In case you missed it, Iggy Pop remains awesome. From an interview at emusic, marking the release of the new Stooges album:
Some reactivated bands, like the Pixies, believe that it’s okay for them to play shows for people to enjoy the old material, but that they shouldn’t make new records, because they can never match up — they can only tarnish their own legacy. You obviously disagree…
Pop: My motivation in making any record with a group at this point is no longer personal, it’s just a pigheaded fucking thing I have, that a real fucking group, when they’re an older group, they also make fucking records. They don’t just twiddle around onstage to just make a bunch of money and then go, “Oh, it wouldn’t be as good.” This is not the fucking Smashing Pumpkins, you know? No. So this is the key, the only thing I really have left to say is, The Stooges are a real group.
The National Geographic Society has a tumblr, Found, devoted to showing photographs from what I assume are the Society’s vast archives. Take a look – the pictures are both stunning and fascinating.
I just realized that this month marks ten years of Obscurorant, in one form or another, even if that form has been increasingly intermittent and abbreviated. I started with a half-dozen reader and undoubtedly have less than that now.
It’s been a busy ten years, at then end of which I find myself with a (very patient) wife, two lovely children (by turns amazing and irritating), three black belts, a masters degree, two new jobs and new interests (cooking and photography) that I rarely have time for. All that probably goes a ways towards explaining the above-mentioned intermittent and abbreviated rate of posting here. Many thanks if you still continue to visit here.
I often pass the time driving or on the T by playing a mental game of pairing thins – not food and wine or beer (though I am find of those pairings as well), but books or movies or songs or just random cultural artifacts. Here’s a couple I came across this past week. Two once contemporary, now very dated, journalistic looks at a pair of criminal subcultures:
Courtesy of The Selvedge Yard, a 1966 look at outlaw motorcycle gangs. And from the March 1972 issue of New York magazine, an article on “The Return of the Street Gangs” complete with a cover depicting the kind of gang colors I had assumed existed only in the movies.
Should you be looking for some old school alternative rock when the Alternative is not on the air, head over to slicing up eyeballs and download one of their excellent monthly mixtapes. Because the music in the 80s? The best.
Since I’m feeling all nostalgic, here’s the video for Sonic Youth’s Dirty Boots. I’ve never been a huge fan, but I love this video. It is so of its’ time that it takes me right back to 1991 and being 21 years old again, with limitless years to fill in front of me.
Some pretties for your viewing pleasure: photographs of the neon lights of mid-century New York. Inspires in me a great longing to go the automat.
A couple of weeks ago Herself and I decided to start a new tradition: Saturday Night Cocktails. Owing to some delays, including the loss of power, and subsequent flight to warmth, during the blizzard, we didn’t start until last night. Our inaugural cocktail? The French 77, cousin to one of our other favorite libations, the French 75. This is how I mixed them:
2 ounces of gin, Hendricks if possible.
2 ounces of champagne
2 ounces of St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur*
1/2 ounce of fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce of simple syrup
Pour the gin, St-Germain, syrup and lemon juice into an ice-filled glass, a highball glass if you have them (we don’t). Stir gently, then add the champagne.
They were, of course, yummy. Now we need to decide what to have next Saturday night. We have plenty of St-Germain left, so working from that ingredient is one possibility. Making Sidecars is another, since I think we have some Cointreau about. I suspect pulling down some of the cocktail books from the cookbook shelf and doing some browsing may be in order.
*This the most expensive part – the bottle I picked up cost $35 – and maybe hard to locate, but it is the secret sauce of this cocktail.
No Hard Chords: one blog post for every #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the first in 1958 (that would be Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool”) and continuing up to the present I assume, though at last count the proprietor, Sally O’Rourke, had only reached September of 1966 (which would be the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love”).
Any when you’re done with that, you can head over to Popular for a similar project involving every UK#1 since 1952. Cheers.
The imaginary geography of my childhood and adolescence was filled with place names – like Middle Earth, or Narnia, or even Gondor – that are now familiar to the general public, thanks to the mainstreaming of nerd culture over the last twenty-odd years. But there are some other locales the names of which only certain people will recognize. The village of Hommlet, the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, the Keep on the Borderlands, the Demonweb pits – if you’re one of those certain people you already know what I’m talking about. And if you don’t recognize those names? Well, that’s because despite the fact that all sorts of things, like Dr. Who, comic books (now hideously styled as ‘graphic novels’), and The Lord of the Rings, are now deemed cool, there is still (and always will be I suspect) the taint of NERD! attached to playing Dungeons & Dragons, or any other table top role-playing game.
