Ep 97 – John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester

Jeremy works at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s a small town in the center of the state―the first a in Nevada pronounced ay. This is the late 1990s, and even if the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut, there are still regular customers, a rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: it’s a job, quiet and predictable, and it gets him out of the house, where he lives with his dad and where they both try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.

But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets―an old movie, starring Boris Karloff, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store―she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, a different customer returns a different tape, a new release, and says it’s not defective, exactly, but altered: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious, but he brings the movies home to take a look. And, indeed, in the middle of each movie, the screen blinks dark for a moment and the movie is replaced by a few minutes of jagged, poorly lit home video. The scenes are odd and sometimes violent, dark, and deeply disquieting. There are no identifiable faces, no dialogue or explanation―the first video has just the faint sound of someone breathing― but there are some recognizable landmarks. These have been shot just outside of town.

So begins John Darnielle’s haunting and masterfully unsettling Universal Harvester: the once placid Iowa fields and farmhouses now sinister and imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. The novel will take Jeremy and those around him deeper into this landscape than they have ever expected to go. They will become part of a story that unfolds years into the past and years into the future, part of an impossible search for something someone once lost that they would do anything to regain. AMAZON

Novocain Stain – Modest Mouse
Wicked World – Black Sabbath
Never Learn Not to Love – The Beach Boys
Camera – Pavement
The House that Dripped Blood – Hallelujah the Hills
Hooray for Tuesday – The Minders
New Zion – The Mountain Goats
Indian Summer – Beat Happening
Happily Divided – Sebadoh
Wrong – Archers of Loaf
Cause and Effect – Bingo Trappers
Orange Ball of Hate – Hefner
I am a Cinematographer – Palace Brothers
Thinking of You – The Thermals
I Guess I Remembered It Wrong – Superchunk
Standard Bitter Love Song #4 – The Mountain Goats
Smoke and Mirrors – The Magnetic Fields
True Love Travels on a Gravel Road – The Afghan Whigs
Pictures – Galaxie 500
Alpha Rats Nest – Andrew Jackson Jihad

2loud2work

Walk In New York - New York Vintage - Night view of produce market on Washington Street 1952

Longtime fan of the show, Kristopher, submitted his 2loud2am mix – His comes not from a weekend of insomnia or returning from a night out, but working an all-nighter.

If you dig on punk and hardcore, he’s a mix to get you through a long night of work.

“So I played a version of it after getting to the office this AM (2Loud2Work, if you will)
I don’t have an iPod, but the spirit was upheld with Rhythmbox on my laptop.
 

1.  Rise Against – Prayer of the Refugee – The Sufferer and the Witness

2.  The Bouncing Souls – The Freaks, Nerds & Romantics – Maniacal Laughter

3.  Sentenced – Consider Us Dead – The Funeral Album

4.  Off With Their Heads – Your Child Is Dead – Hospitals

5.  Matt Skiba and the Sekrets – Way Bakk When – KUTS

6.  Face to Face – It’s Not Over – Live

7.  The Loved Ones – 3rd Shift – Build & Burn

8.  Alkaline Trio – One Hundred Stories – Maybe I’ll Catch Fire

9.  Big Wig – Your In Sample – Unmerry Melodies

10. Fronteir(s) – Little Wolves – There Will Be No Miracles Here

11. NOFX – Straight Outta Massachusetts – Cokie the Clown

12. 88 Fingers Louie – Call It a Night – Totin’ 40’s / Fuckin’ Up

13. Nothington – This Time Last Year – All In

14. As Friends Rust – Laughing Out Loud – Won

15. Texas Is The Reason – When Rock n; Roll Was Just a Baby – Do You Know Who You Are?: The Complete Collection

16. Megadeth – Skin O’ My Teeth – Countdown to Extinction

17. Vision Of Disorder – Take Them Out – Demos 1995

18. Masked Intruder – I Don’t Wanna Be Alone Tonight – S/T

19. Liars Academy – Disappearing Act – No News Is Good News

20. Dead To Me – Still Heartbeat – Cuban Ballerina

Skips (dupes/buzzkills):

This Will Destroy You – Burial On The Presidio Banks – S/T

Nine Inch Nails – Hurt – The Downward Spiral

Bouncing Souls – P.M.R.C – The Bad.The Worse.And Out Of Print

Matt Skiba – Merry-Go-Round – Demos
Nothington – The Ocean – Roads, Bridges, and Ruins”

A Year with Steinbeck Book 9.5: Working Days

AYwSHeader

“It is a very long novel, the longest that Steinbeck has written, and yet it reads as if it had been composed in a flash, ripped off the typewriter and delivered to the public as an ultimatum. It is a long and thoughtful novel as one thinks about it. It is a short and vivid scene as one feels it….All this is true enough but the real truth is that Steinbeck has written a novel from the depths of his heart with a sincerity seldom equaled. It may be an exaggeration, but it is the exaggeration of an honest and splendid writer.”

