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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Best of 2013, February 2013

It would be easy to write a woe-is-me tale titled "Real Estate vs Middle Class Schlub" right about now. But do you really care that we had a contract on a new home last week and within 12 hours someone outbid us and the contract was lost?  And does it matter to you that our current home was under contract for a week or so until the prospective buyers canceled the deal yesterday?  Of course not.  That stuff happens all the time.  At least that is what people keep telling me.  Cliches have kept me standing upright the past few weeks (read:years.)  "It wasn't meant to be."  "A better house is out there."  "The timing was not right."  "Keep your chin up."  "It ain't over til it's over."

Bla.  Bla.  Bla.

That shit is played out.  Unlike this month's crop of new music that MUST be on your playlist.  Through all the blood, sweat, and tears it is the songs that keep me moving.  It is the lyrics...  It is the melodies...   It is the euphoria of a live show...  

Here is hoping you find your happy place.  Perhaps these offerings might get you there. 

Eels "Peach Blossom"  Irreverant. Genius.  Eccentric.  Mystery.  E.  Mark Oliver Everett has been at the rock game for quite some time now.  He will probably never reach the mainstream, and that most likely suits him fine.  Currently touring to promote his latest record, Wonderful, Glorious, this track is among the stand outs.  There are many.  He plays NYC's Webster Hall tomorrow evening and this blogger could not be more excited.  You either get it or you don't.  If you don't, so very sorry.

Boy "Little Numbers"  Do you like Canadian singer/songstress Feist?  If so this Swiss-German duo has a song for you.  Catchy pop number that, I can only assume is about a phone number.  Who has a seven digit phone number anymore?  We have already given this track more attention than it deserves.  Listen and enjoy.  Leave the deep thinking to Matt Pinfield and Jenny Eliscu.

Caveman "In the City"  There has not been a bigger supporter for New York act Caveman than yours truly.  Their sophomore record is set for an early spring release and their first single (which plays quite nicely live btw) captures the same mood as their incredibly underrated debut CoCo Beware.   They just set off on a North American tour and this blog cannot encourage you enough to see them on stage. Go here immediately:  Caveman

Dawes "From a Window Seat"  California band Dawes have a new record set for release in April.  Lead singer/songwriter Taylor Goldsmith borrow heavily from Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, Tom Petty and many of the legends of 70s soft rock.  Here Goldsmith writes about a flight and how his imagination wonders.  Simple.  Silly.  So freaking good.  Look around the pop landscape and tell me who writes, sings and performs a better song these days.  

Grizzly Bear "A Simple Answer"  Oh great, another Brooklyn band.  Yawn.  Critics and the alt blogosphere absolutely love these guys.  For the longest time this blog ignored them.  They can be ignored no longer.  Better late to the party than to not have attended at all.  This track, performed live for WNYC, is a haunting masterpiece.  

Local Natives "Heavy Feet"  We head back to the West Coast for these rockers.  OK, rockers is probably strong.  Think Fleet Foxes meets The National.  Another in a long list of mood alt stars.  What can I say?  I like the soft stuff.  Hell, Caveman and Grizzly Bear are pretty darn similar too.  A little piano...  a little guitar...  a little harmony...  recipe for alt goodness I tell ya.  This is far more current too (video released just a few weeks back.)  One of those tracks that resonates long after first listen.  Go ahead, try it.

Kate Earl "One Woman Army"  OK, I said I liked the soft stuff.  Pedal steel guitar is very much included.  No idea who Kate Earl is.  No idea how old or what her background is.  She probably likes the Nashville sound and artists like Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams.  Hers is a an easy going country vibe with an eye toward the mainstream.  Is it Taylor Swift?  Not quite.  It ain't Wynonna Judd either.  It is, however, a purdy good diddy.  As my daughter might say "Dad, were you old when you were young?"

Holy Ghost "Wait and See"  A little synth mixed in won't kill ya.  Holy Ghost?  More like Holy 80s???  Danny Elfman much?  Thompson Twins?  Level 42?  The synth hook has a Knight Rider thing going for it, which is friggin awesome.  Throw on your checker board Vans, play some Pac-Man on your Coleco system, and down some Big Gulps before Mayor Bloomberg takes them away.  I think I hear some Nik Kershaw too...  "Wouldn't It Be Good???"

