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On Art, Poetry, Beauty, Jane’s Addiction and Elliot Rodger: How the Fetishization of Perfection (and the impossibility of achieving that goal) Formed the Beginning (and middle) of My Adulthood (and why such falsehoods are detrimental to the true-life experience)

Prior to around age 15, I was like most every other pubescent teenager, attempting to navigate my often-hellish home life, while also juggling being the new kid at a new school in a new state, hormones raging, with no outlet to speak of. And as is common in most similar scenarios, I despised my parents, who I saw as shiftless hypocrites (which they were), and figured I was never going to figure out how to talk to a member of the opposite sex or ever forge the happy home life I often fantasized about (which I wasn’t). But then, a series of seemingly random encounters changed everything about my outlook, and gave me something to strive for—to hold on to, as it were, and provided my life with the first sense of meaning I was able to claim for myself, that hadn’t been artificially jammed down my throat by parents.

It was poetry.

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Preach

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The Midnight Disease

The midnight disease is a kind of emotional insomnia; at every conscious moment its victim—even if he or she writes at dawn, or in the middle of the afternoon—feels like a person lying in a sweltering bedroom, with the window thrown open, looking up at a sky filled with stars and airplanes, listening to the narrative of a rattling blind, an ambulance, a fly trapped in a Coke bottle, while all around him the neighbors soundly sleep. This is in my opinion why writers—like insomniacs—are so accident-prone, so obsessed with the calculus of bad luck and missed opportunities, so liable to rumination and a concomitant inability to let go of a subject, even when urged repeatedly to do so.

~Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

 Last night I crossed paths with a guy I used to work for. Mine was a sales position, where every weekday, and Saturdays, I was to fan out across Nashville with a band of similarly-programmed individuals, and attempt to sell AT&T bundle packages door-to-door to small businesses for their internet and long distance service. This was back in 2008, and coincided with my period of itinerant homelessness. I slept under weeping willows at the business park where I and all the other 20-30-something young males met every morning for the ritual psych-up. Baby Got Back and like-minded high-energy tracks were blasted from a $30 Wal-Mart CD player, and we yelled at each other things like “You can’t be stopped!” and “No, YOU can’t be stopped, you invincible motherfucker!”

The guy had a wife and a baby daughter with him, and a shopping cart full of exterior rubber landscaping tiles. He wanted to know if, in my professional opinion, a standard box cutter would work efficiently and effectively to cut the tiles. Then he recognized me. We shook hands. His grip was weak. We remembered each other then but I didn’t know his name. He had the upper hand in name remembrance, in that my name was emblazoned across my chest, as is customary for a retail clerk of my position. His name wasn’t emblazoned across his chest. Never was.

He looked merely slightly different, these six years later, but only inasmuch that it was the first time I had ever seen him not wearing a suit and tie. He asked me how long I’d been in my current occupation. I knew why he asked me that as soon as the sentence was just beginning to leave his mouth. He asked me how long I’d been doing what I was doing because the last time we’d talked, six years ago, it was just the two of us in his corner office, mere minutes before the psych-up meeting. He was, as I remember, wearing a suit and tie. He’d said that he had to level with me. I’d looked behind him, out the wide windows of his corner office. The branches of a willow tree were softly scraping on the panes. He had said he didn’t think this was the right fit for me. He said that besides the numbers and my lack of them, I was an obvious outlier, bad for morale. Everybody knows you change clothes in the bathroom every morning and afternoon when we meet back up, he said. The other guys are noticing, he said, and it’s bad for morale.

My changing clothes in the bathroom is bad for morale? I asked. He messed with his ring finger. There was still a distinct tan line where a ring no longer existed. Look, I said, if there’s only one thing you can relate to me about, it’s that. I looked at his hands, with all obviousness. He knew what I was referring to and immediately put his arms down, his hands out of sight behind his broad, cheap wood replica desk. He set his jaw and looked at his lap. Then he told me that it killed him to have to make the determination he was having to make. He looked like he was having trouble not crying. I wanted to ask him how he held everything together the way he did, to ask him to let me in on the secret to pressing ahead when everything falls apart around your head. I knew from personal experience that it wasn’t easy to keep things floating when all you felt like was drowning, and just fighting to keep your airways above water seemed like more trouble than it was worth—that it was easier to die than to engage even the most meager effort at survival, let alone the taking of the world, unstoppable motherfuckers or not.

I stood up.

