Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Bravery

I'll admit I liked the first Bravery album. Sure it was faux-New Wave trash but it had a nice sensibility to it. It sounded a bit raw, a bit amateurish, more heartfelt than The Killers' slick buzz. The entire album just kind of swooped and swooned from one chord lick and synth pound to the next and lead singer Sam Endicott certainly had the low drone and self-effacing look of a trashy electro god. Too bad his lyrics are for shit.

I had high hopes for the follow-up album. The Killers dug themselves an early grave with Sam's Town, a Springsteen inspired mess. They got too full of themselves, too confident. They decided -- perhaps correctly -- that the whole New Wave revival had reached it's zenith and it was time to push in a new direction. But Springsteen? That's all sorts of f.u.b.a.r. This was The Bravery's chance to rise above the clutter and stake their claim, unfortunately they made the same mistake The Killers did. They got self-absorbed and serious. They ditched the scene and started making… yes, "meaningful music." Fuck that.

Thing is, as soon as I saw the title of this album I cringed. "The Sun and the Moon?" It just conjures up all manner of ghastly Stevie Nicks comparisons. Would it have a unicorn on the cover? Would there be smoke and witch hazel? No, instead the cover looks just like every cover ever made by any Beach Boys inspired band. The Killers may have looked to the almighty Springsteen for their licks but it turns out that The Bravery said, "Forget Duran Duran and Soft Cell we're kicking it Beach Boys style." I wish I were only kidding.

Maybe the failure of "The Sun and the Moon" has something to do with producer Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Incubus). He took the teeth out of The Bravery's sound. So much so that it's almost like they never had teeth. It's almost like the very first album was something I dreamt. Something I conjured up after a particularly greasy night at some smarmy dance club in 1988.

The album starts off on a ridiculous foot with something called "Intro" that is only a few seconds long. I guess it is an intro but why bother. The first song, "Believe", throws down with every cliché imaginable for this type of pap -- we get bored and banal lyrics, we get strings, we get "live" drumming and we get tons of sap. The only songs that break the mold are "Every Word is a Knife in My Ear" (which is really nothing more than the same title phrase repeated endlessly) and "Fistful of Sand" (did I hear a synth buried in there?). But what really kills the album is the la la las and do do dos. Every. Single. Fucking. Song breaks, at some point, into vocal harmonizing. It's mind numbing.

Sure, the first Bravery album was shameless and cheesy but at least it wasn't desperate. This, this you'll just be hearing playing softly over the loudspeakers while you're browsing the aisles at Dillards.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The National

NY hipster quintet in a small apartment channel that early Factory sound. Good stuff.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ignatius Jones

The song is incredible, the video is... Well, the less said the better.
Ignatius Jones "Like a Ghost" from the 1982 12".

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Junk Culture: Getting Your * Published - Part 1 (Demons and a reason to write)

This is pretty basic stuff but if you're going to be writing something you better know why you're writing it. (And if you hope to have that something published you should have a really clear idea of why it should be published. I'm not saying you need to present some concise argument like you're trying out for the debate team, but it wouldn't hurt.) So, why are you writing?

There is only one answer: demons.

If you answer anything other than demons, if you say something along the lines of money (you're an idiot) or fame (you're delusional) or it sounds like fun (you're naive) or you like a challenge (you've got too much time on your hands), than you're not going to be writing a novel.

Now, I know there are these people out there (not naming names) who decide on a whim to do something and usually they do it badly. I know more than a few people who woke up one sunny morning with the intention of become a painter. Forget the fancy training and the classes (or even a real drive to create), they were just going to the art supply store (or worse the hobby shop) to get paint to make modern art. What happens with the majority of these people is that 99% of them fail miserably and find something else to tackle -- like books. Then they fail miserably at that. Can I count on one hand how many people I've met who have crummy books in a box in their closet (or tucked into an obscure corner of their hard drive)? Yes, every week.

Demons, my friends.

They can be the horned kind. They can be green and scaly. Or they can have pigtails, glowing red eyes and elongated incisors. Regardless of how they appear to you, if you've got demons you have a reason to write. And most writers find that their demons actually push them to write. It's the same with most artists I've met. There has to be something driving you creatively for you to, well, create.

Demons can trail you from just about anywhere: bad childhood, addiction, sour romance, depression, mania, loneliness, desperation, anger, fear, loss. The trick is taming them and making them do your bidding. If you can take that demon, hoist it up on your shoulder and then have it direct your output you're half way there. Take away the bottle and put a pen in your hand and let all the fear and spite and sadness spill out onto paper. Now, I'm not arguing that all writing is born of strife. No, much of my writing comes from a very happy place. But it's the drive to write -- the need to put down that description of the beautiful landscape of your lover's face -- that is born kicking and screaming from some damaged place. You find me one person who is driven to write because of a wonderful, carefree life and I'll find that person's hidden demon. The conflict is the key.

You also need to be a reader. A fastidious, all encompassing reader. You need to eat, breathe and sleep books. If you're a movie fan who reads a magazine once a year and a novel one a decade you're in for serious hurt. That doesn't mean that all library whores would make excellent writers but it does mean that they can recognize good writing (one would hope). Recognizing good writing is a nice first step, but it tends to fall under that old "eye of the beholder" rule.

