::Literate Blather::
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Musical Memory: U2 and Me, Too

I grew up with U2. I still can’t shake the bastards. They’ve been stalking me like a bad bill for the last 30 years. And when their music takes me, it makes me howl.

It started innocently enough in high school. Like most teenagers in my suburban town in the 1980s, I wore robin-blue corduroys, plaid-patterned flannel shirts (with the sleeves rolled up to my elbows), and battered tennis sneakers. When I strolled down the locker-lined corridors of my high schools my pants went: “Wiff, wiff, wiff.” I even had my longish blond hair feathered and blown dried.

My music collection (and it was records back then. Big, black plastic discs of sweet heaven) teamed with the pounding musical collisions of Van Halen, AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. I was in permanent air guitar mode.

Then the weird kid at my high school (and when I look back now – he was probably the coolest dude on Earth wearing Ramones concert t-shirts and drawing Talking Heads logos on his notebooks in 1982) sat next to me in study. We were friendly and he talked up this band called “You, Too.” (or at least that’s how I imagined it was spelled).

He wanted me to listen to “I Will Follow.”

I ignored him, of course. He was the weird kid after all. What could be better than going home and cranking up Eddie Van Halen doing “Eruption?” What a goddamn mistake.

But then – and I’ll never forget this day – I visited one of my friends on a hot summer day. He was upstairs taking a shower and we were already drinking Buds. It was a Saturday afternoon and that’s what we did. On his enormous console TV was a new cable station called MTV.

Through my cool buzz, I noticed the drums first. And then that guitar – that sad, mournful moan of a guitar that seemed to stutter and then burst into melody like it was on the edge of something.

Four horsemen galloped across a snowy forest. The four band mates dismounted as the music built and then this haunted, falsetto voice filled with passion sang out: “All is quiet on New Year’s Day.”

I sat, transfixed.

Here was this band that looked like they stepped out of a Chekov short story standing in dazzling, snow-encrusted field with a fluttering white flag behind them. They were playing an amazing song; an anthem of peace.

I was hooked.


“New Year’s Day” remains my favorite U2 song. Whenever I hear it (and I play it often), I’m transported back to my friend’s living room and the upholstered chair where I perched. It was a moment in my musical education – seeding me for college when I would discover punk, jazz, and alternative music; that music wasn’t just about heavy metal songs about chicks, booze, and rock n’ roll.

A part of me discovered then that music could mean so much more.

Listen or buy the DaRK PaRTY U2 mix at iTunes

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Cracked-Back Book Reviews: August
(Welcome to the second take of Cracked-Back, our new DaRK PaRTY feature about the books we’ve consumed. A “cracked-back” is what happens to the spine of a new book once you’ve thoroughly battered it about, and, of course, read it. Please feel free to add your own list of recommendations by leaving behind a comment.)

Madam Bovary
By Gustave Faulbert

“Madam Bovary” remains a must-read classic and may be one of the most beautifully written novels ever penned. Flaubert’s impeccable eye for details can be breathtaking. He manages to capture setting by evoking the small, telling details of a room. He expertly punctuates character through dress, movement, and dialogue. What is so impressive about “Madam Bovary” is that the subject matter – a woman’s futile attempt to attain happiness through materialism and adultery – still resonates today in our celebrity obsessed culture. The ugliness of the characters – their flaws, prejudices, pettiness, and self-centeredness – can be found today in any suburb of the United States. The irony is thick in Flaubert and may be too much for modern readers, but this is a novel to savior, to read slowly so you can enjoy the language.

Grade: A

The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

Let me be upfront about my general dismissal of most of Cormac McCarthy’s work. I’ve never found the pretentious, awkward language he uses in “All the Pretty Horses” and “The Crossing” all that compelling. I found myself distracted by his style, tone, and refusal to use proper punctuation. I may have to revisit McCarthy after reading “The Road.” This is a savage, heart-wrenchingly beautiful novel about the love of a man and his son set in the post-apocalyptic devastation of the United States. The world has been destroyed – there are no animals, few plants, the landscape is filled with ash, and the sky is a gray hole. The world is populated by ferocious survivors – many who have banded together into gangs and live by cannibalism. Into this utter decay and chaos, we follow a nameless man and his young son as they journey down a road in search for the ocean and a better life. Be prepared for one of the best father and son novels written in the last two decades. This is a can’t miss novel.

Grade: A

A Man Without A Country
By Kurt Vonnegut

This series of essays by the master of wit is fun and insightful most of the time. This isn’t Vonnegut at his best, but he wrote the book at age 82 and most of the essays feel like they come from a very bitter and angry old man. The good news is that it is Vonnegut so you can mine lots of nuggets from it. He takes a lot of joy in pounding the President Bush and his staff of buffoons, but it doesn’t take much effort to take potshots at a president with a less than 30 percent approval rating. The book is scary short and can be read from cover to cover on a short airplane ride. One wonders what could have been if Vonnegut spent more time and effort to really flesh out these essays. Instead, they have the feel of a rant rather than a thought out criticism.

