Thursday, February 22, 2007

David Lynch is Smarter Than You

I have never really been a fan of David Lynch – let’s just get that out there before I proceed. Lynch’s films have never made a lick of sense to me, which I find mildly The Creepy Guy from Lost Highwayinsulting. I am a reasonably intelligent, somewhat cultured man. I read post-modernist fiction. I watch foreign films. I went to college. I even graduated. With a Cinema degree, nonetheless. Yet when I watch a David Lynch film, I feel stupid. I have watched half of Blue Velvet, half of Lost Highway, too many episodes of Twin Peaks, and sadly, all of Mulholland Drive. I have no idea what he was trying to say in any of these pieces. I get the sense that he would laugh through his nose and put his French cigarette out on my forehead at a cocktail party if I asked him any questions about any of his films.

That said, David Lynch has a new book out now, called Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. He has apparently just discovered the benefits of meditation and has been able to explain everything in the cosmos, including all his works, by way of transcendental mediation. The following is an unedited excerpt. This is for real. This actually got published by a real publishing house (Penguin):


Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit

When I started meditating, I was filled with anxieties and fears. I felt a sense of depression and anger.
I often took this anger out on my first wife. After I had been meditating for about two weeks, she came to me and said, “What’s going on?” I was quiet for a moment. But finally I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “This anger, where did it go?” And I hadn’t even realized that it had lifted.
I call that depression and anger the Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity. It’s
suffocating, and that rubber stinks. But once you start meditating and diving within, the clown suit starts to dissolve. You finally realize how stinky it was when it starts to go.



I have a very good friend here in San Diego (who only browses this blog for the ads) who has written a brilliant book that he cannot get published. The book needs a bit of polishing, but overall, it blows David Lynch right out of his rubber clown suit. There is no way that Lynch’s book would ever have been published if it weren’t by David Lynch. That’s sad. Here’s another pearl:

Fire

Sitting in front of a fire is mesmerizing. It’s magical. I feel the same way about electricity. And smoke. And flickering lights.


And ham sandwiches. And the sound of my own voice.

I just discovered that he also sells coffee on
his website. All proceeds from sales of his $11.95 per 8oz of organic coffee go towards the David Lynch Scholarship Fund at the American Film Institute, presumably to make more David Lynchs out of incoming film students. Great.
OK, last excerpt coming up. The pretentiousness in this one was really too much for me to bear:



Eraserhead

Eraserhead is my most spiritual movie. No one understands when I say this, but it is.
Eraserhead
was growing in a certain way, and I didn’t know what it meant. I was looking for a key to unlock what these sequences were saying. Of course, I understood some of it; but I didn’t know the thing that just pulled it all together. And it was a struggle. So, I got out my Bible and I started reading. And one day, I read a sentence. And I closed the Bible, because that was it; that was it. And then I saw the thing as a whole. And it fulfilled this vision for me, 100 percent.
I don’t think I’ll ever say what that sentence was.


Oh please please please David, tell me what that sentence was! I want to transcend this earthly shell too! I need to achieve enlightenment in order to understand your films!


His next film should be: Pretentious Douchebag: The David Lynch Story.


Load up the Book Catapult, this one's going over the wall.


Over the wall

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Sun Over Breda - The Review

What rabble is this? What men, what breeds?
Soldiers, Spaniards, plumes, and finery,
Words, wit, lies, and gallantry,
Arrogance, bravura, and foul deeds
.”


Arturo Perez-Reverte perfectly encapsulates the world of 1620’s Europe – in the last-gasp clutches of the Spanish Empire before the Catholic church ruled the world – in this, the 3rd part of the saga of Captain Diego Alatriste. Chronicled as reminisces by an aged soldier – Inigo Balboa – concerning his life as a teenager in the charge of Captain Alatriste. Perez-Reverte thrusts the reader into the war between Spain and Holland that raged across much of the 17th century and the whole of Europe.

