Cellists & Serendipity

Synchronicity is weird.

I recently read Paul Elie’s Reinventing Bach for a profile on Elie; it was there that I learned quite a lot about the life of the cellist Pablo Casals…

…who was in turn referenced in one of the stories in the Paris Review anthology Object Lessons, which I was also reading for an assignment. It was also in that anthology that I first encountered the fiction of Jane Bowles…

…who shows up repeatedly as a point of reference in Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, which I’m presently reading. Strange how these things line up…

Hair Metal & Writing Consultations

Potentially of note: the fundraising/pre-ordering campaign for Hair Lit now has a new bonus offered. For $20, one can get (along with your copy of the anthology) a consultation with one of several contributors to the anthology. Susannah Felts, BJ Hollars, Nick Ostdick, Ben Tanzer and I are all participating in this, so if you’ve ever wanted to talk short fiction with me over Skype, now’s the time…

Getting Retro

I’m happy to announce that I have fiction in the second edition of Joyland Retro. Specifically, the story “An Old Songwriter’s Trick,” which appeared on Joyland a few months ago. If the first edition is any indication, this will be a handsomely-designed print edition; if you’d like to order it at a discount, you can do so here, with the code 9HK4J57J.

Thoughts & Questions After Reading John Brandon’s “A Million Heavens”

Not long ago, I read John Brandon’s novel A Million Heavens and later wrote a short review of it. Brandon’s novel is a sprawling, complex work; there’s less of an overarching plot than a series of intertwined subplots that eventually reach a satisfying point of convergence. Writing said short review wasn’t easy: this is not a book that lends itself well to neat summaries. I could probably have written two thousand words on it without losing stride; it’s a book that occasionally recalls some of Robert Altman’s more sprawling efforts, and its conclusion serves as a neat payoff for its numerous winding threads.

And yet, reading it, I did find myself with a couple of questions that I didn’t have space to bring up in the review. Ergo…

  • A now-dissolved cult band figures heavily into the structure of the book; one former member of the band spends the novel in the afterlife, while his former bandmates feud over their musical legacy. At times, they seem to tap into a sort of contemporary suburban angst; at others, they seem so strange and iconic that easy descriptions don’t seem to fit. Arcade Fire meets Sun City Girls, maybe?
  • There are references to home cassette recordings made in the novel, though the book’s setting is contemporary. I don’t know many home recordings these days that aren’t done on computers — is this meant to be a sign of one character’s economic straits? Is it a mark of stylization?
  • There’s a reference to “Nevers” in the book — is Brandon making a reference to the film Hiroshima Mon Amour, where a Nevers reference is prominent?

Bringing the “Homeric Detail” at Manhattan Inn

Sign denoting the writers’ table.

Last week, I read at Manhattan Inn with Karolina Waclawiak and James Yeh. The event was the first installment of Hearken, a new series started by John McElwee. It was a pleasure taking part in this event alongside Karolina and James, as both are remarkably nice folks whose work I also enjoy reading. And delivering one’s work in the round made for an interesting and unique experience.

And now, Kai Tammoh at Electric Literature‘s fine blog The Outlet has posted a recap. For the record, I will gladly accept the adjective “Homeric.”

“Hair Lit” Now Has A Cover

Possibly of note: Hair Lit, the anthology of hair-metal-inspired fiction in which I have a story, now has cover artwork. And there’s a lot of neon there.

The list of writers is pretty fantastic, and it’s an honor to be a part of it. More details to come on when it’ll be out in the world and available to be ordered; hopefully, there will be a New York City release party, and I’ll have details on that as they emerge as well.

 

Reading at the Manhattan Inn

Possibly of note: I’m reading later tonight at the Manhattan Inn, at 632 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. Also on the bill are Karolina Waclawiak (whose novel How To Get Into the Twin Palms is quite good) and James Yeh (who edits Gigantic and is a fine writer to boot). Doors, so to speak, are at 7. No word yet if the venue’s piano will be in use. Perhaps I will bring some sort of atonal improvisational playing to the work I’ll be reading. (I won’t.)

“Sasquatch!”

In the end, it wasn’t being mistaken for a Sasquatch that got me to quit drinking. Most people get that part wrong. Admittedly, if I’d known everything would go to shit that soon afterwards, I never would have taken off my shirt. But moshing on the rooftop had seemed like a genius idea, and it was a July in New York; I’m not particularly small, and anything I can do to minimize my own sweat is the best possible idea at that moment. And so I took off, a one-man circle pit, tracing my own circumference and never fearing dizziness or a stumble that might drop me to the sidewalk five stories below.

That’s from a new story of mine, titled “New Evidence of the Kings County Sasquatch,” that the fine people at The Fanzine have just published. I originally read it at at Storychord event at Housing Works. I’m hoping to do a bit more with this narrator — I have a couple of other stories in mind that will involve him.

I also like the idea of writing a character who, from this point on, won’t be drinking — an editor who turned an earlier story of mine down commented that my characters spent a lot of time in bars. I took that as a challenge, in the best way possible — or maybe not a challenge as much as someone pointing out a device I was using a little too frequently. We’ll see where this ends up, but if you notice future stories featuring an unnamed narrator with an aversion to booze and references to cryptids…

(This post’s title, for what it’s worth, is borrowed from Malcolm Ingram’s Drawing Flies, a film in which Jason Lee leads a group of unemployed Vancouver residents into the woods in search of Bigfoot.)

