Sunday, December 23, 2012

Love in Detroit

I've started and deleted too many posts related to the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. I think it's safe to say that I'm too angry and emotional to really add a whole lot of insight to this conversation. I only wish more people could come to this conclusion, particularly those who can't seem to stop their knee-jerk defensive reaction to defend all things guns. I have cringed so many times in these past few days after reading and hearing things that are (at best) tone-deaf and (at worst) completely cold hearted and off the fucking rails. When I see headlines like, "Post-Newton, Sales Boom for Kids Body Armor," it takes all the strength I have not to just crumple into a ball and cry. This is the America that some people want to live in? I seriously worry that the whole country has gone crazy.

That's why I'm writing about something else instead. Because there's one girl who's brought me joy and comfort during this time, and she knows nothing about those innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In fact, she's completely oblivious to the horrible things that people do to each other. 

That's because she's a dog.

This is Asha. She's a 35lb pit bull that my girlfriend and I adopted at the end of October. We had just recently started talking about getting a dog around that time. The plan being that we'd start doing some research into different rescue groups, talk about what personality traits, etc. would be a good fit for our family and then in the Spring we'd seriously start the adoption process. That would give us time to finish rehabbing our backyard, doing some repair/renovation projects and "dogproofing" the house so everything would be ready when we got a pup.

But that's not how things work. You can plan and plan all you want, but damn it if life doesn't decide to expedite things sometimes. Occasionally these things are precipitated by a grand event or some sort of "sign." Like witnessing an incredible miracle or a flash of light or something. But sometimes it's just a matter of getting on the elevator at the right time. That's how it was for me.

Leaving work one afternoon to run some errands, a coworker got on the elevator and started talking with his friends about a dog he was trying to find a home for. I was not a part of this conversation, but considering the current "thinking about getting a dog" state of my life I listened to them talk. I distinctly remember thinking, "I wonder what kind of dog he found?" Then the elevator reached the ground floor and we dispersed to our separate lunch hour destinations. 

I happened to arrive back at the office at the exact same time as the "talking about dogs" guys. We then got the same elevator again. They were talking about the dog again. Joe, the one who had the dog, looked at me and said, "Haven't we had this conversation already?" acknowledging the coincidence of our two synchronized elevator encounters. He then said, "Do you want a dog?" I asked him, "What kind of dog is it?" He said, "She's a little, white pit bull." He said his wife had found her wandering the streets of Detroit and that she was very sweet. He explained they couldn't keep her because they already had four dogs. I said to him, "Well, my girlfriend and I are actually looking to adopt a pit bull, but I don't know if we're ready just yet. But in my head I thought, "Oh, shit. We're getting a dog"

I mentioned to Jamie my encounter and expected her to be the cautious, sensible one in this situation. She would, I reminded myself, remind me that we still have all this work to do to prepare, that we're not quite ready yet, that we shouldn't rush... After all, this would be her very first dog as an adult. I had an elderly rescue greyhound when the two of us met, but as incredibly sweet and  kind as Jamie was to her, Emma was still my dog. I was sure Jamie would be able to temper my emotional instincts about this poor little pit bull and bring me back to Earth. But instead I got an immediate response back from Jamie that essentially said, "OMG I wanna see pictures NOW!!"

 This is the picture of Asha that Joe sent me the next day. Despite being a little mangy and grungy, we were pretty much taken. The next weekend she was released from the animal hospital to Joe's care. He, his wife and their granddaughter brought her to our house that day to meet us. She walked into our house with her tail wagging and her sweetness shining through her flaky skin and patchy coat. We knew right away that this was where she was going to stay.

 Watching her heal, grow and come out of her shell over these last few months has been fascinating and affirming. We took her to a trainer (Tammy at Fido Personal Dog Training in Ferndale who I can't recommend highly enough) and she gave us an evaluation of Asha that, while purely speculative since we'll never know her exact background, was far from happy. Asha had likely been used for breeding and was probably forced into at least a couple back-to-back pregnancies in her short life. Apparently tiny pit bulls are "in" right now, and she certainly fits that "mini" or "pocket" pit bull description. Thankfully those days are over for her. She's now about two (two different vets have estimated) and it's time for her to get to be a puppy.  

She's proven to be an exceptionally bright, loving, affectionate and playful girl who makes me happy every single day. Seeing her curled up with my girlfriend or watching them play together is almost more cuteness that I can personally take. Asha is my reminder that happiness and joy are almost impossible to extinguish, no matter how terrible the circumstances. When I start to feel overwhelmed by the terrible sides of human nature, I look down at this little lima bean of a pup, snuggled to my side and contentedly snoring like a fat man and feel a little more centered. A little more ok.

