Friday, December 19, 2008

Best Albums of 2008

In the life cycles of such things as the Economy, the career of Bruce Willis, and Merry-Go-Rounds  there are many peaks and valleys.  I would categorize this year in music as a valley.  I wasn't blown away by too many records, but then again it could be that I'm not looking very hard anymore.  Music continues to be one of my pet obsessions.  I had a conversation with Christy last December about possibly weaning myself a bit from my addiction, which I think I accomplished to some extent this year.  I bought maybe half of what I did in the few years previous.  But despite that Debbie Downer of an intro, here are a few of the bright spots for me from this past year in music:

10. Bowerbirds: Hymns for a Dark Horse
I heard about these guys while reading the blog of John Darnielle, of Mountain Goats fame (a band I'm only so so on). It grew slowly on me, and the more I listened the more these melodies kept getting stuck in my head, which can sometimes drive you bananas, but in this case I liked it. 

9. The Tallest Man On Earth: Shallow Grave
I feel so ashamed to be putting this record on my list, but I just can't help it.  I generally abhor knockoffs and ripoffs.  And with one listen to The Tallest Man on Earth you'll practically be rolling your eyes at a person who must certainly think he's Bob Dylan.  But I'm going to tell you a dirty little secret here, I don't even like Bob Dylan all that much.  There you go.  So why am I putting this record on my list then?  Because these songs are so really very good.   Thats it. Knockoff be damned.  

8. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down: We Brave Bee Stings and All
I first became aware of Thao Nguyen after hearing her Daytrotter Session. Daytrotter is quite possibly the greatest music site on the planet. But I digress. There is something loosey goosey about her delivery that makes it all feel so fluid and natural.

7. The Walkmen: You and Me
A quintessential New York band.  The grittiness and the urgency.  A band that screams.  A band with members who have helplessly pretentious names like "Jonathan Fire*Eater".  A band that will always be better live than not live.  But also a band that recorded one of the best tracks I heard all year "In the New Year".  

6. Throw Me the Statue: Moonbeams
I don't know much about this band, truthfully, except that I stumbled across their debut album, released by Secretly Canadian, and was super impressed by the simple folk pop and easy melodies. Other great songs are "Written in Heart Signs Faintly" and "Conquering Kids".

5. Chad Van Gaalen: Soft Airplane
Chad is Canadian (I love our neighbors to the north). He has that fragile sort of voice, not unlike Daniel Johnston, and to futher the comparison he also does painting/illustrations. I think he finds a good mix between the straightforward songwriter vibe I dig so much and the bumps, beeps, and noises. They combine to make a delicious product.

4. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
These fellas got a lot of press this year, and for pretty good reason. In a lot of ways it feels like an album that could have been released in the 60's: nice harmonies, plenty of reverb, and beardy faces (Oh what I would give for just a little stubble even!). "Oliver James", "Meadowlark", and "He Doesn't Know Why" have been dominating my playlists for months.

3. Colby Stead: So It Goes
Colby is one of my closest personal friends and is one of the most bright and talented people I know.  His art is sincere and honest, without contrivance or the putting on of airs.  He is joined by the beautiful Amy Robinson and Steven Gertsch on this record, which Christy, Gus, and I played into the ground--a place where most things go when dead, yet where here sprouts only new life.  Have I killed the metaphor yet?  I'm beginning to lose faith in karma, because Colby is not yet selling out theaters across the country, which by all rights he should be.  Please go to his site.  Download some music, and donate to an artist who is giving everything for his expression.  

Listen to "Breathe"

2. Okkervil River: The Stand Ins
Will Sheff and company have become one of my favorite bands over the last few years. He's an amazing lyricist. The Stand Ins is an extention of last years The Stage Names. As a marketing ploy surrounding the album's release Will advertised via YouTube that he had asked musical friends to perform tracks from the new album, as "stand ins" for Okkervil River, and these performances would be released on YouTube. I really liked A.C. Newman's "Lost Coastlines" and Bon Iver's "Blue Tulip".

1. Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago
It may come as no secret to readers of this blog that I was somewhat obsessed with this album this year. I listened to it...a lot.  There was some sort of immediate emotional connection with these songs. Technically it was self released last year, but Jagjaguwar picked it up for widespread release around February. I adore every track on this album, and there aren't a lot of records I can say that about. There is much romanticism around how the album came about, and even after dozens of listens it doesn't get old for me. One of my favorite albums of all time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Today She Is...

another year older! Hopefully she doesn't get too mad that I display her like this.

A poem entitled "For Dorothy", which today will be for Christy, by Marvin Bell:

You are not beautiful, exactly.
You are beautiful, inexactly.
You let a weed grow by the mulberry
and a mulberry grow by the house.
So close, in the personal quiet
of a windy night, it brushes the wall
and sweeps away the day till we sleep.

A child said it, and it seemed true:
"Things that are lost are all equal."
But it isn't true. If I lost you,
the air wouldn't move, nor the tree grow.
Someone would pull the weed, my flower.
The quiet wouldn't be yours. If I lost you,
I'd have to ask the grass to let me sleep.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Shadows Of My Kin

Take away the bloody streets
Take away the howl
Put into each vacant place a sound

Voiceless babies in the breech
Voiceless parents pray
Rising up in the muted throat to say

My home is getting cold, my clothes are wearing thin
Outside the window I see shadows of my kin

Take away the vampire dreams
Take away the moon
Nightfall brings a haunting to my room

Spirits burning in the back
Fleshy eyes on fire
Come with me and I'll wash you in a mile

This state is a long wait, it's a broke gate for you
This state is a long wait, I will be finding you

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Devil's Highway

Ever since reading Blood Meridian and The Border Trilogy I've been rather fascinated with the Mexican borderlands. Luis Alberto Urrea came highly recommended from Ken Sanders book store, and for good reason. The Devil's Highway is a very well-written account of the tragic journey of a 26 person border crossing in the summer of 2001. It has opened my eyes to a hierarchy of human trafficking: gangs, Coyotes, guĂ­as, pollos, and la Migra.

The human struggle for survival can be an astonishing thing. In the midst of gummed up political rule (and in Mexico's case, corrupt and increasingly broken) the desperate desire for a better quality of life and more money has caused people to go through some pretty amazing ordeals. And often die in the process. Regardless of which side of issue you fall, it is humbling.

I've never been the run-the-wetbacks-out-on-a-rail type. Far from it. In fact, I think if we were to deport all of our illegal migrant workers we would see an economic collapse that would make the current crisis look rather appealing. Does that make illegal immigration okay? Absolutely not. Border security is a must, but the manner in which we create it, and deal with the current population of illegals in the U.S. isn't so black and white.

The book cites a 2003 study done by the prestigious Thunderbird School of Global Management:

Mexican immigrants paid nearly $600 million in federal taxes and sales taxes in 2002.
Mexican immigrants use about $250 million in social services such as Medicaid and food stamps.
Mexican immigrants account for another $31 million in uncompensated health care.

Surprise! An economic profit of $319 million.

Other reports estimate that undocumented immigrants contribute at least 300 billion to the United States GDP. And depending on who I talk to I get responses on the illegal immigration issue ranging from "Grant amnesty!" to "Round 'em up and ship 'em out!". Yet year after year the issue is buried under more bureaucracy and nothing happens. Stasis. But does anyone else think that if illegals were costing millions of dollars (instead of adding) we would have seen the fence go up a long time ago?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Maid to Order

Christy has been out of town for the last four days, and I got to spend almost every waking moment with Gus, single parent style. We did lots of boy stuff: wrestle, eat bratwursts and watch football, get tatoos, drink beer, bash in mailboxes with baseball bats, etc. We had a really good time, actually, but I became acutely aware of the personal sacrifices that Mom's make. I'm not just talking about watching the trailer to Madagascar 2 twenty times in a row. Full time parenting demands so much time, energy, emotion, patience, and passion. And it is very rewarding, but not too easy and I only did it for a few days knowing that things would turn back to normal come Monday. I hope that Christy feels balance. If not we/I need to make every effort to ensure that she does. As Gus was walking around the kitchen with a belly full of Werther's Original mints, a diaper full of poop (not so minty), a transparent bucket on his head, and some chocolate pie stuck to the bottom of his shoe, I started thinking about maids.

