Sunday, December 31, 2006

The year that was - adios, 2006

...Wow, I flee from the outside world for a week at the beach and come back to find James Brown, Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein have all kicked it. Strangeness. Makes me wish I still worked in a newsroom.

My first New Zealand Christmas was a good one, though, and my kiwi in-laws did a fine job making me feel at home, complete with Christmas turkey, "crackers," and apple martinis and croquet on the lawn (ah, summertime...).

We've only 8 or so hours to go in 2006 here down under, where we're the first place in the world to welcome the New Year (which means we're always ahead of our time). OK, the remote Chatham Islands (part of NZ) just east of here are actually the very first place to see 2007, like 45 minutes ahead of us, but then we're next.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingSo it's time to take stock a bit and look back at the last 12 months. It's definitely not one of those years where I lean back and think, man, I haven't done anything with my life this year. If anything, there's been a little too much change sometimes, but hey, "it's an adventure," right?

Things I accomplished in 2006:
• Moved 6,000 miles to a foreign country, which we've been threatening to do ever since Avril and I got married in 1999... And somehow we kept our sanity and marriage intact during this past year. Left Oregon after 4 1/2 excellent years, sold most of our possessions, quit my newspaper job and entered the realm of vagabond layabout-slash-stay-at-home-dad. Avril returned to the work force and we sold one Subaru and bought another. Yeah, that's enough for 10 years, let alone just one!
• Embarked on our swell Mega-America Trek 2006 between leaving Oregon and leaving America, visiting 10 states, traveling 5,500 miles and seeing tons of old pals, amazing sights and wide-open spaces along the way.
• Self published a surprisingly affordable little book collecting most of my newspaper columns from the past 10 years or so which everyone who loves me really should own.
• Watched our little Peter really turn from a milk bottle-suckin', diaper-wearin', babbling toddler into a "real boy," one who'll be 3 years old (ack!) in just a couple months' time.
• Saw the most excellent Richard Thompson in concert for his "1000 years of Popular Music" show.
• Interviewed the rockin' Alice Cooper (and saw his fab, freaky show) and blues legend Charlie Musselwhite.
• Comics superstar Jeff Parker gave me my first actual appearance in a comic book – of course, I'm a henchman who gets stomped on by The Hulk, but so it goes...
• Caught up with lots of old friends this year, and was especially happy to stumble across the old high school girlfriend I hadn't seen in 16 years (all praise Google), meet her husband and kid and generally feel really old but glad we caught back up before I fled American shores...

The downers:
• Said good-bye to a lot of "stuff" and places this year, but the hardest was giving up my lovely little Kudzu cat whom I'd owned for nearly 12 years since she was an animal shelter kitten. Good buddy Christian and family took 'er in, but it doesn't take away how much I miss the danged little fuzzball.
• Had exceedingly unpleasant minor male-type surgery back in January which I won't go into much detail about, only to note that I hope to never have to wear a catheter again. Eurgh.
• Accepted the grim reality that my hairline is indeed receding at a ridiculously fast pace (I look at photos from just a year ago and I weep, baldly). On the other hand, I grew a decent beard for the first time in my life to kind of make up for it. Well, it's all hair.

As for '07, who knows what it holds? We have to remind ourselves that we're still very much "in progress" on this whole life-changing migration thing. I have yet to find some kind of work, probably part-time, Peter's got to get day care, we really do need to move out of my in-laws' house and stop imposing on them before too long, and the million other things that go with "starting over" again in a foreign land... But so far, it's all gone better than we'd hoped. I just have to remind myself of that when the days are gray and I get a bit homesick for the land of 80-channel TV, cheap CDs and long road trips through the desert. Happy 2007 to you and yours!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry hiatus, ho ho ho

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting...So it's almost our first Christmas in New Zealand, and it's been interesting to compare and contrast. It's early summer here, of course, which throws one off a bit seasonally. NZ by and large also isn't a very religious country (only 40% or so identify themselves as Christian compared to like 85% in the States), so that gives the holiday a generally different tenor.

