Greetings gentle pagans and unwitting celebrants of paganistic seasonal rituals – happy fall! (And to all my readers (I might have some you never know) south of the Equator, happy spring!)
Let’s be honest with each other, OK? Fall is the best season. Summer is great and perky, spring is very nice after a long winter, (and winter blows, mostly) but fall is the best. And – as much as I do love making my King of Summertime mixes each year – I love making my fall mixes more. Yeah I said it! I just love that mood, that feeling, that autumnal (great word) music puts you in. You know the one. It’s unbeatable. Need I say more? I needn’t. So with that, I give you my 2010 Autumn Mix:
Remember when you were a kid and down in the dumps about something and one of your parents would get you to cheer up by looking at you and saying, “don’t smile. Dooooooon’t smile. Don’t smile!” and you couldn’t help but smile. That was good parenting right there. It still works on adults, too, which you may not know. Try it on the next sulky person you meet. It even works if you say it to yourself.
The last two posts here have been a bit too Serious-shirt Poesy, with my ranting on Hemingway and yammering about Indo-European root words which probably no one cares about anyway. So to counter act that, I dare you to look at this picture of a Bhutanese woman grinning ear to ear and not smile. Seriously. Don’t smile. Don’t you dare.
Haaaaa you can’t even do it can you. You’re smiling your ass off right now I can see it. That’s OK I guess, I am too. I mean, is this picture not the pure image of happiness?
By the way, this comes from an article in National Geographic Traveler, which is mostly a vehicle for cheesy ads trying to get you to visit random destinations (Dear Nevada: It doesn’t matter how pretty your full-page spread is, I’m not planning a vacation to your state. Silly Nevada.), but does have a nugget of travel advice or intrigue occasionally. The article by Boyd Matson is about Bhutan’s commitment to increasing the country’s “Gross National Happiness.” The article also features this awesome quote, about the tiny nation’s position wedged between two huge superpowers: “If India sneezes or China farts, we get blown away.” Enough said, I think!
Hello! I’m taking some time off of work this week to spend some time with my friends in the San Francisco bay area. It was my birthday on Friday and everyone has been treating me to an incredible BirthWeek so far. We had a great dinner Friday night, and Saturday we went down to Santa Cruz to see the ocean! The waves were HUGE (seriously) and the surfers were out in force. Walking up and down the beach and along the promenade we saw lots of interestingpeople! Sunday morning we went to the Farmer’s Market in downtown Mountain View and got some great food for lunch. Then we “hiked the dish” at Stanford – lots of colorful people there too! The hike was quite a workout and the views were gorgeous. Yesterday we played some board games, including an epic game of Killer Bunnies. Good thing we didn’t let the game get to us and we all still loved each other at the end! Tonight the girls have invited me to their book club, where we will discuss The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was a pretty good book! On Thursday I’m heading into the foothills near Sacramento to visit even more of my favorite people! Then I return to the beautifulwinter wonderland of Minnesota (this photo showed up when I googled “lutherans”) and my lovely job. Thanks California buddies for such a great week.
There is no greater phrase to a poetry enthusiast. There is nothing so satisfying as picking up a single thick slab of poetry, and saying, this is what this person was (or “is,” maybe). Just look at this one I picked up the other day:
That is a serious chunk of poetry right there son! Five pages shy of 1,200 pages of poetry to be precise. This is a lifetime’s worth of poetry both for him – Mr Hughes – and for me, the reader. I have spent a lot of time with this book already, digging right into it, but I have barely broken the surface. This is a deep, dark, damp, mysterious well that you may climb into but never out of. My bookshelf is full of these wells, echoing pits that I sink into one at a time and perch at the bottom in hopes of finding myself (or finding someone else), as in the dry wells of Mr. Wind-Up Bird. There is a problem that presents itself, that of too many wells to choose from, but what a problem to have! Especially with a poet like Hughes whose language is so tangled and mythic and so completely, deeply English, it is really a joy to get lost amongst these words, to flip randomly throughout his life and breathe deep. Magic.