Patriotism and pride drive these soldiers to battle and victory at any cost - brutality, bravado, (not to mention, the fog of war) make each man battle-hard. Can you imagine being a 14-year old kid and watching men slice each other to ribbons with swords or blasting each other in the face at point blank range with harquebus muskets? It’s hard enough knowing that horrible wartime things happen in the 21st century – roadside bombs, exploding buses, and utterly pointless wars of unchecked aggression – imagine being surrounded by war as your only known way of life.

The other 2 Alatriste books were more swashbuckling, Dumas-ian fun, really, while this one has a gravity, a reality, which settles in almost immediately. The pain and devastation of war visited on all those involved is almost palpable. Of course, this is does not include the upper echelons of Spanish society - preserved in paintings and literature, with frilly collars and je ne c’est quoi attitude – who preserved societal civility and had nothing whatsoever to do with such acts of barbarism. Perez-Reverte presents this vignette from the soldier’s perspective – not from that of a typical high-class individual – and the difference is nowhere more apparent than in the dirt-encrusted brutality of life on the battlefield. Alatriste literally keeps his boots together with scraps of rope. The soldiers have not been paid a penny in 6 months and the food they receive is not exactly edible. When the battle is finally won by the bloodied and decimated warriors, the unscathed officers of high standing receive all of the credit.

Basically, being a 17th century Spanish soldier would suck.

So, to me at least, this little bit of historical fiction hits a bit closer to home these days, as young kids die in the desert for no reason at all. All under the guise of being for the greater good, or the betterment of America, while in actuality, they are just serving the needs of some higher authority. The similarities are eerie: P-R's soldiers fight and die horribly, without question, for the betterment of Spain, while the high classes revel in their high-brow societal freedoms and take all of the historical glory. Is this where we are headed as well? Spain in the 1600's was an unstoppable force to be reckoned with: the best military, the most educated, worldly, artistically minded society, and yet they have fallen to the ranks of second class Europe today. I don't mean to get up on the soap-box here, but I do think that Perez-Reverte is, in fact, making a suggestion or two about the current state of affairs in the world. He just chooses to do that in the form of an entertaining, swashbuckling, face-slapping affair lead by Captain Alatriste that truly transports the reader onto the battlefront.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Nick

Happy birthday Uncle Nick.
(The pot-bellied little boy is me, circa 1976 or 77.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sacred Games: Read this review, bhenchod!

Sacred GamesCarrying around Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games – a massive, 900-page novel of modern India - for the entire month of January, became an integrated part of my lifestyle rather than simply the book I was reading. All the heavy lifting pays off: this is one of the better written books I have read in the last several years. It is so engaging in its exploration of the lives of its characters, not to mention the fact that it weighs 10 lbs, that it becomes a part of your life, your way of life, while you are reading it and hauling it and experiencing it every day. (I also learned a lot of great Indian curse words, like "bhenchod" and "gaandu". In an attempt to clean up my sailor mouth exhibited on this blog, I won't tell you what they mean.)

Over the last several years, there has been a litany of great novels set in India, Southeast Asia, and the like – John Burdett’s Bangkok 8, Dragons Eye by Andy Oakes, Master of Rain by Tom Bradby, and various softer, chick-lit type books that I haven’t read but that have similar settings – and I have ravenously devoured these (the former) and made them one of my preferred reading genres. Chandra enters the game after a long 7 years of writing followed by an apparently quite competitive bidding war over the US rights to the finished product. HarperCollins built the hype up (or attempted to do so) by serializing the advanced copy of the book into, like 20 parts – not all of which made it to my bookstore, none of which actually made it into my hands. Needless to say, I actually was unaware of any of this until I read the New York Times review, the week before the book was released. (I mentioned my initial “First Page Test” experience in an earlier posting.)

