Tuesday, June 28, 2011

George Plimpton's Video Falconry

In a recent episode of his excellent podcast, Judge John Hodgman, long-time CSD-favorite John Hodgman settled a dispute between two friends over whether using a video game strategy guide constitutes "cheating," or whether they are acceptable ways of helping you play the games more intelligently. Hodgman, who, despite being an admitted nerd for fantasy novels, comic books, obscure trivia, and most other things about which it is possible to be nerdy, professed an almost-complete ignorance of video games, joking that the last video game he played was (the fictional, obviously) George Plimpton's Video Falconry, in the early 1980's.

Because this is 2011 and the internet is awesome, video game programmers seized on the idea, and actually created the game George Plimpton's Video Falconry with graphics, music, and game play reminiscent of early-80's Intellivision, complete with this hilarious fake advertisement, edited together from actual George Plimpton Intellivision advertisements and other weird archival footage. Its not a great game, but its fun, and I just love the fact that I live in a year in which this series of events could happen.

Friday, June 24, 2011

This Is How You Do It

The highlight of the 2011 NBA Draft:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jon Stewart Steps Into the Lion's Den

Jon Stewart went onto Chris Wallace's program on Fox News recently to discuss his role in politics, the biases of the mainstream media, and the political leanings of Fox News. Wallace is one of the few reporters on Fox News with any credibility, and it was interesting to see a thoughtful, non-hysterical conversation on Fox News and a sincere, irony-and-sarcasm-free appearance from Stewart. I wish that there was more stuff like this on television.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011

Clarence Clemons died yesterday, at the age of 69, from complications from a stroke he suffered on June 12th. For thirty-nine years, beginning in 1972, Clemons played saxaphone in the E Street Band, which, for my money, is the best backing bad in rock music history. Clemons also played the tambourine and provided back-up vocals, but he was most beloved for punctuating anthems like "Born to Run," "Jungleland," and "The Promised Land" with triumphant, bitchingly awesome saxaphone solos that lasted for up to three minutes, and never a second too long.

Clemons was working as a counselor for juveniles in Newark, New Jersey when he went to check out Bruce Springsteen, then in his early twenties and singing in bars on the Jersey shore. On a stormy night in Asbury Park, N.J., he went to see Bruce play at a place called The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, N.J. The Wonder Bar was, apparently, not the best-built bar in New Jersey, and, when Clemons opened the door to walk in, a gust of wind tore the front door off of its hinges. Everybody inside turned to look at Clemons -- who was 6'4" and 250 pounds or more for most of his adult life -- and assumed that he had torn the door off of its hinges. Clemons walked in to the bar, carrying his saxaphone, and asked if he could play with Springsteen, to which Springsteen basically responded: "dude, anything you want to do." After all, who was he to tell a lineman-sized black guy who had apparently just torn the front door off of a white night club that he couldn't play? Appparently their performance went well; Clemons has said, in interviews, that he and Springsteen fell in love that night. and, having seen them play together several times, all more than thirty years after they met, I believe him.

Here is some of Clemons' best work:

"Jungleland" (Clemons' two and one-half minute solo begins around 4:41)

"The Promised Land"

"Born to Run"

And, finally, "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," the song in which, during live shows, Springsteen introduces his band members. Clemons was always introduced last, and to the biggest applause; the line "a change was made up town and the big man joined the band" line always drew the biggest mid-song cheer of any song in the concert.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"The Killing Moon," or "Thanks, Shazam!"

I realize that, by writing this, I run the risk of surrendering hard-won music-nerd credibility, but, until recently, I did not know Echo & the Bunnymen's song "The Killing Moon." It is definitely in the 80's college-radio canon, and is regularly used on the soundtracks of indie movies set in the 1980's, like Donnie Darko and Adventureland. It has a great, dramatic lead vocal, and a pleasantly non-pretentious strings section, and just generally rocks. Despite its prevalence, and the fact that I recognize the song immediately, I never knew its title, or the identity of the band that sang it. Then, last week, it played on the jukebox at a neighborhood bar, and I used the Shazam application on my iPhone -- an application I had had on my phone for a year, but had never used -- to find out more about the song. If it helps me find more songs like "The Killing Moon," then I may have a new favorite iPhone app.

