Musical Enlightenment

On my television is an example of what the VH1 station does best; pack a bunch of low-rent comics and pop culture “experts” (whatever that means) into a studio and have them comment on a list of songs or events. That is exactly the type of wonderfully mind-numbing entertainment that The Top 100 Greatest Songs of the 00’s offers. But the other, more personal thing that this show presents to me is the fact that I am and have always been really out of touch with current music.

That’s something I want to change. Over the last few years I’ve taken steps to becoming more musically relevant. It’s still a slow process for me. The main thing I do is keep my ears open around friends whose musical tastes I trust. If they bring up a band they like I try to go home and listen to them. This method has turned me onto Best Coast, Alabama Shakes and The Black Keys, who I’m happy to say I actually listened to before they skyrocketed to stardom.

I won’t give VH1 the credit for bringing this realization to light because I’ve been thinking about my inept current-music radar for a while now. I’ve been wondering how I’ve drifted through high school, clubs, and the 90’s without ever falling prey to the radio station. I couldn’t name you a Nickleback song until I saw “How You Remind Me” on VH1 just now, although I could tell you that I know everyone on Earth hates Nickleback despite the fact that they’re immensely popular.

“Like meeeeee.”

I was never much into the grunge movement nor could I claim to anything more than the slightest appreciation for early Green Day songs or their puss-punk sound. And due to my great love of rock n’ roll of yesteryears, I hold a lot of contempt for Nirvana even though I appreciate what they’ve done for music. Unfortunately, they’ve done nothing for music that I like.

To put things in perspective, it is well known amongst my circle of friends that I’m an immense, well read, intense fan of the last great hard rock band of all time, Guns N’ Roses. I’ll hear no criticism of anything Guns, including Axl Rose, who is arguably the greatest rock singer since Freddie Mercury. Seriously, they’re great. End of story.

You still there? Are you still reading? Hopefully you haven’t thrown your laptop into a wall, fused your keyboard with your monitor, or shattered your cell phone or tablet into a million pieces with hatred for that last paragraph. I’m sorry if it upset you. It’s important that you know that fact about me to understand why I’m kind of out of touch with music.

I was born in 1990, at the height of GNR’s fame, and only a few years before the original band lineup would split for good. Having been an infant when they were huge, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that I have such a strong bond to their music or can relate with their lyrics the way I do. The members of GNR’s original lineup are like dinosaurs in this post-grunge, pop-music kingdom that we live in today. With names like Axl, Duff, Slash, and Izzy; these band members are like cartoon characters from a strange, low-fi 1980’s TV program. The excess of Guns was everything Kurt Cobain and Nirvana looked to destroy…and succeeded in.

Let that last sentence soak in. Reread it if you have to. That is why I hold Nirvana in such contempt. They had a revolutionary hand in destroying what I love about rock n’ roll. And my personal beliefs aside, citing facts only, Nirvana never held a candle to the musical juggernauts of Guns N’ Roses.

As I got older, I pursued music with a hunger like any normal teenage boy wearing a black band t-shirt while growing his hair out long. Only instead of feeding off the influences of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, or even Metallica (whom I’ve always liked) I looked into what inspired my favorite band. This turned me onto wonderful glam rock bands like the ridiculously underrated Hanoi Rocks and the phenomenal English band T. Rex. I downloaded lots of New York Dolls albums and had a Motley Crue phase after reading Nikki Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries.

Most of these bands are greatly unknown or highly forgotten these days. So listening to them and telling all of my friends about them only ousted me more and singled me out. I built a wall around myself to block out current music.

Now I’m ready to dismantle that wall.

I still love those bands. I’m just ready to drop my attitude that all new music sucks and add variety to my iPod. I’m taking input from all of my friends and now with this blog post, the entire internet community. I want to know who you like to listen to. I want to give new artists a fair day in court. I know what I like and if after a song or two I decide the artist isn’t for me, no worries. The only thing I’ve sacrificed is a little bit of my time. At least I tried.

With the flux of new songs in my ears, I’m discovering new feelings and connections with my music. Now I’m finding songs that speak to problems I face as a youth today, not dated problems or lifestyles from thirty or more years ago. New music is giving me new inspiration for my writings and new understandings of emotions. GNR is all about telling authority to “fuck off!” and metaphorically coming in the face of adversity. It’s an empowering message but with the angst brought upon by grunge music, listeners have discovered that it’s ok to not always act so tough. We can be in touch with our emotions and be sad if need be.

