Thursday, June 30, 2005

Lumas 10, 27

Not much today, since I don't have time, since I only had to come into work for about two hours (say, from 1 to 3), since we only had two patients in that whole time.

I enjoyed the cool weather last night and the not-a-storm this morning. I was going to get up at 6 and get some work done, but I needed sleep more, and woke up only after ten. Yesterday, I had four important phone calls: Katie, Jess, Sam, and Sean. That occupied my time for much of last night. I left my apartment at around 11 this morning. I stopped at Kopi for a cup, then took the #22 bus.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bye bye...


I haven't been saying much in politics lately. If you glance at the Pumpkins posts, this makes sense; I generally only allow myself to post while at work, and I've spent all my posting time on Batman and on my confessional soul.

But if you've been following, this has actually been a pretty momentous week, for the U.S. at least. Domestic automakers, and General Motors may witness on the horizon a crisis of new Chinese exports. If this is true, than they sealed their fate decades ago; the Reagans and Bushes sold them out, but then they'd already sold themselves out. The Supreme Court just agreed that WalMart has as much right to your backyard as you do, so longs as the likes of Mayor Daley or Mayor Williamson (a tenuous comparison, I admit) agree. But let us at least offer a moment of silence for Sandra Day O'Connor who may historically be as big a deal as who Michael Moore christined "Saint Jeffords." And then our president gets up in front of everybody to make a presentation of his own invention. The problem with the Nazi/America comparisons is that they're not true. The problem is that the fact that our policies honestly are less evil than most of the worlds' is a foil against the fact that we could be much better than we are.

And that's that.

PS. Listen to Pink Floyd, but remember that you're an American, after all. Yes, you.

PPS. Listen to Bruce Springstein, then sigh and say, "oh well, at least..."


The Pumpkin Cycle, Part One, the Last Sixth: "All you are is brand new."


More auto writing stuff.

Over the next year, Big Things continued happening with regularity.

The most conspicuous Big Thing was getting my drivers licence. Now I could access Flint Youth Theatre and any of my Flint friends in under a half-hour, whenever I got to use the car. I could reach my Detroit friends and the Ren Fest in just over a half-hour. Once I'd acclimated myself to this new privilege, supervision was sparce. New vistas of exploration, in most senses of those words, opened up.

Just a little lower was the intensity of my theater involvement. Through 10th grade I played a bit part in FYT's Legend of Sleepy Hollow, directed an avant-garde Christmas play called MS.X-MAS for Elysian Theatre, followed by the role of Charlie in U of M Flint's Marvin's Room, back to FYT for the Flame of Peace, stayed on over the summer to act in several short pieces and the more substantial role of the Newboy in their second staging of Trace Titanic. The last featured a small cast of profession actors, and in August, we toured to Minnesota. But I'm getting past the pale a bit here, because...

The third Big Thing was a little deal with big implications. I'd always been nervous, if not paralyzed, auditioning for plays and this often affected the results. I resolved to enter each audition not with the goal of obtaining a role, but of obtaining a phone number. This had the intended effect of increasing the number of parts I was assigned, and the unintended but even more desirable effect of procuring cute girls' numbers. Aided by an artsy porkpie, my success by this method at the audition for Sleepy Hollow was matched on both ends as I got one of six or seven male parts to the twenty or so boys who auditioned and easily hooked up with a girl, Katie, even though I secretly thought her best friend, Nikki, was cuter. (I should note that this was an essential moment to build some self-confidence, as my odds would shortly be pulled back into orbit by my unfortunate cultivation of the Connormullet.)

So I'd continued to develop independence in several big areas of life, and these discoveries coincided with the discovery of more Smashing Pumpkins music. After all, the band had been one since 1988... I had six years to catch up on.

* * * * *

A memorable beginning was when I hosted the second gig on the Throw Rocks at Us, We're Dorks tour. Ironically, this event was overblown in every orchestrated way and relevant in every substantial way. The "tour" played both corners of town... they'd played on the South Side (of the river) and now they played on the North Side (of the river). They had a gross take of about $35. [I'm making an joke here; Flushing covers a few square miles.]
On the other hand, when I consider that we were a bunch of tenth and eleventh graders with complicit parents, we got quite a bit done.
The concert was held in my barn, the "Barnitorium," with an array of light effects perpetrated by my theater group, Elysian Theatre, with the help of my brother and Paul. Three bands played: Drive By Elvis, Laugh Backwards, and Minefield Hopskotch. Easily thirty kids, possibly more, were in attendance.
Since these kids had been listening to Alternative for months and years, I heard more and more about the music I should be catching up on: Jane's Addiction and Alice in Chains and Soundgarden and R.E.M. Other moments followed... when the concert had wound down around eleven at night, we stood out in my backyard, talking for an hour about the Music, and I desperately tried to hold on to every word.

* * * * *

More trips to the planetarium followed. The planetarium was one of two loci for the younger alternateen set. The other was the Local 432, a cheap venue for area bands, but both the setting and clientele at the time were a little too edgy for some of us suburbanites (I was briefly a 432 groupie, and still go there from time to time. From my perspective today, my fears and concerns were misplaced and amusing). The perception of chaperones and the planetarium's setting in the cultural center made it a more "legitimate" destination, and I think that's part of why I got to go so often.

Most of you have probably been to laser shows, but I doubt you've been to shows like that '94 Laserpalooza. Longway is Michigan's largest planetarium in size and technology, comparable to Adler (that's right, in Flint, dammit), and at the time laser shows were on the cutting edge. For some reason or other, nobody felt compelled to keep the volume at a sane level, so even the rustle and chatter of several hundred teenagers couldn't prepare us for the walls of darkness and sound that filled our heads with a cottony texture and rang for hours after. The show itself was a guaranteed success... not only were eight or nine bands featured in the hour-long spectacle, but at the time, these bands were at the height of their mainstream success. Nirvana had ranked with In Utero before self-destruction, the Pumpkins were out with Siamese Dream, NIN with Downward Spiral, and then there was Jane's Addiction, Soundgarden, Porno for Pyros, Cypress Hill, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys, Pearl Jam. I don't think a single group on that list was a lame duck that year. Even though the planetarium's capacity was 175, the crowd must have topped out at about 300 because when the show started there were kids sitting on the floor, in the aisles and the doorways, and others were turned away. Kids came from Kearsley and Clio, Mount Morris, Grand Blanc and Goodrich, Davison and Flushing, Swartz Creek, Montrose, Otisville, Burton, Lapeer, Owosso, and the list goes on. Every Flint suburb was well respresented, and I'm sure some from Detroit as well.

* * * * *

So I accumulated Smashing Pumpkins music as follows:

My CD player broke in October, forcing me to resort to cassettes again. My family bought me the CD of Lull, the EP preceding Siamese Dream, and then I bought Gish on my own (the same trip fruited Days of Future Past by the Moody Blues), and then in January I bought the newly released Pisces Iscariot, which quickly became a new favorite. At the time, my listening implement was a small tape recorder of my grandma's, but she let us use it freely and it was always at our house. I'd place the CD player against the window and lie down with my head near the single, mono speaker, and listen to Soothe over and over again. My favorite songs of that CD became Obscured, Starla, and the cover of Stevie Nicks' Landslide.