The big diff, though, is that the whole freakin' country apparently shuts down for the two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year's. MUCH more so than in the workaholic U.S. -- where I've often had to work Christmas Eve. It sounds like the majority of offices close at least the entirety of Christmas week, some for two weeks. My wife gets all next week off, for instance. Even small newspapers and magazines cease publication! It tends to be when a lot of folks take their summer holidays. This of course is in a country where there'll soon be four weeks of state-mandated vacation time a year for employees (and many employees use the Christmas time as part of that vacation break). Yeah, it's a little different here.

So fitting the vibe I too am taking a break -- we're off to spend time with family and then the beach next week and I'll resume posting sometime after the holidays. Merry Christmas, and see you in 2007!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Year in review: Favorite books of 2006

I'm a readin' fool, as most anyone who knows me will attest. According to my somewhat obsessive reading list, I read a total of 101 books this year through today (not including graphic novels). Once again I just didn't read a lot of fiction – only 28 of these books were fiction, the rest nonfiction of some sort, heavy on the biography, history and pop culture. (Of the nonfiction, um, 7 of those are books on Bob Dylan, which is really a little depressing when you think about it)

In no particular order or pattern, here's a handful of the books I dug the most. Most were published in hardback or paperback this past year, or close enough to count. It's my rules! Ask me in a week, it might be an entirely different list.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey" by Candice Millard - I'm a Teddy Roosevelt nut, eager to swallow up books on the man I consider the last truly epic president, a larger-than-life cowboy, environmentalist, adventurer and politician. This great book looks at TR's final journey, an exploration of the unknown jungles of the Amazon with a small crew of like-minded gutsy travelers. Jungle attacks, disease, death and disaster lurk around every turn. Wonderfully researched and with Millard's vivid writing you can almost taste the malaria (use that on a jacket quote!). Utterly unimaginable to picture our current president doing anything like this, of course, but fantastic true-life derring-do even if you hate politics.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting" by Brett Milano (2003) - Yeah, when it came to piling up all my CDs for the recent trans-global move, I started to worry I was becoming "that guy" – the one whose house is taken over by his insane collection. Needn't have worried. In this blissfully readable homage to obsessive geek-dom, Milano looks at vinyl and music hoarders from around the world, coming up with glorious how-far-will-this-guy-go stories (would you pay $2,000 – twice? – for an obscure 45 single?) and a nice insight into what makes the "High Fidelity" types among us click. As for me, I'm nowhere near as bad as I thought.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade Of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas," by Chuck Klosterman - I loves me the Chuck K., and this hefty collection of his snarky magazine interviews, critical essays and more from the pages of Spin, Esquire and the like is a great bowl of pop culture stew. Highlights include his surreal interview with a half-naked Britney Spears, a journey to Val Kilmer's New Mexico hideaway, a refreshingly relaxed chat with Jeff Tweedy and a trip to a Morrissey convention filled with Latino Moz fans. If you're the kind of person who spends time thinking about who the best candidate for the fifth (and seventh, and tenth) Beatle would be, give it a whirl. It's all breezy good junk culture fun, a nice follow-up to his previous collection, "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs." Pair it with "Vinyl Junkies" and geek out.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"High Lonesome: Stories 1966-2006," by Joyce Carol Oates - A massive collection of 40 years of short stories by one of the modern masters of the form, diamond-sharp prose about unpredictable horror, lust and despair coming into the lives of everyday people. Oates moves easily from suburban angst to rural tragedy, capable of rendering tales in a down-home first-person candor or with a polished, omniscient sheen. I was new to Oates upon reading this, and now I'm a convert to her sinister power, a cousin to writers like Flannery O'Connor and Patricia Highsmith. (Full review here.)