San Cisco "Awkward"  This whole thing is awkward.  Young Aussie kids, with a chick drummer/singer, singing about stalking.  Comic strip dialog bubbles have been replaced by IPhone text icons/emoticons.  Just plain goofy!!  But the song, the silly, sophomoric song...  it will have you tapping your toes and wanting a little more.  It is after all only 2 minutes long.  

Pacific Air "Float"  Saw these cats open for Walk the Moon last month and was not overly impressed.  This single stuck in my mind though.  It has made its way to the radio and I can see why.  The vocals are strong and the beats are groovy.  The weather HAS to be getting better soon here in the Northeast.  Listening to this song on a sun soaked Saturday sounds good right about now.

Happy listening all.  Have a terrific weekend.  Get through the Ides of March.  Smile like you mean it.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Imagine Dragons and Atlas Genius, Roseland Ballroom 2.23.13

It was a pretty shitty week.  When Friday rolled around my wife asked me to meet for lunch.  "It is a vodka rocks kind of day" she said.  "They all are, aren't they?"  I wondered.  It is because we have certain responsibilities we don't drink ourselves into oblivion.  It would be more fun, wouldn't it?  And a whole lot easier.  We managed to get through it though (relatively unscathed.)  As we stepped foot into the Roseland Ballroom last night we got some vindication.  This is what the payoff is.  Art.  Culture.  Entertainment.  The day to day struggles feel far, far away in the presence of art.  It is a gathering of friends.  It is the re-telling of stories.  It is hugs exchanged.  It is smiles shared.  And for a few, maybe even that vodka rocks (or 3.)  It is the reason we live where we live.  For four or five hours we could forget about the home we lost out on this week.  We had a contract and were outbid if you are scoring at home.  We could forget about our own home inspection that had its own share of missteps (it was built about a hundred years ago folks, it ain't new construction!!)  Credit card bills and homework assignments be damned.  Bring on the rock and bring on the roll.

It is somewhat surprising Australian act Atlas Genius released their debut record (When it Was Now) this week.  Their song "Trojans" has been kicking around for years.   Since we had our 10 year old with us we arrived very early.  We were surprised to find the floor 3/4 filled at 7:30.  Apparently the buzz is great for these guys.  The band consists of vocalist and guitarist Keith Jeffery, his brothers Michael on drums and Steven on bass and Darren Sell on keyboards.  Their set was pleasant, if not earth shattering.  After a few songs my daughter leaned over to my wife and commented "their songs all kinda sound the same."  Out of the mouth of children I thought.  But you know what, she was right. Keith's voice is fine and his guitar work beyond capable.  There were two things working against him/them though.  First, Roseland is a big room.  As they have a more intimate, laid back vibe, it was difficult for them to fill the air with sound.  Their sound is mood based with little room for jams, or free wheeling improvs.   They have a Sting/Police thing going for them which, in my opinion, is being done  better by South African band A Civil Twilight.  They had a record release party at Music Hall of Williamsburg earlier in the week.  That room, and ones like Webster Hall or Irving Plaza, suit them a bit better.  But when asked to open/play a venue this size you have to take it.  We just don't have to love it.  The second issue was production value.  When Imagine Dragons hit the stage a half hour later that point was driven home.

For more Atlas Genius:  "If So"  fun little song that was my favorite from last night.
"Symptoms"  The song they open their set with.

Atlas Genius, 2.23.13



Atlas Genius plays to packed a house.

By now everyone has heard Las Vegas rockers Imagine Dragons monster hit "It's Time."   When Glee does a version of your song it is not, in this blogger's opinion, a good thing.  Mainstream success can be a great thing.  Gotye, Fun, Of Monsters of Men and many others have crossed over and become pop stars.  Imagine Dragons are no different.  Like those other acts it turns out they have an impressive catalog and can play the holy hell out of it live.  Throw in the production values befitting a headliner (crisper sound, light show, and most importantly a giant tom tom we called the "Radioactive" drum) and let's just say Imagine Dragons are a rip roaring, energetic and fun time.  Get. On. Board.

