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Thursday, October 30, 2008

When Crazy Ideas Aren't Crazy At All

Every once in a while, some idea hits me and I think I'd be stupid not to follow-through with it. In regards to the proposed book commentary track, as much as I appreciated the feedback from people saying it was good idea, I pretty much decided to do it whether or not anyone said anything. If anything, even the worst naysayer wouldn't have stopped me from doing this.

The deal is, I don't often think this way. It's just sometimes I come up with something that I think it very doable and plausible and I should not pass it up. Better to risk and see what happens rather than to not do anything and only wonder, right?

In the case of the commentary, I know where and how I can record this, I have a good idea about what I want to talk about, and I have a pretty good feeling about being able to get this whole thing out there. Usually if there's any serious doubt that pops up, the idea stalls on the tracks.

Maybe this is some TM by way of David Lynch and Wayne Coyne talking here, but a part of me wishes I had this gung-ho attitude a bit more in my everyday life. Somehow I'm think it's starting to seep into other parts of my life, given the fact of recent events which I shall remain mum on until it's safe to say openly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When Crazy Ideas Attack

A temporary Internet outage a few hours ago somehow inspired me to come up with this seemingly not-so crazy idea. Since I like listening to DVD commentary tracks, and find them very inspiring and helpful, what if I did a pseudo-audio commentary for the chapters of POST?

What I have in mind is recording eleven relatively short (5-10 minutes at most) clips and post them on a site. Each clip will be devoted to a chapter, discussing the process and whatever stories I'd like to share about writing and researching the chapter. I have plenty to share that I haven't shared on this here blog, so I don't think I'll be at a loss of words.

I have the means to record and produce the tracks already at my disposal. Now I'm just wondering how many people would actually like to hear these tracks. Feel free and leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Plot Does Matter

In Bruce Campbell's book If Chins Could Kill, one picture shows him wearing a T-shirt that spoofs the Godzilla ad campaign of "Size Does Matter" with "Plot Does Matter." Knowing I will probably catch heat for saying this, I must say that the plot is the reason why I paid good money to see Saw V in the theater this weekend.

Reading Nathan's review of the film the day before, I wasn't swayed. Based on what he wrote, I figured if you hated the previous Saw sequels, you were going to hate this one as well. The same went if you loved the sequels. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit and thought the entire series could end with this film. (Not so, Saw VI, the apparently final film is already in the works.)

All the earmarks that have made the series a bankable box office and DVD franchise are there. I still don't enjoy watching torture or excessive gore, but since I know it's actors with makeup and CGI, I'm able to suspend belief and not be weirded out. And knowing that, I came to this realization: a horror film franchise like this would have never happened in the 80s or even the 90s.

Maybe we can thank (or blame) plot-intensive shows like LOST and CSI for this, but it's very safe to say you can't watch and fully understand what's going on in Saw V without seeing the previous four films. There are so many characters, set-ups, and backstories at this point. This, as opposed to the Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween (except for the first two), Friday the 13th or Sleepaway Camp series. In other words, I'm compelled by the overall plot of the series to see each new one.

Maybe the rose-colored glasses are creeping up on my eyes, but basically what I gather with the mindset of splatter franchises in the 80s was this: the plot is irrelevant because all you need are the same earmarks that made Halloween and Friday the 13th box office hits. But there's a reason why the original Halloween and Black Christmas still hold up and so many of their imitators don't (and also why Student Bodies is still a genius film): there's actually more to the story than just scares, gore, and nudity.

That's why I say, with a slight defensive tone, that the same applies to the Saw films. Groan all you want about the so-called "torture porn" aspect, but to me, these films are more gory noir films with a twisted moral logic than just brainless splatter flicks.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

And in June reformed without me

The recent Ben Folds Five reunion, where they played The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner in its entirety, is now online. Definitely something worth checking out. Don't know much about these guys? Read my guide to them, along with Ben Folds solo material up to Songs for Silverman.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Five years later

Five years ago today, we heard that Elliott Smith passed away. Now, I'm not one to celebrate an artist's death or birth, but I think it's worth mentioning today. Norman did a great post on his site yesterday. As far as my feelings on the matter, I point to that Complete Idiot's Guide piece that I did on Elliott's music for jefitoblog.com.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The "So What?"

Part of my constructive (or sometimes, destructive) self-talk about committing to a major project involves a question of, "So what?" I once heard Simon Cowell say those words to a finalist on American Idol, and I've always thought he's got a valid point. Why should somebody read this book? Who do you imagine reading this, outside of your friends and family? Why should anyone care?

This isn't a call to bend over backwards and please everyone. Far from it. But it's a question of understanding why you're doing what you're doing and why you want it out there.

