Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jackson Meets His #1 Hero

After my little bike ride today, I met up with Rachel and Jackson down on the Mall at the National Book Festival. This annual event always brings in outstanding guest authors, and this year was no exception.

But none of the New York Times best-sellers could compete with Elmo. Jackson is at that age where he is completely obsessed with the arguably annoying red monster from Sesame Street. There is something genius about Elmo, which I never realized until I had a kid. Jackson will often say, "Elmo Elmo Elmo" in a cult-follower-like fashion.

Today, he met the real Elmo, being played by Kevin Clash, who plays him on the Street, and watched him sing several classic tunes.

I missed this portion of the afternoon, but got there in time to see Jackson meet some of his other favorites, including Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog (pictured).

Tonight, Jackson was kind of sad before bedtime because he remembered Elmo leaving. Rachel had told him he left with his "dad" (Kevin Clash) because he had to be on TV tomorrow. Jackson kept saying, "Daddy Elmo" to her.

It was also great to see a reading by Mo Willems. His "pigeon" books, like Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, are some of my favorites.

Celebrity Sighting Edition: Big Love's Bill Paxton

For some reason, I really know nothing about Bill Paxton. But he's the star of HBO's Big Love, the hit series about Mormon polygamy. It looks like an interesting show. I guess he's one of those people whose face you know more than his name. After all, he's been in tons of great movies, like Stripes, Apollo 13, Weird Science, Club Dread, and Titanic.

While not as thrilling as my recent sighting of Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson, it was still fun to see Paxton and the Big love crew filming today outside the White House among the hunger strikers and other straggling protesters. It was a nice little break in the middle of my 50 state streets ride throughout D.C.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How Did I (Almost) Visit 50 States In One Day?!!

I didn't do anything as amazing as this video today, but I did ride in the D.C. WABA 50-states bike trek. Only made it through 36 of the 65 miles because I was with a slowish but fun crew (pictured left). We hit exactly half of the state streets, meaning 25 (see the route map below).

Highlights included when Lindsey steered us to almost missing the very first state street (California), spotting the House of Scientology on 19th Street NW, enjoying the city's many smells, and debating whether we were witnessing a drug deal or prostitution near New York Avenue and 4th Street NW. Luckily, we missed another turn and, as we rode back by the quarreling man and woman, the crack pipe they were smoking settled our argument!

We also got to see St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Anacostia, where infamous Ronald Reagan assassin John Hinckley has been held for nearly 30 years.

Speaking of Anacostia, I don't get over to this Southeastern portion of D.C. much, but it perhaps gets an unfair reputation. Sure, there are plenty of murders and crime is rampant, but there really are some lovely neighborhoods and parks and some friendly people. It was great to bike there for the first time (other than past rides in and around Anacostia Park) and really absorb the atmosphere.

Urban biking, to me, is the second best type to mountain riding. I can't wait for another ride following my cue sheet for the 25 states we missed out on, and also the 13 colony-street ride. Then I need to do the ride I thought of many years ago: riding to all of D.C.'s many fascinating statues and monuments.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pop Culture Lunch Box Featured Today in USA Today's Pop Candy Blog

Very exciting news today for Pop Culture Lunch Box!

Pop-culture guru journalist Whitney Matheson just published a post featuring yours truly. What are my favorite movies, Web sites, books, etc.

Check it out here. Thanks, Whitney.

And to answer your question: Yes, of course Rachel and I have our tickets for Pavement in Central Park on September 21, 2010!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rockin' in Love at the Theme Park Adventureland

Adventureland is one of the top indie comedies I've seen recently. It's directed in the Wet Hot American Summer style by the same person who directed Superbad and scores especially high marks from me for its tremendous soundtrack. The Cure, Lou Reed, and The Replacements are each used strongly, as are Whitesnake and Judas Priest.

While SNL stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig surprisingly have the weakest and least funny roles, Jesse Eisenberg (who was excellent in The Squid and the Whale) and Kristen Stewart are "cool and cute" as a couple with adolescent troubles at a theme park in 1987. Ryan Reynolds is also good as the bad-boy mechanic at the park who uses stories about once playing music with Lou Reed as a way to seduce a new crop of girls each summer.

And of all the Pittsburgh-based movies I've seen recently (for some reason), this one makes by far the best use of a Steelers' reference when a guy wearing a Jack Lambert jersey plays a game in the background.

