At Home He's a Tourist

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

Thursday, August 07, 2003

A Christgau word before I hit the road...

trope n. 1. A figure of speech using words in nonliteral ways, such as a metaphor. 2. A word or phrase interpolated as an embellishment in the sung parts of certain medieval liturgies. (

Yeah Yeah Yeahs [Shifty, 2001]
femme-punk self-definition, by now a trope among many others, done with spunk, funk, and downtown noise ("Bang," "Mystery Girl") *** (

This is probably old news to y'all, but I just discovered Googlism. According to it:

joan of arc is the third most popular subject in western culture
joan of arc is america's #1 brand of kidney bean
joan of arc is always inventive and often irresistible
joan of arc is a musical experience unlike any other

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Go West

I'm driving to New Mexico tomorrow afternoon for a solitary hiking/camping trip. I doubt I'm physically prepared for Wheeler Peak, but I'll be in that general area. Talk to you Monday.

1,700 Miles Off Broadway

The Boss bought tickets to the "Texas Legacies"show for her family, but her son, who restores hot rods as a hobby, decided to drive a '55 Chevy to a car show in Reno, NV instead. So she invited me to come along in his place. The musical, which celebrates the settling of the Panhandle, is staged on an outdoors amphitheatre in Palo Duro Canyon with a juniper-studded cliff as a natural backdrop. There were plenty of cornball moments but on the whole I liked the singing and dancing, the elaborate props (including interior sets which swiveled out of fake canyon walls surrounding the audience), and the flashy pyrotechnics (some fireworks as well as a bolt of fake lightning set off by a 500 ft. primer cord). The spectacle ended with riders on horseback galloping along the cliff base, each holding one of the six flags of Texas. I was glad the audience didn't boo at the French flag, but they may not have recognized it.

Texans have by far more state pride than anyone else in the United States. I'm not sure why. I suppose it's a lingering effect of Texas' initial (although brief) existence as a separate nation. It might also serve as compensation for having to live in ugly, inhospitable territory.

Interview with Steely Dan on NPR.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Sex Part III

I heard about this study which suggests that regardless of sexual orientation, women are aroused by both male and female visual stimuli, whereas men are more exclusively attracted to their preferred gender. Granting the validity of the experiment for the moment, I wonder what the biological function of this difference would be. Assuming that heterosexual men are naturally polygamous (which seems likely given its frequency both in ancient history and among other pack animals), perhaps it would reduce sexual frustration and interpersonal conflict among a man's harem if they were sexually attracted to one another as well as to their mate. If caveman Jones is sleeping with wife Alice for the time being, then his other wives Betty and Clarissa could sleep with each other, obviating conflict with Alice and relieving their cravings. If Betty and Clarissa were exclusively heterosexual they would need to commit adultery with other men, undesirable from the Darwinian viewpoint since Jones would then risk expending energy on raising children with another man's genetic code. Interesting that, as I mentioned before, Anais Nin and Frida Kahlo turned to female lovers after discovering their male partners' womanizing.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Since Felix Asked...

I finally finished watching the Gormenghast miniseries. Mervyn Peake's jaundiced epic about a rigidly stratified, onerously ceremonial society hermetically sealed inside a sprawling castle received surprisingly lavish treatment from the BBC. Admittedly, Peake's story is not a fantasy work in the Tolkienesque vein; it doesn't depict any supernatural occurrences, exotic monsters, or apocalyptic battles that a special effects department would have to replicate. Still, the costuming, the interior design, and the picture quality are much better than in the Beeb productions I was used to seeing years ago. (Yes, I'm thinking about Dr. Who in particular.) Furthermore, the screenplay is faithful to the source material, and not much of the plot had to be sacrificed in the interest of time. (In fact, the books are so long primarily because of Peake's richly detailed descriptions and not because of an especially busy storyline.) Finally, the casting was excellent. (Although I always pictured Helena Bonham-Carter in the role of Fuschia, I'm not complaining about having to watch Neve McIntosh instead.)

