Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It Was Like Writing

MikeMills posed a question:
You know how people admire and revere writers and the art of writing? So how come the word "writing" is never used adjectively? Like when something beautiful happens to someone, they say it was poetic, or like poetry, or like music. Nobody ever says "I looked at her, she looked at me, and just as a small smile was beginning to touch her lips I leaned in and kissed her - it was like writing."

I have this hill I run every morning. It’s about 300’ high and a mile long. There is a steep right turn at the beginning that is very Daytona-ish (a 45º turn at a 22º) bank. You really have to dig in to get out of the gravity well and up the long grade I like to call “The Daily Grind.” After reaching its summit and continuing along the rolling slight decline another ½-mile behind the high school to the turnaround, I get to push back up over the rise, to bomb my way back down. After a couple twists and turns through the development to bring my mileage to a legitimate 3 for the day; I shed my shoes and socks and walk barefoot through the not-quite-woken up neighborhood.

To push yourself, day in and day out, alone, with no goal, no finish line, no opportunity of recognition or reward except to yourself … is like writing.

"There's that guy running down the hill again. What a sight."
"Like writing in motion."

Some days I do say that to myself:

“Poetry in motion, baby. Poetry in motion”
“More like haiku.”

Writing, I believe is the process; whereas music, poetry, or a story, is the product.

“It was musical …”
“She was poetic …”
“What a novel idea …”

People tend to admire [or critique] the outcome, but ignore the craft, as if it just appeared by magic. And it’s supposed to be easy, for those with the talent; not something that needs to be practiced and refined – maybe on a daily basis.

Let’s see what David Byrne has to say:

[no that's not him; it's Daniel Levitin, a session musician, sound and recording engineer, and record producer. He is now the James McGill professor of behavioral neuroscience and music at McGill University and the author of The New York Times bestseller This Is Your Brain on Music.]

Watch the video by clicking the image below.

Well, I can’t find the quote specifically, but he says something in there about alchemy, how people don’t want to know that a certain piece of music, which inspires them so much, was written during breakfast while thinking about toast.

On a similar theme:

FEAR (And Loathing) OF MUSIC by Tonya Headon [via I Hate Music]

In TV or comic book parlance, “talking heads” refers to that bit where the action stops and the characters stand around explaining things: sometimes a vital part of a narrative’s structure it’s more often the function of a director who has, quite literally, lost the plot. David Byrne, then, might not have been any good at picking suits (he got the collar and chest measurements mixed up, poor thing), but he was a dab hand at choosing names.

Now, I would be the last one to underestimate a listener’s stupidity, but Byrne went a bit far even for me: half of Talking Heads’ songs seem to assume that their audience is Martians. You can try it at home - here’s how to write one:

1) Pick a subject. This should be something very mundane; television perhaps, or animals. Hey! We’ll pick computers.
2) Write about your topic in a simple style. Say nothing that is not obvious. How about - You can type on computers. Your words appear on screen.
3) HERE IS THE IMPORTANT PART. You now have to turn your kindergarten words into a penetrating reflection of the strangeness of modern life. You do this by singing them in a bug-eyed neurotic voice.
3A) If you don’t make the delivery sufficiently nutty you’ll have written a Kraftwerk song instead. And that would never do.
4) Embellish your initial lyrics, if you like, with extra ones of even more staggering obviousness. So your song on computers might now run: “You can type! / On computers. / THEY DON’T TYPE BACK! / Your words show up on the screen / People say the screen is black.”
5) Play weedy approximation of funk/African/Brazilian music behind devastatingly insightful words.
6) Approach bank. Laugh.

David Byrne applied this technique time and again. He considered cities: each had good points and bad points. What of animals? “They say animals are hairy”. Finally his observations reached a stunning peak: on “Once In A Lifetime” (named for how often anyone needs to hear it), he told the world that “There is water at the bottom of the ocean”. In other words, David Byrne made Jonathan Richman look like Hegel.

And people lapped it up. As countless jerky indie-poppers have learned since, if you say anything with a straight enough face people will take it seriously. David Byrne and his band made a pile of albums and one film pointing out to America how secretly weird it was. This is something nobody ever went broke doing: everyone wants to believe the place they live in has a paranoid Lynchian underbelly, it’s far more palatable than the boring reality. Sing that boring reality like a paranoid kook and you’re made, at least until you discover Brazilian music and blow your career out of the water with a series of records which sound like someone’s dad doing the samba.

To sum up …

Getting the idea to move or create is easy. All you need are a pair of sneakers, or a piece of paper and a pencil. Finding the motivation and will to do so is harder; this is the part people don’t see. Once you’re one your way, it’s easy again; this is where the metaphors come in. When you are finished, you want to do it again, as soon as possible.

Right now, for me, every day is a battle between runner’s- /writer’s- and/or artist’s block.

Fortunately, successfully completing that one task every morning inspires me to do another.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

What's this Guy's Story???

Tony “Trees” Palmieri would never consider himself a environmentalist.

The grandson of a Western Pennsylvania steel mill manager, the son of a Jersey City welder and himself the owner of New Jersey’s largest chain of car dealerships, he actually welcomed climate change, since warmer winters at the Jersey shore would eliminate any need to move to Florida as many of his generation did. He loved the shore; the smell of the ocean, the warm of the sun and the calming texture of the smooth wooden boardwalk beneath his bare feet on a sunny summer afternoon.