Here's the video. (The song itsels is better than its video).

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Guardian's List of the 100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books of All-Time

The British newspaper The Guardian recently published a list of what it considers to be the 100 greatest non-fiction books of all-time.

How many have you read? I was somewhat surprised to find that I had only read four of them in their entirety (The Souls of Black Folk, Good-Bye To All That, The Histories, Homage To Catalonia). Yes, it makes me feel like a Philistine. I had read selections or excerpts from many more, but, I haven't read anywhere near as many of these books as I have some other lists', such as the Modern Library's 100 best non-fiction books.

To be honest, I am surprised that more of these books were not assigned to me in school. I took a lot of history, american studies, and political science courses in college, but apparently did not take enough philosophy or capital-H humanities courses to make a larger dent into this list. Our blogmigo Ellen Wernecke has read 18, which, if I had to guess, is more than anybody I know (with the possible exception of Paul Smecker).

For what its worth, I fared much better on The Guardian's list of the 100 best novels, which I think is a more interesting list, given its parameters, than the Modern Library's, which is kind of on the stodgy side. For what its worth, Radcliffe College's list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century may be my favorite.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Conan O'Brien's Dartmouth Commencement Address

I've always enjoyed Conan O'Brien. He wrote a disproportionate share of The Simpsons' greatest episodes ("Monorail" foremost among them), and, from high school through law school, I regularly watched his Late Night show on NBC. Without taking anything away from the canonical television he has given us over the years, I think his real genius is in the meaningful, well-crafted addresses he has given us over the years. The commencement address he gave at Harvard in 2000 (Pt. 1 and Pt. 2), the "People of Earth" letter he wrote upon resigning as the host of Late Night in January 2010, his "work hard and be kind" speech during his last Late Night broadcast, and last week's Dartmouth commencement are all intelligent and funny and really well-done; some of them are almost 'canonical' texts for my generation in the same way that David Foster Wallace's "This Is Water" commencement address has, and will, hopefully, endure well after most people have forgotten about Vomiting Kermit and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Emo evening thoughts

Grantland feels very cynical to me, which is doubly sad because it comes from big names who made thier names being honestly excited in large part. Between gladwell, eggers, klosterman,and simmons, we have four aging men who made their bones as fresh informal voices in pieces they wrote a long time ago largely about being young people. I am rooting against this for reasons I am struggling to articulate. Maybe the whole point of the site is because they feel their knees going and want to retire/switch to management. There they can leverage their power into an executive role and the creativity will come from someone else (e.g., Molly Lambert). It feels like the end of the cycle for the informal, internal voice they pioneered (hell, the opening monologue had footnotes. Who knows if DFW would have signed on, let's hope not). The whole thing makes me sad, probably because it causes me to contemplate my mortality.

I am reading Unfamiliar Fishes. Sarah Vowell has that same informal, educated voice I mentioned above. It feels a little stale now. but the book is pretty readable.

I am really trying to make Big Bratwurst happen as a nickname for Dirk Nowitski. I am Lacy Chabert in Mean Girls.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Diamond In the Rough at the Housing Works Street Fair

In the spring of 2002, the Austrialian rock band The Go-Betweens, released their first album in twelve years. That album, The Friends of Rachel Worth, reunited lead singers and songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forrester, backed by session work by the members of Sleater-Kinney (another of CSD's favorite bands), was soon in heavy rotation at the coffee shops and used record stores at which I spent so much time that spring and summer. Critics called it "pithy and almost shocking in its casual brilliance," which would sound like hyperbole if it wasn't universally recognized as a return to form by songwriters who Robert Christgau had once described as "the greatest songwriting partnership working today."

