Where I’ve Been

Recent days have found me with my first week off (well almost a week) in many moons.  This particular post will probably only be of interest to those that have been reading along consistently.  By I felt i owed an explanation for those of you that come here often as to the slow positing rate as of late.  I’ve been catching up on things I have needed to do, on things I have ignored for too long due to travel.  I have also been writing and working on things music related.  But a good bit of the time I have been replenishing the well, diving into books, records, and films that I have been meaning to finish or check out.  This is definitely stuff I want to be doing, it’s what I enjoy.  However, as I am trying to make this a fully functional site, I also need to consume enough information that I can make this site interesting on a regular basis.

I’ve been reading S.C. Gwynne’s Rebel Yell: The Violence, the Passion, and the Redemption of Stonewall Jackson.  I think the Civil War is a period worth understanding if you want to understand many of the national issues of our day.  So many of them have their roots there.  I am trying to finish Patti Smith’s great memoir Just Kids, and because of her I finally got around to reading Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell.  I am also trying to finish Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness, Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm, and Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.  I finished Pete Townshend’s autobiography, Who I Am, a week ago and can definitely recommend it to anyone that is even slightly interested in him.  He has had a tremendous impact on our culture, even if he has never directly meant anything to you.

Musically I have been diving into the career of Big Star, as well as Chris Bell’s and Alex Chilton’s respective solo careers.  Although I had some kind of bootleg Big Star compilation growing up, and I knew many of my favorite musical artists were influenced by them, this is the first time I have truly understood their brilliance and the arc of their careers.  This is largely due to the excellent documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, which is streaming on Netflix for free right now.

I am a bit obsessive compulsive about music.  As soon as I become interested in a band or artist, I tend to want to understand everything that I can about them.  With literature I try to always keep one fiction and one non-fiction book going.  I feel like reading fiction is better for songwriting and that non-fiction helps the kind of writing I do here.  I usually do not read this many books and have definitely bitten off more than I can chew!

Unlike some people who need to be forced to read anything, the opposite is true for me.  I could easily get lost down the rabbit hole of books, sometimes failing to take care of things in the real world.  But there are so many interesting things out there, and as always, so little time…



“Terence, this is stupid stuff”

`Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There's nothing much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.'
Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.
  Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour
The better for the embittered hour;
It will do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.
  There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that sprang to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
-- I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

Last night I was reading poems by A. E. Housman.and thought I’d pass it along. (The link is to a short biography of him.)   The above is the poem from his book A Shropshire Lad.  I found him through, as so many things in life, the world of music.  Morrissey mentioned him in his autobiography.  If try hard enough to open one door, others will open as well.

Criticism Vs. Blurbs and Rob Sheffield Jacking Off

In the Age of the Short Attention Span, most pop culture reviews have ceased to classify as criticism.  They are much closer to what I would call, “positive or negative blurbs.”  Many reviews are now no longer than a paragraph or two.  There’s not a lot of great deal of information that can be passed along in such time.  Read many of the music reviews at Rolling Stone, who are by no means even close to being the only perpetrators of this.  They include a few sentences that seem like they were taken from a press release.  (Read multiple reviews of the same record, movie, or TV show, and look for similar information that is worded too similarly to be coincidence.)  Then a writer will try to include a few sentences to show off their wit.  Wit is great if it illuminates something, but not if its only purpose is to showcase a writer’s smug self assessment of their own intelligence.  Then there is usually a quick summation that, whether positive or negative, is usually vague enough that the writer can backtrack if they have to.

Even a lot of the longer pieces of criticism out there about pop culture is simply terrible.  Too many times criticism is more about the writer than what they are reviewing.  (Rob Sheffield is notorious for constructing unfunny odes to his own ego, while conveying very little real information or knowledge about the piece of work at hand.)  A writer should only include themselves in a review if it helps to illuminate some kind of idea that will help the reader understand the work better.

