At Home He's a Tourist

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

Friday, August 15, 2003

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

pan·o·ply n. pl. pan·o·plies
1. A splendid or striking array: a panoply of colorful flags.
2. Ceremonial attire with all accessories: a portrait of the general in full panoply.
3. Something that covers and protects: a porcupine's panoply of quills.
4. The complete arms and armor of a warrior. (

Love Forever Changes [Columbia, 1967]
"Art-rock," sneers my wife, who's never heard it before. "Movie music," Greil Marcus recalls fondly. "I just played it this week," R. Meltzer tells me--and then places its release in early 1968 because it came out the day before a well-remembered abortion. All wrong. It came out November 1967, and neither art-rock nor movie music, no matter how fondly recalled, will permit a song that begins with an elegantly enunciated "Oh, the snot has caked against my pants/It has turned into crystal." Arthur Lee was always too oblique for his own good. Here he counterposes a background-music feel and a delightful panoply of studio effects against his own winning skepticism and the incipient Jaggerishness of his pseudo-Johnny Mathis vocals. Perhaps because it retains so much humor, his battle cry--"We're all normal and we want our freedom"--hasn't dated, the melodies really hang in there, and only Steely Dan has ever attempted a record so simultaneously MOR and anti-MOR. A- (

One problem about working here is that I don't have anything in common with my coworkers. My age puts me in a wide temporal gap between the student workers on one side and the upper-middle-aged professional staff on the other. Religiously I don't fit in; everyone else is either Southern Baptist or liberal Presbyterian. No one shares my interest in middle-brow pop culture. Back here in technical services D.B. and L.L. talk about home decorating, dieting, and clothes; up at the desk D.W. and K.L. discuss comic books and Baptist theology. The only serious music fan among them is a strict devotée of Christian rock. Most are teetotallers so I haven't made any drinking buddies.

On Monday J.E., who was hired to replace M.D., begins work. He's in his late fifties and married, so it's not as if I'll be hanging out with him regularly. But from what I've heard he's Episcopalian and a movie fan, so perhaps we'll have at least some basis for conversation, although a taste for gin and tonic might be too much to hope for.

New Kraftwerk album!

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Robert Christgau Words of the Day

pat·i·na n. 1. A thin greenish layer, usually basic copper sulfate, that forms on copper or copper alloys, such as bronze, as a result of corrosion. 2. The sheen on any surface, produced by age and use. 3. A change in appearance produced by long-standing behavior, practice, or use: a face etched with a patina of fine lines and tiny wrinkles.

gal·van·ic adj. 1. Of or relating to direct-current electricity, especially when produced chemically. 2. a. Having the effect of an electric shock: a galvanic revelation. b. Produced as if by an electric shock: The new leader had a galvanic effect on our morale.

fey adj. 1. a. Having or displaying an otherworldly, magical, or fairylike aspect or quality: “She's got that fey look as though she's had breakfast with a leprechaun” (Dorothy Burnham). b. Having visionary power; clairvoyant. c. Appearing touched or crazy, as if under a spell. 2. Scots.. a. Fated to die soon. b. Full of the sense of approaching death. (

Pixies [SpinArt, 2002]
Up until Doolittle in 1989, when the tunes blossomed, I pretty much missed this band. Put off by Black Francis's feyness, I sensed what is now clear, that he's a pomo sociophobe of a familiar and tedious sort. Where in retrospect his philosophical limitations seem harmless annoyances, they portended many regrettable developments in irony, junk culture, sexual eccentricity, and other folkways that deserved better. But that wasn't reason enough to resist the music. In such cases, the recommended m.o. is in the destructive element immerse--understand its attractions from the inside, the better to combat or, what fun, succumb to them. Now Surfer Rosa and the Come On Pilgrim EP seem audaciously funny and musically prophetic. I like the way the elements form a whole without coalescing, and the brushed-aluminum patina they got on their punk-pop-art-metal amalgam. I guess these nine Come On Pilgrim outtakes are a little looser and wilder than the stuff they put on the market, but in retrospect once again they're every bit as much a galvanic hoot. A- (

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

I haven't done much at work in the past couple of weeks, just idling until fall semester classes start. Boring, but better than 15-hour days in some Industrial Revolution factory, so I shouldn't complain. I've done a lot of internet surfing, which is why your blog may be getting a lot of hits from my domain.

I'm house sitting for D.B. beginning tonight. Gives me a chance to get reacquainted with cable TV.

