Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Great Books

I have read a lot this year. This is not an un-abridged list of what I have read this year, just a few of my favorites. There may or may not be more coming. This is an excellent topic for comment, so please...I need validation.

All of My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers
By Larry McMurtry
I have never ready any thing by Larry McMurtry that I have not loved. All of My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers(AMFGBS) is the story of Danny Deck. Danny is a young writer going to school in Texas. He falls in and out love, and meets many eccentric characters along his life's journey.AMFGBS is a very introspective book from one of America's great writers. The young author deals with his increasing fame and fortune, while still trying to figure out who he is. We get to know a lot about Larry through Danny. The things I love about this book are the vivid charactersMcMurtry creates in all of his prose, along with with the simple yet meaningful dialogue woven in the tale. The book may not have a strong plot element that keeps you from putting it down, but the journey and complicated world of Danny Deck will more than keep you entertained.

Fargo Rock City
By Chuck Klosterman
This book is by another of my favorite writers. Klosterman grew up in rural North Dakota and was a dedicated fan of heavy metal. Fargo Rock City is his attempt to put into perspective the heavy metal music of the 80s and its eventual death at the hands of Kurt Cobain. The book takes a serious look at what the actual cultural impact heavy metal head on society. The book uses Klosterman's wit and general "smart ass" tone to keep the reader involved even if they have never banged their head to Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil(which I also highly recommend you try next time you are stressed). The book also culminates with us understanding what it means to grow older, and how the music of our past can become embarrassing with time(I owned The Rembrandts , theme song from Friends, album), but it is still a part of us. I have read this book twice, and return to it often for a good laugh, and when I need to be reminded why Guns n' Roses rocks.

By Chuck Klosterman
Is a collection of essays and interviews from Chuck Klosterman. I at first thought this book would be nothing more than an updated version of Sex, Drugs and Coco Puffs(Can not recommend this book enough), but IV gives some wonderful interviews with unlikely celebrities. His interview with Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) shows an incredible artists who if you met on a bus(which is entirely a possibility with Tweedy) you would never know he was a rock star. His famous interview with Billy Joel ,that caused the "Piano Man" to become enraged with Klosterman, shows a music icon who really needs to be loved. I was impressed with this book, because it showed a growth in Klosterman as a journalist and as pop culture critic.

Let it Blurt:The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic
By Jim Derogatis
For those of you who don't know Lester Bangs was one of America's great voices on music for the better part of two decades. His album review of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks is better than the actual album. He had legendary verbal sparring matches with Lou Reed, and wrote some of the erudite criticism of rock n' roll ever. He is the gold standard by which all other critics should be judged. He was also a fascinating person, addicted to cough syrup he was far from the typical narcotics user of his day. He would often call aspiring writers who wrote to him with a desire to be a rock critic at all hours of the night and discuss music with them and how to prefect their own craft. Bangs was raised a Jehovah's Witness and the strict religious indoctrination created a strange vision of the world, that permeated his writing. Its wonderful look a brilliant and flawed man, as well as one of the finest eras in music history.

Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader
By John Morthland
If by chance you read Let it Blurt this is a great follow up. It contains a lot of the famous essays as well as few of the short poems and lyrics Lester Bangs wrote over the course of his life. It can be a hard read, and really recommend reading the biography listed above first. It will however give you a great insight into why Bangs was so influential and should still be relevant today. I actually like this better than Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, which was a book that was supposed to be the compilation Bangs never actually wrote himself. Robert Christagua (Bang's self appointed successor as America's great rock voice) did a lot of the compilation here, and left out some of the most meaningful parts of Bangs prose and poetry, that help to show the complete artist that never was.