I doubt anyone will surprised to learn that between the ages of ten and eighteen I spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours rolling the dice. So when I read that classic Dungeon & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons* modules are being published as PDFs, and saw all those names again, I became rather nostalgic. I bet it would be a lot of fun to fire up a game for old time’s sake, AD & D First Edition of course**, assuming age and responsibility hasn’t made me too self-conscious to get my head into the kind of ‘let’s pretend’ space necessary for a good game. Given the chance, I wouldn’t mind trying some games that I never played that much, or at all. Pendragon perhaps, or maybe Classic Traveler.
* These are two different games. Yes, really. One thousand nerd points for you if you understand and can explain the difference.
** Obligatory old dude comment: when I was playing, we didn’t call it First Edition because there weren’t any others yet.
I have two brief items for this evening.
1. I can now honestly say ‘I am a librarian,’ at least during the two nights a week I work the reference desk at a college in Boston.
2. Spitalfields Life is one of my favorite new blogs, because of posts like this and this; it’s a site I find worth visiting, even now when I’m being more and more selective about what I spend my precious time reading, especially reading online.
Also, the reading list is long past time for an update, and there should be probably be a post about the superb novels of Anthony Price, since I seem to be unable to stop reading them until I exhaust the supply, which event is due to happen in four and a half books.
Okay, I said two and then sneaked in that last item. So I’ll sneak in one more. If you have small children with vivid imaginations, they just might really enjoy My Neighbor Totoro, or as Madeleine calls it ‘ the show where the two girls move in the house.’ Adults with vivid imaginations will enjoy too.
Once when I was in high school I got sick and had to go to the hospital, for neither the first nor the last time. I was there for several days, and when my parents asked if I needed anything I requested books, of course, by H.P. Lovecraft. At this point I don’t believe I’d ever read a single word by the Gentleman from Providence, but I was aware that he was a contemporary of Robert E. Howard, a fellow contributor to Weird Tales. I devoured the paperbacks my parent’s brought back to my hospital room, and when released went in search of more.
The following year, or maybe the same year – my memory is hazy on when exactly that trip to the hospital occurred – Lovecraft was the subject of the term paper I wrote for my American Literature class. The teacher gave me a ‘B’ which I thought quite generous considering the assignment called for ten pages and I turned in five. The issue was not an unwillingness to put in the time and write, but rather the lack of critical sources to use in crafting the paper. I was limited by the fact that this was back in the 80’s, before Lovecraft had a Library of America edition and Cthulu was a part of popular (not extreme nerd) culture. Other constraining factors: the lack of the internet and my general cluelessness.
If I’m being honest here, or at least mostly honest, the cluelessness was my chief downfall, as it would be for some time to come. There was plenty of raw material in Lovecraft’s work for a measly ten page term paper, material that should have been obvious to a boy from Massachusetts. Many of Lovecraft’s stories are set in what some call Lovecraft Country, where the real and fictitious New England intermingle, where travelers venture to Salem and Kingsport at their peril. But Lovecraft’s love of this geography we shared decades apart went unnoticed by my callow self and so I received the scarlet B.
Lovecraft’s prose might be rightly considered an acquired taste, but I love the following passage, recently recalled to memory, which demonstrates his affection for New England and his ornate, or florid, style:
“For know you, that your gold and marble city of wonder is only the sum of what you have seen and loved in youth. It is the glory of Boston’s hillside roofs and western windows aflame with sunset, of the flower-fragrant Common and the great dome on the hill and the tangle of gables and chimneys in the violet valley where the many-bridged Charles flows drowsily. These things you saw, Randolph Carter, when your nurse first wheeled you out in the springtime, and they will be the last things you will ever see with eyes of memory and of love. And there is antique Salem with its brooding years, and spectral Marblehead scaling its rocky precipices into past centuries! And the glory of Salem’s towers and spires seen afar from Marblehead’s pastures across the harbour against the setting sun.
There is Providence quaint and lordly on its seven hills over the blue harbour, with terraces of green leading up to steeples and citadels of living antiquity, and Newport climbing wraithlike from its dreaming breakwater. Arkham is there, with its moss-grown gambrel roofs and the rocky rolling meadows behind it; and antediluvian Kingsport hoary with stacked chimneys and deserted quays and overhanging gables, and the marvel of high cliffs and the milky-misted ocean with tolling buoys beyond.