Writing can be an addiction. Speaking personally, if I don't take a few hours out of every day and write something -- anything -- than I feel an enormous sense of failure. That sucks and that's my demon. If I don't create every single damned day, then my demon will be riding my ass and whispering sweet nothings like "You suck" in my ear. When I do write, and especially when I have a good run and produce more than five pages a day, then its top-of-the-world time. It's better than Cats. And the demon's patting me on the back and telling me what a swell guy I am.

You need drive to write. You need to be devoted to the craft of it (that sounds like workshop speak and I'll get to that later, say, around part 4) and wrestle with it. If you don't wrestle with your work, if you don't come out of a good writing session either bruised and bloody or sweaty and smiling, then you're missing something. Maybe that's just me, but I really doubt it.

Okay so you've identified your demon and you're spinning words on the page. You've got an amazingly clever plot and fantastically developed characters. What's next?

Junk Culture: Getting Your * Published - Intro

I get a ton of questions about publishing. And I'm hardly an expert, but you people pushed me to this. It seems that whenever someone learns that my novel is being published (and honestly, I don't wear a sign around my neck or carry a banner announcing it) they say, "Oh, I wrote a novel once" or "I'm thinking of doing that" or "My grandma's life would make a great book." The follow up, most often than not, is: "So, how do you do it? Do you mail your idea to a publisher and then get some money?"

Its tough breaking the news to people that getting a book published -- particularly fiction -- is really, really freakin' difficult and getting harder all the time. Fact is, you can't mail an idea to a publisher and expect anything other than your mail going in the trash. I'm not going to talk about non-fiction (that's a different beast and no, you can't mail in an idea there either) but for fiction, you need more than an idea. In fact, you need about 60,000 words more. You need an actual novel. Not part of a novel, not 80% of a novel but a whole novel. And that novel needs to be not only spellchecked but proofread like a forty-five times. No kidding.

Next you need an agent and no, you can't buy one or "hire" one in any traditional sense. "But it must be pretty easy getting an agent, right?" Wrong, bucko. It's the hardest part of this whole crazy scheme. I read a while back (and I've been at this for a good five years) that only 2% (yes, that's two percent) of writers get agents. Of those who get an agent, 50% are published. You can do the math there. The worst...I'm getting ahead of myself here... And as I type this out I can see it's going to take a whole hellovalot of space than a simple entry.

Here's the quick rundown of how you get your novel published, I'll expand on these in the coming weeks.

1) Demons and a reason to write
2) Write for the market but not really
3) Don't buy any books about publishing
4) Don't take any classes and don't go to workshops
5) Write a query and don't mail jack
6) Sign with an agent who gets your work
7) A word of advice on agents: mum
8) Keep writing and don't stop
9) Learning the lay of the editorial land
10) The final step is never final

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Today marks the release - first ever official - of Alejandro Jodorowsky's films El Topo and Holy Mountain on DVD. But it also marks the first time in over 50 years that Jodo's first film, The Transposed Heads, can be viewed. Shocking is a better word for it. Jodo told me a few years ago there was only one print of the film in existence and it vanished in the late '50s. He had, at the time, given up all hope of ever finding it. Apparently, the short film was discovered in a German attic in '06. I worked on a Jodo bio for a bit. It's sitting on my desktop still and hopefully I'll get around to working on it again. Here's what I wrote about The Transposed Heads:

"Entitled “The Transposed Heads” (but known colloquially as “The Severed Heads”) the film was a fable adapted from Thomas Mann’s short novel “The Transposed Heads” (1941). The entire 40-minute film, shot in color on 16 mm, was done in mime, with an introduction by Jean Cocteau. The key performers were Raymond Devos, Marthe Mercure, Micheline Beauchemin, Saul Gilbert, Jodorowsky and Gilbert’s wife Ruth Michelly, a children’s book illustrator. Jodorowsky describes the film as, “the history of a woman who has an intellectual husband, who is very weak physically. She also has a muscular but idiotic lover. She cuts the heads off of the two men and the interchanges them. She remains with the muscular body and the head of the intellectual. However, after a certain time, the body of the athlete is softened and the body of the intellectual becomes vigorous and muscular. Thomas Mann wanted to thus say that it is the intellect which makes the body.”

"Thomas Mann’s original “The Transposed Heads” (“Die vertauschten Köpfe”) is a retelling of an Indian fable. The story concerns two friends, Nanda and Shridaman. Nanda is the son of a blacksmith, earthly and robust, a man of the earth. Shridaman is the son of a merchant with priestly lineage. Though the boys are polar opposites they build a friendship. While walking one day they spy a bathing beauty named Sita, and thus begins a bizarre love triangle. Sita and Shridaman are married, but Nanda is quietly waiting in the wings and eventually with the help of the goddess Kali, heads are switched.

"The film made its debut at the Cinema Auteur festival in Rome in 1957, where it was awarded first place. Sadly, the film, of which there was only one extant print, was lost. Jodorowsky says that Ruth Michelly took the film with her to Germany after Saul Gilbert died of cancer. Where the film, and Ruth Michelly, is today are mere matters of speculation. It seems quite likely that “The Severed Heads”, shown only once, will never be seen again."