Movie Diary: Leatherheads

The movie I most recently watched was "Leatherheads." I know you guys are probably used to me giving movies really good reviews, and think that I just like everything I see, but let me tell ya, it's just not the case. More often than not, there are so many movies out there that I haven't seen and am almost certain I will like that I just direct my viewing habits towards those rather than anything I'm even slightly unsure about. Every once in a while, though, I do take a chance on something I'm on the fence about, and sometimes, those movies burn me. This is one of those cases.

It's sad, because "Leatherheads" has a lot of things going for it, at least where I'm concerned. It's a period piece that takes place in the roaring 20s, and I'm generally a sucker for any period piece taking place more than 50 years ago. Also, it's about football, and I love football. Furthermore, it stars George Clooney and John Krasinski (aka "The Office"'s Jim Halpert), and I think both of them are very talented. On the supporting actor front, the movie also features Jonathan Pryce, who was great in "Brazil," and uh, Renee Zellweger, about whom, suffice it to say that I'm not a fan. Oh, and Clooney directs, and I've liked his previous directorial efforts ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Good Night And Good Luck") quite a bit. But none of that was enough to elevate this picture above the mediocre level at which it remained throughout. I guess it would be fairer to say that it had constant ups and downs, and in fact, there were moments in the movie that made clear to me that there was a potentially better movie buried underneath the uneven one I was seeing, trying desperately to get out. I really liked, for example, a scene in a speakeasy during which a football team and a group of military men first get into an all-out barfight only to later end up gathered around the piano singing WWI fight songs together. There was real emotion present in that scene, if only for a second. That was really the story of the entire film--emotion, realism, shining through for a second, only to be swiftly swept away by cliche plot developments and overly obvious setups for jokes that just weren't all that funny. The movie was too slow to work as the sort of action-comedy popcorn sports films that we all know and love from the 80s, but where I suppose the slow parts were intended to interject nuance and drama, they often just felt out of place.

In the end, I felt like this movie couldn't decide whether it wanted to be "A League Of Their Own" or "Major League," and therefore didn't succeed in either respect. It's neither fish nor fowl, and I guess the best I can say for it is that it's an ambitious failure on Clooney's part; he obviously challenged himself, and tried to reach beyond what he'd previously done. Unfortunately, he didn't quite make it, and he might do better in future to rein his ambitions in a little. Or at least to avoid sports films.



Is this fun for you?

I'm not a guy who is ever really up on current musical trends. I just don't pay that much attention to whose album is coming out, or what singles are the big buzz tracks on MTV or, for that matter, Pitchfork Media. Generally, if I know about something that's popular, I either found out about it way before anyone else did (in these cases, because the band put out several tiny indie albums, and I heard one or more of them), or long after everyone else did (because I just wasn't paying attention). Usually, in fact, it's the latter, and I have to fight my way upstream against some cultural backlash or another, repeating over and over, "No seriously, that record is really good!" I think I've got a chance to get ahead of this one, though, and I'm going to jump on it with both feet.

I first heard of Ida Maria in the review section of Rolling Stone. They reviewed her debut LP, "Fortress Around My Heart," sometime in the last couple of months, and called it "caffeinated Scandinavian garage-rock with a sonic resemblance to the early Pretenders and an abundance of drunkenly confessional lyrics" (I'm paraphrasing). It sounded so right up my alley that I downloaded the album immediately, and what do you know, it was fucking great. I played it a few times over the next few weeks, but, as is standard for me, I was coordinating an influx of many other tunes into my life at the same time, and so it got at least somewhat lost in the shuffle.

Today, though, a guy who posts on a message board where I also post was writing about videos he was watching on MTV, and he caught an Ida Maria video, for her song, "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked." He took a dismissive attitude towards it, to which I responded defensively that her whole album is great. As I was typing that, I thought, "...and I haven't listened to it enough, either." So I immediately turned off whatever I was listening to and queued up my digital copy of the Ida Maria album.

Like I said before, I thought it was great from the first listen. That stated, it hadn't really made an emotional connection with me quite yet. As I listened to it this morning, though, that connection was finally made, and made in a big way. Every time it's ended since, I've found myself starting it over. Not only is it an awesome record, it goes by way too quickly and leaves me wanting way more than I get from it. "Fortress Around My Heart" contains only 10 songs, all of which come in somewhere between two and a half and three and a half minutes, so that the whole album is just a shade under half an hour long. In an age when bloated, ridiculous 65 to 75 minute albums are the standard, it's a relief to run across a record that's this tight and focused, but every time it comes to an end, it kills me. I just got this thing, and already I want more. By the time she does another album, I'm going to have played this one completely to death.

That's OK, though, because I can't see myself getting sick of these songs. They're just too good. For starters, there's the single that my message board friend saw on MTV this morning, "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked." Its cheeky title and bouncy, upbeat music--which certainly does have more than a little resemblance to first-LP Pretenders, but probably a bit more to The Muffs or fellow Scandinavian female power-poppers Sahara Hotnights--might give the impression that it's a fun track about the joys of meaningless sex, but there's actually a lot more going on here. Ida Maria doesn't sing the lyrics like they're anything deep or poignant, instead singing in a peppy tone that often sounds as if it's about to dissolve into a bout of giggles. Clearly, she's had a few drinks. But as the lyrics make clear, the drinks were more in the spirit of liquid courage than an evening of fun.

She begins the song by declaring her inability to come up with anything to say: "All the clever things I should say to you got lost somewhere between me and you," she announces, then follows that up with a matter of fact declaration: "I'm nervous. I don't know what to do." She fumbles for something with which to fill in the space: "Light a cigarette. I only smoke when I'm with you." Now the music, never exactly sedate on this track, kicks into a higher gear, seeming to sweep Ida Maria along with it. As her backing band sings some classic punk-pop "Whoa-oh" backing vocals, she vents her frustration: "What the hell do I do this for? You're just another guy!" Then she giggles a little, and admits, "OK, you're kinda sexy," but hastens to add, "But you're not really special!" Now though, as the music drops back into a vamp, the time has come to lay it all on the line: "But I don't mind if you take me home--come on, take me home. And I don't mind if you take off all your clothes--come on, take 'em off."

At this point, we've reached the song's big payoff. The band comes back in at full power, backing Ida Maria up as she sings the chorus, in a joyful tone, at the upper end of her register. "I like you so much better when you're naked!" she sings, then follows this line with the ultimate giveaway: "I like ME so much better when you're naked!" As the chorus ends with a speedy, chugging bridge riff, she yelps and hollers "All right!" as if she's having a blast, and maybe that's enough to cover for what's really going on here, at least in some people's eyes. She's admitted what's really up already, though, and now she has to hope she can distract us from it. The narrative of this song leaves us with two possibilities: either Ida Maria has a completely irrational crush that she can't figure out but also can't get rid of, or she likes this guy way more than she wants to. Either way, she's frustrated with her crush, and she feels nervous about trying to make a real connection with this guy, so she goes for what seems like the path of least resistance: throw herself at him, and ignore her feelings of uncertainty and attraction in favor of pure, simple sex. If nothing else, once the guy is naked and, by extension, vulnerable, she'll feel a bit more in control of the situation. I'm sure this kind of thing seems like a great idea when you're at the club and you've had a few drinks; in fact, I know it does, because I've seen friends of mine act it out many times. Really, though, it usually just leads to a bigger mess in the morning. Nevertheless, Ida Maria's musical exploration of this dilemma makes for a really excellent song with an incredibly catchy hook.

It's hardly the only one here, though. Opening track "Oh My God" is another peppy, upbeat slice of garage-pop that, again, puts the lie to its uncertain, contemplative lyrics. This one tells way less of a story than does "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," mostly consisting of Ida Maria repeating lines like "find a cure for my life" and "put a smile on my face," but revolving around a chorus in which the exclamation "Oh my God!" is hardly metaphorical. "Do you think I'm in control? Do you think it's all for fun?" she cries to the heavens, finally asking quietly, "Is this fun for you?" before tearing back into a final chorus that is even more intense than all that have come before, and which ends with wordless screaming and flailing at instruments by the band and Ida Maria herself (who plays rhythm guitar in the four-piece band that backs her on this record).

"Louie" is a jauntier, less punk-sounding track with acoustic guitars thrown into the mix as well as electrics, but it's still quite engaging, keeping the tempo quick in a manner that recalls folk-influenced groups like the Violent Femmes. Ida Maria's still singing about her troubles, though; she tells the "Louie" of the title that she's being evicted in the morning, and wonders if he's "got room for me." "I know I'm always drunk as can be," she sings without any hint of shame, and it's endearing enough that one can imagine Louie being persuaded to let Ida Maria crash on his couch for a few days. One can also imagine her stumbling in at 3 AM a few times and making him regret it, but in a way, this is part of her charm.

There are some more openly serious songs on the album, songs that don't cover for their lyrical complexity with upbeat tuneage and jaunty, singalong choruses. A great example is "Forgive Me," which moves quickly but uses minor chords in a manner that changes the musical tone to one more reminiscent of Maximo Park. This is a fitting musical choice for the single song on the album that focuses entirely on lost love and a relationship come to a bad end. Ida Maria's lyrics, directed towards a former lover, are knowing and accusatory. "You read about love in a book somewhere. Then you read out loud what you found in there. And you had me for days and you had me for months." Now, though, Ida Maria feels that she's finally learned what this boy was really like. And he doesn't have her anymore. She's pissed now. It's on the second verse that she really lets loose on the guy. "I'm treated with cold, cold kisses, and I'm treasured like an old piece of junk. I call you up to say I love you; you only call me when you're drunk." Her voice drips with bitter sarcasm on the chorus, and when she sings, "Forgive me for running down your door," she knows that she's not the one who needs to be forgiven. She ends the final chorus by declaring, "I promise I won't do that anymore," but on this particular line, she sounds less angry and more sad and resigned. It's a hint of what lies beneath the anger, what fuels it all in the first place.