Wilco:Learning How to Die
By Greg Kot
I initially became interested in this book after reading the Klosterman profile of Jeff Tweedy in IV. I have always been drawn to singer/songwriters, and Tweedy seemed like someone I should know more about. This book was an excellent look at one of the greatest songwriters of my life time. The story of a mid-western band carving out a new sound that mixed Nirvana and Waylon Jennings. The drama of two school yard friends bonded by their exclusive love The Ramones and Sex Pistols in St Louis, and the jealousy induced unraveling of their friendship and first band Uncle Tupelo when on the verge of super-stardom. It shows Tweedy's innovation in using the Internet to reach fans, when his record company refused to release his artistic masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The book cemented my already strong fan status of Wilco, and Tweedy. Its a great read for anyone interested in music, or celebrities with a brain.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot
By Sara Vowel
Sara Vowel is best known as the voice of Violet in Pixar's The Incredibles, or as a regular contributor to NPR's long running This American Life. If you have not read her, you are missing out. Especially if you are at the geek level I am at, and stop on the road side to read a plaque placed there to honor where Lewis and Clark stopped to shave and perhaps trap a possum for dinner. Sara is a patriot who loves her country's history in spite of all that she knows is wrong with it. Her essays are humorous and at times heart wrenching for those of us who were utterly pained to be living through the Bush years, but still loved our country with all of our hearts. This books tapped into the zeitgeist of what I was feeling for those 8 long years. She delivers wit and insight on a variety of topics. I don't want this book to come sounding like something only a liberal can enjoy, because its not. Its a book that anyone who loves their country, gets annoyed with its current state or past histories, and just owns up to their own geekiness.

The Omnivore's Dilemma
By Michael Pollan
In the Omnivore's Dilemma investigative journalist Michael Pollan traces four distinct food lines. A modern industrial food line starting at a cattle ranch and ending with a meal at McDonalds; beyond organic farm in Virgina that raises food the way food was raised 50 years ago; the organic food chain with places like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and even Wal -Mart; and a hunter gather meal made from a boar the author shot himself, mushrooms he gathered wild, and food raised in his own garden. The book is a hard look at where the food we eat every day comes from. How corn has become the grain that ultimately feeds us all, even though animals like cows and fish are not designed to eat corn and this creates some very sick animals. The Omnivore's Dilemma is a book that really challenges you to think and re-think about where your food is coming from. The book has inspired small changes at the Smith household, we use the Downtown Farmer's Market more, buy organic when we can, and I am even planning a day trip to a farm in Wyoming that raises food the same way the farmer in Virgina from the book does. Its a challenging book, that's a fine example of what good investigative journalism should be.

By Larry McMurtry
One of the greatest things I have ever done in my life was a two week road trip with my friend Brad Neve. We made no concrete plans, only to drive east and go "look for America." And America we did find. It showed me parts of the country I had never seen, and was the culmination of a life long love of staring out the window from a car a passing landscape. In Roads Larry McMurtry does much the same thing. He narrates his drives down some of America's great roads, and talks of his life as an author and bookseller. One of my favorite parts of the book comes when McMurtry is looking out the window of his hotel room at the Arkansas River and talks about the death of one of the minor characters in Lonesome Dove(McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel and one of my three favorite books). He writes of the sadness he had when this minor character died, and how often times while writing its the minor characters that you end up connecting with. McMurtry's own love of books is evident as he writes of the great travel books, and authors who dwelled in the places he passes through on his sojourn. I have yet to read a McMurtry book I have not loved, and this is no different.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I don't look a thing like Jesus, but I do look like Sid Vicious: Meditations on The Killers

This is just a quick post about the second concert of the weekend Maggie and I attended.

-The Killers are an excellent live show, even if the acoustics suck at the E Center.
-Pyrotechnics and stage production are only good when adding to music and not distracting from it. The Killers did this well.
-A Mariachi Band is actually a pretty cool opening act, it does make you want to buy nachos though.
-A crappy Jack White wannabe is not a good opening act. They would have been better in a smaller club, but most likely still sucked.
-Getting out of a parking lot after a concert requires you to become a total jerk to the rest of populace.
-People in Escalades with theatre systems watching Futurama should chill the F out and let those of us struggling to make our Ipod FM Transmitters work, while rushing to meet friends afterward leave first. PS: Having a "Support our Troops Ribbon" on the back of your Escalade is like having a "Save Our Forests Bonfire." Idiot.
-Once again old friends are awesome to go shows with. Proving that Journalism really was the best class I ever took in high school, even I remember nothing it other than the Book of Kauer.
-Sprite is still the perfect post concert beverage.
-The Bayou is a perfect post concert meeting place.
-There is just not a Plothow I don't like.
-Brandon Flowers reminds me of early David Bowie meets Freddie Mercury meets Police era Sting.
-I was mistaken for Sid Vicious. I was wearing my Sid Vicious mugshot T-Shirt, and our server at the Bayou thought I had a picture of myself on my t-shirt. I thought this was awesome, Nancy...err...uh...Maggie thought this was scary.
-You have to be very aware of what the bussers are doing at The Bayou or else they will clear your Gumbo before you are done with it, and not allow you to use the piece of French Bread with which to wipe your bowl; this being good for the body and good for the soul.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thoughts on Flogging Molly

