Thursday, June 23, 2011

LUST BRIGADE Mixtape & Interview (☮)


Head over to Adam's Lust Brigade blog to check out the first of 3 mixtapes I made for him, plus an amusing interview... I will likely be posting more of our chat on here in the near future as well.

Wistful Riddles: The Curfew by Jesse Ball

I have a review of the latest novel by Jesse Ball in the new issue of The L Magazine. It's a magnificent book that I highly recommend, full of a whimsy that eschews preciousness (which I think I say in the review, so I'm repeating myself). It's like The Road if it were written to be directed by Jeunet—less bleak, but possibly more heartbreaking. Lots of writers (including me) wish they wrote like Ball, who is possibly our best young postmodern fabulist.

Scattered within the novel are self-contained parables, such as one about a stunning woman who “wore her beauty carelessly” but had to walk a particular way in order to conceal a deformity. There is something that feels not so antiquated but timeless, to the point that an otherwise trivial detail like a plane flying overhead stands out for placing the story in the modern era. The book is such a pleasurable read, the type you devour in a sitting.

Final note: fiction too often squanders the poetic potential of visual presentation, but Ball has lots of fun with form and type, filling some pages with only a few large, evocative words, and ultimately presenting storytelling and imagination as absolutely essential affirmations of life, language as memory and tribute.

"There wasn't anything that tied life's moments together, except life. And when it was gone?"

"Your trials will one day finish. You are young and will outlive your torturers."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Moon is a band.

Moon is maybe like early Cat Power, and maybe like Sharon Van Etten, and maybe a little bit like Wye Oak. But not really. I don't know how to explain it, except to say that these songs are richly layered, and the vocals are sort of low in the mix and are sort of haunting. The tracks and the videos speak for themselves.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Things to Read, Drinks to Drink: Bad Guy Edition

Is Zeke Pappas a Bad Guy? Perhaps. Perhaps Not. Either Way, He'd Surely Enjoy a Bad Guy Manhattan.

The Book:

I read Dean Bakopoulos's new novel My American Unhappiness in much the same way that I might enthusiastically drink a newly discovered small batch beer. I picked it up, admired the packaging, read the label (jacket copy and author bio) and then cracked it open. And, much like a favorite six pack of good beer, I went through it in one sitting and when I got to the knockout of an ending, I didn't want the night to be over.

Like many other contemporary novels, this is a book that provides us with a protagonist who isn't always easy to root for. This phenomenon makes many a kind reader crazy. My (very kind) mother says things like "Why would I want to read about these people? They're horrible!" Needless to say, mom wasn't a fan of The Corrections.

But what makes My American Happiness unique among a number of novels with vaguely untrustworthy, unlikable, or sometimes downright loathsome main characters is that Bakopoulos seems uninterested in cutting his protagonist, Zeke Pappas, much slack. Even a character like Fuckhead, the drug-addled central figure from Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, seems let off the hook in a way that Bakopoulos can't quite allow Zeke. On a few occasions in Jesus' Son, Fuckhead tells the reader that he knows what he's doing is wrong and admits that he feels bad for, say, holding a gun on a guy or for smashing a bunch of baby rabbits while in a druggy, half-conscious haze.

Fuckhead's apparent awareness of how screwed up he is allows the reader to feel at least some sort of empathy for him. He wants desperately to mask the horror of his actions by attempting to explain them away with excuses, and it's Fuckhead's recognition of his own culpability (as evidenced by those excuses) that makes him seem redeemable.

Zeke Pappas, by contrast, is mostly un-self-aware and, as a result, seems an unlikely candidate for our empathy. But if Johnson's Fuckhead provides readers with various excuses for his behavior, Bakopoulos has been wise enough to provide Zeke with plenty of actual, substantive reasons to be unhappy and, indeed, to behave like a crazy asshole. In a purely definitional way, excuses are hollow and are presented in order to deflect blame and to shirk responsibility. Reasons, though, the very nuclei of causality, are somewhat trickier and weightier things.

And that's where this novel's brilliance really lives: Bakopoulos has created an environment and a set of circumstances in which it's hard to imagine not going completely nuts, and I found myself nodding my head at Zeke's outrageousness, saying "Sure, if I'd lost the love of my young life and if my mom was ill, and if I had lost a brother in Iraq and a sister-in-law in a car accident, and if I were tasked with raising my twin nieces and if I couldn't find love though I desperately needed it, I would be a horrible wreck as well."

