Thursday, September 28, 2006

This is not a real post

Location: Greeley, Colorado
Miles driven: 2,700+
States visited so far: 4 (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado)
What we did today: Drove over the Rocky Mountains from Glenwood Springs to our friend Chris' home. (Thanks Chris and everyone else that's hosted the Traveling Dirga Show so far!)
What we're doing tomorrow: Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
State of mind: Mildly exhausted; full of Mexican food. It's a damn big country.
Orwellian: And Chris even blogged about our visit - the watcher becomes the watched!
The road trip continues....

Saturday, September 16, 2006

LIFE: Hit the road, Jack

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We're off to parts unknown as we hit the highway for a Mega-America Road Trek 2006, so farewell for a while. Our $%^# MacBook is still being #$!* repaired by *!@# Apple so no blogging probably until early October meantime. For the duration, be well and look for a white Subaru driven by a bedraggled homeless jobless journalist and family passing through your town!

Friday, September 15, 2006

MUSIC: TV On The Radio, 'Return To Cookie Mountain'

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingDon’t get comfortable. TV On The Radio’s second album of peculiarly gorgeous art-rock is calculated to push the boundaries between melody and cacophony. Return To Cookie Mountain is what we critics like to call a “challenging” record. That means it ain’t for everyone, but those that like it should really like it.

TV On The Radio’s first LP, 2004’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, was a memorable stew of industrial-strength alternative rock crossed with doo-wop and gospel sounds. Songs like “Staring At The Sun” or “Dreams” combined great pop imagery with an urgent funky feeling. The Brooklyn-based band came from an art student background, which doesn’t necessarily imply classic music. Yet their debut was striking and fueled hopes for what was next.

So leave it to this band to head out into left field with the long-awaited follow-up. You’ll hear echoes of Desperate Youth’s sound here, but Cookie Mountain is a big quantum leap forward. It’s daring, original stuff.

Tunde Adebimpe’s throaty voice (often compared to a young Peter Gabriel) duels with the otherworldly falsetto of Kyp Malone. David Andrew Sitek (music/guitars/keys/loops) Jaleel Bunton (drums) and Gerard Smith (bass) round out the quintet.

The easy hooks of TV On The Radio’s earlier songs evaporate into a whirling slush of sound here. Gorgeous sounds waft in, then fade out again. It’s terrifically experimental and often breathtaking. It’s also a lot to throw at the listener, and requires several listens to really start to appreciate.

The first track, “I Was A Lover,” sets the tone for the disc, building up from a series of Radiohead-esque bleeps and bleats into a cascading wall of sound. Strange found noise fades in and out of the scene, the band shifting from noise rock into piano-laced doo-wop, moving with a startling jaggedness. There’s even a few alarming CD skip-noises laced in with the track. It might turn you off – it’s a daring choice for an opening number, but it took me off guard with its shambling assault.

But with song two, “Hours,” TV On The Radio swerves again, with Malone doing his best Beach Boys harmonies over a slapping series of beats and Adebimpe barking darkly oblique lyrics like “inform our future youth / summon from the sky.” The cloudy world of TV On The Radio seems tailor-made for the nebulous angst of post-9/11 life.

Big-time TV On The Radio fan David Bowie drops in for guest vocals on the epic “Province,” while the thundering “Wolf Like Me” is probably the disc’s best shot at radio play, a propulsive blast of a tune that name-checks werewolves and “Little Red Riding Hood.” “Let The Devil” in has an old-school R&B feel with Adebimpe’s sexy crooning, but then it explodes into Pixies-like screams for a chorus. The beautifully gloomy “Blues From Down Here” might be a lament by a dead man to his lover, a son’s mournful message to his mother, or a murderer’s confession.

You can’t predict quite where this band is going next, and that gives Return To Cookie Mountain the kind of burning urgency that indicates a record for the ages.

The band’s ambition occasionally overwhelms it. While most of the songs unfold with beauty the more you listen to them, some of them never quite take off or dissolve into static. Sometimes, the brooding vocals are buried too far in the mix to really understand the lyrics at all. (It helps if you listen with headphones.)

