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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let's play some jazz

Blogging will be near non-existent for the next few days due to the holidays, so I thought it would be fun to post a fun little clip that I keep watching over and over again. It's Bill Cosby on the Dick Cavett Show talking about a time he drummed for Sonny Stitt. Yes, it's nine minutes long, but if you like Cosby's way of storytelling, it's not long.

Happy holidays.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Heavy Metal Drummer

Something that's been brewing for a couple of months that I haven't written about is that I have a new band going. We have no name, no songs completed, no plans to record soon, or any shows lined up. And I can't begin to tell you how great that is.

With all due respect to the bands I've played with before, I have the most fun with bands that start from scratch. A couple of bands I played with found me having to learn songs very quickly before a show in a few weeks or a month. Well, as fun and challenging as that may be, having a clean slate is a nice alternative. There's no rush, but there's no desire to just let things lag.

Basically, a few months ago, I pitched the idea via a Facebook status update about starting a new band. The message was simple: "Eric Grubbs thinks it's time to start a new band." Luckily, my friend Kyle expressed interest in playing guitar and singing. He's played in bands for years and has been between bands for almost a year. Then there is Mike, who was someone I was introduced to through a mutual friend at a restaurant opening. We hit it off pretty well and he mentioned he played bass. Suddenly, without really trying to force things into motion, I had some guys I could play with.

So far, band practice has been different from all my previous bands: we practice somewhat quietly in my bedroom. Pads are still all over my drums and cymbals, so I'm not bashing away at ear-splitting volume thinking that I'm playing in sync with the other guys. Our songs are coming together, and there's a classic rock vibe to the riffs and beats. Of course, that could change with the more songs we write.

I know I tend to lean on complaining about the things that going wrong in my life (hello, dryer and heater issues!), but this is one of many things that is going so right in my life. I hope to update our progress soon, so you're in the loop.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The calls are coming from inside the house

I don't have many Christmas-themed traditions other than present shopping, hanging some lights in my house, and listening to Christmas music, but I do like to watch a few holiday-themed movies and TV specials. One of the obvious, no-brainers is the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Elf is another one. But being a huge horror flick fan as well, the original Black Christmas is also another one.

I've written about this flick for Richard's site, and my opinions still stand. But I'd like to add a few things now that I've seen the film on a bigger TV (42-inch over 32-inch made for a much different experience) and after I've seen the absolutely awful remake that for clarity purposes I'll call Black X-Mas.

I never knew how much humor was laced into the original. The humor tends to break up some of the tension of the story, but the humor doesn't derail the story. Matter of fact, it's like you get to take a breath between all those obscene phonecalls and creepy camera angles.

Second of all, Art Hindle is in this movie. Art was in one of scariest movies I've ever seen (David Cronenberg's The Brood) as a major character, and he has a strong supporting role in this film. So seeing him again, I totally was that guy saying, "Hey, it's that guy!" Luckily nobody else was home or around to hear me geek out.

Lastly, thanks to seeing Black X-Mas, I can truly understand how story retooling in a remake is a bad, bad idea (nevermind the fact that the idea of an average remake is usually pointless and offensive to the original). The makers of Black X-Mas thought it would be good to explain exactly everything that happened to Billy before he went insane. Plus, they thought it would be good to fill up the sorority house with back-stabbing, annoying, and uninteresting girls. Yeah, that's the way you do(n't) do it.

To me, what makes Black Christmas so great is the sense that you're watching full-fledged people trying to remain strong in a terrifying situation. Save for a couple of characters, you can't really stereotype the characters. There is no The Brain, The Bitch, The Super-Bitch, The Virgin, and so on. And those obscene phonecalls are still disturbing to hear and explain plenty without explaining everything to the audience.

If anything, I'm glad there's Black X-Mas, so I can appreciate Black Christmas more and more and more with each passing Christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I wanna dip my . . .

