Friday, March 31, 2006


I've managed to read two books within the last week, helped by the fact I didn't have to work at all. Both books can been seen as warm-ups for upcoming events and I liked mixing in some non-fiction when I get the chance.

First up was Three Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger. It's centered around a 3 game series between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals in August 2003; both teams were fighting for the division lead at that time (along with the Houston Astros). Bissinger takes a look at Cards manager Tony LaRussa and the team, using specific examples of players (such as Cal Eldred and Albert Pujols) and situations (such as the hit-and-run) to touch on unviersal truths about baseball. I've been a fan of LaRussa since he managed the White Sox in the early 80s and this book didn't change that in the least. It's a smart book that is passionate about baseball played the right way and that's the kind of baseball I love. Now I am fully charged up for the new season ahead, which begins in less than 48 hours as I type this with a game between the Cleveland Indians and my beloved World Champion White Sox.

The second book, finished about an hour ago, was Staring at Sound by Jim DeRogatis. It tells the story of one of my favorite bands, The Flaming Lips. DeRogatis lays things out in chronological order with histories of the members and centering around their creative output. I liked it. It reminded me a bit of the Wilco book that Greg Kot wrote the other year. I always find the creative process interesting and when it's one of my favorite can I resist? This now has me fired up for the new Lips album, At War With the Mystics, which comes out on Tuesday. I've been listening to all the previous albums and used some birthday money to buy the Fearless Freaks DVD, which I'll try to get to before the new one. Can't wait.

That gives me 11 books read through the end of March. Not bad. Next up is Jeffrey Ford's The Empire of Ice Cream and I plan on posting about every story as I read them.

I pulled my guitar out of the closet yesterday. I can't remember the last time I played. My guitar dreams started all the way back in college, when I was inspired by a friend down the hall. I borrowed my mom's guitar and brought it to school. Didn't do much with it. That pattern has continued ever since - I'll play for a week or two before deciding I don't know what I'm doing and putting it away for six months or a year or what have you. The one good part is that I'm now proficient enough that I know a bunch of chords and can play a little every time I pull it out.

I played for about a half hour yesterday, getting used to some chord changes. I printed off the chords for a couple Old 97s tunes and messed around with those, as well as coming up with a little four chord pattern that may turn into something.

Last night I went to a local open mic with Graham, so I could hear him play and soak up some music. It was fun - you get some good and some bad. Two guys from Call It Arson (I'd never heard of them) were there on an off-night from their tour and they sounded amazing with two acoustic guitars and harmonies and a pair of interesting songs. Graham did a Bush cover and his own "Puppet on a String," which I really like. Anyway, the most important part of the evening was that Graham loaned me a bass guitar and a giant amp. Yup, I'm now attempting to learn the bass.

I spent a good 45 minutes or so this afternoon with the bass, trying to get used to how it plays and then putting some songs on the stereo and trying to play along. It didn't work too well but I didn't expect it to. I feel like I did learn something about how to play it, though, and that was exciting. Plus, I picked up the guitar after that and felt a bit more at ease with it. I even made more of an attempt to sing along to those Old 97s tunes.

I had great fun doing all of it and I can't wait to get back at it tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I'm 35 today.

When I was in fourth grade, I was in a program for gifted students where we did independent study. The first thing I focused on was a study of the presidents, a subject I found fascinating. I memorized all of them in order and learned lots of facts about them - William Henry Harrison dying after only a month in office; the fact Ulysses S. Grant wasn't his original name...Hiram Ulysses Grant (HUG) anyone? I also decided that when I grew up I would be president and I told everyone about it. I was promised quite a few votes from classmates, teachers, and other adults.

The funny thing about the program was that I only studied two subjects that whole year - the presidents and the Rough Riders (led by future prez Teddy Roosevelt). Other classmates managed to go through many subjects but I was a bit of a procrastinator. I was very interested in those subjects but I was also interested in reading every Hardy Boys book that was published up to that point. I started to read comics around that point as well. I was in love with story.