Although maybe that’s the point – Return To Cookie Mountain is a disc about atmosphere, about the clashing nexus between beauty and chaos. You get fragments of lyrics layered in with all the ambient noise, and it’s really a record that doesn’t sound quite like anything else out there today. Stay tuned to what TV On The Radio does next.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

MUSIC: Songs for a road trip

...So Friday we're leaving for our Mega-America Road Trek that, if all goes according to plan, will keep us on the road until sometime in early October, exploring the great American outback between Los Angeles and Denver and maybe as far as South Dakota if money and stamina hold out that long.

Which means I had to spend $560 servicing the aging Subaru and we're busy trying to figure out the best way to pack the least essential stuff into the car. And of course, deciding what CDs to bring. I just finished re-reading Chuck Klosterman's swell "Killing Yourself To Live" which also includes an obsessive music nut planning a cross-country road trip. Chuck brought 650 or so CDs. That's like the size of my entire CD collection, of which 2/3 or so is either in or on the way to New Zealand anyway.

So out of what's left, I had to pick 90 CDs that I can imagine listening to as we zip across the New Mexico deserts and Wyoming plains. (I quite like Joy Division, for example, but it ain't the best driving music unless you're stuck in traffic.)

The final contenders, dear God:

"The Essential Alice In Chains"
Arctic Monkeys, "Whatever People Say That I Am, That's What I'm Not"
The Band, "Greatest Hits"
Big Star, "#1 Record/Radio City"
"Blues: Gold"
Blue Mountain, "Roots"
Blur, "The Best Of"
David Bowie, "Lodger"
David Bowie, "Reality"
David Bowie, "The Singles 1969-1993"
"The British Invasion: Gold"
Neko Case, "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood"
Johnny Cash, "Unchained"
"CBGB's And The Birth Of U.S. Punk"
The Chills, "Heavenly Pop Hits" (vintage New Zealand band)
Alice Cooper, "Dirty Diamonds"
Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint, "The River In Reverse"
"Crumb" original motion picture soundtrack
The Cure, "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me"
Destroyer, "Destroyer's Rubies"
Dinosaur Jr., "Ear Bleeding Country: The Best Of"
Duran Duran, "Greatest"
Bob Dylan, "No Direction Home: The Soundtrack"
Bob Dylan, "Nashville Skyline"
Bob Dylan, "Modern Times" (Absolutely superb CD by the way)
Bob Dylan, "Desire"
Bob Dylan, "Nashville Skyline"
Bob Dylan, "The Bootleg Series," Volume 3
Bob Dylan, "Bringing It All Back Home" (At which point I was informed, enough with the Bob Dylan already)
"Elizabethtown" Motion Picture Soundtrack (Kirtsen Dunst's mix tape)
Eminem, "Curtain Call"
Everclear, "Welcome To The Drama Club"
Fatboy Slim, "Why Try Harder? The Greatest Hits"
Fat Possum Records, "Chapter VII: All Men Are Liars"
Frank Black, "Honeycomb"
Franz Ferdinand, "You Could Have It So Much Better"
Gang Of Four, "Entertainment!"
Guided By Voices, "Vampire On Titus"
Guns 'N' Roses "Greatest Hits" (simply so I can blast "November Rain" at top volume)
Heartless Bastards, "All This Time"
"Hedwig And The Angry Inch," Motion Picture Soundtrack
Jolie Holland, "Springtime Can Kill You"
Iggy And The Stooges, "Raw Power"
Chris Isaak, "Best Of"
Elton John, "Greatest Hits"
Journey, "Greatest Hits" (shut up)
Kings of Leon, "Aha Shake Heartbreak"
Kraftwerk, "Trans-Europe Express"
LCD Soundsystem, "LCD Soundsystem"
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, "Shake The Sheets"
"Lost In Translation" Motion Picture Soundtrack
Lyle Lovett, "My Baby Don't Tolerate"
Madonna, "The Immaculate Collection" (again, shut up)
A.C. Newman, "The Slow Wonder"
The New Pornographers, "Electric Version"
New York Dolls, "New York Dolls"
Nirvana, "From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah"
Old 97's, "Wreck Your Life"
Beth Orton, "Pass In Time"
Tom Petty, "Highway Companion"
Tom Petty, "Greatest Hits"
Pixies, "Live At The BBC"
Elvis Presley, "Elvis Presley" (1956)
R.E.M., "New Adventures In Hi-Fi" (severely underrated, creepy album)
R.E.M., "In Time: 1989-2003, The Best Of"
The Replacements, "Tim"
The Rolling Stones, "Sticky Fingers"
The Paul Simon Anthology, Disc 2
"The Essential Sly & The Family Stone"
Elliot Smith, "From A Basement On A Hill"
Sonic Youth, "Rather Ripped"
Spoon, "Kill The Moonlight"
Spoon, "Gimme Fiction"
"The Essential Bruce Springsteen" (he's American, dammit!)
Talking Heads, "Remain In Light"
Tom Waits, "Real Gone"
TV On The Radio, "Return To Cookie Mountain"
U2, "Best of 1990-2000"
Weezer, "The Blue Album"
White Stripes, "Get Behind Me Satan"
The Who, "My Generation: The Best Of"
Wilco, "A Ghost Is Born"
Hank Williams, "Gold"
Stevie Wonder, "The Definitive Collection"
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Weld" (one of the best live albums ever)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

