The view of Warwick Castle from atop Warwick Castle.
The only way to view attractions like these are through the lenses of themselves. They are real and unreal, deconstructed and reconstituted for the end of making-funner, which is why a lot of people eschew these places but when you think of it, is among the noblest of goals. We chased peacocks, saw more mannequins, shot arrows, got scared out of the haunted dungeon, walked ramparts and scaled towers - the view above is from atop Guy's Tower - and watched a guy get shot out of a cannon. It was great fun.
Warwick the town is lovely as well. I got my tea on at a place founded by Thomas Oken who donated much of the land around the place; that's him at the bottom seated at that table next to us. Best ham and cheese sandwich and best Earl Grey of my life.
Afterwards we hit up an English toy store. A boy approached his dad and said, "Father, I wonder if you might consider buying some scenery for my model railway." They had some cool train shit in there I'll readily admit, but c'mon.
Round two at the castle: Maya won a coconut on some medieval game. We were a little pout out they were not firing the trebuchet today.
Alphonso, the strongest and bravest man in the world capped the afternoon off in a capital manner.
Upon departure, the fog plunged the castle into the realm of memory. I love vacation.
Clifford's Tower in York. William the Conqueror gloomily stares back from one of those windows at you, perhaps from his toilet.
York is British tourism heaven - at once Roman, Viking, Gothic, train-enthused, a little rainy, full up with quaintness colliding with crass commerce; old York reminds one a little of the French Quarter in that regard. We hit the big sites like York Minster, the National Railway Museum, York Castle Museum and maybe most germane to the usual posting habits of this blog, fish and chips and a pint of Mallinson#s Porker Porter from the Lamb and the Lion's selection of cask ales, just inside the old city walls.
We saw this animatronic, below, finishing off the ride at the Jorvic Viking Center in style, doing exactly what it looks like he's doing, Flo over at the Viking center;s archeology annex showing off a petrified sample of that Viking handiwork. They kinda have a thing about poo over here.
We have been in a blur of gorgeous Victorian train stations and quaint cabs in and about magical old York. Last night we got back and dig into a kebab fry up and today's adventures will include bacon sanries from the pub down the street, another train to Warwick castle (and possibly more pooping robots) and the loose promise of high tea. Cheers!
Oh, and here is the sausage butty had at the York Castle gift shop. Let it be noted that even gift shop cafe food is worth noting here and that the universal understanding that British food is categorically horrible holds no water with me.
Our hosts Allison and Pete, Rob and Nicola were responsible for the most magical and elaborate Christmas dinner and festivities ever. You don't even know so I'll attempt to explain.
Here is a partial inventory of the games played and activities engaged in throughout the meal:
The nut game (in the lounge before the meal): a card game that involves walnuts in a pile on the floor, a kind of a musical chairs kind of thing. Daughter Nicola faked out dad Peter at the end and won for the first time ever.
Articulate, one of the presents.
Popping the Christmas cracker with hands crossed around the table.
Reading the jokes inside the cracker along with the trivia questions.
Playing the vegetable game: you hide your teeth behind your lips and everyone picks a vegetable. I was broccoli and Grandma Cynthia was parsnip and you call around the table "parsnip parsnip calling tomato tomato" and then tomato calls aubergine and so on until someone bares their teeth and is out. Cynthia going "parsnip parsnip" was both hilarious and infused with gravitas.
Each Christmas cracker comes with a paper crown and a numbered, tuned whistle and then there is a card for how to play carols, which we did. Like a lot of them. To completion. The English see things through.
The fruit game: see the vegetable game except fruit. Cynthia proved just as powerful in the role of "melon".
Epic round of Charades in the other lounge. Mom Allison was tasked with miming "Quantum of Solace" and pulled it through. Brother Ian did a good job with "Mama Mia". Cynthia pulled off "American Psycho".
Squeak Piggy Squeak: this involved a blindfolded person pointing around the room and when you are pointed to, you make a squeak and the blinfoldee guesses who it was.
We started to play Coffeepot but finally the night finally played itself out. There was some variation of Squeak Piggy Squeak called "Pussy" where you sit on people's laps that never played out.
This was all amid courses of sorbet, venison in some kind of sauce, cheese and biscuits, Christmas pudding and more coffee and whiskeys and even more drinks. I just had a bacon roll and a flat white coffee from the pub around the corner from sister-in-law Sheila's flat in Birmingham and have popped into the Tesco. It should be noted that while playing the vegetable/fruit game, with teeth tucked behind lips, we all sound like the Queen.