I was good in school, even with my tendency towards procrastination. Everything came easily to me and I could whip out a paper at the last minute. I think those deadlines helped me focus; it meant I couldn't spend my time reading a book or some comics or listening to records. I was able to do homework quickly and would then have the rest of the time for myself. I always had a book or some comics with my in school. I graduated as valedictorian and headed off to Penn State for college.

I wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I got to college. When I was younger, I had a Princeton course catalogue and I would make up student names and choose their courses and roll dice to see what grades they got. Yeah, I was a dork. Still am. Anyway, when I was faced with actually making those choices I had a hard time. I didn't think I wanted to be president anymore but I was still very interested in politics, so I signed up for a high level political science course (I was able to do that as part of the honors program I was in). I lasted maybe a week before I dropped it and picked up something else. In fact, I made liberal use of the drop/add program over my years at Penn State - you could do it over the phone! But as I went along, I just became more and more lost with what I wanted to do. I started taking some fiction writing classes and by the time I went to declare as a writing major you could no longer do so. It was English or nothing. I started having problems with depression around this time too, something I'd never had a problem with. It all came to a head the second semester of my junior year; I had a mini-breakdown and my parents came and got me. The plan was to go back after spring break, which wasn't too far away. But I didn't go back.

Eventually I tried a local branch of Purdue for one class. I was depressed and had an unreliable car and didn't show up for class a whole lot, though I did all the work. Handed in my final paper only to have my professor tell me I wasn't there enough for her to grade it and I ended up with an F. I didn't get Fs. I didn't go back.

I tried a third school, Columbia College in Chicago. I wanted to be a DJ. Took a class and realized that I wouldn't be able to play the music I wanted to at most stations I would have a chance of being hired at. Ended up in that writing/English vein again. I had been working at Subway but got an opportunity to join the staff of my hometown paper as the junior reporter. Before too long, the guy above me left and they hired in someone new with no experience (just like me) and I was the senior reporter. I was responsible for writing articles, taking pictures, and laying out the paper every week and was going to school two days a week in Chicago. I completely cracked and that was the end of my career as both a reporter and a college student.

By this time I knew I wanted to be a writer. The problem was that I didn't write. Or I'd try to write and give up after a few paragraphs, thinking it was horrible and I would never amount to anything. I was still depressed and I was working at Subway again, which didn't help my self-esteem. I had rediscovered my love for comics and started to publish a small fanzine about them. I also started writing letters to comics, something I had done for a while in my high school days. This lead to me being recruited to join an APA (amateur press association) about comics called Legends. Through my zines I met a bunch of people who were like me. It was nice. Eventually, I worked on a comic with some of those friends, a small anthology from Slave Labor called LOVE IN TIGHTS. I had two scripts published and was considered a comics professional.

I was still riddled with doubts and fears of failure and gave up quickly (sure, I wrote up some proposals for more comics but I had no artists to work with and just didn't push). I removed myself from the comics scene after a time and have been fighting with those impulses ever since...trying not too care too much about the medium I loved since I was 10 and keeping it at an arm's length by only buying trade paperbacks. I've been fighting with myself about comics for the last five years.

That's actually become my mode of operation. Keeping myself shielded from things that I have an interest in doing. Holding off comics so I didn't have to think about my failed attempts (and failure to continue those attempts) at becoming a consistent comics writer. Wanting to write songs but not picking up the guitar for more than a few days at a time and then putting it down for months or even years. Stopping my incessant notes full of story ideas. Stopping the pursuit of the dreams.

As that was going on, though, I began to have a healthier outlook on life. I haven't been depressed in a long time. Having a child helped that; as the at-home parent I couldn't afford to wallow in my own head all day long. Finally getting out of Subway helped too and I went to work with my wife running the drama department at the high school (which was also where I went to school). The kids repsected me and I enjoyed working with them. And once I started my job working with little kids at the Y, I was able to see that I had worth as a person and it had nothing to do with my ability or inability as a writer or a creative person or anything. I had discovered how to be happy along the way.