One for Me

One for Christy

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Something Worth Saving

It’s dark inside, all over inside me
Outside the blood irrigates that hillside
Growing grass

Grass that grows in churchyards everywhere
Washing fingers clean, break clean
Like bones were broken

If I could only
Make the tray a garden place
I’d bury it in pieces fit
For mouths to pluck it up like fruit
To fill not just this suit, and peel my past away

I’m scraping for a light down inside me
Some weighted thing, mine enough to handle
Something worth saving

If I could only
Make this tray a well so deep
It pulls away the lakes and seas
For mouths to drink it down and
Flood at last, the blood will drown my past away

I'll take you in my heart today, and hope that it's enough to save

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lighting the Stones

I had started an extremely lengthy post about why I voted for Barak Obama and luckily took a break and returned hours later to realize that perhaps I was missing my own point. What I will post instead, rather than delve into policy, and issues, and the reasons behind my vote, is to say something about God talking to us.

When the leaders of the LDS Church across the country stand up in front of their congregations and read the official statement about political neutrality, it isn't merely obligatory, or to reassert their tax exempt status. And I certainly don't think it is meant to be read with a ::cough, cough, voterepublican:: wink in the eye. We are all encouraged to study and pray for heavenly inspiration to aid us in making a decision. I've done that, and I'm confident you have as well. There are General Authorities of this Church who will vote for McCain in this election and there are General Authorities who will vote for Obama. Does that mean that the person who votes one way is less in tune with the Spirit of God than the other? Not necessarily. Is it possible that two persons could thoughtfully and prayerfully come to a conclusion about two different candidates? I will answer that with a resounding Yes!

Allow me to draw a bit of a scriptural analogy, and forgive me if you feel I'm twisting a principle out of context. The Brother of Jared found himself in a predicament after he had built eight barges in which he and his people would cross the ocean. They had no light. No windows, because they would be dashed to pieces, and no fire because the Lord commanded it so. Because of that commandment the Lord had put them in a position that required an exercise of faith. The Brother of Jared was left to come up with a solution to take them out of darkness, which he did. He "did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones" which he took before the Lord in an almost shamefully apologetic way. "O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee...we are unworthy before thee...O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people, and suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness; but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock." These do not sound like the words of a man who is entirely confident in his plan. But whatever confidence he lacked in those molten "things" he made up for elsewhere. "And I know, O Lord, that thou has all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea. Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this."

So my analogy is this: We voters are going to go (or already have gone) into the voting booth with an armful of stones, varying degrees of confidence, and very likely feeling a bit inadequate despite how transparent or clear the stones may seem. But let's not roll our eyes at our neighbor because his stones are granite and ours are marble. Both plans have elements that may be lame, and/or bad, and/or ridiculous. But they're just stones, man-made and full of thought, energy, and good intention. The best we can do is pray for God to touch them and do our part and act! Neither Barak Obama nor John McCain, in and of themselves or even their own platforms, is the answer to the woes of the country. But God can easily touch either of them and make it so. And I'm committed, regardless of who wins, to make that my ongoing prayer, and to act, otherwise I'll be stuck in a ship with no light on a very long boat ride.

Much love to you McCain supporters. Despite all the rhetoric on both sides, I feel your good intentions and I admire them. If he wins I'll be praying for God to light the stones, and will in turn do my small part in my small sphere. I hope, and hope in good faith, that the feeling is reciprocal.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Seven Years

Christy and I celebrated our seventh anniversary last week. Things are going pretty good so far.

