At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Robert Christgau Words of the Day

sybaritic adj. Devoted to or marked by pleasure and luxury.

gnomic adj. Marked by aphorisms; aphoristic: gnomic verse; a gnomic style. (

Yo La Tengo Electr-O-Pura [Matador, 1995]

Electric, sure, but Altern-A-Pura would be more like it. Brimful of fuzz, feedback, punk, skronk, and the lovingly amped squelches of fingers sliding off strings, their seventh album is a subcultural tour de force, luxuriating so sybaritically in guitar sound that I'm reluctant to mention that the tunes are pretty good. That's probably why it's the best record they've ever made, though. Singing's breathy as usual, with Ira yelling when the time is right. As for the lyrics, you know--murmured, gnomic, pop culture references, that kind of thing. A (

Friday, June 13, 2003

This one's for Dr. C....

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

verboten adj. Forbidden; prohibited. (

LFTR-PLLR Soft Rock [The Self-Starter Foundation, 2003]

Nobody's gonna sit and listen for two hours and 20 minutes without even a chorus to ease the rush of words and riffs and bumpy beats--not unless they're working, like I was when I did. But the sheer bulk of these two CDs is their charm. Debut and singles and EPs and compilation cuts, almost every piece of crap this Minneapolis four-piece ever recorded except an album that's less impressive for being better shaped, and not counting a few early losers stuck in back they form one pretty damn good song: postpunk noir at the economic margins, drugs and sex and rock and roll in that order, an epic best intoned in toto around a verboten communal ashtray in some after-hours den. Craig Finn spouts like a jaded Conor Oberst and tells his underworld tales like a slacker Hamell on Trial, whose fame he may yet match. I wonder how many he made up. That's the fun part, right? A- (

Thursday, June 12, 2003


Something I learned from Felix, more by way of example than by argument, is that studying local history can turn up something at least mildly interesting about even the most humdrum places . I can still remember a book he was reading in undergraduate days about a backwoods skirmish grandiloquently dubbed the "Slicker War" which took place in the backwoods of Missouri near his ancestral home. Being definitely unenchanted with west Texas so far, I decided to give the strategy a try; I'm reading through a recent book called El Llano Estacado: Exploration and Imagination on the High Plains of Texas and New Mexico, 1536-1860 by one John Miller Morris. In the part I'm currently reading Morris surveys the scholarly debate over the route of Coronado's expedition through the Llano. His own view is that it passed through the southern part of our present-day Hale County and encamped at Running Water Draw somewhere near Plainview. One account written by a member of the expedition describes a West Texas hailstorm in which "great rocks the size of bowls fell from the sky," dinging up their armor and terrifying the horses. I also get some pleasure empathizing with the conquistadors who were amazed or dismayed at the flat, empty horizons: as Coronado describes it, "I reached some plains so vast, that I did not find their limit anywhere I went, although I travelled over them for more than 300 leagues . . . with no more land marks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea . . . . there was not a stone, nor bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by."

On Sunday, to kill time before a church potluck that evening, I went to the Lubbock P.L. for the first time and read about half of Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. It's an exciting read, chock full of the same paranoiac and religious obsessions that I enjoyed in Radio Free Albemuth. Gnosticism rears its head again; in this one a group of involuntary offworld colonists develop a religion around a ritualized, communal consumption of a hallucinogen called "Can-D" which allows them to experience life back on earth. A doctrinal debate rages among them as to whether or not the ritual is merely subjective or if it in fact mysteriously translates the communicants back to earth. Interestingly, the main character, on his flight out to the Lunar colony, meets a young orthodox Christian who wants to proselytize the colonists; for her the Eucharist is preferable to Can-D. This character is portrayed attractively enough that it makes me believe Dick felt the tug towards traditional Christianity (one of his other novels is about an Episcopalian bishop, after all) but didn't quite yield. Since the book isn't available anywhere around here, I'll have to go back to Lubbock P.L. this weekend to finish it.

Robert Christgau reviews the new Steely Dan album in this month's Rolling Stone. He puts it on the same level as Aja, a comparison which in his view is no compliment but which would get me terribly excited if I thought Christgau knew what he was talking about. Still, he uses a five-dollar word, defined below:

contretemps n. An unforeseen event that disrupts the normal course of things; an inopportune occurrence. (

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

stentorian adj.

Extremely loud: a stentorian voice. (

Tom Waits Small Change [Asylum, 1976]

Waits has developed into such a horrible singer that sometimes I think his stentorian emotionalism is deliberate, like the clinkers he hits in "The Piano Has Been Drinking." This doesn't affect his monologue songs one way or the other, but it tends to detract from those with melodies. B- (

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Nothing happening...