Joseph Henry Jackson – New York Herald Tribune (April 16, 1939)

1321797816

I’ve read The Grapes of Wrath about a dozen times cover to cover. It’s a novel brimming with characters that transcend the page and have within them such vitality that they become corporeal. Visiting Ma Joad, Tom, and Preacher Casey, often feels like going home.

But I’ve never thought much beyond the text. I’ve played with the themes and motifs. I’ve underlined scores of quotes and even made a custom run of T-shirts with the land turtle on them. Sometimes, while cleaning my bathroom, I’ve ruminated on how strange it would be to experience indoor plumbing for the first time, I’ve oft considered picking up the tab for a stranger, and I’ll never look at a used car dealership the same way.

Between June and October 1938, Steinbeck crafted The Grapes of Wrath and maintained a journal chronicling his progress and distractions.  In Working Days, editor Robert Demott has collected and annotated these entries. The end result is a unique view into the mind of Steinbeck.

I’ve always had a fairly ignorant view of what it takes to craft a novel of this magnitude. I’ve supposed that Steinbeck, after several aborted attempts, bend the prose to his will like molten glass. That each stroke of the pen (he wrote the novel free-hand on 12×18 ledger pages) crafted and shaped the flow of the narration until it cooled into its final work of art. I’m not so ignorant to assume that it was without its hang-ups and heavy re-edits, but to read about Steinbeck’s uncertainty and trepidation was enlightening.

tumblr_mb2jn4Tkwi1qz6f4b

This isn’t a critical analysis. You are not going to read about the birth of a novel. Nor are there revelations regarding symbols or the multiple layers of meaning. This is, simply put, a journal. It is filled with worry over the construction of a new house, dinner guests, opening bills, and other daily distractions. However, for those interested in a writer’s routine and life, it is also humanizes Steinbeck: showing that genius and excellence don’t come easily.

s61a.8

I read a recent discussion online from a person who called himself a writer, yet complained that he had no time to put word on page. He took great offense to a professional working writer saying contradicting his dream of holding the title. Sure, he had two novels completed in his head, but nothing tangible to show for it. Regardless, he was disgusted at the implication he shouldn’t wield the title anyway. To that man, I would recommend Working Days. Aptly titled, is proves that writing isn’t just craft, but work. Hard work. Steinbeck tossed aside some 700 pages before he settled on the final draft and, all the while expressed his concern about not being an actual writer. If a man with several successful novels under his belt -who would eventually win the Nobel Prize for literature – doubted the title perhaps we are using it wrong.

The word ‘writer’ implies mystery: Uncorrected first drafts overflowing with original concepts and multiple pressings covered in embossed lettering. Fortune and glory.  Steinbeck was a worker. Every day he punched the clock, slogged through ink wells, and stretched the edge of his nerves in order to bring the voice of the American poor to the forefront. No wonder it is easier to romanticize the craft.

Incidentally, The National Steinbeck Center is hosting a fundraiser (through indiegogo) to create an oral history film to help show the continuing relevance of The Grapes of Wrath today. Help them out.

In Briefs

a1444043867_2

The Creeping Ivies
Ghost World
Once again back is the incredible The Creeping Ivies. In this latest outing, Becca Bomb and Duncan Destruction add new depth, chunkier beats, and seal it all off with Becca’s unique vocal styling. The Creeping Ivies are for those who love loud rock’n’roll. Wussies need not apply.

tumblr_n3rn9dECON1ssjgjoo1_1280

Time Shark
The Janimal
In 2014, scientists sent a shark back in time to fight evil. It has a acid-spitting llama and Hugh Manatee. If this doesn’t become the next Sharknado, Syfy should fire it’s production teams.

A Year with Steinbeck Book 8: Of Mice and Men

AYwSHeader

or “Retard on a Ranch”

A friend recently asked me what I planned on talking about when I finally got around to reading Of Mice Men. He wondered, naturally, what new insight I hoped to bring to such a frequently discussed novella. It was a fair question and one I had been wondering about for some time.

