Another Option for Your Attention

TranquilThe world is changing. It is getting smaller, faster, smarter and more accessible. What’s crazy is that some people are bitching that all this technology and change is a bad thing. “Nobody reads anymore” i heard someone say the other day. I do believe that habits are changing due to technology. Mobile phones make it easier to tune out conversations and to not memorize phone numbers. The internet rewards and feeds a short attention span. The question i ask myself is “is this a bad thing?” Chuck Klosterman in his latest book has a whole chapter dedicated to explaining why technology is a bad thing (my thoughts). By i believe he’s equating different to harmful. I recently read this blog post by Steven Johnson where he states:

I think of our present situation as somewhat analogous to the mass migration from the country to the city that started several centuries ago in Europe: the bustle and stimulation and diversity of urban life made it harder to enjoy the slower, organic pleasures of rural living. Still those pleasures didn’t disappear. People continue to cherish them in mass numbers to this day.

I believe this wholeheartedly. Urban life totally disrupted the traditional calm of country life. Today there are plenty who prefer the hustle of the city and many others who prefer to keep it calm in the country. I fully appreciate both. However, i have no patience for people who bash city life (ask my sister about how i attacked her when she started ripping NYC).  Large city culture is unique and can be exhilarating, stimulating and inspiring. But it’s existence doesn’t preclude living in the country – just like the internet and technology doesn’t have to render reading and concentrating in large doses obsolete. Don’t fear the change, just recognize it for what it is: another option for your attention.

Don’t Eat The Dinosaur

I just finished reading Chuck Klosterman’s latest book, Eating the Dinosaur and i didn’t like it. Before i get into why i didn’t like it, i do want to say that i thought his essays
about Kurt Cobain (Oh, the Guilt) and Garth Brooks (The Passion of Garth) to be really interesting. Also, the Time eating_the_dinosaur_lMachine and Abba essays were okay. I then had somewhat of a problem with the rest. I have 4 main reasons.

The first and main reason i didn’t like the book is this: Chuck writes about what he’s interested in. His past books were about Rock N Roll, Reality TV, Billy Joel, Dixie Chicks and other things. They had an interesting take on items i liked and were very familiar with. These essays expanded my thinking on these topics. For example, i had never realized that the Dixie Chicks were that similar to 80’s Van Halen, nor had i thought about how Billy Joels was a unique kind of cool different than almost all other rock stars (on a coolness range from white to black, he’s an orange). Also, past essays celebrated both the subjects and the concepts. The current essays are about philosophical views on the world. He asks questions and makes statements about society such as,

  • Why we like or hate people who fail
  • Why we interact with popular advertising in the manner we do
  • Why Chuck hates laugh tracks in TV shows and america’s approach to humor
  • Why NFL Football is great
  • Why watching people (voyeurism) is exciting: (because there’s a possibility for anything to happen)

These are the topics of this book and they are just nowhere close to as interesting as his previous topics. His book of interviews, IV, had a great interview with Val Kilmer. Nothing here touches that.


Reason number 2 for not liking this book is that there are lots of quotes in the book. For some reason my Kindle never shows who says these quotes. That makes them WAY less interesting and just frustrating. Don’t read this book on a kindle.

My third reason is that I didn’t like the prose. I think i know why this is. I’ve tracked down Kloserman on podcasts and now seen him speak twice. I know what he sounds like in person. So much so that i now hear his voice talking when i read his text. Do you know when you notice someone is saying the word “like” too much and all of the sudden you find yourself pay attention to them actually say the work “like” over and over instead of whatever it is they are trying to say? Well, this happens with me and Chuck. He uses the words “idiom’ and italicizes his word “must” and i can hear his emphasis. It bothers me. Maybe i’ve just read too much of his stuff.

Finally, the last essay in the book is about his dislike of technology and I completely disagree with his opinion regarding the Internet. He has a part in the book where he criticizes anyone who publicly praises the internet because he argues they only like it because it now makes them relevant. He says,”the only people who insist the internet is wonderful are those who need it to give the life meaning.” I can’t begin to say how wrong that stance is.

