Wednesday, March 30, 2011

William Faulkner's French Quarter Row House

This past weekend, I went to New Orleans to visit friends, and, while I was there, I went to the French Quarter to make a pilgrimage to a yellow row house on Pirate Alley. (Yes, its actually called Pirate Alley; it borders St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square. New Orleans is weird like that). I wanted to see the house because, eighty-six years ago, one of the greatest literary careers of all time was lauched within its confines.

William Faulkner, one of CSD's favorite writers, lived in the house at 624 Pirate Alley for several years in his late 20's, during which he wrote his first nvoel, Soldier's Pay, published in 1925. Just a few years later, Faulkner began what has to be considered among the greatest sustained periods of literary production in this country, publishing his most famous Yoknapatawpha County novels -- The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, A Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom! -- as well as numerous short stories, between 1929 and 1936.

I haven't read Soldier's Pay; I suspect that relatively few people have, other than scholars and serious Faulkner enthusiasts. It is not as renowned ashis Yoknapatawpha County novels, and there are probably good reasons why that is the case. Regardless, I felt a tingle standing in the foyer of the house, trying to imagine how it looked when Faulkner lived there, and, in what is now one of the busiest tourist neighborhoods in the south, if a writer could have gotten the quiet and solitude he needed to write such serious literature. Because the house is still in use, there were no tours available; it would have been nice to see the view from his window.

The top floors of the house are still lived in; the first floor of the house is a book store called Faulkner House Books. It is a beautiful little shop - not at all the tourist trap I had feared. It has high ceilings and polished wooden bookshelves to house a small-but-well-curated collection of new books, with substantial shelves for both local authors and non-fiction books about New Orleans and Louisiana history. It had a number of very expensive first editions, many of which were signed by the author. Its owner was knew her books; while I was in the store, she dropped some serious knowledge on a middle-aged couple that had come in looking for a first edition F. Scott Fitzgerald. Its a pretty little bookstore, and one in which it is fun to browse, but not a place you would buy many books unless you have a lot of money to spend. Still, it is as good of a use for that space as any - you really appreciate the reverence she has for Faulkner, and Faulkner, who so famously struggled with money for most of his career (before becoming a Hollywood screenwriter in his late 40's) would probably be happy to see so many books being sold.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dum Dum Girls cover Big Star's "September Gurls"

The AV Club's second "Inventory" series continues its strong run with the Dum Dum Girls' cover of Little Star's "September Gurls." Big Star is the sort of second-wave indie, classic 120 Minutes-type band that AV Club writers and big-city hipster-becoming-yuppie types love, so its not surprising to see one of their songs get covered as part of this series, but The Dum Dum Girls did not seem like an obvious choice to cover them, which is one of the reasons why this cover works so well.

This is as good of a place as any to say that, yes, the CSD staff considers the members of The Dum-Dum Girls to be very attractive, but their icy stage personality really dampens their sex appeal. Their gimmick is similar to that of The White Stripes in that they kind of try to look the same in an apparent attempt to keep their appearance from distracting from their music. Also like The White Stripes, the band's fans end up talking almost as much about their gimmicks and appearance than they do about their music. Fortunately, the music lucidly speaks for itself.

Dum Dum Girls cover Big Star

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Get It Out of Mi Casa!

If American broadcasters made basketball sound this exciting, the NBA's ratings would be higher than the NFL's. I love how routine basketball expressions, like "get it out of my house," sound when excitedly yelled in Spanish.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rob Delaney Gets Serious (Or as Serious as He is Going to Get)

Rob Delaney, comedian and author of one of the funniest Twitter feeds, recently posted a short essay about how he treated his depression. It is funny and honest, and worth a read if you've ever struggled with that sort of thing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekend Links, 3/20/11

Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes is the third book in recent weeks (along with Mat Johnson's Pym and Tea Obrecht's The Tiger's Wife) to be hailed as a potential classic.

Speaking of The Tiger's Wife, Tea Obrecht's debut novel received a glowing review in the New York Times, and has become so successful that the publishing world is already viewing it as a sign of a generational change in the industry. Obrecht is 25, and had not published much prior to this novel, even the usually small-circulation-literary-magazine short stories on which young writers normally cut their teeth. Her agent, Seth Fishman, is 30 and her editor, Noah Eaker, was 26 when he bought the rights to it.

New York Magazine's Best of New York 2011, as usual, had some good recommendations - both places we've been meaning to try, and places we've never heard of before.

The AV Club's Noel Murray had a couple of great essays on television this week - Noel Murray's "A Very Special Episode" feature looks at an episode of Louis C.K.'s late, lamented, Lucky Louie, and his "For Your Consideration" feature discusses Hee Haw and Soul Train, and different ways in which shows pander to audiences.