Everyone else is doing it. Surely the best reason to do anything, right? Over the past few weeks all the big style/culture mags and blogs have been looking back on the decade and declaring their favorite music, books, movies, etc. And while I could probably name ten movies worth seeing from the 2000s, and maybe a couple books (I’m still working on books from the 1900s – would you like a list from that decade?), one thing I can definitively discuss and rank is music. Looking at the lists from Pitchfork (too hipstery (also, “brought to you by Haagen Dazs”?! lol)), Paste (too…Paste-y), NME (too Britishy), Rolling Stone (I’m sorry but any list with System of a Down is automatically disqualified), NPR (John Adams and Britney Spears on the same list? Double lol), et al., and not entirely liking what I was seeing, I realized the only true judge of the best music of an era is one’s own self – because music is so utterly subjective, and debating the merits of one list or another tends to get both violent and boring after oh, five minutes. As one friend said: “how could you include ___ but not ___ or ___?” Just fill in your own blanks and you basically have the substance of every disagreements. So a guy’s gotta come up with his own list – not a “best albums” list, but a “favorite albums” list. I basically abandoned objectivity and just went with my gut on this one. Anyway, hope you do enjoy it, and maybe pick up some of the music listed here!
As I welcome my 2008 Subaru Outback in my life (LOVE it), I would like to look back on what was lost, and remember the Blue Ox’s steadfast companionship, and all the fun we had together. As I made this video I wanted it to be cheesy and kinda funny, but in the end it made me sad too. You will be missed, friend.
Wandering through the bookstore the other day something a bit out of place caught my eye. Something…fuzzy. Turns out, it’s the Dave Eggers novelization of the “Where the Wild Things Are” movie! Usually the phrase “movie novelization” is enough to make me barf on the spot but, I JUST HAD TO HAVE IT. I mean…it has FUR. And weird creepy staring eyes. And it’s based on the best kids book ever. And it’s written by Dave Eggers, who’s pretty solid through and through. So here it is!
Just like the season itself in Minnesota this year, this mix is coming better late than never. I swear we headed straight from summer to winter around here, with the warm September, and then snow and the cold piling on us the first couple weeks of October. Today I went outside for a walk and it really finally felt like fall here. Here’s hoping we get a few good days of it before winter sets in for reals. So here we go, autumn mix blah blah blah you know the drill. I pulled out some oldies-but-goodies for this one, stealing the title from a Cat Stevens song that’s been on my mind, also tossing in some Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, Pearl Jam, and Bjork (?!) for fun. Also staying hip to the times I threw in some timely Modest Mouse, which I hear all the kids are listening to these days, and wrapped it all up with a 10-minute guitar instrumental. Don’t be scared. It’s incredible.
Baby Baby It’s a Wild World: Autumn 2009
1. Maplewood – “Indian Summer”
2. Dawes – “Love Is All I Am”
3. Bill Callahan – “Too Many Birds”
4. Modest Mouse – “Autumn Beds”
5. Van Morrison – “Old, Old Woodstock”
6. Cat Stevens – “Wild World”
7. The Tallest Man on Earth – “This Wind”
8. Richard Thompson – “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”
9. J. Tillman – “Howling Light”
10. Bjork – “Joga”
11. Led Zeppelin – “That’s the Way”
12. Pearl Jam – “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”
13. Golden Smog – “Radio King”
14. Vetiver – “Angel’s Share”
15. Feist – “The Park”
16. The Avett Brothers – “Laundry Room”
17. James Blackshaw – “The Cloud of Unknowing”
Today I finished the third book in the trilogy of David James Duncan’s major works: River Teeth. The other two books are The River Why and The Brothers K, both of which I cannot possibly recommend highly enough. I recommend the third book just as highly, however I would read the two novels first before wading (har har) into River Teeth, which is a book of short stories and autobiographical pieces about transformation; sort of a book of Ovid for the 90s. While the book is certainly the equal of the other two it pays to have DJD’s sense of timing and narrative already firmly planted in your mind before reading; plus the book features a last glance at Evertt Chance, one of the brothers in The Brothers K, and is truly a joy to read after learning about his trials and tribulations in K.