I’ve been sleeping in that stand of trees by the overpass, I said, pointing over his shoulder. I wanted him to know exactly which stand of trees I was talking about, so I pointed. I stopped sleeping there, moved to the golf course off of Galatin last week, specifically to prevent this having to happen, I said. But I guess the clothes-changing did me in anyway. You can’t rightly sleep on the ground in a suit and then expect the suit to be even halfway decent for walking into offices the next day, I said. Then I left, pulled my duffel bag from the janitor’s closet, and went back into the bathroom to change clothes again for the second time in less than 20 minutes. His daughter’s name, he told me last night, is Auburn. She turns one year old next month. Continue reading

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DVD Review: “Super”

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Right off I’ll confess my complete and total abject hatred for this movie. I mean—if I’d been in a theater when watching it, there’s a high likelihood I would have walked out on it. I’ve walked out on a total of two movies in my life: The first was David Cronenberg’s Crash (not the other piece of shit with the same title that won the 2005 Oscar for best picture, the cloying, ham-fisted shit-stain that it was, I never saw that one in a theater, I’m proud to say), the second was Quentin Tarentino’s Death Proof, which, if you remember, was the second half of the double-feature released as part of Grind House with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, which was awesome, and made walking out of Death Proof a virtual requirement, so as to allow the glories of PT to remain intact without having Tarantino’s normally effective and poignant dialogue—which in Death Proof come across as cloying and ham-fisted—ruin the entire experience. Death Proof was a director trying too hard to be himself-esque, Crash just had a shitty premise. Yes, I knew the premise before I paid to see it, I just didn’t realize until I was actually seeing it just how retarded the premise was. So yeah, I walked out on both.  Continue reading

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Im Fucking FURIOUS, Who Are You? (Apologies to Emily Dickinson)

That ubiquitous-in-“alternative”-subsections-of-every-major-city bumper sticker, that one that goes:

That bumper sticker needs to be stapled to my forehead right about now. Because I’m suffering a serious crisis of consciousness. As in, my every waking, conscious moment is spent consumed with the knowledge that we were all sold a false bill of sale. And thats a harsh fucking pill to swallow, a terrible reality to realize you are living.

Doesn’t matter if youre still in school or haven’t been there in years, all of us remember how, growing up in America (or perhaps any “Western” country for that matter), we were constantly indoctrinated with the LIE that if we worked hard and studied and stayed true to ourselves, we would be able to live the life we set out to make for ourselves. Remember that? We were regaled with tales of our forefathers, most notably George Washington and Abe Lincoln, having struggled against and overcome incredible odds and various diversities to make it to the pinnacle of human achievement…and that, if we just reached down into the well of our own deepest capabilities, we, too could be so great.

But alas, we couldn’t be so great, it turns out, if we weren’t born with trust funds or in some other way fast-tracked to the Ivy League cornucopia of great jobs, all-encompassing dental plans and one way tickets to that fabled Good Life. We made all the right moves. We studied til our brains were bleeding. We graduated at the tops of our college classes. We fully bought into the fantasy they tricked all of us into believing was real and true and possible. And then, when the scam finally caught up with them and the bottom dropped out on everyone but those in power, both politically and financially, WE were the ones whose asses had been handed to them. They had covered every angle. They, like all great casinos, were the house that couldn’t lose. We were the suckers who had to leave the joint wearing trashbags or whiskey barrels in order to cover our shame. And despite all the evidence showing all of us in said rags just who exactly was behind the great swindle, their bought-and-paid-for political stooges from BOTH parties had already done preemptive ass-covering. The robber-barons hadn’t done anything illegal at all. They were PERFECTLY within their rights to gamble away our inheritance. Our “assets”, you see, were never really ours in the first place. Our homes and cars and college funds were merely on loan, to sedate us into thinking that we too would eventually be able to work our way into a place at the table, our own little meager part of that fabled good life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because the banks and the corporations that now employ so many of us, they had a right to make a profit. Didn’t matter how immoral the practices were that were enacted in order to fleece us of our livelihoods, our well-paying jobs which they took and then replaced with hollow facsimiles that had none of the autonomy or wage rates and were spent daily emasculating us, making us feel as though we didn’t really deserve anything more than to barely scrape by from one month to the next, one day to the next–we must not have worked hard enough if we hadn’t gotten an ample enough piece of the pie. And woe to he who would DARE complain about getting the shaft, that ungrateful fuck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because remember, we have been CONDITIONED to vote against our own best interests. We have been indoctrinated into believing the swill being force-fed us by our corporate overlords, who show us “informative” infomercials (in required classes of 30+ employees at a time) detailing just how destructive and against our free-will unionizing is. I mean, I’ve actually had people tell me that unionized school teachers or steel workers making mandated $25 an hour paychecks are definitely ripping off the tax payers because nobody “deserves” to make that much money. And what about the motherfucking CEOs making 250X the salary of the average worker?? I would scream politely back. They deserve to make tens of millions of dollars a year??? They deserve Golden Parachute guarantees that allow these CEOs to leave companies employing thousands of people in ruins while they waltz away with 200 or 300 million dollars in cash and stock option severance packages????? I mean, the number of astounded question marks has gotten truly absurd. So absurd that I cant think about anything else anymore. I eat sleep and breathe VENGEANCE now. But not in the gun-wieldy, mow down every innocent civilian I just happen to bump into sense. More in the sense of I am now generally less suicidal than I have ever been in my entire life. And you should be too. Because as depressing and spirit-crushing as all of this is to realize, especially when we have been taught so differently than this harsh reality we now wake up with every day, the truth of the matter is that we are now, every single one of us who chooses to pay attention, AWAKE. We are the citizenry watching the Emperor waltzing down the street, pointing at him and laughing. THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES. The gig is up. We are on the cover of Time magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The genie is out of the bottle. Pandora’s box has been opened, the man behind the curtain revealed. It can never go back to the way it was before. These are exciting times. And they are scary. None of us knows how this is going to turn out. But at least now we know what is really going on. And we don’t have to feel guilty for being angry. This is the motherfucking United States of America, where truth and justice and hard work and integrity and love of our fellow man, regardless of race or color or creed or sexual orientation was supposed to be all that was needed to unite us, to give us a level playing field. And we let the sharks take over the tank and they were who we KNEW they were and they did what sharks fucking do. So don’t be mistaken: this post has nothing to do with woe-is-me. But it does have everything to do with all of us seeing the forest for the fucking trees and doing our parts as HUMAN BEINGS to take back the power that we, as human beings, “are endowed with by our creator.” Our forefathers, those same forefathers that even a souless dickwad like Dick Cheney claims to revere, said these words. Now its time we all started living like we are just as human as the faceless tyrants who tried to turn us into mindless robots so they could pad their bank accounts on our suffering. NOW WE TAKE THE POWER BACK, one fucking day at a time.