I’d like to find some bridge between both messages. I’d like to have that rank stench of cool on my cowboy boots and leather pants while rocking the understanding and worldly vibe of a flannel shirt. Most importantly, I want to listen to new music.

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What Do You Do When Everything is Right in Front of You? or How Do I Capitalize on Each Day?

Mark Doty, poet author of the book Atlantis

My first assignment in my Intro to Poetry class was to read Mark Doty’s 1995 book of poetry titled Atlantis, based mainly on the death of his partner to AIDs. In the poem “Long Point Light” a lighthouse speaks and says, “The morning’s the size of heaven. What will you do with it?”

As we went over the line in class today, it made me think about what my days have consisted of; nothing worth commenting on and basically the exact problem with my life and that quote.

When the first day of the semester came around I was thanking God for giving me something productive to do with my days. I lost my job at the beginning of August and went through a few good weeks of consistent reading and writing which is ideally how I’d like to spend my time. But then, while reading the depressing Sylvia Plath novel The Bell Jar, I hit my own slump and didn’t do much of anything for a while. School will hopefully put me back on track.

Back to the Doty quote, how can I treat every day like it’s the start of some kind of paradise? I’ve been able to do this from time to time. On a good month, I can have one or two gloriously full and productive days a week. But how can you be more consistent? I would like to be able to treat every day this way or at least most of my week.

But it just doesn’t seem plausible. In order to tackle a day fully I need to be optimistic and have some sort of idea of what I’ll be doing. I need to have a story to write or a good book to read and be inspired by. I need my creative juices to balance out with my optimism and I need the time to pour myself out onto the page.

Sometimes that is too much to ask. My moods shift. I have work or other obligations. Then it’s like I don’t get anything done at all let alone a full day. Excuses are our enabling friend.

The first half of the Doty quote suggests that there is great potential at the start of every day. There is literally no end to what could be accomplished in a whole day. However, the second half brings a twist; in order for this unlimited potential to be harnessed, you will need to take charge of it and command its reward.

I’m wondering how I can. And I’m open to all suggestions.

I suppose like all major projects, preparation can play a big part in the process. I shouldn’t wake up with no game plan and expect great things to fall in my lap. I was thinking about searching the internet and finding a bunch of writing exercises that appeal to me and stowing them away. If I can’t think of something to write one day I can reach into the pot of random poetry and short story exercises and get to work.

I’ve been meaning to limit my time on mind numbing activities too. Hours are lost and time truly melts in the presence of TV, Facebook, and the vast brain tumor that is the internet with all of its cat pictures, sex, and random pleasure generators. Hours are precious. They cannot be returned.

A constant battle I have is whether or not I should actively try to wake up early. I’m naturally a night owl, so Doty’s quote would have to be altered for me to say, “The late afternoon’s the size of heaven.” I do believe I’m more productive when I get up at a reasonable hour but those hours after midnight, when the rest of the world is sleeping and I’m left undisturbed with my writing, are when I’m really at my zenith.

So I suppose we’ll have to start with those options for now and see if they help me to carpe the hell out of some diems.

  1. Have game plans for your days. Prepare ahead of time.
  2. Do not waste time on things that numb the mind (Facebook, TV, and internet).
  3. Sleep less. Wake up early. Go to bed late. Best of both worlds.

6 Directing Tips from Actors

Recently I watched a video on YouTube which asks the question any aspiring/working director should want to know from an actor: what do you want from a director?

I’ve done a lot of research on directing since I started filming my own short screenplays a few years back and what fascinates me most is how to inspire actors. I love crafting beautiful shots and making a visually pleasing film but what I believe a director should focus on more than anything is the performance.

So when I research directing I hold a heavy bias on reading about how to direct actors and what actors want from a director to make their performance powerful. The video above asks twenty-one accomplished actors what they want from a director and here is a summary of what they want to see:

1. Clarity

I put this at number one because several of the actors brought this trait up so it’s worth paying extra attention to. In the video, Meryl Streep mentions that she wants a director to be clear with his direction, even if he is uncertain of what he wants to see. This is powerful advice from arguably the greatest actress in the business today because what I’ve found directing on set is that I don’t always have the answers. Sometimes I’ll watch a take and just know it’s not right but am not certain of how to make it better. Streep is saying that this is ok and a director should just vocalize he wants to see something else but he’s not sure what it is. The result could surprise both the actor and director and get the perfect take of a performance.