**** out of ***** stars

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Still Seeking Good Opinions on Why We Don't Like Our Government Anymore

So what does David Frum, a neocon who lets terrorists like the American Enterprise Institute and Bill Kristol (who once left a message for me on my dad's answering machine when I was writing a newspaper article about him) help edit his book, have to say about the cultural significance of a decade?

Other than a wonky title (How We Got Here: The 70s: The Decade That Brought You Modern Life -- For Better or Worse), the former economic speechwriter for George W. Bush finds that, no matter how good Americans have it, they still feel "less content, less secure, less proud of their country than they did 40 years ago, when Jim Crow still ruled the South, Soviet bombers were aimed at Manhattan, a heart attack meant certain death, and $20,000 a year was a handsome wage."

In 1972, Senator Edwin Muskie destroyed his hopes by crying on the stump after an editorial attack against his wife. "Today, those tears would float Muskie into the White House." He claims that the typical American male has mutated from what Tom Hanks looked like as a soldier in Saving Private Ryan to what that movie's director, Steven Spielberg, looks like in his wimpy t-shirt and ball cap. And this is a bad thing? I suppose Frum wishes about 100 percent of us could be off at war right now "manning up."

Frum says this "mutation" really happened in the 1970s. Despite public perceptions of the era, most people in the late 1960s had short hair and were not promiscuous. This happened in the 70s: "a time of unease and despair. The murder of athletes at the 1972 Olympic games. Desert emirates cutting off America's oil. Military humiliation in Indochina. Criminals taking control of America's streets. Marriages collapsing. Drugs for sale in every high school ..."

This created, Frum uncontroversially argues, "the most total social transformation the United States has lived through since the coming of industrialism." The country became "more dynamic, more competitive, more tolerant; less deferential, less self-confident, less united; more socially equal, less economically equal; more expressive, more risk-averse, more sexual; less literate, less polite, less reticent."

Frum starts digging into the details of his thesis by examining the shift from when, in 1958, "57 percent of Americans trusted the government in Washington to do the 'right thing' most of the time." Indeed, how far we've come. All the way to teabagging for change.

These shifts are surely interesting areas to examine, but I'm guessing from the slow start to this snoozer that Frum and his crew are not the right people to shed any intellectual light. Oh, how I miss my smart Georgetown political science professors.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gearing Up for My SE Asia Trip

OK, I'm leaving in a few weeks with the family for Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. I'll post lots of photos and stories during that time, especially since I just downloaded this fancy iPhone app that allows me to blog on the go without lugging around a laptop. (It's called Blog Post.) The tough part will be avoiding the dreaded iPhone typos. Will have to zealously edit and double-edit myself.

Anyway, I'm looking for good suggestions of books to read about those three countries. The Beach, a movie I especially liked, has already been recommended by a couple of people. Let me know what else I should read to prepare for the trip. I'm particularly interested in historical fiction.

My judgement has not been good so far (other than Lonely Planet and Fodor's). I just read the first few chapters of A Broad Abroad in Thailand by Dodie Cross. She is a bitter and cynical woman who gets married to her hippie, pony-tailed boyfriend in order to spend two years with him when his job reassigns him from the U.S. to Thailand. She later discovers that he's a sex addict who gets moody if she doesn't have sex with him at least once a day. She then leaves him and goes on to complain about how awful the country is, as she hauls around her 10 or so designer suitcases.

I'm pretty sure my travel posts won't be nearly as negative, hateful, or poorly written as this book. At least I hope not.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Raspberries Could Never "Go All the Way"

John Lennon, Keith Moon, and Kurt Cobain were all big fans. But why did The Raspberries never sustain a big career? And how have they still not really gotten their due as forefathers of Big Star, Wings, Superchunk, and Promise Ring-like power pop?

That is the question veteran rock journalist Greg Prato attempts to answer in his essay on the band, which appears in his new anthology of articles, called No Schlock ... Just Rock!, that have appeared throughout the years in fan mags like Classic Rock, Guitarist, and Record Collector.

"Few songs from the early 70s summarized the 'power pop' style as splendidly as 'Go All the Way.' Three-and-a-half minutes of pure pop bliss, the song merged the best bits of early Beatles and The Who," Prato writes.

He goes on to list all the possible reasons for the lack of interest in the band behind that truly great tune, including:

-- The song and title itself were "too dirty."

-- The band was from the nowhereland (at least in sunny power pop terms) of Cleveland.

-- Well-crafted pop songs were leaving the radio during this period in favor of the "self-indulgent stuff" like Traffic and Cream.