So, here I am at 35 years old. I am now legally able to run for president. Obviously, I don't want to be president anymore. But I don't want to give up on my creative dreams. So I am going to take this year of my life to pursue those creative impulses. I'm going to write fiction and really play the guitar and do whatever else comes to mind. I'm not going to put any restrictions on myself, all my rules. If I want to buy a single issue of a comic, I will. If I want spend two hours playing guitar poorly, I will. I'm going to see what I can do. It may not go anywhere. That's fine. I'm still going to be happy. I'll still be finally going after my dreams and that will be worth it in its own right. But wouldn't it be great if it did go somewhere?

I plan on writing about that pursuit as well, seeing if I can get a book out of the pursuit. So be on the lookout for posts marked with "The Year of 35" to see how that pursuit is going. I'll still be doing my regular sort of entries as well. I'm interested to see where I'll be with all of this a year from now. I hope you find it interesting along the way too.

It's my year of being 35. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


That's what "24" is. I'm still trying to recover from last night's episode. Yes, character tends to be largely subsumed to the plot (but we got some emotion from Jack last night). And yes, it's a bit unbelievable that everything can happen within the given time frame. But it's a hell of a ride and I am so glad I finally gave the show a try this year. Now I have to catch up on the first 4 seasons...

In the spirit of that rush, here are some quick reviews...

* I recently read the debut novel from Dave King, The Ha-Ha. No, it's not a comedy. Instead, it's the story of a damaged Vietnam vet who can't communcate with those around him and how his life changes when he becomes the temporary guardian of a 9 year-old. Recommended.

* How great have the first 3 eps of the new season of "The Sopranos" been? I love that show.

* I still get get enough of Fort Recovery. I've also been playing The Believer, the new one from Old 97s front man Rhett Miller, a whole bunch. A great pop/rock record in the best senses of those words. And Dear Higgins, the debut from Higgins (my brother's former roomies), sounds like the 70s. In a good way.

* Jeff Vandermeer's City of Saints and Madmen completely lived up to all the good reviews I've been reading about it for years. Full of horror and humor and literary games and stories presented in completely new ways. There's no excuse not to go pick up the new Bantam edition.

* Grant and I have been watching "Justice League Season 1" on DVD for the past few days. It's such a good show and hits me right in my DC fanboy brain. I'm also having fun watching Grant get into the characters and wanting to pick up more action figures.

* Picked up the softcover of Top Ten: The Forty Niners last week. Great stuff from Alan Moore and Gene Ha. I'm so disappointed the ABC line has dried up and we won't get a "season 2" of Top Ten. That was my favorite of the line.

* How about that Final Four grouping? LSU/George Mason for the championship, anyone?

* The baseball season is so close...I can almost taste it!

Friday, March 24, 2006


I can admit to being wrong. I'd heard "Abel" by The National on KEXP a number of times and I'd liked it but I lumped them in with all the hot British bands of the moment - your Killers and what have you. Um, mistake. For one, they're American. Oops. LTR recommended them to me back in January and I gave Alligator a chance. Glad I did. They offer intelligent lyrics and a nice mix of moody music with instrumentation that features violin and cello in addition to your regular guitar and piano-driven songs and songs that rock, like the afore-mentioned "Abel" and "Mr. November," the rousing album closer. In fact, they remind me of American Music Club (helped by Matt Berninger's baritone) and that's not a bad thing at all. Highly recommended.

Tapes 'n Tapes has been touted by a number of music bloggers for a while now, going back to last year. I was a little slow in checking them out but once I heard "Cowbell" I had to go to their website a listen to a few more tracks. I liked what I heard and ordered up The Loon. It's definitely an indie record but it's the good kind - varied musical styles and tones, interesting lyrics (even if I haven't totally parsed them yet), and lots of energy. They can sound like Arcade Fire ("Manitoba," possibly my favorite track) or The Pixies (the fun instrumental "Crazy Eights") or what have you but it's never derivative. Here's one time where the hype is justified. Oh, they'll be playing live on KEXP tomorrow afternoon (3/25) at Noon PST - check it out.