Rebecca Hall goes on to say that a director should have “a clear way of saying something that evokes a creative emotion.” Directing requires tricky use of language. There will be times when you know exactly what you want from an actor but vocalizing it could leave the actor dumbfounded. Communicating your direction is one of the hardest parts of the game. You must do so by being distinct, precise, simple, and clear with what you want to see yet you must say so in a way that can draw a creative response from the actor.

This is why a director should never recite a line the way he thinks it should be read. This only leads to an actor trying to robot-mimic your dialect. This is very non-creative and will leave you with stale delivery. Give tips on what emotion to evoke and they might recite a line better than you imagined.

2. Trust

One of the bonds I always want between me and an actor is unwavering trust. If an actor doesn’t trust their director, they begin to direct themselves and wonder how they’re expressions look on film or how their lines sound. This stifles their creativity and prohibits them from letting loose and living in the moment which is imperative to unique performances. Let the actor know they can trust your opinion and that you will not allow them to look bad.

Unusually an actor is a stranger at first. Trust takes time to accrue. Time to build a relationship is almost never available before filming. Never fear, Paul Giamatti claims that he will always trust a director from the get go. He respects that they are a professional and are good at their job so he trusts them outright until he is given a reason not to. Do NOT give an actor a reason not to trust you. A director and an actor are in a relationship. Remember that. Just because the relationship only lasts the duration of the project doesn’t mean you should treat it with any less respect than you do your relationship with your parent, spouse, or best friend. You do not want to hurt the bond or demean the relationship under any circumstances.

3. Passion

If you don’t have passion for a project you’re working on, you either need to immediately remove yourself from that project or seriously reconsider your career choice. Directing is a tough job and it literally demands your full commitment and enthusiasm to complete the 12+ hour days while overseeing the entire project, managing performances, accruing research, and every other painstaking task required to turn a script into a film.

Natalie Portman is possibly my favorite actress so I was delighted to see her in the video even though I was disappointed her clip was relatively small. But she made a good point that the audience is seeing the film through the director’s eyes so it is imperative that the director be an active character in the story. This means the director needs a full commitment to the project.

Actress Elena Anaya stunned me when she mentioned that actors can get very “lonely” when they feel it is their job to boost the film if the director is not taking the time to progress the story or explain the events properly. She believes passion lies in the director’s ability to unfold the story for the audience. A wonderful point made.

4. Collaboration

A film production is quite possibly one of the most beautiful examples of humans working together and intertwining talents in order to achieve a mutual conclusion: a final cut of a film. Collaboration is an almost obvious trait between director and actor. Rosamund Pike mentions that a character is created by three people: writer, director, and actor. Collaboration is needed from all three to give birth to a memorable character.

Jeremy Renner hammers in a tip I’ve read constantly that a director should never have an idea for the story or character set in stone. He should have many ideas and be flexible to changing those ideas on the spot if a better idea comes into play. Staying open leaves avenues to freshness and uniqueness. Never tell an actor every little thing he should do in a scene. It’s their job to fill in the blanks. “Give me parameters, don’t micromanage” said Renner. In regards to collaboration, Laurence Fishburne said “step back and allow me to swing.”

This video surprised me in a sense because some actors weren’t huge fans of collaboration. Willem Dafoe said he likes collaboration but over the years he’s realized he likes coming to a director’s vision of the character even more. He said, “going towards something that isn’t mine, there’s a process that fuels what you’re doing.”

Rosamund Pike believes that she is chosen for a part because the director picked her as the person to play his vision of a role so it’s her job to become that vision. “If you really trust a director, you trust his vision,” she said.

5. Courage

Noomi Rapace, star of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo franchise mentions that she wants “courage” in a director.

“The worst thing a director can be is cowardly and tasteless,” said actor Oliver Isaac.

Directors cannot afford to be timid. They’re operating on time restraints, budget restraints, and all the pressure in the world while still trying to be creative and achieve their vision. This makes courage and boldness a job requirement. You need to be able to tell actors, who are very strong willed people also by necessity, that they are doing something wrong. You need to stand up to producers and studio heads at times to ensure your vision is not being skewed beyond recognition. It can be a very scary and disheartening position to be in.