I'm committed to spending my vacation in 'airplane mode' as it were but there is so much to love about Olde England. Euston Station is a rabbit warren of a place that I'm half convinced I dreamed, having been up for infinite hours of travel by the time we made it out of there. London was a whirl and we just went sledding out the countryside in Rugby, like where rugby was likely invented. I arrived this morning to Sir Paul McCartney declaring that he was simply having a wonderful Christmastime and though I'm more of a John/George type, I have to agree with the old lady-man bastard. Already had a bacon sarnie this morning and I understand cheese and biscuits are being laid out as I type. Father Christmas was duly informed of the wee Beatlemaniac's manias and set her up with a shirt a hat, a bag, an etc.
Maya got very perturbed at a neighborhood potluck this weekend when some rowdy boy tossed a lighter into this fire. I heard her behind a slammed door exclaim to her compatriot girls, "That was so stupid!"
"In another world we shall understand it all," he said lightly.
"In another world! Ah, I don't like that other world! I don't like it," he said, letting his scared eyes rest on his brother's eyes. "Here one would think that to get out of all the baseness and the mess, one's own and other people's, would be a good thing, and yet I'm afraid of death, awfully afraid of death." He shuddered. "But do drink something. Would you like some champagne? Or shall we go somewhere? Let's go to the Gypsies! Do you know I have got so fond of the Gypsies and Russian songs."
His speech had begun to falter, and he passed abruptly from one subject to another. Konstantin with the help of Masha persuaded him not to go out anywhere, and got him to bed hopelessly drunk.
and shortly after
He took up his book again. "Very good, electricity and heat are the same thing; but is it possible to substitute the one quantity for the other in the equation for the solution of any problem? No. Well, then what of it? The connection between all the forces of nature is felt instinctively….
Anna Karenina is pretty good, yep. I laid the rest of the Beatles catalog - post Rubber Soul - on the wee Beatlemaniac and we are both drawn to Magical Mystery Tour, an album I never really think about when I Think Beatles. We talked this morning how weird "Only a Northern Song" is, how it all sounds "out of tune" in her words. She said she didn't like "Fool on the Hill." I said, " I think it's about Jesus, you know, how he was on the cross on the hi-" and she cut me off with my arms outstretched. "I know. I don't like to think about all that because I don't believe in it."
Her atheism is nothing new to us, nor is it particularly tied to ours - she acquired it naturally, on the street from her friends, where all the formative things are found. I wasn't sure whether her quick dismissal was because "I don't want it clouding my thinking" or "I'm choosing not to fool with such foolishness. I'll take my fairy tales as attractive teenage wizards, thank you very much." Either way, I approve. And I approve should she make an about face somewhere down the line and fall into Jesus' open arms. She's gonna fall into somebody's.
RIP Captain Beefheart. It was heartwarming (for some selfish reason) to find so much outpouring on the medias social about his passing. He was the good, weird America. Check him out phoning it in on the Hot Line for American Bandstand, circa 1966. Check out what I want America to look and sound like.
David Toub has some great advice with what to listen to today, so I'm following. Somewhere I have a story about visiting a shut-in in Los Angeles, a fellow music nerd that I didn't realize was a shut-in until I'd flown out there, playing Charlemagne Palestine for me. I was getting fed up with him, it was the third of a four-day visit and I was trapped in the house without a car finally reaching my saturation with listening to crazy records, so when Palestine's Strumming went on with deafening volume - it is just two notes repeated in succession forever - I'd had enough.
I walked out side with my last three cigarettes thinking what did I get myself into? How naive am I? Then I heard the record radiate from the house; not blare from it like party music but more like gamma radiation penetrating the walls out into the street, causing mutation in anyone out there except this was a quiet neighborhood in Torrance, CA where no one was ever on the street, so I was this radiation's sole benefactor. Strumming is all overtones, much like my visit was and I realized it was all this guy was capable of. He had no melody, just sound bouncing off the walls hopefully turning into something. I let my cigarette drop in his yard, the yard he claimed he hadn't stepped in for six years, only leaving the house in the car from inside the garage, and opened the door to a deluge of overtone. The universe was being titrated through this record and hit me full force.
Here is it with the composer realizing it for carillon. Thanks to the ever-informative Robert Gable at aworks for pointing me to this.
It is the time for year-ending and I feel less defintive and more fickle than usual. I still think Titus is on top, but really the best album I've heard for the entire year that lasted from yesterday through today is the s/t debut from the Soft Pack. Jeez Louise, it's good...