The weather has finally cooled down, after a summer solidly in the 100s. But the drought continues--no rain since late June.

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

er·satz adj. Being an imitation or a substitute, usually an inferior one; artificial: ersatz coffee made mostly of chicory. (

Pink Floyd A Collection of Great Dance Songs [Columbia, 1981]
With the rerecorded "Money" sporting a livelier bottom to protect them from truth-in-titling and felonious injury charges, this gathers up their tuneful moments, which have always been far between--so far between, in fact, that even the unconverted may miss the ersatz symphonic structures in which they're properly embedded. B+ (

I wish the "bundle of energy" part were true, but it's still a fun quiz...

You're Bhutan!

With the body of a gnat and the mind of a dragon, you are a bundle
of energy.  You enjoy mountain-climbing, rock-climbing, stair-climbing, pretty much
any kind of climbing you can manage.  This has lifted you into the clouds in more
than one way, helping you achieve some inner peace above the fray of madness all around
you.  People would seek you out for advice if they could ever find you.

Take the Country Quiz at the
Blue Pyramid

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

cla·ve n. 1. A cylindrical hardwood stick used in a pair as a percussion instrument. 2. A syncopated two-bar musical pattern. (

Kirsty MacColl Tropical Brainstorm [Instinct, 2001]
Ewan's pride was always a folkie in her bones, a singer whose acute arrangements were dulled by prefunk grooves. That's why the sauciest songs on her Galore best-of sound a little fusty, and also why this Latin-inspired and -flavored return to the studio seemed like nothing to get worked up about. (Remember Rei Momo? By David Byrne? Right.) Making no claims for the clave of her same old Brit backing guys, she soars like she never has anyway. She always had attitude, but whether she's stalking a fan gone "to a record store/To buy a CD by some other girl not me" or walking all over some Limey masochist in her most impractical shoes, these songs are so loose and raunchy they live the carnival cliche of life-giving rhythm "Mambo de la Luna" stakes its video on. The saxophone-and-autoharp finale is a return to foggy London town even though most of the album takes place there, the non-Latin bonus tracks are letdowns, and MacColl's death in the Caribbean last December hurts every time she ai-yi-yis about what a slut she turned out to be. A- (

Beck has a blog. Anyone else know of rock star blogs?

Monday, August 11, 2003

First the medical establishment says that two servings of alcohol a day is good for the ticker, then they suggest that masturbation keeps the prostate healthy, and now it turns out that nicotine may improve cognitive performance. Kinda takes the fun out of the vices.

(I note however that the nicotine study was done at Duke North Carolina.)

Sunday, August 10, 2003

W., the Boss's husband, an unfailingly jovial man who teaches and practices psychology, happened to be going to his cabin in central New Mexico on Thursday afternoon in order to finish up a sabbatical research project without distractions. He invited me to follow him there and spend the night so that I could break up the long drive to Taos. It seemed we stopped at every Allsup's from Plainview to Fort Sumner for gas, snacks, drinks, or restroom breaks. While we dined at a modest roadside eatery W. told me about the paper he's working on, an attempt to empirically prove the efficacy of death anxiety in motivating clients to undertake behavioral change. Simply put, he has his patients consider the brevity of life and whether they want to spend their precious moments in useless anger, depression, etc. I knew he was a liberal Presbyterian, but I was still surprised when he wondered if the traditional notion of an afterlife was harmful in encouraging people simply to wait for all their problems to be solved in heaven. (His is one of many instances I've seen in which the study of psychology has had a corrosive effect on theology.)

A few miles west of Muleshoe we left the flat brown farmland of Texas behind us and entered eastern New Mexico's rolling grasslands. As we gained altitude over the next couple of hours the mountains and cedar forests appeared. W. grew up on a large ranch acquired by ancestors who homesteaded the area about 90 years ago, and at his parents' death he inherited a sizable parcel of the land. It's north of the village of Corona, within a mile or two of Gallinas Peak, surrounded by the Cibola National Forest. W. had arranged it that I would drop my car off at a nearby family's ranch house, since my Saturn wouldn't make it up W.'s deeply rutted dirt road. The overly garrulous family invited us in and kept us for over an hour, but we finally excused ourselves and drove up to the cabin. W. built it himself and did a pretty good job--although the untreated plywood interiors weren't very attractive, it looked sturdy and had the desired amenities (electricity, plumbing, running water). The night was dry and cool; leaving the windows open afforded us all the air conditioning we needed.