6. Efficiency

I think one of the best bits of advice comes at the very end of the video from Morgan Freeman in regards to working with director Clint Eastwood. Freeman mentions that he believes Eastwood is one of the best directors in the business because he is quick and he isn’t wasteful. Freeman expresses displeasure with a director that does 17-18 takes.

“What’s wrong?” Freeman asks. “If there’s something wrong with the camera, fix it. If there’s something wrong with my performance, tell me. Don’t just keep saying ‘let’s do it again.’”

I’ve been on sets were directors trademark phrase is “let’s do it again” and I think I get more annoyed than the actors. I always read that a director should mention some kind of feedback after every take. This is the logical way to get the least amount of takes before the desired performance is captured.

As mentioned before, filmmaking comes with many time and financial restraints. Always be as efficient as possible and try to not waste anything. Don’t waste people’s time, don’t waste money, don’t waste film, don’t waste daylight, don’t waste your breath, don’t waste anything. By doing so you’ll find that you’re a director many people will want to work with, including actors because they felt their time was used wisely, producers because they felt their money was put in the right places, and crew members because they see that you’re a director that knows what he’s doing and is on top of the ball.

Do as much prep work as possible on shot lists and scene analysis before shooting. Get rehearsal dates in if possible; whatever it takes to make the actual filming go as smoothly as possible.

“What is the Purpose of Life?” or How a Small Bit of Character Info from Kurt Vonnegut Helped Put Getting Fired into Perspective

 

Getting fired from a job is one of those moments that make you stop and take stock of your life. Even if you’re not that big of a fan of the job, it’s still the basic idea that you were forced to stop performing when you weren’t ready because someone else said you weren’t doing a good job. It’s like having sex with someone who you’re not remotely attracted to, someone who you know you’re too good for, but still you keep pumping away sluggishly as you go through the motions. But then all the sudden, this person who should be thanking God that you’re giving them the time of day, taps you on the shoulder and says, “I think it’s best if we part ways.” Then you’re left fumbling to put your pants back on and wondering what you did wrong to upset this beast you previously loathed.

“We’ve decided to part ways,” is how they say it.

I walk into my office and there’s my General Manager standing with another GM from the market who was summoned for backup. The other GM knowing my shift’s start time and probably showing up fifteen minutes early to be there standing, posing as I walk through the door. I knew what was going on before they even began talking. At least it was a nice day out.

This is an asshole.

I can’t say I was very surprised by the termination. I had gotten some poor reviews, which although were never for anything substantial, I knew the procedure since I’d seen the same thing happen to other employees; I was aware they were getting the documentation they needed to ensure a legal termination. That’s how things are done in chain businesses that are run by home offices in other states by people who see you only a few times a year for a walk through, the only thing on their mind being to find something wrong with how you’re running the building. It’s really quite disturbing when I think about it too much.

But the great thing about being canned is I have a lot of time to do all the writing I claimed to be too busy to catch up on. Thankfully, I’ve actually been making good on it and writing daily. When I’m not writing I try to read. I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, the humorous tale of beloved Vonnegut character Kilgore Trout, a recurring side character who this time gets to be the lead on the black comedy stage. Trout is a fictional science fiction writer who pens hundreds of novels and short stories which are usually sold in pornography stores with dirty pictures printed along with the text. His stories, which are unique and otherworldly, are merely vehicles to peddle smut.

In Breakfast of Champions, a small character description struck me. Trout walks into a porno movie house when they’re trying to close for the night. Vonnegut writes, “Nobody was there but the manager, who was also the ticket-taker and the bouncer and the janitor.”

It’s quite a small sentence which isn’t detrimental to the story. In fact, this theatre manager is only around for another few pages as he walks with Trout before being assaulted on the dark New York City streets. But it struck me as remarkably true and hit home, having just been fired from my position as a movie theatre manager, (unfortunately not of a porno theatre.) Being a manager in an AMC chain theatre consists of little glory or prestige. Working at a smaller multiplex as opposed to a megaplex leaves managers with less payroll and more tools needed on the belt. In one shift I would be needed as projectionist, usher, concession and box office cashier all while trying to fulfill my managerial assignments and ensure guests had a good visit. It is a thankless business. Long hours, weekends, and holidays are a requirement. And at the end of six and a half years I just get fired anyway at the ripe old age of 22.