Yet, through no will or fault of his own, Tony was being applauded by the community of Seaside Heights as a leading “green” activist. He totally dismantled his dealerships; first, by selling off his inventory, then he converted the massive lots (at great personal expense) to a series of recreational facilities including ball fields, basketball courts and a skatepark. These play areas had no parking lots, only multiple bike racks, meant to encourage the children – and their parents – to walk, skate or ride bicycles to the park. This, said the community, lowered greenhouse emissions from the cars and also contributed to slimmer, happier kids in town.

Tony himself no longer owned a car, but rode around town on an old tandem bicycle.

These acts were not entirely philanthropic in nature.

He “retired” from the automotive industry on the advice of some local law enforcement officials who wished to avoid any entanglements concerning Tony’s “inventory management.” Also, the re-purposing of the acreage was necessitated by the possibility that, just maybe, the land wasn’t entirely free and clear in a CSI sort of way.

After the unfortunate incident …

“I hit a deer” he said.

“In reverse??? With the trunk open???” Tricia asked, “Then, I suppose, this mortally wounded whitetail jumped into the open door – open because you wanted to see if she was okay – she jumped into the open door and thrashed around until she expired. Is that right Tony???”

“Jeez, honey, it’s like you were there.”

… He really couldn’t bring himself to drive anymore.
The extra seat made it easy for Tony to cart his girlfriend back and forth to the spare condo, without arousing suspicion; plus she could always hop off and lose herself in the Boardwalk crowd if the need arose.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Oh yeah??? Prove it!!!

I heard good things about Sly Fox [Phoenixville, PA] from a CoolRunning compatriot, but had reservations about a brewer who would DARE to release a craft brew in aluminum cans. I appreciated the balls required. It is hard enough to start-up in the craft brew field, even if you do have a good product. But to put it out in cans …???

I remember a little operation known as Otto’s which created an Oat Bran beer, and set that loose upon the Pennsylvania countryside, in little silver cans back in the early 90’s. Their only purpose was to get PA couch potatoes to lower their cholesterol by drinking beer. The Sly Fox cans although wonderfully decorated were only offered in 12-packs, wrapped in cardboard boxes that reminded me of the bulk packaging of soup at the local warehouse mart.

As much good press as Sly Fox got, it was still a mythical creature … quality beer, from Pennsylvania [nothing new there; PA’s been bringing the love for years], in an aluminum can [huh??? Steel maybe, but aluminum, I don’t know?]

I dismissed it; much as Pennsylvanians dismiss the Jersey Devil; they’ve never seen it and since they have no backwoods boogeyman to call their own, why should we?

Note: Though I’ve never seen the Jersey Devil, I have heard it … not something I want to do again. Imagine the sound of a goose slowly being strangled shifting to a woman’s shriek and then to a baby’s cry fading into the misty forest on a moonlit night. It ain’t pleasant.

When 22 oz. bottles of Sly Fox appeared on the cervezeria shelf, I found a gateway and a loophole. It would be best to sample the PA brewery first on tap, failing that a nice big bottle is a reasonable option. I could see what they had to offer and if it was good … it was legitimately good; if it was bad, I couldn’t blame it on the can.

My first bottle was Sly Fox Instigator Doppelbock. Not being a connoisseur of bocks, single, doppel or otherwise, I just let it be what it was. It was enjoyable like kicked up root beer or Dr. Pepper.

Then I opened a Sly Fox Rte. 113 India Pale Ale. Now, I really like the IPA’s [although I don’t fully understand the whole IBU measuring system … How can a guy look out the window, see a Rte. 113 sign and say “I want to make an IPA that’s 113 IBU” Is there math involved??? A formula??? I always thought the hoppiness (however they measure it) could not be controlled but was just a magical outcome.

With Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA being my baseline [10], Rte. 113 scored a 9.25 – comparable with Victory HopDevil.

With two very enjoyable bottles under my belt [literally] I felt prepared to crack open the cans.

I chose to stick with the IPAs - Sly Fox Phoenix IPA.

Let me just say this; it felt very weird pouring a CAN of beer into a pint glass. Some beers NEED to be drunk straight for a can or bottle, for the sole reason that the aroma is so detrimental to the taste. I drank Yeungling from a glass once … never again.

That being said, Phoenix IPA is beyond can-worthy. It is very enjoyable from a glass and I can imagine would be very good on tap. It’s a little light and a bit weak to make it into the 9’s of my IPAs, but we finally have a decent foundation for “Beer Can Chicken” with something other than NASCAR beers.

Beer Can Roasted Herb Chicken
Show: Dinner: Impossible
Episode: Beg, Borrow and Steal: Tailgating: Impossible – featuring the Philadelphia Eagles Fans!!!

4 tablespoons of your favorite dry spice rub
3 teaspoons kosher salt
4 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
4 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
4 (1 1/2-pound) frying chickens
4 cans beer, your choice, exterior of can rinsed

In a large mixing bowl, combine the rub, salt, rosemary, thyme and parsley. Rub inside cavity of chicken with mixture and heat grill. Open each can of beer, pour out (or drink) about 1/4 of the contents and place a chicken on end over the open can of beer with the tips of the legs pointing down. As the chicken cooks on the outside, the beer will get hot and steam the inside. Remove chicken from grill when cooked and let rest. Remove beer can from each chicken. Carve chicken into portions and serve.