Early in the morning W. drove me back down to my car and I left eager for new sights. I drove north to Santa Fe, a city of the strictest architectural conformity where even the fast food restaurants and gas stations are built adobe-style. I picked up some groceries and browsed the leaflets at a tourist information center north of town. I saw a brochure for Bandelier National Monument, which is thirty miles off of highway 84 on the way to Taos, and decided that it would provide a nice warm-up hike before the big Wheeler Peak ascent the next day. Highway 502 to Bandelier twisted through mountains and drought-stricken piney woods near Los Alamos. Along the way I passed various fenced-in LANL installations, including a big white radio telescope perched over a valley. Bandelier itself was pleasant but nothing special. The archaeological attraction amounts only to a few cliff dwellings, most of them vestigal, so I left after an hour's walk along the main tourist loop.

North of Santa Fe I began to see the real mountains, those over 10,000 feet in height, particularly impressive for someone like me who has lived only in the southeast and midwest. Taos is a hamlet of only about 3,500 inhabitants, but because of its fame as both an artists' colony and a ski resort it's clogged with tourists. The main street is only two lanes and backed up with traffic almost as slow moving as any I experienced in L.A. or New York. I stopped by the Carson National Forest Ranger Station to confirm that the Twining campground was at the trailhead for Wheeler Peak. Once I finally got through the traffic jam downtown, I wended my way up Highway 150 to the ski lodge. According to my USFS map the Twining trailhead and campground was at the very end of 150, but I reached Taos Ski Village without finding it. As the sky clouded over I bounced slowly up a steep, rocky road that continued beyond the lodge. Hobbling along about 5 mph past private homes, a condomium with BMW's and Jaguars in the carport, and a faux-Bavarian restaurant, I came to the end of the road at a Carson Forest trailhead labeled, not "Twining," but "Williams Lake." Signs warned "Day Use Only--No Camping," but by now it was getting dark, I was tired of the wretchedly bumpy road, and a drizzle had started to fall. I asked some scoutmasters who were taking a troup to Williams Lake about the Twining trailhead but they couldn't help. I decided to camp in the woods near the parking lot and hope no forest rangers noticed.

I had just finished tying down the rainfly when thunder boomed and the rain came down in earnest. I dove into the tent and zipped up. It was only 6:00 and the storm didn't pass until after midnight. While there was still a little light filtering through the tent I sought distraction by reading a few chapters of Olaf Stapledon's Odd John, but otherwise it was a long, long evening.

I got up around 5:30 the next morning so as to have enough time to get to Wheeler Peak, a strenous hike by all accounts. I tried to boil water for coffee but my clearance-sale camp stove kept sputtering out. I asked some other hikers who had pulled into the parking lot about Twining. One had heard of it but didn't know where it was. He was planning to hike to Williams Lake some 2 miles ahead and then take a short but difficult direct route east up to the peak. Having no clue where Twining was, I decided this trail was my only option for hiking Wheeler.

I didn't quite make it. After Williams Lake the trail gets truly steep, gaining about 2,000 feet of altitude over a horizontal distance of about 3,500 feet, and I could only take 50 steps or so at a time before having to rest. Also the scree got slippery near the top and I, wearing ordinary running shoes rather than hiking boots, kept losing my footing. To top it off, the daily thunderclouds which, according to what I had read, were supposed to form late in the afternoon, began floating over the ridge before noon. Frustrated and defeated, I gave up only a tantalizing 100 feet or so below the peak. (Maybe I needed a Japhy Ryder to spur me on; see Kerouac's Dharma Bums, pp. 82-84.) The clouds hurdled the ridge and rained on me during my descent, making the path treacherously slick and forcing me to choose each step with painful care. I slipped and fell three times, but luckily did not take a 1,000 foot tumble. I was happy to reach the valley, but also annoyed when I talked to someone there who had ascended along the "much easier Twining trail"! It turns out the trailhead was lower on Highway 150 than suggested by either the USFS map or the lady at the ranger station.

I got back to camp around 1:00, exhausted from the 7 hour hike. The stormclouds were blooming large and I didn't want to spend more rainy hours stuck in the tent, so I decided to leave a day early. The drive back home was long and lonely, through sparsely inhabited northern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.


Despite my complaints, I would like to try another New Mexico campout, considering that so much of the aggravation this weekend was due to bad luck. However, Taos really is quite a long drive, even for a 3 1/2 day weekend trip. Hiking in Cibola somewhere near W.'s place might be more feasible, since it's about 2 or 3 hours closer and the altitudes are not quite so lung-burstingly high.