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"Cell" by Stephen King – There are those who say King peaked back in the '80s, but while this isn't exactly "It, Part II," it's a swell little piece of modern-day cyber-paranoia, about a plague that affects all cell phone users and turns them into raving psychotics. Yeah, another end-of-the-world saga, but "Cell" is nice and tense, unsettling and brief enough not to wear out its welcome. And it scared me, which takes a little work even for the best of King to do. (Full review here.)

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer" by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin - This Pulitzer prize winning biography is like watching the American dream - and nightmare - in action. Oppenheimer, of course, brought us the atomic bomb, but went from American hero to near-traitor during the communism scare of the 1950s. Physics and politics don't sound like the most exciting read, but the authors really bring the haughty, brilliant and dreamy Oppenheimer to life, which makes his hubris and fall that much more tragic. Great, spellbinding biography.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific" by J. Maarten Troost (2004) - Ever wonder what it'd be like to live on a gorgeous South Pacific island? Not really all that great, according to Troost, who writes a hilarious travelogue of his years on the flyspeck islands of Kiribati, with a wit and sly insight that makes you feel like you've gone yourself. The realities of life on an island barely the size of some strip malls come to life here, as well as the gentle charms of island life. Fine travel writing in the vein of Tim Cahill or Bill Bryson, with a ramshackle charm all its own.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More deep thoughts

The best album to get your 3-year-old some exercise when it's been raining the last two days straight and you're contemplating toddler-cide? They Might Be Giants, "Flood." Try not to dance like an idiot to "Birdhouse In Your Soul," "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)", etc. After six songs of flailing about madly, Peter sat down and said, "I very tired. We just listen now."

Over at BlogCritics, watch me wrestle The Who, Bob Dylan and more into a lengthy essay on two more swell books in the 33 1/3 music-lit series. Read it right here.

Two entries in one day! I'm hardcore.

Deep thoughts

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingSo we watched the animated movie "Cars" (which Peter had to see three times over the course of the weekend), and it was your typically beautiful-looking Pixar computer-created 'toon. Still, for some reason, something about it bugged me a bit, kept me from liking it as much as say, "Toy Story" or "The Incredibles." And that's the central concept – a world populated apparently entirely by animated cars, planes and trucks, who zip around on the roads, live in car-sized houses, guzzle down fuel, and so forth. Their world basically looks exactly like ours, except it's cars. And so my mind began to wander, and I realized the world of "Cars" must have come about when the cars overthrew the humans, undoubtedly slaughtering them all or consigning them to slavery. Which is why their world is so much like ours - they've adapted the remains of the dead human civilization to their own needs. It's like "Maximum Overdrive," Part II. Sure, they're cute and have googly eyes and stuff, but after the third viewing of "Cars" this weekend, I saw the darker side, man.

Machines - brrr.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Year in Review: My Top 5 CDs of 2006

Man, I bought a lot of music this year, but I didn't seem to buy a lot of music from this year. I went through my well-documented Bob Dylan and The Who phases, gathering up frantically my holes in their discography like I was a squirrel on crack hunting nuts. Yeah, I became one of them demented folk what listens to all the music from before they were born. But what I did buy that came out this year, I really dug. Here's my favorite CDs of this year in no particular order:

