "Jesus' Disciples" or "Miracles" and other similarly Biblical categories. Jeopardy works better with three kids playing. Groups with more than three should simply have three teams with everyone taking turns.
  4. Christian Improv

  5. If your group is a little bit older but you still want to make Jesus the theme of your birthday party, "Gospel Comedy" is an activity that involves every guest and only requires him to laugh. In "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" the whole point of the act is to be funny together. Christian kids can play these same kinds of games, only replacing any risque humor with Christ-centered fun. You can make up the rules and points of the game as you go. Some kids can be characters like Jesus, Peter, John the Baptist or Judas. Have an "audience member" call out a scene to be acted out. Someone may yell, "bowling alley!" So the players would have to improvise as if they were Jesus, Peter, John and Judas--all out for a night of bowling.
  6. Stencils

  7. Stenciling Jesus' face on a piece of paper is fun, but some Christians opt to throw their Jesus party in autumn and use a stencil to make a Jesus-o-Lantern. You can download stencils of Jesus that are intended for pumpkins; but you may also use them anywhere. If you use the right stencil, you can create a clear image of Christ's bearded countenance. If done on a paper plate, everyone at the party can then tie string from one side of the plate to the other and have her own Jesus mask to wear for the duration of the party. If carved on a pumpkin, the craft will require the help of an adult.

Illinois Monuments

  1. Illinois is one of the most populated states in America, and the 21st state contains a great number of monuments dedicated to its rich history. A monument may commemorate an event or a person. Most of the state's monuments are located in Chicago, the state's largest city, and Springfield, its capital, but many small towns have monuments as well.
  2. Lincoln Monument

  3. Illinois is known as the "Land of Lincoln," and statues and monuments of the great 16th president can be found all over the state. But the most famous Lincoln monument is in the small town of Dixon, about an hour southwest of Rockford. This particular statue of Lincoln doesn't have a beard or top hat, because it commemorates a young Captain Lincoln from his days in the Black Hawk War, years before he became president. The monument was dedicated in 1930, and Leonard Crunelle sculpted the bronze statue.

    Lincoln Monument
    100 Lincoln Statue Drive
    Dixon, IL 61021
    (815) 284-3306
  4. Fountain of Time

  5. Possibly the most famous monument in the city of Chicago is a broad sculpture in Washington Park called the Fountain of Time, which underwent an extensive restoration in 2005. It commemorates the first 100 years of peace between America and Great Britain after the Treaty of Ghent. It was built in 1920, and features 100 carved characters passing across "Father Time." The entire monument stretches over 125 feet. Artist Lorado Taft designed the monument.

    Fountain of Time
    5900 South Cottage Grove Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60615
    (312) 747-6823
  6. Lincoln's Tomb

  7. The resting place of Abraham Lincoln is in the state capital of Springfield. The tomb itself is in the most historic cemetery in Illinois, the Oak Ridge Cemetery. Lincoln's wife and sons are also buried here (though not in the same tomb), with the exception of Robert Todd Lincoln, who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. This memorial was built in 1865 and does not exhibit any distinct architectural style, although it features a 117-foot high obelisk. A model sculpture of the famous Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, is inside the rotunda of Lincoln's Tomb.

    Lincoln's Tomb
    1500 Monument Avenue
    Springfield, IL 62702
    (217) 782-2717

    Starved Rock

  1. Starved Rock is one of the most surprisingly beautiful landscapes in Illinois. The mountains are not as big as the Rockies out west, but taking a hike through Starved Rock can serve the same purpose and give one the same experience with nature. The park is a national monument due to its colonial history. It was the sit of Fort St. Louis in 1682. The rock itself is a flat-topped cliff that overlooks the Illinois River. The park is only two hours away from Chicago.

    Starved Rock State Park
    Starved Rock S P Road
    P.O. Box 509
    Utica, IL 61373
    815-667-4726
    stateparks.com/starved_rock.html
  2. Frank Lloyd Wright Home

  3. Frank Lloyd Wright has many designs throughout the Chicagoland area, but his former home and studio in the west suburb of Oak Park is a National Historic Landmark. This house is a monument to one of America's greatest architects of all time, one that exemplifies Wright's organic shingle style.

    Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
    951 Chicago Ave.
    Oak Park, IL 60302
    (708) 848-1976

* any and all awkward sentences and grammatical errors are entirely attributed to incompetent editors. (that's right, this shit went through editors. yeah.)