Something about Vonnegut’s description of the poor, porno theatre manager having to clean up the dirty theatre at the end of the night in addition to all of his other jobs made me realize even more that it was probably for the best that me and the theatre “parted ways.”

Just before Kilgore Trout walked into the house he was in the bathroom of the porno theatre and read a question written on the tile wall. It said: “What is the purpose of life?”

To which Trout wanted to respond, but he had no pencil to write it, “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool.”

With all the self reflection that comes along with getting fired from your job, the purpose of one’s existence is sure to poke its head up at some point. Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout made the valiant effort of trying to answer that question. And to him, it’s quite simple and a foolish thing to be questioning.

We are only here to retort this life to others. We are merely a vessel for which to comment on what life has in store, for each of us individually. For it always surprises me that each of our lives are so unique, so original, and yet so connected to the paths of everyone else on Earth.

Vonnegut would say that there is no superior answer to the purpose of life. We are simply here. For no other reason than that we are allowed to be here. And once you can accept something like that; that life is so vulnerable and that our individual lives are so minute to the great wide intertwining world, then you are truly living specially. You are seeing clearly.

In one of my favorite passages from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle he says:

“God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, “Sit up!”
“See all I’ve made,” said God, “the hills, the sea, the
sky, the stars.”
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look
around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly
couldn’t have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to
think of all the mud that didn’t even get to sit up and
look around.
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor!
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.
I will go to heaven now.
I can hardly wait…
To find out for certain what my wampeter was…
And who was in my karass…
And all the good things our karass did for you.
Amen.”

What a lovely way to live if we all admit that we’re just mud that got up to look around. This applies to you, me, President Obama, millionaires, prostitutes, the Pope, your grandfather, cops, junkies, a collective universe of chaotic, flawed beings capable of nothing more than taking a breath and looking around.

 

 

3 Tips to Avoid Looking Like an Annoying Photographer

 

If I’m honest with myself, I’m not much of a photographer. I’m one of those stereotypical girls (even though I’m a guy) who bought a nice DSLR camera and went picture happy with excitement. Then I noticed what great quality the camera has and mistook that for my photographical prowess and posted those photos like mad on Facebook. I’m proud of a few of those shots and think there’s some glimmer of a good hobby in there if I keep at it. But looking back there are some things that should be avoided to keep from looking like a mediocre beginner. As Scarlett Johansson said in Lost in Translation, “I guess every girl goes through a photography phase. You know, horses… taking dumb pictures of your feet.” Well said, Scar Jo. Marry me.

Please.

1) Don’t Use Bold Personal Logos on Photos

Photographers like to use big, loud self-trademarks on their shots to designate the rightful owner. There are reasons for this; once the photo is posted to the web it can be copy and pasted anywhere or reused at anyone’s leisure. So photographers like to know they’re signature is there for the world to know who captured the shot. Makes total sense. But when you’re putting gaudy logos that are too big or too bright (as I’ve done here) it becomes extremely distracting and dramatically takes away from the quality of your photo.

If you’re going to use a logo keep it very simple and tasteful. Make it blend into a corner of the picture where it won’t be noticed and take away from the beauty you’re trying to convey. After all, everyone hates commercials and ads ruining what they really came to see: the Art. For more help, check out this site’s guidelines.

2) Use Filters Conservatively or Not At All

Instagram is either the coolest, most useful app on your phone (if you’re a teen girl) or it’s an annoying route for people to take crappy pictures and slap a gaudy filter over it. Instagram is neat and all but let’s remember that real photographers don’t usually use cell phone cameras or apps to edit their pictures. So if you’re trying to look like you have a shred of integrity, avoid dumbing down your photos with filters.

As a photographer, you want to avoid looking like the dozens of Instagram photos of food and people’s feet that clog everyone’s Facebook and Twitter feeds daily.

3) Be Selective

If you have a photo shoot, you’ve got an idea, you’ve got a subject, and you’ve got the means of making pretty pictures. You’re going to take an abundance of photos on this shoot because sometimes your lighting isn’t just right, some photos were a little blurred, or the model made a weird face or something. At the end of the day you could potentially have hundreds of pictures. There’s a reason that you shouldn’t post all or even most of these photos to the internet for all to see and that’s because most of them are like ugly babies, they’re only lovable to their creator. Only post the cream of the crop. If you have a problem with designating between which one of your children you want to slaughter, than get a friend with an eye for photos to be a second opinion. Be very selective. You only want to show the photos that make you and your model look good.