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBob Dylan, Modern Times – Speaking of the man, here's the one in which Robert Zimmerman is possessed by the spirit of an 80-year-old black bluesman from Mississippi, and comes out with a creaky, jaunty near-masterpiece. Dylan's 2001 CD "Love and Theft" got lots of love, but I never quite adored it; but this one has a bounce and gait that have had it on constant rotation all fall. At 65, Dylan recaptures some of the playfulness of his youth — this isn't his most profound work – but he still views the world from a wizened perspective. And heck, it was his first #1 record since the '70s and Dylan even starred in an iPod commercial. A wink-filled ode to America's past without being too retro, it's a gem.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe Decemberists, The Crane Wife — Based on a Japanese folk tale … wait, wait, don't leave. The Decemberists might be one of the most literary bands going, but they've got a sure sense of melody and storytelling, and use this folk tale of a 'crane wife' as a springboard for some wonderful music. It's kind of like early Genesis and Yes meets Elvis Costello, with a timeless, ancient feel. The Decemberists love to sing songs about sea voyages, lost lovers and dying promises, and this sprawling album aims higher than any of their previous work. There's enough on this record to chew on for weeks, which is kind of what I love about it – that and the songs often possess a staggering beauty. It's the kind of thing that could collapse into pretentious wankery like most prog-rock bands did, but frontman Colin Meloy brings a real intelligence and charm to it all.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingTom Petty, Highway Companion — The perfect disc for listening to while zipping around the interstate for 5,500 miles this past September and October, "Saving Grace" and "Square One" playing in gentle harmonies as the New Mexico sunset came down over unknown fields. It's not cutting edge, but it's beautiful pop music. Petty regains his songwriting mojo for a wistful, restless, memory-soaked album that is his best since 1994's "Wildflowers." Introspective and rootsy, it's one of Petty's warmest records. Full review here.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNeko Case, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood — This Northwest chanteuse has been bubbling away on the fringes of country, pop and rock for a few years, and is a member of the swell New Pornographers. With her latest solo album, Neko breaks through and becomes the modern Patsy Cline. Her gorgeously lonesome wail of a voice highlights strange, surreal and impressionistic tunes that simmer and sway. It's a moody, brooding album, one that takes a few listens to cast its spell fully, but once you fall into it, "Fox Confessor" seems like a postcard from a shadowy neo-country world. And it certainly doesn't hurt that she's a glamorous redhead, a species I have a certain weakness for.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingTV On The Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain — Somewhere between noise and melody, TV On The Radio hang out. If anything, the raucous clatter and moans of this second album was even less accessible than their first. But the machine-meets-tribal rhythms of this sound is daring, original stuff, given its blessing here by a cameo appearance by David Bowie himself. The cuisinart of sound in "I Was A Lover," the anthemic boom of "Wolf Like Me," the Pixies-meets-Motown slam of "Let The Devil In" — this is a band that takes chances and makes them work. Full review here.

Runners-up: Just barely missing the top five, Elvis Costello and Allan Toussaint, "The River In Reverse," Cat Power, "The Greatest," Tom Waits, "Orphans" (which probably would be on the top half of the list but it's a box set with some older material, y'know); Johnny Cash, "American V," Jolie Holland, "Springtime Will Kill You," Heartless Bastards, "All This Time," Gnarls Barkley, "St. Elsewhere."

Weakest hits: Everclear, Welcome To The Drama Club. Man, what happened to this band? "Sparkle and Fade" was one of my favorite albums of the '90s, but with every passing year frontman Art Alexakis sounds more and more like a parody of himself. With only Alexakis from previous albums fronting a group of newcomers, "Drama Club" sounds like leftover angst that no longer sounds fresh at all.

* For about a zillion other top music lists, go check out the swell mega-list Largehearted Boy has painstakingly assembled! Hours of list reading if you're like me and a nut for these year-end things.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Assorted linkbloggery

Wow, we move to this side of the world and Australia bursts into flames and Fiji has (yet another) coup. Can the rise of Sauron be next?

So we had our first New Zealand camping trip this weekend, to the gorgeous little peninsula of Tawharanui about 80km north of Auckland. Being New Zealand, it rained on us much of Saturday but the weather here is such that if you don't like it, wait 10 minutes and it'll be completely different, so there were some nice spells, and Sunday was utterly gorgeous. There's approximately eleventy-billion beaches in New Zealand to explore so that will keep us busy for many weekends. Go check out some photos over at my Flickr page!

