25 November 2007

A Shaggy But Nonetheless Exquisite Blorpse

As you may know, "Exquisite Corpse" is a game invented by those madcap modernists known as Surrealists in which a group of people contribute sections of words or images to produce a collaborative (and monstrous) artwork. The rub is that they make their contribution sight unseen, so the artist continues the drawing using only the most minute portion of the previous one (hidden by folding the paper over) or the writer uses just the last word of the previous writer's contribution. According to legend (that or wikipedia), the name comes from the first game played, which resulted in the phrase "The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine."

NOW: it has been suggested by the entity the people at ghost of paper will henceforth refer to as "Pulp Zombie" that a version of this method be launched into the blogosphere. As we are 1) touched by the connections being made across space, across people, across blogs ... the implications of minds stuck on the web, and 2) worried about the current distance between posts, we decided perhaps it's worth a shot.

THOUGH: Of course, the circumstances make a true "exquisite corpse" unfeasible, as each contributer will be privy to what came before, our beast will be built in sections and without blueprint. A virtual narrative daisy chain.

OR: Perhaps a better model would be the beloved so-called "shaggy dog joke," that brand of comic jazz in which the teller stretches his story out to include absurdly specific and tangential details, building and building a palace of useless information until finally the punchline ("fuck you clown," for example ... if you know that one) is the height of anticlimax.

IDEALLY: A goodly number of peeps will contribute - in large amounts, small amounts, named or unnamed, tamed or untamed, putting as much or as little time and effort into it as possible.

SO: as to what goes here ... here goes nothing. A shaggy, but nonetheless exquisite blorpse.

So there's this really fat beekeeper named Gary. And Gary lives in this old house way up on a hill by himself. He has no wife, no friends, and no pets - other than the bees, but they're more of a vocation. In fact when his sister Melinda, who lived in town with her family, suggested they go see Bee Movie, it took him a while to register why she'd done so. When he's not making sure those bees are kept, his hobbies involve other minature microcosmic worlds - he builds model ships in bottles, he collects model trains, and he reads political science voraciously. Anyway one day he's eating Hamburger Helper (which he liked) and watching that new reality show Kid Nation (which he didn't) and the doorbell rings...

15 November 2007

Television Doesn't Need Your Pity

It occurs to me that television is simultaneously at its HIGHEST and LOWEST point. Dragging the lake for the corpses of ideas like Skating With the Stars and that Caveman show. But that's obvious. Easy targets. Remember years ago there was this show called Change of Heart where people that were dating got set up with other people and at the end they had to vote whether they wanted to stay with their partner or get with the new person? You weren't sure whether it could get any worse, but if you were anything like me you sat in a beanbag chair in 1998 getting Cheeto-powder on a 22oz Colt.45 and said "someday they'll have a show where you just watch people break up." And now they have this show Cheaters ... have you seen Cheaters? The host, one Joey Greco, rivals only John Edward (who would con grieving dimwits into thinking he spoke to their dead relatives) for a place in the hallowed halls of douchebaggery.

But what's more important are the high points. I'm here to tell you with the straightest of faces, that the greatest shows in the history of television were all on HBO and either just ended, are ending soon, or were just canceled. They are 1) THE WIRE 2) DEADWOOD and 3)THE SOPRANOS. Have a look here at a salon debate.

The Wire's Baltimore expands with each episode, unfolding into an idea map that covers more social and intellectual terrain than a film or even a novel can cram into its limits. It spreads out but its networked - there's a system in place in service of illuminating the systems in place - legal and illegal. And it takes on the always troublesome issue of white people writing the stories (and dialogue) of black people (as well as white people) with an admirable earnestness. Its world is actively 'multicultural' without feeling in any way forced or too self-conscious.