I’ve already stated that OMM is my gold-standard Steinbeck. It is, as the New York Times reviewed, “… a thriller, a gripping tale running to novelette length that you will not set down until it is finished. It is more than that; but it is that….In sure, raucous, vulgar Americanism, Steinbeck has touched the quick in his little story.” The London Time, in their review stated it was, “A short tale of much power and beauty. Mr. Steinbeck has contributed a small masterpiece to the modern tough-tender school of American fiction.” How can you add to that?

of_mice_and_men_Flat_20120904_LR
Via Josee Bisaillon

However, in this age of unrestrained internet opinion and trolling, I wondered what the reviews looked like on Amazon – the one’s written by the ‘raucous’ and ‘vulgar’ Americans for which Steinbeck captured and wrote for.

I’ve gathered that most of these reviews are written by high school students and most seem to be attached to a required project of some kind. I imagine a well-intentioned neophyte educator walking his cadre down to the computer lab to teach them the beauty of posting opinions in comment sections. With the path to hell expertly paved in good intentions, this was the product of that afternoon’s lesson:

“I hated every minute of this book so boring I hated how it ended it was at to sad but I had to read it for school.”

“I had to read two Steinbeck novels in 9th grade and this was one of them. He is a great author but I found this book terrible.”

This one absolutely kills me:

“Of Mice and Men had a good begining and a good plot. It would have been a better book if Steinbeck had made it longer and put more effort into it. When you read his books you get the feeling that he started out with this great idea, and then got bored so he just finished the book real quick.”

This one from a reviewer in Monterey, Ca.:

“After reading the book, it appears to me to be a story of mentally retarded people narrated in their own language. There is no psychological or philosophical insight in the novel. In fact, I did not find a single fresh thought or an intelligent or even intelligible idea.

This is a story of how a few people of less than an average intelligence casually kill dogs and each other. I am quite aware that such people exist and that they can hardly speak their native tongue, but I cannot relate to such people and I positively do not want to associate with them. I am afraid that this is the first and the last book by Steinbeck that I intend to read.”

And a few more:

“I had to read this book for my english teacher at my high school. I finished the book 3 weeks late, and the only reason I read it in the first place was because my teacher said read it or fail. Looking back I wish I would have just taken the zero, cause I failed anyway. If you have the choice for God’s sake take the 0. They should re-name this book Retard on a Ranch.”

“It sucked”

“I’m torn between giving this book one star for making me depressed and giving the book five stars for how well written and how honest the book is. All in all, the book deserves the classic status it has attained, but do to how the story made me feel, I had to throw my copy away. I am not a reader that will say a simple “this book sucks” but this book made me feel bad. The truth behind the tale disturbed me. That was probably the point trying to be made, but even so, I cannot get by how it made me view the world at the end.”

It occurs to me that these reviews all share a common denominator: An unparalleled anger at the finale.

To that effect, I think Steinbeck succeeded in providing a harsh lesson in fairness. These students witnessed true disappointment in a story. After investing the time to read, discuss, write, and do vocabulary for a book, their time was rewarded with a scene of shocking and almost unexplainable violence. Where is the Disney finale? The last minute escape? The resolution that warms the soul and promises that everything will be alright as long as you have a friend?

Steinbeck gives nothing but the reverberation of a gunshot and a group of men unclear at its true impact.

mice-and-men-flat
via Ninataredesign

These kids aren’t writing about the story. They are writing about their inability to come to terms with the emotional impact of the story. No one wants to be the first to cry or express sadness in the pack (or in the midst of 9th grade literacy class), so they turn that sadness into anger and vent it at the book. Steinbeck proves his point. The loneliness of humanity’s inability to empathize leads to anger and hatred. These reviews are the gut reactions of kids upset over emotion and decide to give it ‘one star for making me depressed’. It’s a review I think Steinbeck would have appreciated.

Quotes:
“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

“I ain’t got no people. I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain’t no good. They don’t have no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin’ to fight all the time. . .”

photo

I hear that train a-rollin’ – Snowpiercer Review

“So long as they (the Proles) continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern…Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.” — George Orwell 

photo 1
A foot of snow means it is perfect time to read about a Snow-pocalypse

As most of the pop-savoy know by now, Snowpiercer is a train one thousand and one cars long circling the globe and carrying the remnants of humanity.

From the ads, the film looks like a great romp of dystopian nightmare and martial-arts exploitation. It looks fast, it looks furious, it looks like Lee Marvin’s Emperor of the North on speed. But the graphic novels by the late Jacques Lob and Benjamin Legrand with art by Jean-Marc Rochette, is a very different beast.