* * * * *

I'm leaving out plenty of eventful stuff. It was an eventful year. A girl Jenny, had a huge crush on me, and I was dismissive if not rude about it. In retrospect, I should've been more reasonable, because I'm sure it would've been a fun time. One crazy week I became my family's chauffeur when my brother had his appendix removed very late in the game, and just as I was preparing to go to prom with my friend Becky. Becky was a student at Flint Central, so the event was held in the University Club topping Genesee Towers... I looked far out to the north, past the plant where my dad worked, and out past the city where the houses receded into walls of trees.

Throughout all of this I was focusing mercilessly on my art. While I continued to audition and act in plays (not having much technical experience), my attention was more and more captivated by the lure of directing and writing. When summer started, releasing me from the daily social drama of school and I began rehearsing my first central role at FYT, I focused on art continually and daily. I began to write poetry seriously for the first time. In two days I wrote a play, September, that went on to win a New York playwriting contest (the upshot was that I was flown to NYC for a week to hear my play read). I started developing another play, Agamemnon's Numbers which quickly imploded except for some bits, which in six months had become the beginnings of Urbàntasm. I was listening to the Pumpkins obsessively... they were often the only thing I listened to, and I'd memorized the lyrics to all the songs on their three albums.

* * * * *

On the surface, Siamese Dream (which was the center of my Smashing Pumpkins universe at the time) is all about relationships and emotion. Corgan's messiah complex had diminished or concealed itself and wouldn't reveal itself in such flagrant color until the final act of Machina in 2000. Still, the sentiment is nested deep in there:

"Consume my love, devour my hate, it only powers my escape.
The moon is out, the stars invite. I think I'll leave tonight."

Sweet Sweet:
"Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet little agony,
I don't know just where you've been.
But I'll take, take, take all that you have for me in sin."

Geek U.S.A.:
"In a dream we are connected,
Siamese twins at the wrist,
and then I knew we'd been forsaken,
expelled from paradise."

If there's one thing that I have seen to be true for all work by the Smashing Pumpkins, and Billy Corgan in particular, it's the expectation that highly individual and subjective impressions can be joined to a universal experience, with bolts and sledghammers if need be, that the moment of this interaction is an almost sexual ecstasy, and that art can achieve all things, including messiahhood and the redemption of the world.

Now whether these beliefs were qualities in my writing and theater beforehand and I found hints in the raw emotion of Hummer, Disarm, Silverfuck, Spaceboy, and Geek U.S.A., or whether my perspective was insufficiently defined at the point of discovery and the Pumpkins lent me assumptions I've applied ever since is anybody's guess. I really don't know what came first, the chicken or the egg. I do know that the art I created prior to my discovery of Smashing Pumpkins was well-crafted for my age, but existed without hunger or need. It was academic art, created as an intellectual novelty to pass the time. I'm not saying this in a self-depracating. By staying involved in the arts, something was bound to draw my attention and expand my vision. In reality, this "something" was the Smashing Pumpkins.

* * * * *

10th grade had set up the parameters for what would unfold in 11th grade. All of the pieces were in place, they just had to move along their pseudoprogrammed paths.

In October, over two years since the release of Siamese Dream, the Pumpkins third full album was released: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. This album, I pulled apart with my mind and feelings (here is what I found). I hosted the year end party for the Renaissance Festival, received my first kiss, and actually hooked up with a number of girls. I raced frantically between my Detroit friends, Flint, and Flushing, between writing and acting. I got and lost my first job. I explored Flint just a little bit too far. I began to read about the colleges I'd apply to. In the spring, FYT put on their most groundbreaking project, The 7th Dream, I had my first serious relationship (of two to date), and my first devastating heartbreak (of innumerable to date). I started Urbantasm, the project which has preoccupied me for the last decade, and isn't going away any time soon.

Sometime during that year, 11th grade, which will probably always be one of the most vivid, startling, and important years in my life, I discovered Tori Amos and R.E.M. and added them to my list of "most favorite bands." But however I might ache in the wrenching detail of Tori's emoting or tap along to Michael's truly happy and curious engagement of his life and his world, neither of them has filled the space carved early on by the Smashing Pumpkins.

Writing this has been indulgent, and more than a little... fun. In fact, I'd be lying if I didn't say that writing this has been delicious.

As I move into the new Billy's, the fallen Billy's, the forgotten Billy's more recent projects, I hope at least I've expressed, here and for myself, why I'd bother trying to get a letter to a celebrity.


I've gotten rid of the à.


From here on in, it will be Urbantasm.


Faithful Dissent, Part 3


Continued from here.

So the first spin through, I asserted that I can legitimately dissent faithfully based upon a clear understanding of conscience as defined in the Catechism.

On the second spin through I examined up close the Catechism's definition, and came to the conclusion that we have the right to exercise conscience, the responsibility to exercise conscience, and the responsibility to educate our conscience, that is, to develop it towards rigorous and objective standards.

This post will probably be the shortest so far, and only resort minimally to scriptural citation. By way of argument, it is semantically simple.

In a very insightful comment following the first of these posts, Damien called attention to the differentiation between belief and actuation. Conscience, he expressed, is exercised and adjudicated as measured in deeds, not beliefs. Beliefs, he said, cannot be efficiently regulated and attempts to do so typically misfire.

My tack, then, has been that conscience is ultimately expressed in deeds and that this only strengthens the principle of faithful dissent; we must act in accordance to the kernel of divinity embedded within our psyche. This, perhaps, raises a very legitimate concern that someone following their misguided conscience could cause a lot of damage; this does not enter into the argument itself, and really belongs in a separate discussion.

The question now, as I see it, is the least problematic in our present conversation. If we are allowed to dissent from church doctrine in our beliefs, and our actions as determined by our heartfelt beliefs, what then should we believe? It's a dissenting, counterpoint of a question, but here there's some weight as well. I think it's pretty self-explanatory that Catholicism, that Christianity, is a collection of beliefs. If conscience gives us free reign (again, stamped "moral relativism," though I've already argued that conscience isn't inherently relative) to determine our beliefs independently, that what does it mean to be Catholic or Christian. This, by the way, is the "secular" fear expressed by the upper ranks of Church heirarchy... that the meaning of religion is gradually eroded by, among other things, excessive individualism.

There is a response, and it isn't an excessively individual or relative response. If it's theologically and logically sound, it will rely on fundamentals. So I'm going to make two statements. The first will be close, and the second will go even a little closer.

First: What is a Catholic obliged to believe? Candidates for answers could range from anything your deacon opined at the parish picnic through infallible statements popes have made (which, as Damien points out, St. Thomas Aquinas didn't buy) and on down from there. It seems to me, though, that the church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has come up with a convenient list of omniponent beliefs, and even encourages us to say it once each week:

We believe in One God, the Father Almighty...
We believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ...
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life...

Note that it says nothing in here of priestly celebacy or homosexuality or artificial contraception, or most of the other issues that divide the Church today. In my humble opinion, this omission is telling. Knowing that humans are inherently fallible and given to sin, the Creed has stuck to what's most important. This, then, is the component truth of the Catholic church. It identifies what we definitionally believe. If I say, "I'm a Catholic who is opposed to the Holy Spirit," many of you could quite justifiably ramark, "maybe you should rethink your faith of choice?"