Duncan, in these three books is focused on – obsessed with, haunted by, devoted to – water and transformation, and the play between the two. His characters are, in essence, baptized – reborn, transformed – by the lakes, rivers, creeks, oceans, and irrigation ditches of the Pacific Northwest. His characters seek out answers constantly, in books and from friends – Why is littered with choice quotes from The Compleat Angler to the Koran – and from that ultimate source, nature. The final truth of these books is that people can and will change, if they open their minds up wide enough. Thus Duncan’s protagonists drop the tops of the convertibles of their minds and let the wind blow Truth through their hair, although sometimes not without a bit of forcefulness. Gus, our hero of The River Why, takes painfully long to figure things out. Even being chased down by a beautiful girl, haunted by quotes tossed at him by his hippie bodhisattva friend, and facing the utter torment and sadness of his lonely life, he refuses to change, a refusal that is all the more painful for the reader because he or she surely recognizes this stubbornness in him/herself, and is no doubt embarrassed and hurt by it. I don’t want to spoil the ending but in the end what saves him is a fish, not a pretty girl or a fancy quote. In a flash of epiphany and ecstasy his world is switched on and he, and we, are allowed to move forward. Our joy as readers is tempered only by our lingering jealousy that he gets to change and we do not.
In The Brothers K, each brother takes his own path out of darkness, and all are not equally successful. Although each has his point of ecstasy and epiphany, for some of them the magic is fleeting – they climb just to the top of the canyon wall, only to stumble and fall back in just as they peek their heads over the horizon and see what could be. Although some of the clan does get to the top, the book is ultimately a tragedy, with joy again holding hands with sorrow.
River Teeth is a series of vignettes, some fiction, some more memoir-like snippets from Duncan’s own life. Again each is a tale of transformation, a peek into the clockwork machinery of the world and the return from that. As I finished this book today, over and over in my head I heard the word “ecstasy,” just the word flipping and sloshing around in my brain like a trout in one of Duncan’s Oregon rivers. The word, as far as I can tell, is never used in this book, however each story includes an ecstatic moment. In my mind (word geek that I am) I’m thinking of an older definition of the word “ecstasy;” today we use the word as a synonym of joy or happiness, but the word’s more archaic meaning is “an emotional or religious frenzy or trancelike state, originally one involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence.” The word comes from Greek, ekstasis, “standing outside oneself.” To me this is the precise word to describe Duncan’s work, filled with characters succumbing to experiences of mystic self-transcendence. Gus’ transcendence comes not from a girl or a book or a shaman; it comes at night, alone with a fishing pole. Peter Chance, one of the brothers, chases transcendence through the words of every hold man he can possibly find, finally making a pilgrimage to India where he is transformed not by a yogi or a priest or an volume of Vedic literature, but by a robbery gone wrong, after which he is left alone and naked – literally. Everett Chance too takes the route of the lonely to find his way to transcendence, bathed for an entire winter in the slogging rains of Vancouver Island.
Beautifully written and wholly inspirational, I found each book infinitely rewarding, and I feel that subsequent readings will reveal even more. Sometimes a book – or in this case a trio of books – come along right when you need them, and when you read them you feel as if the writer is talking just to you and you alone, as if he is there to help you and guide you along. Sometimes a book gives you exactly what you need, nothing more or less, and you feel elevated, enlightened. The irony of these books and that feeling of enlightenment is that in Duncan’s books, as we’ve seen, words are useless. They can lead you down the path but it’s up to you and you alone to find the rest of the way. Transformation and ecstasy is left solely up to you. I hope for myself that I can someday finish what these books have helped me start.