In the case of the second book, knowing full well that any accolades I received for Post could be zapped (or not) because of how people respond to it, I think there's a lot of value in this risk. No matter how maligned the sophomore effort may be received (or not), I think people should do a sophomore effort if they believe in their heart and mind that there should be a sophomore effort.

With When We Were the Kids, I see tremendous value in looking at the relationships between people who play in bands. There are enough books out there about teenage relationships, but none that I've seen really capture what it's like to play in a garage band as a teenager. Moreover, the kind of experience that I, along with plenty of other people I've met, have had.

Plus, I want to present a story about playing music that has nothing to do with receiving Gold or Platinum records, playing sold-out shows, or making millions of dollars. We have plenty of stories that cover the spoils and tragedies of those feats. So, how's about a more universal story where playing in a band is more of the foundation rather than the walls, windows, and doors?

This is where my head is, even though I have maybe twenty pages of material written so far. I guess this asking of "So what?" is close to what my mother had placed at her computer as she wrote her dissertation. More proof that I'm definitely my parents' son.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book #2

Looks like this week will be the week I start back to work on Book #2. To recap, here's a rundown.

--Though it's a fictional book, it's heavily based on real life experiences of playing in bands. Specifically, high school garage bands. So, there will be no passages about seeing naked grandmothers, being chased by mind-reading zombies, or meeting people online while living in New York.

--It will be told like an oral history. No, this isn't about dentist visits, Oral Roberts, or stories about Deep Throat. Nope, it's just all quotes from various characters. Look at books like Fool the World, Please Kill Me, and We Got the Neutron Bomb for examples. Except those are nonfiction oral histories. Max Brooks's World War Z is a fictional oral history. But again, no zombies in my book.

--The tentative title is When We Were the Kids. The title is also the title of a song by this now-defunct band. I liked the song title, "When We Were the Kids," even though the lyrics are a little different than the book I have in mind.

--No release date or even a projected finish time. When it's ready, I'll let everybody know on this blog.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cover design

Part of the whole idea of "make a book I'd want to read" was designing the cover of Post. I knew I wanted to use that picture I had taken of Red Animal War (at the show that pretty much changed my life) in some way, so I started there. Using Word -- yes, Word -- I laid things out, including the entire pic, which not only features Justin playing live, but also Jeff and Jaime. Nick suggested I crop the other guys out to focus on the shot of Justin screaming his head off away from the microphone.

Coupled with the advice from Nick's partner in Mission Label at the time, the title itself was in a different color than the rest of the artwork. Since hunter green is my favorite, I just went with it. It's an odd coincidence that the picture of Red Animal War was at a place called Green Means Go! Since I realized that, the phrase "green means go" has meant a lot of other things to me.

Where I placed all the lettering of the book was intentionally to the right. This book is about post- things, so why in the world would I want to put the lettering on the left or center of the cover?

I haven't received a lot of feedback from people about the cover, but one of the few that has said something really flattering. It came from a friend of mine who is music junkie (in the best of ways) and loves album artwork. Not only with albums, but especially with singles artwork. Then I got to thinking; I subconsciously designed the cover in the vein of what a lot of Jade Tree releases looked like (especially the Promise Ring's).

So, if you dig what you see, it's all me. If you hate what you see, blame me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I'm somewhere in between

Being a regular reader of Modern Drummer from 1994 until 2000, I often heard about drummers playing along to the dreaded click track. Essentially a glorified metronome, it was sometimes the reason why a drummer was replaced in the studio with an ace drummer-for-hire. As in, it didn't matter if all of the band members sucked at playing their instruments; if the drummer couldn't pull things off according to the producer, he or she's out of there, or worse, out of the band.

On top of this, the click track was to blame for why a song sounded so non-energetic in the studio compared to how the band played it live. Usually the tempo was slowed down so that everything sounded "right." I've thought otherwise.

Given how long I've played drums in bands, the amount of time I've spent recording songs is far, far less. I've recorded a few four-track stuff where I played all of the instruments myself. When it came to band stuff, it was usually recording everything live in the room. The amount of time I've spent with digital recording has been few and far between, and sometimes fun and sometimes aggravating. Nothing's more frustrating while recording when you think you've got a keeper and realize the software froze up.

So this past Saturday, following my appearance on the Good Show, I recorded drum tracks for my friend (and former bandmate) David. He's been working on a record for a while at his house, playing all of the instruments himself. He asked me to play on four songs that he had laid some temporary tracks down. The recording went really, really well; we got through all four songs in about three hours. And I had to play to a click track the entire time.

But I found the click to be a real life-saver. It's easy for me rush whenever I do fills, so the pulsating beat in my headphones kept me on track. And there was no pressure; it was just a fun afternoon spent hanging out.