Grade: C+

By Ian Fleming

I’ve been slowly reading the original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming and enjoying them thoroughly. This is the third novel in the series and so far the weakest of the lot. Although, “Moonraker” did hit new highs for drama and tension during the first 100 pages when Bond is asked to catch a card cheat named Hugo Drax at M’s upper-crust social club. How Bond catches Drax and then cons him into betting more than he can handle is the best part of the book. The second half slides into a standard action book fare. The plot – about Drax trying to blow up London with an Atom bomb – has less to offer than the card playing sequences – which is amazing in and of itself. This one is for Bond die-hards only.

Grade: C

Read out first "Cracked-Back" Book Reviews here

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007
12 Valuable Lessons From Hollywood

1. Serial killers are proficient professionals when carefully slaughtering large groups of teenagers, but always turn into sloppy amateurs when they reach the last one.

2. Major cities have lots of available on-street parking.

3. A paperclip in the hands of a spy or a serial killer is more deadly than a machine gun and/or better than a toolbox full of screwdrivers, pliers, hammers, and a blowtorch.

4. When you fall fully clothed into water it only takes a few minutes to fully air dry and you never have to worry about wrinkles or bad hair.

5. If a married couple has hot steamy sex, one of them will soon be dead.

6. Turning an unconscious person’s head to the side will snap their neck like a twig.

7. If two cars are chasing each other through city streets at high speeds, skidding around corners, blowing through red lights, and driving through sidewalk fruit stands, police officers wisely decide not to intervene.

8. You can ride a fiery explosion like a carnival ride without fear of having your clothes burned off you, your skin blistered and popped, and your limbs blown off.

9. Middle-aged men with pot-bellies and gray hair attract thin, curvy babes like ants to a picnic basket.

10. It is impossible to kill a good guy with a machine gun.

11. True love is only possible if you hate your future love the first time you meet. The deeper the initial hatred, the more fairy-tale the love.

12. Dead bodies are light.

Read "Jerry Ludwig Has a Mental Breakdown" by clicking here.

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Monday, August 13, 2007
5 Questions About: Joyce Kilmer
An Interview With Joyce Kilmer's Granddaughter

(Having just spent the last 10 days rocking on a hammock, DaRK PaRTY suddenly has a strong love of trees. After all, hammocks work so much better when attached to trees. But it is difficult to adore trees without thinking about one of the most popular poems of all time – “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. Hmmm, we thought. What about this fellow Kilmer? Who was he? So who better to give us the lowdown than Kilmer’s granddaughter Miriam A. Kilmer. She operates a Web site dedicated to her grandfather. Miriam is an artist who runs Rising Dove Fine Arts and Services. She was more than happy to spend some time talking about her famous grandfather.)

DaRK PaRTY: How would you describe your grandfather for those unfamiliar with him?Pastel Portrait copyright Miriam A. Kilmer 2000, used with permission

Miriam: Since Joyce Kilmer died before I was born, I rely on the descriptions of my father and Robert Cortes Holliday. According to them, he was partial to good company, a very emotional and spontaneous person, an outdoorsman as well as a literary man and fond of his drink. He was an idealist who threw himself whole-heartedly into the causes he espoused, becoming an atheist when he was a Socialist, and then a devout Catholic upon his conversion after he was disillusioned by Socialism. He was a loving family man, but his dedication to his country and his horror at the sinking of the Lusitania led him to leave his wife and four children to serve in the army, putting his life in danger.

DP: His poem "Trees" -- one of the most popular in the world -- is often savaged by critics. What do you think of "Trees?"

Miriam: I think "Trees" is a lovely, simple poem, accessible to many, that does not stand up to severe literary criticism. It is not, and was never meant to be, a great poem. The whole point, after all, is that trees outshine poetry. It suffers from being set to music, for which it was never intended. It is not my favorite of Joyce Kilmer's poems, but it is the one that people love, and I have no argument with that. I am glad that it is used to foster reverence for the environment, and specifically for the dedication of tree plantings.

DP: Most of his other poems are often overlooked. Which poem of his is your favorite and why?

Miriam: My favorite keeps changing. Just now I prefer "The Snowman in the Yard," which reflects his devotion to his children. It's very homey and deals with ordinary things, and I find it very moving.

DP: What do you think is the biggest misconception about your grandfather?

Miriam: I guess I would have to say it's the notion that he was a saint. I think that idea is based on the reading of the one poem, "Trees," and not on any study of his life. He had the ordinary foibles of us all, and hated the Germans with a passion. I don't think he had any extraordinary virtue that would make him a saint except in the sense that everyone of good will is a saint.

DP: Your grandfather was a sergeant with the Fighting 69th during the Great War and was killed in combat at the age of 31. What do you think his career would have been like had he survived and continued to write?

Miriam: I think Joyce Kilmer showed promise, and it's possible that he could have become a leading poet if he had continued in the vein of poems such as "Delicatessen" and "The Blue Valentine." However, I think it's more likely that he would have continued to make more important contributions as an editor and poetry critic.

(Pastel Portrait copyright Miriam A. Kilmer 2000, used with permission).

Read our interview about modern poetry here

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