Hello, my kittens. Are you ready for your now-regular monthly dispatch from the land of Wrestling Entropy? In all honesty, I'm not even sure I am. I started an insane workout regimen about six weeks ago, and just about the only thing I've gotten out of it is a deeper understanding of the fact that meatheads and gym rats aren't necessarily dumb as a matter of course--they're just fucking exhausted all the time. All the blood that would normally be helping their brains compose lovely and thoughtful sentiments has been rerouted to their muscles, leaving them dim and ineloquent masses of crabbiness and fatigue. OK, well, maybe that really is just me, but man--this shit's been brutal. Anyway. To the extent that I've been able to scrape myself together enough to do anything remotely of interest this month, here's what I've been up to:
Max Tundra, Live at Schubas. I was just talking to Eric and Annie about how it's become impossible to tell what shows are going to sell out immediately and what shows you're going to be able to waltz right into at the last minute. I found out about the November 5th Max Tundra show a day or two ahead of time and utterly panicked. I figured there'd be no way I would be able to get a ticket. Well, not only was I able to buy one, I could have brought along about 50 of my closest friends. I was soooo bummed at what a small turnout there was for the show. Granted, he didn't go on until about 11 pm on a Thursday night, the Mountain Goats/Final Fantasy (bandonyms ahoy!) double-header was scheduled the same night just up the street at the Metro, and Schubas is a terrible venue for dancypants genres--but still. It's Max Tundra! I missed Parallax Error Beheads You upon its official release in late '08, but after finally grabbing it earlier this year, it's absolutely been my personal #1 album of '09. I tried to tell him as much while folks were congregating around the merch table at the end of the night, and it was a supremely, comically awkward interaction. I just kept gushing and he just kept running out of ways to say "thanks, I appreciate it," and the whole thing escalated with an embarrassing-for-us-both high five. (Initiated by him--allow me to spare myself a little dignity by making that fact perfectly clear.) Anyway, the album is still unimpeachable and you should check it out if you haven't had the pleasure yet.
After nearly a year of fits and starts, I finally finished reading American Prometheus a few weeks ago. It was astonishingly good. I have no idea how a book of this scope gets researched and written (not to mention edited), but it's seriously gorgeous. I lived with the book for so many months, and it contained so much heartwrenching emotion, I was literally in tears as I finished the last page. Highly, but not lightly, recommended.
As something of a palate cleanser (ahem), I also read Toni Bentley's butt sex book The Surrender pretty much immediately thereafter. It was really quite great. It's less prurient than it could have been and she's a surprisingly lovely writer. It was also interesting to see how structurally similar it was to Eat, Pray, Love. Is there some sort of "contemporary woman's memoir" script that necessitates a tripartite structure, a post-divorce journey of soul-searching, feats of physical endurance invented to mirror and in many ways overcome emotional blockages, culminating in greater self-awareness and inner peace? Will someone who's not been working out six days a week please write this essay for me? KTHX.
I saw more movies this month than I realized I did, mostly thanks to the time afforded me over four-day holiday weekend. In brief:
The Men Who Stare at Goats. Completely ridiculous and demonstrably not very well written, but somehow amusing in spite of itself. I'm sure this is mostly thanks to the effortless charisma of most of its cast. I just wish they weren't working so hard to save a movie that didn't necessarily deserve to be saved.
Tropic Thunder. Obvy, I'm way behind the times here, and, even after seeing the whole thing, I felt like I didn't really need to thanks to the best jokes being given away in last year's omnipresent trailer. But it was still pretty enjoyable anyway. The fake gay priest movie preview at the beginning probably got the biggest laugh out of me, but Jay Baruchel's film nerd monologue about Renny Harlin was a pretty close second. That kid prob should also have been in The Men Who Stare at Goats in re: effortless charisma.
Fantastic Mr. Fox. Yes, I am 100% the target demographic here, but there's no sense in tip-toeing around the fact that I loved every fucking minute of it. Seriously, it's just delight upon delight, while also remaining deeply, deeply weird. The bit with the wolf near the end? No exaggeration: I was weeping with laughter. I saw it on Thanksgiving night and the audience fucking applauded when the credits began to roll. I always love the extravagance of the gesture when that happens at the end of a movie. No one involved with its creation or performance is going to hear it; it's just a pure, spontaneous expression of happiness and fellow-feeling and aesthetic satisfaction.
Coco Before Chanel. This was a bit more of a snooze than I was hoping/expecting, but it was ultimately redeemed for me by how much of an unconventional hero Coco is presented as here. She's not particularly charming or likable, but she's still this gutsy dame who gets shit done and befriends all kinds of powerful and influential people and builds her own empire from scratch. I was glad to see a small group of young-looking girls in the theater on the afternoon I caught this; what an awesomely feminist message for them to be exposed to: it's OK to be bitchy and difficult! The world won't fall apart and you'll have more self-respect and you'll probably get a lot more things of genuine value accomplished that way!
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Holy shit. So awesome. Ridiculous and dark and hilarious and foul. I know this is a totally obnoxious thing to say, but it strikes me as the kind of thing I would have absolutely gone apeshit-level bonkers for when I was about 19. Not that I enjoyed it any less at 30, but I could just imagine adopting this as a kind of secret-handshake movie back then, my love for it becoming a place that would feel like an exclusive club inside my own brain, a place to meet up with other like-minded friends to discuss its many hideous pleasures. There's no way to overstate how fucking fantastic Nicolas Cage is here--because he's already gone ahead and embedded the overstatement in his own performance. There's also, of course, the subtextual level where the character's story becomes the story of the post-Katrina plight of the city, which realization had me racing to my bookshelf to start reading my gratis copy of Ned Sublette's The Year Before the Flood immediately after the movie to help understand contemporary New Orleans a bit better. Do not sleep on this one, fellow lovers of neo-noir and all things bat-shit insane.
I'm sure you've probably seen it already, but if you haven't, be sure to pop over to Pitchfork News and check out Elvis Costello playing "High Fidelity" with the Roots. I just...there are no words. Does shit get any cooler than this? It's inspired me to rock out to Get Happy!! the past few days. Every time I let my love for Elvis slip a little bit from my immediate consciousness, something like this comes along to remind me why dude will forever be one of my faves.
Also, hey, Animal Collective, where do you find the time/energy/creativity to fart out another superlative set of songs in the same calendar year as Merriweather Post Pavilion? The new Fall Be Kind EP is a stunner, totally worth it for the first two tracks alone, though the entire moody journey is incredibly rewarding. Embarrassing admission: when I first heard Avey Tare sing that line in "On a Highway" about "Noah's dreaming," I was totally trying to figure out the Biblical allusion until I read the Pitchfork review, which reminded me that that's Panda Bear's real name. Oh. Right. Duh.
Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving weekend, my darlings!