I think it's very safe to say that my life as a drummer is perfectly happy with this kind of schedule and vibe. Ashburne Glen is still active, but I'm not lugging my equipment around everywhere for practice. There are no late nights when I'm playing a show and then getting a few hours of sleep before the 4am wake-up. Frankly, I find playing drums as a pure fun, but still serious, hobby way more freeing than playing in a situation where there's a desire to become a big band in town.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I want to play a game

For several reasons, I had never gotten around to checking out any of the Saw movies. I knew what they were about, and I heard plenty of groans of displeasure from people with each new installment. I knew full well they'd be heavy on gore and non-plausibility with each consecutive film. But still, I wanted to check them out, mainly because I see copies of each film (filled with multiple commentary tracks and featurettes) everywhere I go for a really inexpensive price. Besides, since I like horror movies, why not brush up on a modern day horror franchise that doesn't involve remaking classic horror movies or rehashing the Halloween formula?

I am not someone who enjoys watching people get tortured. I'm not one of those dudes who will be in a screening of Hostel and cheer uncontrollably when the protagonists lose limbs or worse, their life. No, I'm somebody who likes horror movies because I can face my fears in a situation where I'm in the safety of my home, watching movies that are not meant for authentic reality. If anything, documentaries like Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple and Paradise Lost 2 are far more scarier to me. But I do like a good scare, and I appreciate it when a director or writer strives to say something beyond blood, guts, and jumps.

Moreover, I like the kinds of horror movies that aim for something deeper than horny teenagers getting hacked off one by one. I'm kind of curious to watch them, whether it's a cult classic, a new film, or some lost film that maybe only Keith or Richard has heard of. And no, I'm not some disturbed person living on the fringes of life who can't feel any feeling other than pain. I just like to see all kinds of movies, even the disturbing ones. (And yes, I am still a person who lists The Muppet Movie, American Graffiti, and Star Wars as some of my favorite films of all time.)

I've had a curiosity about the Saw franchise for a while, mainly because they keep making sequels after the third film, in which the main villain dies at the very end. Plus, after watching the first three films, I liked how the filmmakers tied the movies together with various character references, settings, and themes. But after watching the third film, I started to wonder if the audience was a part of a game where they want to see more films, but they don't get any relief with each one.

For me, the acting's decent enough (some great performances mixed in with some really unconvincing performances here and there) and the overall plot is intriguing (a villain who's dying of cancer who tries to make his victims change their attitude towards life), but I can't help but feel like I've been sucked into something like a Jigsaw game. At least I'll still have my limbs intact once I finish watching the proposed fifth (yes, fifth) Saw sequel.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Because not knowing how to cook . . .

As I've said before, how Robert Rodriguez explains his process of making films is inspiring to me. Even though I'm not tempted to make a movie, he's a message of "green means go!" to whatever you want to do. So it's not just with writing another book for me; it's now translating into cooking.

Since I cook for myself, I tend to take the really easy path: heat up something in the oven between fifteen and forty minutes. I get frustrated really easily with trying new things, but every once in a while I come across something where I believe I could possibly do. (I'm well aware that's something that goes beyond the kitchen, but in order to stay on track, let's stay in the kitchen mindset.)

Recently, I checked out the "10-minute Cooking School" featurette on the Sin City double-disc DVD set. The dish this time: breakfast tacos made from scratch. The first thing he recommends is making your own tortillas. Since he has a very simple recipe (and good reason to not eat the store-bought, rubbery kind of tortillas), I was tempted to try this myself.

Though I plan on using different kinds of filling for the tacos (salsa and turkey bacon, along with scrambled eggs), the inspiration is in place. But the devil's advocate in me wonders why I shouldn't just buy some ready-made breakfast tacos from the store or a fast food place. Or better yet, hit up the excellent, locally-owned taco place around the corner from my house. Because I have the desire to try something that I might horribly fail at and not feel like a total loser if I do.

So far, my attempts to cook things have not rendered a sense of strong disappointment to the people I've served my food to. There are no moans or groans of severe displeasure. There are no, "You should never do that" statements. Nope, it's just me and my attempts to do something. And for me, as long as people don't vomit or get sick because of my cooking, then I think I should stick to trying new things in the cooking department. When that attitude will transfer into other departments, that's left to be seen.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

10.12.2008

Today marks the day that I've done this blog for four years. Though I originally started the blog to track the progress of Post, I found a lot of other things to talk about. Here's a list of some things I'm thinking about expanding upon in the next week:

--Volunteering to babysit is not a bad idea.
--I'm curious if the makers of the Saw franchise think they're playing a game with the audience. You know, one that is not that far removed from Jigsaw's games.
--The click track is not an evil thing when laying down drum parts.
--Making homemade breakfast tacos from scratch does not seem that hard.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Good Show

Barring any sports pre-emption, I'll be on the Good Show tomorrow morning promoting the book. You can listen live here, and I have no idea exactly when I'll be on between 9am and noon. A podcast of the show should be available sometime next week.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Book notes

I'm quite honored to have Post featured on Largehearted Boy's Book Notes series. Here's the link. It's an essay discussing some of the integral moments for me before I decided to write the book.