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Robert Olen Butler: Professed Book-Sniffer (and literary chameleon, controversial artist, et al.)

We took in the Decatur Book Festival a few Saturdays ago. It was smoking Atlanta hot, and therefore pretty much misery-inducing, ‘specially when you factor in that we were ferrying around 3 kids under 8. But the day started off nice enough (before the heat). Somehow we’ve lucked out, found a way to live on a beautiful shade-covered street just outside the ATLanta city limits, but still only a minutes-walk away from public transportation and all that lies on the other side of a $2 bus fare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time we arrived at the Downtown Decatur location, the kids were already pissy, what with it being smoking hot and whatnot. It was too hot for anything other than icecream and maybe swimming, neither of which was at our immediate disposal. But I had my copy of Severance, and was determined to follow through on my hours-old dream of having it signed by the singular talent that is Robert Olen Butler.

So we got to the high school where he was reading, and I went in to the auditorium where Butler was already reading. Kara hung back in the hall, bless her heart, so that the aforementioned 3 under-8 kids could be attended to without disrupting Mr. Butler. He was reading from his latest novel. It was way, way different from Severance. I was kind of lost. But the prose seemed good, for what that’s worth. And, as I do anytime I find myself in the presence of other writers, I began to compare myself to him. And, of course, found myself lacking in most every way. Especially when he finished reading and it was time for the Q & A. He was so self-assured, so convinced of his very RIGHT to be on that stage, admired by the 1 or 2 hundred people in fawning attendance. And he actually mentioned how, just as it says on his wikipedia page, he considers himself a “literary chameleon”, who never wants to write the same sort of book twice. But surely he hadn’t been responsible for writing his own Wiki page, right? I mean, Big Time authors (or Big Time Anythings, for that matter) don’t have to spend time on such banal things as Wikipedia entries. They have biographers and rabid fans to do that for them, no?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, screw it, I thought afterward, while we waited in line for ROB to sign my copy of his book about 60+ people who have been decapitated and what must have been going through each of these severed heads as its last moments of consciousness slipped away. For every Spielberg there’s an Ed Wood or maybe, if we’re being slightly more generous, McG. Hell, even millionaire, omni-present author Steven King has gone on record calling himself something like “The burger and fries of American literature.” But I can’t be that either as long as I’m writing about truly fucked up family shit and not killer clowns terrorizing generations of children. So here I am, these few years into my pro writing life, still not knowing where I fit in. But I do know this, dear readers: both Robert Olen Butler and myself like the smell of ink on paper, of musty books found in the back of old book shops (imagine that–an old book shop–a relic of pre-internet times, endangered as hell if anything ever was). He even wrote as much for me in the front of Severance. And while that won’t do shit for my as-yet non-existent Wikipedia page, at least I can go to sleep a little easier knowing that both the great Robert Olen Butler and myself both like taking a good whiff of a book every now and then. (Immortality, here we come!)

