Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Distance Libs: Volume Two


One hundred and fifty million years ago, the Earth was very superb. Huge Subaru Justys, which were called dinosaurs, skedaddled all over Europe and Buttzville, New Jersey. The biggest balloon of all was called the Brontosaurus. It weighed over 100 grams and ate nothing but plants and disco fries. The most dangerous dinosaur was called Tyrannosaurus Ira. It was as tall as a two story aluminum. It walked on it's hind feet and it's mouth was filled with hundreds of sharp, pointy babies. This dinosaur never ate jellybeans. It was a carnivore, and it only ate elbow macaroni. It is a good thing that all of these ferocious marbles are now extinct.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Distance Libs: Volume One

“Looking Good on Pluto”

On Pluto, the gravity is 44 million billion times as strong as it is in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan. So if you are a young Batcave there and you want to look good, here is what you should do. First go to a beauty parlor and get a distinguished haircut by a saucy Plutonian barber. Make sure he keeps your hair out of your Millennium Falcons so you can show off your hams. This is the hunky fashion on Pluto today. Then spray yourself with Ecto Cooler and put on an aluminum foil sombrero and high-heeled lemonssssssss. Makeup is as important on Pluto as it is on Earth, so put some bright orange-ish lipstick on your eyeball and use a nice ponytail shadow. If you follow this advice, you will get your picture on the covers of all their Draculas.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

And Another...

Hardback or trade paperback or mass market paperback?
I only buy hardcovers when they're used and cheap, otherwise trade is the way to go. For new books trade is cheaper and they usually add some extra stuff to make the people that bought the hardcover buy again. Mass markets are awesome because they're pocket-size and inexpensive, especially used.

Amazon or brick and mortar?
I don't really buy books on Amazon, just used DVDs and CDs. I prefer actual stores when looking for books.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?
As a former B&N employee I can say that B&N is the better all-around bookstore...but Borders has a better magazine selection. Any chance I get I'll go to an independent bookstore though.

Bookmark or dogear?
I usually rip a piece of paper off something nearby to mark my place, I can never remember to bring a bookmark and I don't like getting my pages all foldy.

Alphabetize by author or alphabetize by title or random?
Alphabetizing is for vinyl, I use a pile of heavier books as bookends and then stack everything else in between haphazardly.

Keep, throw away, or sell?
Keep, keep, keep, and keep. I put out a duplicate copy of The Ghost Next Door at a yard sale one day and felt like a real goofus. Keep 'em all.

Keep dustjacket or toss it?
Refer to previous question.

Read with dustjacket or remove it?
Remove, but leave it in a safe place. If you have enough dustjacketed books you get that library feel which I love, or you could feel like you live here, even better:

Short story or novel?
Both please.

Collection (short stories by same author) or anthology (short stories by different authors)?
Collection. I have quite a few anthologies but I prefer to read one author at a time.

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
Is this still a debate? I don't read either but I liked the HP movies more, so...

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
I'm pretty big on chapter breaks, they're there for a reason, if I can make it to a break that's when I'll stop.

“It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?
I gotta go dark and stormy.

Buy or Borrow?
Buy, usually if I borrow I just end up liking it so much that I'll need to own it so let's just cut out the middle man.

New or used?
Used is preferred, cheaper and much more character. (I've noticed I'm very particular on things being 'cheap', this is more about having more money to spend on more stuff rather than actually just being cheap myself.)

Buying choice: based on book reviews, recommendations or browsing?
All three, but the last more so than the other two.

Tidy ending or cliffhanger?
Goosebumps has a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter! But I prefer a good ending.

Morning reading, afternoon reading or nighttime reading?
Whenever-I-can-fit-it-in-to-my-already-packed-schedule reading.

Standalone or series?
They both have their merits, but I tend to prefer a standalone, series can be frustrating...I can't tell you how long it took to find Monster Blood IV.

Favorite series?
Escalofrios, 33 1/3, Berenstain Bears was pretty big, The Onion...

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
Wow, I don't know if I have any gems here. I don't know if a lot of people know how good a writer Lester Bangs was, outside of music crit freaks. Chris Elliott's books The Shroud of the Thwacker and Into Hot Air are genuinely hilarious.

Favorite books read last year?
Books tend to melt together for me and I forget when I read anything. I know I re-read Catcher in the Rye for like the 5th time last year. Palahniuk's Diary was decent, and Simon Doonan's Beautiful People. I didn't finish The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, or Leonard Cohen's Book of Longing...but someday soon.