-- The song was too much of a "concept," starting like The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," hitting the verse like The Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby" with Paul McCartney on vocals, sounding like The Left Banke on the chorus, and ending again with The Who.

-- The follow-up album's cover photo featured the boys taking bad advice from management by dressing in matching white suits straight out of Saturday Night Fever.

-- Speaking of managers, "the group was handled by a revolving door of shady" ones.

-- Capitol Records organized a series of interviews for the band, and one was for 16 Magazine, which positioned them as teeny-boppers, an unsavory predicament to all of their 17-and-older fans whose little sisters now liked them so much.

The Raspberries split in 1975, but much of their music is well preserved on the excellent greatest hits collections. "Go All the Way" also appeared in the rock movie Almost Famous.

Prato's a good journalist. In each essay, he asks one probing question and tries to dig into it, rather than attempting to cover each subject's career trajectory. I'm looking forward to enjoying his essays on Rush, Cheap Trick, Steely Dan, Ratt, The Beatles, Kiss, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Meat Puppets, Bad Brains, The Cars, Mudhoney, Radio Birdman, Sonic Youth, and dozens others, along with his full-length T. Rex biography.

Flaming Lips: Day 3 at Pitchfork Music Festival

The final day at Chicago's Pitchfork music fest this year appeared to be all about the carnivalesque magic of The Flaming Lips. While I (somewhat controversially) think their best music is far behind them, their live show continues to be among the best in the biz.

Thanks again for my friend Francis Chung offering up his professional rock photogs to my blog. His work, including these pictures, are regularly featured at Pitchfork's authoritative indie-rock Web site. Also see my posts about his work at the festival on Day 1 and Day 2.

Now, to get you really talking, here is my ranking of The Flaming Lips' official releases. As you can see, I'm a big fan of their mid-period, psych-pop stuff, and I would add that the top 5 here are must-own classics. The rest are more for the die-hards:

12. Christmas on Mars, 2008
11. Telepathic Surgery, 1989
10. Zaireeka, 1997
09. At War With the Mystics, 2006
08. In a Priest Driven Ambulance, 1990
07. Hear It Is, 1986
06. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002
05. The Soft Bulletin, 1999
04. Clouds Taste Metallic, 1995
03. Oh My Gawd!!!, 1987
02. Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, 1993
01. Hit To Death on the Future Head, 1992

Where will the soon-to-be-released Embryonic fall in the list? And how would you rank the Lips's albums?

Monday, September 14, 2009

John Lennon's Mysteriousness Stemmed from Family Relations

This is the eighth installment in a series about a book I'm reading called Stories Done, which is a great collection of tales of excess from counter-culture leaders.

Plenty has been speculated about why John Lennon was the way he was. And the author of this book, Mikal Gilmore (pictured below), who gained fame (or infamy) this past month with his cover story in Rolling Stone about the ugly breakup of The Beatles, adds to the mystery with this essay.

John's father was absent at sea most of the time, liked to drink, and never really had much of a relationship with his son. His mother, who died while walking down the street in 1958 from being hit by a car driven by a drunk off-duty policemen, was impulsive and rebellious.

Alfred Lennon told John, age 5, to choose between his mother and father when the two were divorcing. At first he chose Alfred but switched to Julia when he saw how much pain she was in because of his decision. "The truth is, Lennon had inherited more of his mother's spirit than he understood. He lived intensely in the moment ... but when those moments had passed, he liked to move on."

Gilmore's thesis is that Lennon wanted to move on through most of the last years of The Beatles. When he met Yoko Ono, it inspired "a new adventurism" for Lennon, who once admitted he used Yoko to gain the strength to realize "there is another side to life."

Lennon's bed-ins and lie-ins for peace were intended to try and "change his own heart as much as anybody else's." He added, "It's the most violent people who go for peace. But I sincerely believe in love and peace. I'm a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence." I take this to mean that a lot of the global pop overthrow created by The Beatles was in fact violent mass manipulation and caused many negative side effects, in Lennon's mind, along with all the positive effects their music had on society.

After a series of personal battles to stay in his adopted New York City throughout the 1970s, including efforts by the Southern racist Senator Strom Thurmond to deport Lennon before he could publicly protest Nixon's reelection efforts, he had Sean Lennon and settled down to a whole different kind of life. John always attempted to be the father to Sean that he lacked growing up and that he wasn't to his first child Julian during The Beatles' heyday. The result was two great and very domestic and utopian albums at the close of his life, Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bernie Madoff's Inferior Intellect and Other Financial-World Gossip

To the many people like Steven Spielberg and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel whom Bernie Madoff made rich, they looked at him with awe. Nearly 5,000 clients lost money in the crook's dirty investment scheme, and many are now penniless and even homeless. Some have committed suicide.