No matter how nuts this season gets for you, take the time to curl up with somebody you love and be thankful for that moment. Happy Holidays, you guys.

Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo Ho Ho Ho

I haven't written a whole lot here lately, because I've spent the whole month of November furiously trying to write a 50,000 word novel as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoMiMoWiMo for short... I think that's right). This afternoon I finally reached my goal! 50,160 words. Success! When will you get to read this (obviously great) novel of mine you ask? Well! The answer to that is somewhere between never and not for a long time. But probably closer to not for a long time. Because I didn't tackle this writing bonanza in any kind of linear fashion, it's not ready for readin' yet, I'm afraid. As it stands, I'm going to step away from it for a week or so and then revisit and tighten things up. Because I'm one of those "optimist types," I'm thinking it will be finished somewhere around 2019.

But! You're too busy making a list, checking it twice, decking your halls, singing carols and buying all kinds of cinnamon scented, Santa-shaped candles to really have time to read a novel right now anyway. So bide your time until my book release party by checking out the new Suburban Sprawl Holiday Sampler! They've been gathering seasonal recordings from local folks and releasing them on the internet for your enjoyment for eleven years now! Now that's a holiday tradition I can get behind...

John Nelson and the New Girlfriend's submitted our cover of a catchy sad country number originally done by Kitty Wells called "Christmas Ain't Like Christmas Anymore." It's track number 18. Go listen to it on repeat until 2019.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Squirt Gun Justice

Somehow I missed that Water Cops have a little EP out. It's called I'm Showing Up Late & I'm Leaving Early. Altered slightly, this title could reflect my personal "out-on-the-town" philosophy: I'm Showing Up Early and I'm Leaving Early

If you're looking for something new to listen to on the way to the Sloan show tonight, look no further. Nice work, you guys.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

New Scott Walker song has nothing to do with creepy 80's kids show 'Zoobilee Zoo.' I don't think.

December 4th brings the first new Scott Walker record since 2006's The Drift. So excited.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A flimsy cardboard podium, a ballpoint pen on a string... It's Election Day in America!

Happy Voting Day! Stuck in line and feeling increasingly homicidal about it? I suggest you read my account of working the polls during the 2008 election. That will help pass the time and make you potentially less likely to punch a poll worker.

Part 1: But where the President is never black, female or gay… or: On the eve of my debut as a pollworker

Part 2: We won't vote Conservative, because we never have... or: Everybody's (poll) workin' for the weekend

Best of luck to you today!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Trick or treat, you unwashed heathen!

Halloween is right around the corner, so obviously my mind has turned to Chick tracts. Ah, Chick tracts: terrifying little comics with a "gospel message" and the only thing worse than passing out Smarties. Or pennies. Or razor blades for that matter. 

I remember getting at least one of these every year in my candy bag. And considering we moved a few times in my childhood, it wasn't always the same person handing them out. But sure enough, when dumping out my candy haul at the end of the night to admire/inspect for nefarious tampering, there would be a little paper "comic" amongst the tasty treats. These messages contained lessons from the Lord about things like gay people, abortion, recreational drugs, Islam and of course, the unholiness of Halloween.

The Chick tract website brags that they've been "publishing cartoon gospel tracts and equipping Christians for evangelism for 50 years." I would really love to meet somebody who "saw the light" after reading a Chick tract. Like, how many Catholics have read "The Death Cookie," set it down and said, "Wow. My whole religion is a sham. The holy sacrament of the Eucharist is a death cookie! Thank goodness somebody put this comic under my windshield wiper while I was at Mass!" Or perhaps thousands of homosexuals have been handed the "Sin City" tract at gay pride events and immediately traded in their leather chaps for a leather bound Bible, and I just haven't heard about it. 

The site has testimonials from people claiming that a Chick tract really did save them. Most of these quotes are suspiciously signed simply, "E-Mail" or "Florida." Fishy! But I feel like my personal reaction to Chick tracts is more common. Which is to say, after reading one, I've always felt like I needed to take a shower. And that people who try to sneak Jesus into my life by slipping me an over-the-top, offensive and crazy comic are total creeps. 

Happy Halloween, everybody! Enjoy it - because you're gonna BURN IN HELL for it later!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Thank you. Drive safely. Don't kill me."