“That’s a keeper.”

I’m guilty of violating 2 out of these 3 tips and this is one of them. My first photo shoot I posted just about every blurred photo, every angle multiple times, and every downright bad shot I had because I was so jazzed up to show all of my Facebook friends. The result was less than savory.

When venturing into the wonderful world of amateur photography, remember that you’re not only as good as the expensive camera you use. Keep your photos tasteful and professional and set yourself apart from the rest of the girls’ feet shots. Make your feet photos look awesome!

 

Best Coast Live at the Union Transfer in Philadelphia

California native surf rock band Best Coast performed live at the Union Transfer in Philadelphia, PA to a packed house on Monday July 16, 2012.

 Still rolling through their tour after less than favorable reviews from Rolling Stone magazine of Best Coast’s performance at Metallica’s Orion Fest, they managed to impress this blogger with a smooth set of old goodies and new gems off their latest album The Only Place.

Bethany (vocals) and Bobb (lead guitar)

The east coast Philly crowd gave lead singer and lead guitarist Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno, respectively as warm a welcoming as they could get this far away from their west coast sun. The former farmer’s market was packed with people lining all three balconies and pit in what according to Cosentino was one of their biggest turnouts.

“This is the biggest crowd I’ve ever toured for,” said Cosentino to the crowd.

I did not make it for the first band’s performance and wasn’t really feeling Those Darlins which is a country/garage band from Nashville, TN. The lead ladies did their best to rock out and vibe but never seemed to hit it off with the crowd even with their most lively track “Fun Stix Party” consisting of such lyrics as “I’ll bring the pussy you bring the dicks, FUN STIX PARTY, FUN STIX PARTY!”

Looking around the crowd, it appeared that people were smirking and shuffling uncomfortably to the punkish song.

Opening for the mellow and poppy Best Coast has proven to be a strange job in the two shows that I’ve seen in Philly. The first time I saw them live was at the Starlight Ballroom a few years back when they were touring with Wavves, a surf-punk band. It seemed like a good match but the vibe was odd when the moshing teens had to suddenly tone their energy down for the main act’s soft, yearning tracks.

When Bethany and Bobb finally took the stage it was exciting to see the lead singer in good spirits. Based on reviews I’ve read, Bethany is often noted as being a little disgruntled or lackluster in her performance. The previous show at the Starlight featured a sweatpants and high heels wearing, champagne flute toting Bethany looking agitated to move through her set list and only stopping to mention to the crowd that she was in the hospital earlier.

“What were you in the hospital for?” a kid yelled from the tight crowd after a song ended.

“A UTI,” Bethany replied.

But at the Union Transfer I was pleased to see a trim, healthy, happy Bethany Cosentino appearing to enjoy the audience’s reception and turning it on beautifully in return. As mentioned, she played all the crowd favorites from their first album Crazy for You and peppered in some newer stuff from their latest and second album The Only Place.

This sounded to me like a more mature, professional sounding Best Coast with a tighter drummer and added bassist. I liked the quality of the new drummer but have noted a lot of negative responses from audiences when former Vivian Girls drummer Ali Koehler was dropped from the lineup unexpectedly.

My favorites were “Up All Night” performed beautifully live and her frequent Fleetwood Mac cover of “Storms”. I had “Up All Night” in a very lo-fi recording which sounded very dark and muffled. I loved the song then but enjoyed it even more when they ditched the lo-fi vibe and recorded it professionally for The Only Place.

They step off the stage in trademark rock fashion and return in minutes for “the longest encore ever” according to my friend. “What was that six songs?” It didn’t seem very long at all to me as Best Coast have some Ramones-like timed songs clocking in at only a few minutes each, if that sometimes.

Bobb kicks into the opening riff and Bethany begins spilling her deepest secret longing for a desired “Boyfriend” and the cell phone screens light up in the pit to record the most crowd pleasing number.

As people filtered out of the Union Transfer the buzz was positive and spirits were high the way they should be after listening to an upbeat, poppy, warm surf rock band sing of the Pacific Ocean, relatable issues with love, smoking weed, and living in the legendary greatest place in the world: California. Ah, the west coast, supposedly the Best Coast.