The story is dramatically told by former New York Daily News city hall reporter Andrew Kirtzman in the new biography, Betrayal: The Life and Lies of Bernie Madoff. I don't feel a need to read the entire thing, but there are lots of interesting tidbits in the opening pages.

-- "In his telling, Madoff was a good man who got into trouble late in his career and couldn't get out of it. [But] the facts point to his launching his criminal operation when he was in his twenties."

-- "Madoff bore scars that few knew about. His parents ran afoul of the law with a shadowy stock trading operation run out of the Madoff home."

-- "Time and again as a kid, he was spurned and humiliated for what was perceived to be his inferior intellect."

It seems the stories about Madoff won't end with this book. The financial pages continue to be a great source for almost laughable tales of his monumental fall, including the troubled auctioning of his "cheesy" house in Florida, his wife Ruth's degree of guilt and attempts to hold on to some of her fancy possessions, and Bernie's Native American sweat-lodge sojourns in the penitentiary.

Fascinating and sad.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Am I An Indie Hipster Because I Shop at Trader Joe's With My Toddler?

There's one chapter I'm interested in reading in the new pop-culture textbook entitled Slanted and Enchanted, by University of California Berkeley writing instructor Kaya Oakes. It's called "Brighten the Corners: The Reinvention of Indie Rock." (All the Pavement references! This book has to be great, right?)

Well, not so fast. I have a feeling one chapter might be all I could take (after reading the first couple of dozen pages or so). I am interested to see what Oakes discovers in her quest to define the term and cultural phenomenon that is "indie." This is clearly a word that many-a-hipster overuses. And why do I, not a hipster but more like a crunchy pop-culture geek, insist on classifying such bands as Pavement, Yo La Tengo, The Wedding Present, and Spoon under the "indie" genre in my iTunes library?

Of course, in Oakes' somewhat underwhelming thesis, I might qualify as a hipster. She writes, "[Hipsters] have been sold indie not as a philosophy but as a genre." But then again, her findings routinely seem obvious. Technology has made the line between indie and mainstream mostly nonexistent. The new world of blogging and online journals, with no outside interference or even an editor, is totally DIY (do-it-yourself) and so that entire world is "indie."

Now, she claims, you don't have to be the skinning-pants-wearing scruff down at the seedy rock club to be indie. You can be the daddy pushing the stroller to the local Trader Joe's to qualify. Perhaps the obviousness throughout this read is unavoidable. If that's the case, then Oakes seems to have done a valiant job. Then again, perhaps that means the book could have been an article in The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, or Spin.

Despite this book potentially turning me off, I remain intrigued by the indie concept. It will be interesting to see if any other authors attempt to tackle the subject in the future.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ethan Canin: My Favorite Contemporary Fiction Writer

As I write my novel (two chapters down, dozens more to go), I really appreciate Ethan Canin. I've sopped up his books the moment they are released for many years now.

But I haven't just read them. I've studied his style because it's so close to the way I want to tell my own fictional stories. His books are worth thousands of dollars to me. Canin is a professor at the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, so I look at his books as master classes in the art of storytelling.

Canin is especially talented at characterization, which I view as the top element in fiction writing. If you don't have characters the reader cares about, why should they bother?

His 1999 For Kings and Planets is perhaps my favorite book of the past 20 years and especially hit home for me at that time as I was moving from St. Louis to Washington D.C. to attend graduate school at Georgetown. Kind of like me, Orno Tarcher is a Missouri farm boy whose life story is told in parallel with that of Marshall Emerson, his roommate at Columbia and a bratty rich genius.

America America is Canin's latest classic. Again it wraps several characters into a decades-long gripper about politics (Senator Bonwiller has many similar traits to the recently deceased Senator Ted Kennedy), media (Corey Sifter, the main character, goes from being a fairly uneducated hired farmhand for the Bonwiller campaign to the publisher of a newspaper), and love (some of which goes terribly wrong and some that goes right).

Canin moves the story around in time between Corey's high school years, college years, and grown-up years. It works more effectively than telling the story chronologically. But, above all, this is a thinking person's book. Each short chapter is like a painting, and I found myself daydreaming about the story at the conclusion of each chapter. Then I would scribble notes as if I were in Canin's creative-writing course. I would think that's a recommendation any author could appreciate.

