Listening

Got the new/old album WB:RMX by the Residents today. On first listen, it’s extraordinary. The legendary Warner Brothers Album (which had nothing to do with Warner Brothers) has been a fixture in the Residents history/mythology for over 30 years: it was recorded, sent out to lots of record companies, all of whom rejected it, and the tapes were then set on a shelf and never released, until now. WB:RMX is a 2004-style remix of this 1971 recording, and it hits the best of both the early Residents strengths and the late Residents strengths. I’m very impressed.

Poll of Polls

A sampling of polls that I saw yesterday for next Tuesday’s Democratic primaries is fascinating. Dean leads in no states, and isn’t in the top three in several of them (of course, we all know how polls can change on a dime, witness Dean’s freefall in Iowa and New Hampshire). Clark was leading in Oklahoma, Edwards by a smidge in South Carolina (where Sharpton was also polling well), Kerry leading most of the other states, although none of them by longshots, and with different people in the number two slot in most of them. It doesn’t look like anyone’s gonna run the tables, and it doesn’t look like many of them are gonna get themselves knocked out (except for, amazingly, Dean . . . if only because of how high expectations were for him two months ago, and how dismal the realities have been once voters actually turned out to do their things).

I think this is good for the party at this point: the record breaking voter turnout in New Hampshire says that the Democrats are determined to not repeat the mistakes of 2000, since now they have a real world example of how every vote (electoral as well as popular) counts, and they seem mobilized and ready to do what they need to do to oust the Bush administration. The more interest there is in the primaries, the more interest there is in the general election, the better it is for the country as a whole, regardless of who wins in November. Get interested! Get involved! Get passionate!

I like the fact, too, that South Carolina sits as the most important state for next Tuesday, since the Democrats have never won a presidential election without winning the South, and this will be a test in the true heart of the South as to how the candidates are going to do there. Let’s see what the motherland does.

Speed

My daily commute is about five miles long and takes about ten minutes, all of it on two lane or city roads, so I rarely get behind the wheel of the car and really drive. I went down to Albany this afternoon, and as I got out on I-787 and opened the car up, it was like going to Space Mountain when I hit 65 mph, since Trusty Saturn hasn’t gone that fast in a good long while. It’s nice to be so easily entertained sometimes.

Comments (Or Not)

I’ve been following and participating in an interesting e-conversation over the past week or so in the Albany Bloggers mailing list about the pros and cons of having comments postable and posted on blogs.

I’ve, obviously, set this blog up to not allow reader comments to be viewed . . . and not because I’m not interested in feedback. (I am, and if you click the “contact” link to the left, and have something to say other than “Motley Crue rule, you suck,” then odds are I’ll be happy to correspond with you and take your feedback into consideration). I think my real reasons for avoiding the viewable comments portion of this blog are slightly more subtle than “I don’t care care what you have to say” or “I don’t want my friends talking to each other on my website.”

When I first got serious (for the third or fourth time) about keeping this blog up regularly, I had in mind a quote that Jed Davis included in his blog when he moved from Live Journal to Blogspot: “I’m trying to write for me,” wrote Jed. “Yet I constantly felt like I was at the mercy of the online comment box.” That made, and makes, perfect sense to me, and I agree with the sentiment wholly.

There’s a widely held position in the blogosphere that not including reader comments in a blog makes it weaker. I’m probably coming from a more orthodox print media background, but I can’t really get my mind around such a position. I mean, does a novelist include comments from readers in his/her book? Does a musician include comments from listeners in his/her CD? While I know that the web is supposed to be the great equalizer, the ultimate meritocracy, it would seem to me that people’s writing, flash, art, whatever else they post online gets its truest measure of worth in word-of-mouth, or traffic, or response from the blog community by way of incoming links, or in private correspondence between those who create work and those who respond to it . . . not by how many comments are posted each day in public.

My biggest concern with comments (other than the obvious ones like spammer comments filling up a blog with commercial rubbish) and bulletin boards dedicated to one writer/artist/musician is that over time, the most devoted and serious commenters will also tend to be the most sycophantic ones: “I love [whatever] the most, and will prove my devotion by stating it here,” “No, I love [whatever] more than you do, and will prove my devotion by stating here twice.”

Mutual appreciation societies become inherently inward-looking and stifle growth, and I think some commenters use feedback on other people’s blogs to enhance their own stature or status vicariously: “If I’m the all-time greatest, most visible fan of [whatever], then I must be almost as good as [whatever] myself, or certainly more important than all the other fans of [whatever].”

So I would much rather people choose to link to my website or contact me directly by e-mail as a lasting endorsement of their estimation of the value of my work (or not), than have daily comments that (again) over time would become less and less challenging, and more and more comfortable, and more and more focussed on the commenters and not the creator (remember: criticism comes easier than craftsmanship)(a fact that, I think, I came to forgot too often during my years of music criticizing). Such a public feedback mechanism ultimately builds a cocoon of fuzzy warmness that would, I think, keep me from pushing in new directions of my own choosing, not the choosing of the those who support my current work and want to see more of it.

Real world example: I’ve been writing and publishing music criticism for nearly 20 years, ten of them in Albany, ten elsewhere. The first version of jericsmith.com went online in late ’94, and it was primarily dedicated to music criticism. As the website grew over the past ten years, it became more and more focused on music criticism. I wrote a novel during that time . . . about music criticism.

