I’ve been reading a book on the train to work since the middle of last week, and it was fitting that I finished it in New York: Meet Me In The Bathroom is an oral history of the NYC rock scene at the turn of the century when the Strokes, Interpol, TV On the Radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs all blew up. I was reading the first music blogs at this point and sort of liked the Strokes but Interpol resonated more with me at that time; it was unlike anything I’d heard before. The book paints a picture of New York that sounds dirty and glamorous and goes a long way to explain where these artists had come from and who they were. Much like fine art, I appreciate music more with context and personal experience, so I started digging back into these and other affiliated bands on Spotify today and found a new appreciation for some bands and some songs that I didn’t have before.
Another book the family just finished this evening: The Mysterious Benedict Society, a young adult book that was recommended for kids who enjoyed the Harry Potter series. It’s a big one that begins slowly, and is written in a way that is challenging to read out loud. But the ending paid off and Finn wants to move on to the next book in the series, so I’ll be placing an order on Amazon tonight.
At the event yesterday, I was using a new Canon 5D MkIV, which is the fancy new update of the MkII I inherited when I came to WRI. It’s a fantastic camera in all respects–focus, speed, ISO depth, a touchscreen interface, 4K video, and wireless connectivity. But the wireless fell flat on its face yesterday as several people asked me to send them photos directly from the event; I’d followed Canon’s instructions and paired the camera with my app at the hotel the night before the gig (it’s where I got this shot of NYC from) like a good little monkey. But try as I might between photo ops yesterday, the fucking camera forgot how to work and wouldn’t broadcast WiFi for shit, and I didn’t have the proper cable to pull them onto my laptop at the venue–nor did I really want to. My Fuji does this in three steps, and it’s worked flawlessly. I wonder why Canon couldn’t get this right? I’ll have to do some more digging to figure that out. I got some good shots, though, and even set up a timelapse with my GoPro perched on an exit sign for giggles.
I’m officially signed up to teach a class this fall at UMBC, which makes me happy. It’s not one of the senior-level courses I had the last two semesters but it’s one I’ve taught before and should be pretty easy to pick up. At one point I was interested in updating the syllabus for this class but given that it starts at the end of August and I’m otherwise occupied with getting healthy I think I’ll just roll with the 10-year-old syllabus they’ve been using.
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I stopped in to a new Harbor Freight store here in town to look over the merchandise and immediately felt overwhelmed. It’s a bigger store than the one I used to go to in Glen Burnie, and the people working there were all friendly and helpful. The shelves were neat and tidy and the place was clean as a whistle. In other words, I didn’t recognize it. I’m looking at sandblasting equipment to start working on my car parts, and after looking over all of the available options I decided I needed to do a lot more research before I made a purchase. Not that I can carry the equipment, or a 50-lb. bag of blasting media right now anyway.
In the initial days of our vacation I started reading Barbarian Days, a memoir written by William Finnegan, a staff reporter for the New Yorker. It’s a book about surfing, how the author started early when his family moved to Hawaii, and how it shaped the course of his life as he followed waves from California across the ocean to Fiji and Australia. What sets it apart from an average column in Surfer magazine is his prose, which earned the book a Pulitzer in 2016. It’s the kind of writing that reads effortlessly but is obviously the product of decades of craft, and it was a pleasure to finally finish the book this morning.
This week’s reading: Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day. It tells the story of how a bunch of hippies and hustlers convinced the Stones to hire the Hell’s Angels to provide security for a free concert in the middle of nowhere.
For further consideration: Albert and David Maysles’ documentary Gimme Shelter, which begins with their Madison Square Garden show and ends with footage shot from the stage and in the crowd.
I’m currently reading Here Comes Everybody, written by James Fearnley, the accordionist of the Pogues. It starts out with a little of his background before the band formed, how he met Shane MacGowan, and how the band went from tiny gigs in run-down London pubs to breaking out and being an international hit. Fun fact: Before the Pogues broke, Fearnley was asked to play guitar in Culture Club. (previously, previously)
I read an article last week ranking the best entries in a book series about seminal albums in music history, and I got curious. The series is called 33 1/3 (RPM for LP vinyl, you whippersnappers) and it covers everything from the Rolling Stones to Public Enemy. The authors are different for each volume, and there are (as of this writing) 120 books in total. Intrigued, I looked through Amazon’s listings, found that Paul’s Boutique was rated highly, and bought a used copy.
