Sundries

Music: My jaw is on the floor having made it through three spins of The Chap‘s first U.S. release, Mega Breakfast. A weird frappe of all sorts of musical styles, ridiculously clever lyrics, masterful production, odd/massed vocals, and some truly impressive bass and noisy lead guitar work, Mega Breakfast had one of the strongest first impressions on me that any new (to me) group or record has had in ages. Totally recommended. This means you. Go! Shop!

THE ROOSTER: I have a new archetypal animal in my life. There’s a sorta rundown looking little farm that I and my carpool-mates pass most days on my way home from work, and a few weeks ago, I noticed and realized that there was a mostly black rooster that was holding down his turf on the same corner, under the same tree, every day. He was large and in charge, for sure. Totally Buster Badass. One day, THE ROOSTER had some chickens with him, and he was strutting his stuff with more zest than normally. Yeah, boy! Then a few days after that, a tractor appeared on his corner! Then another tractor! And then a pickup truck! We don’t know quite what THE ROOSTER is planning with the equipment that he is amassing, but the co-pilot said he thought he saw a potato gun behind his tree today, so I’m thinking heavy weaponry is on the way. Watch out for THE ROOSTER. He don’t play.

Space: NASA turned 50 yesterday. Over the next couple of years, we will watch the final assembly of the International Space Station, the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, and (hopefully) the launch of a new U.S. rocket/capsule concept that will allow us to get back out of low Earth orbit.

Until then, we have a wonderful collection of planetary probes on-site, most especially the Cassini-Huygens mission to the Saturn system returning amazing, surprising findings on a monthly basis, and a trio of exciting robots revealing stunning detail on Mars: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Phoenix Mars Mission, and the rugged, trusty Mars Exploration Rovers. Around the time that (hopefully) we begin to head outward toward the Moon again, the New Horizons spacecraft should reach the Pluto-Charon binary dwarf planet system.

I consider it one of the great, divine, magnificent privileges of my life to have been fortunate enough to live during one of the greatest eras of human exploration ever, even if many people today question whether it is necessary or desirable to pursue off-planet exploration. But consider this, for perspective: Sir Francis Drake’s crews became the second to ever circumnavigate the Earth in 1577-1580, 58 years (!) after Magellan’s crew did it the first time. Sometimes first voyages or explorations are so audacious and so astounding and so ahead of their time that it takes decades, if not centuries, for them to be revisited.

All of our trips to the moon occurred between 1969 and 1972, so if it takes us until 2027 to get back, then we haven’t done any worse as a species than we did on circumnavigating the globe. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing again. I can’t wait for it to happen.

Yummy: I’ve dropped about 18 pounds since returning from Argentina, in large part (I think) because I’m not nervously/boredly eating crap two or three nights a week, the way I was when I was still in school. I wrote a couple of months back about how important density of taste was to me when it came to cutting portion size, such as my still much-enjoyed sardines and caviar treat. I’ve been enjoying another relatively low-calorie snack that satisfies stupendously because it has good flavor. I make one of those 100-calorie bags of microwave popcorn (which generally taste like straw and twigs), and pour it into a bowl. (Food should only be eaten out of bags when one is at a sporting event. Just saying.) Then I take one tablespoon of real butter (margarine will not work) and about 1/4 teaspoon of dried cumin, and quickly, rapidly heat them together while stirring, until the butter just begins to brown. It’s crucial to get it out of the heat as soon as the color appears, before it burns. Pour that over the tasteless popcorn and toss. It’s got such a stupendous flavor (the delicious toasty greasiness of brown butter, the warm roastiness of the cumin), which works perfectly over the salty crunch of the popcorn. 200 calories, if you lick the bowl when you get to the bottom. Exceptionally satisfying.

THE BUNNY

We have archetypal animals in our yard. Some that we like, and some that we don’t.

Regarding the latter: after Marcia goes out to look at and tend her magnificent gardens, she frequently reports to me that “The bunny has eaten my petunias” or “The bunny had a field day with my asters” or other such tales of gardening woe and misfortune.

Her choice of words is important: she never reports that “A rabbit ate my petunias” or “Some conies ate my asters.” It’s always one, big, mean, annual-eating archetypal monster that can only be referred to in the singular: THE BUNNY!

I imagine HIMSELF hippity-hopping around the back yard while we are at work, making NOM! NOM! NOM! sounds as he hoovers up whatever new plants Marcia has placed in pots or beds for his nibbling pleasure.

I started wondering why Marcia referred to THE BUNNY that way, and it occurred to me that she probably picked up on my own (admittedly weird) habit of greeting animals that I encounter out loud in their proper archetypal forms, since I don’t actually know their names.

If I go outside to get the newspaper and there’s a grackle in the front yard watching me pass by, I politely and respectfully say “Hello, THE GRACKLE.” Why would I deign to greet it in any less formal way, since I haven’t been invited to do so? I was brought up polite-like by my mother, and always show it.