We went to Fresco Italian Grill up on 15th and 15th. She had the seared Ahi Tuna and I had the Lamb Tenderloin.

We ate well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

All That Glitters

Bouvaysa Saytiev

The meat head in me is breaking the blogging hiatus to put a word in for the world's oldest and greatest sport. When I was little I dreamed of competing as a wrestler in the Olympics. I thought Olympians were true heroes, and that the wrestlers were the best of the best. Now I live that dream vicariously through real athletes, watching from my couch with a mouth full of potato chips. It's the Olympics of Michael Phelps right now. For good reason too. The man is amazing, doing things that have never been done. But, he participates in a sport that gives out medals liberally, and there are other story lines to follow though, so I'll point you to one if you're sick of the five sports that are being shown on NBC prime time. Freestyle Wrestling began last night and I was almost in tears in the middle of the night as I watched Henry Cejudo win a gold medal in a stacked weight in stunning fashion. The kid is amazing.

Tonight we'll get the chance to see a living legend, Russia's Bouvaysa Saytiev (multiple time Olympic Champion and six time World Champion). He is on the tail end of his competitive years, but as I watched him win a barnburner in the Russian Nationals this year it was apparent that he has plenty still left in the tank for one more run in Beijing. In the same weight the U.S. is bringing first time Olympian Ben Askren into the fray. Ben is a funny, thoughtful character who looks to "put the chin in China". I've followed his decorated career through the NCAAs. He's funky and an absolute pleasure to watch. If the two men win their first two matches they will meet in the quarterfinals.

Thanks to technology and NBC's online coverage, you can watch every match live online by going to and browsing to their live coverage. Tonight wrestling gets started at about 7:30 pm.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Growing up with Feist

Last night Christy & I went to see Panama Jack, I mean Feist, play a show up at Deer Valley. I felt like a bit of a yuppie. All around us were 40 to 50 year old Park City folk drinking wine, talking loudly, and wearing revealing designer clothing. I was really confused. Is this the Feist demographic now? Christy assured me that perhaps it was merely the Deer Valley demographic - people who summer up there and attend the shows no matter who is playing in order to socialize and feel young. The opening number, a slow intricately picked guitar solo version of "Intuition", was really fantastic, but these older peeps a few rows in front of us tried starting that annoying side to side hand wave thing, which luckily didn't catch on.

Fortunately for some, and unfortunately for others, several numbers in the kids decided to rush the stage to dance and move. Before the song was over the front was crowded with the moving/dancing sort, and all the poor rich folks who paid top dollar for reserved seating on the front 10 rows couldn't see Feist at all. Nothing was done to send people back to their seats. Christy and I had enough good sense in the moment to go up and be part of that front row crowd rather than get stuck not seeing anything, but we did feel a little bit bad for the people behind us.

Truthfuly we enjoyed every minute of the show, but I came away feeling that maybe I'm getting too old for this. I'm about three weeks away from the big three oh. This is the first time in maybe four years that we've paid to see a bona fide concert on any large scale (with the exception of a somewhat small Sufjan Stevens show in 2005), and those last two that we saw were Wilco and Grandaddy, which were both were a bit of a disaster for us. I don't think I'll stop enjoying live music anymore, but I also don't want to be one of those youthful but aloof and strange feeling older dudes who are more socialite than listener. Maybe, as I head into the thirties, I can find a balance.