At the end, Klosterman comes off as a guy who is just bitter that the world is changing. He reminds me of people who refuse to watch television, won’t own cell phones and only listen to music on vinyl. Grow up.

Michael Jackson Thoughts

Michael Jackson

As everyone knows, Michael Jackson died last Friday from heart complications in LA.  While i wasn’t shocked by his death, I was amazed by the reaction both by people and the media.  Some of my thoughts:

  1. First off, while it’s nice to see such happy thoughts and words coming out of the media and blogosphere, i can’t believe how everyone has sort of forgotten about the past 15 years of Michael Jackson. I mean, multiple child molestation charges with 13-year old boys.  Whatever the cause of the guilt, do you know anyone who would leave their 12 year old with him alone?
  2. Some Good Articles: There is a great recount of all those stories listed here in Vantity Fair and Ebert has posted a great article that weighs both his greatness and his fragility in a good article here called “The Boy Who Never Gave Up
  3. Thinking about his legacy, he’s definitely one of the best performers of all time – his dancing and on-stage presence seems unparalleled.
  4. While Elvis brought in Rock n’ Roll, i feel that Michael Jackson brought in pop music.  He came to define the 80’s style while adding more production value to music.  To me, he invented the genre “pop”
  5. It’s interesting to see how people react once someone dies.  The immediately become forgiven and can easily take on legendary status.  While that’s ok, i wish more people who feel this way while the artist is alive.  Two months ago nobody was saying how influential MJ was. Then hie dies and everyone in the world starts blabbing off about how influential and transformative he was.  Was he awesome? Yes.  But why didn’t people post how awesome he was before? The same thing happened with Kurt Kobain, Johnny Cash, Elvis and others.  As Chuck Klosterman says (who is an expert on his subject having written Killing Yourself To Live), “You’ll hear nobody stating how influential Boy George is, but the minute he dies it’ll come out with how he was able to break down the gender barriers before anyone else”  And he’s right.  In death, people are no longer people, they become symbols.

Chinese Democracy exists and i'm happy about it

Guns n Roses album Chinese Democracy is released
Guns n' Roses album Chinese Democracy is finally released

I had this conversation in the office today with a colleague (let call him M-Bone) that went like this:

  • M-Bone: The new Chinese Democracy album totally sucks
  • Me: Really?!
  • M-Bone: Yeah – it’s totally horrible
  • Me: hmm
  • Me: Hey – did you like Use Your Illusion?
  • M-Bone: No – i hated that album too

And there you have it.  I keep hearing from lots of people who didn’t like Guns ‘N Roses to begin with that the new album Chinese Democracy is garbage.  Of course it is – you don’t like the Guns N’ Roses‘ music.   Me, on the other hand, happen to really like GnR and think that the new ablum is really interesting.  Of course the music isn’t as good as Appetite for Destruction – nothing will ever be.  But it is good.  And even more than that – it is nice just to have it exist. It’s a moment, an event, something worth listening to.

The Phantom Menace

I would argue the same for Star Wars Episode I or Rocky II.  Are they good as the originals? No, definitely not.  Am i happy they exist? Absolutely.  Whether you love them or hate them – it just makes the world a better place.

I don’t think i’ll know how good the music is until all the hoopla dies down.  Probably sometime in mid 2009 i’ll have a sense for how good the songs are.  Right now i really like them and really enjoy just experience more GnR.

There is also a good review by Chuck Kloseterman about the new album.  As a fellow fan and probably the most qualified man in America to review the album, he also appreciates the album but brings up some good questions that it raises.  I’ll leave you to the article. It’s here in the AV Section of the Onion: Chuck Klosterman’s review of Guns N’ Roses album Chinese Democracy

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Patriots Perfect? Don't Talk to Me About iIT.

I am pretty sick of hearing about the Patriots, their quest to perfection and all that.  I am forever destined to curse the entire Boston area for stealing all of the good Minnesotans.  First is was David Ortiz and Doug Mientkiewicz going to the Red Sox, then it was Moroney going to the Pats and Kevin Garnett going to the Celtics.  The final straw was seeing Randy Moss catching passes as a Patriot. It just drives me nuts.  It’s as if Minnesota is the JV team to New Englands Varsity squad.  It just hurts so much

I did like Klosterman’s recent article about the meaning of perfection and how Brady and the Pats relate.  Check it out here.