Also, looks like there's another book in the works on 90s post-hardcore. There are some similarities to my book and Brian's book as far as bands covered, but it looks to be a pretty promising book on plenty of other great bands.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Now, for my next trick

I can't think off the top of my head exactly why this idea sounds bad, but something doesn't sound right at first. The idea: somebody writes a nonfiction book and decides his or hers next book will be fiction. Maybe it just seems like the writer thinks he or she can write anything and people will read it. Depending on the person, that can seem like a really egotistical, bad idea.

All this said, I'm still planning on going ahead with writing another book, and it's going to fiction. But I have a lot of reasons why I'm doing it this way.

I don't read a lot of fiction. Only six of the books on my "to read from scratch or never finished" shelf are fiction. Two are by Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho and Lunar Park), one is by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity), one is by Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club), one is by Stephen King (Cell), and one is by Max Brooks (The Zombie Survival Guide). Those, coupled with a handful of graphic novels/trade paperbacks, are greatly outnumbered by the number of nonfiction titles in my ever-growing library. Of course, all of my small library is vastly outnumbered by the number of books (fiction and nonfiction) my housemate has in almost every room of our house.

I just find myself attracted to reading more straightforward, nonfiction material. All the times I found myself frustrated in school reading The Lord of the Flies, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Patriot Games and wondering when the plot was going to really move forward and stop dancing in circles are probably my excuses. I loved the Harry Potter books, but aside from reading Fahrenheit 451, the amount of fiction I've read and really enjoyed in the last five years has been small.

So, I find a fun challenge in writing a fictional book that I would want to read and enjoy. It's definitely not easy, but I want to do it. I know the structure that I want to do it in, and I'm well aware it hasn't been done very much by other writers. There will not be page after page of a character's internal monologue about something that has been brought up already. There is a big story to be told, and it will have a lot of talking, but it will hopefully get to the point.

If Our Band Could Be Your Life, Fargo Rock City, and Wilco: Learning How to Die were the main literary influences on Post, I think it's safe to say that this second book will have completely different influences. Off the top of my head, books like Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies and The Other Hollywood are some of the big ones, along with movies like American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, are really steering me in the direction of what I want to do.

I've been jotting down notes and writing a little here and there on this book for well over a year. My plan is to start up full steam the first day it gets cold here in Dallas. In other words, that could be by the end of this month. You've been forewarned.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Time takes time, you know

Since last week, I've given a number of spins to the majority of Ben Folds's third proper solo album, Way to Normal. Reading Jeff's post about his thoughts on the record, I'm finding myself in a bit of a pickle.

Longtime readers are probably aware of my fandom of Ben's work with Ben Folds Five and solo, so I'm a little torn with saying what I really think of Way to Normal and reflecting on previous Ben releases that didn't immediately grab me.

Right now, I can't say I'd go beyond the Sound Opinions rating scale of "Burn It" for Way to Normal. Something seems a bit off in the sense that the record is mostly whimsical and bitter at the same time. I dig tracks like "Brainwascht," "Hiroshima," and "You Don't Know Me," but I'm not getting much mileage out of them, or really any of the other tracks.

But before I go into a ritual I find strange and bizarre with some critics who get paid to spout their opinions, I want to come back to this record and let it grow on me. No, I'm not going to renounce my love for Ben's work ever since I heard Whatever and Ever Amen back in 1997. No, I'm not going to pull out the daggers and stick them into my nitpicks of the album. I guess since I'm not the hardest person in the room to be convinced and am usually reluctant to make bold, solid stance on opinions that are subject to change, the jury's out for me.

I remember when The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner came out. I was not really blown away by the record, given its rather dour tone, even on its most upbeat songs. I remember originally thinking Rockin' the Suburbs seemed like a simple retread of Ben Folds Five's best material. Both records spent plenty of time with me, and I grew to like them more over time. I'm just unsure how much more time I want to commit to Way to Normal.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A word of thanks

Thanks a plenty to everyone who's bought a copy of Post. I don't have exact sales figures, but I know it is selling well. Selling a lot of copies was not the intent when I decided to write it, but I did want people beyond my friends and family to read it. More coverage is coming in the next few weeks, and regular blogging will hopefully return next week.