America America: ***** out of ***** stars
For Kings and Planets: ***** out of ***** stars

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mountain Biking in Patapsco Valley State Park

Rachel and I didn't just watch movies this Labor Day weekend. We did some adventurous mountain biking in Patapsco, which is billed as "one of Maryland's first state parks (1907)" and is located just south of BWI airport.

Rachel didn't wipe out at all. But me? Much like our last mountain-biking expedition, I had one solid wipeout. Hit a tree with my left arm (only minor scrapes to show for it) on a downhill and flew over my handlebars. Luckily, my ride didn't land on me and was halted by another tree, which kept it from going down a steep hill or, uh, mountain.

Not really the smartest sport for me to be doing, but it is amazing fun and should be tried by more Americans (I'm always amazed at both the sense of freedom and the lack of riders on the trails).

Turtle Time

I had never seen anything like this before. My son's daycare teacher (who happens to be his cousin ... long story) has turtles, and apparently they do this sometimes for 12 hours at a time. These two are believed to both be of the male species.

A Staycation Chick-Flick-A-Thon

With lots of travel coming up for the rest of 2009, it was nice to stay home this three-day Labor Day weekend and catch up on some movies. All three were, incidentally, chick flicks.

Well, I suppose I Love You, Man wasn't exactly a chick flick, although it was essentially that, with dudes in the usual chick roles. Paul Rudd, as I've mentioned here before, is always lovable. And Forgetting Sarah Marshall's Jason Segel as Rudd's cool manfriend is funny. Rashida Jones is not real exciting as Rudd's fiancee. The supporting and cameo roles are filled out nicely by a large group, most notably by Rush (the prog-rocking band), Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk), and Jon Favreau. Could be funnier, but there are enough laughs along the way. *** out of ***** stars

Zooey Deschanel is a little too hipster-conscious and it sort of ruins being able to care much about her character in 500 Days of Summer. But 3rd Rock From the Sun's Joseph Gordon-Levitt has dimples that won over everyone in the American Film Institute's theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. He plays an aspiring architect stuck at an L.A. greeting-card company, where the only redeeming quality is that beautiful Summer (Deschanel) starts working there. The movie hops back and forth through the 500 days of their love affair. It has a great soundtrack, use of well-placed indie rock references, and the best dance sequence ever anchored by Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams." ***1/2 out of ***** stars

And finally, one of the most check-flicky movies I've ever seen was actually not too bad. Queen Latifah plays the head of a South Carolina civil-rights era beekeeping household in The Secret Life of Bees. She's good, and so are the other women (including singers Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson) who take in a 14-year-old (Dakota Fanning) escaping from an abusive single father. And 90210's Tristan Wilds also does a good job as Fanning's boyfriend. A pretty nice time-period piece on a time that was anything bit nice. *** out of ***** stars

Friday, September 4, 2009

Music Reviews in 3 Words or Less: Vol. 9

The Little Ones-Morning Tide (2008)
SunnyPop's current kings
Touchstones: Irving meets The New Pornographers
****1/2 out of ***** stars

Jason Lytle-Yours Truly, The Cummuter (2009)
Grandaddy leader mellows
Touchstones: Flaming Lips meets Davis Bowie
**** out of ***** stars

Covers from all-over-the-map
Touchstones: Butthole Surfers meets Christina Aguilera
**** out of ***** stars

Joe Pernice-It Feels So Good When I Stop (2009)
Teenage Fanclub Esque (Ed.'s note: Like lots of stuff these days, thankfully.)
Touchstones: Merle Haggard meets The Smiths
**** out of ***** stars

Jonas Brothers-A Little Bit Longer (2008)
Prediction: Strong future
Touchstones: Hanson meets Foo Fighters
***1/2 out of ***** stars

Julian Cope-Peggy Suicide (1991)
Sometimes-plodding commentary
Touchstones: Teardrop Explodes meets The Doors
*** out of ***** stars

Kurt Vile-Constant Hitmaker (2009)
Overrated lo-fi Philadelphian
Touchstones: The Church meets The Sleepy Jackson
** out of ***** stars

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pork Rinds, Pintos, and Other Revolutions of the 1970s

As research for my novel-meets-real-life book, I've been reading political writer Bruce Schulman's The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society and Politics, which "attempts a rich, evocative portrait of the U.S." in that decade.

He writes: "Most Americans regard the Seventies as an eminently forgettable decade -- an era of bad clothes, bad hair, and bad music impossible to take seriously. It was a Pinto of a decade, referring to Ford's mysteriously exploding compact car. It calls forth a rootless youth culture wavering between the political commitments of the 1960s and the career ambitions of the 1980s.