Good news on the taking chances front: I successfully made cake balls over the weekend. As someone who had never baked a cake on his own before, there were multiple miles gained by doing this.

Back when I had dryer issues and did a load of laundry at my neighbors' place, I noticed they were making cake balls. Knowing that I wanted to bake something for the first time for a potluck dinner in a few weeks, I figured I could try to make this stuff. Besides, if I had any questions, I knew a few people that knew what they were doing.

So using a recipe found in this article, I decided to use a yellow cake mix with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. Making the whole thing involved freezing clumps of cake overnight before dipping them in melted chocolate, but I gave myself plenty of time and plenty of room for error. Thankfully, there were no meltdowns in the kitchen or panicked runs to the grocery store. (But I did have to run to the grocery store before I started when I realized that I didn't have a measuring cup. That's neither here nor there.)

Seeing the looks on the faces of the people who had a few at the potluck (and the people in the office I brought the leftovers to) was quite a positive experience. They loved them, and I liked them myself, but seeing that my waist size has grown in the last two months, I held off on indulging.

The moral of the story: there's still hope for me in the kitchen. For as long as my desire for salvageable food made out of potential baking disaster is greater than my fear of failure, I'll be OK.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The same person

A short time ago, I heard a critique about Max Brooks' fictional oral history, World War Z, that I have not forgotten: every quote sounded like it was coming from the same person. Even though dozens of people from across the globe are interviewed after this zombie apocalypse, all the quotes sound like they're from one person. I've kept that in mind as I've worked on the second book, but sometimes, oral histories can't help but sound like they're coming from one person, fictional or nonfictional.

Two books that I still cite as big stylistic influences for my book are Fool the World and The Other Hollywood. In particular, the flow of the quotes from person to person in Fool the World has been a big influence. With The Other Hollywood, the massive amounts of different people quoted yields to a handful of very fleshed-out characters.

In those books, the use of language might sound similar, but the different personalities come out the deeper the quotes go. I definitely got a strong sense of who Charles Thompson was, as well as Linda Lovelace. But as far as word choice from them, that seemed very secondary to me. I just wanted to read something that was compelling. And I must admit that I sped through Fool the World much faster than I did with The Other Hollywood.

Trying to make a twisty storyline with quotes from at least twenty different people sounds tough -- and it is -- but that's part of the fun challenge of writing the book. The lack of a "proper" narrative might sound like you're trying to walk straight without a spine, but if the quotes are good enough, the narrative is not necessary.

I think of this like a great documentary without any voiceover narration. If the quotes can speak well enough, then why use redundant commentary from somebody else? Sure you run the risk of sounding like the same person based on word choice, but that can be an inevitable drawback in doing an oral history.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Agony and Irony

I have a saying that I sometimes use in traffic reports: when one major problem clears, another pops up. The deal is, that phrase can be applied to what Matt and I have gone through in the last week.

The good news is that the dryer is finally back working. After what one electrician and one washer/dryer repairman couldn't agree on, another electrician found the problem. The dryer is totally fine, as well as the outlet in the laundry room. The problem was how the breaker was wired up, and the fix took maybe five seconds to do. We finally had heat again in the dryer and the dryer worked properly (though I had to flip the breaker twice later that night to finish my load of laundry).

Literally one week later, I ran the dryer again and there were zero problems. The breaker did not have to be flipped. The dryer worked like a breeze.

And around then was when I noticed we were experiencing problems with our house's heater.

For almost forty-eight hours, there was a very loud screeching noise coming from our unit. I would describe the sound as nails across a chalkboard played through an amplifier. The heat still came on, but the noise was intolerable.

Then I started to notice that our house temperature was slowly falling. Set at 73 degrees, the house was falling slowly below 65 degrees. The heat would not turn on despite multiple attempts. The pilot light was on, but alas no heat. For safety reasons, Matt and I agreed that we should turn the heat off, despite the fact that it was below freezing outside.