Vikram ChandraWith narrative aplomb, Chandra deftly peels back every layer of Indian society - with an unprecedented air of reality - revealing the humanity, faith, & power that makes Bombay tick. And at its core, it reads more as an exploration into the lives of its two main men – Sikh detective Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde, essentially the Godfather of Mumbai – rather than just a blasé run & gun detective story. Which is a great thing. Within the first 40 pages, and this is not a spoiler, Singh finds the gangster Gaitonde dead - an apparent suicide – and fixates on why a man as powerful as Ganesh would take his own life. Singh is weighted down by the corrupt system of policing Bombay – everyone gets something for everything and everything has a cost – and balancing a life of simplicity and faith with that of the modern world. Moral dilemmas abound here: should Singh work with the government agency that put Gaitonde in his position of power in the first place? Should he work against his boss and longtime friend, although he is likely the most corrupt public figure in town? Should he start taking the tempting cash like everyone else, in order to assure the stability of his own future? Modern Mumbai is not an easy place to live – the disparity between the levels of society is so great, it’s a wonder that it all hasn’t collapsed yet. Interspersed throughout, Chandra gives a broad sweep of 20th century Indian history, filling in the gaps and painting a portrait of how these characters came to the places where they now dwell.


Shantaram!As a comparison with Chandra’s book, I offer up Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, seen here in all his glory. Shantaram has been one of the top selling books at Warwick's over the last year & half - it actually came in at Number 3 on our 2006 bestseller list – primarily due to the push from other booksellers who loved it. I did not love it. I read 491 pages of it before I put it down, sick of the narrator’s clichéd voice. My problem wasn’t with the story or the setting, actually, but the history behind the fiction – the story of the “novelist” at its center. Roberts’s life story is, essentially, that of his protagonist, or so he wants you to believe. I had a hard time believing, and, like I said, I got tired of his pretentious, almost preachy manner of storytelling. I wanted more of India, in that book about India. The slums of Bombay are a fascinating phenomenon to occur in a modern society, and Roberts’s sections focusing on them were interesting, but not particularly enlightening or even well written. Filling the rest of the book were sections like this one, which is a bit Ayn Rand-ian in its over-dramatized scope:

“Okay. Okay. So the universe is moving along toward God, or toward some Ultimate Complexity. Anything that helps it along is good. Anything that holds it back is evil. That still leaves me with the problem of who judges the evil. How do we know? How do we tell whether any one thing we do will get us there or hold us back?”

“A good question,” Khader said, standing and brushing the creases from his loose, linen trousers and his knee-length, white cotton shirt. “In fact, it is the right question. And at the right time, I will give you a good answer.”


Chandra’s Bombay (or Mumbai, depending on who you ask) is vivid, colorful, and alive with, well, life. You can smell the hot chai, hear the bustle of the insanely busy streets, and taste the spice of Ma’s pakoras. There’s no fireball in the sky ending* to this (I have heard mild complaints concerning the lack of a nice neat tied-up ending) but that’s his point, that’s the way life goes. He offers up a vignette of LIFE and those who live it, not just another movie of the week on the Hallmark channel.

So, sorry Khader, I don’t have time for any of that faux-philosophy. I have better books to read.

By the way, there is also an excellent review over at Salon.com for this book if anyone's looking for more info. I say excellent because they agree with me, of course.


*A nod to Rick Moody’s assessment that “all good stories must end with a fireball in the sky” from his hilarious novel, The Diviners.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Name My Blog Contest!

baby panda baby panda baby panda baby pandaI think that my blog would have more traffic if it had a catchier name. Or, maybe I need things like pictures of baby pandas. Although, I'm not sure I want that kind of riffraff checkin' out my site. And "Blades Out" is a not very funny, inside joke, even if that is how I roll. So, for the 2 or 3 people who occasionally, accidentally, sorrowfully, end up reading this, leave me your ideas. So far the contenders are: "I'm An Idiot" and "Baby Pandas".

PS: There is no contest.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I Rant, Therefore I Am

The following is a rant on the futility of my favorite sports teams. If you are not interested, please ignore.