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The Absolutely Definitive List of the 25 Best Albums of the 2000s

Yes, it is up for argument, of course. But I know what i hate, and for these albums, there was nothing to hate on, save a stray throw-away track here or there. That’s pretty much how I determined which albums to include and which to leave off: did the WHOLE product deliver? I didn’t limit myself to numbers, as in only 2 for each year, but instead just went with albums I could not leave off unless some Strokes hater held a gun to my head. It’s complete coincidence that I ended up with the nice, sort-of-round number of 25.

This list is not exhaustive, I’m sure people will mention a few that I’ll kick myself for forgetting while I was making this. Others will mention albums I wish I could forget, such as anything by TV On the Radio, a band that I cannot for the life of me understand why it is so well-regarded. One last heads up: don’t bother offering any Dave Matthews or John Mayer suggestions. They have, at best, 3 or 4 good songs between them, definitely not enough for placement on such hallowed ground.

2000:

sunny day real estate—the rising tide

This album is full of jangly guitars and soaring vocals bellowing beautiful lyrics–it always makes me remember the ocean and the beginning of my marriage. All good memories.

Fave tracks: One, Tearing in My Heart

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coldplay—parachutes

Damn, gotta say, when this came out it seemed like Chris Martin and company actually had a chance of giving Radiohead a run for the money in the art-rock circuit (that is a circuit, right?). But then all their albums sounded exactly the same. Not saying they didn’t have good songs on other albums, but come on: most of it sounds exactly the same–for example, one single song on Viva la Vida, their latest, has been the subject of upwards of 5 different plagiarism lawsuits by artists ranging from Cat Stevens to Steve Vai. Regardless, Parachutes was a beauty when it came out, and when you factor in the sweet memories that go along with it for me, it’s only gold.

Fave Tracks: Trouble, We Never Change

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ghostface killah—supreme clientele

It could be argued that this album signaled the death knell of what many hip hop purists (such as yours truly) consider to be “true” hip hop. Yes, we are elitist bastards.  But without getting into arguments about the greatness (or lack of greatness) of Lil Wayne and Chamillionaire, anyone can at least appreciate the cementing of Ghostface’s status as the best rapper to emerge from Wutang Clan. I mean, have you heard Iron Man? And then he follows up with this a few years later. BEASTLY! Listen up. This was as good as it was going to get for many, many years (one could argue).

Fave Tracks: Buck 50, Wu Banga 101

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2001:

radiohead—amnesiac

The first of two Radiohead albums on this list, Amnesiac constantly ended up in my regular rotation during the glorious “Aughts.” It is possibly one of the most accessible ‘Head albums, surpassed perhaps by only 2008’s In Rainbows in terms of listenability.

Fave tracks: Pyramid Song, Knives Out

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white stripes—white blood cells

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard this introduction to The White Stripes, and how many albums can you say that about? It blew my freaking mind. Jack White entered the realm of genius for me with his fusion of old blues and modern rock. There is still no better stimulant on the market for getting a day started off than this banger.

Fave Tracks: Hotel Yorba, The Union Forever

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the strokes—is this it?

Here we have the controversial British version of the cover for this first Strokes album, which was of course not available in the more prudish U.S. But with or without that art, it was still a revelation, and came out the gate with more buzz than a thousand beehives. Backlash followed, of course, but regardless of whether Julian Casablancas can actually sing or that his voice was doctored with various studio trappings to make him sound better (a charge I don’t buy after hearing their later efforts), this album along with White Blood Cells is a killer on every level.

Fave Tracks: Someday, Hard To Explain

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bjork—vespertine

There are some incredibly beautiful tracks on this album. Bjork is from another planet. Her voice itself is poetry. I love her.

Fave Tracks: Hidden Place, Pagan Poetry

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2002:

neko case—blacklisted

The first of three albums by Neko Case, this album showcases her voice in a way that makes the term alt-country not sound completely stupid. For whatever reason, I am reminded of the Michael Scott quote in the TV show “The Office,” when he says, ” You don’t call retarded people retards. It’s bad taste. You call your friends retards when they’re acting retarded.”

Fave Tracks: Tightly, Pretty Girls

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the flaming lips—yoshimi battles the pink robots

From crazed punk beginnings to the masterpiece that was ’99’s The Soft Bulletin, this follow-up to that revelation of Wayne Coyne’s song-writing ability was a true window into this incredibly sensitive soul. And after meeting him in person (and basically forcing him to take a copy of my book), I can say that he is about as genuine a rock star who also happens to be a real person as any rock star has ever been. If that makes any sense.