I slept with multiple layers on that night, and I slept fine. The deal was, the whole house felt like the Fortress of Solitude when I got home. Everything, from books to remote controls to even my computer's mouse, felt like cold glass.

When we got word from the AC/heater repairman that the earliest the unit could be fixed was this morning, Matt and I had to decide where to sleep last night. Matt stayed with his parents, I went to my aunt's house, and Victory just slugged it out at home.

Our heater is back working thanks to a new motor. But I can't help notice that the temperature this weekend will be rather warm, with projected highs in the upper 60s. Ain't it the life?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

68

Thankfully as expected, footage from Jawbox's performance last night is now online. (Here's one of many sites that have the main clip, along with songs from soundcheck.)

As somebody who never saw Jawbox play live, this was quite a great performance. Keep in mind, I have no frame of reference of how they played between 1989 and 1997. So as somebody who saw J. play with Burning Airlines twice, has listened to the band's discography since 1996, and oh, wrote a whole chapter devoted to them, I'm very safe to say that I'm satisfied.

Not to be one of those annoying folks that wants bands to stay together forever, but I hope this wasn't the last we've seen of a Jawbox live performance. I definitely do not think these guys should give up what they've done since the band's breakup in 1997 and tour like maniacs. Rather, one-off live shows would be great, but I don't call the shots on that.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Hey angel

Tonight marks the reunion of Jawbox as they perform on NBC's Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Chances are high this will be a one-off reunion, so I strongly encourage to check this performance out. If you hate Jimmy Fallon's nervous and fast humor, skip over that and just focus on the end of the show.

As I researched POST, it was abundantly clear to me that the members of the band were still on good terms. Of course Bill and Kim were on good terms because they have been married since 1997, and J. and Zach were still in communication with them. I never asked if a reunion would happen, and frankly, it never crossed my mind to ask.

I've never been one who pines for reunions, but if they happen, I usually don't object. Seeing the Sunny Day Real Estate and Get Up Kids reunions had a positive impact on their legacies. So I see no problem with Jawbox coming together and playing a show. Now if J. hired three mall-punks, called it Jawbox, and claimed that the contributions from Bill, Kim, Zach, and Adam never really meant anything, then I'd have a problem with that.

I must stress how different the circumstances are today versus the time that Jawbox performed on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, as well as 120 Minutes, on the For Your Own Special Sweetheart tour. Back then, they were just another band out promoting a major label debut after a few years on an indie label. To the general audience, they were another one of those alternative rock bands that just seemed to come and go every week on late-night TV. Now, the excitement around this late-night's showing is much more vocal. Hopefully footage will arrive online as soon as tomorrow.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Life on the other end of retail

As somebody who has worked retail, I know all too well about the perils of holiday shopping. The meanest people come out of the woodwork, and they can spoil everything for the ones that are extremely nice around the holiday season. So that's why I'm very thankful that about 97 percent of my Christmas shopping was done online.

I stayed away from shopping on Black Friday mainly for three reasons: I wanted to have a nice lunch with my family before I headed back to Dallas, I spent four hours straight in my car back to Dallas, and I rested for a little while before heading out to Denton for the Cursive show. So I didn't have to brave long lines or sit in traffic. The day after Thanksgiving was just another holiday travel day for me.

Between that day and today, I took advantage of Amazon's deals and didn't mind the three or four days it would take to get my stuff in the mail. Everyone on my list has something really cool awaiting them, and I took advantage of some good deals as well (Under the Dome for $15? Score. The Fly on Blu-ray for $9? Score.). As somebody who remembers the days before the Internet, I'm still impressed with the convenience that the Internet brings.

But there a couple of things I had to buy in person due to the nature of the present and whom they are for (my twin nieces). I was able to pick these things up as I purchased some baking goods for a big, semi-secret baking attempt I'll do later this week. Luckily I didn't have to wait in a long line at Super Target in the middle of last Saturday. Matter of fact, the girl who checked me out was standing in front of her lane waiting for somebody to check out.