...Very strange to see that for the second time in a year a family got lost in the woods of Oregon not too far from where we used to live. The tragic tale of the James Kim family seemed to be top news everywhere I looked on US web sites last week. It was odd to see our former home of Oregon once again take center stage – the road they were stranded on, this very remote quasi-highway between the coast and Grants Pass, was the same exact road Avril and I drove on a little more than a year ago (our account of it was told here). Where James Kim died was just an hour or so south of Roseburg. I remember thinking at the time we drove on that curvy, curvy little road how easy it could be to get lost there – and that was in September, well before the snows. For many folks it's pretty inconceivable that you can get lost, lost for good, in modern America - but there's still a lot of remote places out there.

Over on BlogCritics you can find two swell reviews I've done recently that I haven't posted here -- go henceforth and read!
"LoudQUIETLoud: A Film About The Pixies," a swell documentary covering the band's 2004 reunion tour.
"33 1/3: Nirvana's In Utero" by Gillian G. Gaar is a nifty pocket-sized look at the grunge band's finest hour, in my humble opinion. Check it out!

Friday, December 8, 2006

Review: "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut"

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThere have been a lot of great comic book movies in the past decade, yet for me, I think my favorite will always be 1980's "Superman II." The gripping confrontation between Superman and the evil General Zod blew me away at age 9, and I still think in its combination of epic action and heartfelt characterization, "Superman II" outshines many of the comic movies in the years since.

Yet for a long time, fans of the movie have known that the finished film was just the tip of the iceberg and that an entirely different version of the movie lurked out there, unseen. Now, thanks to the miracles of DVD, "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut" lives, 26 years after the original movie's release.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingDonner was the director of the great "Superman: The Movie," but a series of arguments with the film's producers led him to be fired midway through filming "Superman II" (which was being made simultaneously with the first movie). A new director, Richard Lester, was hired and much of "Superman II" was filmed from scratch. The final release was still a great movie, but Lester added a notably campier feeling than Donner had in the reverent "Superman I," and fans of Donner always wanted to see his version (pieces of which appeared in TV airings of the movie over the years).

In a pretty amazing bit of resurrection, Donner's film has been dug out of the vaults, and pieced together with some of Lester's cut and a few digital additions to create an entirely new movie. "Superman II: The Donner Cut" is a fascinating piece of alternate history, more or less the same movie as "Superman II" but with a quite different tone. It boasts a new beginning and opening, and tons of new footage – only about 25 percent or so of Lester's cut remains, to keep the story coherent.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingGone are lots of the slapstick moments "A Hard Day's Night" director Lester added, silly sight gags and goofy one-liners, and they aren't really missed. The general feeling is a more serious movie – General Zod (the wonderfully sinister Terence Stamp) and crew are just that much darker (one marvelous added moment shows Zod picking up a discarded machine gun during the White House siege, and with a playful evil grin, using it himself on the soldiers).

While it's become hip for some folks to diss Lester's cut, it's still the one I grew up with and I love it, even the silly bits. I could live with never seeing some of the lamer moments – Superman's "super cellophane shield throwing"? – but even so, it's got a grand epic, polished scope to it that "The Donner Cut" lacks a little.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOne of the big perks of "The Donner Cut is that it restores a good 15 minutes of footage featuring Marlon Brando as Superman's father Jor-El. I was never a huge fan of Brando's mannered, sort of comatose performance in "Superman: The Movie," but oddly, his work for "Superman II" is much better. "The Donner Cut" replaces the bland Susannah York as Superman's mother to use Brando as intended. The entire sequence where Superman gives up his powers to be with Lois and then seeks them back to fight Zod is terrific here – I always hated how in the original cut that despite being told he could never regain his powers, Superman apparently regained them easily offscreen. Here, he pays a real and brutal cost for his choices, and the moral dilemma Superman faces is much richer.

It's a fanboy nitpick, though, but one moment I can't forgive is "The Donner Cut" cutting out my single favorite line from the original cut – a re-powered Superman, bristling with suave confidence, confronting Zod outside the Daily Planet building with the line, "General Zod, would you care to step outside?" – and replacing it with an idiotic one-liner about freedom of the press. The final battle shown here also suffers a bit from poorly patched-together special effects.