While a lot of the songs on "Fortress Around My Heart" feature lyrics in which Ida Maria reveals insecurity, frustration, and depression, she doesn't usually come straight out with it the way she does on "Forgive Me." Instead, she couches it in the terms she uses on "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked"--humor, an outwardly upbeat presentation, and most of all, sheer cheekiness. While, musically, this album is a long way from the sound of "Reading, Writing, And Arithmetic" by The Sundays, lyrically, Ida Maria has much the same attitude as The Sundays' Harriet Wheeler. It's as if she's saying, "My life's a bummer, but if I take a step back from it, it's kind of funny."

The song on the album that most clearly represents this viewpoint is "Queen Of The World." It starts with a slow intro, over which Ida Maria begs, "Whiskey, please, I need some whiskey." But before too long, it's picked up speed to the typical upbeat tempo in which much of this album is played. As it does, the band launches into the chorus, and Ida Maria declares, "I'm the queen of the world!" only to follow that line with: "I bump into things. I spin in circles." "Why can't I stay like this?" she begs, then transitions into a second verse that is quicker than the first with the request, "Bring me home." "I've got no plans for tomorrow," she explains, then launches into a classic overshare: "I've got no plans in sight. In fact, I'm free this week. I'm free this month. I'm lonely this year. I'm lonely forever." Realizing how bad that sounds, she throws herself back into the chorus: "But today, I'm queen of the world. I bump into things!" It's cute, it's amusing, and it rings oh so incredibly true. God, if I had a nickel for every night I've had that turned out like that...

The album's final track, "See Me Through," is a huge tonal shift from the rest of the record. There are no punk or even rock elements to it, and in fact, it sounds more like the mellowest songs on Feist's "The Reminder" or Fiona Apple's "Extraordinary Machine" than anything else on this album. However, it's a fitting close to the album, summing up as it does all of the emotional difficulties detailed throughout, and doing so in such a manner as to remove any doubt as to Ida Maria's sincerity. Over quiet acoustic guitars, soft, occasional piano notes, and muted cymbals, she turns her attention to God, just as she did on the album's opening track. This time, though, instead of being frustrated, she sounds desperate. "Oh God, when's the time for me>" she asks of the almighty. "When will you see me through? My mind is eating my heart out. My heart is beating my mind up." It's stunning to hear something like this, a naked cry for some sort of sign that there is a benevolent higher power running this whole show, on an album that has spent most of its time dishing out high-energy punk-pop. If we've previously only been given peeks beneath the surface, "See Me Through" is the veil being forcefully ripped away to show us the beating heart at the center of this record. And at that heart is uncertainty. Ida Maria has a desire for something real to believe in, but that desire is not enough to stave off the evidence of her experiences, and what those experiences have left her with is doubt. "Oh God, I can't believe in you just because I'm afraid you're true," she sings over and over as the song and the album ends, rejecting Pascal's wager in a tearful tone that makes clear that such abstract philosophical concepts are the furthest thing from her mind at that moment. What Ida Maria really wants is what Christopher Simpson asked for over a decade ago on the first Gloria Record LP: "I just want something beautiful to happen here right now." Tellingly, the line that preceded that line on the Gloria Record's "Torch Yourself" is "I just want to trust someone so badly." Underneath the upbeat, caffeinated bounce of her usual music, one can imagine that this is what Ida Maria wants too.

Ida Maria - "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," "Forgive Me," and "Queen Of the World"



Rollins Band Part 1.

I'm not in peak physical shape right now, folks; I know, when am I ever? But right now I'm doing badly even for me. Last night, while riding my bike across an intersection, I got hit by a car. The guy driving was trying to make a left turn right after his light had turned red, and I'd started across the intersection the second the light turned green. The upshot was that he hit me and I rolled across his hood and landed squarely on my right arm in the middle of the street. My arm isn't permanently damaged in any way, and as you can see, I can still type, but if I do so for too long, it really starts to hurt, even more than it does when I'm sitting still. So I'm going to break this entry, which I've wanted to write all weekend, into several parts. Hopefully this can keep me from writing too much at a crack and making my arm hurt any worse than it has to, but who knows how well I'll be able to restrain myself. I'm not exactly known for restraint.

It's been that sort of week, to be honest. Things haven't been terrible, they've just been troublesome enough to make everything seem like a slog. I'm getting around by bike exclusively, and have been for nearly six months, ever since my car died. That's not always a huge problem, but it's been raining a lot this week, which always makes riding a pain in the ass. And now I get hit by a car, just to add actual injury to celestial insult. Meanwhile, I've been feeling lonely and depressed, isolated from my friends, unable to connect. It's been hard to break out of my shell and even make myself try to connect with the people I care about, and then when I do, I don't say the things that are really on my mind. I can't connect with their conversations and I can't start any of my own. It's easier to stay at home when I feel that way. And when I have stayed home lately, I've been listening to the Rollins Band.

I know there are a lot of people out there who don't give the Rollins Band much credit. Henry Rollins is generally considered to be the person who ruined Black Flag, which is doubly funny to me, first because it was obviously Greg Ginn who controlled Black Flag's creative direction throughout, and second, because the later Black Flag stuff was often just as brilliant as the early work. Besides, if it were Henry's fault, wouldn't Ginn's instrumental post-Flag band Gone have therefore ruled? Whatever, it's a stupid argument, but it leaves a lot of people feeling very comfortable with a blanket condemnation of the Rollins Band, sometimes without ever even having heard them.

I, on the other hand, have listened to them a lot over the years. Actually, I heard the Rollins Band before I even heard Rollins-era Black Flag. I had a tape with "Everything Went Black" on it, dubbed from a friend, but that and a couple of Keith Morris era tracks on mixtapes were all I'd ever heard by them when that same friend put "What Have I Got" by the Rollins Band on a mixtape for me. To put it bluntly: that song blew my mind. It begins with silence, into which Henry quietly speaks: "I've got a wantless need." As he says "want," the band slams onto a single chord with full force, then immediately drops back out. A second later, Henry speaks again: "I've got a thoughtless mind." Band again slams down, this time on "thought." You see the pattern here, right? They go through it twice more, Henry telling us, "I've got a needless want," and finally, "I can't..." SLAM! "Unwind." At this point, we're 25 seconds into the track, and the band has played a total of four chords. Other than those chords and a few short statements from Henry, the song has consisted of extended silences. But then, still backed by nothing but silence, he begins to scream: "I've got a heartless hate!" Sure enough, on "heart," the band comes in, but this time they don't stop, instead plowing forward into a midtempo groove that is equal parts blues and 70s era metal, only with every bit of distortion you'd expect from a hardcore record made in 1989. "Whoa!" I thought upon first hearing this, sitting in the backseat of my parents' car, listening to it through my Walkman headphones. I don't remember where we were going, but I doubt it was anywhere I wanted to be. I was a depressed, repressed teenager, unsure of who I was and what the hell my purpose in life could possibly be. I spent most of my time frustrated, especially the portion of that time I had to spend in the company of my parents, my teachers, or really, pretty much anybody. Even my friends, even the ones who listened to cool music just like I did, didn't seem like they really understood where I was coming from. When Henry Rollins screamed lines like "I am a clenched fist looking for a wall to kiss," I knew exactly where he was coming from. And the song's chorus, in which Henry alternately answered the song's titular question with "I've got everything," and "Nothing much at all," rang true to me on a level I didn't even quite understand myself.

I was equally blown away by the playing of his band. Sim Cain's drums seemed to explode out of the speakers, every snare hit seeming on the verge of blowing out my eardrums. Andrew Weiss's grumbling bass had a distorted fury that I'd never heard in a low-end instrument before, and teamed with Chris Haskett's equally furious, distorted guitar to lay down intertwining blues-based licks that were simultaneously total walls of noise and extremely musical. It was obvious that all of these guys were incredibly proficient musicians, but there were multiple points on "What Have I Got" alone where they chose to forsake their musical training in favor of total noise. I couldn't tell whether the birdlike screeching noises that ended the midsong guitar solo were made by guitar or bass, but what I did know was that they sounded singularly unrestrained, and made it obvious that Haskett and Weiss weren't playing a solo to show you how good they were at their instruments but instead to try and push the song to a higher level, to express the same emotions captured in Rollins' angst-ridden vocals without ever opening their mouths. It sure seemed like a success to me.

In fact, I had to have the album. My friend had copied "What Have I Got" onto my mixtape from a caseless CD copy that he'd inherited from an older family member. You see, where I lived in high school, the main employer for the local unskilled labor market was Nimbus Manufacturing, a CD plant that did a lot of pressing work for such companies as Caroline and Relativity, who pressed a significant portion of the independent hardcore, alt-rock, and metal albums being released in the late 80s and early 90s. Everyone with extended family in the area had at least one family member who worked at Nimbus, and everyone had someone they could get rejected CDs, CDs with flaws in their art, through. My friend was always loaning me CDs by awesome bands he'd discovered, and they invariably had no cover. This was how I first heard Primus, the Flaming Lips, and even Can (more about that in another entry, sometime), and it was also how I obtained a dubbed copy of "Hard Volume" by the Rollins Band.

There are a lot of things that I know about that album now that I didn't know then. For example, "Hard Volume" was the last of three albums the Rollins Band had contractually agreed to give their label at the time, Texas Hotel. They hadn't had good experiences with their first two albums on the label, "Life Time" and the half-studio half-live "Do It," and therefore decided to hold back the two songs they considered their best at the time of "Hard Volume"'s recording. Those two songs, "Tearing" and "You Didn't Need," were later released on "The End Of Silence," The Rollins Band's first major-label LP, and "Tearing" was even a popular video on MTV for a while. Whatever their reasons for not putting these songs on "Hard Volume," I'm glad now that it happened that way. "Tearing" and "You Didn't Need" are both on the melodic side of the Rollins Band's sound, and with them out of the way, "Hard Volume" concentrates mostly on longer, darker songs. In fact, opening track "Hard" notwithstanding, "Hard Volume" is an intense, frightening primal scream of an album. "Hard" is an upbeat anthem about staying positive and not letting life grind you down, but as soon as that song ends and "What Have I Got" begins, "Hard Volume" descends into a deep-blues deathtrip that never really lets up.