Where I'm going with all this minutiae is to counter all those reports you hear about how terrible it is that holiday shopping is down this year, last year, five years ago, and blah blah blah. Believe me, the places I go are not ghost towns. There are plenty of people, but I just prefer to mainly shop at off-peak times. So many stores open early and stay open late to accommodate more people and their schedules.

Plus, if anything, the Internet gives more people more options instead of restricting things for more people. I like how I can get everything that I want and not get ripped off in the process. And I definitely take enjoyment in not having to deal with standing in a line stuck behind some irate parent that waited until the last minute to buy something for his or hers child. Funny how parents are the ones that tell their children to not wait until the last minute to do something.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Fifty novels, non-fiction books, and short-story anthologies

Even though this happened only a few weeks ago, I can't seem to recall exactly what drew me to check out the Stephen King section at one of the Borders I routinely hit up. Maybe it was because I had a coupon in my hand and I couldn't find anything that I really wanted to read in the music/movies/TV section? Maybe it was because I've seen positive reviews of King's latest, Under the Dome? Maybe because the ending of The Box stuck to me like the ending of The Mist did? I just can't remember exactly why, but those are all very valid reasons.

All I can say is, my dissatisfaction with the size of King's books in paperback led me to a secret goldmine found in almost any Half Price Books.

Yes, due to fact that most of King's books (save for the Dark Tower series) come in a size and shape meant to fit in your pocket, I have had no interest in reading a book that small. My eyesight is perfectly fine, but I don't like reading books that have no margins and are in small print. I like rest a book in my lap, not just in my small, skinny fingers.

But I've known for a few years that many of King's books in hardback make a stop to the bargain bin before they go back to the neverworld of returns. I picked up a copy of Cell a few years ago for $8, but I never picked up any more of his other books because I was frustrated with the book. (I have still not finished reading it.) That said, I've always appreciated his On Writing (which is something I highly recommend if you've ever wanted to write book), so I've always wanted to read some of his essential work. After reading Tasha's excellent primer on King, I wanted to at least start with Skeleton Crew.

Judging by the size of the selection of hardbacks at a couple of Half Price Books I visit, many of these former bargain bin specials wind up there. At the biggest Half Price Books in town, there is the equivalent of two bookcases devoted to King, and most are in hardback. Even in a smaller one I visit from time to time, there's plenty to look at, and most cost between five and eight dollars each.

So now I have small pile of King books to read (and hopefully finish by 2011): It, Skeleton Crew, The Tommyknockers, Misery, Skeleton Crew, and Needful Things (and Under the Dome shall arrive at my doorstep soon thanks to a great Cyber Monday deal). But rest assure, my next book will not be like King's books (in subject matter or average length).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Can't fight this feeling anymore

Some pretty promising news: I've started working full speed ahead on my second book, When We Were the Kids. I've worked on it here and there for the last two years, but I planned on devoting at least thirty minutes a day to working on a first draft starting January 1st, 2010. The deal is, I just couldn't wait.

Something kept me from taking a nap on Saturday. I just couldn't fall asleep in my recliner with Victory at my side. So I decided then and there to return to the first seventeen pages I had done and go from there.

Thinking about this, I thought I'd share another piece of helpful writing advice: it's better to write when you're inspired instead of when you think you'll be inspired. I know people have their preferences, but it's like you can't fully plan when a child is conceived or born. You can plan to set that stuff in motion, but many other factors out of your control make that stuff come to fruition.

In other words, when you feel inspired and drawn to do something, don't hesitate. I've found it hard to work up the motivation to become inspired. Luckily for me, after I worked on the first chapter on Saturday for a little while, I could nap soundly.

Since I'm still in the writing phase, I don't have an idea about when I'll be done, but it will be done when I think it's done. I have no idea about release dates or who will put it, but I'm fully committed to this no matter what.