Friday night Maggie and I went to see Flogging Molly play at The Venue here in Salt Lake. We got in as guests of the band because one of my very first best friends from Kindergarten works for the band. I have not seen this friend in at least 20 years. I found him on facebook and we started to chat one day. I told him that I noticed in his status recently he saw Nathan Maxwell ,the bass player for Flogging Molly, solo act. I told him that Maggie and I also saw him perform. He then casually mentions "I work for his other band." I went on to tell him that Flogging Molly is easily one of my favorite bands, and is always in place to be my second favorite band of all time(second place being the most coveted, because The Beatles are number one. There is no way to best them). He offered to get me into the show for free...I accepted. Here are some thoughts and favorite moments.
-Story: Never judge a Zoobie by its cover. A Zoobie for all those who don't know is uber Mormon Utah County type. Maggie and I spotted this Zoobie looking couple at the concert, except he was wearing a Bouncing Souls t-shirt (one of Maggie's favorite bands). We figured they were here to chaperon a kid or something, and we had to investigate a Zoobie who was wearing a Bouncing Souls t-shirt. We talked with them before the show discovered they were from Orem, and that she got patches from every show because she was making a quilt. Once Flogging Molly started this couple that had escaped across Point of the Mountain for the evening went nuts. They were both in the most intense part of the mosh pit. He stripped his shirt to reveal a very intricate tattoo set. He was getting in a fight with security, and his wife shoved the guard to rescue him from thrown out. This taught me two things 1)Never assume someone is a Zoobie by their cover 2)You can still party hard after having kids...also if you two happen to stumble across this you are awesome and we want to be friends.
-Observation: If you have any stress a mosh pit is better than anything to get rid of it.
-Moment: Watching the group obviously from BYU looking shocked that someone would drop an "F-Bomb" on stage.
-Observation: DO NOT WEAR THE T-SHIRT OF THE BAND YOU ARE GOING TO SEE...don't be that guy, c'mon.
-Observation: Getting hit in the mouth, face, head, rest of body does not hurt if the music is loud enough
-Moment/Observation: I always love watching someone fall in a mosh pit, and then seeing the group stop to help the person up. Seeing compassion in a sea of seeming rage show to me that mosh pits represent the best in humanity. Its tribal.
-Moment: Maggie getting hit on by the cute 16 year old girl.
-Observation: Being soaked in sweat(yours and others peoples) is a pretty awesome feeling.
-Moment: The really old roadie with oxygen tank partying in the middle of the dance floor...rock on brotha.
-Observation: Sprite is the perfect post concert beverage(and I never drink Sprite other wise)
-Observation: Make a friend with me, you make a friend for life, and bonds formed over G.I. Joes, Ninja Turtles, Bravestar, and the Karate Kid are stronger than you could imagine.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Where Everybody Knew My Name: Part II the Hawk n' Dove

When I was an intern Washington DC I had a unique experience. I was the first congressional intern to be sent from Dixie State College, and, unlike most interns, was not there as part of a school program. I had to find my own housing and ended up living alone. I had a studio apartment on Capitol Hill on the corner of Independence and Maryland. It was a short walk to my office on the House side of the hill in the Longworth House Office Building. I was however for the first time in my life with out any preexisting social network and totally alone. When I was in the MTC one of my best friends was there at the same time this provided some sense of home. When I went to the mission field I had the district I had just spent three weeks in confinement with. When I was inside the Belt-Way I was alone.