Listening to "Planet Joe," the fourth track out of seven, is like being bludgeoned steadily for almost five minutes. The song begins with feedback, but after 22 seconds, at no audible prompting, the entire band joins together to begin pounding on one chord. They chug twice, then rest for two beats, then do the doubled chug again. And that's pretty much the song. CHUG CHUG. CHUG CHUG. CHUG CHUG. There is a moment, about two minutes in, where the band breaks away from this rhythm to play an actual riff, but after four lines, they drop right back into the chugs. This is the closest the song comes to an actual verse, and it happens again towards the end, but seriously: most of this song is just the band chugging twice on one chord, pausing for two beats, and then doing it again. It's fucking intense. And what keeps it from being monotonous, what takes it from heavy to downright scary, is Henry Rollins's impassioned vocal. "I don't need no friend to tell me who my friends are," he begins, singing over the constant one-chord chug as if the band is playing something much more conventional. "I don't need some pig to tell me what the rules are." He fairly spits the word "pig" out of his mouth, summing up contempt for cops and all figures of authority who push people around just because they can. When the song really gets intense, though, is after the first more conventional verse, when the band has returned to chugs, and Henry screams, "Been pushed too far! Been pushed too hard! Locked down! Locked down! No! No! No!" I read Rollins's lyric collection, "Unwanted Songs," years and years after first obtaining this record, and learned from it that "Hard Volume" had been recorded just after a tour, and that Rollins had pushed his voice nearly to its limit. He commented in the book that you could hear it straining on some of the songs on this album, and he's right. But back in 1989, when I first heard this album, I had so little knowledge of Rollins's voice that I had nothing to compare it to. I thought the throaty, higher-pitched scream that comes out of him at various points on this album was just how he sang. What's more, I loved it, particluarly on this one section of "Planet Joe." His voice never quite cracks, but as he screams, "Been pushed too hard!" he sounds not so much angry as upset. You can hear in those nearly blown-out vocal chords the sound of a man with his back against the wall. At this point, as well as on several others on "Hard Volume," Henry Rollins sounds like he is positively at the end of his rope. "Planet Joe"'s last line is "This lonely ghetto, it's ugly," and the last 20 or so seconds are just him screaming "ugly" over and over again, over the same repeated chugging that began the song. It's terrifying.

The next track, "Love Song," is even scarier. It's mostly quiet, especially for the first half of its six minutes, but in some ways, that just makes it even more intense. Over a quiet bassline, start-stop tribal drumming, and ambient guitar feedback that is barely present at all for the first quarter or so of the song, Rollins whispers, mumbles, and gasps out the phrase, "I want you. I hate you." These six words are almost the only ones in the song, but he puts so much into their delivery that it doesn't really matter. He grows more focused, and his delivery more frenzied, as the music slowly builds behind him over the first half of the song. By two and a half minutes in or so, he's growling between repetitions of the line, even as his voice never rises above a low snarl. Things change at about the halfway point of the song, though, as the music finally reaches a crescendo and goes into a bluesy dirge. Now Rollins is pleading: "Put your hands on me. Put your mouth on me. Touch me. Make me real." But he continues to return to his previous, repeated incantation, even as he begs for some sort of connection. Finally, at a point when the music is swelling towards a crescendo, he provides an explanation of sorts: "I don't want you because I hate you, I hate you because I want you." He feels trapped by his own desire, stuck in a feedback loop of desire and frustration by feelings he would rather be rid of. As a 15 year old boy who'd never been touched by a woman who wasn't a family member, this made a ton of sense to me. And now, as a 33 year old man who hasn't even kissed a woman in over two years, it makes even more sense. Funny how things come full circle, isn't it? Back to the song: this explanation on Rollins's part seems to trigger a crescendo in the music, and as Sim Cain bashes out elaborate rolls and fills, Haskett and Weiss both deliver solos of sorts, consisting more of feedback than anything else. Overtop of these, Rollins screams, gibbers, and howls incoherently, sounding like a caged animal. The last minute or so of this song sounds like the soundtrack to the climactic scene of a horror movie.

But the real heart of darkness on this album is its penultimate track, "Turned Inside Out." This song, out of all of them here, sounds most like an improvisation rather than an actual constructed song. This could also be said of "Love Song" and "Planet Joe", but at least both of those songs have some musical changes around which they are constructed, however loosely. "Turned Inside Out" is just one riff, being played over and over for close to seven minutes. The blues and metal elements that show up on this album's more structured songs are present in this riff, but at its heart, it's more about plodding dirge than anything else. Sim Cain's beat anchors the entire thing, and he keeps the song on track even at points when everyone else in the band seems trapped inside their own private hell. Andrew Weiss and Chris Haskett have a simple two-chord structure within which to work, but for much of the song, they ditch these chords in favor of shrieking white noise and sheets of distortion. Really, though, all of this is just the background over which Henry Rollins proceeds to completely lose his shit. His strained voice is pushed to the limit on this song, which is best described as a sequel to his version of Black Flag's "Damaged I." On that song, instead of singing the lyrics that Dez Cadena had sung on its previous recording, Rollins improvised some combination of a tirade and a PTSD flashback relating to his repressive military upbringing. "Turned Inside Out" appears to be much the same sort of thing, only related to a different, more nebulous subject. My best guess, considering how many of the songs on "Hard Volume" relate to unhealthy, destructive relationships, would be that this song is a response to some sort of breakup. But really, who knows? What is clear from the lyrics to this song is that Rollins feels like people see him as some sort of monster, a person to be shunned except when he's put on display for mockery. He doesn't say this in terms nearly that clear, though. Instead, he begins with, and returns to, a seemingly prewritten phrase, "Turned inside out for all to see," and then departs on unorganized tangents that, at points, resemble the ravings of a psychopath. At one point, about halfway through the song, he screams the word "freak" over and over, at least 20 times, his voice eventually dissolving into an animal howl. He then switches roles, to that of behind the scenes tormentor: "Get up. Get up! Get up!" he repeats, then repeats "Entertain me!" several times. The next thing he says is "Laughing," then begins repeating the word, drawing out the first syllable in that schoolyard cadence in which little boys the world over say, "HA-ha!" This sequence is interesting in that Rollins manages to transition through three different roles in about 30 seconds' time, going from the ridiculed creature in the cage, to that creature's tormentor, to the onlookers, amused by the creature's pitiable state. I find this section of the song both harrowing and fascinating. When I hear Henry Rollins losing his shit in a studio, I think of all the times I've felt that way too. I think of how cathartic it used to be for me when I myself would do the same sorts of things, back when I sang in a band, and in some ways, merely hearing his experience of that catharsis transfers some of it to me. Life has been hard for me over the past few weeks, and when I listen to someone who sounds completely at the end of his rope freak the fuck out over a noisy, distorted blues/metal dirge, it helps. I feel a little bit better. At the same time, a song like this is frightening for me. I may feel at times like I'm close to the edge, but "Turned Inside Out" is the sound of someone who has gone over that edge and is dangling over the abyss. I know what it's like to be there, but I don't want to go there again.

To me, songs like these are a powerful expression of a sincere emotion that is nearly impossible to deal with. Considering how much trouble I've been having just trying to hack life lately, I rely on records like this to help me through, to make me feel better when I'm down. I know that there are a lot of people out there who hear this sort of thing and can't help but laugh at it. They see it as pointless melodrama. I can't really imagine seeing things that way. I'd rather put myself out there, be real, and make a fool of myself in some people's eyes than hold back for fear of what others might think. I know there are a lot of people who would hear a record like "Hard Volume" and see it as a lot of scenery-chewing hot air. I know that there are people who can't get on the level that Rollins Band are coming from on this album, or who refuse to even try. But even if it would make me seem cooler, more self-possessed, more confident, I'd rather not be like those people. I'd rather have an emotional experience listening to Henry Rollins scream about how this world is ugly and he wants to punch a wall than find the ironic distance necessary to chuckle at the whole thing, as if I'm so above it all. Because I'm not. I'm just as fucked up and full of pain as Rollins was when he made this album. If that makes me uncool, so be it. I'd rather be real than cool.

Rollins Band - "What Have I Got" and "Turned Inside Out"



Movie Diary: Wall-E.

OK, here's a post I need to get out of my system before I wait too long and it fades in my memory:

The night before last, I saw "Wall-E." I liked it a lot, but it's hard to feel like there's much of worth to say about a movie like this, that everyone and their 6 year old nephew has already seen. I mean, is there any reason for me to post even the shortest of plot summaries here? I think not. You all know what it's about. I do have a few thoughts I'll go ahead and share, though. First of all, I really liked how little of the movie relied on any sort of complex dialogue. The two main robots have about half a dozen words that they say, between the two of them, and yet they never seemed lacking in their ability to communicate with each other and with the audience. I felt even at the time I first heard about it that the outrage from the fat-acceptance community about the people on the spaceship was misplaced, and now, having seen the movie, I'm certain that it is. The fact that the human characters in this movie had all ended up fat made perfect sense in light of the setting and environment they lived in. It was more the fault of the Wal-Mart-ish corporation that dominated their lives than anything they personally had done. And on a happier note, I loved watching Wall-E do his little dances along with his old musical video ("Hello, Dolly," apparently), and I thought it was hilarious when Eve joined in and nearly brought Wall-E's house down. The movie surprised me with its humor throughout; I wasn't expecting nearly as many laugh-out-loud moments as there were. And by the way, the moments of interaction between the spaceship's captain (voiced by Jeff Garlin, whom I'm always glad to see getting work) and Auto, the autopilot robot, were pretty great too. I also enjoyed the little cleaner robot and his quixotic quest to clean up all of Wall-E's tracks. Hell, I just had a blast throughout this whole movie. At this point, I'd say "Wall-E" has displaced "The Incredibles" as my favorite Pixar film (though, come to think of it, I still haven't seen "Ratatouille", and I really should).