I love him so much, I don't even care that he isn't wearing a belt. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Radio that you see with your eyes

Check out Lightning Love on Break Thru Radio. They do a little studio session and then apologize for being bad at interviews. I love them.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Two sweet shows this Saturday in Hamtramck

I don't care which show you go to, just spend your money in Hamtramck. Baby needs new shoes:

If this quote from bassist Karen Neal's recent Real Detroit interview doesn't make you want to go to this reunion show, I am not sure what would: "On our second tour of Europe, we pissed all over Bad Religion's dressing room. They were assholes. We were drinkers back then, we were pretty wild." Plus Betty Cooper opens! It's a sure thing.

You could also head to the New Dodge to see a delightful selection of indie rock goodness courtesy of Destroy This Place and friends. I'm particularly intrigued by Haunted House: not only is their name seasonally timely but, by what I'm hearing on this here YouTube video, their sound absolutely qualify as "Smiths-like." I totally approve.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Do It Your Goddamn Self

The DIY Street Fair is this weekend in Ferndale! Are you going? You should. It will be fun.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

RuPaul's Drag Race: The Musical Legacy

Considering the surprise Top 40 success of RuPaul's dance hit "Supermodel," it shouldn't surprise me how many RuPaul's Drag Race contestants have tried their hand at music making. It's been almost 20 years since Ru Paul topped the Billboard charts, so America is clearly ready for the next drag singing sensation, right? 

But if there's one thing I've learned from my Drag Race immersion therapy (my girlfriend and I devoured seasons 2-4 in just a few weeks time), there's a really good reason why most drag queens stick to lip synching. But that fact didn't stop a handful of Drag Race winners and also-rans from turning out some tunes. Although it probably should have in some cases. 

Let's take a look at some of the songs these divas created and decide whether these ladies are musically fierce or musical failures:

Tyra Sanchez - "Look At Me"
Tyra Sanchez may have been the winner of Season 2 (Raven was robbed!), but if there's one thing we learned about her during the show it's singing is something she should probably never do. Somehow this obvious fact was lost on her. Tyra. Seriously. "Look At Me" is the reason Beyonce is ignoring your calls. This song should not exist. Verdict: Musical Failure

Tatianna - "Losing Control"
Despite her touchy defensiveness and penchant for hooker-wear, I had a soft spot for Season 2 also-ran Tatianna. I was surprised to find that she has not one, but three singles available on iTunes.  Sadly the underdog with the really, really short skirt also makes music that falls really, really short. She showed a surprisingly funny side on the show with a spot-on Brittany Spears impression, but her songs are all totally void of any humor and just sound thin, cliched and forgettable. Verdict: Musical Failure

Pandora Boxx - "I Wanna Have Some Fun"
Pandora Boxx was one of my favorites on season 2. I like the fact that out of drag you'd just think he was some nerd on his way to the comic book store, and as a drag queen she's funny and self-effacing, but still pretty and not a total cartoon. Her music reflects that as well. "I Wanna Have Some Fun" is better than most of the songs RuPaul's Drag Race contestants have subjected us to, but many of these ladies have set the bar pretty low, so that's not saying much. Extra props for the Samantha Fox "Naughty Girls Need Love Too" nod. Verdict: Musically Fierce

Jessica Wild - "You Like It Wild"
If there's one thing I learned from Ru Paul's Drag Race, it's that everybody in Puerto Rico is apparently a drag queen. Jessica Wild was one of my favorite contestants from Season 2 because out of drag he was so cute and had such a sweet personality. "You Like It Wild" is basically an introduction song - you can easily picture Jessica Wild taking the stage and stomping down the runway to it. Or at least up the rickety stairs to the make-shift stage of a sketchy gay bar. Verdict: Musically Fierce

Sahara Davenport - "Pump With Me"
Maybe I've been around too many new mothers recently, because "Pump With Me" sounds like the name of a song the American Academy of Pediatrics would commission to promote breast feeding. I don't think that's what Ms. Davenport was going for. Although her voice isn't Tyra-horrible, she should stick to her amazing ballet-inspired dance moves and abandon her musical ambitions. Verdict: Musical Failure

Shangela - "Call Me LaQuifa"
Shangela was one of my favorites on the show, and her "Call Me LaQuifa" totally rules. Like DJ Assault in drag, the song is a collection of crazy Shangela dialogue snippets set to an infectious beat. I hope this is played every single night at every single gay club in the country. Verdict: Musically Fierce