When a dog rushes up to me on the street, I don’t say “Hi there, boy!” or “Down, beast!”, but rather give it its proper archetypal due as well: “Hello, THE DOG.” Even the cats who live in the house with us get proper archetypal addresses when I greet them: “Hello, THE BUMBLE” or “Hello, THE ORANGE.”

Much to my family’s chagrin, I actually do this in front of other people, out loud. A lot.

So I suppose it’s only fitting that Marcia curses THE BUNNY in the same way that I would greet him, if I actually caught him noshing her flowers: “Hello, THE BUNNY. Are you enjoying the flowers that Marcia put out for your dining pleasure this week? Just as THE SQUIRREL is enjoying the seeds that I put out for THE FINCH and his friends?”

I guess that’s why I’m a lousy gardener, since it would never occur to me to chase any of those archetypal animals away.

Look Up

This is one of the best weeks in quite some time for spotting the International Space Station passing over our region, in both the evening and early morning hours. 

The ISS is shockingly bright, fast and impressive to see, especially if you catch it in a clear sky when its magnitude is around -2.5, brighter than the brightest star (Sirius), and in league with Venus and Jupiter as attention-catching celestial objects.

Here’s a great website, set for Albany, that tells you when and where to look. It’s worth getting outside and checking it out for some of those brighter passes (the more negative the apparent magnitude number, the brighter the object).

You can also re-set it to your own location, obviously, though these times and directions will generally be good enough to find it in the greater Capital Region.

It’s awesome to spot. And even more awesome to ponder the fact that there are people on it as it passes.

Eric’s Book of the Every-So-Often Club

As a general principle, if something in a book store has an “Oprah’s Book Club” sticker on it, I steer way, way, way clear of it. I’ve had many literary influences in my life, but I just can’t get my brain around the notion that we’ve become a nation that selects its reading material based on a daytime talk show host’s personal preferences.

Most of the time, it’s not an issue, since she likes stuff I wouldn’t ever read anyway. That said, I was furious when she put her tag on Cormac McCarthy’s magnificent The Road. After I’d already read it, just for the record.

And, yeah, I know, I know, I know, Oprah’s more than just a TV personality, she’s a media mogul, renaissance woman, yada yada blada blah, so don’t waste your time sending me hate mail to tell me that, please and thanks. Fact of the matter in my life is, the only time I ever hear about Oprah is when she does some stunt on her TV show like the car giveaway or letting Tom Cruise out of his cage, or when her weight fluctuates more than usual, one way or the other.

I don’t care about either of those things. Almost as much as I don’t care about the state of Angelina Jolie’s womb, or what Amy Winehouse has growing out of her beehive, or what the Simpson or Spears women are doing this week to make the nation think that all Southerners are idiots. And given that fact, I don’t care what any of them are reading.

Now, if Muhammad Ali had a book of the month club, I’d be totally into that. Or Walter Becker’s Book of the Month Club. I’d join that, for sure. Or Maureen Dowd’s. I’d also sign up for clubs sponsored by Maya Angelou, Robert Fripp, Isabelle Huppert, David Thomas, David Lynch, Gene Krantz, Robert Wyatt, Nelson Mandela, or the folks who drive Mars Rovers for a living. I’d love to know what’s on all of their bedtime tables. I’d eat that information up, if they’d share it.

Problem is, while I’d love knowing what they read, since I’m interested in them (as opposed to, say, Oprah), odds are that I wouldn’t actually read it myself. This is because while I read voraciously, what I like and read regularly tends to break down into four pretty standard, repetitive categories, as follows:

10% Fiction: Usually I will read new books by the the dozen or so authors I know I already really like. Breaking in new authors is so risky and hard. Why bother, neh?

40% Natural History: Ideally books about bugs, trilobites, fish, or birds, or parasites that live(d) on bugs, trilobites, fish and birds, or things that eat/ate bugs, trilobites, fish or birds, or interesting theories about the ways that bugs, trilobites, fish and birds interact with or influence people. I’m a bugs, trilobites, fish and birds kinda guy, y’know?

40% Music Biography: I have read at least half a dozen full-length books about Genesis, to cite but one example of my vast contemporary rock biography collection. And if someone comes out with a credible new book about Genesis next year, I will read that one too. Because someone has to, right? And it might as well be me.

10% Tales of Human Suffering: People falling off of Mount Everest, going insane in the Arctic because of the toxins in their tinned food, or trying to walk across the Sahara Desert alone will always be welcome in my book collection.

So, with all that noted, maybe I should have my own book club, for people who like fiction by familiar authors, books about bugs, trilobites, fish or birds, rock biography, or tales of human suffering. Does that sound like you? Alright then! Let’s read! When I feel like it, I mean.

This every-so-often’s book recommendation is Bandalism: Do Not Destroy Your Group by Julian Ridgway (2007, SAF Publishing). This is a great, humorous, knowledgeable work that will appeal to anyone who has ever been in or wanted to be in rock band, as it describes and documents in loving, obsessive detail the concept of “bandalism,” which the author defines as “the willful or malicious destruction of or damage to a rock/pop/indie group brought about by one or more of its members.”

