Friday, May 30, 2008

McSweeneys is good. Sue Me.

People on the street are coming up to me all the time now and asking me if I have some weird McSweeney's fixation. The press are calling, Good Day Live wants me on the show to talk about it. 

I have been writing a lot about the publishing imprint lately, but it's only because they happen to be publishing a lot of provocative books.  I reviewed the Chabon book of essays, Maps and Legends, and It Was Good.  I just wrote this piece for the Weekly about their book designs, which are the best in the business.  They think hard about everything - form, content, ISBN number placement.  I like what they do. I'm not a groupie, but I am a fan.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Larry Levine

Larry Levine is dead. Do you recognize? Levine was an engineer of genius, and he was behind the board when Phil Spector was making all of those amazing records at Gold Star and elsewhere in swinging L.A.  Not enough people know about Larry Levine, and that's just plain wrong. The auteur theory of all art must die! Those records weren't made in a vacuum - Spector was the visionary, yes, but perhaps more than other great records of that era, many folks had a hand in that  cannon-shot sound.  And Levine was key - Greg Toland to Spector's Orson Wells.  

You gots to recognize! 

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

That's Cold

Damn, that Coldplay band done stole our bestest producer ever, Eno, to do their new record, "Radiohead Is so 2003." Thing is, I heard the single, and brother, it's pretty, prett-ay, prett-ay good.  Is is possible that my least favorite band EVER will now grace us with something that we can all enjoy and respect? Has Eno done gone his magic, and given this band the musical gravitas to go with it's already inflated sense of self-importance? I for one am all for it. I mean, shit, I need some new CD's

Got any suggestions?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hoop Displacia

We all love them technologies, right? I mean, I think TiVo is the bestest. Even if I don't have it, I still love it.  But here's what I don't like about it: It's screwing with my communal sports experience. 

In the olden days,  we would all tune into the Knicks game together and then we would all call each other and talk smack about the action we were witnessing as a group. Now, I have one friend, Jonesy, who is my call-in go-to guy. We can gab for hours about say, Pao Gasol's girlie running, or how Sasha fits into the triangle offense. Thing is, Jonesy is a lot busier than I am, and so he is forced to TiVo many of the games for late-night viewing. 

I HATE this, you see. Because I will call him while he's feeding his kids or some such, and he'll tell me to hold my peace.  "I haven't watched the game yet." It really puts a damper on things, lemme tell ya.

So I propose that TiVo only be used for you, Step It Up And Dance, or The Hills.  That stuff's on at all hours of the day anyway, it seems. Leave the sports for real-time.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Spurs look old, but they're wily...I'm scared of the Hornets...Is Jared Weaver the real deal, or has the AL figured him out?....Joe Saunders is my to Kobe....and Pao.....Celts are tougher than you think....Dwight Howard is like some man-child superhero....Cassell must be loving life right now....

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Pile Driver

Whenever work is slow, or work is too much, or I don't feel like thinking about it, I turn to another kind of fake work. That's the business of shrinking down my magazine pile. Strangely, there are times when getting this pile down to a manageable size feels like an accomplishment, as if I've achieved something meaningful.  I can't even shake this feeling if I tried.  

Because the periodicals in question are always sitting in a haphazard pile on my coffee table, they are staring me down all time, mocking me, imploring me to do something about them.  But I would never - never! - just toss a magazine away just because it's been sitting there for, oh, six months or so.  It simply has to be read.  

So every once in a while, I will summon the courage to pull that pile in front of me and begin to wade through the Yangtze of print.  This will take me days, weeks sometimes.  But those New Yorkers will be read whether they like it or not. 

Soon,  the pile shrinks, like a bad tumor.  This makes me feel good about myself,  as if something meaningful has been accomplished. How silly of me.  There's the table top - it's been there all along, apparently - and the mags are in the recycle bin.  Then it starts all over again.  What's the point?  

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Brooks and Done

Our passions are deeply personal things.  We love something because we love it; it might be a horrible TV sitcom, or a banal Japanese pop record. We don't have to justify it to anyone. It simply gets us off, and that's that. But sometimes one runs the risk of sharing a deeply-held passion with an outsider, and worlds collide.  Case in point: Albert Brook's Modern Romance.

Do you understand how much I love Modern Romance? Do you?! We had a friend staying at the house and there we were,  sans Netflix envelopes or anything decent on-demand. I mean, what...we're gonna talk or play games or what not? We needed a film! So I rifled through my very small but choice collection of DVD's and came up with Modern Romance. I only own films that I can watch on a yearly basis, you see, and I watch that film every ding-dong year. 

I was really excited. This friend - let's call him Jeff - is a wicked cynic with a sharp tongue.   And he was a Modern Romance virgin. He liked Albert Brooks but had somehow missed Modern Romance. Oh man! I threw the DVD into the player and let 'er rip.

