At Home He's a Tourist

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

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Read book reviews all day. I think I'll get Guelzo's Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, as it got mostly good reviews, won the Lincoln Prize 2001, and its focus on the president's religious beliefs seems appropriate for our library.

We got quite a zinger of a letter of recommendation yesterday. The letter simply read: "Since X. has worked for you before, I need only say that I feel about him exactly the same way you do." This was the fellow who had conflicts with a couple of his professors here, and who at one of his full-time jobs pissed off the ladies in technical services with his arrogance. Apparently he antagonized this person as well. Actually my boss says she never had any problems with him, but the point of the letter was nonetheless taken and his file has been removed from consideration. It makes me nervous, though, since I might be asking for letters to be written pretty soon.

The leading candidate is an Episcopalian. It would be nice to have a coreligionist among my colleagues, although, as Flannery O'Connor said, "Scratch an Episcopalian and you never know what you'll find underneath." Granted, since this guy has done missionary work with a conservative evangelical outfit, he probably isn't one of those avant-garde modern-day Arian sort of Episcopalians, but he might be a lot more low-church than I.

I'm picking up Pablo in Amarillo tomorrow for an Independence Day campout in Palo Duro canyon. Those narrow, airless ravines will trap the summer heat nicely. Pablo is bringing gin, though, which will hit the spot after a sweaty sunburnt afternoon of hiking.

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

mel·lif·lu·ous adj. 1. Flowing with sweetness or honey. 2. Smooth and sweet: “polite and cordial, with a mellifluous, well-educated voice” (H.W. Crocker III). (

Laurie Anderson Strange Angels [Warner Bros., 1989]

Anderson feels powerless, a speck of dust at the speed of light, and these are the bleakest songs she's ever written. Positing progress as the force that prevents history from righting itself, she looks the death of nature in its prosthetic eye and sees bad changes coming a lot sooner than, for instance, equal pay for women, which she calculates is due along about 3888. But she also feels connected to the pop firmament, often constructing her lyrics like a human sampler, and this is the most mellifluous music she's ever recorded. She's taken voice lessons to match the tunes she's writing, and hired sidepeople--notably Graceland bassist Bakithi Khumalo, whose fretless flow unifies the four lithest tracks--who she knows will add a savvy, sensual sheen to her most cerebral constructs. Some find these two pop moves a mark of compromise; I find them pleasingly complex. A soothing glimpse of the end of the world. A (

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

ep·och·al adj. 1. Of or characteristic of an epoch. 2. a. Highly significant or important; momentous: epochal decisions made by Roosevelt and Churchill. b. Without parallel: epochal stupidity. (

Curtis Mayfield Super Fly [Curtom, 1972]

I'm no respecter of soundtracks, but I can count--this offers seven new songs (as many as his previous LP) plus two self-sustaining instrumentals. It's not epochal, but it comes close--maybe Mayfield writes tougher when the subject is imposed from outside than when he's free to work out of his own spacious head. Like the standard-setting "Freddie's Dead," these songs speak for (and to) the ghetto's victims rather than its achievers (cf. "The Other Side of Town," on Curtis), transmitting bleak lyrics through uncompromisingly vivacious music. Message: both candor and rhythm are essential to our survival. A- (

Monday, June 30, 2003

If you can't give the heat, get out of the kitchen

I'm vain about my tolerance for spicy food, first acquired during a two-year stint as a roommate to an Indian graduate student at Notre Dame and maintained subsequently by my preference for southeast Asian cuisine. I'll fess up to meeting my match on occasion--one meal at a Thai restaurant in Minneapolis was genuinely painful--but generally, especially in the smaller towns, I smile smugly at the waiters who warn me against ordering their hottest dishes. I was told at one of Bloomington's Tibetan restaurants that "only foreigners" asked for a five out of five on their heat scale, but I found it to be quite bland. This weekend I tried a Thai restaurant in Lubbock and ordered "Musmon." Again I got the caveat, again I took the plunge and ordered it hot, again I waited with slight trepidation (who knows, maybe this time they're right), again I was disappointed. Luckily they had some chili sauce sitting out in bowls which I could ladle into the food until I got my sinuses running.

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

con·cat·e·nate tr.v. con·cat·e·nat·ed, con·cat·e·nat·ing, con·cat·e·nates: 1. To connect or link in a series or chain. 2. Computer Science. To arrange (strings of characters) into a chained list. adj. Connected or linked in a series.

Chaka Khan Destiny [Warner Bros., 1986]

Though supervising producer Arif Mardin lends an appearance of unity to the credits, the eight-count-'em-eight coproducers take it away, leaving yet another candid concatenation of crossover wannabees. Those who treasure Chaka's quirkiness will object--the Coltrane snippet's an obvious sop. Those who've always found her unfocused will admire the professional standard of Osborne, LaBelle, etc. while dreaming of a whole album with Scritti Politti. B (