Art Reading & Mid-90s Flashbacks

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I’ve just started Calvin Tomkins’s Lives of the Artists, which opens with a profile of Damieb Hirst. Reading it, I was amused to find that I had apparently attended Hirst’s first solo show in New York. (I realized the artist was Hirst a few years later; I hadn’t realized the significance, though.) This wasn’t, mind you, because I knew anything about art. No; this was because a friend was working next door to the gallery at the time (1996, to be exact), and told me, “You have to check this out! There’s a cow chopped in half–it’s fucked up.” Out of such things is an appreciation of contemporary art born, apparently.

Awakening.

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Every once in a while, this blog dozes off for a spell. Especially with Vol.1 around, as I end up being able to transmit a lot of my weird pop-culture theorizing over there. Still, I like having this site around, and for reasons outside the simple “it gives me somewhere to link things I’ve written.” I’m getting a pretty good idea of what I’d like to do with this, but that first big post (which may well get ranty; I know not, as of yet) requires a bit more time to get right. So for now: a photograph of caffeine. More soon.

Upcoming Readings: I Have Three Of Them

In the next month and change, I’ll be taking part in three readings.

On Tuesday, April 10th, I’ll be at Public Assembly as part of Vol.1’s Greatest 3-Minute Punk Stories event, talking about the time I went into the studio with my friend’s powerviolence band to record backing vocals for them. (Spoiler: hilarity, as well as an audio clip that’s become several friends’ ringtone, ensued.)

On Monday, April 30th, I’ll be reading at Housing Works to help celebrate Storychord’s fiftieth issue. It’s likely that I’ll be reading a short piece about cryptids. Fun fact: also on the bill that night will be Chad Matheny, who was in the studio the next time I contributed backing vocals to an album. (This was much more successful.)

And on Friday, May 18th, I’ll be at Book Thug Nation along with Michael T. Fournier (author of the novel Hidden Wheel and the 33 1/3 on Double Nickels on the Dime), Mike Faloon (editor of the terrific zine Go Metric and author 0f The Hanging Gardens of Split Rock), and Michael DeCapite. I will do my best to represent all writers whose names are not some variation on “Michael.”

Some Thoughts On The Spinanes

[So: I'm on a listserve for contributors to Dusted, and we've been taking turns posting things about artists we're fond of. This was my contribution, which I figured I'd post here.]

Eventually, I’ll talk your ear off about The Spinanes. For the most part, when I say TheSpinanes, I’m talking about the original lineup: Rebecca Gates on vocals and guitar, Scott Plouf on drums. (The albums Manos and Strand; the singles collected on the EP The Imp Years.) But really, I’m also fine with talking about the version of the band that recorded the last full-length made under that name, Arches and Aisles — essentially, Gates and a host of Chicago post-rock types, several of whom would also show up on her sole solo effort to date,Ruby Series. (There’s also a 7″ of Rolling Stones covers that’s utterly fantastic; if memory serves, Ted Leo was a touring Spinane for a little while,. though I never got to see that lineup.) But — I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went to a show at the Westbeth Theater Center in 1996, where The Spinanes played on a bill with Versus and Elliott Smith. I’d heard some good things about them from friends. I was in my second semester of college then, and was probably at my most musically intolerable: lots of straight-edge hardcore*, lots of crappy alt-rock. I cite the show as life-changing even though I don’t remember much about the bands that played — I think Smith was the artist on that bill that was the most musically striking to me. It did lead me to pick up Strand a day or two later, though, and…

…I can’t quite explain just what it is that makes me love this album. The Gates/Plouf duo sounds tight and fantastic; Gates’s lyrics are smart and blistering and delivered amazingly. It’s the sort of album that sounds fresh to me whenever I hear it: some new facet of an arrangement makes itself apparent; some new hook arises; some new lyric strikes me as amazing. I’m not sure exactly where I’d place it, but it’s a relatively constant presence on personal top 5 lists, something I can’t say for most records.

(Manos? Also terrific. Arches & Aisles? Totally worth it. Imp Years? Has “Hawaiian Baby,” for God’s sake.)

Gates has a new album due out in May on 12XU. Am I stupidly excited to hear it? Yes I am.

Also, one of these days, I’m going to post my circa-’98 interview with Gates (done for a piece for my college paper, and for my zine**). I did get to chat with her about a year ago, and saw her at Europa last summer. Still highly, highly recommended.

*-i.e. to the point where musical talent ran second to how straight-edge you were. Remember the ’88 revival? I do! Oh, do I ever.
**-profile ran in the paper; full interview ran in the zine.

Porcelain Raft, Best Music Writing, Sara Levine, and more

Many things to report over here, including what looks to be a successful Kickstarter campaign for the 2012 edition of Best Music Writing. But many other things are in progress (including this reading, which all of you should check out), and so instead I’ll leave you with a link to this Porcelain Raft interview that I did for The L Magazine today. (Because the new Porcelain Raft album is, in fact, quite good. Hey, here’s a video from it.)

Unless You Speak From Your Heart from Porcelain Raft on Vimeo.

 

On Poor Moon

Many years ago, I ended up directing a video for a Seattle band called Crystal Skulls. (If you’re not familiar with the band in question and your tastes in music run towards pop with smart, occasionally biting lyrics, you could do far worse than checking out one of their two albums.) It was an interesting experience: it ended up falling into the category of videos that didn’t feature the band at all, and there were a couple of aspects of planning for the shoot that…well, let’s just say that I learned a couple of things for the next time I undertake such a project.

Where I’m going with this (hey, look: me digressing. Imagine that) is that singer/guitarist Christian Wargo now has a new band, Poor Moon; they have an EP coming out on Sub Pop in March. Admittedly, the guy’s been keeping busy: he’s also a member of an obscure folk-rock outfit called Fleet Foxes. But as a fan of his work as a songwriter, I’m glad to hear that this group exists. The MP3 that Sub Pop has up now? Also pretty catchy.