Now Deadwood is one hell of a demonstration of writing chops. Not only are the scripts compelling and the characters fleshed and rounded, but the dialogue is high-stylized - mannered to an almost Shakespearian level AND twice as profane as Tarantino. Ian MacShane's Al Swearengen is larger-than-life luminescent - cocksure, theatrical, and toughassed. But the wonderful thing, particularly about Season Two, is how the other players are more and more finely drawn. They can't outshout Swearengen, but they slowly start to matter to you.

And neither show would have existed without the Sopranos, which I'm now finishing. I wonder if someone started watching the show now, it might even seem outdated, as it premiered in 1999 (back when Change of Heart was still on). But they're still meditating on the pop-cultural resonance of the mafioso in freshly meta ways. In one sense, these are minstrelized "UNCLE DOMS," mugging in tracksuits and chesthair, but the show thinks about this before our eyes. And as I move through the latter episodes, I can see their lives falling apart but also 'deconstructed.'

And I'm never quite sure how to talk intelligently about these things, but these shows are shot in such rich and distinctive color palettes, starting with the candlelit and oak tones of the Sopranos that seems to nod to Coppola. And the filthy mouths of Deadwood pontificate from such dusty environs that your own mouth feels filthier in the watching.

And lest we forget the comedies. There are ways in which when I see a rerun of Cheers or The Cosby Show or Family Ties I can appreciate the artistry of 80s sitcoms in that they were out to build relationships with the viewers ... to draw caricatures but somehow in a HUMAN way that maybe registered as less than a laugh, even less than a smile but nothing less than a general pleasantness that radiated throughout the living rooms of our youths. And of course Seinfeld was revolutionary in its playfully cynical and quirked-out worldview and its narrative structure. But NONE of THESE shows can make me laugh like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (R.I.P) or 30 ROCK. These shows are flat out funnier than anything a network has ever aired. And of course, the BBC Office and the American Office are laugh out loud funny and occasionally genuinely emotional affecting, which might make them even better. Although both the Office and 30 Rock seem threatened by the corporate dicks at NBC, who want to force the one show into overlong 'supersized' episodes and the other into selling Jerry Seinfeld's animated project or NBC's "Green Week." Being self-conscious about shilling doesn't make shilling any less lame.


I've seen Tracy Morgan on talk shows taking his shirt off and talking streaming (is it) consciousness about guys breaking up fights while holding babies. Is he the black Andy Kaufman. Some kind of high-concept comic genius? Or art imitating life?

And the adorable John Krasinski. Are we tired of his oh-my-god-do-you-believe-these-people camera takes ... or are they still adorable?

AND, of course, what are the best and worst shows in the history of television per you ...

14 November 2007

Carry On, Carrion Birds

The dog got way too shaggy and had to be shorn. I had my first idea for a post that had to be scrapped. But I'm going to take the scrap and fashion it into some kind of po-mo mobile to dangle overhead. I'm going to pick at its carcass, as it rots by the road and the wind carries the stink of self-indulgent obnoxiousness to your unsuspecting noses.

It was a sort of too-ambitious concept piece about an encounter with personified versions of MYBOOK and MYBAND, the sort of untapped potential that we imagine to be locked up or otherwise stunted, held back. Like I would interview these walking talking embodiments of my unwritten novel and my unformed band. So I was going to call it "The Undone Sessions" and I was then going to ask you if you knew YERBOOK and YERBAND and what they looked like. Maybe too insubstantial but I thought it was enough to go on.

Where I think I took the real wrong turn, though, was when I decided I wanted to use the subtitle "Interview Without the Vampire" because the whole thing would be 'set' in a dream and there wouuld be this sort of creature that sucks out the will or confidence or drive to do these things you want to do and ... from there the thing got way too out of control.

