Sunday, September 25, 2005

These are not Lake Woebegon Days

Garrison Keillor Writes A Book Report

That cuddly Minnesotan, Garrison Keillor, has been an uninvited geist in my corner of the Zeit lately. First he shows up on my favorite websites, along with some I've never heard of, looking like a humorless humorist suing some guy who made 100 t-shirts parodying The Prairie Home Companion. Oddly, he didn't have a problem with the parody of him in Mike Nelson's Death Rat! A Novel, a written portrayal that made him seem mean-spirited, egomaniacal and petty--a portrayal that made him seem like the sort of guy who would have his lawyer issue a Cease and Desist letter to a guy who made a small amount of humorous t-shirts. Anyway, so there was Keillor--and isn't PHC satirical itself? Parodying some sort of ideal of what people think midwesterners are?--rattling his chains and woo-ing and all, and then I hear that he's written a book review of a new biography of Hank Williams (NY Times, registration required), and I decided I had to go read it, in case Keillor was sending me some sort of secret code.

So, Mr. Keillor, and I'm addressing this to you because I know you can hear me, I am not going to explain to you the laws regarding parody, satire, and fair use. You know best how you want to waste your money. Me, if I had that much money that I could hire a team of lawyers, I might funnel that money to the needy, especially right now. My lawyers call me and say "Yo, Gar, you want us to send a C+D to some blogger? It'll cost you $500" I'd say, no, good sirs, I'm going to take that $500 that you'd just spend on a whore in Vegas and send it to the Red Cross. Good day, sir!" I personally would not send money to the Red Cross, but I bet that you, Keillor, don't have the same ideological differences with them that I do. No, I'm not going to tell you what to do with your money. I'm going to tell you how to write a book review.

In “Tense Present,” (Harpers, April 2001) David Foster Wallace tells us that a book review “is a complicated assignment. ... Rhetorically, its whole project is informed by a question that is too crass ever to mention up front: ’Should you buy this book?’” GK, please read this over and let me know if you understand it. Because you clearly didn’t before writing the review of Paul Hemphill’s “Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams.” Your review reads like a 10th grade book report (maybe 12th, but certainly better than Geo W’s eulogy for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, which was much closer to a 5th grade level). You had some eloquent sentences in there, retelling a story that I and most of my friends already know, GK. But you never told me why I should buy this book, as opposed to the other Hank Williams bios that are out there. Should I buy it because the author is from Alabama? Because that’s about the only thing you said in the “review” about the author. Should I buy it because Billboard said that Williams sings “with the spirit of a camp meeting”? Because you quote that in your review, but I don’t know how it pertains to THE BOOK. If I’m interested in how Williams sings, I’ll buy a CD. Even 5th graders know this simple sentence: I recommend this book highly. I remember using it all the time! You didn’t even allude to it! I can only assume you hated the book, but didn’t want to say so because you’re from Minnesota.

GK, I know this isn’t all your fault. Your attorneys no doubt forced you into the whole T-shirts fiasco, and you should have had a real editor helping you with your book report--I mean review. OK, it is your fault. Who is the prairie ho? The prairie ho is thee, my friend, the prairie ho is thee.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The New TV Season


I was bored before I even began...

Did it start yet? The new TV season? Because I was semi-excited three weeks ago when the Entertainment Weekly issue w/ the new lineup came out, excited in the way I get excited when my brand of toilet paper is 25 cents off at the supermarket. Meaning not very, but yes, in an ironic way. Ooh! A new crop of X-Files rip-offs! Ooh! A new show from the production assistant on Friends! Shortly after EW came out, Tivo dutifully delivered content to my TV, and I watched previews of the shows and remained underwhelmed. I attempted to get excited about that Earl show, but I needed some new-season Viagra apparently, as I could not maintain my enthusiasm.

So, Monday after Arrested Development is some dumb new show based on the book Kitchen Confidential called logically enough Kitchen Confidential, Since I thought the book was about the wait-staff wanking off into your food (“That’s a very creamy Chicken Kurma!”), I was wondering how this would transfer to the situation comedy format. And after watching it, I still don't know.