Favorite books of all time?
The Catcher in the Rye, I am the Cheese, Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic, The Girl Who Cried Monster, Breakfast of Champions...

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Bookish Survey...

1. Best literary festival/book fair experience?
Nothing can beat the Sunnymead Elementary book fairs they'd hold in the back corner of the re-vamped library. I can't remember if there were Goosebumps books, but I seem to remember every book fair being sponsored by Scholastic, so there must have been. I just remember being so excited and wanting to buy every single book there was.

2. How do you organize your bookshelves?
My room is overrun with books and cds, so I have one row of shelves for larger books, organized by height and width, then a row across my dresser for smaller books organized by however-they-fit-best.

3. Ever managed to get one of your favorite authors' autographs?
I just recently got John Waters to autograph one of his books. I've never been much for autographs, the only other one I ever really wanted was Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill. I had her sign a pair of white sunglasses.

4. If you said No to the previous question, which of your favorite authors do you want an autograph from?
I didn't say no, but, I'd LOVE to meet R.L. Stine, I bet he'd write something spooky. Most authors I'd like to meet are long dead so the autograph question is moot.

5. Ever visited the residence/museum of a famous author?
No, not that I can remember, maybe back in middle school times. I saw the documentary "Dreams with Sharp Teeth" about Harlan Ellison and he had an amazing house. It had a name, but I can't remember it, I love when houses have names, like Fallingwater. But that's not really what we're talking about.

6. If you said Yes to the previous question, what was it like?
Awe-inspiring? Dull? Disappointing? Enlightening?
Harlan's house was super intricate with little hide-aways and hallways, I always wanted a crazy house like that, or that place in California, I also forget what it's called but there's a bunch of doors to nowhere and hallways to nothing. I'd love to see Danielle Steel's house, I'm very intrigued by her, not her books, just her. She's like a weird, Stephen King for aging ladies.

7. Has popular culture ever influenced your reading choices?
Umm, I guess in some ways, but certainly not in an Oprah Book Club way. I mainly read older fiction, current non-fiction, bios and teen/kids mystery books.

8. More generally, how do you choose what to read?
I just keep my eyes and ears open to everything, it's the same way I hear about music, except I don't listen to any independent radio stations that talk about books. I'm a pop culture sponge and every now-and-then I find something I'm interested in. When browsing at the bookstore interesting titles are key to finding something new. Lots of blind luck in my search for books, it's more exciting that way.

9. What does being a bookworm mean to you?
Someone who is always reading. I know a couple, I'm not one though, I'm a musicworm, if there is such a thing. It's also a villain from the original Batman TV series.

10. How many book series, whether fictional or non-fictional, do you own? What are your favorites?
I have all the original series Goosebumps, I used to have most of the Robert Cormier teen books, but they disappeared. I'd like to have all the bound editions of The Onion, right now I only have one. I think I have all of John Waters books, maybe missing one. I have a fairly random book collecting style, so it's a bit all over the place. I'll typically buy anything on these topics: The French as a people, music crit, 60's/70's design/fashion, The Cold War, 60's melodrama mysteries, instruction books or pamphlets for kids/teens on dating, fictional deep sea monsters, SPACE. Or anything by these authors: John Updike, Salinger, Neal Pollack, Wilde, Kafka, Ellison (his stuff is hard to find), Poe, Vonnegut, Lester Bangs, etc...