Such a criticism is valid.

Let's delve even a little deeper. It is possible, you know, to delve deeper than the Council of Nicea. The Apostles' Creed is even more succinct and distilled, but I'm not even talking about that. The gospels are at the heart of it all, and we justifiably center the Liturgy of the Word around them just as we center the Liturgy of the Eucharist around communion. We recite the Nicene Creed after we've heard the gospel.

Here's one of the more quoted parts.

Mark 12:28-34
28. One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?"
29 Jesus replied, "The first is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!
30 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.'
31 The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
32 The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.'
33 And 'to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
34 And when Jesus saw that (he) answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

It is noteworthy that Jesus is not asked what are the greatest two commandments; he volunteers the second, the "golden rule," on his own, and following the argument that we're all made in God's image, there's a clear, correlative logic to the statement.

There are other candidates of course... I find, for example, that the Ten Commandments are a reasonably objective filter for my desires and vicissitudes. Even the Ten Commandments, however, do not invoke, imply, or even hint at most of the issues that divide the Catholic church: homosexuality, abortion, birth control; however one feels about these issues, and however one draws their boundaries, they fall very far outside the explicit pale of our most sacred readings and traditions.

The short answer, then, is that our beliefs aren't all up to individual conscience, which is fallible. There are some things one has to believe to honestly call oneself either Catholic or Christian. Those beliefs are made clear to us, identified in striking passages and statements emphasized by the church for the last 1600 years.

It's telling to me that many of our church leaders today choose to not to bring their own statements to bear on such beliefs.

Next up... what does or what did the U.S. Conference of Bishops think about all that I've been saying?

As usual, comments and criticisms welcome!


Lumas 9, 27.

- Yesterday I got out of work early, but spent the first several hours back home catching up on sleep. Retrospectively, I kind of wish I'd gone for a walk or someting, but I probably needed the sleep. I reviewed my loan package from the Access Group and started on my loan application, redownloaded Machina II, and wrote a lengthier than I intended overview of a couple Batman movies. Sam took a nap after getting home, but he got up at about eight, and we drove out to Skokie to pick up Sean and my tickets and in return for the favor, I treated him to Indian food on Devon on the way back. It was a wonderful buffet-style meal, and since we paid for all-you-can-eat, we ate until we could barely stagged down the street. Afterwards, it took about ten minutes to drive home, and then another twenty minutes to find parking. Still, we got home by eleven. I had an IceHouse and waited to get sleepy. I didn't do so, not sufficiently to sleep, anyway, until almost two. So naturally, I'm tired again.
- See, no rain.
- I'll quote AccuWeather: With all the rain that has been falling across the northern Plains, it is hard to believe that Illinois is having one of its worst dry periods ever. For instance, at Peoria, the total rainfall since May 1st is only 1.41 inches, which is far below the normal of 7.62 inches. In contrast, take a look at the numbers for Fargo, North Dakota. The total rainfall there has been nearly 10 inches the past two months which is about twice what normally falls. So why the big difference? Simply, the storm track has been located along the Canadian border, and areas farther south have been missing most of the rain events.

Morgan Park.

Lineament .

BBC News: EU looks to Turkish entry talks

Billy. The Spanish Pumpkins.

If you were to form a band, and that band were to go on the ascendency, who would you want to open for?


The Pumpkin Cycle, Part One, the Second Third: "I used to be a little boy."


Continued from here. This part is the autobiographical bit. So if you don't want to listen to me talk about growing up, skip this, because there's nothing more to see here.

I'm going to mainly talk about Smashing Pumpkins in 10th and 11th grade, but I have to go back a little further. The recap, then, is this.

When I was twelve, my family topped off five years of home schooling by moving to Flushing and enrolling me in 6th grade at Elms Elementary School. I had no clue how kids interacted in a classroom or at recess, except from my half-dozen friends from Flint around the neighborhood and at church. After a couple months of concert band and an abortive second attempt at Boy Scouts, I settled in as a sort of militant geek who picked a lot of fights, recruited my cousins in making lists of all the girls I wanted to hook up with (the results, a net zero that year), a voracious reader and role-player, and sub-par "gifted" student. My bizarre opinions and actions never really allowed me to become popular, but my success in athletics (track and football) and friendliness to anyone who wasn't hostile did make me many friends. This pattern basically continued and expanded through the end of 7th grade, my first year in junior high.

I started to mellow out at the end of that year, but that just set the stage for more action the following year when I became obsessed with drama club, learned how to lie, (not necessarily correlated) and found any school work, particularly math, useless. This was a problem, because growing up in my family two things are taken with deadly seriousness... the first was the notion of mutual respect (the problem with lying)... the second was the expectation of acadmic effort and results (the problem with blowing off math). There were several miserable weeks, and several iffy months. In the end, 8th grade was a basic, if exhausting, success... I won best Supporting Actor of the drama club, a couple academic awards, was accepted into the Michigan Renaissance Festival academy and, most importantly, nominally passed math. It goes down, however, as one of the most miserable feeling years of my life, despite many moments of personal highs.

The summer of 1993 was low key compared to 92, and coming into the next school year, my Freshman year at Flushing HS, a lot of my energy was put into avoiding a repeat of 8th grade. After one more fight at a football game (the kid had insulted my sister) I resolved to stop fighting for good, I was more consistent in my classes, and began to phase out my interest in roleplaying and Clarinet in favor of a more career-oriented approach to theater, at this stage, acting. My friends and interests shifted around this decision. One new circle was cultivated at the Michigan Renaissance Festival Academy. These were high school students and actors, most at least a couple years older than me, and a few into their late teens, and most were from Detroit suburbs. Another circle formed later in the year when I was accepted in a play at Flint Youth Theatre, which at the time was populated mainly by kids from the Flint Public Schools and Powers Catholic. I inevitably began to meet up again with friends I'd lost or misplaced when my family moved to Flushing, and these friendships, both old and new, took on an intensity that my Flushing friendships had never attained.

Anyone who's met me since has probably discovered the Flint obsession before just about anything else. Early '94 was the beginning of the Flint obsession. Increasingly through the rest of high school, Flushing was just a place I spent mornings and nights. Almost all of my close friends attended Flint Central and Northern, Powers, or lived south of Flint, nearer Detroit.

My new friends affected me in other ways. For starters, my old friends in Flushing were the less socially adept tier of junior high drama club remnants. They didn't give a shit about my musical tastes, but pumped a lot of energy into getting me to convert to Christianity. I held out, though faintly.

My new friends, on the other hand, never pressed me to give up my music, but they also let me know that they were not impressed. And in retrospect, I must've seemed to have pretty idiosyncratic tastes, consisting of showtunes, romantic classical music, Sting and Genesis, and other hits culled from Cars 108, a local soft rock station. On the other hand, the break from proselytizing was a relief.

Two of tour big factors, then, are accounted for. The third is drugs/sex. They absolutely terrified me, irrationally so. In 9th grade I couldn't imagine keeping a friendship with someone who had dabbled in these things, and even four years later I found them deeply troubling.