Raja - "Diamond Crowned Queen"
Raja was the winner of Season 3 and I loved her avant garde fashion sense and androgyny. Although she won the musical challenge in which each queen had to perform a RuPaul song in a different musical style, I think her win had more to do with style and showmanship than it did her singing talent. Sadly, Raja apparently didn't see it that way. "Diamond Crowned Queen" is as awful as it is creepy. It's like a chopped and screwed Lords Of Acid song that just won't end. She has another song "Sublime" which is only slightly better. No more singing, Raja. Verdict: Musical Failure

Manila Luzon - "Hot Couture"
Manila was far from my favorite of Season 3. Too bitchy and too quick to look down on some of the other contestants. So I'm surprised that she managed to turn out a really good song. It's obvious that auto-tune is her best friend, but vocal assistance aside, "Hot Couture" is damn catchy. I could see RuPaul performing this song. Which is basically the highest praise I could give a drag queen's song. However, she should really quit while she's ahead: her other song, "Best Xxxcessory," is a hot messVerdict: Musically Fierce

Willam - "Chow Down"

Season 4 introduced us to Willam, but before we really got to see a whole lot of what she had to offer, she was disqualified and sent home for violating the show contract (her husband came to visit her at the hotel which is an apparent no-no). We may never know how far she would have gotten on the show, but musically speaking, she's a total Drag Superstar. "Chow Down" is a tongue-in-cheek take down of America's most politically polarizing fast food joint set to the tune of Wilson Phillip's "Hold On." What's not to love? She's also got a few other hilariously inappropriately numbers like "The Vagina Song" and "Love You Like A Big Schlong" that show she's got a more than a few pervy musical tricks up her skirt. Verdict: Musically Fierce

So there you have it. Hopefully these songs will tide you over until RuPaul's Drag Race Allstars starts in October.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

For some reason, people still make tribute albums

So I finally got around to listening to Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute To Fleetwood Mac. Part of the reason it's taken me so long is that I'm just woefully behind on new music releases. I blame this on a recent Radiolab obsession. Have you listened to that show? So good. I downloaded their app and have been making my way through the episode archives. (Although, confidential to Robert Krulwich: No more mentioning how you dislike the word "awesome." Ugh. We get it already. Jesus.)

The other reason I have procrastinated listening to Just Tell Me That You Want Me is more obvious. It's because, no mater how hyped they are (and they're always way hyped), tribute albums are usually terrible. Even the songs by the artists you like are usually a let down. There are one or two good songs, and a whole lot of filler. And the "filler" songs can range from forgettable to just offensively bad. But as an overall listening experience, tributes don't tend to have a lot of staying power. Just look the used "Various Artists" bin the next time you go to a record store (I mean, if you ever go to a record store again). I promise, it is filled with multiple, dusty, unloved copies of the following compact discs:

If I Were A Carpenter (Only good songs: Shonen Knife's "Top Of the World" and Sonic Youth's "Superstar.")

Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams (Only good songs: Soul Asylum's "Summer of Drugs" and Evan Dando's "Frying Pan." Some will argue Pearl Jam's "Crazy Mary" should be included here, but that's just stupid.)

Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (Only good song: The Cure's "Purple Haze.")

Ecomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin (Only good songs: none.)

Of course, you might be thinking, "Oh, Laura. Those albums came out in the 1990's. Most people were not even born yet, let alone listening to "compact discs." Fine. Here's a more recent example: 

Rave On: Buddy Holly (Only good song: Patti Smith's "Words of Love." And it's not even all that great. I'm just kind of in love with her.) 

But! Just Tell Me That You Want Me is different. Well, at least different enough to make it surpass my admittedly very, very low expectations. There are two songs that are immediate stand outs: Antony's "Landslide" and the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy/Matt Sweeney version of "Storms." It helps that those are also two of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. I also already knew and loved the extensive cover song repertoire of both Antony and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy going into this.

The sure sign for me that this is a pretty solid collection: I only hated two of 19 songs. MGMT and the Entrance Band's contributions just don't do it for me. MGMT's version of "Future Games" is a tedious nine minute Moon Safari-era Air rip off. No thanks. And the Entrance Band is still on my shit list for playing way too fucking long when they opened for Sonic Youth a couple years ago. And their take on "The Green Manalishi" is as tedious and wank-filled as all the songs I saw them play live. Plus they're from L.A. so there is very little chance I will ever give them a fair shake.

