Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

I thought it might fun to usher in the new year by watching the film 2012.  Neither my wife nor I had seen it, and since this year has been purported to be the end, why not?

We had a great time.  It’s Hollywood by the book, but oh, the carnage!  I couldn’t get enough, and was so inspired that we kept going with more doomsday picks.  As always, haikus to the rescue.

It ends with a bang:
an orgy of destruction
and it’s fun to watch.
A procedural
in planetary wreckage
‘Nauts to the rescue.
It begins like art
light, funny, then turns Lars-dark
Yes, depression sucks.

Favorite Songs of 2011

"Some New Jersey Dawn..."

Here’s a list of my top songs for this year, in an order that might be surprisingly mixable. These are not necessarily from 2011; I just happened to have heard them in the last twelve months.

“Payback Time,” by East River Pipe on We Live in Rented Rooms
“A Heart Divided,” by Holly Throsby on A Loud Call
“Sweet Disposition,” by The Temper Trap on Conditions
“Americano,” by Lady Gaga on Born This Way
“You’re Not Stubborn,” by Two Door Cinema Club on Tourist History
“Stranger,” by Lissie on Catching a Tiger
“Cruel,” by St. Vincent on Strange Mercy
“The Day,” by Moby on Destroyed
“Box of Stones,” by B.F. Leftwich on Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm
“Job’s Coffin,” by Tori Amos on Night of Hunters
“Bluebird,” by Christina Perri on Lovestrong
“Mylo Xyloto/Hurts Like Heaven,” by Coldplay on Mylo Xyloto
“Dance, Dance, Dance,” by Lykke Li on Youth Novels
“Rolling in the Deep,” by Adele on 21
“Club Can’t Handle Me,” by Flo Rida featuring David Guetta on Only One Flo Pt. 1
“Never Gonna Leave Me,” by Sia on We Are Born
“Change of Seasons, by Sweet Thing on Sweet Thing
“Portable Television,” by Death Cab for Cutie on Codes and Keys
“The Cave,” by Mumford & Sons on Sigh No More
“Mistakes,” by Mates of State on Mountaintops
“Torch Song,” by Priscilla Ahn on When You Grow Up

The song that has most intrigued me this year is the first on the list, “Payback Time,” by East River Pipe.  So intrigued that I transcribed the lyrics below:

Yeah, I saw you walking with the commandant
Yeah, he buys you everything he thinks you want
But after food and wine and small talk on the Rhine
he says it’s payback time

Yeah, Jean-Paul took you on long cross-country trips
Yeah, Voltaire and Kierkegaard fell from his lips
of steal
But something went awry as love started to die
he said it’s payback time

Just wait, I’ll come along
on some New Jersey dawn
I’ll say payback time

I can’t find the lyrics online, but the singer is pretty clear.  The only part that’s in question is what I have in bold.  I imagine the first stanza describing a situation in a concentration camp (commandant, Rhine, etc.).  In the second stanza, the “you” is a woman, and the singer has lost her to Jean-Paul (hence, the lips of grammatically incorrect “steal”).  The third stanza is a bit of a mystery.  Our narrator will be coming for his girl at some undetermined morning, but whose payback is he talking about?  Jean-Paul’s?  Hers?

Of course, for all I know, the song has nothing to do with anything I’ve said above.  Whatever.  It’s a great tune, and I like thinking about it.

Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill

Two years ago, I had Mary Gaitskill sign a copy of her second novel, Veronica, at the Brooklyn Bookfest.  I’m not a fan of buying books at list price — you’d think that as a writer myself, I’d be supportive of paying full retail, but no, I’m a cheap bastard at heart and would’ve preferred to have purchased it off of Amazon.  But I hadn’t realized she’d be there, so I bought a copy and stood in line.  And it was a line, at least a dozen people ahead of me.