When I picked the book off the shelf in the book store, I randomly flipped to a page that offered a step-by-step flow chart of how to deal with this problem: “Dave Won’t Switch From Guitar to Bass.” Which is hilarious and helpful alike, if you’ve ever had to deal with that situation, which most people who have played in bands likely have. What a hoot! (If this does not seem like a hoot, then we probably shouldn’t be in the same book club anyway. Just saying.)

This book also appeals to me, egomaniac that I am, because it provides a nonfiction analog to the novel that I wrote, (which is actually called Eponymous, and not Eponymous: A Customized Journal for Ages 10-18, as Amazon recently re-titled it, for reasons mysterious, but nonetheless amusing). Eponymous was essentially a tale of bandalism of the worst order, as the fictional group Arctangent gets ever-so-close to stardom, only to be scuttled time and time again by their horrific screw-up of a bass player, Collie Hay.

Who isn’t me, no matter what anyone might tell you. Really. Here’s what Wilson Smith said about Collie in his review of my book: “Collie is a darkly humorous — no, make that hysterically funny — self-loather, one who seems to do bad things mostly in order to justify feeling bad about himself. He’s a slacker who, perhaps deliberately, sabotages himself repeatedly and thereby avoids the pain of failure that he’d feel were he to shoot for success and not quite make it.”

I only wish that I’d read Bandalism before I wrote Eponymous, since then I would have had a word to better, more succinctly describe Collie’s behavior. Now I do, hooray!

So there you go. You’ve got Bandalism, the first entry in Eric’s Book of the Every-So-Often Club, along with a plug for my own long lost work. I can guarantee you Oprah will not endorse these books, if that helps you decide whether you want them or not.

Top Twelve Albums of 2008 (First Half)

I was going to report on a few discs that I acquired this month, but then figured since we’ve made it through the first six months of 2008, I might as well do a quick retrospective of the 2008 releases that have rocked my world the most thoroughly to date. The first album listed is definitely my pick for the best release of the year, although the remaining eleven aren’t in any particular order yet:

Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight

Why?, Alopecia

Santogold, Santogold

Los Campesinos, Hold On Now Youngster

The Fall, Imperial Wax Solvent

Pete and the Pirates, Little Death

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig Lazarus Dig!!!

The Teenagers, Reality Check

Snoop Dogg, Ego Trippin’

The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust

Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple

Bauhaus, Go Away White

All good listening. All recommended. Go forth! Exploreth!

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Latham Anymore

Yesterday morning, I had some boiled peanuts for breakfast, after being awakened by a flock of loud turkeys outside my window.

Mid-day, I went downtown and had a great bowl of collard greens for lunch, and we discussed the fact that they were a smidge sweeter than the way we’d normally prepare, and noted that we needed to get some okra sometime soon as well.

Last night, I sat on the porch playing board games with a bunch of dogs underfoot, and then I shot a paintgun at some street signs visible from the porch, and then someone lit off some fireworks in the yard.

As I type here at the dining room table the next morning, fresh buttermilk biscuits are being crafted in the kitchen next to me, and I’m wagering that there’s going to be some greasy, crispy, smoky sort of meat served with them, based on the crackling, popping sounds that are beginning to drift my way.

For three days now, no one has looked at me like I was stupid when I said “reckon,” “fixin,” “y’all” or “ain’t” out loud.

Life is good, as I have returned to the motherland in the Carolinas (with my mother, no less), as the extended family gathers for the holiday. Later today, my brother-in-law and I are going to go biking in the woods, then we’re going to have a picnic with proper Carolina-style smoked barbecue and fried chicken, then we’ll go figure out where the blowing stuff up part of July Fourth will be held.

We’re also doing college stuff with Katelin this trip, having visited Wake Forest, Elon and Guilford on Wednesday, and then dropping her off at Davidson for a three-week summer program on Sunday. She’s got Davidson at the top of her list at this point, so the on-campus experience will be a good way to see if it’s really where she wants to be.

While, all kidding aside, I love the life we’ve made in Upstate New York and the quality of life we experience there, there really is a deep resonance that occurs when I get into the heart of the Carolinas, where the accents sound right to me, the culture is that in which I was raised, and the trees, soil, plants, climate and architecture all look the way things are supposed to.

At Wake Forest, we were walking around the peaceful, quiet, beautiful central quad, when the calm was interupted by a very loud woman on a cell phone, with a strong, beautiful Piedmont accent, shouting down the line at someone, telling them that she didn’t care what was going on, it was her house, and no one was going to use her bathroom, no way, no how, don’t you dare let him use the bathroom, because it’s her bathroom in her house. That’s it. No! No! Don’t you do it! Don’t you let him use the bathroom! Not in my house!

I wanted to hug her, but I figured she wouldn’t understand.