"It's Time" might be the track that gave them fame, but ""Radioactive" is clearly their signature song.  For the record, the video is maybe the worst ever.  Weird puppets?  Lou Diamond Philips as weird puppet war lord?  Weird puppet cock fighting?  In any event, the song is genius.  The song live is epic. Big percussion.   Rock anthem, sing along lyrics.  Driving bass and angry, but elegant guitar licks.  Add in the free wheeling, improv chops that Atlas Genius did NOT have and we were left mouths wide open.  It was a soaring high point and worth the price of admission.  It is why we left shortly thereafter.  It could not have gotten better!  OK, maybe some excess vodka and the age of our daughter had something to do with leaving before the money shot. (do we really need to hear "It's Time" again anyway??)  Sometimes it is good to get out while you are riding high.  And this morning I find myself wanting more.  Last night was proof very positive that these guys are not going anywhere.  Count me in for their next stop in the greatest City on Earth.  And it is safe to say that the sold out crowd that adored every minute feels the same way.  Download their debut record Night Visions and thank me later.


Imagine Dragons, Roseland Ballroom 2.23.13



Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons.  Terrific voice and stage presence.  Picture by my daughter.



The "Radioactive" drum


For more Imagine Dragons log on here:
Imagine Dragons official site

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bands that Confound (Vol.1)

Listen, we all cannot like the same things.  Some of us can sit down and watch Napolean Dynamite for a tenth time (just yesterday in fact, what is wrong with me?) while others are unable to get through the first 5 minutes.  You either like sushi or you don't.  Doc S just wrote a wonderful piece on wine, and the enjoyment it provides him.  As for me?  I hate wine.  In these parts that lands me very much in the minority.   I know at least five couples who have taken wine vacations.  They have vineyard hopped along the California coast as well as France and Italy.  I mean they friggin love wine.

That's cool.   Who am I to judge?  Follow what you are passionate about (no matter how odd) I say OK, there are things that are too odd that I could judge on.   But we can save the foot fetishist column for another time.

If you are a regular reader you understand my passion is music.  For the past twenty years I have tried to maintain an identity other than husband, father, employee.   I like to listening to and/or "discovering"  new acts.  Seeing a live show puts me in a joyous and celebratory mood.  Sometimes I lose myself in a moment, in a song, in a sound...  like now...

(13 minutes elapse with the author periodically getting up from his keyboard to dance, groove, and otherwise lose himself as he alludes to previously)

OK, I am back.  Before I could finish my thought I was taken away by Grizzly Bear.  See, that kind of passion.  My daughter is at a sleepover and my wife is at the gym (one of her passions) and my thought is to crank some tunes and rock out.  Not that I can play music.  I can't read music either.  But as all art is defined, I don't know what it it is, but I know what I like.  I like to listen.  And I like to think I am rather impartial with a wide range of tastes and varied appreciation.  I have gone through jazz phases (thanks to Thelonious Monk and Eddie Harris.)  In college I played Beethoven's 9th for a semester or two (thank Stanley Kubrick for that.)  Gram Parsons (bookstore B), Allman Brothers Band (Mike D-miss you pal), Yo La Tengo (Prof Jon), Rolling Stones (Tom S), Panic (T), and countless other bands, styles, genres have entered my bloodstream over the years.

It is impossible to like everything.  This space has railed against classic rock royalty Pink Floyd before. Am I not depressed enough to "get them?"  Were they played too often on Z-95 during my formative years?  I mean really, how many times can you hear "Money" or "Another Brick in the Wall" before thinking of it more as a punishment than reward?

In an effort to cleanse my musical spirit I offer you another act that drives me crazy.  How did they make it this big?  Is their sound really that important or are the masses terribly mistaken?  What, if anything, can I do to make them go away?

Or, how/why am I so wrong?


Green Day:  When Billy Joe Armstrong lost his cool at last year's IHeart Radio fest it seemed fitting.  Here is a guy who has built his reputation on a punk life style.  He, and his bandmates, had the requisite few chords, leather jackets, and authority challenging lyrics.  Throw on a little substance abuse and voila, PUNK GODS.