Man, I'm so judgmental.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

For Emma, Forever Ago

I've raved before about the beautiful single shot musical videos by Vincent Moon over at La Blogotheque, and they continue to do amazing things. I just saw this one of Bon Iver, and had to share.  I've listened to this record more than any other this year, and for good reason I think.   Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Moab - a Blaze of Glory

There might be other days during the year when Moab is hotter, but I doubt there are that many. We drove down with Kirk & Missy and Nick & Nicole for the weekend (sans Gus for the first time in his life!) and camped along the Colorado northwest of Moab. We spent a few hours in Arches National Park, ate some great camp food, owned some class one, two, and three rapids on a full day rafting trip, saw Get Smart, sweated it out in a six person tent, were breakfast and dinner for a thousand heat impervious bugs, contracted a mild sunburn, saw some dinosaur tracks, chucked rocks (I'll never grow out of that), ate s'mores, participated in a hand-stand contest, saw first hand how Moab has somehow attracted the likes of: Bon Jovi, Jason Patrick, Bill Murray, Rick Springfield, and Daredevil Dan (the failed daredevil nephew (?) of Evil Kanevil). Most people who know me know that I am somewhat proud to be a mere Life Scout, and that I don't go out of my way to be in the outdoors, but I do enjoy it. This trip wouldn't have been possible without the encouragement and planning of my REI loving friends. Thanks. Christy and I had a terrific time.

Delicate Arch

(L to R) Nicole, Nick, Missy, Kirk, Christy, Brad Pitt

Hitting some small rapids

Working some bigger white water

Christy laughing, probably at one of my funny stories

The ladies at Balanced Rock

Another shot of Balanced Rock

Kirk watches over his breakfast

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Love to Hear Luke Temple

You probably don't have any of Luke Temple's albums in your record collection. I only say that because according to Billboard magazine he has only sold upwards of 3,000 total copies of all his records combined. I'd never heard of him until last fall when I'd read that Temple's Snowbeast was listed as one of Sufjan Steven's favorite releases so far that year. That was good enough for me, so I downloaded it from eMusic. Although I thought it was enjoyable and interesting, I didn't think it was necessarily amazing. After a few listens, however, I was infected with something beautiful that I didn't quite understand. I decided to purchase everything else he's released. Now, after the slow, sincere incubation of winter and spring these songs have sprouted in me a fruit I can no longer devour alone.

Please listen. If you like, you should buy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Boss tells Stories

Bruce Springsteen held me spellbound for his entire Storytellers set, and I've ended up watching it multiple times. I wish I could find the entire program so I could post it. He is such a humble, honest artist and by virtue of that he is improving the human condition. Helping us to see ourselves.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Living Through The Past

I've had the privilege of listening to a few snippets of Colby Stead's forthcoming album and it has helped me come to one very basic conclusion I'm sure most of you have already known. It's about the concept of "living in the past." Primarily I've thought of people who live in the past as underachievers who never got to live the dream and are somehow unable to let it go: The basketball player who revels in his glory days and is determined to prove himself, even at the expense of friends and neighbors, at in the local community ball tournament. The mother who never achieved herself and pushes her daughter through years of dance classes so she can live vicariously through the performances, even though her daughter would rather be conducting science experiments. Living in the past.

But it really goes beyond all that. Sports are one thing, but abuse, guilt projection, and suicide are another. It can be a harmful cycle, the past becoming one big snake eating it's own tail. I didn't really consider further implications of the idea until listening to this music. Everyone must somehow reconcile themselves with their own past if they want to live a healthy life. That means finding truth through your own mistakes, and sometimes through the mistakes of others who have wronged you or ones you love. It is so easy to get hung up on those moments of pain or dreams that never were. In fact, getting hung up on them is probably a necessary part of healing. But unless you can somehow move through it and get to the perspective of the other side I'm not so sure a complete catharsis can occur. I'm not even sure how that bridge is actually built. But I am sure that the whole process is a forgiveness of sorts and that it requires large amounts of bravery and honesty. I admire people who can do it--live in spite of the past. Live through the past.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bon Iver

It's called For Emma, Forever Ago, and it is my favorite album so far this year. I was a little worried after listening for a minute that I might not like the vocals. Sometimes I get really bummed out by all the weirdy-ness of vocalists like Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Frog's Eyes, Swan Lake, how-many-more-bands-can-one-possibly-play-in-?). But I digress.