Today, The Friends of Rachel Worth is pretty difficult to find. It is out of print, so you can't find it in new record stores, or from Amazon.com. It occasionally becomes available on eBay, but, on those sites, you can never tell who you're buying from, or what condition the CD will be in. It is available to download, but that seems like taking the easy way out; it is much better to find it in person. In 2008, I tried to find it, without success; eventually I gave in any bought it from the iTunes store. Inevitably, my computer crashed a few months later, and The Friends of Rachel Worth was lost, along with the rest of my non-backed-up files. Yesterday, at the Housing Works street fair, I found a copy for $1 in a disorganized bin that mainly contained junk - CD singles by 90's bands, albums by bands that lost the lead singer or singers that made them famous, albums by one-hit wonders that did not contain their one hit, and so on. It felt surprisingly good to find it; for some reason, finding a great CD in a rummage sale is more satisfying than finding one in a regular used record shop, which in turn is more satisfying than buying one new. I am sure that those people who have an eye for second-hand and vintage clothes get a similar kick out of it. I walked away from the Housing Works sale with two shopping bags' worth of books and music, but I enjoyed finding that single CD more than any other. I bet that dozens of other people walked away from the Housing Works sale with similarly long-sought items. It made me realize how much unnecessary clutter I accumulate in the course of a year, and some CD I never play anymore, or a book that I read in college and then forgot about by the second post-exam beer, could be sought-after by somebody else. Clean out your closets! You're not using that stuff anymore! You'll make a total stranger's day when they unexpectedly find it in a thrift store two months from now.

Friday, June 3, 2011

This is Gorgeous

An artist who goes by the handle "Mindrelic" has posted this beautiful time-lapse video of Manhattan. This sort of thing has been done before, but rarely this well:

Mindrelic - Manhattan in motion from Mindrelic on Vimeo.

Thanks to the AV Club for calling my attention to it!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep, and Raymond Chandler novels in general, have been on my vague, ever-growing, never-committed-to-paper "to read" list for years; it wasn't until I watched HBO's modern-day detective story-satire Bored to Death that I was inspired enough to actually pick up a couple of Chandler's Phillip Marlowe novels at a used bookstore and check them out.

In The Big Sleep, General Sternwood, a wealthy retiree with two beautiful, party-animal daughters whose social lives have exposed the family to blackmail. Sternwood hires Marlowe to find the blackmailer and investigate how his daughters had been put into an incriminating position in the first place. Marlowe's investigation leads him to a reputable bookstore fronting for a high-class pornography business, and, later, makes him an unwitting witness to a murder. This being a detective story, the blackmail and the murder are related, though in a more complicated way than it would first seem. Its difficult to summarize much more of the plot without filling this review with spoilers, but the complicated plot centers on Marlowe investigating how the blackmail is connected to the murder, and helping law enforcement solve the murder without exposing his clients to any further risk.

The Big Sleep, along with Chandler's other novels, invented many of the detective-story cliches that are still used today: world-weary, cynical, first-person narration, byzantine plots with lots of characters, rainy nights in otherwise-sunny Los Angeles, femme fatales, smartass retorts in the face of imminent violence, world-weary cynicism, jargon-heavy dialogue, blunt descriptions of assaults and murders, and lots of stylized, dated slang (in which detectives are "gumshoes," "dicks" or "snoops"; women are often "dames" or broads"; and guns have too many euphamisms to list. It may be difficult to get over these cliches, because we are familiar with them from black-and-white films noir, Chinatown, James Ellroy novels, and even "Tracer Bullet," one of Calvin's many alter egos from Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, but that is, ultimately, the reader's problem, not Chandler's problem. Chandler's novels exist; they haven't changed since the 1930's. Pop culture has changed around his novels, and it should be to his novels' credit that so many other writers and directors have borrowed liberally from them. Once you get accustomed to the rhythms of Chandler's storytelling, and to Marlowe's voice, you forget that you've already seen much of this in one form or another and get caught up in the plot, and the dated-ness comes to seem like a big part of the fun, instead of an obstacle. Lest we forget, these cliches became cliches for a reason: they are very cool. How can you not enjoy a metaphor like, "the General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings," or "her hand was small and had shape, not the usual bony garden tool you see on women nowadays?" Impressively, Chandler seems to recognize how over-the-top his writing style can get, and even pokes fun at it from time to time, such as when Marlowe says that a woman had "a smooth silvery voice that matched her hair. It had a tiny tinkle in it, like bells in a doll's house. I thought that was silly as soon as I thought of it."

I recommend The Big Sleep as a novel, even to people who do not normally enjoy detective fiction or film noir. It is perhaps the best example of one of America's most distinctive and iconic literary genres, and Chandler's voice is difficult to get out of your head in the best possible way.