The Soft Pack, "Parasites"
But then it is tapping all my right nostalgia buttons and that is terrible criteria by which to judge the music of Now, so where does that leave me? Back in spring, I'd've given a spare kidney to the new Drive-By Truckers album and the other night I couldn't think what it was called. I just dismissed Spon half-heartedly in a Facebook volley and here I am minutes later all over it. It's tougher than it looks, being an arbiter of taste and all.
Also, I've never given the Walkmen the time of day simply because I was such a fan of Jonathan Fire*Eater from whose demise they sprang and I never got over it.
Jonathan Fire*Eater, "When Prince Was a Kid"
But I'll do it, have no fear. Bullet points at the ready.
I am seeing the world reflected in the more than the cover of Tom McCarthy's C, all its sinews and broken transmissions and mysteries of sparks flying through the air, but I think I'm saying "uncle" to this book. My year's reading has already been solidly about things falling apart and I'd like to see it put back together. I stuffed it in my backpack and instead searched for Carl Sagan's Cosmos on my phone and despite the billions upon billions of eBooksellers, it ain't there! That's what's wrong with us; not enough Sagan. If there is anything that needs to be read on out little devices/overlords, it is Carl Sagan. I'm not even going to look to see if Marshall McLuhan is available on the Kindle* or not because the irony might crush me like a runaway Geminid meteorite.
At least twice this year I've thought I'd really like to skateboard around to the Titus Andronicus album, one of those times being just now, despite my never having successfully skated boards to anyone's lowest expectations - I'm clumsy and unbalanced on the whole and derive little pleasure from accenting those states - and yet I wanna do some awesome tricks with ridiculous childish names while I listen to The Monitor. It might end up being my album of the year for that very reason.
Titus Andronicus, "A More Perfect Union"
A friend posted that the Mac Mini in her kitchen was stuck playing Transformer over and over. You could have worse computer problems. I popped it on as I washed the dishes, my phone propped up on the sill sounding tinny and clattery like a transistor radio and Lou Reed circa 1972 becomes genius in that form; the music barely bleeds through and you get just him, precariously tightropewalking the razor wire separating naked sincerity and sneering contempt. People's noses come up a lot. A woman's feet become her nose in "Andy's Chest", another straps dentures to her nose in "Hangin' Around", a song I thought to be a weak Sha-Na-Na-esque throwback number on the record until last night. It's a keeper. It made me want to do a rousing acoustic version at a open mike nite, something else I'm ill-suited to execute, and lo! he did it for me.
Lou Reed, "Hangin' Round" (Acoustic version)
I've been meaning to hit up the Soft Pack for some time since ace rawk-riter Joe Bonomo has been all on them in his medias social and probably otherwise, and they pay off.
The Soft Pack, "Down on Lovin'"
* Ugh. Of course, I looked and, of course, it isn't. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man should come pre-installed on every Kindle.
Taken at the bus stop after giving up looking for Cosmos. We have a million wires strung up and nothing going across them.
Speaking of Allen Toussaint and music I used to hate, Nick Spitzer played and old Pointer Sisters tune written by Toussaint on American Roots the other night and truthfully, its never occurred to me to look into their back catalog at all because of the plague "I'm So Excited" upon our species. Remember when they were on the charts at the same time as ZZ Top and their songs were not terribly distinguishable from each other? And to think some people long for the Reagan years.
Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, a great song by the Pointer Sisters.
The Pointer Sisters, "Yes We Can Can"
My dalliance lasted for precisely one song. Now I'm more into steel guitar/dobro guy Cal Hand. Try not to totally trip out on the one below. And LCD Soundsystem. I intended to start listening the year down to find a top ten; the only definite entry is the Titus Andronicus album - but I'm pretty much all over the place.
Cal Hand and Leo Kottke, "They Only Moved the Stage" from The Wylie Butler
LCD Soundsystem, "Dance Yrself Clean"
This might be my favorite song of the year even though it came out last year. And no, I'm not kidding. I accept that it might have been put together as a joke, but the joke imploded or exploded or did something that only Carl Sagan can explain. I kinda choke up every time I hear it.
Symphony of Science/Carl Sagan - "A Glorious Dawn" ft. Stephen Hawking
Saw the new True Grit last night. It's a movie mostly about rope, I think. There is rope everywhere: stringing people up, rescuing them, holding up the tents, keeping away snakes, etc. Even Mattie Rose's omnipresent braids that heep her head on straight are tendrils of rope. It's probably about other things too, like the art of enjoying making ones movies which is my favorite thing about Coen Brothers films; even when the movie drags, and they all drag, you can tell they love it. But yeah, the movie is mostly about rope with side attribute of elegant smart-mouthing.
