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"From the moment that I am no longer more than a writer, I shall cease to write."
- Albert Camus

May 30, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"It's so hot, I feel like my neck is melting and my head is sliding into my shoulders...like Andy Rooney."
- Madeleine Anderson, 5/29/10

May 30, 2010 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Love It Love It Love It!


Here's a fantastic gallery of background artwork from various Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes cartoons from way back in the day. I was heavily into Looney Tunes when I was growing up (weekdays on The Ray Rayner Show and Saturday mornings on CBS) and always loved the artwork. These stills show that even the backgrounds were wonderful.

(Via Drawn!.)

May 28, 2010 in Art, Personal | Permalink | Comments (2)

Beneficial compulsion

"Chance has certainly played its part, but one thing that’s certain is their inner compulsion – and the stronger the compulsion, the further one goes."
- Bei Dao, "Once Upon a Time the Zhou Brothers"

Dao's quote muses on the success of the Zhou brothers, Chicago-based artists, in the recent "Chicago Issue" of Granta. Reading that line on the train this morning inspired me to set the journal aside and delve back into the short story I've been writing off and on during the last few weeks. I rarely write in the morning, but thanks to that impetus I knocked off another couple hundred words or so before I arrived downtown. I'm certainly not compulsive with my writing, though a little compulsion would probably do me good and help me "go further."

May 28, 2010 in Books, Chicago Observations, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Almost-Trifecta

Julie pointed out last night that the Chicago area almost accomplished a clean sweep of the three big competition shows that concluded this week: Lee DeWyze (from Mount Prospect) won American Idol and Michael Ventrella (from Bartlett) won The Biggest Loser but, alas, Evan Lysacek (from Naperville) only finished second on Dancing With the Stars. All of which, for me, mitigates the ongoing woes of most (but not all - Go Hawks!) of our local sports teams a lot more than you might expect.

May 27, 2010 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes: Yo La Tengo vs. Lou Reed

Yo La Tengo, "Sudden Organ"
Lou Reed, "Last Great American Whale"

Interesting that these two bands would face each other, given what an obvious musical debt Yo La Tengo owes to Reed's Velvet Underground. Yes, of course dozen of bands owe that debt, but Yo La Tengo (especially in its earlier days) owes more than most.

"Sudden Organ" is somewhat of a musical departure for Yo La Tengo. James McNew forgoes his bass guitar completely, switching over to keyboards where he creates an eerie, droning figure that underpins the melody (like a bass does) and even gives the song its title. But the band's other distinctive elements - Ira Kaplan's moody tenor vocals and sharp guitar, Georgia Hubley's tom-tomming, Moe Tucker-ish drumming - are all here. The song doesn't really jump out at you, but is somehow still very effective. A solid song from what remains my favorite Yo La Tengo album.

What I love most about Lou Reed's New York is its directness - the bluntness of the lyrics ("I'll take Manhattan in a garbage bag with Latin written on it that says 'It's hard to give a shit these days'", "the Statue of Bigotry", etc.) and the in-your-face instrumentation. Unfortunately, "Last Great American Whale" is the least direct song on the album, both lyrically and instrumentally. The lyrics are highly metaphorical, telling a story that despite countless listenings I've never really been able to follow. Reed's vocals are subdued, with little of the emotional fire that marks his best work. And the instrumentation is barely even there - mostly a single guitar line and basic drumbeat. Narrative 2

While it has its intriguing moments, "Last Great American Whale" is just too much of a departure - lyrically, vocally, instrumentally - from Reed's greatest work. Though it's hard for me to knock out any song from New York, this one is probably my least favorite on the album. So I'm going with "Sudden Organ."

Winner: Yo La Tengo, "Sudden Organ"

May 26, 2010 in Music, Music: ToT 10 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes: A Plea for Forgiveness

I've been sorely remiss in keeping current with my latest Tournament of Tunes. Even in its abbreviated 16-song format I've totally let it slide, not posting any results for the past six weeks. I'm now vowing to not only resume the competition but to speed things up considerably, posting two or three of the remaining matches each week. So the tournament hereby resumes today, with Yo La Tengo taking on Lou Reed.

May 26, 2010 in Music, Music: ToT 10 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Drinking game

Here's a simple idea for a drinking game: while watching The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, do a shot at every mention of the words "amazing", "journey" or "here for the right reasons." But if you do so, make sure you don't have anything important to do the next morning, because the recovery time might be lengthy.

May 26, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Pat Wright


That lovely painting above ("View From 18th Street Bridge") is the work of Chicago artist Pat Wright. I see this railroad bridge (at roughly 16th and Canal) twice a day from my train, and the building on the left also happens to be a paper recycler that is a client of the bank I work for.

May 23, 2010 in Art, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Change we can believe in

Hmmm...first healthcare reform, now financial market reform. Obama's getting the job done, just like he promised. All the naysayers should remember that change is a gradual process - there was absolutely no chance of America becoming a more progressive, fair and equal country instantly upon Obama taking office in January 2009. Our government is designed to be a ponderous, deliberate and cautious policy-making body, so while change may not be coming as quickly as some would have hoped, it is defintely happening.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich is having a fit, calling Obama a socialist and the most radical president in U.S. history. When Gingrich is that livid, it surely means that good things are happening.