Given everything he endures, it's a wonder Zeke is as well adjusted as he is. And therein lies at least one of the novel's big and messy truths: we live in a deeply complicated world, and times are bad. People are trying, to varying degrees of success, to hold it together. If that seems a cynical trope, it is, and if circumstances seem dire, it's because--within the purview of this book and beyond it--they are.

This is a book in which it's simultaneously difficult to root for Zeke (he's such an asshole sometimes) while being nearly impossible to want him to fail. Knowing what we know about the world Zeke inhabits (which looks very much like our own), a vote against him seems a vote against ourselves. Bakopoulos provides enough good humor to counter some of the dark political subtext, and the driving line of narrative moves at a good clip and contains enough inventive, old fashioned twists to keep you turning the pages. And like Zeke at the end of a workday, once you reach the novel's end, you'll almost certainly need a drink.

The Cocktail (& a Byzantine Full Disclosure):

Before talking about the cocktail pairing for the book, this post demands a full disclosure: Bakopoulos is an acquaintance who recently read at the Monsters of Poetry reading series in Madison, WI, which I co-curate. The after-party for the reading, which also featured Chicago writer Patrick Somerville, was held at Sardine restaurant in Madison, where I used to tend bar. The owners of Sardine have also sponsored the reading series. Phew. That's a lot of disclosure, but the point here is that after the reading, the bartenders at Sardine whipped up a great cocktail for some of us, and they were calling it the Bad Guy. Essentially, this is a gussied-up Manhattan, but boy did it hit the spot:

The Bad Guy Manhattan:


2 oz. Willett Rye
.75 oz. Punt-e-Mes
2 dashes Angostura Bitters


1. Fill a rocks glass 3/4 full of quality ice. Actually, once big cube or sphere would be great for this one
2. Fill a mixing tin halfway with ice
3. Add the Willett, Punt e Mes, and Angostura to the mixing tin
4. Stir at a moderate pace until you get clear, cold condensation on the outside of your tin (10-15 seconds)
5. Using a Boston strainer, pour the mixture over the ice in your prepped rocks glass
6. Cut a large swath of orange peel and express the orange oil on top of the drink, then garnish the drink with the peel

Oddly, the sharpness of the Willett is mellowed by the Punt e Mes, which itself is quite bitter. With two healthy dashes of Angostura, you add a bit of spice, and expressing the peel over the drink gives it a nice orangey punch right on the nose. It's got a bite and a very vaguely sweet finish, and it's going to be darker because the Punt e Mes is basically brown, as are the bitters. A good brandied cherry couldn't hurt as an additional garnish.

"But that's the way the blur was used"

Loaded at the wrong door
Waiting for the brakes to sound
What was all the panic for?
Check that spun-out flagging down
Coming on as tunnels do
Trace the line and stay inside
It drew us out but I was late
Leashes falling one more time
Spend that trowel on a missing vane
It seemed the night was almost true
Tell me, too, I’ll show you in
I'm speaking of the talking through
Swollen off in distances
The embers now are under you
Beaten down before the stars
Hands were had, nests were sold
But that was just the floor so far
Take that call back, I know it's cold
But that's the way the blur was used
Cap it off and crawl away, the summits were so little then
Asking to be home to stay
Holding out on promises
Finally growing up to find
What I woulda known without
The mercy and the caution lights
Down at the movin' on and slowin' down
It was fine just to lose

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spotted vs. Barred

Our friend Lauren Sommer just filed this interesting story on sure-to-be-controversial efforts to save the Northern spotted "eliminating" invasive barred owls:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stuff We're Listening To (6/1/11)

Lucinda Williams - EssencePrince - Dirty Mind
Mirah - Advisory CommitteeLee Hazlewood - Something SpecialDuchampion - Purple Clouds
Woods - Sun & ShadeThe Alps - Easy ActionSpacemen 3 - Perfect Prescription

Lucinda Williams - "Steal Your Love"

City Center - "Cookies"
CITY CENTER "COOKIES" from Peter J Brant on Vimeo.

Prince - "Dirty Mind"

Mirah - "The Garden"

Lee Hazlewood - "Shades"

Duchampion - "Philadelphia"

Woods - Sun and Shade
Woods: Sun and Shade by alteredzones

The Alps - Easy Action preview
The Alps - Easy Action (album preview) by experimedia

Spacemen 3 - "Take Me To The Other Side"