Finally, I wanted a girlfriend. I ached for a girlfriend. Between Genesis and Disney's Fantasia, I'd cultivated a vision of romantic love that was so far above any worldly attainment that it essentially represented heaven on earth. I also had a strong belief in love as divinely inspired, in love at first sight, and in absolute loyalty to the object of chemistry. This led to a handful of immature, long-term crushes, that were merely annoying to the girls themselves, and would've been merely creepy if I'd been more assertive. Let's see... in 6th grade it was Natalie, in 7th and 8th grade, Alexis (who lived far away, in Texas), and 9th grade, Tracy. I'm only hitting the high points, incidentally. I really wanted a girl who loved me and who I could be in love with. This occupied my mind virtually all of the time.

The summer of '94 was, from a distance, momentous, but up close seemed as low key as the summer before. I'd returned to the Renaissance Festival and had landed a "leading" part in our production of Alladin. I was also taking drivers ed. In the meantime, my Papa (Grandpa Coyne) died, an event which affected me more than I thought because I started having nightmares about it. It's the only time in my life I've dreamt like that. This was the setup, then, for the beginning of 10th grade. I was anxious that I wasn't getting what or where I wanted, had a strong sense of self, but was still increasingly willing to scrutinize and make changes to reach my objectives.

* * * * *

I'd realized over the summer that there was a deep disconnect between myself and my intense friendships, as well as these scores of girls for whom I believed I was destined (one at a time, obviously). It all boiled down to music. My logic was quite simple: "I think these people are wonderful, and they think this music is wonderful. If I trust my judgment (and I do) and I trust their judgment (and I do), then there's no reason not to give their music a try." I decided to try it. I expected to like it. I remember clear as ice that morning we stood in the coffee cottage at the Ren Fest, myself and two Chrises, two Ryans probably, Melissa, Trevor, and others, and I asked them questions about music, which they answered. I also had started watching My So-Called Life and carefully noted Angela's answers to her favorite music: Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Porno for Pyros (which was right out due to sex/drugs as explained above). Because for these friends, this music was more than music. It was sound that rolled around in their brains and through their skulls and they hummed it to themselves. They formed bands in giddy emulation and played concerts in their parents' backyards. This had to be worth more than some dull Phil Collins' tunery.

I'd already had expereinced a shock prelude to this on the night when Ryan persuaded my parents to let me go to Laserpalooza, an event at Flint's Planetarium that filled to twice capacity, blew out our collective eardrums and, to my considerable awe and astonishment, prompted a drug-bedazzled girl at my feet to crawl halfway up my leg during one of the more psychadelic sequences. I heard the song Oceans that night on the way to the show, and there was something of Genesis' wistful sweetness in the low whistles throughout, but Eddie Vedder wasn't asking. He was demanding. How could Sting even exist, even draw breath in a world where men and women of such passions gave voice to their deep churnings? I had deep churnings. I was a writer and actor. I found in this music the deep churnings I drove to make wakes in my own work. I found the fear and desire and sweat and head thrashing that marked my most frustrating nights.

Going back to that morning at the Ren Fest, I hatched a plan, the only slight deception (it was a deception of omission) that was unambiguously worthwhile. I had a CD player. I'd periodically receive offers from BMG and Columbia House in the mail... get 11 CDs for 1 cent, or get 5 CDs for the price of 1. I opted for one of the latter (the former seemed to good to be true and I was suspicious). I consulted with the kids in Ms. Sharrow's English 10 class. I made my selection. And then I, I'm pretty sure without getting any permission, sent in the slip for my five CDs.

I selected these:

- The Crow soundtrack
- Melissa Etheridge, Here I Am
- Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral
- Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream
- Stone Temple Pilots, Core

I could scarcely believe when the music actually arrived (believe it or not, it took me six months to pay BMG off... I hadn't a job). In many ways, I'd kept expecting something to go wrong. That night I slipped up to my room and turned my CD soft with the door shut so that only I could hear. I listed to the most promising songs off each CD, and began to form opinions.

Melissa Etheridge, a shoe-in I figured, was surprisingly boring. Stone Temple Pilots and the Crow were too big of a musical leap at this point; they were too hard. It seems a little strange now to not say the same for NIN, but since I was feeling adventurous, if not rebellious, I was immediately drawn to this stark and rusting case with the explicit lyrics warning. The song Eraser and the The Downward Spiral somewhat upset me, but I listened to March of the Pigs and A Warm Place over and over and over.

My first impression of the Pumpkins, also, was underwhelming. I'd simply selected the most engaging song title on the CD, "Geek U.S.A." and found as I did with most of these songs, that it was a bit too hard for me. Each step was still a small step. I worked best with harmonics, with feedback and echo effects, reverb and elegiac lyrics on the nature of love. Which explains why I ended up obsessed with the Pumpkins, but also why I turned off Geek before I ever heard "in a dream..."

Soon I was skipping track to track on my new CDs, deciding from the first burst of each song whether I liked it or not. On the Pumpkins CD, I identified Today, Rocket, and Spaceboy this way [I even wrote my own "song" to the tune of Today ("Me and my Geo Metro") which my "band" "Simple" (consisting of myself, Ryan, and Mitch) were to play alongside such hits as Nuked Cheese Sandwiches and Eating Eyeballs. That band got nowhere, surprise surprise, though I did "record" one song "To Take Two Tutus Too Far," which is lying around this apartment on a cassette somewhere]. I soon got in the habit of going to sleep to this music on softly, and when I realized I was only benefiting from half of the albums I'd spent so much money on, I began listening to the full CDs on repeat.

And here's another specific event: one night I was somewhat tired. My family had ordered a pizza. I ate several slices. We were watching a movie together. It might have been a Friday night. I went upstairs to go to bed. I put on Siamese Dream, lay down, and looked out the window. Cherub Rock, Quiet, and Today played through the background. These were songs, by now, with which I was familiar. In my bedroom in Flushing, if you lay in bed at night with the lights out, and the lights are on in the living room below, the light spills far out across the gravel two-tread driveway and deep into the furrows on the facing Cottonwoods. Out further, in one neighbors garden, far away and across the street, the floodlight takes on a bluish-green hue as it spills down his tilled garden. I was growing very sleepy. Behind me, a noisy song I hadn't followed abruptly plunged into a soft strumming melody with distinct evocations: autumn, wind chimes, wind moving across muddy fresh water with leaves... this music was far more gentle than Today... far more gentle than Spaceboy even. Lovely like lilacs, and sad. And the singer, with a whispered razor voice, almost androgynous, almost feminine, sang some words I could not follow. I was quickly falling asleep. But then, I also knew I was hearing something important. So I struggled to stay awake, to hear the crucial, identifying moment. On the edge, I reached out and grabbed it. He sang: "Do you feel love is real?" I do! I thought, and then I fell asleep.

From that moment on, and probably for the rest of my life, that band is my favorite band.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Batman and Batman Begins.



Warning. Spoilers ahead.

At a glance, everyone loves Batman Begins. A quick perusal of about thirty reviews showed that nobody gave it less than a 3.8 out of 5, and Roger Ebert gives a full 5. Not bad. I liked the movie very much myself, and clearly there's not comparison with Returns, Forever, and and Robin, but as I've thought about this movie over the last several days, I've had a tough time stacking it up against the original Batman. I thought, for awhile, I could cranially deal with this one through memory alone, but last night, hot and sticky and unable to sleep, I decided to watch the original again.