Snowpiercer, and its sequel The Explorers, harken back to the type of dystopian hell that Orwell wrote about in 1984:  A world so covered in lies, double-speak, corrupt politicians, and bread and circuses, that the only escape was death. There is no ‘chosen-one’ who miraculously changes the system and changes the system. No ray of sunlight at the end of the tunnel. No hope. No promise. Just people living by inertia unable to even let themselves die.  

I’ve always felt that the mark of solid dystopian fiction is to force the reader to rebel. We are the ones who are able to change our system; not the fictional society for which we are momentarily visiting in pulped pages. We are the ones chosen to fix the world before it becomes too broken. It calls us to cease being so passive and to stop simply waiting for a mythological hero to rise.

The Snowpiercer graphic novels (TitanComics) are bleak: The world is destroyed and the perpetual motion engine is showing signs of not being so perpetual. As readers, we follow a man named Proloff as he risks his life to climb from the poverty stricken tail of Snowpiecer to the luxurious haven of the front. Through his journey, as a prisoner and human curiosity, Lob shows us that there is no getting off the rails of this crazy train.  Proloff is an animal unseen for decades and thought domesticated: An Independent Man. As he makes his way to the front cars we are treated with a view of this world – a world literally set on its course; inescapable and unchanging. Even if Proloff wins equality for the people in the back (his fool’s errand) what is he freeing them into? More train cars and a destroyed world.  The graphic novels are a journey into depths of human depravity and Rochette’s thin cross-hatched lines and relentless greys reinforce the filth of the future. It isn’t about stopping the train or manipulative government but it is about stopping this world from happening.

photo 4
The tender moment

In Snowpiercer 2: The Explorers, Benjamin Legrand takes over the scripts. Here we are thrust without warning or explanation onto Snowpiercer 2, an icebreaker class train. The original Snowpiecer has vanished on the tracks and this final pocket of humanity lives in constant fear of collision. So much so that a religion has built up around it. To bring the haze and gloom of these passengers to life, Rochette alters the crisp inked lines of Vol. 1 for smudged and smoky watercolors. Greys dominate the page in direct contrast to the stark white outside Snowpiecer’s walls.  

In the saga’s only acts of optimism, humanity has begun to send Explorers into the snow to try and find any ray of hope possible. When an Explorer named Puig makes the wrong discovery, he is brought to the leaders of the train for interrogation. Puig becomes a man deprived of the hope and his sour demeanor juxtaposes the massive etched smile on his winter-proof suit.  It is a subtle metaphor for our human condition. We spend so much time hidden in armor putting on our best and biggest smiles, yet inside, where is actually matters, we are frightened to the point of fury. We are Puig.

photo 3
Always meet death wearing a grin

I wish the movie well. I’ll see it and, most likely, love it. But something gnaws at the back of mind. A fear that despite all the massive changes the ads promise, the biggest one will be the sense of optimism it brings. Sure, we need optimism and hope, but we also need to be reminded that we can be the heroes, too. We are the ones who can actually make a difference.

The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf by Martin Millar

9781593765378_p0_v1_s260x420
Follow the wisdom of Bo Diddley and ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’

The Anxiety of Kalix The Werewolf: A Novel
Martin Millar (website)

It’s been a few months since the events of Curse of the Wolf Girl, Millar’s second book in the anxiety and depressive journey of Kalix the werewolf.

When we last saw Kalix, she had started classes at a remedial college in London and was embroiled in quest to avenge the death of a murdered lover. Her human flatmates – Daniel and Moonglow – have been working hard to help Kalix come to terms with living a life of stability and  higher self-esteem, but, as with real-life sufferers of depression and anxiety, it is hard to help people (never mind supernatural beasts with berserker rage) help themselves.

But some things do change. Even if it is only by degrees.

Kalix, and the ever perky anime-addicted fire elemental Vex, have just completed a summer of hard work at a local bodega stacking shelves and experiencing the very best of a mundane human existence. Moonglow is happy that the bills are starting to get paid off and Kalix seems to be cutting herself less and is even contemplating quitting her laudanum addiction. She even has a written plan for becoming a better werewolf. Things looks pretty good for the crew.

When the werewolf sorceress, Minerva, is expertly assassinated on her own mountain, Kalix’s sister, the fashion-designer Thrix, demands vengeance and holds Kalix personally responsible for the murder.