The ending of "Superman II" in any form has never quite worked – Superman apparently kisses Lois Lane into some kind of "super amnesia" so she forgets his secret identity? – but in my eyes, "The Donner Cut" ending is worse, basically lifting the ending of "Superman I" off and grafting it on here, so Superman turns back time and creates the ultimate deus ex machina. It's a cheat that I didn't like when it appeared in "Superman I" – and in both versions of "Superman II," the ending is a flaw that mars the movie. The best choice, of course, would have been to simply keep Lois Lane aware of Superman's identity and go on from there.

I don't know if I prefer Donner's cut to Lester's – in the form it's in here, it's really not quite a finished movie. The editing is choppy and the musical score doesn't always synch well with what's onscreen. One pivotal new sequence, the one where Lois finally confirms Clark Kent is Superman, was actually pieced together from an old screen test, but it still works quite well and features marvelous acting by Reeve and Kidder. Rounding out the disc are a commentary with Donner, a short featurette explaining how this cut came to be (seeing crate after crate filled with stored film gives an idea what an amazing chore this was), and a few more deleted scenes.

For anyone who's a diehard fan of "Superman II" this cut is certainly worth seeing, but perhaps less as a replacement than as a kind of supplement to the more famous version.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Things that are different here, Part 2

The language in New Zealand, of course, is the same down under but kinda different in a parallel universe sort of way... Stuff like the "bach" (vacation home) I mentioned in my previous post. A lot of it has British roots, but there's also quite a lot of Maori influence and various other linguistic twists and turns.

Just a few of the many phrases I'm getting used to uttering so I don't utterly stick out 'round here:
courgettes = zucchini
capsicum = peppers
whanau = Maori for "extended family" basically
pakeha = a non-Maori New Zealander
petrol = gas
lolly = candy
torch = flashlight
jandals = flip-flop sandals
whinge = to whine

"Punter" is a word I'm still trying to exactly define. You hear people called "punters" a lot and it's a vaguely dirty sounding word but actually apparently it's kind of colloquial version of customers (i.e. "Lot of punters in the bar tonight eh?") and has roots in gambling.

There's a particularly great guide online here -- it includes swear words, kids! There are some slang there I and my wife have never actually heard anybody utter but I am eager to work into my daily conversation:
my arse is a red cabbage: expression of confidence, as in 'if he can do that, my arse is a red cabbage'
sammy short of a picnic: brick short of a load, a bit thick or crazy
you think you're a flowerpot because you've got a hole in your bum: you love yourself

Say one of these to your co-workers today! G'day, mates!

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Day at the races

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So yesterday we went out to the family beach house at Karekare for the annual beach races there. I've mentioned Karekare before, this gorgeous vast black sand beach surrounded by huge greenery-covered rocky mountain cliffs -- about 45 minutes from Auckland, it's where the opening scenes of Kiwi director Jane Campion's "The Piano" were filmed. Anyway, every year they have these big horse races which draw hundreds of people out to see them. It was that rarity for New Zealand, a crystal-clear cloudless sunny day (in December - still getting used to the temperature swap). Trying to take pictures of horses running by, I discovered horses can run a lot faster than I can manage to take a decent picture, but I got one shot (above) that I rather liked.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingPeter and his cousin played on the black sand beach for hours and hours, Peter getting sticky black sand in pretty much every orifice you could imagine.

Whereupon he wore himself out, passed out in the car on the drive back and spent the next 14 hours out like a light. So in other words, it was pretty much a perfect day for all!

Friday, December 1, 2006

Ramblin' man: Five for Friday

...Two weeks of this stay-at-home dad routine and frankly I feel a bit like my adult brain is dissolving into something the consistency of the oatmeal with brown sugar Peter so loves to eat... Play-Doh, Bob Builder, motorbikes and big trucks, building blanket houses and occasional time-outs, these are the things I know of now.