Go Giants

Downtown Owl

There’s a new novel by Chuck Klosterman who as many of you know is one of my favorite writers.  While his past 4 books were all non-fiction, this new book, called Downtown Owl, is a fiction novel that takes place in 1983 North Dakota.

I think it’s a pretty good book and it definitely captured my attention. My big issue with the book is that it’s all description and details. There is very little interaction or plot.  It’s a 300 page summary of a time and people in North Dakota with some interesting anecdotes.  It’s funny, witty and well-written but it’s not necessarily a story.

That said, it’s very Klosterman-ish and has some great elements.  As usual he explores deeply the frivolous. There are entire chapters about a theoretical fight  between a hulking giant of a boy named Grendal and a smaller, wrong-side of the tracks type kid name Cubby who loves to fight.  With a typical Klostermanish metaphor, the scenario is more than just a “who would win” but a nice little metaphor for what you believe in the world.  Do traits like physical appearance or genes win out in our world or will characteristics like desire and passion?  Peolpe will lean different ways and that debate is by far the best part of the book.

One thing i really like is how he sets up the small town feel.   One character in high school relates Owl to the book 1984 – the Orwell book his class was assigned saying:

“Everyone knew everything. So how was ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ a dystopia? It seemed ordinary. What was so unusual about everyone knowing all the same things?”

“People always say that nothing changes in a small town, but — whenever they say that — they usually mean that nothing changes figuratively. The truth is that nothing changes literally: It’s always all the same people, doing all the same things.”

Discussing the differnce between literal thoughts and figurative is something Chuck loves to do.  He’s typically done it with popular culture but in Downtown Owl he does it with a 1980’s North Dakota town.  And it makes for a pretty fun read

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Klosterman on Bonds

Some people have asked me what i think about Bonds breaking the record.  In general i’m against it but i do recognize it as impressive.  I think Klosterman said it best (article here) over a year ago when he was close to breaking Babe’s record….

At some point in the immediate to near future, someone is going to throw Barry Bonds a strike when he should be seeing a ball, and he will rake it with extreme prejudice. His propulsive, compact swing will rock the sphere toward the roof of the troposphere; it will fall to earth roughly 440 feet from where Bonds is standing, and he will react as if he is: (a) unimpressed or (b) vaguely annoyed.

He will then jog 360 feet, and some people will cheer, and some people will have mixed feelings, and some people will have mixed feelings while they cheer. And that is because this particular raking will be the 715th home run of Bonds’ career, meaning he will have surpassed the home run production of George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

This is a problem.

It is not a problem the way global warming is a problem, nor is it a problem the way throat cancer is a problem. But it’s a problem for anyone who considers sports to be a meaningful prism through which to understand life and culture. It’s a problem for future historians, which means it’s a problem for us right now. The problem is this: It’s an achievement of disenchantment. And that applies to pretty much everyone involved, including you.

The reason we keep statistics — and the reason we care about statistical milestones — is that we assume some sort of emotional experience will accompany their creation and obliteration. These moments are supposed to embody ideas that transcend the notion of grown men playing children’s games; these moments are supposed to be a positive amalgamation of awe, evolution, inspiration, admiration and the macrobiotic potential of man. But the recent success of Bonds contains only two of those qualities, and maybe only the first.

It’s hard to feel good about that. Bonds is a self-absorbed, unlikable person who has an adversarial relationship with the world at large, and he has (almost certainly) used unethical, unnatural means to accomplish feats that actively hurt baseball. His statistical destruction of Ruth is metaphoric, but not in a good way. It’s an indictment of modernity, even for people who don’t give a damn about the past or the present.