LIFE: Everybody else is doing it...

Yeah, Sept. 11, huh? Everybody and their mother is blogging about it or writing newspaper articles or magazine forums, so why not me?

Strange to think it's been only five years -- in some ways, this floating free-form paranoia and blue-red division and state of war feels like it's been simmering, boiling around for decades. Cold War, hot war, 9/11, on and on - I barely remember a time when there wasn't a Bush or Clinton in the White House now.

So that Tuesday morning five years ago I was in Truckee, Calif., where winter was just in the edges of the mornings, cold, clear and crisp. I was the editor of the weekly Sierra Sun and just starting to really hate my job there, for various reasons too political to get into now. I had fun and had a great little staff of reporters but was looking for a way out. Still, I was the editor of a newspaper for a town of 6,000 people and that was nifty enough, and one of the things I did as part of that was be a member of the Truckee Rotary club - community building, networking, that kind of thing. We met ungodly early on Tuesdays for greasy breakfasts and I was easily the youngest and poorest guy in the club. But they were nice folks, and when I walked into the meeting that Tuesday morning it seemed weird they were all standing around a TV screen at the senior center where we had our breakfasts. That's when I saw the first news reports, and in about 30 seconds realized I probably ought to be at the office. No eggs that morning.

The Sun came out every Thursday then, and so that meant Tuesday was pretty close to wrapping up the paper. Had to toss it all out and start over more or less reacting to "Terror Strikes Home" or whatever you wanted to call it. But like most people, we spent that Tuesday trying to figure out what had happened - huddled around the tiny fritzy office TV, trying in vain to get any Internet news sites to load, trying to get "local reactions," not quite sure what was going on a continent away except it looked very bad, very bad indeed.

Not a lot really affected our little mountain town except the airport closed, everyone was freaked out and for some bizarre reason Starbuck's Coffee closed for a couple days. But still for those few days we kind of felt like a real newspaper, reacting to national news and plugged in as some tiny piece of a much larger and baffling puzzle that was spinning out in our lives.

I've gone from two newspaper jobs since that day five years ago, and now in a weird limbo where I don't know what will happen next except it'll be in New Zealand before too much longer. Part of me, the cynic, tired of 9/11 long ago, the justifications to create more war and pain because of it, the increasing demagoguery coming from Washington over it, the sense that this battle, whatever you want to call it, will end up dribbling on for much longer than any of us would like, on into my kid and maybe even grandkids' lives. I guess naive as it is, I just wish people would be nicer and that religious obsession of any stripe didn't screw up so many lives.

I don't know if there's any one word that really sums up how I feel about 9/11 these days -- history doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you're in it, I guess.

Friday, September 8, 2006

LIFE: Ore-going, Ore-gone

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...So here we are, officially jobless and homeless for the next couple months. Goodbye Oregon, hello strangeness. We're all in a sort of gentle state of shock I think, down here now at my parents' house in my childhood hometown of Nevada City, California. Everything old is new again. We're here for a week or so before we depart on our previously mentioned America Mega-Trek on the 15th.