For the first three weeks I explored the city on my own. Maggie came to visit on two weekends, along with friends from California, and a former co-worker of mine who was visiting a girlfriend in Maryland where my only previously known contacts. I did have two friends who were also there for an internship he worked on the floor above me, but he was married and living in Virginia which made casual engagements harder to arrange. For the most part I was alone. I would leave work and explore a Smithsonian museum, walk the great monuments to democracy. I would take sojourns to Arlington National Cemetery stare into the eternal flame that reminded me of the New Frontier and the passing of the torch to a new generation of Americans .I read the words of a little brother who sought to end poverty, and walk the rows of crosses and contemplate sacrifices made by those who came before. It was a great time to find myself and realize what matters most to me. However, in a city that thrives on networking, I wanted human contact beyond my office walls.

This happened at the Hawk n' Dove. I fell in with a group of fellow interns working at various senate and house offices, research groups, lobby groups, and various government agencies. The Hawk n' Dove is the kind of bar I always pictured being in Washington DC. The place where the debate carried over from the cloak rooms, halls and floors of congress to the bar stools, pool tables, and dance floors of DC night life. There was always discussion of the day's events, the latest scandals, and what was happening in "our members" various committees. One of the rules of the Hawk n' Dove was that you never talked about who you worked for by name, per chance the opposition was listening in at the next table. You always used the words "my member" when discussing you day job. It created a wonderful sense of importance.

The bar was long and dark with pictures of politicos past, campaign bumper stickers from across the country (I contributed one from Zion I had, and one with Brain from Pinky and the Brain saying "Put A Brain in The White House" raising his hands in the famous Nixon peace signs) and neon sign informing patrons "Jack Lives Here." The floor was old hard wood that creaked when you walked on it, the walls brick and showing the age of the building. The TVs always had both the Yankees-Red Sox game and CNN (Fox or MSNBC depending on which party gained control of the remote that day). I always felt at home here.

When I was home watching one of my favorite episodes (Dead Irish Writers) of West Wing (which is the fictional world I spent most of the Bush years pretending I lived in). Toby (White House Communications Director) and Lord John Marbury left a White House black tie party to go to a bar and share a bottle of Lagavulin and discuss the president's work with Northern Ireland. They quote Yeats, O'Neil, and Joyce as they battle of policy. It reminded me of my time in DC, and as the camera drew back on the two statesman it clearly revealed the name of the location the two had chosen...Hawk n' Dove.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Broken Nose=Bad Ass

Maggie: I am worried about our kids' noses.

Colt: We don't have kids, and the kids we don't have don't have noses. Do you mean you are worried because they are going to have hideous noses, because you think we both have hideous noses?

Maggie: No, that is not what meant.

Colt: Thanks for calling my nose hideous.

Maggie: I just can't picture my nose or your nose on a little baby.

Colt: My nose is over 20 years old, our kid will not have a 20 year old nose. Plus my nose got this big and crooked after it was broken a couple of times, same with my dad.

Maggie: So we just need to make our kids where helmets with face masks to protect their noses.

Colt: Naw, a broken nose adds character and several degrees of bad ass.

Maggie:...(blank stare)

Colt: Its true...it is.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It was around 15 Years Ago Today.

This past weekend Maggie and I went to St George and then on to Las Vegas for a weekend of musicals, shopping (Brooks Brothers is doing well I am happy to report) and excellent restaurants. We got into St George late Thursday night and I was still wired from the energy drink I drove down on, so I stayed awake till 4AM watching VH1 Classic (See my running Facebook commentary for details on that.). VH1 Classic was promoting the new Beatles Rock Band Game with a series of specials about The Beatles. This got me thinking about my personal experience with the Fab Four and what drew me to The Beatles.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a house that really loved music despite the fact that none of us could play a thing or sing at all. I got kicked out of more choirs than I care to admit, and am still annoyed with Mr Lister to this day for pointing out my severe lack of talent. The very first artist that I remember requesting be played was Roy Orbison. I think I knew every lyric to every song of Roy's by the time I was 8 years old. This of course lead me to other artists like the Traveling Wilburys, Elton John (though that one took some time), Johnny Cash, and all the artists on the oldies rock station. This background set me up well to appreciate The Beatles.