Read the rest of the article here 

Klosterman Reading

I went to a reading tonight of Chuck Klosterman at Olsson’s in DC.  As expected, he was articulate and very funny.  He read a passage from his new book, Chuck Klosterman IV, and he describes how the book came to be.  When he was on a book tour for Killing Yourself to Live (his 3rd book), he encountered all sorts of journalism students and aspiring writers and many of them had never read his stuff and asked where they could get a copy of his previous writings. That’s how he got the idea of packaging up all his previous works and selling them as a very cheap paperback.  He didn’t want his best fans to feel ripped off so he put in the novella at the end and the few tidbits/observations.  (Note: he also remarked that he’s finished his 5th book which is a fictional novel about a person in North Dakota)

He reading was from CK4 and it was about how to find and deal with your nemesis and your arch-enemy:

What you need is (a) one quality nemesis and (b) one archenemy.  These are the two most important mechanisms in any human’s life.  We measure ourselves against our nemeses, and we long to destroy our archenemies. They are the catalysts for why we do everything.

How do i know the difference between my nemesis and my archenemy? Here is the short answer: You kind of like your nemesis, despite the fact you despise him.  You will always have drinks with your nemesis.  you would attend the funeral of your nemesis, and -privately- you might shed a tear over her or her passing.  However, you would never choose to have a cocktail with your archenemy, unless you were attempting to spike the gin with arsenic. If you were to perish, your archenemy would dance on your grave, and then he’d burn down your house and molest your children.  You hate your archenemy so much that you keep your hatred secret, because you do not want your archenemy to have the satisfaction of being hatred.  

If this distinction seems confusing, just ask your girlfriend to explain it in detail; women have always understood the nemesis-archenemy dichotomy…. 

I'll Be Rockin' This Saturday

A lot of people have already commented on yesterday’s Bob Dlyan post and while i love listening to Dylan, my mind is really focused on the concert i’m going to tomorrow. I’ll be attending Virgin Fest in Baltimore.

Check out this lineup: Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Killers, Gnarls Barkley, Scissor Sisters, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Raconteurs, The Who, The New Pornographers, Wolfmother, Thievery Corporation, and The Flaming Lips.


One of the bands i’m most excited about is The Scissor Sisters. If you haven’t heard of this band – let me enlighten you (from wikipedia)

The core of the band formed in 2000 when Shears (singer) and Babydaddy (keyboard/song-writer) met while attending college in Kentucky. After moving to NYC, the duo met Ana Matronic at a cabaret on Halloween, when she was dressed as an Andy Warhol factory reject, and Shears was dressed as a “back-alley abortion”. The group soon began playing gigs and were signed to independent record label “A Touch of Class”, and recorded a single, “Electrobix”, which had as its B-side a disco/glam cover “Comfortably Numb”.

Their cover of “Comfortably Numb” became noticed in the UK when it was picked up by underground DJs in electroclubs. The song later got the attention of British label Polydor, who signed them to a contract.

The group’s first single for the label, “Laura“, had a limited release in Laura single for Sister Sister's 2003 (reaching #54 on UK charts), and received little attention. Their first hit was in 2004 with the re-release of “Comfortably Numb” (reaching #10 in the UK). This success was followed by fan favourite “Take Your Mama” (#17 in the UK), a re-release of “Laura” (#12 in the UK), the ballad “Mary” (#14 in the UK), and the gay/hedonist anthem “Filthy/Gorgeous” (#5 in the UK).

All the singles came from the self-titled debut album Scissor Sisters, which reached #1 on the UK albums chart and became the best selling album of 2004, beating Keane‘s Hopes And Fears by just 582 copies. As of 2006, it is the 10th biggest-selling album of the 21st century, and the 51st biggest-selling of all time in the UK. Several media outlets have noted that Scissor Sisters stick out like a sore thumb’ on the list of artists who have sold over 2 million copies of an album in the UK in the 21st century — the others being James Blunt, Robbie Williams, Keane, Dido, Coldplay and Norah Jones — all artists considered ‘mainstream’ or ‘middle of the road’, as opposed to the Scissor Sisters’ brash and controversial image.

I will say that i think the songs rock. Here are some of my favorite songs from their first album. Click on them to play, right+click to download the mp3: Mary, Filthy/Gorgeous, Laura, Comfortably Numb
They also have a new album coming out and you can listen to their entire new album on MySpace here.