Millar’s strength in this series once again revolves around the fact that he can take things I otherwise wouldn’t care reading about – high-fashion, fairies, real depictions of people suffering from anxiety and depression, and gala-events -and makes them fascinating. I’m constantly surprised by his ability to craft an intricate world, based on so few adjectives and metaphors. Sure, we never really get a solid layout of the apartment of the majestic volcano kingdom, we are never painted a picture of the werewolf hunter’s hideout or the werewolf castle, but Millar’s expressive characters builds and maintains a world that abides by its rules and rests on the strength of its characters. It never lingers too long on one emotion; its serious, its suspenseful, its frustrating, and its funny as hell.

And each character is a strong individual with their own thoughts, their own voice, and their own stacks of emotional baggage. Even minor characters break free of simple plot enhancers with a simple one-liner or emotion that gives them depth and creates a demand to know more. In short, Millar seems less concerned with the world and more concerned about its inhabitants. And it is for that reason we suffer along side Kalix and sit through chapter long arguments about Fall fashion trends. We care about these characters as if they were old friends unloading their troubles over tea.
The only problem I had with the novel had nothing to do with the interior pages. In fact, I was hard pressed to put the book down and found my self carrying it around the house reading while waiting for water to boil and other brief moments that otherwise might have been filled with a quick check of the internet. No, the trouble I had was with the the US cover. My apologies to the artist, but this is horrible and off-putting. I was embarrassed to leave the house with the book and several artist friends were struck speechless. For a book with such a focus on fashion, this cover actively rips it in the opposite direction. I can only hope that Soft Skull manages comes to its senses, otherwise I can’t imagine anyone picking this up on impulse. After all, it was the strength of the cover to  Lonely Werewolf Girl that brought Millar to my attention.

It’s a world a fantasy and magic The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf is unmistakably and apologetically real.

A Living Journal: Part 14 by Michael Taylor

alivingjournal_title

It’s been four weeks now and the reality of my situation is sinking in. At first I simply denied what had happened. I did what was needed to survive. I’ve cleared out ten houses around mine, including all the Zoms who were regulars around each one. I lost track of how many I’ve killed but my safety zone is pretty much secured. I have enough to eat and drink for at least two years. Water’s not a problem. It’s rained twice so far and I’ve filled up all the bottles I have. I also managed to wash my clothes and have enough left over that I don’t have to use Coke or Pepsi to brush my teeth. I could use other peoples clothes but that seems to me to be kind of skeezy. I found a Gameboy Advance (plenty of batteries), books, puzzles, and assorted things to keep me busy. All kinds of drugs, both legal and illegal, although who would take the illegal ones now is beyond me. You need your wits about you at all times. In Zelda if the bad guys get you, you go on to your next life. Me, I’ve got one life, one mistake and it’s gone. No do-overs.
The loneliness is getting to me. I’ve never really cared about other people. I’ve found that ninety nine percent of them were idiots. That includes my family. They’d rate a journal all to themselves. I’d be glad to see any one of them now, though. Hell, even Sheila would be a sight to see. I found one of those old style emergency televisions, the kind that runs on batteries. Eight D’s. I put it on a couple of minutes a day. So far only static. Same with the radio. Up and down the dial and back again. Nothing. I’m hoping to stumble across a CB or ham radio. That seems like more along the lines that another survivor might have. I’m not a religious guy either, especially after what’s happened, but if I thought it would help me hear another human voice; I’d pray to whoever would listen.
I’ve even given some thought to capturing one of these Zoms. The plans are forming and circulating in my mind. The teeth could easily be knocked or pulled out to prevent biting. Everyone I’ve seen or killed has had a bite mark somewhere on them. This doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to become infected. Would a scratch do it? What about getting some skin or fluid in your mouth accidentally while fighting one off? Watching them is only going to yield so many answers. I also don’t know about keeping one restrained. Rope and chain I have plenty of but I don’t think they would work. The Zoms don’t feel pain and aren’t bothered by what happens to their bodies. Even the most secure Zom would eventually wriggle or tear itself free from any type of bondage. If it happened while I was sleeping could it tear tape off its mouth and call others? This brings up another question. Do they even need their bodies? I’ve seen some that look like something from a freak show they’ve been so mangled. If destroying the brain is the only thing that kills them, couldn’t I just chop off their head? Can I really be this desperate or am I more curious? In the back of my mind that little voice is telling me that no matter what the answers are, it’s a bad idea in general. Unfortunately, that voice is getting smaller each day.