It’s one more random than 10!
One of the great things about being married to The Lovely Becky—aside from the obvious great things—is that I have gotten to meet a lot of writers thanks to her. Yesterday I met Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, on tour to support his new book, Hell.
I’m an afterlife obsessive, and Butler’s book, about a newscaster in hell, is right up my alley. In the space of the few pages he read, he managed to deliver a vision of hell that is both horrifying and hilarious, with allusions to Dante, Ann Boleyn, Federico Fellini, Humphrey Bogart, and Dante’s Beatrice, with a meta-fictional appearance by Butler himself—all with vivid prose packed with more zinging jokes than an episode of 30 Rock.
It was one of those readings where I’m not only entertained and enlightened by what the author is reading, but inspired to push myself to be a better writer. It’s the act of watching a master who’s in complete control of his craft, who doesn’t worry that you won’t pay attention or think he sucks or will close the book, because he projects the confidence of someone who knows you won’t. I’m sure that winning a Pulitzer does wonders for said confidence, but I was amazed at how Butler had the room in the palm of his hand with the first sentence. That’s what I want, and I felt the gears in my head already turning, analyzing my own book-in-progress, looking for ways to turn it into something that causes a room full of strangers to hang on my every word.
As I said, being Mr. TLB has its author-meeting privileges, and I had a chance to chat with Mr. Butler, who was as nice and friendly as he was commanding. “Becky tells me you’re into comic writing,” he said to me. I felt a flutter of nervousness. What should I say? A simple, “yes, I am” hardly seemed the response of someone who is into comic writing. But what if I told him about my book and got one of those, “Oh, that’s nice,” polite-but-uninterested responses that would send me into an overanalyzing funk for days, nay, months? (Did I mention I need to take Troy McClure’s advice and “Get confident, stupid!”?)
In the nanosecond psychological tug-of-war, I decided to go for it. I gave him a quick, back-catalog-copy synopsis. He actually laughed, made a couple of related quips, and said, “I’d like to read it when you’re done.” I was dumbfounded by this, because he said it with such genuine interest that I thought perhaps I’d given the synopsis for someone else’s book. He then repeated this invitation later, and I told him I’d take him up on it.
If that’s not inspiration to not only finish this sucker, but turn it into something that could have a Robert Olen Butler blurb on it, then I should just hang up my Word right now. Luckily, it had just the opposite effect.
Time for some tunes...
1) “Perfect Kiss,” New Order. Dance mixes can certainly stretch out even the most ordinary songs to prog-lengths. Few of those mixes ever justify listening outside of the club, however, because they are simply stretched out versions of the original. Not so with Substance. The tracks here are epic, not just in length, but in their soul. “Perfect Kiss” is a perfect example, full of twists, turns, and returns, with a relationship story that says so much despite the Twitterish length of the lyrics.
2) “Bullet in the Head,” Rage Against the Machine. Much like the John Woo film of the same name, not nearly as interesting and forceful as the title would imply. This Rage song could use more rage.
3) “Jemima Surrender,” The Band. Jennifer’s been blogging about visualization lately, and as soon as this song started, I was immediately in a dank roadhouse bar, watching The Band cranking it up a notch for the drunks who manage to stop crying in their beer long enough to stomp their feet.
4) “Goodbye Caroline,” Aimee Mann. Her songs are almost always perfectly populated. There are little elements—a twinkling piano, a tugging guitar solo—that are exactly where they need to be, not just supporting Mann’s wordplay, but telling their own little parts of the story. She strips it down in the clip but the banter is very funny.
5) “Revolution Calling,” Queensryche. Operation: Mindcrime is one of the most under-appreciated metal albums of all time. Seriously, stop laughing. Ok, wait, come back, I promise not to write 100 more words about Queensryche, but instead use the title to set up one of my patented Friday Random 11 Random Segues.
Speaking of revolutions calling, today I read the dumbest fucking thing I’ve read from a major pundit in quite some time. Not surprisingly, it was from Charles Krauthammer. The Post’s resident lawn gnome argued that the Democrats have overplayed their sweeping victory in 2008, seeing a liberal mandate where there wasn’t one. Okay, I disagree, especially since the liberal wing of the party continues smothered between the flabby folds of the conservative and “mainstream” Democrats. But Krauthammer’s reasoning: that the election results of this week signal a resounding anti-mandate mandate. So, a small sample of elections completely outweighs a huge national election from just one year before. Jesus H. Christ, is it any wonder why newspapers are dying when they have to dole out salaries to people like this? You get the sense that conservatives would cut open an animal right now, point to the intestines, and say that those intestines clearly show that the Obama Administration is doomed.
6) “Fixed Income,” DJ Shadow. Sounds like it really belongs in a Tarantino movie, when a character is smoking a cigarette he or she rolled herself and thinking about the person he or she just killed/is going to kill/is going to free from a group of horny, sadistic, hillbilly furries.
7) “Magical Mystery Tour,” The Beatles. Poor TLB. It’s difficult being in the minority of a pop culture opinion, especially when that opinion is, “I don’t like The Beatles.” But the recent flurry of videogame-fueled Beatlemania pushed her over the edge. She came home from writing at our local Starbucks and declared, “I now hate The Beatles!” Apparently the incessant playing of the Fab Four had put a lemon in her latte, pushing her from mutual non-aggression to open hostility. Although increasing one’s anger and hostility probably helps when your writing a novel from the perspective of Elizabeth Bathory.
8) “Garageland,” The Clash. I’ve never thought of British bands as being out in the garage, flailing away until the neighbors call the cops, because having a garage big enough for a band seems like an American phenomenon. But then again, where would an up-and-coming British punk band practice? Probably not under a tree in Cornwall.
9) “Staying Fat,” Bloc Party. A good song to play when doing activities to avoid staying fat. Also an indictment of my post-Halloween candy binging.
10) “Fire,” The Jimi Hendrix Experience. At one point, Hendrix sings, Move over rover, and let Jimi take over. He then rips into a guitar solo, which I think is supposed to represent the taking over. The solo is amazing, but lasts a mere 12 seconds, before Hendrix says, That’s what I’m talking about and continues rocking. In real life, however, that 12-second solo would turn into a blues song called, “I’m Sorry, Give Me 30 Minutes and We’ll Try Rocking Again.”
11) “Morning Glory,” Oasis. The angriest eyebrows in rock. For all their faults—and there are many, starting with those Politburo-style caterpillars over their eyes—Oasis know how to make big, fat, rocking songs. Often derivative and annoying, yes, but those traits are often stomped by 50-story layer of overdubbed guitars and a nasally vocal that still manages to sound huge.
Here’s to a good weekend.