May 21, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Train kept a-rollin'

The Ben Tanzer juggernaut rattles onward, with the announcement by Artistically Declined Press of his forthcoming novel, You Can Make Him Like You. I am quite excited about this one, as I read an early draft of it and was able to make some editorial suggestions which Ben not only listened to without punching me in the mouth, but actually used in undertaking a major restructuring of the manuscript. I can't wait to see how it turned out.

May 20, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

"...their filled bellies and walking legs and chafed thighs on khaki serge..."

Nice passage here from Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which relates the protagonist Arthur Seaton's annual fifteen-day army stint, which clearly was very light on military rigor and discipline.
Every night he went out with Ambergate to get drunk: on the long walks he plotted private war and revolution, arson and plunder, with Ambergate, bringing to the surface impossible dreams and treating them like jokes. Coming back from the village they forgot everything in the world but their own existence, the now, the this minute of their filled bellies and walking legs and chafed thighs on khaki serge. Arthur's drunken chanting spread out like primeval madness over dark fields and woods, filling the best hours of fifteen days. They passed cottages bolted and barred to them, doors and windows spurning Arthur's made-up songs that rolled and roared along like the explosion of some half-forgotten voice in the world.
The going-to-the-pub discourse ("private war and revolution, arson and plunder") is somewhat out of character for Arthur, who while an angry young man doesn't seem particularly focused in his rage. But the drunken, coming-back-from-the-pub chanting and singing is perfectly appropriate for him.

May 19, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

In which we display just the slightest hint of restraint


We seem to be getting a bit more sensible and less voracious with each Will County Book Recycling Event. True, for this weekend's edition we did attend twice and could barely tear ourselves away to go home (instead lusting in anticipation of the next batch of books to arrive) but we did show some restraint with what we ultimately brought home. That picture above is most of our haul. Julie's finds were mostly cool old Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks (onion pancakes, anyone?), programming manuals for her and textbooks for Maddie's homeschooling. Maddie found a Pokemon book (she is absolutely, positively obsessed with Pokemon right now) and several young reader novels.

As for me, I mostly stuck to novels and nonfiction that I had already wanted to read, and came home with Richard Wright's Black Boy (a really nice 1945 hardcover edition), James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son, Larry Brown's Joe, Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Schweik, Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull-House, Mike Royko's Boss, Joseph Heller's Good As Gold, Samuel Beckett's Endgame, Toby Thompson's Positively Main Street and Erskine Caldwell's God's Little Acre. And two of my books were specifically selected to give away to close friends. One way or another, all of these books will eventually be read - which is more than I can say for much of our previous hauls.

Having loved Caldwell's Tobacco Road, I would have taken God's Little Acre no matter what, but the clincher for me was this wonderfully lurid, pulp cover:


Without having read the book, I still have the feeling that it isn't anywhere near as shocking and outrageous as that cover would suggest, and that this was simply a case of the publisher using a sensationalistic cover to move more copies. Which seems odd, given that the jacket copy states that over 8 million copies had already been sold. With a book that wildly popular, you wouldn't think such a pulp cover would be necessary.

May 17, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Roger Waters' Dick Move

Roger Waters once created a concept album called The Wall. Fine - it was a good album in its day. But its day was over thirty years ago, and yet Waters continues to flog it instead of creating something new and vital. Fine - this is a capitalist and democratic society, so Waters is free to bleed dry the unfortunate millions of fans who still care about Pink Floyd.

But now, in hyping the album yet again, his minions have defaced a beloved memorial to the infinitely greater Elliott Smith. Which would be bad enough, but in "apologizing", he has the audacity to claim that Smith - who Waters admits knowing almost nothing about - would have supported the idea. The Chicago Reader's Miles Raymer nails it:
This is, I think it's fair to say, a dick move: making assumptions about how a dead man you've never met and are only vaguely aware even existed might feel about having a memorial to his untimely death defaced by an ad campaign, and even implying that he would have given a thumbs-up to the campaign itself.
It's truly an unfair world when an underappreciated genius like Elliott Smith leaves us, while an over-the-hill, multi-millionaire, karaoke-machine d-bag like Roger Waters lives on.

May 5, 2010 in Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

White Sox, R.I.P.?


This screenshot from the Chicago Tribune suggests that the paper's website custodians might have been up way too late last night. Or is the paper wryly commenting on the White Sox's prospects for this season?

May 5, 2010 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)


"You can insinuate anything you want from that."

Memo to young financial professionals: if you insist on using four-syllable words in everyday conversation, at least know what they mean. Oh, and your habit of dropping a f-bomb in every sentence really isn't impressing anyone either.

May 5, 2010 in Overheard | Permalink | Comments (1)

"...the world's laugh in his face..."

"Another attendant opened the door for him at the top of the stairs, and a huge roar of smoke-hazed, lime-lit laughter, coming out of the door like blast from a bomb, hit him in the face. It was like the world's laugh in his face, Netta's laugh, the last laugh of everybody at his failure and isolation, his banishment from the world of virile people who were happy and made love and had friends."
- Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square

Poor, sad, pathetic George Harvey Bone, one of the sorriest fictional characters I've ever come across.

May 2, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)