My career as a sports fan has been defined – for better or for worse – by 1988. The year before – seventh grade – I discovered that I had more than a passing fancy for the National Hockey League. Well, actually I had a passing fancy for Becky Gallo, who happened to be a hockey fan. I had been a casual sports observer up to that point – I always watched the World Series, the Super Bowl, but hadn’t really committed to any teams. I certainly hadn’t started cutting boxscores & headlines out of the New Haven Register sports pages yet. I was the asshole from New England who rooted for the ’85 Bears and the ’86 Mets – what the hell did I know, I was, like, 11. But in 1988, a mere year after my initial 4 day romantic fling with Miss Gallo, I found that I was still watching hockey.

Wayne Gretzky was the perfect sports role model for a 13 year-old white kid from suburbia – clean, well mannered, well spoken, and hands-down the best hockey player who has ever lived. So I rooted for his Oilers that year, watched them paste the Bruins in the finals, until Peter-f’ing-Pocklington sold him to the Los Angeles Kings in the summer and I became a Kings fan. (At 31, Wayne’s long gone, but I’m still diehard for the K’s.) I still remember getting this issue of Sports Illustrated (left) out of the mailbox.


1988 was also the year that I became a Baltimore Orioles fan. If anyone out there knows anything about baseball lore, you know that that was not exactly good year for them, or their fans. (They started the season 0-21.) But I’m still here, wearing my O’s cap. (On a side note: I will meet Cal Ripken in April when he arrives at my bookstore for a book signing. Be still my heart!)

I also started rooting for the University of Connecticut Huskies basketball team around 1988. Admittedly, I came in after they won the 1988 NIT, but I was there before Tate George beat Clemson in 1990. No one outside the Nutmeg State has any idea what that’s about, so you can watch the accompanying 5 minute video. You have to understand, CT is tiny and we really had no sports teams of our own. No, the Whalers really didn't count since we all went to their games to see the opposing teams, which is why they don't live there anymore.


I also discovered Notre Dame football around there somewhere, although that may have been lying dormant for years before that. It didn’t hurt that they won the National Championship in 1988. And, the San Francisco 49ers – they were pretty fucking awesome around 1988, so I loved them.

Now here’s my point: I still love all these teams, even though they haven’t done JACK for me in recent years. (I apologize to the UConn Huskies – I am a fickle fan, however…)

- The Los Angeles Kings: last place in the Western Conference. 0 superstar players. 0 solid goaltenders. (except for Jason Labarbera, wallowing in the minors because the team didn’t sign him properly during the offseason.) On top of this, the coach that they fired at the end of last year because he wasn’t getting the job done is 4-0 against the Kings with his new team, the Blues, an arguably WORSE team than the Kings.


- The Uconn Huskies – Ok, they’re young & inexperienced, and I’m not really angry at them. But they really suck right now. From the top-25 to the NIT in like 2 weeks is pretty sad.

- Notre Dame football – can’t win the important games. Brady, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

- The San Francisco 49ers – getting there, but a ways off from the glory days circa 1988. Yes, again, I am fickle.

- The Baltimore Orioles – they’ve been so far out of the AL East by the All-Star break the last decade or so, that I’ve taken up rooting for the Sox once the O’s are out. (True, they had a great first half in 2005, but, 32-60 in the second half….) I honestly believe that there is a curse on the team, started by that little bitch, Jeffrey Maier. For the uninitiated, Maier was the 12-year old New York asshole who interfered in a playoff game and earned the Yankees an eventual World Series in 1996. Not that I still think about it or anything. Or plot his death.

Maier ruins everything
All that said, what the hell?! The Kings have never won a Cup, the Irish have been dry since 88 (although they was robbed in 1993), the 49ers haven’t won since 1995 (and have really sucked since Jerry left), Uconn, well its just right now, this week, that I’m down on them – they’ll be alright, and the Orioles haven’t been to the World Series since they won in 1983. Give me something people! I don't want to live in 1988 anymore!

Then again, it keeps me watching every single day. Thanks for reading.