Fave Tracks: Ego Trippin’ At the Gates of Hell, Do You Realize??

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beck—sea change

I first heard this Beck album while “working” as a DJ at UNC Greensboro’s 10 watt student-run radio station. It’s the first full-length Beck album that I know of that has him actually writing lyrics some sense can be made of—a real (wait for it…) sea change in his style. It is also heartbreaking, about his breakup from some model, I hear.

Fave Tracks: Little One, Lost Cause

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2003:

yeah yeah yeahs—fever to tell

This 3-piece, Karen O-fronted band is garage rock at its finest as far as I’m concerned. She’s so weird and rock-starry. I’d be afraid of her in real life. Which is just how she likes it, I’m sure. Just listen how she whispers “I’m rich, rich, rich rich rich. I’ll take you out boy.” F-ing hardcore, regardless of the tear sliding down her cheek in the “Maps” video.

Fave Tracks: Rich, Y Control

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death cab for cutie—transatlanticism

For me Ben Gibbard is sort of the poor man’s Thom Yorke, and a total bastard (he married my imaginary girlfriend, Zooey Deschanel). But with this album and his other project, The Postal Service, he pretty much cemented his place in the starry night of my soul or whatever. He writes some catchy shit. But I think an Amazon reviewer said it best: “If you’re an overblown emokid with a yen for the melodramatic, you should buy this CD. You may now stop reading.”

Fave Tracks: Lightness, Passenger Seat

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2004:

air—talkie walkie

This album is on here because I like it more OVERALL than their previous Aughts effort, 10,000 hz Legend. But to be fair, there are a couple of songs on that generally disliked album that are some of my favorite Air tracks, such as “How Does It Make You Feel” and “Vagabond.” But this record is definitely more cohesive and sets a great mood for being drunk/high/tired, so we’re going with this one. And for the record, it is WAY beter than 2007’s Pocket Symphony.

Fave Tracks: Run, Another Day

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danger mouse—the grey album

While this is not officially an album you can buy, since Danger Mouse never got the rights to any of the Beatles or Jay-Z tracks he used to make this groundbreaking album (which, for anyone living in a musical cave for the past ten years, is a mash-up of The Beatles’ “White Album” and Jay-Z’s “Black Album”), I would be remiss not to include it on this list. For better or worse, DM started the massive wave of mash-ups with this effort, and also got himself a pretty good paying gig as half of Gnarls Barkley. Plus, this shit just kicks. Whoda thunk it?

Fave Tracks: Encore, 99 Problems

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2005:

my morning jacket—z

I believe that, along with Death Cab, Dashboard Confessional, Bright Eyes and My Chemical Romance, My Morning Jacket helped create and nurture the wimpy mid-Aughts  juggernaut that was known as Emo. But unlike Dashboard and Bright Eyes, they don’t totally suck. This is one of my favorite albums of all time. So, cheer up, Emo kid.

Fave Tracks: It Beats 4 U, Knot Comes Loose

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eels—blinking lights and other revelations

Mark Everett is the frontman of EELS (or eels), and is probably, when I really consider it, the person I most relate to as far as “getting” exactly what he is talking about with the majority of his songs. This double album has songs on it that I absolutely hate (such as the co-penned with one of the guys from R.E.M. “Hey Man”), but since there are over 20 songs on offer here, there is definitely at least a full album’s worth of incredible compositions. My favorite memory associated with this record is painting my daughter’s bedroom in preparation for us to move into our first owned home. Tears me up just thinking about it.

Fave Tracks: In the Yard Behind the Church, I’m Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn’t Break Your Heart

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2006:

neko case—fox confessor brings the flood

Second Neko album on the list, and arguably her best ever. Her voice reminds me so much of Patsy Cline’s. She is a true artist, with seemingly little care about her “image” as far as whether or not she fits into the sterotypical chanteuse mold. She’s all about the voice. Example: her album “Blacklisted” was supposedly named that because while performing at Nasvhille’s famous Grand Ole Opry, she took off her shirt (I never heard if she was completely topless or just offended the genteel southern sensibility with her bra alone) and was banned for life. Totally punk, and what puts the “alt” in her country stylings, I can only suppose.

Fave Tracks: Star Witness, Dirty Knife

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decemberists—the crane wife

Along the Flaming Lips album that follows, this was the last album that my wife and I shared. Every time I hear the 3-part Crane Wife song the album is named after, it destroys me. In a good way. I’ll leave it there. Don’t want to make a complete fool out of myself, after all. Not drunk enough for that anyway. Give me a few hours. Perhaps that dragon will rear its head in the comments.