Here's what I came up with.


I'm not even the remotest comics afficionado. I've always enjoyed Batman chiefly as a counterpoint to Superman, and I think I (and many others) have mainly enjoyed Batman more because of the vulnerability and fragility of heroes, villains, setting, and so on. The idea that so much can be lost, and lost very easily makes for a more gripping story. A hero who struggles, and evildoers who manage to sparkle with misery even while perpetuating others' gives a romantic air to the compromising struggles with which we're all more familiar. This is the "vulnerability" factor.

A second line runs along the same lines as the first: Batman as a counterpoint to Superman. They're night and day, Metropolis and Gotham, one being a place so perfect that it must seem a prize to any brazen lunatic and the other being a place so debased that brazen lunatics can prey without fear of reprisal. As such, Superman seems to emphaise the noble, beautiful, and affirming in its characters relying on the villains for relief. Batman does the opposite. But that's just one aspect of the light/dark split. If Batman is painted on a dark canvas with a vocabulary of social debasement, then its mode is gothic. From the imposition of social and literal isolation, soaring architecture, the criminal underworld, superstition, suspicion, and awareness of (even if such awareness is not accompanied by a belief in) the supernatural), to conventions down along the lines of family curses and secret passageways, Batman is set in a thoroughly gothic milieu. I mean, Hell, the city's called "Gotham." Why am I even arguing this? The darkness of the story, then, as defined by the gothic mode is the "gothic" factor, and is another aspect of Batman's appeal.

Finally, the third factor, and the easiest to describe, is simply the "badass factor." I want to see Gotham and its characters, and more, those all-important fight sequences as totally unexpected and awesome, with death-defying shows of physical prowess, the victory of ingenuity over ill-prepared numbers, and people pulling off shit you know they shouldn't really be able to. And making me believe it. The action needs to be good. It is not enough for it to be good. It has to be hot. To quote a cliche, good and hot leads to cool, and by cool I mean totally sweet.

I would say, then, in the perfect Batman movie, I'll see a thorough use of and successful deployment of vulnerability, gothicity, and badassness. This does not disavow the film of the obligations of consistent and engaging acting, writing, directing, cinematography, etc. In fact, it depends upon them.

All this in mind, then, let's compare Batman and Batman Begins. For convenience, I'll refer to Batman as I and Batman Begins as V.

Batman Begins.

V wins in spades here.
The two are evenly matched for raw vunlerability, but the vulnerability in V is more consistant. It makes sense that a man in a costume, for example, who regularly kicks the shit out of machine-gun wielding crooks (either film) takes a nasty fall and wrecks a fire escape (V). That the same superhero would endanger himself by knocking over every single last pew in a cathedral (I) seems a bit forced. I is slightly less gothic on account of the flashy yellow badge and lack of ninja garb, but both are far ahead IV and V with their rubber nipples. In fact, keeping Robin out of the picture automatically makes the film more gothic.
The main victory, however is in badassness. As the primary vehicle of badassness in ths movie's Batman has be able to throw down primally. And V's Batman, without doubt, threw more down, and threw down better. The ninja training did much to explain this.


I wins here.
Christian Bale does a nice job, but Michael Keaton has a hunted, haunted look in his eyes that says more for Wayne's past than the best of maudlin flashbacks. Much of the superiority, too, comes back to simple acting and writing here. Even a young Bruce Wayne has been to Princeton and knows how to conduct himself with a level of social ease that was missing in Bale's performance. Keaton's "I don't want to be at this party, but I'm still the most charming host you could possibly imagine," even makes him seem more vulnerable (and hence, as Batman, more badass) in the end. But in particular, the murder of the Waynes, which is handled so differently, and is of such critical importance in both films, has an organic texture in Keaton's performance that is missing with Bale. Bale's got the cause and effect, but he doesn't have the subtlety. When Keaton's Wayne is laying the roses down in that alley, it affects the very way he walks.


No question.

Jack Nicholson sets the bar impossibly high with his vascillating, solipsistic, and bizarrely charming reading of the Joker. He manages to come across as a victim (even though we never see him involved in any abuse in the film in which he is not somehow the instigator), but given his charisma and the grandeur of his plans (destroying Gotham for the sake of destruction), we are just as inclined to admire his audacity.
Of course, there weren't any actors in V who could've accomplished what Nicholson accomplished crazyvillianwise, but even with that against them, the script distributed the Joker's two oustanding traits (his insanity and his charisma) among two characters... that is, Ducard walked off with the charisma and Dr. Crane inherited the insanity. I'll give them both the Joker's intelligence.
Neither Scarecrow nor Ducard are villians to turn the nose up to (remember the days of Mr. Freeze?), but the moral of this story is that you can't win against a guy who routinely destroys TVs with hand-lever controlled boxing gloves.


I'm convinced that Katie Holmes was cast to walk around and look cute.
Kim Basinger as Vicky Vale walks a careful tightrope along bold, sophisticated, and reassuring. In the end, though, she projects an in-tuneness with the dolor and dilapidation of Gotham, with its filmed-over old money sheen and remembered glory, that is more supple and pervasive than even Wayne's. Considering that she's the outlander in the film, this is quite an accomplishment. That said...

Batman Begins

... it's remarkable how useless Vale actually is. In fact, she's a downright liability; if she'd stay out of the whole mess in the first place, well, there wouldn't have been much of a story, frankly. I don't think she was included to help Joker, however. It's annoying hearing her scream for the 10,000th time over something stupid like some dead flowers or the Joker's face makeup. Give me a break. Rachel Dawes, however, as both Assistant DA and a friend to Bruce Wayne is a force of reckoning (you notice Bruce doesn't blow off calling her) and is actually the more impressive character.

In short, I think Kim Basinger was wronged by the writing of Vicky Vale, and I think Rachel Dawes was wronged by the casting of Katie Holmes.

Batman Begins

This one was close, but decisive.

Michael Gouge certainly looks more like the Alfred of our youth, and in his fragility and age puts a particularly delicate emphasis on the importance of Batman's hidden identity. He is also a positive force in the movie; he is not a mere cypher, he does have opinions and actions. For all this, however, Alfred is almost preoccupied. His strongest moments are reminiscences ("well, I think I've embarassed master Bruce enough,") or unheeded warnings ("I'd rather not live out my few remaining years mourning the loss of old friends, or their sons,") but Bruce, who needs most of all to listen, does not. I think at least a part of that is that Aldred seems on the outside of Wayne's individual struggles; he's put Bruce's parents to rest it seems. So he must help, but he can only help, as a means to Bruce's own goals. Any therapy here will fall on deaf ears.

The opposite is applies with Michael Caine. While the premise of V suggests this active role (Batman's formation will require steady guiding characters), it's hard to believe that this Alfred, who physically saves Bruce's life on at least one occasion, will be relegated to the background in the future. Add to this an unlikely character conflict, the wish to speak his mind pitted against his buttling duties, and an Alfred who clearly faces the same pangs and doubts as Bruce is perhaps the most determining external force in his actions. Michael Caine finds just the right balance of restraint and tempered observation to make this authentic. More then ever in this movie, I saw Alfred as an essential character.