Except of course their songs suck.  Armstrong puts on a faux Brit voice and spits into his microphone.  His bandmates plod along with him.  Somewhere in the middle of it all a song is formed, I think.  "American Idiot""Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)"When I Come Around", and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" have all become timeless classics.  Ask a 30 year old if they ever heard of The Ramones, Sex Pistols, or New York Dolls.  These guys are the punk standards of the 90s.  Just about everything in art is borrowed/stolen from generations before.  For every Backstreet Boy there is a One Direction.  Show me a Madonna and I will counter with a Gaga.

During my final year in college I was fortunate enough to take a Sociology of Pop Culture class.  Can you imagine?  3 credits to discuss and write about music, film, commercials, and just about everything.  Why does anyone leave college?  Why did I insist on doing it in 4 years?

Anyway, my professor at the time was quick to champion Green Day when they emerged on the scene during that time.  I challenged him, "They will never last!  This stuff was played much better many years ago.  A flash in the pan I tell ya!"

Is that the reason I hold such disdain?  They have performed sold out tours all over the World, produced a Broadway opera of their work, and recently released 3(!) more hugely successful albums.

I'm just the d-bag who thinks they are overrated jerks.  None of it makes sense to me.

Surely I am not alone, am I?


Join the conversation and tell me who mystifies you.

Find us here too:  Guide to Somewhere



I Drink, Therefore I Am - Justin Paso Robles Cabernet

Don Corleone: I like to drink wine more than I used to... Anyway, I'm drinking more.

Michael: It's good for you, Pop.

The Godfather (1972)

***************************************

I like wine. I don't know much about it.

And I don't have a very refined sense of taste or smell.

By nature I am not a picky eater, and as a result I can consume just about anything. I have my preferences (I will never be the first person to suggest going out for Mexican food) and have grown to appreciate the quality of food and ingredients over time, but pretty much if you drop it in front of me, and it doesn't contain lima beans,  I'll eat it. So while I am culinarily adventurous, I am probably not hard-wired for a subtle discriminating palate.

Also, about 10 years ago I developed seasonal allergies (which, I learned, one can develop for the first time at any time in their life, due to some sort of elaborate pollen rotation schedule). Nothing debilitating, but as a result I rarely have two nostrils fully functioning at any given time, so my sense of smell and taste are not acute. I think this is why I have steadily developed a love for bolder and hotter flavors over the last 10 years.

Also as I approached, and then entered, middle age I found that wine agreed with me more and more -- the way it complimented food, its mysterious buzz that supported conviviality and conversation, and the way it aided, rather than fought, digestion.

I still love a vodka martini (I think if the Buddha had tried a well made Grey Goose Martini with three olives under the bodhi tree he might never have invented meditation), and a spicy, fragrant weissbier in the summer, but wine has moved front and center as my libation of choice.

So where to start my journey into wine....

I am a bookworm, so often my first response to wanting to know more about something is to buy a book about it. I picked up a book called "The Wine Bible" by Karen Mac Neil, a director of the wine program at the CIA... the Culinary Institute of America, not the spy agency (at least, as far as I know...).

But books, much as I love them, aren't enough for me.

I am a lawyer by training ( I gave up practicing law just about nine years ago in favor of the business world), with an undergraduate degree in philosophy. So this means, not only by temperament, but by education, I look at the world I live in as a sea of untested and unchallenged assumptions. Also, I get great pleasure out of challenging those assumptions and vigorously discussing them with whoever is willing (or at least is polite enough to feign willingness for a few moments).

The result of this skepticism is that I put a highest value on my own actual lived experience (the only thing, really, that we can ever be somewhat sure of...) and, as a close second supported by a leap of faith, what others tell me about their own actual lived experience.

So to educate myself, about a month ago I "crowd sourced" via Facebook, and asked my friends to help me explore wine on a middle class budget, and asked for their suggestions for their favorite wine under $25. And many people generously obliged.

My first pick from the list was Justin Paso Robles Cabernet. I picked it first because it was recommended by a college friend of mine, Larry S. He has great joie de vivre and could always see the best in everything. While sales and marketing is Larry's trade, he has the soul of an artist ( he is also a talented painter) and has a passionate devotion to wine.