But I have to admit that I am really sick of music criticism at this point: there are only so many ways to describe music, and I feel like I’ve done each of them way too many times. So my blog began (in 2000, originally, although I didn’t get serious about it until October 2003) as a way for me to have an outlet for non-music-critic writing. (Specifically poetry for 2004, but that’s not necessarily a permanent fixture once I finish this year’s writing project, and after a year’s sabbatical, who knows, I may want to write music criticism again).

So the issue here is one of comfort and getting stuck by what readers/commenters want: I get regular posts from musicians and bands asking me to go back to more music criticism . . . praising my work . . . not understanding why I’d want to write (shudder) poetry . . . hoping that I’ll see the light and return to my roots . . . . and that then I’ll review their new CD or come to their concert, since they’re sure that I will love it.

So it’s not really about support for my work: it’s about what my work can do for them. And if I listened to them, I’d spend the rest of my writing life recycling used and stale music writing cliches. My earliest writing successes were in poetry (I won a statewide contest in high school, competing against adults) and lyrics (probably the only thing of any lasting value in my entire music-making career). Somewhere, though, I got derailed onto a writing path that led to a seemingly permanent rut of music reviews.

And, ultimately, that’s the real reason that I want to do something different with this blog . . . and, for the moment at least, listen to myself, not focus too heavily on what others have to say about the direction my writing’s taken, and not post what others have to say about the direction my writing’s taken on the very blog that’s taking me there.

This blog, publicly, is a monolog at the moment. (A monoblog?) I have lots of online dialog (diablog?) and feel a strong sense of internet community via the Xnet2 mailing liste (involving people with whom I’ve had e-relationships for over ten years) and Albany Bloggers, among other outlets. I read lots of other people’s blogs, and heartily endorse any link listed to the left of this page as being worth regular visits. I appreciate those who link back to me. I enjoy e-mail conversation among and between these various communities.

I’m just not ready to let Giant Nylon Hair Net go from monoblog to diablog, though. Not yet . . . but keep those e-mail’s coming, I appreciate the feedback, and am glad we can share ideas and observations, privately!

Woods

I have a lifetime love-fear relationship with woods.

Not forests, mind you: forests are grand places, noble, large, pristine or close to it. Woods are their scruffier cousins. They are usually found at the edges of developed neighborhoods, or along creeks or ravines that defy easy suburban development, and they’re lined with crisscrossing trails made by kids and adults looking to hide things, or do things, or be things that don’t belong under the bright sunlight of fields and lawns and parks. Because of this, woods are often heavily littered with construction scrap, broken bottles, abandoned vehicles, used condoms, dumped appliances, and other unsavory trash. They’re menacing, but they’re fascinating.

When I was in elementary school, I spent most of my free time in the woods with my friends. We built forts, we dammed creeks, we smoked our first cigarettes, we wondered about the condoms and underwear we found, we innocently took a bong that we found home because we didn’t know what it was. We knew that adults didn’t belong in the woods: when you saw anyone over about 13 years old, you knew it was best to keep quiet, hide or beat a hasty retreat. Something bad was going to happen if you ran into an adult you didn’t know in the woods.

That’s probably part of the deep psychoanalytical root of my poem “The Devil’s In the Woods Again” (number two in this chapbook collection), along with the fact that my grandfather really did believe that he ran into the devil every now and again in the woods behind the Black Shed on our property in South Carolina. At bottom line for a kid, it seemed that whatever unexpected thing or person you met in the woods, it was probably gonna be bad, but you were gonna go back the next day anyway, just for the thrill that those encounters engendered.

Like riding a roller coaster, only without the safety bar, and with a potential psychopath in the car next to you . . .

If not SWAT, then something else . . .

Football

Is it just me, or does anybody else think there’s something wrong with the television coverage of the football playoffs this year. Call me a purist, but dagnabbit . . . playoff games are supposed to start at 1 PM and 4 PM. The past two weeks, the Saturday games were 4 PM and 7 PM (plus or minus a half hour), and that’s how they’re running them today, too. The whole point of playoff football is to waste the day sitting on the sofa watching games. When they don’t start until almost sundown, it totally alters the experience: I don’t want to be stuffing chips and dip at 10 PM tonight. I want to be done by 7 PM, the way it’s supposed to be!

I should, I suppose, be pulling for Carolina today, seeing as that’s the part of the country from whence I sprang, but I’m not: the Panthers play in Charlotte, and I don’t much care for Charlotte. Plus, I want to see Donovan McNabb make it to the Superbowl, just to add one more twist of total wrongness to the moronic Rush Limbaugh’s comments about the quarterback earlier this year. I also should, I suppose, be pulling for the Patriots today, seeing as they’re near where I live, but I’m not: I want to see Tony Dungy in the Superbowl, so I’m pulling for the Colts. When Tampa Bay won the Bowl last year, they should have given the trophy to Dungy, since it was the team he built who won it. Witness this year’s follow-on debacle before declaring Jon Gruden a coach for the ages. The Tampa Bay ownership gave up on Dungy one year too soon. He can reward them for their idiocy with a Super Bowl run this year. He’s a class act.

Between Philadelphia and Indianapolis, I’d probably pick Philly, just ’cause we have a few bucks riding on them out in Vegas, from a recent trip there by my sister-in-law. But either way, if it comes down to those two team, I’d be happy, for the reasons noted above. Sure wish my adopted Titans were in there. Noticed that my abandoned Redskins turned on the time machine and brought back Joe Gibbs. I can’t see it playing out for them they way they’re expected it to, but even if it does . . . I’m done with them.