Cool vales in Concord, cobbled lands in Portsmouth, twilight bends of rustic New Hampshire roads where giant elms half hide white farmhouse walls and creaking well-sweeps. Gloucester’s salt wharves and Truro’s windy willows. Vistas of distant steepled towns and hills beyond hills along the North Shore, hushed stony slopes and low ivied cottages in the lee of huge boulders in Rhode Island’s back country. Scent of the sea and fragrance of the fields; spell of the dark woods and joy of the orchards and gardens at dawn. These, Randolph Carter, are your city; for they are yourself. New England bore you, and into your soul she poured a liquid loveliness which cannot die. This loveliness, moulded, crystallised, and polished by years of memory and dreaming, is your terraced wonder of elusive sunsets; and to find that marble parapet with curious urns and carven rail, and descend at last these endless balustraded steps to the city of broad squares and prismatic fountains, you need only to turn back to the thoughts and visions of your wistful boyhood.”
“As the design of the station made quite explicit, railways were never just functional. They were about travel as pleasure, travel as adventure, travel as the archetypical modern experience. Patrons and clients were not supposed to just buy a ticket and go; they were meant to linger and imagine and dream (which is one reason why “platform tickets” came into being and were very much used). That is why stations were designed, often quite deliberately, on the model of cathedrals, with their spaces and facilities divided into naves, apses, side chapels, and ancillary offices and rituals.”
-Tony Judt, The Glory of the Rails
The picture above is from Life magazine, taken by Walker Evans in 1962. You may find more pictures of train stations at The Passion of Former Days. I cannot help but find them to be very evocative and romantic images.
Radio was enormously important to me growing up. I remember (and I will no doubt date myself here) tuning in to Casey Kasem’s weekly countdown because it was important to know what songs to listen to, and what was cool and there was no internet thirty years ago to tell me these things or help me sort through my options, of which there weren’t a lot circa 1982. Later on I started to go to school in Boston and when the guys turned on WFNX (back when it was legitimately different from anything else you were likely to encounter on the airwaves, excluding the college stations clustered ‘left of the dial’ whose existence I somehow * overlooked ) radio again showed me things, sounds, that were different:
A lot of what was cool and exciting about radio has vanished into the corporate maw, but there are still good listens to be had in the Boston area, even outside the college stations we’re fortunate to have here. My current favorite radio station is 95.9 WATD, broadcasting out of Marshfield. The station is a favorite because:
-It is locally owned and operated, which means you will hear Boston and New England accents, no generic radio voices, and lots of charmingly inept commercials for local businesses. I like this – WATD sounds like it is broadcasting here in Massachusetts, not Anywhere, USA. Yay local flavor!
-It is a full-service station, featuring not only news, traffic, weather and music, but other, more eclectic programs. I’m not actually interested in a radio show about birds or boating but I think it’s cool that people who are passionate about these things can find relevant shows on the radio.
-It still plays the music that was considered ‘oldies’ when I was growing up, several times a week. I can’t think of anywhere else to find this music, since WODS now plays considers music from the 80s to be ‘oldies.’ The Oldies With Ron Dwyer show fits the bill perfectly, with a large variety of old pop songs. You’re just as likely to hear an obscure B-side as a #1 hit, just as likely to hear Perry Como as Elvis. Yesterday’s Memories is a fine show as well.
But what really won my affection is WATD’s latest programming addition: the Alternative . I gripe about WODS playing songs from the 80s, but I wouldn’t mind an ‘oldies’ show or format aimed at my generation. I just want it to be a good one, and Chris Atwood’s show fits the bill. Any DJ that spins (Feels Like) Heaven is all right with me. I just wish WATD would give the Alternative more than one Friday per month.
I should also mention Easy 99.1. You may insert your joke about the middle-aged dude listening to a radio station called Easy 99.1 here, but if you like Sinatra, adult pop, or the Great American Songbook Ron Della Chiesa’s Strictly Sinatra definitely worth a listen.
*Somehow = I was clueless, a condition that would continue to trouble me until well into my second decade of life.
Walton, Jo (2011). Among Others. NY: Tor Books. 304 pages.
Among Others is the tale, in the form of a diary, of young woman by the name Mori (short for Morwenna) Phelps. As the book opens Mori has run away from her mother following the death of her twin sister, and gone to live with her long-estranged father and his cold and distant family, who promptly pack her off to boarding school. Also she can do magic and talk to fairies.