In any event, to post something, I shall be lazy and steal entirely from Lefty (mentioned twice in two posts! but he did declare me his #6 musical guru after all) to post my Top Ten of the Week, things I have seen/done/heard this week I do like. Except I'll only do five because I'm half-assed in that fashion.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting1. Tom Waits, "Orphans" CD Box set. Wow, this is the mother lode, 54 songs, three CDs of Waits-ian roar, rattle and hoot distilled into distinctive albums – "Brawlers," "Bawlers" and "Bastards," each catering to a unique side of Waits' sound. It's an utterly gorgeous looking set, combining rarities and covers with a whole moose-load of new tunes. Anyone who's a fan of Waits' weird world should grab this. I'm just barely digging in to it, but so far the blown-engine stomps of "Brawlers" are particularly fine soundtracks for your own personal emotionally shattered 3 a.m. car journey. Or as Waits himself puts it, "What’s Orphans? I don’t know. Orphans is a dead-end kid driving a coffin with big tires across the Ohio River wearing welding goggles and a wifebeater with a lit firecracker in his ear." Awesome.

2. Borat: "Very niiiiice." Yep, Sacha Baron Cohen's pseudo-documentarian romp finally opened in New Zealand last week and I got to check it out and pretty much loved it, like I figured I would. (The image of one unseemly scene is forever seared on my retinas, though - you know which one I mean if you've seen it. Wrestling. Brrr.) Classic comedy by a man who might well be the new Peter Sellers. The character of Borat's an amazing piece of acting when you think about it, and the movie's the kind of comedy that makes you cringe a little bit while you laugh your head off.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting3. The Who, "Live At Leeds" CD. Inspired by viewing the balls-out awesome rock documentary "The Kids Are Alright" on the tube the other week, I've gotten truly into the gods of Mod rock lately and am filling out the holes in my CD collection by them. This album is a fantastic souvenir of The Who at their early '70s peak, pounding along through an immense set-list full of interesting twists and turns (a highlight being a clattering 15-minute take on "My Generation"!). The sound on the disc I got is fantastically clear – you can practically hear the sweat fly off Keith Moon's drumsticks, and Entwistle's bass thrums with a beefy brawn. Glad I've finally hepped in to what has to be one of the best live albums I own.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting4. Peepshow #14. Poor sad bastard Joe Matt has finally released a new issue of his autobiographical comic book, after something like a five-year hiatus... which, if you believe his story this issue, he's basically spent, um, shaking hands with little Elvis, if you get my grip. As indulgent and navel-gazing as a comic can get, this long-delayed issue is still pretty fascinating. Matt almost deconstructs the now-tired genre of autobio comics, trying to break out of his cycle of porn, lust and apathy. His cartooning remains fluid and expressive, even if his character barely leaves his room this issue. It ain't a purty read, but it's a highly interesting one if only to see how low you can go – I only hope Matt's next work has a little more light and hope in it, since in his "real" life he's apparently gone on to break out of his Toronto rut and move to California.

5. Re-reading one of my favorite novel series, Patricia Highsmith's "Ripley" stories, starting with "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and on through the next four books. Highsmith does an amazing job showing the birth and life of Tom Ripley, an amoral, but extremely civilized, psychopath, a kind of non-cannibal Hannibal Lecter who never gets caught. Highsmith's cool, controlled and nonjudgmental prose makes these suspense novels bite with a literary kick. Re-reading the first novel is particularly interesting to see young, confused Tom Ripley murder his way to something resembling happiness as he discovers who he really is. In the later books, an older Tom develops into a cruel and psychotic mystery of a man. The "Ripley" books are still chilling nearly 40 years after they were written. Check 'em out if you like smart suspense that's a few notches up from Tom Clancy or Dean Koontz.