The earliest memory I have of The Beatles is watching the Saturday morning cartoon on the Disney Channel and thinking it was hilarious. Second only to that was getting up very early in the morning and to watch the Disney Channel to find this very strange movie about this guy who had a ring on his finger that required him to be painted red and sacrificed. I remember telling my mother about how funny the ending where they dedicated the movie to it. My mother finished the line before the words were out of my mouth, and went to tell me that was one of her favorite movies when she was a kid.

I later remember asking for Beatles cassette tape for Christmas. In my family we were allowed to ask for 2 little presents and 1 big present for Christmas each year. I had grown concerned with my cassette collection not having enough real music and wanted to expand my musical horizons. Every teacher, classmate, family member, and even jolly old Saint Nick himself seemed puzzled beyond belief that a kid my age in the late 80s would be asking for a Beatles cassette to fit in his "My First Sony Walkman," but I did. It was one of my most cherished gifts that year. It was a greatest hits compilation and exposed me to an entire decade of Beatle Mania. I loved the song Paperback Writer and tried to get my peers to enjoy it on the same level. I became fascinated with the back story of each song, and pestered my mom for insight into the meanings of the lyrics. I pointed how the music was "about something" that it was important even though I could hardly articulate why. But to no avail, they remained unimpressed. My cousin was getting into R&B and Country; my friends were obsessed with Poison, or Kris Kross. This time was also important because I learned the music you hate, is almost as important as the music you like in defining yourself.

Years later after I had made the transition to CD from cassette and now had a grown up Sony Discman I began acquiring The Beatles catalog in earnest. I had also discovered artists that were more age appropriate Nirvana, Green Day, U2, Counting Crows, Sonic Youth etc, but I never lost my love for the group that turned me into a "serious music fan." One night my mother was going out with friends and I was bummed I was not included. I was going to have to stay home and amuse myself for a couple of hours. My mom promised that if I was good she would give something I had spent months trying to convince her I needed...Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. When it was time for her to go I raced to the car to get my reward that had been hidden in the glove compartment. She went out with friends and I popped on the head phones. I hardly noticed she was gone. I listened to the album over and over again. It was one of the most incredible experiences up to that point in my life. I raced home from school the next day to put the headphones on again. I again played the missionary trying to convert anyone who would listen that this was what great music should be like, but it was for the most part lost on my friends.

Around middle school ABC ran documentary called The Beatles Anthology that was going to run across several days and feature the first new Beatles songs in two decades. The hype for this was huge. TGIF (ABC's Friday Night line up at the time geared to people my age) switched all of the shows normal theme songs for Beatles songs; the ads ran non-stop. I knew this was important, so did my mom, because she let me stay up past my otherwise strict bed time. The first night coincided with the release of Volume 1 of the Beatles Anthology CDs, and the timing could not have been more perfect. I was flush with cash from my recent birthday, so I raced to the mall after school to purchase the double album. I came home and put on the Discman head phones and listened to the album for most of the night. I was able to do this in part because I had also purchased my first cappuccino and that much caffeine in kid that small and with that low a tolerance could have kept me wired for days.

I still love The Beatles, and I believe they opened my eyes to all of the music I have since come to love. I don't have to try as hard to convince my friends of their greatness, and I don't really care as much any more if they like them or not. I like them. They served as a meter for how well any girl and I would get along on a first date with the simple questions "Who is your favorite Beatle?" "What's your favorite Beatles Album/Song?" I could almost always tell if this relationship had a snowballs chance by the answers.

I danced to My Life at my wedding; I sang Fool on the Hill to myself on my mission when I felt dejected; I have strummed along to Blackbird, and listened to Eleanor Rigby when I was sad. The Beatles did what any great artist strives to do: inspire and trigger self awareness. They brought me out of my shell, aided in shaping my identity, made me think, and just taught me be happy.