Now that description may sound like the set up for your standard kind of YA fantasy novel, with a Chosen One who discovers hidden powers and an inevitable destiny to confront the Dark Lord and save the world, but you would be wrong. None of the above happens – in fact there is very little at all happening in Among Others. Mori navigates the strange currents of boarding school, and reads a lot of science fiction. A lot. Among Others is not about quests or confrontations or battles, it’s about what happens after those things happen. Mori herself notes:
“Tolkien understood about the things that happen after the end. Because this is after the end, this is all the Scouring of the Shire, this is figuring out how to live in the time that wasn’t supposed to happen after the glorious last stand. I saved the world, or I think I did, and look, the world is still here, with sunsets and interlibrary loans. And it doesn’t care about me any more than the Shire cared about Frodo.”
Please don’t get the idea that the lack of Big! Plot! Points! in Among Others makes for a dull or uninteresting read. Mori is an engaging diarist, whip smart and perceptive, but still a somewhat awkward teenage girl, trying to find her place in and come to terms with this strange world of adulthood. Also very interesting – at least for me – was the strong pull of the past generated by Walton’s Wayback Machine: the late 70s/early 80s setting of Among Others. Mori moves through a time I remember well, a time before the internet mainstreamed geek culture, a time when comic books and superheroes were decidedly not cool, let alone the subject of blockbuster films. Her perpetual hunt for new books to consume reminded me of my own. There was no Amazon (obviously), no huge bookstores like Barnes & Noble or Borders with shelf after shelf to browse, just your local, independent bookstore which if you were lucky had a decent selection of science fiction and fantasy*, and of course the library. And you learned about worthwhile books and authors by and large through word-of-mouth or your own experience.
Anyhoo, I highly recommend Among Others, and not just for the nostalgia.
*I was lucky. My local back in those days, the Voyager book store, had plenty of science fiction and fantasy available, as well as a fully stocked gaming section, which in those days meant loads and loads of Dungeons & Dragons (and lesser known role playing games) books and supplements, in addition to Avalon Hill wargames.
Anything I write about plans for reading this or that book by this or that author should be taken with a grain of salt, since I am very prone to getting lost in the wilderness of books and wandering off in an unanticipated direction. Caveat reader, or something like that, and with that here’s what I’ve been reading and plan to read. You’ve been warned.
On the non-fiction side of things I finished The Missing of the Somme feeling not as impressed as I thought I would be. Parts I found intelligent and moving, such as Dyer’s description of the moment of silence on the first Remembrance Day, but during others – the descriptions of sculptures on various memorials – I had to force myself to slow down and read every word. In a longer book I might have given in to temptation and skimmed but since Missing is less than 150 pages I decided I could lump it and read every page.
My current non-fiction read is Running the Books, and I’m enjoying it. Now, as far as fiction goes…
The Game of Thrones re-read proceeds at a leisurely pace and is likely to remain leisurely, at least until I reach the two most recent, and for me as yet unread, entries A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons.
I finished Downbelow Station and wanting to spend more time in the imagined future of Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe I borrowed Merchanter’s Luck from the library and read it last weekend. I was able to do this because Merchanter’s Luck is ‘only’ about 200 pages long, and reading it filled me with nostalgia for the days when this, rather than the brick-size tomes that speculative fiction comes in today. Two of my favorite books from childhood, John Maddox Robert’s Space Angel and Nancy Springer’s The Silver Sun, were also this length, perfect for multiple re-readings. When I returned to both of these books in later years I was realized how easily the authors could have expended the length of either – The Silver Sun in could have been a trilogy easily – and I’m glad that for whatever reason (market forces maybe) that both Robert and Springer wrote ‘short’ books.* Sometimes I wish more authors of fantasy and science fiction would follow this practice.
Howl’s Moving Castle was superb, and I’m filled with a kind of quiet but joyous satisfaction at all of the Diana Wynne Jones I have yet to read. I also finished Jo Walton’s Among Others, a book I enjoyed so much it deserves its own post.
Another subject that deserves its own post is Jo Walton’s column at Tor books, for pointing me in the direction of all sorts of great books and writers. The latest is Anthony Price, the author of the David Audley series of novels. Last year I read the bulk of Charles McCarry’s Paul Christopher and was looking for more in the same vein i.e well-crafted, literate spy fiction and so in a library feeding frenzy last weekend I picked up The ’44 Vintage, my current fiction read. It’s only about 200 pages, which I consider a good sign.
*I do wish Roberts would pen a worthy sequel to Space Angel.