Oh, and by the way, "Wall-E" was amusing and all, but one of the cartoon shorts on the DVD, "Presto," about a magician with a magic hat who doesn't feed his pet rabbit before he does a show and ends up having to deal with constant sabotage from the rabbit as a result, was an absolute scream. I pretty much didn't stop laughing throughout that one. If you haven't seen it, you must take the 5 minutes and watch it on Youtube. Trust me, it's SO worth it.


The week in books.

Krautrocksampler, by Julian Cope
I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to read this book at all. Back when British postpunk/psychedelic musician Julian Cope self-published this book in the mid-90s, it sold quickly and soon went out of print. He's done a couple of reprint editions since then, but there just aren't that many copies of this in existence, and since it is currently out of print, any that are for sale tend to go for upwards of $100. I wasn't willing to pay that much, but due to the good graces of the internet, I was recently able to locate a .pdf copy that was available for download from a blog.

I'm so glad I did. I had an absolute blast reading this book. While it was every bit as informative and entertaining as my most recent music-history read, Simon Reynolds' "Rip It Up And Start Again," Cope's book is far shorter--only about 150 pages total--and read less like a scholarly work and more like a nonstop thrillride. If Reynolds is comparable to Greil Marcus, then Cope is more like Lester Bangs, filling every page of his book with overbrimming enthusiasm and out-of-control stream of consciousness rants about all of the great Krautrock records he grew up listening to. He couches these rants in a framework of the genre's history, and does a very good job of delivering a primer for all those (like myself) who are only vaguely aware of the circumstances in which these records were created. Cope explains how "Krautrock", far from being the derogatory term many have taken it to be, was actually a self-created label jokingly applied to their own records by many bands of the genre--Faust even going as far as calling the opening track on their fourth album "Krautrock." He explains the genre's roots as well, pointing to such disparate influences as the West German-based group of American GIs The Monks, 20th century German minimalist composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, and The Velvet Underground as essential building blocks for what came to be known as Krautrock. He further details the movers and shakers of the genre, both those who were inextricably linked to one project (Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream, the members of Can and Faust) and those who bounced around from band to band willy-nilly (Klaus Schultze, Manuel Gottsching, Klaus Dinger), and tells the hubristic story of Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and his manipulative power trip as the mastermind behind the Cosmic Jokers.

Above all, Cope expounds gloriously upon the merits of nearly every album he mentions, creating within his reader an insatiable urge to hear them all with such sentences as: "What the hell is going on in that song? Something scary is implied but the meaning always eludes me." and "Fuck Jim Morrison's ridiculous 'Renaissance Man of the Mind' description. That was just an excuse to be a fat slob. That was just an existentialist knee-jerk. No. No. No. These freaks were fit. Superhuman. Superman. They were here to go. But all in good time." (Those excerpts pertaining to Amon Duul II and Ash Ra Tempel's collaboration with Timothy Leary, respectively.) I tried so hard not to get out of control, not to toggle constantly between the .pdf and my downloading program, recklessly cueing up every new album Cope mentioned. But in the end, I couldn't restrain myself. I've downloaded at least 30 Krautrock albums in the last 24 hours, and I don't even want to think about how frustrating an experience reading this book would have been back in the days when I couldn't do such a thing, and had to hit up record stores in the often-fruitless quest to locate some of thse obscurities. Rest assured, I will eventually buy many of these albums (the Can and Neu! albums alone have been on my list for years). But it is a relief to get to hear them right now, and even more of one to discover that Mr. Cope is almost always justified in his effusive praise. This truly is a musical genre inhabited by an embarrassment of riches. And there is no better book to read in order to get excited about discovering all of them. Check this thing out--but try to avoid getting soaked on Ebay in the process. Some judicious Googling will work wonders.

Poisoned Cherries, by Quintin Jardine
I have mixed feelings about this book, and I think some of the negative feelings I have might have been alleviated had I read the five previous books in this series before reading this one. There are some series, especially in the mystery genre, where a new reader can just jump in wherever they feel like it, and still get every bit of enjoyment from the book they'd have gotten if they'd read all the previous books. I don't think that's true of Jardine's Oz Blackstone series, though. The entire first third or so of this book was devoted to subplots that had continued from previous books. Oz, a former detective now turned movie star, has tried to reconcile with his wife, Primavera, but she has left him for another man, which makes him feel better about the fact that Susie Gantry, whom he slept with while on his honeymoon (!), is now having his baby (!!). Oz is so charmed by the baby, and surprised by his affections for Susie, that he commits to a relationship with her by the time the baby's been around for a week or so. Meanwhile, other women are throwing themselves at him--old flames, co-stars in his new movie, even his not-yet-ex-wife--and he finds it hard to resist them, womanizer that he has traditionally been. Oh, but he must! Think of the children!

The whole time I was reading this section of the book, I was thinking two things. 1: Is there going to be a mystery in here somewhere? and 2: Jeez, every woman this guy meets tries to jump in the sack with him. Seems like a textbook case of wish fulfillment on the author's part, as does the fact that Oz is starring in a movie that's an adaptation of one of the novels in Jardine's other crime series, featuring Detective Bob Skinner. And you know, more power to him I suppose, but the fact is that the women just kept throwing themselves at Oz to the point where it really upset my ability to suspend disbelief. By halfway through the book, when the sixth or seventh woman in a row seemed determined to set an aggressive course for his bedroom, I was thinking, "Oh, well, of COURSE! After all, every woman in the world wants to fuck Oz Blackstone!"

That was the part that no amount of previous series reading would have made better. Who knows, maybe it's like that in every book, and if I'd started with the first book, I never would have gotten to the sixth. But even that would have been something I could have worked with if there wasn't so much of the story that I had no involvement in, and therefore no real interest in. As I said, there was no real mystery until 100 pages in or thereabouts, when the mysteriously reappearing old flame (who throws herself at Oz on multiple occasions, natch) discovers the body of her ex-fiancee and business partner. Oz is convince that she didn't kill him, but the police are just as convinced she did. After a while, other bodies start turning up, in a pattern that seems obvious to Oz, but is missed completely by the police because they don't have the information that Oz has--information that, if revealed to the police, could get his old flame, and even Oz himself, into all sorts of additional legal hot water. So Oz has to figure out who is committing the murders before the poliice charge his ex with them, or turn up any unsavory details, or both.

Once the main plot of the book got going, I'll admit that I did enjoy it a good bit more than I had towards the beginning. I still found the main character's unfortunate combination of rampant egotism and seeming irresistibility to women annoying, and had trouble liking him as a protagonist, but the process through which he solved the mystery was enjoyable to read, the action scenes were engrossing, and the plot kept me guessing right up to the end. However, the detailed subplots that tended to relate to incidents that had occurred in past books, which I knew nothing about, were distracting, and at risk of belaboring the point, I found several aspects of the main character unappealing. This book was OK at best. I doubt I'll read more by the author, at least not anytime soon.



Get out of my fucking face.

Sometimes depression sneaks out of the shadows when I least expect it, and sometimes it brings with it unpredictable compulsions, especially where music is concerned. This is the closest I can get to an explanation for the fact that, suddenly, in the middle of a period in which I was listening to nothing but Krautrock (related post hopefully forthcoming) and late 80s midwestern college rock (see "Adventureland" entry), I wanted to hear nothing but the second Pearl Jam album, "Vs." Digging through my crates and crates of unorganized cassettes is always a pain in the ass, but I hunted it up, and I've been playing it for the past two days to the exclusion of almost everything else.

"Vs." is a transitional album for Pearl Jam, released at a time (1993) when they were on top of the world and could do pretty much anything they wanted. The problem for them was that they weren't sure exactly what they wanted to do, a state of mind that is reflected on "Vs." In fact, my copy of the album appears to be self-titled, for exactly that reason. The album was originally due to be titled "Five Against One," but the band changed their mind on that title so close to the album's release date that, while it was possible to remove the title from the album's artwork, there wasn't time to get the new title, "Vs.", inserted into the artwork before the album's release. Therefore, the entire initial pressing of the album bears no title at all. Considering that it sold nearly a million copies in the first week of its release, I'm sure my title-less cassette copy isn't rare at all (and that, even if it were, it wouldn't be valuable, because it's a cassette), but it's still interesting to look at, and see that telltale sign of Pearl Jam's uncertainty as a band at this point in their career.

Where the sound of "Vs." is concerned, that uncertainty barely comes through at all. Despite the fact that there are obvious differences from song to song that point to a gradual evolution in their sound (differences we will discuss later), the whole thing still feels unified enough to hold together remarkably well. In fact, I'd say that "Vs." was the last Pearl Jam album with a consistent, unified feel until the release of their true self-titled album, 13 years later. The roots for all of Pearl Jam's various sonic offshoots are present on this album, but they're all still close enough together to fit well next to each other.

Pearl Jam's initial sound, the mix of postpunk alternative rock and 70s hard rock that was characterized as grunge, is also pretty well represented on this album. "Dissident" and "Daughter" are good balladic sequels to the first album's "Black" and "Jeremy," while uptempo rockers like "Go," "Animal," and "Glorified G" follow the template set by the first album's "Evenflow" and "Alive." These aren't the songs I'm interested in talking about, though. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy all of them; in fact, the song on the album that I come closest to disliking, "Rats," is still halfway decent. I just don't think that these songs represent the most interesting aspects of "Vs."