Paso Robles is a region about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles (I didn't realize it was a wine region - I thought it was the brand!).  Its an area with chilly nights and long, dry hot days. ( I recalled from the movie Chinatown that Southern California is mostly a desert with a lot of water pumped in from the outside). Apparently, this weather is perfect for growing and ripening Cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and syrah grapes.

When I first tasted the Justin Cab I had left the bottle in the trunk of my car during a chilly day, and even after the trip from trunk to glass it had a nice even coolness that allowed it to warm up in my mouth. As it did, for the first time I understood what a "hint of blackberry and cherry" meant. I'm not sure if it was the cool temperature or the fact that I took a less than gulping sip like I usually do.

Recalling the adage from Michael Pollan's Food Rules that "The banquet is in the first bite", I briefly lamented that the second sip would not be the same as the first. I quickly went through the mourning process, reach "acceptance", and I held off until my dinner was ready - spaghetti tossed in a fresh tomato, thyme and garlic oil-infused sauce (poach and mash the tomatoes yourself -- messy but so worth it). The Justin Cab perfectly balanced the sauce and the umami from the Parmesan cheese was both complemented and cleanly dissolved by each sip.

Thanks to Larry for the recommendation and his help to knock a few chips out of my wooden palate.

Stay tuned for future posts as I work my way through the list!

************************************************************

I was congratulating myself for the clever title "I Drink Therefore I Am" when I found out that British philosopher Roger Scruton had a wine column in the UK based Guardian, and a book of essays on wine, of the same name. Regardless, I will continue to use the title for my wine blogs unless or until I hear from Mr Scruton's solicitor...

http://www.justinwine.com/wines.php

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

This Month Over Yet?

The past few weeks have included 8 basketball games, an open house, several other house appointments, work, work, car pools, work, etc..

No concerts!  No blogging!  Very little fun.

Sorry for the radio silence.  The concert schedule heats up in March and there have been many new finds along over the past few weeks.  Look for another "Best of" music post late next week.  The Strokes and My Bloody Valentine either have, or will be releasing new records this year.  Add the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to the list and 2013 is well on its way to superb (in terms of tunes.)  Justin Timberlake too!!  Come on now!  New Kids and Bell Biv Defoe are touring together this summer aren't they?  Has Eazy E been brought back to life so the World can see an NWA reunion tour.  Otherwise we will be forced to watch Ice T continue to lose all street cred making soda ads and starring in zany romps.

Did anyone watch the Grammys?  Does anyone care?  The winter awards are all so aribitrary.  But no awards show is more so than this overwrought, bloated extravaganza.  Mash ups are all the rage over the past few broadcasts.  We know you were all clamoring for Elton John and Ed Sheeran.  Sting came back from the tantric dead to bring Bruno Mars back to Earth.  For every piece of brilliance (see Jack White) there was nonsense (Frank Ocean.)  What is the deal with Ocean?  And Kendrick Lamar for that matter?

Sure I am a white boy from the suburbs.  But I dig ALL music.  I grew up with Reverend Run and Chuck D like my NJ brethren.  The R & B and hip hop game totally escapes me today.  At least Chris Brown was beaten (and apparently miffed) that Ocean beat him out of an award.  What songs should I be listening to and why?  I saw both Lamar and Ocean on SNL and failed to make it a minute for either.

These are the biggest names in the game and it baffles me.

Rhianna I get.  Katy Perry I get.  Carrie Underwood I get.  Help me here please.


That will do for now.  I am sure an agent is going to call in a few minutes to see the house.  There is NOTHING more annoying than selling a house.  We keep a clean house, but not 100% of the time.  We have pets too, that need to be scarce.  And what of the valuables?

Note:  when you walk through a home follow these rules.  1) Keep things exactly as is.  If a door is closed when you enter, close it when you leave.  2) Watch your kids EVERY second.  Toys should not be played with.  Drawers should not be opened.  Paint should NOT be spilled on floors?

How does that even happen?  Do not use the bathrooms either.  Save your dirty business for your own homes.  It is rude enough we have to use our own bathrooms, the last thing we want is strangers using them.

You get 30 minutes, tops.  What could you be looking at for an hour??  Really???

Who are all the people who go to Open Houses for the hell of it?  What kind of voyeur is this?  Mostly neighbors, right?