I did like the beginning, though. It went like this:

"Let's pretend I had a dream. And in the dream I'm sleeping. And dreaming. Let's pretend I had a dream and in the dream I'm sleeping and dreaming about being at an R.E.M. show. I like R.E.M. but I'm not like a huge fan or anything, but maybe sort of subconsciously I am because there I am at the R.E.M. show and I'm DEEP INTO R.E.M. They've been playing for about 90 minutes and I'm transfixed, not really moving, but it's hard to focus. Stipe and the other guys keep bouncing around in my vision. And I have a boner. Not quite sure why. So Stipe gets finished doing some weird dance - it looks like he's hugging himself or maybe trying to curtail some involuntary muscle spasms, and he sits down at this piano and he starts to play "Nightswimming" from Automatic for the People. And I really like that song: "The fear of getting caught / Of recklessness and water /They cannot see me naked /These things, they go away /Replaced by everyday."

BUT THEN I'm awake (in the dream) and the vampire is there,"attached to my mouth by its mouth." Yikes. Just a whole different vibe here. Uneven. And I'm tangled up in the amount of time it takes to explain all the details I've made necessary when I began down this path. So the thing is kind of sagging from its own weight at this point. And I can't decide if I want to be funny or "literary" or how to combine the two. And so the vampire thing starts out trying to be creepy and ends up trying to be silly. The colors clash. This is what that section said right before being euthanised:

"I had just never woken up in flagrante disgusto like this before. Anyway, I wasn't able to make all of it out but it said it was some kind of toothless vampire that fed on the sufferers of any number of related and Seuss-ly mellifluous afflictions - moxie pox, gumption consumption, stuff like that. So anyway, in the dream I'm still awake and the vampire can't exactly go back to "work" so I offered him some Powerade and Cheez-Its(all I had) and he sort of thought about it for a minute and then turned it down and then he asked me if I played World of Warcraft and I said no I didn't and then after a few more excruciating minutes he finally took off."

And by now I've invested too much time in the thing but I still haven't gotten to or even thought of a "plausible" way to get to these interviews with MYBOOK and MYBAND, so there was just no way. Or if there is, I can't see it from here, what with the glaze of failure coating my eyes.

Anyhow, I'll be posting something less pretentious real soon. But I did mean for this one to open out. So please do tell me about YERBOOK and YERBAND if that isn't completely idiotic.


07 November 2007

Syllygism, Quickly

Syllogisms. You know, like
1) Every song by Air Supply is laughably saccharine yet oddly irrestible
2) "All Out of Love" is a song by Air Supply
THEREFORE: "All Out of Love" is laughably saccharine yet oddly irrestible.
I challenge all comers to detect any airholes in that logic. Hermetically sealed.

So in a recent New Yorker article by Steve Martin he includes some stretched out syllogisms by logician and Jack-of-All-Bandersnatch Lewis Carroll. Apparently the logic holds despite its elaborate container.

1) No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste
2) No modern poetry is free from affectation
3) All your poems are on the subject of soap bubbles
4) No affected poetry is popular among people of real taste
5) Only a modern poem would be on the subject of soap bubbles
THEREFORE: All your poems are uninteresting.

That cracks me up. Me and Steve Martin. Anyway, I invite you to compose your own SILLY-GISMS and post here. Conventional or otherwise. C'mon it'll be fun. Don't you wanna ... just give it a ... You think you're better than me, don't you? Sitting there with your smarm and your shirt and your not blogging things. And the judging. That's what gets me. Who do you think you are anyway, Oliver Wendell Holmes?? Do you think you're Oliver Wendell Holmes?? Do you??

Seriously, donate syllogisms.

[And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the dual Aussie warblers that head Air Supply are Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock. So it is both my dream and my earnest intention to form a softrock supergroup called GRAHAM RUSSELL HITCHCOCK that will play Air Supply covers and the occasional original jam. Our first album will be called TAKE A DEEP BREATH. And we will only play at dentist's offices and maybe other offices and supermarkets or wherever they like to play the literock radio station.]