I do think critics operating in the blog form have a little more leeway in regards to including personal information.  This is not simply to let myself off of the hook.  (There are several reviews I have written that make me want to puke on myself.)  This has to do with my views on how blogs differ as a kind of writing.  I have written about that and will continue to do so.  I think blogging is a more of an emotional reactionary and personal format that is meant to drive readers to other forms of more permanent writing and criticism.

I don’t say this all as someone that hates critics.  I actually read a great deal of criticism.  I still find a great many of the things I love through reading.  And although there is no doubt that some writers are self involved, I also know that in these modern times the formats that they must work in also put them at a disadvantage.  I’m going to again use Rolling Stone as an example, when really there are so many, but read the reviews that were written in the earlier part of the magazine’s history.  Often the writers might get something completely wrong, but there was more space devoted to letting the critic explain themselves.  Even when a critic is wrong, if they can write a long enough piece, there still might be ideas or information conveyed that one can gain something from it.

One of the things that I find so troubling in these times is when an album, movie, book, or show is destroyed by a critic without any real explanation.  Sure, there are things created as merely cash grabs.  There are also pieces of work that pander to an audience without any real artistic intentions.  If someone is going to discount a piece of hackery with a few barbed sentences, that’s fine.  But usually even flawed pieces of art have something to offer, some idea to communicate.  Even if something fails completely, if there was at least some kind of real intention behind it, it may be able to teach us something about the medium or our culture.  Unless Rob Sheffield wrote it, and then it is just about someone jacking themselves off…


Ta-Nehisi Coates On the Prison Industrial Complex

Why the Prison System is Working as Intended


Need to get on the road today.  Heading from Portland to Eugene.   In the mean time, here is a brief overview of the new Ta-Nehisi Coates article on race.  I have taken small issue with certain things Coates has said in the past, but I think he is generally right and always worth reading.

Everything Bad is Good For You…

I write as if I’m running.  Trying to get away from the last thing I wrote as fast as possible.  It was true at the time, but the more I reflect upon it, the more holes I see in the argument.  The language becomes clumsier with each passing moment.  “What is this inspirational bullshit you are peddling?”, I think.

“Do you even believe that?  Who the fuck do you think you are to speak up?  Why are you adding to the amount of shoddily assembled ideas that are floating around out there?”

“If they really knew what you were thinking they would close down your whole deal, like one of those rabid dogs at a shelter.”

“Write something else, keep writing, and write again.  Once you have written one thing, create a mountain that no one will be able to make heads or tails out of.  Don’t let them pin you down.  Are you getting closer to the truth or are you just kidding yourself, believing something because it fits in cozily with your world view?”


Doubt, doubt, doubt.  Up above is a slightly fictionalized version of what I go through every time I write.  However, I see doubt as a friend rather than an enemy.  Doubt is not only what keeps the pen moving, but also the thing that keeps the ego from constantly writing self-satisfying screeds.  It is the thing that sharpens the blade.  If you don’t doubt yourself from time to time you end up like Sarah Palin, creating sound without meaning.  If you are lucky, like she was originally, you might end up with fifteen minutes of fame, but eventually you’ll be irrelevant.  Doubt only becomes the enemy if it shuts down your whole operation.  I think you want enough doubt that you never feel content, that you never stop questioning.  I like to invite doubt in.  I just don’t want it to stay too long, preventing me from getting on with other things.  It’s a balance I guess.  Doubt, failure, obsession, limitation, and so on.  Everything bad is good for you if you can keep the doses manageable…

It’s funny how a fool can see the light
When the sun goes down 

– Conway Twitty In My Dreams


Morrissey to Release Novel and Great Books by Musicians

List of the Lost

List of the Lost Press Release

I’m looking forward to reading Morrissey’s first novel.  It comes out September 24th.  The details are above.