During the first few minutes we learn that the lead character, in a brilliant bit of meta-fiction is named after the author of the non-fiction book--Anthony Bourdain--is an alcoholic in recovery and is heterosexual. We learn his breeder status during an expository make-out scene. And here’s how the convo went in my apartment about that...
Me: eww! I don’t need making out in my comedies! Not this kind of making out! David Cross and Fonzi, ok.
Jack: I think this is the exposition.
Me: I don’t need it ever! Arrested Development is all exposition--imagine if everyone was making out all throughout the show? That would be crazy. You know who would watch that? Crazy people!


Jack: (while the AB character shows off his one-year sober token). That’s not the one-year medallion.
Me: That’s a ten-dollar chip from Caesars!

And so on. Oh, and I almost forgot.. to emphasize the “literary” aspect of this, there is a character named Stephen Dedalus, and someone else makes a reservation under the name “Daisy Miller.” OMG TEHY IS TEH SMRT.

No new shows this season can compare with classics like “Star Trek the Cartoon,” “Open All Night,” “ALF”... There is not even a “Small Wonder” in this tv season’s new crop. I cry, I cry one bitter hot tear for my beloved teevee.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Is it time for the year end wrap-ups?

Several media outlets have proclaimed The New Pornographers August 2005 release Twin Cinema the year’s best album. I have no quarrel with this. For me it is the best new album of 2005, as it’s the only new album I purchased in 2005. Oh wait, there was Nine Inch Nail’s With Teeth but proclaiming that the best album of 2005 would be like saying that the inappropriate goth guy you dated, the one with the notebooks from high school of D+D characters like Ivo the 18th level half-elf illusionist, the one who wanted you to read his Firefly fanfic, was your best boyfriend.

But, again,I have no quarrel with calling Twin Cinema best album of 2005--it has all the things people like me like, like catchy melodies and harmonies and vaguely enigmatic lyrics that may be hiding the meaninglessness of the words. In fact, I’ll wager that 92% of you reading this will enjoy Twin Cinema on some level. The other 8% are my parents and those of you who are “post-song” and like nothing better than a good improv game like Cobra.

But this got me to thinking--what else was called The Best Album of 2005? Since the year is not yet over, I thought now might be a good time to examine this, and encourage any music reviewers who read this not to make the same mistake.

White Stripes,Get Behind Me Satan Can I say it? The White Stripes suck. There is no worse drummer for a top-selling band than Meg White, and you can’t argue with me on that. Rolling Stone said “Bad news for Satan: Jack White’s mama said knock you out.” They followed that with a sentence telling is that the title is a Biblical reference. So, OK, you can reference an LL Cool J song, but you have to explain the Biblical reference. For the record, the biblical quote, and the Pete Seeger/Almanac Singers song they are more likely referencing is “Get THEE Behind me, Satan.” If only they hadn’t dropped the “thee.”

M.I.A., Arular. Spin said this was the best POLITICAL album of the year, and cokemachineglow proclaims that this “beats out most everything I’ve heard this year in terms of creativity, energy, dance-ability (sic) and fun. “ I don’t have this album--like I said above I have none of these albums--but I’ve seen M.I.A. on TV, and besides having heard this before (because I remember ESG), she dances like she has to pee.

LCD Soundsystem. Tiny Mix Tapes said “this one won’t be beat.” Playlouder said “LCD Soundsystem have set 2005's bar very high indeed.” I say, “makes me miss Happy Mondays in a way I never thought I would.”

Gorillaz, Demon Days All Music Guide had the nerve to say, “stands alongside the best Blur albums.” All I have to say is this--I know Blur, and you, Gorillaz, are no Blur.

It’s good to know that it seems like not too many critics have prematurely proclaimed the Best of 2005. I did come across a new alarming trend in music reviewing, though, which I’ll call “name-checking spot-the-reference.” The purpose seems to be to say to the reader, “I GOT all the references, but I’m not going to outline them here. Or maybe I will.” See Rolling Stone/White Stripes above, and also Pop Matters on LCD Soundsystem (“could be annoying if it turned into a game of ‘spot the references’...") and The Onion AV on Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois (“It's easy to play a spot-the-Illinois-reference game...”). I’m not sure how I feel about this trend. Let’s see if it surpasses the Band One plus Band Two at a picnic method of CD reviewing.

(reviews courtesy of