So there you have it. If you like any of the artists on this tribute record, Fleetwood Mac, or penguins I'd recommend giving it a listen. By its very nature, it won't stand the test of time, but it offers some sweet moments for the present. Take them in before Just Tell Me That You Want Me gets deposited in the dusty, digital used bin in the sky.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How to prepare for Lightning Love's new record

Lighting Love is releasing their new record Blond Album next Tuesday on Quite Scientific. Some of us (me and probably, if we're being conservative about it, millions of others) have been looking forward to this for a long time and can hardly wait any longer. Tuesday is so far away!

It is going to be difficult, but I think I figured out how to make it through. These carefully considered, step-by-step instructions will help us.

1. Go to MTV Hive and stream the album right now.

2. Listen to it once all the way through. Stop and do something productive. Examples include walking the dog, doing the dishes or balancing your checkbook.

3. Treat yourself for completing your productive task by canceling your plans for the rest of the week. 

4. Stream Blond Album on repeat from now until the record officially comes out. Any sick or personal time offered to you through your place of employment will come in handy for this. 

5. Take a break from listening to the stream only long enough to listen to the Girls Who Look Like Me EP. It came out earlier this year to get you excited for the new record. It worked? Good! Put Blond Album back on. 

5. Using your newly freed up time, do a quick tally of everybody you were going to buy a present for this Holiday season.

6. Go to the Quite Scientific site and pre-order a number of CDs equal to the number of people you included on this Holiday gift list. Better buy two extra just in case you forgot somebody (it happens).

7. It's Tuesday! To celebrate the official release of the record, listen to it again! Other ways to celebrate include dressing up like your favorite member of Lightning Love and/or posting a YouTube clip of you drunkenly covering your favorite song on the record on the oboe. 

8. Go back to work and see if you still have a job. If not, don't worry. You did the right thing. Plus, listening to Lightning Love's first album November Birthday will totally get you through this.

Get to it!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Free Pussy Riot

Peaches has released a new song and video to drum up support for Pussy Riot. Sign the petition demanding immediate release of the group for a free download. And because it's the right thing to do.

Monday, August 6, 2012

More knowledge. Less hate.

America weeps.
"Knowledge may not trump hatred in all cases, but for most reasonable individuals, it tends to facilitate humanity."

As I've been reading articles and update about the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin and the mosque arson in Missouri, the above line has been resonating with me all day. The line is actually from a Slate article about the Chick-fil-A insanity, but it would be just as fittingly accurate in an article about these latest bouts of violence. Just watching how various news sources have made comments about how the Sikh temple was "mistakenly" targeted (insinuating, of course, if it had been a mosque, than the shooting would somehow be understandable), it's abundantly clear that it's not just white supremacists who are woefully ignorant of the many different cultures, religions and ethnicities that make up the fabric of our country. It's a whole lot of us. 

My dad, who is a Criminal Justice professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, left the following comment on a New York Times article about the shooting in Wisconsin. It bears repeating here:

"We need to revisit the tragedy of gas station manager Balbir Sighn Sodi who was gunned down just a few days after 9/11 in Mesa, Arizona just after he had contributed $75.00 to the NY Relief Fund at Costco where he was trying to buy American flags and flowers for his business. He was killed by a truly ignorant man named Frank Roque who is alleged to have yelled at police from his trailer while being arrested: "Arrest me and let the terrorists run wild." Little has been written about this hate crime perpetrator who is serving a life sentence in prison. Sadly the Sodhi family lost Sukhpal, another son, in San Francisco, to what many think was hate motivation, on August 4, 2002 when he was shot in the head driving his cab.

Please think about revisiting this story in the context of the hateful murders in Wisconsin. Americans are largely unaware of other cultures and the vast majority are ill-informed by a sensationalist media and do not read much beyond the daily comics section... if they read at all."

I wish I knew how to get more Americans interested in other cultures. I know there are many who are interested in and enriched by cultures different from their own, I don't want to discount that. But there seems to be an awful lot of people who are proud of their ignorance and complete lack of curiosity about their neighbors. The combination of a quickly changing cultural landscape and this staggering economic downturn has left a lot of people bitter and scared. In response, they dig their heels in and look for somebody to blame. The gays. The Arabs. The Mexicans. This has translated into a refusal to accept as American, people who are, irrefutably, American. This is unacceptable to me. It should be unacceptable to everybody. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Abhay Deol: "I'd be flattered if a man made a pass at me."