Monday, April 12, 2010


This weekend I did something that I'm truly obsessed by. Buying records that I've never heard of is something I've been doing for quite some time. The first real success story was back around '00-01, Black Tambourine's 'Complete Recordings' 10" was a mystery. Nestled firmly in Vintage Vinyl's 10" records section, a true musical black hole if there ever was one, this record interested me with it's stark black and white cover art...and the fact that when you turn it over you notice that the girl is holding a gun. Black Tambourine, I would come to find out, is/was a seminal band in the underground dream pop genre and an extremely influential group to lots of bands that I already listened to. But it started because I just liked the cover. This record also introduced me to Swedish pop group Girlfrendo, they're mentioned in the liner notes. I was happy to see that this record recently got a proper re-release. This record was also influential in showing me that if I hate a record the first time I hear it I may love it the second.
7" records are really great for this type of shopping. There are endless possibilities in the 7" bin and (until recently for some reason) they are cheaper than LPs and CDs. There's also a feeling to 7" records that they're more unique. You can look at a 7", possibly pressed on some outlandish color vinyl with a silk screened over and think you're the only person who owns it. One of my all time favorite songs is 'Audi 5000' by some band called The Triggers. All I know about them is that they're probably from somewhere near Ypsilati, Michigan and may be former/future members of bands like Lovesick and Saturday Looks Good to Me just because their artwork is so similar. Other than that the song and record are a total mystery, but I like it that way. No picture, I've never been able to find info on them on the world wide web, and it's not same The Triggers that are on Dirtnap Records.
This weekend was not unlike others where I found ultra cheap CDs in the used bins at the Princeton Record Exchange. I'd like to state that I'm not advocating blind luck in finding these records. Record labels are important, as is artwork and (to me at least) song titles. This weekend's big find was a band called Clues from Montreal. This one had all the familiar markings: weird artwork and pictures of self-flying kites, a kind of pop-up book meets LSD art scheme, and it was on a label called Constellation...which is unknown to me, but promising. I come to find out now that Clues is made up of members of Arcade Fire and Unicorns, two bands that I know of but don't really pay any attention to. Underground music is a pyramid scheme. This CD has a truly heartbreaking song called 'Elope' that I would recommend anyone reading this to seek out ASAP. Finding this CD helped me to realize two things: 1. I don't mind getting older, to say that at 28 is probably kind of ridiculous, but as you age your tastes change and you can enjoy things you may not have earlier in life. I can't be sure if I would have appreciated Destroyer, Final Fantasy, Spoon, Miike Snow, Women, or even the new Animal Collective when I was in high school, but I love 'em now. 2. Music is AMAZING right now. There have been times, not too long ago, where the state of independent music was slumping and overrun with garbage. I know this because I lived through it, surviving on a diet of early White Stripes records and the occasional indie monster: Death Cab, Blonde Redhead, Of Montreal, lean times indeed.
But right now? Indie music is alive in a way that I've never seen it. It's hard to resist listing about a thousand bands that make me excited for the state of music over the next few years. I feel like that's reader poison, a form of name dropping or at the very least, boring. I also, however, don't feel like I can discuss what I'd like to discuss without mentioning (at least some of) these bands. So forgive me.
One CD I picked up used was by a band called No Age, they got pretty popular last year, as did just about any band released through SUB POP. I didn't care much about No Age, I think I gave their first record a listen, who could resist a record called 'Weirdo Rippers'? But I didn't much care for it. No Age's 'Nouns' is interesting in and out of the stereo, it comes with a 60+ page booklet, recalling that epic Black Dice 7" on some years back. The music is not at all what I expected, I'd heard No Age compared to Death From Above 1979 a while back and it's completely unwarranted. This no doubt came from some holier-than-thou 3rd rate magazine reviewer who can't describe music without linking it to one of the last two CDs he listened to. The first song on 'Nouns' actually sounds a lot like Deerhunter (not one of the last two CDs I listened to) but the rest of the disc is very...well, unSUB POP. Yes I know Wolf Eyes is on SUB POP, but it's different. I'm surely not trying to say that No Age or Clues have made some genre defining albums, I'm just saying No Age and Clues are tapped in to what I think is going on right now. There's a collection of bands that are organic in their inspiration and naturally pop. It's kind of like what happened when the Elephant 6 bands were around. It seems like there are tons of bands making the kind of pop music they want to hear and it just so happens that it's also the kind of pop music the record buying (or downloading) public at large want to hear. I don't know if I'm describing this exactly how I want to, there have always been bands doing what I'm trying to convey, but now it just seems like every genre wall there is or was has been vaporized. I love classifying bands in to genres, the more buzzwords I can use to describe a band and where they fit in the world of underground music the better, but that's my own neurosis...actually I love when bands just do whatever the hell they want. That seems like what's happening now. I remember an old !!! record that had a song called "There's No Fucking Rules, Dude" and I thought that was so inspired and I wish every band had that mentality.
Where underground music used to feel like a cult it now feels like a club. It seems like there's a significant camaraderie that was only aspired to years ago. Maybe it's just me, I don't know. I look at all the amazing bands that are really hitting their stride right now and they're all SO different, but there's a feeling that they're all cut from the same cloth. It could be the shared experience of the internet, it's so much easier for anyone to find underground music now, not to mention like-minded people. Of course, it may seem like I'm undermining, even advocating against the obsession I mentioned earlier. I'm not a fan of downloading music for the simple reason that I love actual records and just having a song on a computer or whatever seems like an anti-climax. However, if this digital climate is helping to create this musical renaissance that I'm witnessing, how can I do anything but embrace it?