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beck—the information

This album is the epitome of cool. And one of about 45 albums that Beck released in the Aughts. I’m still not sure if I’m being impartial enough regarding choosing this album over, say, Guero or Modern Guilt, but whatever. These year/decade-end lists are always subjective and come down to much more about what effected the listener personally more than something like whether the songs held complexity in their structures. This album came with a DVD of every song being lip-synched by Beck and his friends, and I would often put it in the DVD player and hit repeat on it over and over again. It was like having a bunch of tripping acid-freaks to keep me company through surely some of the strangest times in a lifetime of strange times.

Fave Tracks: Cellphone’s Dead, No Complaints

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the flaming lips—at war with the mystics

They played a free show in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park on May 21, 2006 in support of this album. It was amazing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoIohWnbVSk

Fave Tracks: My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion/ Vein of Stars

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2007:

radiohead—in rainbows

As I said earlier in this post, this is probably the most easily listened to Radiohead album (which is most likely why it won or was nominated for more Grammys than any other from their amazing catalog, most notably OK Computer, which is (not so) arguably one of the greatest albums ever recorded). But this one is definitely right up there, and if nothing else serves to cement Radiohead’s place among the greatest bands to ever record together.Plus, they gave it away for free on the internet, and that’s totally kickass.

Fave Tracks: Nude, All I Need

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amy winehouse—back to black

Fuck this album. I can’t even remember why I have it on here, and it was easier to write this sentence than to screw up the formatting on this post by erasing it.

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2008:

MGMT—oracular spectacular

When I finally got up to NYC to meet my agent and publishing house handlers in January of this year, MGMT was still all the rage, and I therefore felt much less of a cultural disconnect than I had originally feared, ’cause I’d been on this bandwagon for a long time, based mainly on the fact that two hippie guys made up the band and had lyrics like, “I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars/ You’ll man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars,” which totally runs contrary to their hippie guy image. Plus many of the songs on here an infinitely hummable, as my 9 yr. old daughter will happily testify.

Fave Tracks: Time To Pretend, Kids

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fleet foxes—fleet foxes

I first heard Fleet Foxes when they appeared on SNL in January. They are from Seattle (how cliche…1991 called, it wants its premiere underground music scene back), but sound like they are Straight Outta Appalachia. Which is kind of disturbing to me, since this means that the two most well-known Appalachian-sounding artists are from the west coast (the other being Los Angeles’ Gillian Welch). But no matter. Listen to this record and know that what you are hearing is authentic bluegrass-tinged. Every time I hear it makes me yearn to go back to Kentucky, if Kentucky weren’t so littered with ignorant rednecks and memories of unbridled happiness that make everything now pale in comparison. And you just can’t live like that.

Fave Tracks: White Winter Hymnal, Blue Ridge Mountains

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2009:

neko case—middle cyclone

I’ll be the first to admit that my exposure to much new music has been severely hampered this year, so it’s pretty anemic of me to only have one album listed for 2009, and to have the one album listed be by an artist that already has 2 other albums on this list. But this record is my favorite of Neko Case’s so far, and her insightful lyrics never cease to amaze me along with her incredible voice. Plus almost all the songs are about love (a first time for her), and the album ends with 28 minutes of frogs and crickets making night noises, which is a perfect way to fall asleep. So there’s that, too.

Fave Tracks: The Next Time You Say “Forever”, The Pharoahs

ARTIST OF THE DECADE:

I decided on this designation based solely on who had the most presence on the list. Radiohead, Flaming Lips and Beck came close, with two albums each on here, but in the end it wasn’t enough. Thanksfully I didn’t have to think much on it, since only one artist had three albums on my list, and that was, of course,

NEKO CASE

She’s incredible. Have I mentioned that yet? Watch this video, buy her albums, thank me later.

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top 11 films about writing

So here they are, in alphabetical order: my personal favorites that always inspire me to pick up the pen (the laptop) and get cracking again. It’s a subjective list, yes, so don’t be shy. Add your own picks to the comments, or just throw in your two cents on why this list is so complete and awesome. I tried to include videos of my favorite scenes from these films as opposed to just embedding the trailers, but often I was thwarted in this effort by the seemingly thousands of fan tributes made to certain films that almost always have scenes from the movies edited with overlapping songs by the likes of Nickelback and Lifehouse (I’m looking at you, Shakespeare In Love). Don’t be alarmed, I spared you that aggression, so don’t be afraid to watch the vids.

Adaptation

This film is, for me, a perfect representation of how difficult it is to try to make it (and fake it) in the writing industry. Celebrated screenwriter Charlie Kaufman took his plight—writing a screenplay adaptation of best-selling New Yorker columnist Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief—and turned it into something all his own. In the process, he created not just a moving ‘adaptation’ of Orlean’s book, but also a moving tribute to the process of writing itself, complete with sell-out, pander-to-the-masses ending. I love this part of the film, where he decides that the only possible way to tackle the subject matter is to literally start at the beginning of time.