Jeff Bridges' crusty grumble made me think mostly about Tom Waits and Dr. John, both of whom have Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame nominations or inductations or whatever, which is cool. I wore myself out on Tom Waits years ago and am just in recent years finding that special Dr. John place in my heart. Becoming newly acquainted to the south as a kid, Dr. John was the corniest-of-the-corny, in the goddamn right-place-but-musta-been-the-wrong-time all over you like noxious gas cloud, all the time.
I hated Stevie Wonder for many years because of "I Just Called To Say I Love You." My hatred of that omnipresent song took full fiery blossom in my adolescence and my mom told a family friend that it was my favorite song and I was put in the position of acting appreciative when said friend presented me with a 45 of it at the Christmas party. The friend was all, "It's the song you like, right?" and I couldn't figure out who my mom's joke was really on, so I said yes, and she said, "Well, c'mon, let's play it." I put it on the old console record player (that I woudl kinda kill to have now) that sat in the front room we only used for holidays, and we collectively grooved on the punchline of an amorphous Christmas joke.
I'm pretty sure that was the last record that ever got played on that console stereo; it was probably still on the turntable when it was hauled to the street to make way for that same friend's old piano, a temporary spot for it while they moved houses and twenty-five years later, it's still in that room. Sometimes it gets played at Christmas too.
This went a lot heavier than I intended. What I really wanted to say is that I hope the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame finds some loophole through which they can give Harry Dean Stanton an award and then put Stanton, Waits and the good Dr. on the same stage fleshing out "Right Place, Wrong Time" and the collective nexus of weirdness among those three will open an extra-dimensional portal where we can transcend Al Tis and Become One, and Burger Chef and Jeff will be there at the end of the light tunnel with Funburgers for everyone!
Edited to add: I just read Matt Bell'sgreat terrible gift story up on The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog so I dropped mine in there as well. It's like the prize with your Christmas Funburger!
My voice is ragged from teaching, droning on about document building strategies and style templates and whatnot and I had a 10-minute window today to shake it off and thought Ah! Norwegian black metal! Those guys hate their fellow man even more than a whole putrid phalanx of software instructors, and there just so happened to be in my little feed reader thingy the top 100 Norwegian black metal albums of all time, as if I summoned it from some ghastly blood ritual conducted in an unheated, abandoned trailer at the ragged edge of civilzation's tattered skirt, and at number 17 was Carpathian Forest and I was all Yes! Yes! Consume me now, unfeeling void! Pierce the thin, jaundiced skin of human endeavor with your filthy claws and release the rot from its sac, and they raged and they raged and I was diggin it like a grave because at times of stress I become the fourteen-year-old I never was in real life and just as the horns were starting to sprout, here comes a rather pretty song, presented above. Sung by this guy!
Natterfrost from Carpathian Forest, as shot by Black Metal photographer extraordinaire Peter Beste.
Sure, it's a corny setting of Edgar Allen Poe, growled by iceblind, drunken, fascist, pagans who pretend they are monsters so hard they become them, but it's really a pretty song.
Oh and hey, not metal related: my friend Traci Burns is a badass of writing and has a kinky lil' piece up in Fiction Fix 8! You should go read it. Go on, now! Do what you're told! Hail Satan.
Gaahl of Gorgoroth (#11 on the list) interviewed about his influences.
Fly girls from one of Baton Rouge's unaffiliated dance crews making spirits bright at the Christmas parade last night. If I had a better camera and better shot, I'd make them stars of my Christmas cards. Which means I'd have to do Christmas cards.
But no crew, however, can touch Unique Dance Team in this parade-goer's opinion. Below is when the hyperdrive kicks in.
One more: my daughter at bottom right, going into bead mode before the Dow Chemical float. "Just don't throw me cancer, mister!"
I got more, but I had a magnificent brunch at Louie's with my lovely wife and now am set up in the office to write two articles and fix a website and probably something else with little but you and Teodoro Anzellotti's accordion mastery to keep me from my appointed rounds. He does the Goldberg Variations and then this enigmatic shadow-dog of a piece from Luciano Berio. Enjoy!
Teodoro Anzellotti performing Berio's Sequenza XIII
"Um....heads, yes," gasped Archie, Reaching into his pocket for a twenty-pence piece. "Tails, no. Ready?"