Batman Begins

Without question. I often fell back on stereotypes... Gordon was a puffing Irishman, Dent, a good leader with just enough political savvy, and Eckhart a wheezing clot of corruption. Alicia as Napier's mistress is probably the most compelling, as she ranges from a transparently vacuous socialite to a tragically vacant ghost. V may have begun with stereotypes, but it quickly moved beyond them. Finch trumps by Eckhart by adding some mean ambition to the Lieutenant's bloated ambition. Falcone rules Gotham with flair and drama and probably would've eaten Boss Grissom for dinner. My favorite of these, however, was doubtlessly Gordon. This was largely because the writers of V transformed Gordon as they did Alfred into something of an essential character. In fact, without Gordon, the whole "good guy" mission falls apart. What makes Gordon so compelling is that he's an offhand genius at the game he's ranging against... as a "good cop" he is keenly aware that whatever good he can accomplish will carry no external benefit, and more, can only be brought about under the most compromising of conditions. This awareness is taken a step further in deceptions: his shuffling gait and clumsy appearance. To the villians, he seems to be passive, weak, and possibly incompetant, and while we don't get any direct clues that this act is intentional (I don't think he trusts us quite that much), the veneer is awfully consistant to be accidental. In action, however, he never falters.


But this was the most agonizing and difficult call of them all. Both films present Gotham as a plausible, unique place perhaps most comparable to Detroit set on the East Coast, and did a particularly good job (something neglected by almost every other film in the franchise) as showing its leaders and institutions as fighting a losing war with corruption.

V had some special offerings that that I did not. We get a sense of Gotham's size and its diversity. We get a sense of neighborhoods other than simple "downtown" and "ghetto" designations. We get enough arial views to form some sort of objective physical impression, and this may sound incidental, but consider that our first experience of most real cities is tied up in landmarks and boundaries. V presented a better city.

But I presented a better Gotham. Whatever valid complaints we might raise about the place's homogeneity (or the apparentness of set pieces), the actual design, doubless inspired by Burton's obsession with the macabre, has a timeless quality... not in the sense that objects to not age, but more that they do not progress. The closest we get to technology outside of Batman and the Joker's goons' "toys" are some late 80s Cadillac-type vehicles. Otherwise, the prevailing architecture is art moderne and gothic, and pedestrians are perpetually wearing porkpies and fedoras. The underlying implication, which is never directly or indirectly addressed, is that Gotham was incredibly prosperous until the 1930s and has been mired in catastrophe ever since. Nothing has been built. There's no option for new construction. It just... all... stopped. V offers a Gotham city where much has gone wrong, but I offers a Gotham that is wrong.


First, at the risk of sounding histrionic, the genuinely upsetting choice in I was the portrayal of the Joker's thanatos scheme... in the clips preceding the parade we see the Joker's telecast from the perspective of hair salons, bars, on the street by punks. At the parade itself, with the exception of our two erstwhile reporters, all of the partiers are the unwashed proletariat, jeering Batman and applauding the Joker whose already confessed to holding the city hostage and murdering dozens. Perhaps we are to take this ironically? Or perhaps it can be taken critically, as an indication of the desperate means to which the people of Gotham are driven. But then, Alexander Knox, in a prelude to his only dignified moment, ominously intones, "the greed of Gotham." Nice. Real nice.

My other big "bitching with" I is its flagrant denial of the laws of physics. Most blatantly that, if one falls fifty stories and hits concrete pavement, or is immediately brought to a halt by a cable, the result the same: dismemberment and plenty of blood. They could've very easily fixed this in the film.

My biggest problem with with V was how conspicuous some of the Chicago shots were. They seemed to stop editing once they got the Hancock and Sears out of the picture, but for those of us who go downtown every day, seeing the Aon and Prudential buildings, the Wrigley and Trib towers, and for the love of God, Marina City, it got hard to maintain any suspension of disbelief.


I was only a limited mystery... the only arc in as much as deception was concerned lay with the Joker learning Batman's identity and vice versa. It was rather, an epic battle of wills, and this was reinforced over and over by granting the two equal screen time, highlighting the powers and fallibility of each, and scrutinizing their characters in such details that all others were forced into the margins. In this structure, I has perhaps a more unique premise.

V, on the other hand, is a true mystery, even if most of its components were a little predictable. None of the characters have "all the juice," and it's in their maneuverings and alliances that any get finally close to figuring the puzzle out. For all this, however, V is the more plausible storyline, since characters are preoccupied with with both the extraordinary and banal consequences of their actions, and seem to exercise deeper thought into where they fall in the scheme of things.


By most counts, V is a superior movie. The main characters are just as compelling as in I, the supporting characters are far more compelling, the plot is more plausible, better constructed, and better executed. The themes have internal consistency beyond the characters with which they are indentified. The writing is better on the whole. As the gothic horror that we recognize as the trademark of the Dark Knight, however, I is the superior movie. There's a pervading sense of dread and claustrophobia, and the infectious violence unleashed by the Joker and Batman, and haunting Vale and Alfred, threatens to overhwelm all civilized convention.

In the end, I have to call it a tie.

But I also have to applaud one move that had, perhaps, unintended consequences. Clearly the writers of V were not concerned with franchise consistency, since their version of Batman's creation (and for that matter, the Joker's) is irreconcilable with I. This challenges us to a more holistic and self-aware viewing of both films. Instead of accepting them as better and/or worse telling of episodes in a larger epic, we are confronted with a quest for the "historic Batman" just as we might be confronted with contradiction in the historic Jesus or the historic Jefferson.

Which version will we accept?

Or better, assuming we like parts of both, what concessions are we willing to either make to validate our favorite reading?


Lumas 8, 27.

- Yesterday. I. Was. Pretty. Freakin'. Useless. I at all evening, took two short naps, browsed online, and watched the original Batman.
- I thought it might storm. But it did not. Allegedly there's another chance for storms today, but I'm a skeptic at this point.



The New York Times: China's Debut as Auto Exporter Signals Growing Challenge to U.S.

Jimmy Chamberlin. DRUMMERWORLD.

If you were stranded on an island with Bono, Jay Leno, and Alex Trabek, who would you first feed to the sharks?


Monday, June 27, 2005

The Pumpkin Cycle, Part One, the First Half: "Feed in the Words."


Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins.

As with My-So Called Life, the context is important, so before I get into my recent reimmersion in the closest thing I've ever had to a celebrity idol, I should explain, once again, the context.

I recently described how, "When I started tenth grade, I was deeply involved in theater, obsessed with the music from Les Misèrables, Sting, and the reggae pop band Breakfast Club, couldn't drive, had never been to a laser light show at Longway Planetarium, and had never seen My So-Called Life.
Only one month later, I was deeply involved in theater, obsessed with the music of Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins, drove, had been to innumerable laser light shows at Longway Planetarium, and had taped every released epidode My So-Called Life."

A few things about this.

First, it seems to me like I might be obsessing over a couple years in the past right now. I never really wanted to come across as someone who thought that the best of life was over at the end of high school; I think it's disappointing if, at any point, one says with conviction, "the best of my life is behind me."