04 November 2007

Ultima Thule

My all-time favorite wordsmith / lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov (whose image on this blog appears left but is also captured right and captioned wrong - or maybe "write," anagramatically correct) was born into a White Russian family that fled the Red Revolution in 1917 when Vlad was 18. In 1922 in Berlin, his father was killed at a political rally, trying to shelter another man from an assassin's bullet. Perhaps these are among the reasons why EXILE and the AFTERLIFE are themes that echo throughout his writing. And perhaps this is why he liked to activate the arcane idea of Ultima Thule, "the northernmost region of the habitable world to ancient Greek geographers," to represent "a distant territory or remote goal or ideal" [http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/ zembla.htm]. In his memoir, "Speak, Memory," Nabokov called this "unreal estate." True North becomes a sort of imaginable but inaccessible celestial space. [I write this, by the way, having just witnessed Matt Lauer at halftime of the Sunday Night Football game reporting from the Arctic Circle]

I bring this up because last night I had a sort of vision of my own that leads me to concur with VN that distant northern lands may indeed approach heaven on earth. I saw Swedish pop singer Jens Lekman, whose wry wit, baritoned balladry, and lush orchestral soundscapes I've been enjoying for a short while. I thought that the show would likely be a fun, even whimsical experience but I did not expect Lekman to walk onstage smiling and trailing seraphim, a band of Scandinavian ladies (FIVE of them? SIX??) all in white. They played horns, strings, accordians, maybe a triangle ... and occasionally Lekman would quit strumming and defer to his DJ (the only other male on stage) and then he and the women would spin around gleefully in unison. Lekman's encore even included a solo cover of Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al," during which he coyly refused to sing the chorus. The crowd did it for him.

I don't mean to make this about the rampant adorability on stage (Jens included), because if I was drooling, I was thinking too. If an American singer leads a band of uniformly dressed women then he's Robert Palmer - and the women are ironic, objectified, and not really playing their instruments. Maybe it's the Social Democratic systems of Sweden and its neighbors - standard of living, health care, etc. There was unabashed joy on the stage last night. Now American rock bands can certainly bring joy about, but they wouldn't dare embody it, busy as they are with icy-cool posturing. [Yes, I've heard of the Polyphonic Spree]. The only other time I've seen vibrations this good was when I saw Architecture in Helsinki, another traveling co-ed indie rock bliss festival. Now they are from Australia, but their name is Exhibit B.

I know that 1) Norway has a really high suicide rate and 2) this association of "norths" with everything wonderful flirts with both Santa Claus and Hitler's eugenics. But risking traveling too far afield, I think, for better or worse, these might be Un-American activities. And speaking of dangerous generalizations and endangered gyrations, have you read or read about New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere Jones' complaint about the "whiteness" of indie rock ("A Paler Shade of White: How Indie Rock Lost Its Soul" in the 10/22 issue)? A provocative article indeed. He defends it here on his blog and a rebuttal can be found here from slate.com's Carl Wilson (which, by the way, is the name of the Beach Boy who sang lead on the gorgeous pet sound "God Only Knows").

02 November 2007

Lonesomeness is a Swath of Neck Hair

Happiness is a warm gun. I know what the Beatles meant when they said that. They meant that they were weird and on mushrooms. [HEAR: a rimshot. PICTURE: the drummer yawning.]

But lonesomeness is a swath of neck hair. I can see it there in the bathroom mirror. And there's nobody back there, where my eyes don't go, to shave it for me. To keep me maintained.

And so I navigate the thicket myself. Bravely. Stupidly. Taking a guess, clearing a path on the frontiers of what I can see. And this is why LONESOMENESS and not LONELINESS, with its lilting alliteration, dressed up in ribbons and bows. It's easy to trace the tracks of its tears. Lonesomeness, on the other hand, is a swath of neck hair but it is also a barstool, a loaded sixstring on my back, the basement of the Alamo, the head chopped off a parking meter. Lonesomeness sleeps just fine with a Stetson pulled over its head, having just put out the fire and kicked the empty can of beans. But not out of frustration.

And the skies are not cloudy all day.