                    Abhay Deol: "Pro homo."
Well, well, well, it looks like not every Bollywood star is "petrified of same-sex flirtation." It does look like Filmfare magazine is obsessed with asking interviewees about this topic for some reason. Gotta keep things as sensational as possible in the world of movie star gossip, right?

In an interview with Abhay Deol in the August 1st issue, Filmfare asks, "What if men made a pass at you?" He answered simply, "I'd be flattered for sure." Apparently flummoxed by the lack of drama in his reply, they followed up with, "You wouldn't be uncomfortable?" His response:

Not at all. We make too much of a deal out of sexuality, unfortunately. People who are not confident of their sexuality are the ones who question other's sexuality and are also offended by other people's sexuality.

Nice. As if that isn't cool enough, he also talked about how he enjoys smoking pot and would love to push to legalize hemp in India: 

You know how many products we can make out of hemp? You can make bags, paper, oils, medicines, fibre, clothes. There's a lot of advantage to it but because the West has banned it, so have we. In America, it's understandable. they need to make a profit out of everything. They didn't know how to make a profit out of this, so they banned it. But why are we banning weed?

He's basically like the Woody Harrelson of Hindi films. I love this guy!

Abhay: Please give Bipasha Bisu a call and pass along some of your pro-homo decency. And maybe roll her a big fat joint.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Vote. It's worth the hassle.

Election Day is August 7th and I am really hoping you'll take the time to go to the polls and vote "YES" for your county's art authority. Because that would mean that the Detroit Institute of Arts gets to remain open, and Detroit doesn't get one more kick in the face while the city is already down and struggling to get back up. I know a lot of people are economically strapped right now, but $15 a year to keep the DIA going will do a lot of good for the city, the region, and the state as a whole. It's worth it. 

Considering how shamefully low voter turn out is in general elections, I'm worried about the turn out for this primary. It's clear to me that voting in and of itself is considered a hassle and a chore by most citizens. And I don't say that to shame people. It is a hassle and a chore. You have to take time out of your work day to go to a dirty elementary school gymnasium, stand in line, then wait while the old people try to find your name in their trapper keeper. Then you're instructed to connect lines on an eye-crossingly busy ballot asking you to vote for all these people for tons of different offices and on ballot measures that are written in long, dense paragraphs seemingly worded to confuse the ever living hell out of you. I consider myself politically astute, and I feel anxious and like I don't know what I'm doing each time I vote. I'm not surprised so many people avoid the whole mess and stay home. But it's a shame, and it shouldn't be this way.

Voting is a right that we should all cherish, etc. It is the cornerstone of democracy. Yes. Somewhere inside we all know this. But it's more than a little disheartening to see the jackasses we elect show little to no concern for how few of their constituents actually exercise that right. To me, that's the crisis. Instead, Republicans work their asses off to make voting harder because they are terrified a black person dog might vote, while Democrats seem to be perfectly happy with the outdated status quo. Neither is justifiable, and both positions are hurting the quality of democracy and leadership in this country.

Despite my frustration and pessimism, I still vote. And I encourage you to do it as well. So August 7th, you go to that dirty elementary school gymnasium and exercise the shit out of your right by voting "YES" to keep the DIA open. It's worth the hassle.

UPDATE: There's a pre-election day rally to save the DIA today at 5:30pm. It's at New Center Park in Detroit. Sounds like fun! More info here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Infinite Jest: Was it Worth It?

After starting Infinite Jest on January 1st, I finished reading it this past Sunday. That's not to say that it took me almost 7 solid months to read. I took my time with it and read several other books simultaneously. I would read parts of IJ, then put it down for a few days. Gave myself time to digest it small chunks at a time. I was in no hurry and had no real deadline other than the self-imposed, "I will finish this book before January 1st of next year." So success!

I went into reading Infinite Jest with very little knowledge aside from basically what's on the back of the book. I also avoided reading any reviews, blog posts, message boards etc. to keep from inadvertently coming across any spoilers and to avoid starting the book with pre-concieved notions. I had only ever read one other thing by David Foster Wallace before this: His 2005 Kenyon College commencement address. (Side note: Whether you loved, hated or haven't read Infinite Jest, please read this commencement address. It's outstanding.) All I really knew was that a lot of people considered this book "important" and also "difficult." I'd heard from countless people stories of determined-yet-ultimately-failed attempts to read it. 

Since finishing IJ, I've had more than one person ask me, "Was it worth it?" Which, to paraphrase President Clinton, it all depends on what you mean by "it."