Oh, wait till you see the scene when he gets all fucked-up on Valium, I said. You'll die! So we waited and watched. Nothing. OK, but what about the jogging scene ("1,2,3, I don't even miss her") Flatline. Crickets. It rocked me, reader.  Did I have rotten taste in films?  As I watched the film with the eyes of an intitiate, I began to realize: It really wasn't that good.  Flat in a lot of places. Falls apart entirely in the second hour.  

And this is why you must be careful to guard your passions and defend them to the death. Because sometimes they aren't really that good.  

Monday, May 05, 2008

There Are Problems

I was re-thinking my last post over the weekend, and I've come to the conclusion that blogs can be a healthy corrective to critical corruption (sorry about the alliteration) -but that's assuming blogs and print existed on a level playing field. Instead, blog monster is tipping over the game board and sending all the print players into the trash.    

Regardless: professional criticism does have its share of problems.  It's hardly a pure and virtuous pursuit as practiced by many of the critics that you read in your dying magazines and newspapers.  Speaking from experience, I can safely say that, during the last boom time of the music business in the mid-90's,  you had so many hacks wiping the salt lick clean, so many wimps and weaklings selling their bylines in exchange for good favor, that it became hard to distinguish criticism from publicity. Here are the worst offenses in order of odiousness: 

1) Critics who want free stuff and so therefore suck up to publicists.  This also includes getting free lunches, accepting junkets and writing in-house press releases. 
2) Critics who give everything a positive spin so they can continue to get work.
3) Critics who don't listen to the records they've been asked to critique. 

I'm too groggy and Monday-depressed to think anymore. More later....

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Critics, Don't Die!

 What's to become of us? I'm hearing ominous things, and storm clouds are gathering. They are telling us our skills aren't needed anymore, that in a webocracy, every one's a critic.  Book publications are suffering and missing their publication deadlines.  Others are folding like a tent in a lashing wind (hear that giant sucking sound? It's all of those servers processing arm-chair bloviating from all points of the compass.)  We're all really feeling the heat, especially in a recessionary environment.  After all, when gas is four bucks, and we can't afford to go to the movies or buy a book, who cares what a critic has to say about these things?

Much ink has already been spilled on this subject, but I guess I just want to say:  It still matters to have an informed opinion and get paid to set it down.   Doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Costas is King

Hot damn, Bob Costas is good.  I wish he was doing the color for every single major network sporting event - for some reason , he seems to be limited to The Olympics, and I say huzzah and hurray for that - but at least HBO gives him his head. Costas Now is the single best sports show on television.  It makes me wish I had Tivo, because I have no idea when it's on, or even if it's been picked up for another season (what constitutes a season on HBO, anyway?) 

Still, it is consistently bold, smart and provocative. Costas is like me - a middle-aged sports dude who doesn't want to be thought of as the dumbest guy in the frat house.  Sports, Costas contends, is being dumbed-down and tarted-up by the nasty bloggers, the gotcha press, Fox.  Last night, I clicked over to something you never,ever see on TV - a serious discourse on the role of the media in shaping our attitudes about sport.  He had reporters, producers, athletes all mixed up and mixing it up with each other.  Buzz Bissinger laying into Deadspin's Will Leitch was worth the price of my exorbitant cable bill alone.  "I think you're full of shit," the great man barked at Leitch. He then proceeded to invoke the great sportswriter WC Heinz's name ("Have you ever even read him") and decried the decline of a skill he "spent 40 years...trying to perfect." I've got nothing against Leitch - I've never read Deadspin that closely - but I was feeling Bizzinger big time.  And yet, I'm not losing hope. I think newspapers could wind up like vinyl records - just when it dies out ,everyone will realize how much they miss it. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

When is Junk Mail not Junk Mail?

Today, as I sifted through the lame pile of trash that is my daily mail, I came across what appeared to be a grocery flyer.  But then I noticed that Bernard Malamud's picture was on the flyer, and surely Ralph's isn't hip to the man who wrote about a miserable, guilt-ridden grocery clerk in The Assistant.  

It was actually a freebie tease from a web site called I'm sorry to say that I've been completely in the dark about Nextbook. To me, it sounds like some horrible job search site, or a new social networking dealio, God forbid. What Nextbook is, in fact, is a web site devoted to Jewish culture.  This insert is supposed to whet folk's appetite for the site, and reader, it did mine. 

I just came back from my afternoon constitutional having read every single article.  There was a loving essay from the New York Times' Rachel Donadio about Malamud,  an interview with British novelist Howard Jacobson (again, I know nothing about him) that was so compelling I've placed his books on my Amazon wish list.  A story about a wildly popular Israeli war novel called If Heaven Exists, and an appreciation of Yiddish poet Mani Leib. Oh, and Sara Peretsky's a Jew. Who knew? 