The coin rose and flipped as a coin would rise and flip every time ina perfect world, flashing its light and then revealing its dark enough times to mesmerize a man. Then, at some point in its triumphant ascension, it began to arc, and the arc went wrong, and Archibald realized it was not coming back to him at all but going behind him, a fair way behind him, and he turned with the others to watch it complete an elegant swoop toward the pinball machine and somersault straight into the slot. Immediately the huge old beast lit up; the ball shot off and began it chaotic, noisy course round a labyrinth of swinging doors, automatic bats, tubes, and ringing bells until, with no one to assist it, no one to direct it, it gave up the ghost and dropped back into the swallowing hole.
- Zadie Smith, White Teeth, p. 377
I post this not just because, holy shit, what a great and perfect paragraph, but because I've been thinking about old, abandoned fiction projects, mostly because I have other things I should be doing, and one of them was a parade of painfully obvious existential dudery that started with the protagonist absently walking out of his apartment with the spoon from his yogurt still in his mouth. He flipped it from the door toward the sink in that little apartment kitchen and it landed with a ringing clink in the coffee cup in which the yogurt was eaten. That was really the only part of the story I'd worked out in my head, neglecting to explain why he was walking around with of spoon in his mouth (oh, wait, I get it) after putting his cup in the sink.
Ms. Smith plugs a similar but wondrous incident among 400+ pages of similarly killer incidents while all I had was a yogurt spoon and when I read the above, I was suddenly divested of my whole terrible story upon which I could needlessly muse, so I'm happy about that. It's like taking out a trashbag of things collected in the course of cleaning a room. The room still looks the same to outsiders, but you know some secret hurdle has been removed.
This thing of Petra Haden singing all the parts, instrumental as well, of The Who Sells Out is an example of a terrible idea given beautiful life through careful execution. I feel compelled to note that I still hate Glee without ever seeing it and refuse to budge on that stance.
Edited to add: Speaking of writing, I saw my first ever royalty statement for old Darkness, Racket, and Twang and four copies of it have been sold in the last year. I'm hoping to meet my publisher while in England over Xmas and collect my bounty in a pint of the finest local. Amazon has people in a tizzy because they've plugged in Author pages where you can see how many books you've (not) sold. I suspect with my sales record, I need not wear out my refresh finger. I did see that they have cheerily discounted my title to $6.07, just in time for holiday gifts! The Kindle version can be had for even cheerier $.30 further discount! The future is here and it smells like Christmas!
The darkness. I've had two nights in a row that involved the Louisiana countryside, driving into the night's starry embrace. Last night my buddy Clarke and went down the wrong branch of a highway and ended suddenly in the scene above.
It's rare that I get out to places like that, or rather, do I get out of my car when I get to them, but we got out and took in the stars for a minute before the were-armadillos and cyclops gators (Edited to add: or this! BTW, this is what the news is like here.) came from the swamps hungrily after for us. Or before some similarly lost bastards like ourselves plowed into us. For the most of the night we listened to:
On the former is a version of the Cajun stable "Parlez-Nous á Boire" done by Chris Stafford and my all-time favorite interview subject Dickie Landry on thermonuclear sax. Here is Dickie talking with Robert Rauschenberg, Trisha Brown and Darryl Pottorf about the years those three crafted some the greatest art of all time.
"A Conversation with the Artists" was videotaped in May 2005 in conjunction with the Rauschenberg/Pottorf/Rauschenberg exhibition at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The resulting DVD release will document this rare and significant visit with Robert Rauschenberg, one of the most important artists of our time, along with his collaborators Darryl Pottorf, Christopher Rauschenberg, Trisha Brown, and Dickie Landry. The conversation was moderated by Herman Mhire.
My actual copy of the actual Oxford American finally arrived. Sometimes I'm digital-oriented, ready to be beamed into the gleaming, seamless future and others I'm so glad for the artifact. Look how purty that is. No PDF or iBook will ever look so lovely resting atop a wicker footstool. This might be the best music issue yet, definitely one of the best music issue CD's yet, and I'm humbled to be a part of it.
The purpose of last night's sojourn into the dark was for a story coming in January, so I'll hold my details close, but let's just say that contrary to popular belief, even mine until last night, swamp pop mainstay Don Rich is awesome. We caught him tearing it up in a tiny 100-year old bar in tiny 100-year old Pierre Part with a three generations of women working the bar and a bunch of the dudes from Swamp People in attendance. I give the whole experience a thumbs-up.
Don Rich agrees.
Just to add to the greatness of life, here is my daughter from earlier in the evening, getting her Ringo on to "Lovely Rita."
Seriously, if you are in the Baton Rouge area seeking a music tutor for your budding rock demigod/dess, Anna Byars is yr gal. Email me and I'll put you in touch.