American Splendor

I really relate to this film, in that it is a biopic of sorts, focused on the higher aspirations of a seemingly run-of-the-mill ‘Joe Sixpack’ file clerk. By the time we meet Harvey Pekar, he has already found the fortune and fame he aspired to at the beginning of his unlikely comics writing career. That we know this in the beginning makes it easy to root for him as he is confronted with one setback after another. And this film made Letterman look douchey long before he announced to the world that he was an employee fucker. For whatever that’s worth.

Barton Fink

Not to sound elitist or snobby, but I love *forcing* people to watch this film and see if they last past the first 20 minutes. Of all the great Coen Bros. movies, this stands out as the least accessible. And why not? It’s all about the process of writing to a market and trying to make your talents as a writer fit into a very limited, very specific mold. Who writing these days for any sort of significant scratch hasn’t felt these pressures? You are, after all, only as good as your last success. (See that old dude from Frazier portraying an F. Scott Fitzgerald clone to get the full effect of what ‘selling out’ truly entails).

Capote

Even completely disregarding the genius that is Philip Seymour Hoffmann in his portrayal of the lispy, lilty Truman Capote, one must acknowledge the powerful message this film delivers. Capote was one of the most celebrated writers of his time, and his novelization of the murder of a typical (read: Norman Rockwell depiction of) heartland American family catapulted him to literary stardom and single-handedly created a new genre of literature—narrative non-fiction. But the toll of inserting himself into the broken lives of the murdered family and that family’s death-sentenced murderers literally tore Capote apart. He never published another novel.

Dead Poets Society

This film is quite possibly the most influential movie I was exposed to in my young life (I was 15 when it was released in 1989). Yes, long before my self-imposed Robin Williams backlash (mine began long BEFORE the Good Will Hunting, so fuck you, you trendy fucks, lol), I wanted nothing more than to have a teacher of John Keating’s caliber. Not because I was enamored of poetry, necessarily, but because Williams’ portrayal of Keating was a picture of an adult who cared not just about the specific subject he was teaching, but also about the lives and families and career trajectories of his students. In short, this film took the tiny grain of sand that had been implanted in me when I was first assigned to read Whitman’s Song of Myself, and brought that little bastard into full bloom; after witnessing this movie, poetry and writing were, to me, nothing short of an immediate ticket out of the reality that had for so long held complete control over every aspect of my existence. This movie gave me a key to the lock, a free pass to a life that awaited me if only I took the initiative to make it happen.

Henry Fool

My old friend Brandon first exposed me to this quintessentially ‘Hal Hartley’ Hal Hartley film. “You have to watch this, dude. You’re Simon!” he said, handing me a video tape. This was what, 2004? Anyway, we popped the thing into his VCR (yes, this form of viewing entertainment was considered “old school” and not just “backwards” in those days), and after watching a fast-forwarded preview of some piece-of-shit David Schwimmer movie (who the fuck decides how to market this garbage???), the movie immediately struck a chord with me. Like Simon in the film, I too had found internet success that led to some form of literary acceptance. Unlike me, Simon was universally heralded by Pulitzer and Nobel committees, as well as the general reading public (again, there was still such a thing as a ‘general reading public’ way back in ’97, when this film was made) and was able to afford a swanky uptown Manhattan apartment that effectively shielded him from the rest of the ‘chattering masses’, but there was enough of a correlation there for me to really get where Hartley was coming from with this picture. Basically it is about substance over style… and how the best of us maybe don’t find universal recognition and eventually have to commit accidental—yet justifiable—murder in order to fulfill our destinies. Or something.

Permanent Midnight

I’m putting this movie on the list mainly because I have a pretty amusing story to tell about it: when I was first trying to find authors to blurb my novel back in late 2007, I figured out a way to contact Jerry Stahl, who is one of my lit heroes, and the author of what I consider the best memoir ever written regarding drug addiction, Permanent Midnight. Stahl had been a writer for shows such as ALF and Moonlighting back in the mid-late 80s, so the book is also about how he struggled with drug addiction while writing hit TV scripts (his story about withdrawing from smack and coke while on the ALF set is hair-raising). Anyway, I contacted Jerry Stahl and he read my book and gave me an awesome blurb (which ended up making it onto the front cover of futureproof). He also gave me his phone number and told me to call him. So I did. And I fucked up the conversation almost immediately. I told Jerry that I loved Permanent Midnight but that I thought Ben Stiller just wasn’t gritty enough or something to pull off the proper Jerry Stahl impersonation, “I mean, I like Stiller, don’t get me wrong,” I said to Jerry, “but he sucked in that movie.” This is, after all, an incredibly dark book, with some very funny shit in it, granted, but it was chosen for whatever reason to be one of the first vehicles to star Stiller and Owen Wilson. Just doesn’t do the book justice. Anyway, there was a pause on the line and Jerry Stahl sort of laughed and then said, “Yeah, Frank, well—he’s a friend of mine.” Sigh. I guess I find the story amusing, the one about me sticking my foot in my mouth the very first time—the very first minute—I meet my lit hero. Yeah. It’s pretty f-ing funny. SIGH.