Writing about this band reminds of a passage i recently read in Chuck Klosterman’s new book (Chuck Klosterman IV) when he breaks down all rock music in one paragraph. He says,

Rock music did not exist until the release of Meet the Beatles in January 1964. From that time until 1970, the Beatles were simultaneously the most artistically gifted and commercially successfulBook cover of CK4 rock artists on the planet. Then they broke up. And at that point, rock split into two opposing ideologies; there were now two kinds of music. The prime directive of the first kind of rock was to be meaningful and important; the prime directive of the second was to entertain people and move product. The first category comprises elements (Springsteen, punk rock, early U2, Chris Carrabba, etc.) that followed a template built by Dylan in the 1960’s. The second category comprises things (Elton John, Disco, everything the Stones did post-Some Girls, Michael Jackson et. al.) that followed the path KISS chose when they formed in 1973. Their era includes 2 exceptions, which are Led Zepplin and Prince; everything else fits into either category A or B. And that is the entire history of rock music.

Elton John has actually written a few tracks on Scissor Sister’s new album Tah-dah so they have to be considered a category B band. Thus, if you look at my Bob Dylan post and this one, i think i’ve been comprehensive and pretty much covered both A and B. Now i can focus the rest of the weekend on just rocking out at Virgin Fest.

The Power of a Concept

I recently went through the trilogy of Chuck Klosterman’s books. I fargorock.JPGstarted first with his first book Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota which is a great discussion of the importance and awesomeness of 80’s Rock. If you’re a fan of the genre this is a great read and it introduces you to Klosterman’s memoir writing style and his lifestyle as a man who boozes almost as much as sits around shooting the shit with friends..

sexdrugscocoacocoapuffs.jpgThe second and most well-know book is Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto. This is basically a collection of essays about items in popular culture such as MTV’s The Real World, Saved by The Bell, movies asking the question “What Is Reality?” and other concepts such as The Fonz’s virginity, Lloyd Dobbler’s affect on women, and how newspapers articles actually get written. It’s extremely enjoyable and contains concepts that are thought-provoking and often really funny.

The third book, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a Truekillingyourselftolive.jpg Story, is my favorite. It’s a book about Chuck traveling through America visiting places where famous musicians have died (suicide or not). These trips in themselves are not that interesting, so it’s a good thing they don’t make up the majority of the book. The book also includes the three major women in Chuck’s life: one he works with (Quincy), one a gal who he grew up with (college), and the third is a hottie in another city. The content in the books is 1/3 about the women, 1/3 about the dead rock stars, and 1/3 about the trip and his interpretation of pieces in America. Throughout the book Chuck discusses our perception of women and how we deal with them. He argues that we often find ourselves massaging situations in our heads until they are exactly how we want them to be. Often it is the concept of a woman or a dead rock star is much more powerful than the actual reality. This is an idea I can definitely relate to and this book does a fantastic job expressing it.

One metaphor for both the book and Chuck’s life that I thought was worth repeating was in the middle of the book when he’s talking about his work girlfriend (Quincy) and how she likes to listen to the rain when sleeping

The sound of the rain is putting me to sleep, but I want to stay awake and listen to it thwack against the glass. I love a rainy night; perhaps not to the extent of Eddie Rabbitt, but still. There was a time when Quincy couldn’t sleep unless she heard rain: Every night in her apartment, she would put on pajamas and slip one of those hokey “thunderstorm” CD’s into her stereo, and the fake rain would fall for hour and hours on repeat. Even when it was actually raining she would play that ridiculous thunderstorm disc. “This is crazy,” I would say. “This is like bringing a walkman into a rock concert. Let’s just listen to the rain for real.” My arguments always failed. “It’s not the same,” she would say, “The rain doesn’t sound like rain. It’s not rainy enough.” It was never rainy enough.

Amen. In my life when dealing with women, jobs, future, etc. I’m surrounded with plenty of movies, songs, magazine blurbs about how it’s supposed to be. When I actually hit the streets and take it on myself, I can’t help but relate to Quincy completely. Amen sister. You’re right. In this world, sometimes it just isn’t ever rainy enough.

Chuck comes to the same conclusion with rock stars, our memory of them and with his own life and he tells some provoking stories to make this the best of all his books so far. Then again, all three of Chuck’s books are good reads and if you’re heading out on vacation or a trip, you can’t go wrong picking any one of them up.