For me, "it" was simply completing the book. No skimming, no subtitle skipping, no reader's guide help. What got me interested in the first place was how intimidated people were by this book. I thought, "If this was written by the guy who gave that commencement address, I'm sure I can find something to like in it." And I did like it. Loved parts of it, in fact. But there's an added level of satisfaction because I no longer wonder if I "can make it though" IJ. Because I did. If it's the literary equivalent of running a marathon, than I ran that mofo. Bring on Thomas Pynchon. Well, after my wrists heal from holding this goddamn book up for so long. 

Of course, now that I've finished reading it, I've been (along with letting the book sink in) reading reviews, critiques, blogs etc. I've found it especially interesting to look at the most glowingly positive reviews and the absolute most negative. I sometimes like trying to get a feel for something based on the most extreme views. Plus, middle-of-the-road "it was ok" reviews are boring.  

Let's look at some of the more prevalent themes!

Frequent themes of negative reviews:
  • "The title of the book tells you everything you need to know and David Foster Wallace is basically playing a joke on you."
love the frequently repeated accusation that the book is some kind of 1,000 page joke. That David Foster Wallace wrote it to trick intellectual types into immersing themselves in and pontificating breathlessly about a work he created precisely to fool them into doing so. Some of the more hyperbolic, glowing reviews of Infinite Jest are written with such painfully self-conscious high-brow superiority that you want the book to be a joke on those people. This arrogant, "Well, if you didn't finish it or didn't love it, you obviously don't get it" sentiment reeks of pretentious supremacy that is dismissive and intimidating. Far from making me feel like these people are smart, it just adds to my feeling that self-proclaimed intellectuals are often insecure and petty. However, there is just too much emotion, heart and complexity in this book for this "it's a joke" assertion to be true. 
  • "There is no resolution! No ending!"
As a person with a low tolerance for ambiguity, I feel you on this one. I was somewhat disappointed that so much was left unanswered. Initially. But a couple days later, I'm ok with it. For one thing, that's how life is. There is really no such thing as endings. IJ is a slice of life. A crazy, chopped up, dense and at times infuriating slice, but a slice nonetheless. It's not like Wallace is the first person ever to write a book that left the reader wanting. And this wanting has only kept the book buzzing around in my brain. I keep going over things in my head, revisiting sections, characters, seeking out the interpretations of others to see how they gel with mine. To me, this is the most basic sign of a good book. One you think about long after you've finished reading it.
  • "I quit."
A lot of people start Infinite Jest and never finish. I've talked to several people who have started it and stopped - some of them many times. Frequently reviews that state they quit the book also include some version of, "I wanted to like it!" and I get that. But if it's not resonating with you, it's not resonating with you. It's not a failure. Even if so many of those glowing reviews very much want you to think you failed by not reading "the most important book of all time." The only way not finishing Infinite Jest could be considered a failure is if you said, "I wanted to like it, but I couldn't finish it. And now I will never read a book again. Other than 50 Shades of Grey." Plus, there's still time. Maybe you'll go back to it in a few years and decide to try it again. Or maybe you find something you do like (and feel challenged by) and read that instead. See? You've avoided failure!
  • "It's navel gazing, intellectual tripe."

I guess I have a harder time labeling a work of fiction as "navel gazing." I associate the phrase with first person accounts by authors who think they're amazing and deep and that every word they utter is a gift to their readers. And I do hate books like that. But I think it takes a lot more talent for an author to separate themselves from the audience with fictional characters. A lot of the book takes place inside various character's heads. The reader is basically in their brain, along for the ride as they process and experience things. You're also along for a lot of "flashbacks" and memories. I happen to really like to be in the brain of a character. I like to see their personal philosophies and drives develop and to know what occurred that may have shaped those views. Sure these cerebral insights are too "navel-gazy" for some people. It's clear early on that you're in for a ton of this with IJ, so if it's not something you dig, it will be a stumbling block to your enjoyment for sure.

Frequent themes of positive reviews

  • "Does Infinite Jest qualify as post-modern?"
This is easy: I do not care. The key to understanding this book isn't in how to classify it. When reviewers and critics get caught up in academic circle jerks of author name dropping and dry text dissections I just stop reading. Just because a book is long and complex doesn't mean you have to write about it like you're writing a dissertation. There is far too much absurdity, humanity and humor in the book to get bogged down with this stuff.