I didn't know about any of it except Malamud, and it was all fascinating.  Natch, I tapped into the Nextbook site and bookmarked it.  If the site is as good as that reader, well, then I'm glad I looked at my mail today.  


Prince covered RADIOhead, not PORTIShead....

Yes, a Band

I'm a middle-aged man with a rock band. Groan, right? But fuck it - it's the most fun I get to have these days, and that's no small thing.  We've been playing for a couple of years, and no one has heard us. Well, a handful of friends and 'fake' groupies - female friends.  It's been a good wood-shedding time for us.  We started off rather stinky.  Nothing cohered, we sloughed off song structure,  too much wasted time, etc.  But now, I like what I'm hearing. 

It's a covers band, OK? Leave me alone, alright? A power trio, no less. But I'd like to think our song selection isn't quite so bar-band predictable.  Yes, there's Zeppelin - but it's 'The Rover,' not 'Stairway' or whatnot. Yes, there's Sabbath, but it's 'Into The Void.'  And so on.  Now, I'm anxious to take it out and play for more than one person at a time.  This is a bit of a negotiation with my band mates, however.  It's funny, but getting the gumption to play a gig is leap of faith that not everyone is willing to take. I say, let the chips fall into the beer, and full speed ahead. I'm curious to see if we can make hay out of all this noise.  

Marvelous Marv

I know there are better sports announcers than Marv Albert. I know he's not the smartest, or wisest. But when I hear his voice on a TNT basketball broadcast, it pipelines me back to my childhood,  because Marv Albert is the soundtrack of my youth.  For decades, Albert was the voice of the New York Knicks (maybe he still is, I'm not sure) and given that I wasted my teenagery buying records and watching Knicks games on TV, Albert is - along with Bob Dylan and Jon Anderson -  a component of my wasted teenage Babel.  The Albert cliches became cliches long ago - "Yes, it counts!" "And the foul!"  But careful now;  this man is a very skillful broadcaster.  For one thing Albert, unlike every jock-asshole color guy doing TV now, understands that an announcer doesn't have to wallpaper the broadcast with his own voice.  He understands the value of leaving space, letting the game come to him rather than the other way around.  He doesn't get hysterical over every great play either.  A rise in Albert's voice - "Kobe with a spec-tacular play!" - is always enough and never too much.
The Albert-Reggie Miller team on TNT is doing a fine job during this playoff season. Never mind that the Knicks' all-time nemesis is sharing the mic with Albert.  They are smart and measured, not mad-breathless and dumb.  For this, I am grateful.  

Monday, April 28, 2008

Wolff at the Door

I shook Tobias Wolff's hand on Sunday. He was signing books at the L.A. Times book festival. I didn't know that he would be signing books at the festival, but I happened by and there he was. Unlike those autograph freaks that traipse around ULCA schlepping their rolling suitcases full of first editions,  I didn't have a copy of Wolff's new anthology of stories OUR STORY BEGINS on hand. No matter.  Author autographs have never really done it for me. I went to an Antiquarian Book Fair once and spent (indecipherable) hundred dollars on a few books - A Book of Common Prayer signed by Didion on the end matter page (!),  A copy of Philip Roth's The Breast and Sontag's Against Interpretation.  So what happened? I got all precious and kid-glovey about it. I never cracked the books open or read them. Now they were totemic artifacts- they were signed! But what's the use of a book if you can't read it, I ask you?  That's when I stopped worrying about first editions, Mylar covers and author autographs - none of those things enhances a book's value.  

Anyway, back to Wolff - I reviewed his book in the Weekly and I was truly blown away by it. It's just genius writing. So I walked up to the great man and I shook his hand.  His writing is recompense enough - the handshake was all I needed.  

Back to the Front

Oh man! It's been a minute.  Thought it would be best if I got back on the Blog  - it's what the kids are doing these days. So much to discuss, can't discuss it all.  
Did not go to Coachella. I don't think I will hereafter ever be present anywhere large numbers of people decide to take adult doses of Oxycontin and throw up in a giant dust bowl. It's not my scene, man. I heard that Prince did some wacky covers - Beatles, Portishead (!). That sounds like it could have been fun. Unfortunately, he started his set about three hours past my bedtime. The last time I waited for Godot and then a Prince concert, I had to prop up my eyelids with matchsticks. Ok, not really but you're getting the cut of my jib.  I think he deigned to hit the stage in his tiny hi-heels around 2 in the morning. It was rough, and he was really, really good.  You know what else is good? A Sealy Postrapedic mattress.  That's where I like to park myself at 2 am.  I've always been that way, really - late night shows have always been a trial for me. This was not a good thing when I had to review rock concerts for a (non) living.  I always preferred the middle-age sitdown concert to the hella late indie-whatever show.  You ever try to file a story at 8 am after a few hours sleep? It's rougher stuff, friend.   Not even giant caffeine injections can save you.  
Hey, this feels good! It's nice to be blogging again.  Don't be a stranger, hear?