This really is fantastic songwriting. The hooks are really beautiful, and though the lyrics are a bit cryptic there is some great imagery:

There's a black crow sitting across from me
And his wiry legs are crossed
And he's dangling my keys (he even fakes a toss)
Whatever could it be that has brought me to this loss?

This is not the sound of a new man
Or a crispy realization
It's the sound of the unlocking and lift away
Your love will be safe with me

That's nice, isn't it? Definitely worth buying or at least checking it out from the library, or the very least burning from your buddy down the street.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Everything is Illuminated

I love this book in concept. I love the journey, the language, the energy, the search, the foreboding unresolvability. But the one thing which served in large part as a deal breaker, was the sexuality. And I'm not that squeamish of a guy, but for me it only served to harm the story, and is, unfortunately, the sole reason I will never be able to recommend this book in good faith to anyone I know, which is sad because it really doesn't have anything to do with what, for me, was the central journey and central questions of the book. Foer's writing is amazing, and I'm waiting (and will continue to wait patiently) to be floored by him.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Crossing the Bar

by Alfred Lloyd Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea.

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam.
When that which drew from the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark.

For, though from out our bourne of time and place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

This beautiful poem, as a traditional hymn set to music, was performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Pres. Hinckley's funeral over the weekend. It was amazing. To hear it click here and forward to the 25:35 min. mark. (Windows Media Player req.)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Google Analytics

Most people I know use Sitemeter, but what I love more is Google Analytics! So crisp! So sleek! So fresh and so clean!

A Farewell to Arms

I'd forgotten how amazing Hemingway's sparse writing really is. I listened to most of this book on a trip to Idaho last weekend and quickly finished what was left over the other night. Previous to this I had read The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea, along with some other short stories, but for me this was the most emotional and most affecting. Perhaps because of its artful combination of war and romance and the way it all tumbles toward the desperate conclusion. I learned a bit more about human connection (and disconnection). I am including three exerpts I really liked.

Henry and Catherine on bravery:

"They won't get us," I said. "Because you're too brave. Nothing ever happens to the brave."
"They die of course."
"But only once."
"I don't know. Who said that?"
"The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one?"
"Of course. Who said it?"
"I don't know."
"He was probably a coward," she said. "He knew a great deal about cowards but nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he's intelligent. He simply doesn't mention them."
"I don't know. Its hard to see inside the head of the brave."
"Yes. Thats how they keep it that way."

Henry and the Priest regarding war:

"You cannot believe how it has been. Except that you have been there and you know how it can be. Many people have realized the war this summer. Officers whom I thought could never realize it realize it now."
"It is in defeat that we become Christian."
"The Austrians are Christians--except for the Bosnians."

"I don't mean technically Christian. I mean like Our Lord."
He said nothing.
"We are all gentler now because we are beaten. How would Our Lord have been if Peter had rescued him in the Garden?"

Henry's reverie about love, loneliness and the killing world:

"Often a man wishes to be alone and a girl wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others. It has only happened to me like that once. I have been alone while I was with many girls and that is the way that you can be most lonely. But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together...If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gordon Bitner Hinckley

You were my prophet. Even though I was already finishing high-school when you assumed the mantle, I grew up with you. And growing up isn't easy. You have to face up to yourself even when it is frightening. And you have to let go of certain things and put them away. And you helped me realize that by doing that I wasn't going to find an empty and vaccuous life, but fulfillment and joy and beauty. I'll never forget your smile and your compassion. Your humor never belittled, but rather elevated others. Thank you for the Perpetual Education Fund. Thank you for the temples. Thank you for not being afraid to get out and meet even the most far off Saints. And though these thanks all belong to Jesus, the mouthpeice deserves mention too. Though you don't know it, you were there for one of the most spiritually fulfilling months of my life, even for an experience I haven't been able to bring myself to talk about, not even with those closest to me. And secretly I wished that before you died I could have given you a hug. I hope it's not selfish, but I really wanted to meet you. Thats okay though. Millions shall know you yet.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Sunset Limited