The song that's always meant the most to me on this album is "Rearviewmirror," a song that strips away a lot of the overtly grungy elements present on the album's other uptempo rockers and focuses on a driving but overall melodic sound. Although the album lists all songs as group compositions, references I've read online state that Eddie Vedder wrote the music for this song by himself, and that he plays guitar on it as well as singing. Learning this helped me to understand what makes this song so appealing for me. In 1993, I was getting pretty heavily involved in the underground hardcore scene, and was particularly into bands typically given the "emo" tag at the time, such as Fugazi and Rites Of Spring. From reading press about Pearl Jam at the time, I know that Eddie Vedder was also pretty into bands like Fugazi at that point, and so I can imagine that they had an influence on his songwriting. "Rearviewmirror" was the first of quite a few songs contained on the Pearl Jam albums of the 90s that sounded to me very similar to a lot of the more underground, hardcore-related bands I was listening to at the time. There was always a bit of a guilt trip coming from my hardcore friends when I would spend money on a new Pearl Jam album instead of buying another hardcore record or whatever, but I felt justified in doing so by those songs. "Brain Of JFK," from "Yield," is one that comes immediately to mind, as does "In My Tree," from "No Code," and both "Whipping" and "Corduroy" from "Vitalogy." Even "Light Years," from "Binaural," one of the only songs on an overall-mediocre Pearl Jam album, stuck with me precisely because I could imagine a band like Sunny Day Real Estate doing a very similar song.

"Rearviewmirror" begins with a catchy but understated verse. When Eddie starts singing, he sounds almost conversational. "I took a drive today," he sings, over music that sounds like the perfect accompaniment for driving. "Time to emancipate." Interesting choice of words here. "Emancipate" is a word that refers to gaining freedom, historically from slavery, but in a modern American context it's more often used to refer to a child being freed from the legal custody of their parents. In fall 1993, when "Vs." was released, I was 17 years old and beginning my first semester of college. While I wouldn't technically be an adult for three more months, it felt like I'd finally gained freedom from my parents, who had made living with them during my teenage years (and really, for most of my life) very hard. This is but one of many lyrical parallels between this song and my life at the time it was released. "I guess it was the beatings that made me wise," Eddie sings next. "But I'm not about to give thanks, or apologize." To this day, I feel like I learned some important life lessons at the hands of my parents, things that perhaps people with happy childhoods never learn. I'm glad I know these things but sometimes the burden of that knowledge feels crippling. Maybe that's what has been calling my mind back to this song recently; lately I've been feeling almost paralyzed by the potential negative repercussions of my actions. I don't want to explain any more than that. I'm glad I know what I know but I'm not thankful to my parents for those lessons because they hurt then and they hurt still. And I may sometimes regret being the person that I am but I'm not going to apologize, either.

When the song moves from the first verse into the pre-chorus, an element of tension is added to it that never quite dissipates. The driving bar chords played by Vedder and Stone Gossard's rhythm guitars are intensely propulsive, but the way they mix with Mike McCready's single-note lead, which adds a melody that's tinged with a wistful sadness, creates a feeling in the song as a whole of depression and self-doubt combined with an intense desire to break free of frustrating limitations. Over this chorus, as the music seems to push towards a moment of confrontation, Eddie sings, "I couldn't breathe. Holding me down. Hand on my face. Kissing the ground." The thoughts expressed in these lyrics are left incomplete, but it's easy enough for the listener to fill in this narrative of oppression, and to understand what's happening, even with chunks of phrasing obviously missing. The feeling of an inability to breathe, even a metaphorical one, the feeling of constant repression, is a familiar one. The next two lines are even more moving. "Enmity gauged, united by fear." I think fear might be one of the driving forces of my life, and my parents were the original inspirers of such feelings. "Forced to endure what I could not forgive." What is that line, if not a perfect description of family life?

I'm finding it hard to write about my feelings where this song is concerned. As I was typing the previous paragraph, I kept thinking, "What's the point? These people can look up the lyrics themselves. They don't need me to tell them what they mean." Nevertheless I will continue, as I think it's important to try to get across the way this music makes me feel, in order to make clear that it is important music. Even Pearl Jam's fans often seem dismissive of the deeper emotional content of their music, or at least that's how it often feels to me. I feel like people who look for that sort of thing in their music tend to dismiss Pearl Jam as music for jocks, and miss the fact that there is a lot of sincerity and real emotion packed into their songs, and that they have always tried their hardest to connect on a real level with anyone listening to their records. Maybe I'm projecting a bit, or assuming too much--that if I heard a sincere emotion in a record where most people didn't, it must be there, and they must all be missing it. I'm really not sure. But ultimately, I don't know that it matters. I know what I was able to gain from listening to these songs, and if the things I hear are there for me, they can be there for other people if those people are open to them.

Getting back to "Rearviewmirror" (which I now feel better writing about, so thanks for indulging me with that previous paragraph): there is no first chorus to the song, so after the first pre-chorus, the song moves right into its second verse. The tension from the first verse and pre-chorus remains embedded within it, but when Eddie sings the second verse, he returns to the more even, conversational tone he struck in the first verse. "I seemed to look away. Wounds in the mirror waved. It wasn't my surface most defiled." I'm not going to explain that. You know what it means. Besides, the second pre-chorus is what's really interesting here. The first two lines of it are completely different than they were the first time, and it's the second of those two lines that I find most interesting: "Fist on my plate. Swallowed it down." There's a powerful image here, but it's not one that makes that much linear sense. What does it mean that there was a fist on his plate, assumedly served to him as dinner? I'm not exactly sure, and my tendency is to take it overly literally and think about how hard it was to eat dinner with my family, how stressful my mother made it for me every time. I can imagine that everyone who hears it will have their own interpretation, but no matter what it meant to Eddie, I like the image a lot and I'm glad he used it.

The next two lines of the pre-chorus are very similar to the third and fourth lines in the first pre-chorus, but what's interesting are the small, almost unnoticeable, differences between them. When, on the first pre-chorus, Eddie sang, "United by fear," here he sings, "Divided by fear." And more importantly, on the final line, where he sang "Forced to endure what I could not forgive," now he sings, "Tried to endure what I could not forgive." It's an interesting contrast in that it points out how hard it can be to endure abuses of an emotional nature. Just because one is forced to endure them, in that one is not given an escape, that does not mean that one will succeed in enduring them. It's easy to break under the pressure of such things. It's not that surprising when people come out the other side of such abuses a mere shadow of their former selves. I hope I'm not dipping too far into the realm of cliche, but regardless I think it's the truth.

The emotional tension of the song as a whole has only further increased during the second verse and pre-chorus, and there's a break of sorts after the second pre-chorus, in which the beat drops out and the whole band vamps for a couple of measures, seemingly steeling itself for what is to come. When they finally launch themselves into the song's only chorus, it feels like the level of tension cannot be increased much further without some sort of explosion. Sure enough, that explosion comes on the chorus's final line. Eddie sings the ten-word chorus in such a way to stretch it out over four lines, his voice rising in pitch and intensity as he goes, repeating words as necessary in order to lay the last two words over the musical crescendo of the chorus's final line. "Saw things... clearer... once you were in my..." and here he fairly screams the song's title: "REARVIEW MIRROR!" This scream is at the top of his vocal register, and if I'm honest, it's slightly above the top of mine. I have a very clear memory, from the spring of 1994, driving back to my college after spending spring break at my parents' house, working through the stresses of the past week by playing "Vs." at top volume and singing along with the entire album. When Eddie screamed this song's title, I tried to scream along with him, and damn near blew my voice out completely. I can still remember how much it hurt my throat, but also that, in a fucked-up way, it felt good to hurt myself doing something like that.

There's one more verse in the song, and after the musical and emotional crescendo of the chorus, you might expect it to lose some intensity. It doesn't happen, though. It's less like a climactic moment and more like a moment that blows the song wide open, allowing it to carry on with the intensity of the chorus through the final verse, with all three guitarists slashing at their strings as drummer Dave Abbruzzese pounds away at his kit with a furious energy. "I gather speed from you fucking with me," Eddie sings. "And before long, I'm far away." That line always felt the best when I heard it as I was driving away from my parents' house. The song's last line is most interesting for its parallel with the song "Daughter," which comes earlier on the album and which ends with the line "The shades go down" repeated several times. The final line of "Rearviewmirror" is "Finally the shades are RAISED," with "raised" written in all capital letters on the lyric sheet. It's strange to say, but I actually never noticed this song's seeming link to "Daughter," a song about a child feeling unable to rise to the expectations of a parent, until this most recent return to this album. I guess maybe "Rearviewmirror" really is a response to the damage parents inflict on the psyche of children, and it's not just something I see in the song because of my own history. That's cool if it's true.

There are other interesting songs here that are worth talking about. "W.M.A.", which stands for "white male American," ends side one with a tribal sounding, drum-heavy workout that, when I was younger, was one of my least favorite songs on the album. I'm not sure what's changed for me this time around, but after listening to it several times through over the last couple of days, I've seen something really awesome about it. Its emphasis on percussion presages some of the songs on "No Code" and "Yield" that took advantage of the drumming talents of Jack Irons, who replaced Dave Abbruzzese when he left the band after "Vitalogy." While I certainly don't want to denigrate the talents of Matt Cameron, who joined for "Binaural" and has been with the band ever since, I sometimes wish Jack Irons hadn't felt the need to leave Pearl Jam (which he did in 1998 due to his dislike of Pearl Jam's intense touring schedule), as I found his contributions to Pearl Jam's sound interesting and unique. That said, "W.M.A." proves that Irons wasn't the only drummer they ever had who was capable of such percussion workouts.

Apparently "W.M.A." was written after a white cop hassled a black friend of Eddie's outside their recording studio but didn't give Eddie any trouble at all, despite the two of them being together at the time. Eddie's frustration with this incident comes through very well in the song, particularly on the song's choruses, where he screams "Police stopped my brother again!" over and over. Maybe it was this passion that I missed in the song before. While Eddie's vocals are quiet and lower in the mix on the early verses of the song, he fairly screams his lines on the choruses. The song is largely driven by percussion and bass guitar, with the lead and rhythm guitars mostly adding additional layered textures on top of the melody played by the bass and the intricate rhythm of the drumming. There are obviously multiple layers of percussion on this song, which doesn't make Abbruzzese's main beat any less impressive, as it is obviously complicated and tricky even on its own. However, the emotion of the song is increased by some of the percussive layers, particularly on the choruses, when a second drumkit, playing a simpler beat that emphasizes the snare hits, is tracked in overtop of the main drum rhythm. This second layer of pounding, especially on the 1s and 3s of this 4/4 beat, allows the song to gain a more driving, intense feel without in any way diminishing its rhythmic complexity.