In the Atlantic Monthly, Newton Minow, cultural critic and former head of the FCC, who is best known for delivering the "Television and the Public Interest," speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961 (better known as "the vast wasteland" speech), in which he criticized the intelligence-insulting nature of network television and challenged networkds to do better, has written "A Vaster Wasteland," a look at the television landscape fifty years later. As the title suggests, his vision is bleak. But then, five decades ago, this said of television: "You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials -- many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom" and challenged American broadcasters to do better. How do you think they've done?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Iron and Wine and George Michael kick off AV Club Undercover 2011

Last year, the AV Club got a lot of acclaim for its "Undercover" series, in which it made a list of 25 songs (mainly pop and indie rock from the 80's and 90's) and invited bands into their office to cover them. Every song could only be covered once, so the earlier a band came in to perform, the more songs they had to choose from. Some performances, like Clem Snide's gorgeous version of "Faithfully," Wye Oak's "Strangers," The Swell Season's "Two-Headed Boy" were gorgeous; others, like Superchunk's rocking "In Between Days" weren't only great covers, but announced comebacks and got us excited about their upcoming albums.

This year's Undercover has a slate of terrific songs, so we were already excited about it, but the first release, Iron & Wine's sincere, unironic cover of George Michael's "One More Try," exceeded even our high expectations. Watching this as we prepared for work, I went from "this might be fun" to "this is surprisingly good" to "I WROTE THIS SONG, I'M NOT THAT STRONG, JUST LET ME GO-O-O-O" within thirty seconds. We'll post some videos from the rest of the series, so keep your eyes open.

Iron And Wine covers George Michael

Saturday, March 12, 2011

New Blogmigo!

One of my dearest friends - and one of the best writers I know - has started a blog, Because of Our Behavior, Yo!. Its partly a lifestyle blog, and partly about how she relates to popular culture. You should read it.

In case you were curious, her blog gets its name from this classic Saturday Night Live skit:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The National's new video for "Conversation 16"

The National's new video for "Conversation 16" has a pretty impressive pedigree. The National is one of our favorite bands, John Slattery stars in one of our favorite shows and is the coolest silver fox in New York, and Kristen Schaal starred in Flight of the Conchords and has been a mainstay of the alternative comedy scene for years. The video itself is so surreal and trippy that its kind of hard to understand what they were trying to do or whether they actually achieved it, but its fun, which is what counts. Also, who wouldn't want to live in a world where Kristen Schaal is the President of the United States and Secret Service agents look like John Slattery and Matt Berninger?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wye Oak's Civilian

Baltimore-based indie-rock duo Wye Oak - quickly becoming a CSD favorite - released a new album, Civilian, yesterday. It is incredible. Buy it. We may write more about it once its sunk in a little bit more, but, for the time being, we'll just post the cover of The Kinks' "Strangers," which they recorded last year as part of the AV Club's "Undercover" series.

Wye Oak covers The Kinks

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Pale King

An except from David Foster Wallace's posthumous, unfinished novel, The Pale King was published in this week's issue of The New Yorker.

I am enough of a David Foster Wallace fan to read The Pale King, despite the fact that it is unfinished, because a 500 pages of unpolished Wallace is better than no Wallace at all, or, for that matter, the majority of novels that have ever been published. I worry, though, that Wallace has developed such a fanatical readership over the past fifteen years that just about everything he ever wrote, including his college senior philosophy thesis and the (justifiably famous) commencement address he delivered at Kenyon College in 2005, have been published to feed his readership's cravings and, more cynically, to cash in on the profile bump generated by the media coverage of his suicide. Some of it - and The Pale King is probably the best example - was never intended for public consumption in their current forms. Is there a risk that Wallace's legacy as a master stylist and perceptive cultural critic will be ruined by the publication of unfinished works? Wallace was known for, among other things, his high standards and his obsession over details, and the publication of less-than-final drafts puts that reputation at risk.

Friday, March 4, 2011

ZMF has a blog??? ZMF HAS A BLOG!!!

Internet personality, world-class tweeter, and all-around bad-ass Zodiac Motherfucker, whose commentary at the AV Club website we've enjoyed for years, apparently has a blog, hilarious (and inevitably) entitled Ownage Du Cinema.

ZMF reviews movies (discussing their levels of ownage, classifying movies in a unique "optional" and "not optional" dichotomy, creating memes, and shares his gonzo lifestyle. It hasn't been updated since Iron Man 2 was released, so its not timely by any means, but it is still a lot of fun. ZMF, if you're out there, listen to me: don't limit yourself to 140-character tweets and comments on message boards! Long-form blogging is your calling! Own it!