When my turn came, I told her how much I enjoyed her first novel, Two Girls, Fat and Thin.  It wasn’t a perfect book, but I liked how she juggled a story of a complicated relationship between two unevenly-matched women (one pretty, one not) and also a satire of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.  The book wasn’t particularly well received, but it was a worthy effort, and nonetheless enjoyable because Gaitskill takes great care to craft her prose.  So even when the plot goes offline a bit, she can always fall back on her gorgeous sentences.

Veronica is her second novel, and it was praised lavishly, becoming a National Book Award Finalist in 2005.  Like most books I read nowadays, it took months for me to get through it, but it’s funny — with Veronica, the pace seemed right.  There’s a structure to the novel, with the current timeline occurring within twenty-four hours, but really, this is a novel of memory, so within a matter of a few sentences in a single paragraph, we may rocket through twenty years, so we’re not talking about a continuous narrative in the traditional sense.  I must’ve stopped and started this book a hundred times, reading two or three bites of pages, but I never lost my place or forgot any of the characters.

The story is simple: Alison, now almost fifty, narrates her tumultuous story of modeling in Paris and New York, her bad relationships with men, and her parents and two sisters.  So who’s Veronica, and where is she?  She’s a woman Alison meets when she temps in a office in between her modeling, but Veronica really isn’t in the first half of the book.  Gaitskill keeps reminding us of her eventual entrance, though, as Alison recalls slivers of her within her remembrances.  Veronica begins to become prominent midway through the novel, and then in the last third, she becomes a tragic focal point.

If you’ve read Gaitskill before, nothing here will surprise you, content-wise.  There’s violent, ugly sex rendered with great beauty, characters with enough self-hatred to depress the self-help sections of any bookstore, people who seem to exist for the sole sake of experiencing misery.  If you haven’t read Gaitskill, you might want to start with her short story collections, because she might go down easier at shorter doses.

But for me, I love this torture of a novel.  It feels as if she was less concerned with the mechanics of writing a longer work this time around, and it was the right choice.  My only wish is that it stops on page 245.  There are some loose ends that are tied in the last section, but in a book like this, loose ends would play even better.

Cheers to Josh and Kimora

I’m at the bar from television’s Cheers, sitting catty-corner from Norm’s usual spot.  The door slams open, and Josh Charles, the actor who plays Will Gardner on The Good Wife, rushes in.

There’s a table to the right of me, and there are two men sitting hunched over.  I’m not sure what they look like because all I see are the backs of their heads, but I know they are writers.  They are scribbling furiously on legal pads.

Josh Charles starts berating them.  “You think this is work?  This is nothing!”  He slams his hands on the table.  “You should both go out there and break rocks, that’s what you should do!”  He’s screaming at them, but these men don’t seem to hear him, because they just keep on writing.

The door slams open again, and an Asian woman enters the bar.  She’s laughing.  She’s the daughter of Kimora Lee Simmons, the lady who was married to Russell Simmons a few years back.  Except this daughter looks exactly like Kimora herself.

Still laughing, she runs over to Josh Charles, who takes her in his arms, giddy himself.  He turns to me and says, “You know, I’m half Asian.  Look at me a certain way, you see it.”

And sure enough, Charles leans back in his chair, and the lights above paint his face at such an angle that I see it, too: his hair darkens, his eyes narrow, he’s Asian.  And something else: he’s turned almost black and white, like an old photograph.

* * *

I don’t usually write about my dreams, but this was very vivid and incredibly strange.  I hadn’t seen The Good Wife in a couple of weeks, so why was Josh Charles on my mind?  (Who’s an awesome actor, by the way — sorry for dragging you into this.)  And truth be told, I don’t even know what Kimora Lee Simmons looks like.  (Or her “daughter” — which wasn’t even a question, by the way.  I knew it was her daughter, however impossible it seems now.)  The Cheers setting makes sense, as I watched the Ted Danson bit on CBS Sunday Morning a few days ago, and they played footage from the show.

But the rest of the stuff is pure crazy dream logic, which is as entertaining as it is baffling.