"Blood," which begins side two, is often referred to as one of the funkier tracks on the album, but that's not at all what I see in it. Instead, I find myself focusing on its choruses, which again feature Eddie delivering an intense, screaming vocal. This is true of several other songs on the album, including both of the others I've discussed so far as well as at least one other that I will get to later. However, his screams on "Blood" are on a whole different level of intensity. This song's midtempo rhythms are played with a pounding intensity that reminds me more of hardcore than anything else, particularly a lot of the thrashy, midtempo bands I was listening to in the early 90s. I'm not saying that this is Pearl Jam's 108 moment or anything, particularly considering Mike McCready's wah-wah heavy lead guitar track on the song, but it comes about as close as they ever get to that sort of thing. Really, I think it just might be comparable to Rage Against the Machine, another band of the era that mixed funky accents into a thrashy, midtempo hardcore base. Eddie's vocals on the verses are sometimes rather understated, and certainly bear no resemblance to Zach De La Rocha's rapping cadence (and thank god for that), but still, the comparison to Tom Morello's guitar playing and De La Rocha's more intense choruses is obvious. To me, this song is the first (or maybe the second, if you count the first album's "Porch") indicator of the more straightforward hardcore direction that certain later songs of theirs (most notably "Spin The Black Circle") would take.

The last three songs on this album also interest me, all for different reasons. "Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town" jumped out at me as soon as I got this album. For one thing, it was the only song on the album with a title longer than one word (if you don't count "Glorified G," with its second word being one letter, or "Rearviewmirror," which had its second word combined with its first). For another, it was the album's only completely acoustic song (though "Daughter" was close). For a third, it was an acoustic ballad that didn't sound like previous examples of the form as dispensed by Pearl Jam and other grunge bands of the era. I feel like this song points the way forward to tracks like "Off He Goes" and "Red Mosquito," from "No Code," or "Wishlist," from "No Code." It's hard for me to point to the difference between this song and songs like "Daughter", the previous album's "Black," or, say, "Hunger Strike" by Temple of the Dog (which wasn't even acoustic, but bear with me here). The song's lyrics tell a heartbreaking story from the point of view of someone who has always taken the path of least resistance and made the easy choices in her life, and now looks back and feels that she's lost out on all of the opportunities she's ever had. The thing that seemingly brings this home to her is a visit from a former companion, one who presumably made a different choice. I think, when I was a teenager, that I keyed into the emotion of this song without completely understanding what the lyrics meant. That wistful, lonely feeling that the song exudes is one I've always been able to understand. Now that I'm older, though, I look at my own life and wonder if I've ever truly challenged myself. I struggle year after year to focus on being a creative person, on making music and writing various things, and I never really feel like I get much of anywhere. But is that my fault? Am I too scared to risk taken the paths that might offer resistance? And is it too late for me to change? I'm only 33 but it's hard not to see myself as too old, as having squandered opportunities that I can never get back. I think I understand this song a lot more now than I did back then.

The album ends with "Indifference," a dark, quiet song that is another I never liked that much until this recent return to "Vs." The mix of quiet lead guitar lines with more prominent organ and softly tapped percussion and cymbals provide the perfect emotional tone to back Eddie's somewhat resigned lyrics. In them, he juxtaposes expressions of his own passion with the repeated question, "How much difference does it make?" "I will scream my lungs out until it fills this room," he sings at one point, and at another, "I will stand arms outstreched, pretend I'm free to roam. I will make my way through one more day in hell." For me, the personal revolution is the only one that makes sense anymore. When I was younger, I thought that I could get involved in the kind of radical political activism (a fancy word that just means "work") that involves protesting, carrying signs, and other, sometimes more dangerous, forms of "direct action." I no longer believe in such things. I'm willing to knock on people's doors and ask them to vote for Barack Obama, because I really do think he was a better candidate for president than John McCain. I'm glad my state's electoral votes went in his favor, but now that he's president, I'm not all that surprised that he's not doing everything the way I'd hoped he would. I don't expect perfection, and I don't believe that it's possible to even attain something that's somewhere in the neighborhood of perfection. If things can be made slightly better, then I figure that's about the best I can hope for. Where I'm trying to make things better in my life is on a personal level, and maybe on a social level, with the people in my immediate vicinity on a day to day basis. But even that feels somewhat pointless, not to mention presumptuous to even consider attempting to change the ways other people think and act. As if I know any better than they do what should be done in any given situation. Really, I just want to make my own life better, to make it something I can enjoy rather than just endure. I'm not too sure how to do that, and I'm not sure that anything I try can make a difference. But if nothing else, at least I'll know I tried. At least I gave it a shot.

"Indifference" may be the final track on "Vs.", but I think the song that comes immediately before it is the real climax of the album. "Leash" is a song that dates from Pearl Jam's earliest shows, and I'm not sure why they didn't include it on "Ten," but I'm glad they didn't, because I think it fits much better on "Vs." There are elements in the rhythm guitar parts of the same emocore influence that show up on "Rearviewmirror," though it's far less emphasized on "Leash," a song with a very traditionally grunge-sounding lead guitar from Mike McCready. Eddie's lyrics are simple, especially on the verses. "Troubled souls unite. We've got ourselves tonight" are the two lines that constitute the entire first verse, but although they are simple, there's a powerful message there, especially when combined with the first pre-chorus: "I am fuel, I am friends. We've got the means to make amends. I'm lost, I'm no guide--but I am by your side. I am right by your side." This song is written in such a way as to come across like a hand held out, in spirit if not in fact, to all the troubled kids out there who picked up this album. I can remember this meaning a lot to me at age 17.

The second verse appears to focus the song's message more specifically. "Young lover I stand. It was their idea, but I proved to be a man." This could mean pretty much anything, but on the lyric sheet, a line Eddie ultimately chose not to sing gives a further hint: "Told me to get her pregnant." Is this a pro-choice song? That would certainly make sense, considering how vocal Eddie has been in support of that particular cause over the years, but it's never fully explained. That's OK, though; there's ultimately a beneficial effect in keeping this song general rather than specific, in allowing for as many people as possible to see themselves in its lyrics. The second pre-chorus furthers that possibility, as Eddie sings, "I will myself to find a home, a home within myself." This metaphorical declaration of independence feeds right into the song's chorus. The pre-chorus ends with Eddie singing, "We will find our way. We will find our place." As the pre-chorus transitions into the chorus, backing vocals from the rest of the band sing, "Drop the leash," as Eddie screams, "Get out of my fucking face!" And this, right here, is the moment it feels like the entire album has been building up to. As McCready eschews a lead guitar line to play the rising, euphoric-sounding rhythm guitar chords in unison with Gossard, Eddie's repeated screams of "Get out of my fucking face!" sound so incredibly life-affirming that they seem to belie the confrontational aggression of the words themselves. This might not have made sense to my parents if they heard it at the time, but this song was never for my parents, or anyone else's. The point that must be understood in order to get why that particular confrontational-sounding phrase comes across as a positive anthem, a celebratory manifesto, is because it's not that Eddie Vedder is screaming this phrase AT you, the listener--he's screaming it WITH you. I'm sure I was far from the only 17 year old, at the time and since then, who has felt the need for affirmation from people I looked up to, musicians and otherwise, in my own personal declaration of independence. "Leash" presents itself as an anthem and a full-on youth manifesto for all of Pearl Jam's teenage fans, in much the same way that Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name" did when it was released around the same time. However, "Leash" isn't focused in a political manner, and it's not a statement of rebellion, per se, although I guess it sort of is, at that. What it's really about is not whether or not we, the youth, do what anyone tells us to do or not; it's about the fact that we have the choice. Our future is in our hands, and we are the only ones who can decide what we want to do with it.

The fact that Pearl Jam chose not to end the album with this youth manifesto, that they chose to juxtapose "Leash" with "Indifference," and to wonder whether there was anything to be gained from expressing our freedom, is something that makes sense to me now, to a far greater extent than it did when I was a teenager. Having said that, though, I still prefer to walk away from this album with "Leash" being the song, the message, that sticks with me. Having left my 20s behind years ago, it's hard for me to feel young anymore, but still, Eddie's exhortation, cried out over the final guitar solo in "Leash," to "delight in your youth," still rings true to me now. Regardless of how much time I might have left in my life, and regardless of how old I am and how much older I'm going to get, it's still worth it to try to get the most I can out of it. That's a tough thing to do at the best of times, and a lot of times it's easier for me to see myself as an unthinking drone who passively goes to work, comes home, eats, watches TV, pays bills and goes to bed having done nothing of consequence. However, I will continue to fight against that impulse, regardless of how much difference it ultimately makes. I'll keep trying to make something of my life until there's no life left for me. I don't always know how to do that, but what else is there?

Pearl Jam - "Rearviewmirror" and "Leash"



Movie Diary: Adventureland.

So last night I saw "Adventureland," the new movie from Greg Mottola, who directed "Superbad" and used to work on "Undeclared." Unlike "Superbad," which was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, "Adventureland" was written as well as directed by Mottola. I was under the impression, from reading brief synopses of this movie, that it would be a goofy comedy that might be fun but wouldn't be anything all that great. However, I was hanging out with Brandon yesterday and he had already seen it, wanted to see it again, and promised that I would like it, so based on his recommendation, I decided to go with him and see it.

I'm so glad I did. "Adventureland" is an excellent movie. It's not that much like "Superbad" at all, because while it is comedic in tone for much of the film, and absolutely hilarious at points, there is also a lot of serious content in it. The plot mixes humor into what is essentially a coming of age story. James Brennan, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who was the older son in "The Squid And The Whale," has just graduated from college, and is expecting a summer-long European trip as a graduation gift from his parents. However, they have run into money troubles, and inform him that the European trip is off, and if he wants to go to grad school in the fall, he's going to have to get a summer job and save up money. He ends up taking a job at a third-rate local amusement park called Adventureland, working on the games crew.