Like Beer and Liquor, Or Possibly Certain Types of Recreational Drugs, You Shouldn’t Mix Certain Literature

Cover of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:...
Cover via Amazon
Cover of "In Our Time"
Cover of In Our Time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the last two days I’ve completed reading two novels of distinct interest to me: Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time. Both were phenomenal reads. Both can be related, in their own ways, to the American Dream. But perhaps they should’ve been spaced out a little bit in my reading schedule.

I’d been loaned a copy of Fear and Loathing from a friend a little over a month ago. Thompson had become pretty inspirational to me over the last year as I researched his work. I’d watched Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation but never got around to reading the actual novel. When I was lent it, I had to practice a good deal of restraint from reading it since it was the end of my semester and I had a list full of books to finish for my American literature course.

Ernest Hemingway in Milan, 1918

One of my final books in American lit was an extra credit read of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises which I fired through with awed vigor. Hemingway has become one of my favorite authors since the 2011 fall semester when I read his short story “Soldier’s Home” and did a research paper on the main character Harold Krebs’ motivations. So I was very eager to read his novels as quickly as possible. Or I guess in respect to Hemingway, I should say: I liked “Soldier’s Home.” I liked The Sun Also Rises. I was happy when I read them. Nothing seemed to make me more happy. (That’s a little prose humor for you.)

During the end of the semester, I was mixing my required readings with some pleasure reading of the short stories of In Our Time. I put it down half way through to finish my final book for class, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

As of last Tuesday, school is over and I was left to do my own reading. And I’ve begun to assemble a nice list of books I want to get through. First up was Fear and Loathing. I breezed through the majority of it yesterday and finished late last night. Once the drug-fueled craziness kicks in full swing, which is pretty much at the beginning of the novel, it’s too much of a page turner to be put down. And like Thompson says, “you can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug, especially when it’s waving a razor sharp hunting knife in your eye.” In my case, I couldn’t turn my back on a book full of Samoans puking into shoes, waitresses being petitioned for sodomy for a few laughs, and a few premium American automobiles getting more banged up then the drug-bingers driving them.

When Fear and Loathing came to a close I made the odd decision to pick up In Our Time the very next day. As I finished the final stories featuring Nick Adams realizing his maturity in the middle of a two-part finale that goes nowhere but touches on everything, I started to feel a little disoriented. In a matter of hours I went from 1971 Las Vegas, full of its acid induced hallucinations to 1920’s Europe and America as disillusioned Americans do their best to cope with harsh realities.

Both books had stated tough truths about the American dream. That’s the one unifying theme that ties them together for me. In the same way Thompson sought the location of the American dream in Nevada’s deserts, I’ve been searching for it in literature.

Each book spoke to a different generation that found itself asking “what’s the deal?” in its own way. Both books present people transitioning from prosperous and enjoyable decades in American culture to times of confusion and disappointment. Hemingway’s Adams returns home from WWI and fights to come to terms with masculinity, relationships, and values. When the reader leaves Adams, he has isolated himself from people to ease his confusion with the help of nature. For Krebs, protagonist of “Soldier’s Home,” the self-realization is a little bitterer as he’s forced to adapt to societal norms he no longer cares for to avoid confrontation.

Hunter S. Thompson, Miami Book Fair Internatio...

Thompson tells his own tale as a living, breathing survivor of the hippie counterculture of the 1960’s who was left stumbling into the 70’s, hungover and blurry eyed from a decade of heavy recreational drug use only to find that their rebellion was fruitless. Politics got weirder and times weren’t changing for the better. This sense of disappointment in these people’s fates was summarized beautifully by Thompson in arguably his best passage from the novel:

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

After reading both of these works I’m left fumbling around in my bedroom on a particularly humid and rainy night at 2:00 a.m. I am as confused and disoriented as the world and war weary WWI veterans of In Our Time and the self-destructive drug abusers of Fear and Loathing. Gertrude Stein called Hemingway’s folk “the Lost Generation.” Hunter S. Thompson didn’t seem to have the right map either in the 70’s. Over forty years later and I couldn’t tell you where I should be going. America has been at war for over a decade and I can’t find a decent song on the radio. If Hemingway’s time was the “Lost Generation” then I want to know who was ever found. All I can think to do is put on an Acapulco shirt, rent a convertible only to drive it to the ground and abandon it at the edge of the woods before submerging myself deep into isolation and nature for some trout fishing and a little bit of nothingness.

Put In A Good Word For Me.