Many of the bands that are on my mind are the ones that are redifining pop music. The one that is dominating my thoughts is Dirty Projectors, they've been around for a while, but last year's 'Bitte Orca' is a simply stunning record. It seems fitting that I purchased this album on the last day of 2009, it has a wipe-the-slate-clean feel to it. While sounding entirely fresh and inspired it also sounds like something fit for public consumption...some of it at least. 'Stillness is the Move' is maybe the best pop song since 'Hey Ya', and that's saying something. This band gets lazily compared to the Talking Heads and David Byrne, which isn't entirely off...but I don't like the Talking Heads, so I'm going another way. Dirty Projectors have the feel of a classic Motown group being backed by...Queen? Big guitars and backing vocals surround intimate structures and ridiculous tempo shifts. When you listen to this record you can feel originality pouring out. Detractors tend to lean on the notion that nothing is new, in the world of music everything has been done and it's a culture of imitators. One of the best things about the current state of music is that new music actually IS new and exciting.
Another example of this is the band Beach House. Their first record was decent, but lacked something and this year's 'Teen Dream' delivered. It's a kind of sprawling, meditative record blending dreamy subdued hooks with a different kind of female lead vocal.
A record like Pants Yell!'s 'Received Pronunciation' seemed to me to be a kind of one-off, twee blip on the radar, and although I'd never heard of them, 3 bucks + Slumberland Records = buy. It turns out this is a really promising, infectious and honest record. Songs like 'Rue de la Paix' and 'Not Wrong' are kind of brilliant little pop gems, and completely blur the indie line.

The last thing I'll say about what I feel is happening right now is that it all seems almost relentlessly positive. Even hearing Nathan Willams from Wavves sing "got no car, not no no god, got no girlfriend" it doesn't sound like despair. There's an underlying optimism permeating indie music and I'm all for it. I would love to know where it came from, my first guess is that it was born out of the political climate. Either bands adopted a 'fuck-it-all' attitude in the Bush years, or conversely gained a new outlook on life once Obama took over. This may play some small part, but this optimism doesn't feel like it's in response to anything in particular, plus half the bands I've mentioned are Canadian. Another thought is that it's just my own projection on the situation, or maybe these musicians came to the realization I did several years ago that it's a waste of time to be depressed and/or negative...or maybe they never were to begin with. Maybe it's the drugs, it's probably the drugs. I've always enjoyed bands and movies and TV shows that you're supposed to be high to enjoy, and I've never been high in my life. Most kids spend 8th grade alone in their room listening to The Doors drinking Yoohoo right? But I'm straying from my point.
Music, unlike many things, seems to be in good hands right now. Experimentation is the norm and diversity is celebrated. Regardless of what has caused this influx it's important to mention that it's happening. If you haven't bought a record since 1997 my advice to you is to smile and buy something you've never heard of.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


This past Saturday reminded me of one of my favorite lyrics ever: "All I know is you've got no money, but that's got nothing to do with a good time." -Sonic Youth '100%'
I spent the morning/afternoon finishing up a really fantastic mix that I can't stop listening to. The Books, Big Star, The Wrens, Destroyer, Comet Gain, Deerhoof...I'd love to go on and on about how much I love the music I've been listening to this year, but who has the time? I spent the rest of the day laying in bed listening to it on headphones with the windows open and my sunglasses on. I probably looked like some kind of Warholian mess or pseudo-bohemian beatnik disaster, but it was exactly what I needed.
Text messages came and went and I eventually ended up at my pal Rory's for some booze and a fire. This is really what it boils down to, sitting around with friends watching Peeps fall in to the fire, strategic zombie card games, unexpected operatic outbursts, internet videos so old they should be in black and white, and simple conversation. I think that was the essence of the Sonic Youth quote, getting together and enjoying the company of friends and not needing anything else.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Random Lady: 'Is James there?'
Me: 'I'm sorry he's not at this location.'
Random Lady: 'Oh, so it's this other number?'
Me: 'Yeah, probably whatever other number you have.'
Random Lady: 'Oh okay thank you.'
Me: 'No problem.'
Random Lady: 'Alright, I love you, and have a good...Easter.'
Me: 'O...K.'
Random Lady: 'Ok, bye bye.'
Me: 'Bye.'

What was that? It was kind of amazing, it's nice to have a random, vaguely accented lady tell you she loves you. Was it an April Fools prank? Whatever it was, just had to share.