This movie is a period piece of sorts, set in 1987, and although there are occasional period details that ring false to me (the kids drink beer out of pop-top cans of a type that had, if I remember correctly, gone the way of the dodo by the end of the 70s), for the most part the movie makes it work. In fact, I don't think the plot would work as well if it were set in the current era. The main setting for the movie is Adventureland, which is the sort of amusement park that doesn't really exist anymore. All of the ones I ever knew of like that shut down back in the 90s. It's a pretty essential part of the movie, though, so although I tend to be leery of pseudo-period pieces that take place in the relatively recent past, I think it was a good choice in this case. Also, it was a good excuse for the main characters to listen to awesome 80s era bands like Husker Du and the Replacements. Anything that allows a movie to have "Bastards Of Young" as its opening theme, and to have "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely" and "Unsatisfied" on the soundtrack, is all right with me.

So anyway, James starts working at Adventureland, and since all of his old friends have either moved away or are taking the European trip that he wasn't able to go on, he falls in with the other people who work at Adventureland, and starts partying and hanging out with them. He quickly becomes friends with Joel, played by the awesome and under-utilized Martin Starr of "Freaks And Geeks" fame, whom it was awesome to see in a prominent role again after all this time, and Em, played by Kristen Stewart, who was apparently terrible in "Twilight" but does a great job in "Adventureland," playing James's love interest in a subtle, understated manner. The kids work and party and hook up over the course of the summer, and the movie switches back and forth between the sort of ridiculous, hilarious hijinks that people get up to when they work unchallenging jobs with lots of downtime, and more serious moments in which the kids try to learn how to grow up and have adult relationships with each other and with their parents. The way this movie switches regularly between ridiculous slapstick comedy and dead-on moments of real human interaction might seem surprising to people who check it out expecting "Superbad Pt. 2," but those who react that way are missing what is actually an incredibly well-done and realistic movie. All of the characters, from the kids who are the focus of the film to their co-workers at the amusement park to their parents, are fleshed-out and multi-dimensional, and this combined with the movie's tonal shifts make it more like a story taken from real life than most movies I've seen. In this way, it reminds me of one of my all-time favorite movies, "Dazed and Confused." While "Adventureland" takes place over a summer instead of one night, and has a much more defined story arc than "Dazed And Confused" has (that being the awkward romance between James and Em), both movies succeed tremendously as slices of real life, inhabited by real people.

I think everyone should see this movie. Undoubtedly one of the year's best.



What I've been reading recently.

I said I was going to start posting individual book reviews as I wrote them, and while that's been an easy transition to make with the movie diary entries, it has for some reason been much harder to do with the books. So now, once again, I have half a dozen or so book entries built up. And once again, I'm going to drop all of them on you at once. Maybe I'll start doing them individually after this. You'll be the first to know.

The Mystic Arts Of Erasing All Signs Of Death, by Charlie Huston
A couple of months ago, I was really excited to get this book, but since it took longer than I expected for the copy I ordered to arrive, I ended up feeding my jones for Charlie Huston books by reading "Six Bad Things" instead. As I mentioned in my review of that book, it was the first Charlie Huston book I'd read that didn't live up to my expectations. As a result, I ended up getting spooked away from this book, and once it arrived, I let it sit on my to-be-read shelf (yes, I don't just have a pile for this, but an entire bookshelf) for close to a month before finally picking it up. I just didn't want a book that I'd been so excited for to let me down the way "Six Bad Things" had. As long as I didn't actually start reading it, it was Schrodinger's crime novel, if you know what I mean.

But, well, last week I needed something to read while I waited for the signifcantly lengthier UK edition of Simon Reynolds' "Rip It Up And Start Again" to arrive (more about that will doubtless be hitting the feed in a week or so), and in spite of my misgivings, I quickly realized that "The Mystic Arts Of Erasing All Signs Of Death" was the best thing I had in the queue. So I picked it up, I started reading it, and within 20 pages or so, all of my doubts had been laid to rest. In fact, I can now report that this book stands at an equal level with Huston's previous high water marks, "Caught Stealing," "Already Dead," and "No Dominion." It might even be better than those books, in fact.

"Mystic Arts" introduces us to a new ongoing character in the Hustonverse, Webster Fillmore Goodhue, known to his friends (what few he has left) as Web. He's freeloading off his oldest friend, Chev, a tattoo artist, behaving like a complete asshole to close family members and complete strangers alike, and spending something like 14 hours a day asleep. Web's background is opaque to us at first, but one thing is clear: something is wrong in his mind.

As soon as the book starts, Web pulls a totally lame move on his friend Chev, one which requires him to get a job and pay Chev back with the quickness. He hooks up with Chev's biohazard disposal man, a large Chinese man named Po Sin, who has an opening in his business for a trauma cleaner. Maybe you're not the sort of person who has ever wondered who cleans up the mess left after a deadly car crash, or after someone has committed suicide by means of a gun in the mouth, but if you have, rest assured that there are businesses out there who earn a living doing exactly that. That's what Web is doing in order to earn the money he needs to pay Chev back, and that's what he's doing when he meets Soledad, a young woman whose father has just blown his brains out. Web is attracted to her, which is why he comes running when she needs someone to do some late-night, hush-hush trauma cleanup. That's how Web and his smart mouth get both himself and Po Sin into a really problematic situation, one that involves stupid redneck smugglers, a spoiled young man with more money than sense who fancies himself a movie producer, and large amounts of almonds. Complicating all of this is Web's own precarious mental stability, Chev's budding relationship with a cute 18-year old that Web despises, and vicious rival trauma cleaners who will stop at nothing to win their current turf war with Po Sin and his crew. Huston keeps the reader guessing, constantly adding layers to the plot and jumping back and forth from one plot thread to another, finally weaving them all together for a surprising and hard-hitting climax. In fact, I ended up missing my chance to get lunch before work last Tuesday because I just couldn't make myself put this book down without finishing it. I may have had some misgivings coming into this book after "Six Bad Things," but it turns out that I needn't have worried. Charlie Huston is not only at the top of his game, he seems to be getting better as he goes. I'll be waiting eagerly for whatever he decides to grace us with next.

Grave Sight, by Charlaine Harris
I read through this book quickly, in two settings, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I read it for a book club that I am sort of a member of (only "sort of" because I only ever started reading the books they were reading because they meet at the store where I work, while I'm working), and wasn't sure if I'd get much of anything out of it. It is a book that walks the tightrope between two currently-popular genres, "cozy romance-themed mystery" and "chick-lit paranormal mystery." Not being the target demographic for either of these categories, I wasn't sure what this book would have to offer me. While it was hardly deathless classic literature, though, I did find myself enjoying it.

For one thing, I wasn't expecting it to have as dark of a tone as it had. The main character, Harper Connelly, was struck by lightning as a teenager. In addition to the recurring health problems that she's had ever since, she also gained the ability to detect corpses, and to see how they died. Working with her (step)brother, Tolliver, she parlayed this ability into a career, doing freelance work finding bodies and naming causes of death for curious relatives and others with an interest in such things. This is a rather dodgy and unreliable line of work, as the plot of "Grave Sight" shows us.

Harper and Tolliver arrive in a small Arkansas town to attempt to find a local teenaged girl who disappeared months before. She had been dating a local boy who'd been found shot and killed in some woods outside of town months before. A lot of the townsfolk think that the boy, Dell, must have shot the girl, Teenie, and then killed himself. Dell's mother hires Harper to locate Teenie's body and determine how she died, with the hopes of proving that Dell didn't kill her. Harper locates the body quickly, and determines that Dell indeed did not kill Teenie, but instead of calming the situation, this only sets the town into a more pronounced uproar, which drags both Harper and Tolliver right into the middle of it and ends up involving everyone from high school football players to the town drunk to high-powered lawyers and the local sheriff. All of these people are related, you see, in one way or another, and the nature of the town, which has everyone in everyone else's business, makes the whole thing an emotional powderkeg waiting for a spark just like the one Harper has unwittingly struck to send the whole thing sky-high.

Some of the plot points of this book seemed a bit obvious, while others seemed a little tossed-off and not explained all that well in terms of character motivation, but on the whole, I did find the story to be well-told. The characters mostly worked most of the time, and while most of the secondary ones were one-dimensional and not fleshed-out much at all, Harper and Tolliver were at least multi-dimensional, compelling, and sympathetic. In terms of quick, engaging mystery that requires little deep thought, this book did a good job of filling its role. I typically look for more profound reading material than this, and probably won't return to the series anytime soon, but all in all, it really wasn't too bad.

Sunken Treasure, by Wil Wheaton
I've been aware of Wil Wheaton as an actor since I was a kid, having seen "Stand By Me" and various episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" when I was as young as 12 years old. However, I've only known of him as a writer for a very short time, since I discovered his blog about 6 months ago. Apparently this is the main focus of his creative endeavors these days, as he has several books out and has been maintaining his blog for close to a decade. I'm glad I finally figured all of this out; I've really enjoyed his blog since starting to read it recently. That's why, when he announced that he was self-publishing a short collection of writing that would make a good introduction for new fans, I went ahead and ordered myself a copy.

"Sunken Treasure" is a quick and enjoyable read that you can get through in a couple of hours before getting out of bed on a lazy Sunday morning, which is exactly how I read it this morning. And actually, I'd say that "Sunken Treasure" is probably worth it for even the long-running Wheaton fans. While it's rather short at 84 pages, only about 30 of those pages have been published in previous books of his, making 2/3 of this material new even to those who've bought all of his books. And that material is some of the most worthwhile stuff here; I particularly enjoyed the volume's longest piece, a production diary from his recent guest-star turn on the TV show Criminal Minds. This diary takes up about the last third of the book, and does a great job of giving random readers like myself who've never done any sort of acting an idea of what it's like to work on a TV show. I think it helped that I prepared for reading the book by making sure to catch the episode when it aired, so that I could compare Wil's behind-the-scenes descriptions to my memories of the finished episode (which, for the record, was quite good).