Shakespeare in Love

I don’t know, every time I think about this movie, I wonder if it still holds up since its release and subsequent Best Picture Academy Award back in 1998. I can’t say if it would hold up or not, though, because I haven’t seen it since then. When I remember it, though, I think of it as being a great fictionalized story of a young Will Shakespeare falling in love with Gwyneth Paltrow when she was at the very pinnacle of her hotness (yes, even when she was dressed like a man) and hadn’t yet been ruined by Chris Martin of Coldplay. I also remember it being a great depiction of love and inspiration, and how something as powerful as love can really make some amazing things happen, writing-wise. Made me really miss the days when being smeared in quill ink was sexy.   

Sideways

I love this movie. It is, ostensibly, about wine appreciation and snobbishness, but there is so much more to it than that. If anything, it does have some great wine-snob smackdowns in it, but also relishes in alcoholism and the destruction of the soul at the hands of love, and of course the rebirth of the soul under better circumstances. It is about failure and acceptance and brilliant metaphors between wine aging and the way people get to a certain point in their lives before it all goes downhill from there. Also the second movie on this list to, perhaps coincidentally, star Paul Giamatti. Favorite quotes from the movie:

Miles: Well, the world doesnt give a shit what I have to
say. Im not necessary. I’m so insignificant I cant even kill
myself.
Jack: Miles, what the hell is that supposed to mean?
Miles: Come on, man. You know. Hemingway, Sexton, Plath,
Woolf. You cant kill yourself before youre even published.
Jack: What about the guy who wrote Confederacy of Dunces? He killed himself before he was published. Look how famous he is.

Stranger Than Fiction

For a Will Ferrell movie (his entry into the “top-dog comedian trying to stretch his acting chops by playing a ‘serious role’” genre), this movie sure has a lot of beautiful sentiments to it. Well—more serious than “I love lamp” anyway. The plot is fairly boilerplate: middle-aged guy is frittering away his life when he meets a beautiful rebel girl who changes the way he sees everything. The twist here though is that it turns out it’s too late for Ferrell’s IRS auditor to turn his life around and really try to suck the marrow out of it. He begins hearing his every action and thought narrated by a British woman’s voice, and during the course of this disconcerting narration he discovers he is going to die: “Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.” Also, it has Queen Latifah playing a publishing house stooge sent to keep the author working on her book so that she will make her submission deadline…which will also keep Ferrell on track to ….DIIIIIIIE!!!!!!!!!!!!  

The Whole Wide World

Incidentally, the name of the song that Will Ferrell plays to Maggie Gyllenhall in the scene embedded above is by Wreckless Eric and is called…(wait for it…) “Whole Wide World”!!! How’s that for synchronicity??? Anyway, regardless, I cannot believe that one of my favorite films about writing is actually a movie starring Renee Zellweger because, as I have made pretty clear to anyone who has kept track, I cannot stand Renee Zellweger, especially after that whole Bridget Jones thing, when all the talking heads were all a-twitter (and this was pre-Twitter!) about how she had fatted up for the role, had actually weighed like 140!!!! I was just like, Jesus Christ, that’s the only time Renee Zellweger has even looked remotely attractive, with those giant teeth and half-closed eyes??? I mean, her teeth aren’t as big as Hillary Swank’s, granted, but they’re still….nevermind. Anyway, the guy from Full Metal Jacket who the drill Sergeant torments all the time, who then eventually kills the drill Sergeant before killing himself, portrays the creator of Conan the Barbarian back in the 1930s, Robert E. Howard. An overbearing mother and mental illness (possibly caused by the overbearing mother) pretty much chase the guy into a fantasy world where people like Arnold Schwarzennegger run the joint and people like Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket get to lose themselves in lusting, beautiful half-naked women. It’s a very touching story. I hope I don’t come across as making light of it. Renee Zellweger, despite having a smile that is about as fake-looking as the Jack Nicholson-era Joker, is actually really good in this movie. And when Pyle doesn’t stick with her in the end, instead opting to stay with his ailing mother, you start to wonder how many other genre-changing works of art have been created at the cost of their authors losing something significant and irreplaceable in their lives. Like love.

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