Leaving Roseburg was tough, though. In almost five years a place becomes familiar, and I realized as we cleared out our funky little house that it was the longest I've lived in one home since high school. "Robu" as us snooty media types called it was a quirky town, half redneck, half natural beauty galore, and pleasantly mellow. We've given up so very much of our everyday lives these last few months that it's no wonder we're dazed - all our furniture, a lot of books, clothes, CDs, etc., a nice job and a home. We're pared down to the essentials, nearly, even if there is a disturbingly large mountain of boxes here to store in my folks' garage that has to be dealt with someday, and another remarkably mound of things we're actually going to try to take to New Zealand next month.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting And yet the single hardest moment of all this stripping away had to be getting rid of my fine little Kudzu cat Tuesday night, when we dropped her off with my friend (and master golfer) Christian and his wife Mary. I know Kudzu didn't know what was going on, and I can't anthropomorphize that she'll miss me much as I will her, but she was my cat for nearly 12 years, through thick and thin.

I got her mere weeks after I finished college in Mississippi, having just started my first "real" job. That scrawny runt of a shelter cat became my companion through many oddball moves and job changes, moving with me from Mississippi to California to Oregon. She was a comforting warm ball in my bed in winters and probably gave me the first inklings of true adult responsibility when I took her on at age 23 - she was a life I was in control of, or that controlled me, and paved the way for wives and kids and all the rest that comes to us. There were times when I felt she was the best friend I had in the world. Giving her up is almost like her dying, because with her at nearly 12 years old I know chances are slim I'll ever get to see her again. I hate having to leave her, but I know it's for the best. Goodbye, old pal, and thanks again Chris for taking her on.

OK, not to get all maudlin or anything... Anyway. Ah, but it surely would ease the angst if some of you would kindly consider buying my book, Spatula Forum: Greatest Hits 1994-2004. Not that I planned on making a million, but sales are a bit "sluggish," as they say, and your $15 or so for 200+ pages of writing goodness could be considered a charitable contribution to the Get Nik Out of America Fund. It's tax-deductible. Would I lie to you?

Friday, September 1, 2006

LIFE: Adios, News-Review

So today's my last day at work as we begin the long and winding journey that takes us to New Zealand. It's a weird feeling – I've been working here 4 1/2 years, far longer than I've ever worked at one newspaper before. I didn't quite think I'd be here nearly 5 years when we drove up in March 2002 — I was just glad to flee the snow-bound hills of Lake Tahoe, which were utterly gorgeous but crammed with ice half the year, and tourists the other half, and impossibly expensive to live in. Plus, I really had gotten tired of political head games with my then-bosses.

So anyway, Roseburg looked nice, and I'd always wanted to live in Oregon. The paper was great, still part of the same company but quite autonomous, and a six-day daily as opposed to the mostly weekly papers I'd worked at up till then. I've learned a hell of a lot here, far more than I did at previous jobs. It's mostly been a great experience, some ups and downs, but I leave it with genuine regret rather than "Oh my god I can't wait to get out of here" feelings. Yeah, I've been ready to go for a year or so, but that's mostly because I'm an antsy restless personality. (Or to quote The Replacements, "Look me in the eye / and tell me that I'm satisfied.")

I figure I've been here for about 1,500 or so editions of The News-Review, edited countless stories, written 100 or so in-depth feature stories, about 350 movie, music and book reviews, a hundred or two editorials, won a dozen or so ONPA (Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association) awards and watched the newsroom staff roll over a couple times as it tends to do at small papers. I'm ready to move on. Thanks to everyone I've worked with here for making it a fun ride for nearly 5 years.

Giving up your job willingly is always an odd sensation, like diving into the deep end without a rope. I did this once before, in 1997 when I migrated from Mississippi to California without a plan other than "find a job," and I gave up a pretty fun job then too just to avoid staleness. Of course, then I didn't have a kid, wife etc. So there's a certain amount of crazy fear with doing this, of realizing we won't have a steady paycheck till November or December at earliest. But it's cool – we've got savings, and are ready to have adventures. God knows I don't want to be one of those people that spend 20, 30, 40 years at the same job at the same desk. Better to be a little uncertain and have stories worth telling, I figure.

We're going offline as we wrap up our preparations to move back down to California, so no blogging for the next week or so. If you want your fix, hey, buy my book!!