"This impression could hardly be more wrong." Schulman counterintuitively finds the Seventies transformed morals and manners more than the 1920s and 1960s and politics more than the 1930s. And don't get him started on the revolutions in race relations, religion, family life, and pop culture.

The booming economy and burgeoning population of the once outcast South and Southwest regions is one example he uses to highlight the changes in the 1970s. And it's true that the "Sunbelt" has sent the winning candidate to the White House in every election after 1964 (at least until Illinois' Obama won last year).

Throughout the country, there was "a southernization of American life, a swing over to the simple, the clean, to the healthy" with many people embracing country music and southern rock, cowboy boots, pork rinds, Pentecoastal churches, and Confederate flags.

With hair, "even those who had never been hippies, or never even liked hippies, displayed a willingness to let it all hang out." There were now religious pilgrimages, secular communes, senior citizen centers, ethnic organizations, neighborhood associations, and mall-walking societies, all filed under "a quest for personal fulfillment within a small community."

Schulman interestingly claims "one, small historically insignificant event in the fall of 1968 signaled the end of the optimistic, liberal 1960s." This was when Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Socrates Onassis, which "signaled the end of Camelot. The shining knight had died, and now the swarthy villain carried off his noble lady. The dream of the 1960s had died. The stormy, uncertain 1970s had begun."

The last days of the Sixties "signaled the end of the post-World War II era, with its baby boom and economic boom, its anticommunist hysteria and expansive government, and the beginning of an age [in which] the experiences of the postwar generation would offer little guidance." In the 1970s, problems like stagflation and a revolt against taxes were introduced.

I'm impressed with Schulman's insights into an often overlooked and important decade. I'll check back with you later on with more highlights from his book.

Music Reviews in 3 Words or Less: Vol. 8

Darlings-Yeah I Know (2009)
2009's obscure masterpiece
Touchstones: Smudge meets The Strokes
***** out of ***** stars

Apollo Ghosts-Hastings SunriseAlbum (2009)
Canada's finest newcomers
Touchstones: More melodic Iggy Pop meets Velvet Underground
****1/2 out of ***** stars

Ben Lee-The Rebirth of Venus (2009)
Summer-y, catchy pop
Touchstones: The Lemonheads meets Bob Mould
**** out of ***** stars

I Was a King-I Was a King (2009)
Norwegian power pop
Touchstones: Teenage Fanclub meets Fountains of Wayne
**** out of ***** stars

Grand Duchy-Petits Fours (2009)
Frank Black's band
Touchstones: The Breeders meets The Kills
***1/2 out of ***** stars

Iran-The Moon Boys (2002)
Unlistenable drone art
Touchstones: Dead C meets TV on the Radio
*1/2 out of ***** stars

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Inside Process of Writing My Novel

I've put a lot of work into outlining a novel, and now I'm excited to be in the actual writing phase. Yesterday, I wrote the book's first paragraph.

The coming-of-age story will focus closely on character, particularly the relationship between the book's narrator, who is a journalist at a music magazine and a rock star he met 26 years previously. The two will have a conflicted, deep, and surprisingly regular friendship. The story begins at the rock star's funeral.

As I write, I'll be doing quite a bit of research along the way because the story takes place between 1976 and now, and it weaves quite a bit of actual history into the fictional story.

To help me place the book and give it the right feel throughout, I've been reading a lot of pop-culture history books on the years of 1976 until today. I'll discuss several of them here over the coming days. The first one is simply called The 1970s, by Kelly Boye Sagert. It's pretty much just a textbook that focuses on the influences upon Americans of advertising, architecture, fashion, food, leisure activities, literature, music, performing arts, travel, and visual arts. It doesn't really have a thesis, but the time lines are helping me conceptualize all the weaving back and forth between time periods that my novel will accomplish.

The basics are stated by Sagert: "The 1970s were a giant cauldron of fads, fancies, and fetishes ... trendy times." Dubbed the "Me Decade" by the great novelist Tom Wolfe (someone I definitely cite as an influence for the novel I'm writing), this was a decade in which "one's personal emotions were paramount; the quirky pet rock, popular in large part because it did not require any effort; and a plethora of first-person songs that focused on individual feelings." Of course, the vociferous women's rights movement of the decade shows that this is not necessarily a decade to be classified so easily.

The next historical-time line books I'll tell you about will dig a little deeper ...