If we did not invite you in the last 10 years it was for a reason.  Don't barge in now!  I do not care how you live, please do not care about how we do.

It is almost over.  It is almost over.  The ends far than exceed the means.  If not now, when?

Sure it is trivial and we are fortunate to be in the situation we are in.  But manners are manners, right?

Join the conversation and become a fan/follower.

Throw some topics our way too if you can.  What is bugging you?  What are you totally into right now?  Are you scared of North Korea?  Thoughts on Obama's State of The Union?  Is LeBron James the greatest player ever?  What will be the Best Picture at the Oscars?  What should be the Best Picture?

Thanks all for your continued support.  Over 50k pageviews now and going strong.  Well, going forward.

Editors Note:

Totally forgot I could not force the people out sooner because I had dog shit all over my clothes.  The bag I had with me had a hole in it so my sweatshirt and pants were covered in feces.  Classy.  Let's hope today is a little better.  Happy Valentine's Day!




Friday, February 1, 2013

A Dangerous Game of Telephone

It can be tricky working in NYC and raising a child.  Many days my wife and I question whether we should commute together.  Does it make sense?  Should we even be in NYC at the same time?  What if another terrorist attack happens?  Or blackout?  What if the trains fail?  Or we get in an accident driving in?

Morbid?  Sure is.  But it is the stark reality that is parenthood in 2013.  But as we saw in Columbine and Newtown, tragedy and evil is around every corner.  So, when an Facebook post showed up on my News Feed earlier today about "gun violence" in a neighboring town it instantly alarmed me.

The first report read "Woman enters hospital with gun shot.  Hospital in lock down."  Soon after, "Woman hit on head with gun.  She was being treated and the hospital was indeed accepting patients."  All normal, so it seemed.

Either way a parent becomes concerned.  Add to that the often erratic trip across the Hudson home and you can see how a parent might become doubly stressed.

When the text alert came to my phone informing me the schools in my town were all in "lockdown" for the remainder of the day" that is when things get tricky.

When Newtown occurred last month I was sitting in a car dealership waiting for an oil change.  There was a report going on in the background about shots fired in a Connecticut school.  I thought little of it and figured it was an accident and hoped it was nothing serious.  Hours went by before I was aware of the scope.  Again, it was not from traditional news sources, but rather Facebook and other social media sites.

Today, Facebook and my local police force were sending all sorts of mixed messages.  Was a woman shot?  Was she pistol whipped?  Why is my town on lockdown?  Where can I get some reliable facts?

The answer is simple.  Get to the source and find out yourself.  So I raced to my car and made like Snake Pliskin.

News outlets are so determined to get "first" that they report as much heresy as fact.  An overhead photo of today's crime scene had a solo police car parked outside an emergency room.  I have been to that ER and that looks like every Friday afternoon.

But school lockdowns have a far different tone today then they did say, a year ago.  That is not to discount Columbine, or the other school shootings that seem to define us these days.

Today I am a parent.  These events have my attention far more than when I was a student.

A few more posts came over the wires and eventually the town lifted the lockdown and said all was indeed "normal."

Then the kids came out for dismissal.  It was earlier than usual (teachers and staff probably wanted to get the hell home to their loved ones too) so the crossing guards were not even in place yet.  I took over the role for a while when anxious kids, who had about 2 hours to create every possible scenario in their minds, started exiting the school.

"Did you hear a person was murdered?"  my daughter exclaimed?

"Um, not quite" was my response.  "Everything is going to be fine" I assured her.

Her classmates were huddled together re-playing the days events.  "We were huddled in our classroom, the teachers were scared, people were getting shot."

Oh boy.  In our constant and over-bearing response to safety we may be, in fact, scaring the children we are desperately trying to protect.

Am I saying it is wrong to take precautions when a crazed gunman is on the loose.  No.  However, in most cases we are going to be unable to do anything when real tragedy hits.  That is, if said gunman wanted to get into a school who would/could stop him?

Will we be able to stop our kids when they drive drunk?  Or when they get in a car with someone who is impaired?

Will we be able to stop their unprotected sex?

How about when they bully someone?  Or taunt peers and/or sports opponents?

