sorrow found me when I was young

>> Saturday, May 15, 2010

For May book club we're reading Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham. I don't think it's the most inspired title (it's a multi-generational family drama...can you tell?), so I thought it was odd that his acknowledgments included a thank-you to the friend who came up with it.

Anyway, the first thing that really caught me about this book was that the first paragraph of the second chapter:

"'It's some kind of night, isn't it'? Mary said. Constantine couldn't answer. Her courage and beauty, the pale straight-spined fact of her, caught in his throat. He sat on her parents' swing, which creaked, and watched helplessly as she leaned over the porch railing. Her skirt whisked against her legs. The dark New Jersey wind played in her hair."
Now what does that remind you of...
How about this:

The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison's singing for the lonely
Hey, that's me and I want you only
Don't turn me home again, I just can't face myself alone again.

And we can assume that scene also takes place in New Jersey because it was written by Bruce Springsteen.

Anyway, I'm not nearly done the book but since the whole thing so far reminds me of a lot of Springsteen themes (second generation American family life, New Jersey, 'the American dream', girls, cars, etc.) I thought I'd make a playlist.

Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own
Spirit in the Night
Pink Cadillac
The Promised Land
It's Hard to be a Saint in the City
The Fever
Lost in the Flood
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Adam Raised a Cain
Mansion on the Hill
Factory
Johnny 99
Used Cars
A Good Man is Hard to Find (Pittsburgh)
Candy's Room
Racing in the Streets
Cross My Heart
All That Heaven Will Allow
Prove it All Night
No Surrender
Where the Bands Are
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)


I've deliberately left off the bigger songs. This list tends towards the first two albums, Tracks, Nebraska, and Darkness on the Edge of Town, all of which I highly recommend.

Oh, and I recommend the book, too. Springsteen references aside (and that could just be me picking up on that), he's an excellent writer.

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who does it better than we do?

>> Friday, May 14, 2010

It's Friday. My legs don't work due to playing soccer in the rain last night. But that won't stop me from living life to the fullest this weekend. I've already gotten a jump start on this plan by getting a booster juice at lunch and streaming the new Sleigh Bells on a recommendation from my buddy Ramk and pretty much the whole internet. OK! I'm listening!

Sleigh Bells - Tell 'Em and others.

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why we hate

>> Thursday, May 13, 2010

Earlier this year I reblogged an internet fight some critics were having over Vampire Weekend (hey! remember my tumblr? no? me neither). I think that argument, among others I'm sure, led to Nitsuh Abebe recently starting a column in Pitchfork called, "Why We Fight". Either this represents a tremendous lot of self-absorption, or it's something we need to think about (maybe both).

So here's a long story that maybe has a point.

I was in the gifted program (do they still call it that? sounds very un-PC) in school. In grades 7 & 8 this meant that the whole group of us had every single class together, every day, all year long. So we spent a lot of time together and got really comfortable with each other, even though we weren't all friends. There was a lot teasing, a lot of running jokes, that sort of thing. But we - especially the more popular kids in our class - also resented being forced to be together all the time, unlike the rest of the kids in our grade who had different classmates every period. By the time we were halfway through eighth grade our teachers were actually worried about us. They thought we were too mean to each other, that there was something dysfunctional about our class. So they actually brought some kind of therapist in to talk to us. The whole thing was very bizarre. Predictably, we reacted the way you'd think a bunch of smart-ass 13-year olds would - we got mouthy. Kind of like close siblings or twins who fight all the time, but will immediately gang up to defend each other if anyone else tries to join in.

I still don't think there was anything wrong with us. Our behaviour is what you'd reasonably expect, given the circumstances. In retrospect it's possible that we were a little too mean to the nerdier kids (for the record, I was neither popular nor nerdy at that point, just standard eighth-grade awkward). Personally, I thought our jokes were really funny, but then I was rarely the butt of them. The point is, everything had more or less righted itself by ninth grade. We moved on - new kids came to school, we made new friends, new things became important. We only had three classes together in the year (instead of all eight) so we got along fine during the time we were together.

The internet has so much information but we tend to seek out and spend most of our online time associating with people who share our interests, lifestyles, and political leanings. It can make it seem as though everyone in the world is just like us. Sometimes I look at twitter's trending topics and don't recognize a thing on there - unless it's about a volcano or the latest major election, I just don't know. These internet bubbles we create for ourselves remind me of my eighth grade class. A bunch of smart kids going to the same school who really aren't that different from one another, but have to find ways to differentiate and stratify themselves, usually by acting like jerks.

So what I'm saying is that every person who listens to Vampire Weekend, including those who love them and those who think they're derivative hacks, are all the same kind of people. The very same!

So, there's that. Fine. We waste a lot of time arguing a lot of useless points. This isn't a problem, except when you think about all the other kinds of people in the world. And that, by talking to and arguing with people who are just like us all the time, we forget how to anyone else. At least, that's what I found last week when I realized I was talking to someone who was strongly in favour of the recently enacted immigration law in Arizona (I am not in favour of that law). I did not know what to say. And do you know what? That kind of thing actually matters! There are whole countries and provinces and states and even cities filled with people who have completely polarized views on things that really matter and we have to be able to talk to each other intelligently and sympathetically.

What I really wanted to say was something about the pointlessness of hateration and attitudes and arguments that exist primarily to demonstrate superiority over peers. When I read those music critic fights I picture a downward spiral and hear a giant sucking sound. And the worst part is that I participate in it all the time. Hating is just so attractive.

In conclusion, eighth graders are mean bastards and hipsters are a threat to democracy.

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social media and reciprocity

>> Wednesday, May 12, 2010

There's a healthy breakfast / lunch chain I have been to a few times and whose food I like. They have a Twitter account that I started following to get the inside scoop on promotions. It seemed like a good trade: I publicly become a fan of the place and read all their tweets, I get a few deals. It did not turn out that way. My chief complaints: they posted the same damn message several times a day (thanks, I saw it the first time) and the deals were not great (usually something like $0.50 off something I would not buy anyway). They had a daily free lunch giveaway for one follower, which kept me around for a few weeks, but I finally decided I'd rather spend $8 than keep reading all those tweets. Unfollowed. I was so annoyed by their spamming that I actually don't even go there for lunch anymore.

Most of us have at least one facebook friend (usually just an acquaintance) who constantly sends invites to events we are not interested in. I'm happy to add just about anyone as a friend, but at some point those excessive invites will cause you to become unfriended. It's so obviously making use of contacts without any real relationship there and it's such a waste of my time.

So now I have some thoughts on the use of social media.

I can see why social media seems like a great deal because it looks like free advertising. And perhaps people are expected to participate simply because there is no 'cost' to participation. But people do value their time and loyalty, and there is no shortage of competition for both. If they don't feel that they are getting something in return, then why would you expect them to participate? This doesn't mean you have to give away free stuff all the time. People value other things, like information or good laugh. And they certainly value relationships. In this sense, social media isn't anything new. And beyond a simple give-and-take relationship, I do believe it's possible to connect with people even through the impersonal internet. Reply and comment functions exist for that reason. People always know when they are being paid attention. If people feel connected in some way (whether you are a band, news outlet, corporation, etc.) they are more likely to stick around. The most successful users have ways of letting their clients / fans / customers actively contribute or participate and feel heard. You aren't going to accomplish that by doing nothing but self-promoting.

Creating value for people will never become unimportant. From my limited understanding of the field, that's just basic economics. And there's no such thing as a free lunch.

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this here ma blog.

I like to talk about things I have no particular expertise in. Especially music.

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