That said, I have to look at the sequence of mini-obsessions I've had this year. There've been many, and they've typically lasted about two weeks. I'm looking back from a current vantage point of Billy Corgan and all things Smashing Pumpkins, just before that was My So-Called Life, preceded by Edgewater Beach, preceded by Star Wars III, preceded by Scavhunt, and so on. I feel like these bursts of intense interest are both shorter in duration and higher in drive than they've been in recent years, and I have to question if there isn't a meaning in all this. I know to some people who read this blog that this is a source of frustration and anxiety, since they think I should be sinking more of my energy into other things; specifically the marriage, and behind it, getting ready for grad school.

This summer is without doubt the largest transition I've gone through this decade, and debatably my life. The purpose of all this introspection is to force a reckoning. Some ideas and hopes will be put to rest. Others, retained, because they continue to serve a purpose. I'm trying to extract from my past, like perfume, what is will be the most powerful and productive motive forces in my future. I'm trying to cast aside what has been indulgent and immature; shackles. And such discrimination and sorting requires careful examination. Such examination does not follow a particularly orderly path. This process has made it more fun and interesting.

I read the Qu'ran earlier this year (and I'm not venturing to compare my experiences to divinely inspired writings... at least not now), and one thing that struck me was its structure in the form of chapters, or Suras, the emphasis on the Suras as a succession, specifically the idea the you have to understand one thing before you can move on to the next.

For me, Scavhunt to Jordan Catalano to Billy Corgan is a succession, and each subsequent level teaches me something fundamental I'll need to know to excel in the new roles I'm taking on: caretaker, provider, writer, husband, father. Take it or leave it. Ultimately, it's how the interpretation is put into practice that truly determines its validity.

* * * * *

And that is why I've decided to try to contact Billy Corgan. Not in a creepy or obsessive or annoying way. I'm sure I've got (somewhere) the letter I wrote to the Pumpkins back in 11th grade (in Mr. Nelson's Algebra III class) asking them to play at my graduation. I will include my vitae, since my whole approach is to say "you should talk to me, because I am an artist, and our work is cross-relevant," and a page with fancy Urbantasm letterhead explaining how Mellon Collie was a motive force in its conception, and the first section of Urbantasm itself. Finally, a copy of a private confession I've already sent the man via his Myspace account. I managed to procure Sean and myself tickets to Billy Corgan's concert at the Vic this week. I will put all these materials in a manilla envelope and wait at the back door with all the fangirls until the sun comes up if need be, and exercise every polite and civilized means to set this envelope into his hands. Once the envelope is in his hands, the matter is out of mine.

The is the possibility of one other indirect method, and it involves blogging, but not here, and I'll save that description for another time.

A resonable question is, "why would I attempt this in the first place?"

That's the question I've sarcastically asked myself for years, and it has always led to a disappointing roll of the eyes and inaction. I've had plenty of mentors in my life, plenty of wise old men and women watching over me and teaching me, from my parents and aunt and grandmother early on, to Curt and Joe and all the others in between. Why should I resort to someone famous? Why should I resort to someone I don't know and who doesn't know me and who is nevertheless verbally inundated by hundreds of others who don't know him on a daily basis?

The answer is half-buried in other close friends and mentors who've become, if not famous, at least published and busy. That answer is, if I should not naturally gravitate towards someone's celebrity status, nor shold I be disuaded by it. The fact is that Billy Corgan's music is the richest influence I've drawn upon, and is probably more conspicuously reflected in my writing than anything else. If that is my reason for contacting him, why should I be afraid?

But this (here) isn't context by way of remeniscing; it's context by way of argumentation. I'm saying here: given that I'm invested in Billy Corgan's career, I should attempt to make contact with him. The next post on this will be context by way of remeniscing... that is, how I needed the Smashing Pumpkins in 10th and 11th grade, and how they did not disappoint. Because it makes a difference, you know, when you're talking about something as tangled as the process some guy who's released memoirs and music and poetry, all separate, and all within the same year.

I know I often set goals for posting (like last week) and usually fall short (like last week). Most often, these goals are more-or-less arbitrary, but I'm going to set one with meaning this time. Because I want to hammer out my impressions before I pour my heart out to a stranger; I want to know where I stand. So I'll find and make time to do this, along with everything else, and before I see the concert next week, I will have posted that background, talked about his recent projects, and gotten myself all hopped up on caffeine in pure anticipation.


Lumas 7, 27.

- This weekend has been all about summer for me. Extraordinarily about summer. Friday at work lasted a lot longer than I'd expected; I skipped lunch, didn't leave until after three, and thereby logged an hour of overtime. Getting home was a royal pain, gaving to wait for the Red Line for entirely too long, and when I got there I sent out some emails and took a two hour nap from seven to nine. Sam was out of town, so I rode the Red Line down to Grand Ave., walked down to F212 and met up with Skylar, Coral, and Bill. We hung out there until the place closed at midnight, and then another hour, then walked back to Sky's and chilled there for awhile. Then, at about 3:30, all of the breath left our conversation in one sudden gust, and Bill and I decided to leave. I ended up walking home from there, about seven miles... I followed Clark up through Lincoln Park, LakeView, Wrigleyville, Uptown, Andersonville, and stopped to shop for lettuce and juice. Then I cut east through Magnolia Glen and Edgewater Beach, and got home just about as the sun was rising. I was listening to the Smashing Pumpkins' Judas 0 through this, because that's what we're embroiled in right now.
- I woke up again at about nine and spent the next several hours cleaning and sweeping the ants out of the kitchen. We'd had a problem with ants for about a week now since Sam and I've been spilling cereal, milk, and syrup on the floor all winter, hastily wiping it up and forgetting about it. Now the ants crawl in and discover the hidden trails. But in the end, the place didn't look too bad. A problem, however is that I had to do laundry, being utterly out of things to wear. I put in four loads. The passenger elevator in our building broke on Friday night, and the freight elevator broke Saturday morning, and management wasn't home. I found myself taking eight flights of stairs every time I wanted to go down or up. So sixteen flights. Times two trips. Add an extra (round) trip because the driers are inefficient an I had to all loads in for an extra cycle. Add an extra (round) trip because I was short one quarter after they changed the price on one of the driers. So in total, sixty-four flights in the 90 degree hear of a well-insulated deathtrap tenement high-rise, the last trip a climb carrying 30+ pounds of clothes. Fun. Jess came over around 2:15 (at the end of the laundry debacle), and we had a lunch of salad andsandwiches and cherry limeade. Then lay around all day. Then, at about 7:30, we went for a walk on the Ardmore beach, stopped at a taqueria for dinner, and continued up to Village North to see Batman Begins. Which was awesome! A straight tie with the original Batman for the best. And conspicuously Chicago at seven or eight moments.
- Sunday was even more relaxed than Saturday, though Jess and I discussed apartments and worked out some final details with invites and our registration list. I'm only looking for one address now... one address. Sean came over in the early afternoon, and we hung out until twilight, then Jess and I walked home with him, caught the Red Line at Wilson, switched to the #6, and wound up in Hyde Park. And that, as they say, is that. Oh, yeah, and Sean and I are going to try to see Billy Corgan this next week.
- The News of the Day today is lurid and sensational, just so you've been forewarned.
- It will be either miserably hot (more likely) or miserably stormy (less likely) today.



The Flint Journal: Suicide or Murder?

James. Virgin Music / EMI Music Germany.