The books themselves are small, but there’s a pleasing amount of information per page. Dan Le Roy, the author, starts out at the launch party for the album and then resets the clock to the end of the Licensed to Ill tour, explaining where the band was creatively, why they moved to L.A., how they eventually met the Dust Brothers and a man named Matt Dike (the unsung third producer of the album), smoked a mountain of weed, somehow recorded the album, and details the aftermath of the release (which bombed). The end of the book is a track-by-track runthrough of the album which goes into short detail about the stories, samples, and background of each.
I was not a fan of Licensed to Ill when it was released; all the proto-bros in my high school loved it, which didn’t compute (these were the same casual racists who hated rap and loved Slayer) and I couldn’t stand the nasal whine of their delivery.
Paul’s Boutique is a touchstone from my college years, after I’d been exposed to De La Soul, Tribe, and Jungle Brothers, and found that I did, in fact, like hip hop. The first time I heard it I was blown away by how different it was from what had come before. It was the soundtrack of most of the parties I was at in the latter half of college. It stands as a monument in my life for a time of optimism, poverty, boundless creative energy, and a sudden discovery of who I was and what I was good at for the first time in my life.
We went up to Syracuse to visit my folks last weekend and check out their new house, which is lovely. It’s the first time we’ve seen them since Finn’s christening. They bought in a 20-year-old development, so everything is modern, well-kept, and easily accessible, both in the house and in the town. The house itself isn’t huge but the floorplan makes it larger than it is. The basement is easily twice the size of ours. They are happy and comfortable, and that’s the best thing that could have ever happened to them.
The weather has finally broken from Seattle-like rainfall and temperatures to a balmy mid-80’s heat, and the Mid-Atlantic humidity is creeping in as I write this. I’ve got a list of summer prep chores to get to over the long weekend–A/C units in the windows, humping summer clothes around the house, setting up an attic fan–and pulling the top off the truck, which I’m looking forward to.
I’m about 300+ pages into The City Of Mirrors, the final book in the Passage trilogy, and I’m enjoying it so far. The first two books were engrossing and written much better than the standard post-apocalyptic/vampire novel, and I savored re-reading them slowly last month to prepare for this book. That’s about all I’ll say without getting spoilery.
I’m beginning to write down syllabus ideas for next semester’s class, and basing the structure on a couple of books: Alina Wheeler’s Brand Identity, David Airey’s Logo Design Love, and Debbie Millman’s Brand Bible. I’ve got a couple of old syllabi from previous classes and a handful of notes and ideas I’ve written down during the last year. This semester is going to involve a lot more workshop-style learning and hands-on work, which seemed to be the thing that made the light bulbs go on.
I’ve been speed-reading a lot of detective fiction on the train over the last year, but I took a break this week to crack open Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg, the Last Invasion. It’s a thick, scholarly tome which takes the first 250 pages (of my e-book version) to set the stage before the first shot is fired along the Cashtown Pike. It’s a good read, although I got weary of the buildup after a while and skipped to the opening skirmishes. I’ve got two volumes of Edmund Morris’ biography of Theodore Roosevelt standing by; if I can downshift into history for a while, perhaps I can dig into these too.
Scales of Justice Dept.: A jury convicted all four Blackwater operatives of the Nisour Square shooting back in 2007. This is good news, but it should have happened seven years ago. The fact that it took this long to come to its conclusion is another sad postscript to the shit foreign policy of a shit Presidency.
Also, it was great to see they convicted this asshole too.
I’ve got another month or so of class left before the semester is over, and I have to admit I’m looking forward to getting back to a normal schedule. Getting up at 5:30 to be in Washington by 7:15 two days out of the week has my sleep schedule completely out of whack. With all that’s going on at work, I need the time I spend traveling back to stay ahead.