It is a convoluted maelstrom we raise our kids in these days.  We have color charts of terror, lockdowns in schools, televised singing contests, and Sarah Palin to name but a few signs of terror.

It is important that we are extra vigilant in NOT becoming terrorists ourselves.

News outlets should report facts and facts alone.  Emergency personnel and educators need to make sure what they do and say is sound and reasonable, not knee jerk and alarmist.

Most importantly domestic disputes should take place in the house.    C'mon people.  Let's get it together already!!





Enjoy the Weekend folks.  Stay the hell out of trouble.  And take the Ravens and the points.






Better Living Through Fiction

Novelist Jim Harrison

Sometimes wisdom comes from unexpected places.

I have always read a lot of non-fiction ---  science, history, philosophy, religion, food, wine, etc. And through this reading I suppose I was grabbing for, or grappling with, wisdom.

But as I have gotten older, I have more and more appreciated how experience is the best teacher, and that, ironically, fiction is a greater source of wisdom. Maybe because, at its best, fiction re-creates actual human experience. Unlike non-fiction, it does not provide a recitation of facts and arguments to be grasped cognitively. It resonates under the surface in the same deep places that our own life experiences reside.

One of my favorite writers is Jim Harrison. If you haven't heard of him, he is best known for writing the novella "Legends of the Fall" , which was made into the movie that launched Brad Pitt's career.

Harrison, like many of my other favorite fiction writers (Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway, and David Mamet) is a Mid-Westerner, and writes much about characters who straddle the worlds of thought and action. While born, raised, and having lived almost entirely in New Jersey, my essentially "blue-collar bookworm" nature seems to jive with writers of this region.

His latest book, The River Swimmer, is actually a pair of novellas. I haven't read it yet, but there is a review of it in the New York Times. The link is below.

The reviewer distills some of the "life lessons" that arise generally as themes in Harrison's fiction, and specifically are here derived from the The River Swimmer's main character "Clive". The reviewer summarizes them as follows (which I quote pretty much verbatim from the article):

1) Get outside as often as possible, ideally right now. Clive, like most of Mr. Harrison’s characters, is given to epic walks in New York City, in Europe and in whatever woods he can find. These trips, the author writes, “keep his body from deliquescing at a faster rate than it already was.”

2) Take your meals seriously. Clive eats high and low. Clive cheers for the Manhattan restaurants Babbo and Del Posto; he places colossal mail orders from Zingerman’s deli in Ann Arbor; he drinks wines that have sorrow in them. But he won’t turn his nose up at a sloppy Joe. About a cherished odor from his childhood, Clive declares: “It was Ralph’s homemade pickled bologna, scarcely Proust’s madeleine, but then he was scarcely Proust.”

3) Keep your libido stoked. Clive does not have the heart to pass up, as he says about an ex-girlfriend, now 60, “a fleeting glance at her admirable bottom.” Clive wonders: “Should he be beyond such voyeurism?” He replies: “If so what was beyond but further desuetude?”

4) Have a sense of humor about yourself. Pratfalls not only keep you human; they also provide the best stories. Clive can barely even gaze at nature, seemingly a safe occupation, without being teased. Typical sentence: “Clive looked straight up at a raucous blackbird scolding him.”

5) Read good books. You want the best thoughts in your head. Mr. Harrison’s characters do.

6) Scorn snobs and greedheads. Clive writes in a journal: “I told a Ph.D. candidate in music how much I enjoyed reading Steinbeck. He snorted and chortled as if he had caught me masturbating while picking my nose.” About fashion, we read: “Clive never wore neckties under the private conviction that all of the political and financial mischief in the nation was created by men who wore neckties.”

7) Live the examined life. Clive’s novella has profound things to say about “the distances at which we keep each other.” It lingers on how our memories exist “as if they were waiting in the landscape, waiting to attack.”

I never quite understood why Harrison appealed to me so much until I read this list. Perhaps these themes were already resonating somewhere below my awareness.

Regardless, in my view, in looking for a few guideposts,  one could do far worse that learning from these lessons.

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Link to NYT article is below:


http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/books/the-river-swimmer-two-novellas-by-jim-harrison.html?_r=1&