I really enjoyed his Autobiography.  Here are five other books by musicians, in no order, that are worth checking out:

  1.  Bob Dylan – Chronicle
  2. Henry Rollins – Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag
  3. Larry Kirwan – Green Suede Shoes: An Irish-American Odyseey
  4. John Lydon – Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
  5. Lou Reed – Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed

All of the books, except the Lou Reed book, which is a collection of lyrics with commentary by Reed, would qualify as autobiographies.  However, each one of them is better than the standard autobiography or biography.  Dylan’s is written with the kind of wordplay and imagery that one would expect from Dylan.  Rollin’s is as much about self-realization under duress as it is about music, though of course there is a great deal of music commentary included.  It’s jet black and deeply funny.  Kirwan is not only a musician, but also a playwright.  His book is not only expertly written, but features a great deal of really interesting information on the history and culture of Ireland.  And Lydon’s book is not only an unsentimental look at his past, but includes commentary by other people that were around him at that same time.  Even if they flat out contradict him, he seems not to give a fuck.  He is interested in getting to the truth, and the truth depends on one’s perspective.

Andrew Sullivan On Blogging

Andrew Sullivan 2

Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish was, in my humble opinion, the most consistently interesting blog while it operated.  (Sullivan has now retired from blogging.)  I still have yet to see something that rivals it.  I think one reason for this is that Sullivan understood the possibilities of blogging in a way that many did not before him.  I found the following passage tonight, from Sullivan, that hints at what a blog can be and what differentiates it from other forms of writing:

Everything is true, so long as it is not taken to be anything more than it is. And I just want to ask that future readers understand this – so they do not mistake one form of writing for another, so they do not engage in an ignoratio  elenchi.  What I have written here should not be regarded as interchangeable with more considered columns or essays or reviews. Blogging is a different animal. It requires letting go; it demands writing something that you may soon revise or regret or be proud of. It’s more like a performance in a broadcast than a writer in a book or newspaper or magazine (which is why, of course, it can also be so exhausting). I have therefore made mistakes along the way that I may not have made in other, more considered forms of writing; I have hurt the feelings of some people I deeply care about; I have said some things I should never have said, as well as things that gain extra force because they were true in the very moment that they happened. All this is part of life – and blogging comes as close to simply living, with all its errors and joys, misunderstandings and emotions, as writing ever will.

Check Up

Tibetan lamas say
the worst thing you can do
to break your vow
is to rape your mother at noon
on an alter during her period
when she’s a nun, nobly born
& a relative of your guru.

No, I didn’t do that
but neither did I look
the homeless woman in the eye
as sure as I gaze at these stars.  

– Patricia Donegan

More Posts On Poetry Include:  Shitcanned In So and So

David Mitchell Interview

David Mitchell Interview

One of my favorite writers in recent years has been David Mitchell, who can seemingly do anything or go anywhere.  In some of his novels, epics like Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, he can use many voices, cover different time periods, and make each seem authentic.  Not only is he able to do this, but he is able to connect all of those voices to form a compelling overreaching narrative.  Meanwhile, in something like Black Swan Green, he is able to use a much smaller canvas, in this case a British school kid in the 80’s, and make it just as compelling.  One of the true originals of our time.  The link is a short piece accompanied by a longer video interview.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Getting Rave Reviews

Ta-nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates – Between the World and Me

I have been a longtime reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog over at The Atlantic.  Although I occasionally think Coates’s blog is too narrow in scope, there is no doubt Coates is an unusually gifted writer.  (Andrew Sullivan, who wrote alongside Coates at The Atlantic for awhile, was not only able to be an uncompromising advocate for marriage equality, but was also seemingly able to cover an unbelievably wide scope of topics.  I found that having a sense of how Sullivan viewed the wider world actually strengthened his arguments for justice.  Anyway, this is splitting hairs and is a topic for another day.  I would feel amiss if I didn’t say anything, but this is really an argument about format and outcome, and not quality of writing.)  Coates has a curious mind and without a doubt is someone that is always reaching for truth.  Before I found myself reading a lot about the Civil War, Coates own research and exploration of that time period was extremely fascinating.  I am happy to see that his new book, Between the World and Me, is getting rave reviews.  The above piece is not only about the book, but also a look at Coates as a man and writer in general.  It is a well written and interesting piece worth your time.  Also, if you are someone that reads several blogs a day, I would definitely add his blog to your list.