I didn't know who Neko Case was before The New Pornographers (and I didn't discover them until Electric Version, but that's another story) but once I fell in love with that band I had to branch out to its individual members. I grabbed Neko's Blacklisted and picked up her live album when it came out in late 2004, which had me ready to pounce on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I think it's her best work yet and the first half is particularly strong. Her lyrics are full of strange images this time around and don't necessarily tell a story, yet they seem full of meaning. Meaning I haven't quite grasped yet. But that doesn't mean I'm not entrance by the folk and country-tinged strains of the title track and "Star Witness" and "Hold On, Hold On" and "That Teenage Feeling," which feels like a lost hit from the late 1950s. My only issue is that many of the songs fall into a range of 2:30 to 2:45. That lack of variety in song length can sometimes make the songs blur into each other, especially on the second half. But that isn't new for Case and it's no reason not to go out and grab the album.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


I read Kevin Brockmeier's first novel, The Truth About Celia, early last year and really liked it. It combined beautiful writing with a heartbreaking and completely cool idea. More importantly, it guaranteed that I would read more of his work. I haven't gotten around to his story collection yet but I did grab his latest novel, The Brief History of the Dead, as soon as it came out.

The novel alternates chapters between the denizens of a city which appears to be the place you go when you die and the story of a woman trying to survive alone in Antarctica, who may also be the last person left alive on Earth. That's right, it appears a plague has swept across the globe and the carrier was Coca-Cola. Why Coke? Because the water supply in the future isn't safe enough. And why is Laura Byrd at the South Pole? A marketing project for Coca-Cola.

There are many links link that between the characters in the book, especially when it becomes obvious what the remaining denizens of the City have in common. The chapters set in the afterworld focus on different characters and we get glimpses of their lives both in the "real world" and now. Those people do appear in the background in other chapters, of course.

The language and writing and wonderful throughout the book, with themes and ideas pinging back and forth between the more metaphysical City chapters and the more adventure-oriented chapters of Laura Byrd's trek across the ice. It's official: I like Kevin Brockmeier's work and I think you will too.

After what, a month, we finally got a new episode of "Lost" last night. I think it hurts the momentum of the show to have breaks that long on the consistent basis that it's had of late. The previous episode was a high of the season and then...but I digress. I had the VCR running while I watched last night, since Jill is still a bit wiped from her crazy "Beauty and the Beast" schedule of the last two weeks. Everything was all well and good until the end. Just as Henry Gale was pouring his cereal and learning that Anna-Lucia didn't tell Jack and Locke about the map he drew for her...the power went out! By the time it came back on, I caught Henry mentioning something about a trap or...? Can any of you help me out and tell me what happened?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


As in one week from today I turn 35. I've been planning a new project (which will encompass many other projects, or at least that's the idea) to coincide with that milestone, which I will reveal in one week as well. I'm excited by it all and I'm looking forward to sharing it with all of you.

In the meantime, I hope to catch up on some posts I've been planning for a while. I need to talk about the latest Kevin Brockmeier and "musical fauna" and all of the other CDs I've bought or downloaded and The Ha-Ha and maybe some thoughts on "The Sopranos" and geeking out on "24" and maybe by then I'll have finished the Vandermeer and and and...

We're just over a week from the new baseball season too and I can't wait. I also realized today that I haven't read a baseball book yet these year, an annual tradition for me these past few years. I'm looking at 3 Days in August, which is about a series between the Cardianls and Cubs in late 2003. I've been a fan of Tony LaRussa ever since he was on the South Side.

I just found out there's a new book out about The Flaming Lips too - wonder if I can squeeze that in before the new album comes out. My copy of The Empire of Ice Cream arrived today too. And the softcover of Top Ten: The Forty-Niners came out today.