  • "Infinite Jest is complex, amazing, etc. and now I will summarize it."
I get that you loved the book. But what compels you to reiterate the plot summary? It's been done. A lot. Maybe you forget you were posting on Goodreads, Amazon etc. and went into a trance-like state where you thought you were writing a term paper?
  • "This book was so amazing, I will now try to say something equally as deep and amazing to attempt to adequately describe how much I loved it."
Although sometimes embarrassing to read (in cases where the writer seems to think they're amazingly profound), these reviews are fascinating. Because Infinite Jest absolutely stirs something in you. That urge to open up, to create, to be heard, to share. I think this is because the part of the brain that loves this book the most is the part that says, "You are capable of so much more than you know!" It's inspiring to read something this huge.
  • "When I finished the book I immediately started reading it again! I'm obsessed!"
Oh, the irony. I hope it is not lost on the people who say this. However, the book is very much written in a way that compels an immediate re-read. I suspect Wallace did this intentionally. Toward the end, lots of things happen that tie in with some of the earliest parts of the book. I did go back and reread some sections and skim some parts, but I think one time through is enough for me. I don't think I will live long enough to finish all the titles on my always-growing "books to read" list. But I do consider it a small, personal triumph that Infinite Jest is now on my "books I've read" list. 

So was it worth it? For me, yes. If you consider mental challenges (however you define them) fun and rewarding, it will be worth it for you as well.

And for the people out there who still feel intimidated or unsure, I leave you with this: No book that mentions farts and farting this much is beyond your ability to read and conquer. You can do this.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bipasha Basu: "Girls Are Icky"

Bipasha makes the universal hand signal for "Keep your vagina away from me."

Does Bollywood star Bipasha Basu think gay ladies are the worst? If her interview in the newest issue of Filmfare magazine (which is a guilty pleasure of mine the way US Weekly is to your mom) is any indication, she does. The interview (titled "I'm petrified of women hitting on me" no less) is a puff piece focusing on her romantic aspirations. It includes the question, "What if a woman were to hit on you?" which she answered this way:

They have hit on me. It's really embarrassing. I'm petrified of women hitting on me. It's happened to me twice. One was in love with me, a make-up artiste in New York, she gave me a Valentine diamond pendant. At first I thought she as my friend (sic) but then my agent told me the truth. I don't even like women touching me. I'm not the hugging type. I have a lot of girlfriends but I'm not the sticky type at all.

Even taking into account the possibility that she was misquoted, or that there might be something lost or erroneously added in the translation (I don't know if this interview was conducted in Hindi and translated into English), I'm a little disappointed in this answer. Mostly because now I have to rethink my plans of presenting her with a Valentine diamond pendant (thanks a lot, lesbo make-up artiste in New York!), but also because in the ten plus years that I've been in love with Bollywood, I've had to deal with the cognitive dissonance that comes from being a little gay Polish girl who loves Indian movies despite their lowest common denominator approach to gay visibility.

Interestingly, Filmi Girl linked to this article today which talks about the subject in more depth. The article focuses on Bol Bachchan, a new film that I haven't seen yet, but it is also hard on Dostana; a film I actually found endearing in a weird way. Sure it was "gay joke gag heavy," but I also thought there was way more warmth than maliciousness in the humor. Of course, I also went in expecting the worst, so that may have played a part in my favorable opinion. Plus, hello? The song "Desi Girl" rules.

To be fair, Bollywood as a whole frequently takes the lowest common denominator approach to virtually any demographic that will get a quick laugh. Fat people (Rajat Rawail in Bodyguard), South Indians (Shahrukh Khan in Ra.One), the Chinese (Saif Ali Khan in the 1994 hit Main Khiladi Tu Anari) just to name a few. If you can make an immature joke about it, consider it fair game. That's why I typically give the cheap shot gay jokes a pass. Sophomoric humor is a masala film staple. But it is a let down to know that big stars like Ms. Basu spend their days "petrified" at the thought that a woman might find them attractive. It's one thing to make immature jokes on the screen, it's another to be immature about the issue in real life.

But it's your loss Bipasha! I'm totally giving my Valentine diamond pendant to Anushka Sharma instead. An actress who, I can't help but notice, made the cover of the very same issue where your "don't touch me, ladies" article is buried on page 52. 

I hope somebody besides a gay white girl from the U.S. takes her to task regarding these comments. Just remember Bipasha: Fame is fleeting, and fans can be fickle. It makes sense to be respectful of the people that made you famous in the first place. Even the gay ones.

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