Sunday, December 28, 2008

Good Stuff 2008

So, this wasn't a very good year personally, but other than the global financial meltdown, it wasn't really that bad. The election of Barack Obama was probably not the triumph of reason that i wish it to be, but at least i don't have to worry about President Palin for another four years. I think some decent music was made this year, i read several good books, and there were two good movies about superheroes. My kids both entered new phases of their education and have succeeded so far. I learned some stuff, both academically and wisdom-wise.

I listen to music almost entirely via some radio-like delivery mechanism these days, so it's tough to determine what's new and what's just new to me. There were a few times this year when i heard something that i thought was new and it turned out to be a band that broke up years ago (eg, The Promise Ring). Stranger still, several favorite artists put out albums this year that i never really got a chance to listen to thoroughly (Ben Folds, Drive By Truckers, R.E.M.). Still, there was stuff i really liked. Here's my list:
  • Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes
  • The Stand Ins by Okkervil River
  • April by Sun Kil Moon
  • When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold by Atmosphere
  • And You Were A Crow by The Parlor Mob
  • Nortec Collective Presents Bostich & Fussible
Really though, most of the music that i enjoyed this year was done in previous years, and i just discovered it. I listened to a lot of Damien Rice, Richard Shindell, Grace Potter, A Fine Frenzy, and various ska bands that my son introduced me to.

Again this year i didn't see most of the "serious" movies that will be nominated for Oscars. However, i thought Iron Man and The Dark Knight were the two best comic-derived movies i've seen. I thought the first half of Wall-E was absolutely brilliant. I saw No Country For Old Men on video, but i thought it was an excellent rendition of McCarthy's book.

I read quite a few books this year, but not many that were published in 2008. The most memorable non-fiction i read was Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson. I'm not sure that i read a single fiction book that was published this year. The most recently published novel i can remember was The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt, which is brilliant. My favorite books this year were all by Cormac McCarthy. I read No Country For Old Men, The Road, and the first book of the border trilogy, All The Pretty Horses. Amazing.

My nomination for concept of the year: attention. I think the idea of an attention economy and the almost evolutionary change happening in our culture due to the incessant demand for our attention will be the meme of the decade.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Workin' For a Living

Nathan and his friend Won Ji have been busking to collect money for their high school music program. Here they are playing in front of one of the local Starbucks's.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Novel vs. Novel

Due to a unique set of circumstances i find myself reading two novels at the same time. It's not unusual for me to interleave the reading of multiple books, but i try not to overlap novels if only because it's easy to confuse plot lines and characters. The two books are Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses and Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.

Both are contemporary American novels written by well-respected authors. Both won the National Book Award in their respective years of publication. Both are pretty damn good books. And there ends the similarities.

Franzen's novel is about the Midwest and East, and the (sub)-urban inhabits thereof. It focuses primarily on two generations of the same family, an elderly midwestern couple and their children. Much of the conflict in the novel comes from the difference between these two generations. The parents need to see their children as successful even if that means a certain degree of willful reinterpretion of reality. The children (all now adult) seem to practically define their lives in contrast to their parents, to the extent that merely being in their parents' presence has become a burden.

I identify easily with the characters in Franzen's novel, even occasionally being reminded of members of my own family. The book covers a good span of both time and space, and includes some esoteric material that i assume required research on the part of the author. Yet it all strikes me as very familiar, very real for lack of a better term.

McCarthy's novel is very western, both in terms of geography and content. It starts in Texas, and proceeds southward to Mexico. The characters are ranch dwellers, comfortable riding horses and shooting guns. Other than several years spent in the desert Southwest and a general appreciation of ruralness engendered by my own youth on a farm, i don't have much in common with the people in the novel.

Still, i enjoy McCarthy's novel more. Perhaps it is just escapist fantasy for a middle-aged, middle-class, suburb dweller. The brilliance of The Corrections for me is that sometimes it cuts so close to the bone that it's painful. On the other hand, All The Pretty Horses makes me want to live in its world.

However both of these are uniquely American novels. The Corrections could be more easily compared to a European novel (Buddenbrooks comes to mind for me), but there is the pervasive theme in both novels of individuals trying to transform themselves rather than being transformed by the exigencies of history.

My Butt Hurts

I managed to get my birthday bike ride done today, albeit belatedly. It was a modest ride, over to the coast on the 56 bike path, and then back to the Black Mountain area for the noon ultimate frisbee game. Since i haven't done a bike ride for months, i hurt in numerous special places. Besides the obvious aches and pains, i always forget how much stress it put on your hands to be leaning on the shifters all day. It was a beautiful day though, and i had no flats or other mechanical difficulties, so i'd call it a success.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Today is my 45th birthday. I was not able to do my annual birthday bike ride because it's raining heavily throughout southern California, but since i'm not otherwise occupied i'll probably get a ride in later this week. In the 17 years i've observed this tradition, this is my first rain-out, although i've had a few close calls. I remember one year biking up the road to Cabrillo National Monument in a thunderstorm. It was cool.

Not much to say about 45, except that i am now in a new age group running-wise. My Boston qualifying time goes all the way up to 3:30. Of course, i am also now closer to 50 than 40, which is mildly depressing. But the way i figure it the older i get the more bad-ass i will seem compared to my peers until someday i'll be the Gengis-freaking-Khan of my nursing home.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Laid Off

Yesterday i got laid off from Slacker, the first time in my career that i've been thrown off the ship rather than kept around to help it sink with dignity. It also marks the first time since college that both my wife and i are not employed.

I can't claim that i'll miss the job much-- i've been struggling for months to make something interesting out of what had basically become pointless data munging. But unlike all of my previous jobs, Slacker was the first place where i was interested in the product from a consumer standpoint. My G2 is really the first portable music device i've owned that makes any sense to me. Digital convergence might spell the end of Slacker as a hardware company, but i hope the service survives in some form, if only because it makes the long runs a bit less boring.

Whatever i do next, i hope it's more in the realm of building stuff. I never quite figured out how to turn measuring into creating. It's the same problem i've had with managing people i guess, in that no matter how hard i work i don't get any feeling of accomplishment. It's unlikely that i'll be working in music, and i'll miss that, though there were also times when i felt mildly soulless when attempting to make quantitative judgements about musical preferences. As i keep saying, so many of my own musical discoveries are made by accident that i'm skeptical of the entire business of automated recommendation. Or maybe i just want to believe that we're harder to figure out than some people think we are.

I'm supposed to be going through some sort of anger, denial, acceptance process after being laid off, but to be honest i'm pretty OK with it (or maybe i'm just in a prolonged denial phase). We are not in any sort of financial danger, and it's not proving to be the blow to my ego that i always feared it might be. It's not that i don't care, but rather that i don't really treat my job as an aspect of my self-worth anymore.

Monday, December 01, 2008


I was a huge fan of R.E.M. back in my college days, and the album Murmur holds a special place in my heart. For some reason, my wife and i played this CD constantly in our first apartment after we got married, and it still reminds of those simpler, happy days.

It's been 25 years since Murmur was released, and it's almost shocking to think that it's been around for more than half of my life. It still sounds pretty fresh, and i don't think it would be out of place among modern indie releases. In fact, it sounds like the album that i keep hoping My Morning Jacket will make.

There are so many songs on this album that i still love. Sitting Still is one of my favorite songs ever, and Perfect Circle bypasses all defenses and buries itself directly in whatever part of my brain is responsible for melancholy. Of course, Radio Free Europe has to be one of the best pop songs the band ever wrote, even if i feel like i've heard it a few too many times now.