I guess the good news is I will soon be on spring break from the Y - only 7 more classes and a private lesson to go before I get 9 whole days out of the pool. Have I mentioned my spring break fever yet? It will give me lots of time to read. Ah, time to read...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I came into today with 4 CDs on my high priority list - Josh Rouse's Subtitulo; Loose Fur's Born Again in the U.S.A.; the debut from Band of Horses; and the new Warren Zanes (the title of which escapes me at the moment). The first three were released today and the Zanes was last week, though I just learned about it a few days ago. I went out to Best Buy and Barnes & Noble looking for the new stuff and struck out except for finding a copy of Band of Horses at B&N for $15.99. Frankly, that's a bit more than I want to spend for an unknown entity even with positive reviews. So, no new music.

I do have another recourse - I still have all 40 downloads for my current eMusic month. Both the Rouse and the Zanes are available. My one sticking point is that I had planned on only picking up older albums from artists I've been buying on CD and continuing to buy their new releases in hardcopy. I've been buying Rouse's work new for many years and have Zanes' Memory Girls on disc. But I really want to hear the new stuff and I could get both albums for roughly $4.50. What to do, what to do...

Update: After talking with my wife last night, I realized that if I'm willing to go into someone's back catalogue digitally then I might as well grab new stuff that way when it's more convenient and/or cheaper. So, I grabbed Subtitulo and burned it to a disc and listened to it as I was falling asleep. Restarted it at breakfast this morning and I like it a lot. He's been making great little pop records for a while now and this is no exception. And now I've also grabbed People That I'm Wrong For, which is the new Warren Zanes.

Monday, March 20, 2006


I only have four more days in the pool before I get a whole nine days to be free of chlorine. I can't wait. And all you get today is links...

My brother Theron has jumped onto My Space here. Go and befriend him, or at least read his list of bands he likes. Brevity, thy name is not. Then again, how do you pare it down?

My pal (and former performer in the drama shows I was assistant director for) Graham has posted some nifty new songs on My Space as well. Go and listen. My plan is to play for the Livid Penny at some point this year.

I picked up the latest issue of Harp the other day and have been enjoying my readthrough. I was surprised to see an ad for a new Warren Zanes record - I had no idea he had a new one coming out. I really liked his debut, Memory Girls. It's a beautiful pop record. It's on eMusic too, for those of you eager to burn up your downloads.

My favorite comics cover artist - James Jean - has also done the art for the upcoming Calexico album. He covers the process over at his blog.

I mentioned Jeff Ford the other day. For a sample of his great writing, go and read this tale of his hot dog addiction and his son's growing mustard artistry. I should receive The Empire of Ice Cream in the next few days.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Jeffrey Ford's second story collection ever since Golden Gryphon put it on their "forthcoming" list. Now the wait is over and The Empire of Ice Cream is now shipping. I placed my order this morning and I ordered directly from Golden Gryphon so they (and Jeff) get all the money without any middlemen. Sure, it's slightly more expensive that way bit only slightly and as I am a big fan I do it to support their efforts. The best part of it all is that I get to read a bunch of new Ford short stories, as I stayed away from reading most of them on original publication. I wanted to experience the book with as fresh of a look as I could. Anyway, I highly recommend Jeffrey Ford's work and I plan on posting reactions to every story when I read it.

I've just been listening to music, music, and more music lately. I'm still trying to process the albums I downloaded from eMusic and the ones I've picked up the past few weeks - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and The Believer, for example. And this coming Tuesday brings the new releases from Josh Rouse and Loose Fur and this Band of Horses I've been hearing good things about. But all of that has taken a backseat to Fort Recovery, the new album from Centro-Matic. I think the album closer, "Take A Rake," has taken up permanent residence in my brain. Unless it's actually "Monument Sails" or "Patience for the Ride" or "Calling Thermatico" or "For New Starts" or "Triggers and Trash Heaps." Yes, that's half the album. And the other six songs are great too. If you haven't heard of this or just haven't bought it yet, you need to stop everything and procure a copy immediately. I mean it. Then you can join me where the drums crash at the beginning of "Take A Rake." See you there.