That wasn't the only thing I enjoyed here, though. The stories of Star Wars toys and arcade games that he loved as a child could have come from my own memories, while his stories about happy moments with his wife and teenaged sons made me think that maybe the domestic, family-man lifestyle isn't quite as bad as I've always imagined it to be. I even enjoyed his recap of a Star Trek: TNG episode that I've never seen, especially in the moments when he stepped back from his rather snarky recap (which, don't get me wrong, was itself fun and amusing) to share some of his personal feelings about working on the show. His heartfelt frustration at playing a character that ended up being hated by a great many Star Trek fans, and further at feeling like it wasn't his fault, that his hands were tied by writing failures and flawed character decisions, was something I found myself empathizing with. It sucks to carry the blame for something that, for the most part, is not your fault.

Ultimately, what I get from this book is that Wil Wheaton is a really nice guy with a pretty happy life. He's gifted with the ability to communicate the joys and, occasionally, the sorrows of his life to his readers in clear language that's easy to relate to. He knows how to tell an entertaining story. And ultimately, he's an incredibly likeable person, whose writing I want to read more of, as soon as I get the chance. If Wil's goal with this short sampler was to inspire more sales of his other books, well, he sure has succeeded where I'm concerned. I plan to pick up some more of his stuff as soon as I get the chance.

Rip It Up And Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84, by Simon Reynolds
This is what happened: I bought the US edition of this book back when it was released, read it, loved it. Six months or so later, I learned that the original UK edition had been cut all to hell for its US release. Something like 200 pages had been removed in order to pare the US edition down to its 400 page final length. I was shocked and appalled, but never knew quite how to get myself a copy of the UK edition, short of doing an international order through Amazon UK, which I told myself would be prohibitively expensive. So that was all there was to it, for a long time.

Then, a couple of months ago, I came into a large sum of money (four figures) with which I was free to purchase whatever I wanted. Well, in addition to paying off all of my past due utility bills and purchasing the laptop I'm currently typing this review on (a steal at $450), I went ahead and did the Amazon UK order to obtain the original, director's-cut edition of "Rip It Up And Start Again." Boy, am I glad I did. The 400 page edition that I originally read was thoroughly enjoyable, but it still couldn't compare to the author's original intention. With smaller print, the UK edition still came out to be 125 more pages than the US edition, and where the US edition included no pictures at all, the UK edition presented at least one image every half-dozen pages or so. I finally got to see the Scritti Politti EP cover depicting the squalor in which they lived, as well as photos from Throbbing Gristle and James Chance performances, amongst many other things. And the text was greatly expanded, not just in additional coverage for bands that had been unmentioned in the US text but also in additional sections, sometimes great portions of one chapter or another that were completely removed, which I was now reading for the first time. It was a revelation to me, especially since the sections that were removed often dealt with bands that I'd been far less likely to already know about than the bands that were left in the truncated manuscript.

All of this is just a comparison between two editions, though. What's really important here is the work itself, and in reading this book, the first work I ever encountered by Simon Reynolds, I found myself going from barely aware of him to being a huge fan. That experience is only amplified by reading this new, expanded edition. Reynolds is one of the best music writers I've ever read, able to integrate literate, intensely rational analysis of the ideas behind particular groups and their recorded works, with far more emotionally-centered reactions to the feel and sound that those works ultimately emanated. Reynolds is more of a Greil Marcus than a Lester Bangs, but he's able to incorporate the strengths of both of these writers as well as those of many others, including British rock critics that I'm, again, less familiar with than I should be, into an ecumenical overall approach that leaves no stone unturned in its in-depth analysis of bands, scenes, movements, and overall periods in punk/rock history. I say "periods" because this book, despite its subtitular reference to postpunk, covers a great deal more than just that few years after the dissolution of the Sex Pistols in which Joy Division and Public Image Ltd. represented the cream of the creative crop. The book delves deeply into the New Wave/"New Pop" movements of the early 80s, probing the depths of synthpop and fey British "haircut bands" to find the serious ideas and important creative moments that were at the root of a great deal of the era. In so doing, Reynolds makes a persuasive case for the likes of the "Don't You Want Me" era Human League, Duran Duran, and even Culture Club. I almost find myself wanting to give certain era-defining synthpop albums another listen. Almost.

Ultimately, that's the biggest tribute to the power of Reynolds's writing here. He not only makes me want to dig out records by groups I like that I haven't heard in quite a while, but also records by groups I've always hated. If his writing unearths a valuable truth or a worthwhile musical moment on the second Culture Club album or in Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax," I feel like I should hear it again, even though I'd ordinarily tell you that I'd be happy if I never heard any of that garbage again. That's enough to tell me that this is a writer worth paying attention to. "Rip It Up And Start Again" may be the first Simon Reynolds book I've ever read, but it won't be the last.

Appaloosa, by Robert B. Parker
I read this book for a book club that normally tackles literary classics and works that we feel have some sort of resonance in the wider world. This time, though, a new member of the group picked something out, and we ended up reading this Western novel, which I personally blew through in a day. I'm not sure what motivated him to pick it, as there were really no wider cultural resonances here that seemed to me to have any significance. This is pure pulp Western, narrated by a hard-working lawman who is quick on the draw and always able to do what he needs to do to keep the peace. Of course, sometimes that means killing people. In fact, in this book, it often means killing people. Our lawman narrator, Everett Hitch, is second fiddle, though, to Virgil Cole, an even tougher, even faster, even more successful lawman who is depicted as somewhat of a sociopath. Hitch backs up Cole rather than taking the lead on any particular operations, but sometimes it also seems that he's there to keep Cole in line, to check his more violent impulses.

In this book, Cole and Hitch hire on as marshals in a town called Appaloosa, where a local rancher has killed the previous marshal and basically taken over the town. He and his men take whatever they want for free and rape and murder at will. The town is tired of the situation and expect Cole and Hitch to fix it. Which they do, at first. It's what happens after that that causes the problem.

And don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading about all of it. It was a fun, pulpy novel about crime and violence in the old West. I like crime novels anyway, so I was pretty much guaranteed to enjoy this one. But it wasn't quite what I expected, and certainly isn't some sort of deathless work of literature. So hey, this book is pretty fun, but I can't say it's amazing or anything. Good, not great.

When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir Of A Political Childhood, by Said Sayrafiezadeh
This memoir of a childhood in the Socialist Workers Party interested me mainly because of my own interactions in the past with radical political groups, and also because the author is a Gen-Xer like me (typing that makes me gag... I mean it somewhat jokingly) and I think all of us had at least somewhat alienated childhoods. So I was interested in reading about his, and although his experience was quite different from mine--absentee father; withdrawn, moodswinging mother; childhood spent mostly alone--I could really understand where he was coming from. His own inability to connect with other children sometimes had more to do with his being Iranian during a time of widespread hostility towards Iran in the United States than anything else, but still, it's something I've lived through myself. His stunted relationships with his parents were also something I could understand, even if, again, the circumstances couldn't be more different than my own.

The real reason I enjoyed this book as much as I did, though, is because of Sayrafiezadeh's writing style, which is evocative of emotion without being overwritten. He's good at staying subtle, at showing instead of telling, of giving us his perspective of a particular situation in a way that makes clear what reaction he'd have to it and why. Another interesting factor in the telling is the stuff he inserts in which he talks about his adult life, living on his own in New York, trying to make it as an actor, having uncomfortable and infrequent interactions with his parents, trying to date. And through it all, there's the thread of his indoctrination into Socialist Workers Party ideology at a very young age, forever affecting his thought patterns and making him feel set apart from everyone else he meets. This was the most interesting part, for me; I've always felt like the radical political movements that I encounter encourage the sort of blind faith that is just as often part and parcel with evangelical Christianity, and this book made it clear that this is true, or at least that it was for both Said Sayrafiezadeh and both of his parents. The way Said writes the book makes it clear that he has started to question a lot of these beliefs now, but that back when these stories occurred, his own dim understanding of them was often a source of discomfort. I feel like this book, if nothing else, once again proves that it's not a good idea to adhere too closely to one particular school of thought where politics is concerned, to make up your own mind on specific issues and not let a pre-designed ideology box in your own thought patterns. By the end of the book, you can tell that Said has learned this lesson, even if, again, he never says so. In a book that is more often depressing than uplifting, it's nice to at least come away with this one positive conclusion.

Broken Summers, by Henry Rollins
This was my second time reading this book, which collects Rollins' journal entries from 2002 and 2003, which mostly focus on the album of Black Flag covers he and his band did as a benefit for the West Memphis 3, as well as the tour they did in support of that album. This book intrigued me the first time I read it, as Rollins seemed to be moving away from the dark, misanthropic tone that often pervades in his books of journal entries. Granted, he still seemed closed off from the human race to an extent I find uncomfortable to even contemplate, but I could see some hope for him. Since that first reading, though, I've read "A Dull Roar," a more recent collection of journal entries, in which it seemed that his perspective had returned to previous high levels of misanthropy. Now, with a second reading of "Broken Summers," I see far less of the hope that I saw in my original reading. Looking back now, I'm not even sure where I was getting that. For the most part, Rollins continues to have a pretty antisocial attitude towards humanity. If anything, I can see hints in this book that he's sometimes disappointed in the bad behavior of other people rather than angered by it, but those moments of sadness are mitigated by other moments of absolute anger.

In sum, it adds up to a pretty entertaining book that delivers on what I look for in a book by Henry Rollins. His perspective on the world is always unique and interesting, and he often says things that I can relate to on a deep level. I'm not sure if this is a good thing, since the things he's saying that I relate to tend to be pretty bleak, but at least I can feel like someone understands. I admit that, in reading these books, I often find myself wishing for happiness for Rollins, but I can see that, due to his unique lifestyle, worldview, and experiences, that it will be hard for him to ever attain such a thing, or even to describe what it would look like for him. I guess this is one of the things I relate most closely to him in--I don't really know what a happy life for me would look like, either. I hope that both of us find it someday. Until then, though, I'm sure I will continue to enjoy these books of journal entries that Rollins releases onto the world every few years or so.