You have to admire the task at hand here: to ferret out the meaning of life. To try and come to grips with the God question. Even McCarthy, in all his brilliance, isn't able to reach any satisfactory conclusion. Perhaps that is his conclusion. The Sunset Limited is an interesting read. There is no hiding behind flowery descriptions. This is dialogue only, a novel in dramatic form. Two characters: "Black" and "White" each of whose background, experience, and worldview are diametrically opposed. Fate (or what have you) has brought them together and this is their conversation.

Here are two exerpts:

Black: Suppose I was to tell you that if you could bring yourself to unlatch your hands from around your brother's throat you could have life everlastin?

White: There's no such thing. Everybody dies.

Black: That aint what he said. He said you could have life everlastin. Life. Have it today. Hold it in your hand. That you could see it. It gives off a light. It's got a little weight to it. Not much. Warm to the touch. Just a little. And it's forever. And you can have it. Now. Today. But you dont want it. You dont want it cause to get it you got to let your brother off the hook. You got to actually take him and hold him in your arms and it dont make no difference what color he is or what he smells like or even if he dont want to be held. And the reason you wont do it is because he dont deserve it. And about that there is no argument. He dont deserve it. (He leans forward slow and deliberate.) You wont do it because it aint just. Aint that so?

White: ...I want the dead to be dead. Forever. And I want to be one of them. Except that of course you cant be one of them. You cant be one of the dead because what has no existence can have no community. No community. My heart warms just thinking about it. Silence. Blackness. Aloneness. Peace....and justice? Brotherhood? Eternal Life? Good god, man. Show me a religion that prepares one for death. For nothingness. There's a church I might enter. Yours prepars one only for more life. For dreams and illusions and lies...The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy. Every road ends in death. Or worse. Every friendship. Every love. Torment, betrayal, loss, suffering, pain, age, indignity, and hideous lingering illness. All with a single conclusion. For you and for every one and every thing that you have chosen to care for. There's the true brotherhood. The true fellowship. And everyone is a member for life. You tell me that my brother is my salvation? My salvation? Well then damn him. Damn him in every shape and form and guise. Do I see myself in him? Yes. I do. And what I see sickens me.

Maybe it is a little trite to refer to such a thing as "the meaning of life." Each life is different, each mortal experience varying greatly from the next. Where are the common threads that connect me to the natives of Papua New Guinea, to the Pope, to murderers in the local prison? The frustrating thing about this read is that you only get black and white, and I wanted green, orange, burgandy, and pink too. The threads blend more and more, and in the process the question becomes even more important. What are we doing here?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Motherless Brooklyn

I'm not a connoiseur of the detective novel. I've never even read Sherlock Holmes. But since most of primetime TV is dedicated to solving mysteries (How many CSIs are there now?) I didn't feel too out of my element when I picked up Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn a book which one blurb characterized as "a half satirical cross between a literary novel and a hard-boiled crime story." Plus it won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

It seemed like a fun way to spend the holidays, and it was. The protagonist is Lionel Essrog, a Brooklyn-raised orphan who suffers from Tourrette's Sydrome, and works as a detective. Lionel's boss/mentor is murdered at the onset of the novel, and you are taken on a tic-filled, word scrambling journey to find out who did it and why. Almost all of the book's enjoyment derives from that one aspect--the funny, and often laugh out loud humor brought on by Lionel's TS.

But I can't help but feel a little sad that it wasn't much more than fun. I was hoping to be genuinely moved at some point or challenged emotionaly, but I wasn't. And that is okay. It was a pretty straight forward, extremely clever, yet not as twisty as I expected, mystery. I'm not familiar enough with Tourette's to know how true to life Essrog's yessrog! chessbog! lapdog! experience is. But I did come away from the book with a greater appreciation for the suffering and alienation experienced by those having the condition.