Friday, March 10, 2006


The previous two Thursday nights (before last night) I participated in a trivia challenge at our local Buffalo Wild Wings (it's the trivia game they have in restaurants and bars all over the country - NTN, I think). It was a fundraiser for the Y and did very well - it cost $150 for a team to play and there were over 20 teams. I played for a lawyer in town who had worked with my dad on a project and knew that my dad and a former office mate used to go and play the trivia game on their lunch hour a couple times a week. The lawyer put up the money and asked Dad and Mike (the former office mate) to be on his team; they said they needed me as well (all last year I would go play with them on Fridays - the only day I wasn't in the pool until after 1:00). On the first night, we played four games and our team managed to win 3 of them (in the first 2 we got over 13,000 points out of 15,000; many of those questions were pop culture things I just knew, such as the artist who released Tunnel of Love in 1987). On the second night we learned that only our top score from the previous week would count and would be added to our best of 2 scores from that night for our total. We didn't do as well on either round but we managed to score over 10,000 each time. In the end, that was enough for us to take first place by around 800 points. The prize? $250. I didn't take any money, though. It was fun to do and, of course, fun to win. And now some of the big bosses at the Y know I'm more than just a swimming teacher.

Grant got sick late Tuesday night with a fever and sore throat. That developed into puking as well on Wednesday as well. So, it's been an interesting last few days for me. His fever isn't getting up as high as for as long and his throat seems to be getting better as well. Doesn't look like he'll be playing basketball tomorrow, which is a shame - he's really started playing well the last few weeks. He's been sticking with the opposing player on defense and actually took a shot in a game the other week. We still have one more game (and one more practice) next week.

Jill has been busy with the musical she's directing, "Beauty and the Beast," so she hasn't been around much to relieve me this week. Oh well. This production has been a bit rockier than usual in the runup to performances but things seem to have come into shape finally. That's good because it opens tonight, followed by 2 shows tomorrow and 2 more next weekend. And then spring break is right around the corner!

This title post is in honor of my Grandma Batey, who always said "catsup" instead of "ketchup." I miss you, Grandma.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


I resisted at first. Wasn't going to do it. Not for me, I said. If I couldn't phsyically hold an album (CD, whatever) in mind hand I wanted nothing to do with it. Sure, I'd already dipped my toes in the water with iTunes, downloading songs here and there from various music blogs and artist sites. And then The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers put Psalterie up on the web and Harvey Danger put up Little By Little and suddenly it seemed smart to just get the music.

Lately, there have been posts about eMusic sprouting up all over the net. And no sooner did I finally sign up for the 50 free downloads then Trevor posted about the greatness of it. I signed up for the basic service when I got my freebies, which means I pay $9.99 a month for 40 downloads. Hey, I can handle 25 cents a song or around $2.50 an album. It's a great way to try out new bands or fill in holes or what have you. I finished my trial downloads today and am obviously going to keep on going with it. I would recommend it to anyone.

So, what did I get?

Destroyer/ Destroyer's Rubies
Elbow/ Leaders of the Free World
The Hold Steady/ Almost Killed Me
Slobberbone/ Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today

Plus: 7 Brendan Benson tracks that were b-sides or extras on reissues

Monday, March 06, 2006


Kirby Puckett died. He was a baseball player, a centerfielder for the Minnesota Twins from 1984 to 1996. I wasn't a Twins fan but I had a ton of respect for Kirby; he played the game the way it supposed to be played - hard and with a lot of fun. He could hit. Man, he could hit. He was a great defensive player as well. His Twins won the World Series in 1987 and again in 1991, where Puckett made a great catch in center and hit a home run in Game 6 after telling the team to jump on his back; in Game 7 Jack Morris was lights out and it was over. Kirby had to quit the game in 1996 when he started suffering from glaucoma and it was a blow to the game. His numbers were something else and if he'd been able to play, he would easily have had 3,000 hits. Still, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001. And now he's gone, suffering a stroke yesterday. He left the game too soon and he left life too soon. I love baseball and I loved watching Kirby Puckett play baseball. He will be missed.