Monday, January 07, 2013

What’s Vince Been Reading/Watching/Listening To Lately?

I’m stuck.  Can’t think of the next sentence for something more important than this blog, so I’m turning to this blog and turning it on random, sort of.  I will now comment a bit on the three most important duties of my between semester break, aside from growing facial hair and being a good husband: reading books, watching movies, and listening to music.  


I read about 140 pages of Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair yesterday, which puts me at around page 440.  Not much left in the book, but who knows what else will happen in this increasingly fun literary clusterfuck.  Thank god I don’t have to review the book, as I would be hard pressed to say much more than this:

The book is a challenge, albeit a good one; it is a book that I admire more than I enjoy.  That does not mean it is a bad book—far from it!  It is a grand achievement, one that ought to be read by anyone interested in novels and their potential.  Aside from Shishkin being Russian, an obvious comparison to Dostoevsky comes with the polyphonic structure of his book.  And it is polyphonic as fuck.  The action centers on an interpreter but only inasmuch as the other stories in the book flow through him.  Before long, the separate narrations infect each other making it the reader’s job to sort them out.  Maidenhair is a book that confronts readers, making them re-learn the art of reading.  And this was how I spent my Christmas vacation.


The one movie I was most excited to see in 2012 was Looper.   Of course, I didn’t see it until 2013.  Why?  Busy schedule, mostly, though it wasn't playing near me and I find it difficult to go to a movie theater that isn’t my local little cinema house with its discount ticket prices and fairly stocked bar.  Oddly enough, I saw a lot of movies in 2012, though most of them were shit or something very close to it (best example: fucking Dark Knight Rises).  Thankfully, Looper was released to DVD recently.  And thankfully I got to see the thing.  And thankfully it wasn't shit. 

A bit of a back story, why not?:  I do not love science fiction.  I did as a kid (Star Wars being my meat), but I got tired of it due to so much of it sucking.  Maybe I should say that so much of it sucks these days.  The best sci-fi, from what I can tell, has been done, although I hear great things about the new Dr. Who show that I can’t get myself to watch.  If I had to choose a favorite sci-fi movie it might be 2001: A Space Odyssey only for the sheer audacity of the thing.  Or maybe the 2nd version of The Thing, though I think that’s more of a horror film.  (Okay, I also love They Live… maybe I like sci-fi more than I thought.)

If you are interested in the discussion, Popular Mechanics has released their top 100 sci-fi movie list.  Go here to read and then go post your ire on Facebook.

So (getting back on track), I saw Looper the other day (finally).  Now, I don’t know that it is my favorite sci-fi movie, but it surely is the best one I have seen in forever.  Sci-fi fans will surely quibble with me over whether or not it is truly sci-fi or neo-noir or what have you, but it has time travel, takes place in the future, and has some floating cars and motorcycles, thus it is science fucking fiction.  And it is incredible!

What else did I expect from Rian Johnson, director of Brick, my favorite cult film of the 21st century.  I also liked The Brothers Bloom, though Cassandra hated it, and liked both episodes of Breaking Bad that he directed.  So, his track record is pretty great.  Looper only secures it.

I’m sure you’ve seen the clips or read about it or, hell, maybe have even seen the thing yourself, so you don’t need me to go into the plot.  Suffice it to say, the movie works on many levels and is thrilling, beautiful, tense, and fun.  The story was so compelling that I stopped caring about the logistics of time travel and never really questioned things the way I did in every other time travel film I've seen.  I’m glad Joseph Gordon-Levitt was able to cash a fat Batman check and make a better movie with Mr. Johnson, one that didn’t display its flaws so obviously.

Listening To:

Lately I’ve been digging Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s 2004 record, Of Natural History.  I usually bring out their third and last disc, In Glorious Times when I want to get all avant-rock, as that CD is, probably, their finest effort all around.  The middle record, Of Natural History, always struck me as too weird, even for me. 


The CD is amazing.  A fresh listen was all it took.  I can’t get this recording off my laptop, out of my car stereo, or out of my head.  (Still don’t have an iPod.) 

Without breaking down the thing song by song, I’ll comment instead on two elements: the package and one piece of content.

The package:

You see, one of the reasons I feel it is important to actually own CDs (or LPs for that matter) and one of the reason I have long resisted the conversion to digital downloads is the packaging.  I have always appreciated it when bands pack their record full of notes, essays, arguments, art, shout-outs, and anecdotes.  No one has done a better job than Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (maybe the Secret Chiefs 3).  The notes for Of Natural History are bizarre and stunning, mostly in the side-by-side placement of fourteen quotes by the Italian Futurists with fourteen counterpoints by the Unabomber, creating a conversation between two anti-humanist voices of the 20th century.  The era opened with an art collective that praised war, despised the past, and advocated for speed, innovation, and constant progress and ended with an individual who killed in opposition to the a society out of balance with technological intoxication.  Sleepytime Gorilla Museum takes these voices and makes them focal points in their compositions, the album thus becoming a collection of songs that detail the plague of mankind and the manner in which humanity may cease to exist, for better or worse. 

Not to say that these wacky Oakland based musicians believe in this shit.  No, despite the rumor that the band is really an apocalypse cult, there’s nothing to fear from them.  At least I don’t think so. 

Well, let’s look at one piece of content:

The song that is most obsessing me at this moment is called “FC: The Freedom Club”.  Now, if you know your Ted Kaczynski lore you’ll recognize this immediately as a song about the Unabomber.  Kaczynski, in his manifesto and otherwise, referred to his organization as FC, later revealed as the Freedom Club, though it seems that it was a club of one.  Perhaps Kaczynski was trying to throw off the FBI by making them think the bombs were coming from all over the country (planet?), or maybe he was delusional (I doubt it).  Either way, the song is a sort of plea to the other members, real or imaged, to rise up and live the "impossible dream of a math professor” turned “hermit in the woods” who sent "wooden boxes lovingly made by hand filled up with fire."   

Taken out of context, the song is offensive.  Alongside the other songs, which feature quotes from or inspired by the Futurists, and when examining the liner notes, the song makes sense.  It is one part of a sort of play, a musical, if you will (and we all know how popular musicals are these days, right Les Mis fans!).  The play, in this case, is about the advancement of society and the end of humanity.  Far more interesting, if you ask me, than Mamma Mia! 

One last note on the song:

It is pretty rockin’ (listen for yourself).  One might call it metal.  Propulsive guitar and percussion, alongside violin and "metal" vocals, make it pretty intense, but what strikes me now is how very different it is from most of the metal I grew up on.  Whereas some metal bands still focus on satanic images or delve into Norse mythology, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is singing about (and even quoting!) a man who actually killed people.  Reading the lyrics and listening to the music, I find myself kind of scared.  I shiver.  It’s pretty intense.  Jesus, what a fucked up world.  Mankind is a plague…

Anyway, on a lighter note, I managed to write something today!  Thank you for your time.