I'd like to learn more about Peake's political opinions. The Gormenghast trilogy is pretty clearly an attack on aristocracy, since the joylessness of castle life is attributable to its impermeable class boundaries and levitical ritualism. (As Felix pointed out to me, the one fault of the production is that the interiors are too bright and colorful; in the book, Gormenghast's gloomy, cobwebby corridors better reflect the emotional state of its inhabitants.) On the other hand, the proletarian usurper Steerpike, who dreams of levelling economic inequalities, is hardly admirable or enviable in his monomaniacal, Machiavellian pursuit of power. If I had to guess I would say Peake is like his contemporary and compatriot George Orwell in condemning both the old aristocratic regimes and the new socialist tyrannies. (The first volume of the trilogy was published in 1946, just a couple of years before Orwell's 1984.)

Perhaps an even closer parallel would be T.H. White's Once and Future King, which, like Gormenghast, is an English medieval epic written in the shadow of WWII. In the first part of the story Merlin transforms the young Arthur into a variety of animals in order to give the future ruler the experience of living under different political systems. Both monarchy and socialism come off poorly. A school of fish instantiates monarchy. The King of the Moat, a pike, is described as having "a face which had been ravaged by all the passions of an absolute monarch--by cruelty, sorrow, age, pride, selfishness, loneliness and thoughts too strong for individual brains." He tells Arthur, just before attempting to devour him, "There is nothing except the power which you pretend to seek: power to grind and power to digest, power to seek and power to find, power to await and power to claim, all power and pitilessness springing from the nape of the neck." Later Arthur experiences socialism in the form of an anthive, and he is repelled by its mindless regimentation, incessant propaganda, and aggressive imperialism. Arthur enjoyed most his experience as a goose on a long migratory flight, and Titus Groan seeks the same freedom of travel when he leaves the castle at the end of Gormenghast.

I actually haven't read the third, unfinished volume of Peake's trilogy, but that's fine since the BBC version ends with book two.

Sore Loser

The Boss has been sending out rejection letters to the unsuccessful applicants for our job. One of these candidates emailed her back with the following bitterly terse response: "Whatever."

A Mildly Interesting Incident in an Otherwise Dull Life

As I was about to drive beneath an overpass in Lubbock yesterday, I saw a car drift off the edge of the highway at around 30 or 40 mph and tumble sideways down the embankment, kicking up a cloud of dirt with each flip. I couldn't believe my eyes; the scene was too unreal, cinematic. I circled around, expecting that an ambulance would have to be called. But the car, smashed up and dusty, had landed upright and two young women walked out of it unassisted. A small crowd had already parked at the side of the road and run down the slope to make sure all was well, so I didn't feel the need to stick around. I told this story tonight to J.M., who is at home recovering from a triple hernia operation, and he said he saw the women interviewed on the local news. They had a blowout and lost control.

Note, Felix, what Christgau says about the Hammond!

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

en·co·mi·um n. pl. en·co·mi·ums or en·co·mi·a 1. Warm, glowing praise. 2. A formal expression of praise; a tribute. (

DAVID MURRAY Shakill's Warrior (DIW/Columbia)

Murray is the most fluent saxophonist this side of Sonny Rollins, a far more expansive leader than King Wynton. His new big-band album serves up plenty of thrills and chills; hell, when he composes a string quartet I'll give it a shot. But I reserve the right to believe that his least pretentious record is his best. Backed by swinging beatmaster Andrew Cyrille on drums and tasty high school bandmate Stanley Franks on guitar, Murray enlists Don Pullen on organ in a knowing encomium to lounge r&b. Though too often the Hammond B-3 is a one-way ticket to Cornytown, Pullen the pianist is capable of clusters as abstract (not to say unlistenable) as Cecil Taylor's, and the tension works perfectly: his harmonic cool keeps the music honest and a little strange without ever stinting on emotion. As for Murray, you know he can blow--hot and hard, warm and soulful, sly and sleazy. He even rollicks through a Rollins-style calypso. The title tune owes Sammy Davis Jr.'s "The Candy Man." And the moody avant-garde move "Black February" swings anyway. A PLUS (