What is your favorite film in the Batman series?


Sunday, June 26, 2005

Ravinia Dream


Last night I had a dream; the first dream I've remembered in months.

To explain something about the way my sleep has been going these last several months; I'll typically get four to six hours per night during the week, and ten or eleven on weekends. I don't know what the precise effects of this patterns is, but I've never been good at remembering dreams, and for several weekends now I've woken up with at least a vivid impression of dreaming.

So the dream:

I was at an operatic performance at Ravinia (I think) or perhaps the Auditorium Theatre. Someone had given me a free ticket, and as I was picking it up at the ticket window, I noticed a figure going down the grand staircase on my left. It was Pope Benedict, although in mind he registered as Cardinal George. What tipped me off in dream logic were the words, "Yeah, sometimes the Cardinal goes to see the opera," but I should've been just as tipped off by the flowing red robes and staff and hat. While he was nearby, I became very angry and was tempted to begin yelling at him. But I restrained myself, clenching my teeth and hands against the ticket booth. He continued descending, turning a corner down the stair case and continuing out of sight.

Next, I went to my own seat, which was in the nosebleed section, in this case almost a literal truth. I only climber two flights of stairs, which means that the entire concert hall must be set predominantly underground. We were about 2/3 of the way around the stage. While the show we being performed in a shallow thrust space, all of the actors were facting forward. I was, therefore, watching the back of the actors heads. We were set about 300 feet back from the stage and 300 feet up. Plus, the seats themselves this far back were only eighth-of-an-inch thick "terraces" of carpeted floor that, presumably, levelled out more down near the more expensive seats. In fact, forty or fifty feet below, I could see where the terraces became 1/4 of an inch thick. It was a constant struggle not to slide down, and basically we relied upon planting out butts firmly against our "seats", digging our heels into the "seats" two or three rows down, plugging the palms of our hands in at our side, and praying that the friction would be enough to keep us from sliding. One of the audince members, a slightly older woman to my right, was swearing about this in an audible whisper and none of us were able to enjoy the (really weird looking... there were dancers in red jumpsuits carring giants inflatable yellow balls) show.

So I left.

And that's about all I remember.

What do you think?


Friday, June 24, 2005

Lumas 4, 27.


- What a weird, exhausting, disorienting week.
- Yesterday, I made headway on addresses. Off my list (about 50% of total invitees), I've made contact with everyone except two people... I'm still trying to pin down their info.
- When I got home from work, I took a nap, woke up around seven, photographes Lakewood-Balmoral (probably the dullest of the Edgewater neighborhoods I've photographed so far), got some fresh bread, pork n' beans, and beer, and stayed up past midnight watching the original Night of the Living Dead. It was pretty suspenseful. And deeply cynical. I highly recommend...
- Throughout all this, nosing his way from the background to the fore was Billy Corgan. Billy Corgan and his book of poetry. Billy Corgan and his online Confessions. Billy Corgan and his new old-wave album time warped in from 1986. It's too weird and intense. I need to write about all these things in detail here, because it's truly important one of the rare subjects I can attack in true detail, but today I simply haven't the time or energy.
- Look for at least one interesting post this weekend, most likely today. I want to talk about My So-Called Life today, Faithful Dissent tomorrow, and Billy Corgan on Sunday. Vee Shall See.
- No thunderstorms yesterday. Or today. Tomorrow, maybe. The midwest is a boilermaker. So respond with a boilermaker.



New York Times: Interrogators Cite Doctors' Aid at Guantanamo Prison Camp.

D'Arcy. The Smashing Pumpkins Net Point.

Which state would you most readily jettison from the union?


Nighttime thoughts.


It's 1:18 and I should be in bed.
As soon as I put my back down I'll sleep dreamless until snapped awake at six or six-thirty. This is what the week is like.
But right now, steamy on the eighth floor, it's hot and hazy. The plastic flower we hung over the arch to our kitchen months ago is still tilted down, unwilted, and black in the soft ruddy muffled from that dusty lamp we dragged in from the alley. Not a bad lamp, for that, though the shade's a little worn, and the base is dusty on the milk crates. To my right, the physical space is outside. And the high-rises, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty stories wall up as if I'm blocked out in the middle of some huge city. Still, there's a merciful wind dragging through, and fuzz from a dozen-or-so air vents times several hundred AC units scattered across the neighborhood. A grumble from Lake Shore Drive; all off to the right. And I can actually hear the lake's slow groan, softer, coarser, and more consistant than the roar of traffic. On out through that window, the air is black.

Maybe it's time for bed after all...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Lumas 3, 27.


- For those looking for a handy link to archives, here it is:
- The last several days have been surreal. I'm still trying to pin down addresses for wedding invites, and there's only a few left, but they're the really hard ones. I'm not gaining much ground. Between wedding, grad school, getting the new website up to speed, and struggling to absorb the new Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan album, I've kind of had my hands full. Plus, things have been unexpectedly busy at work, which is good, because I log more hours. This might be the first week this month that I'll make it to forty hours. The upshot of all this is that, while I'm not dizzy stressed out, while things aren't so frantic that I'm miserable, the work is persistant enough that I've gotten next to no sleep and was neglecting to drink enough water. Yesterday, when I tried (unsuccesfully) to rendezvous with Sky and Sam for a techno event in Grant Park, I got really weird. I ended up catching the train home and falling asleep on the couch for two hours. Later, I got another six hours. I'm still tired and dried out now.
- But it hasn't been a bad week. Just that sort of week.
- There's a cold front moving in from Canada, but it's being held off by smear of hot air that sweeps up from the southern plains. Where these two collide, in a line, incidentally, that falls over both Flint and Chicago, there could be spectacular storms. But until then, high in the nineties.



The Flint Journal: Lansing ed rally draws 11,000.

Michigan Capitol Building.

What should be the 51st U.S. state?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Welcome to the New Site!


As you can see, aside from a few design tweaks (for ease and elegance), Blue Skies Falling is pretty much the same. There are a few significant changes, however, so I'll just go from top to bottom.


- "Where Have All the Blue Skies Gone?" Ironically, Blue Skies Falling has been the name of this blog for a year-and-a-half, and I just now encountered this phrase. Sam was exploring Shireland, an abandoned theme park outside Chicago when he found this graffiti on a wall buried in the adjacent forest.
- Assignments: Only one or two people ever did the "blog games" (thanks Amber!), so I've decided to replace them with something that hopefully relates a bit better and can even generate some discussion. Each month, a different theme will be explored through "assignments" that we'll all have the option of participating in. Some themes and assignments will be clearly defined and other months will be more vague.
- Comments: I've replaced Enetation with the standard Blogger comment system. This is because Enetation sucked, alternately deleting/not posting/not displaying submitted comments.
- Navigating this Blog (Part 4 of 4): I've revised this portion of the sidebar for better coherance.
- The Old Blog: It will be up for at least the next couple months. I want to archive all old posts and comments if possible. will continue to redirect here in the meantime.
- Here Is No Why: Is my website. Sam helped me program (thanks Sam!) and the Occlusion Group helped subsidize the cost (thanks Occlusion!). Right now all that's up is this blog, the introduction, and a couple links. I hope, however, to keep adding on at the rate of one or two items per week so that the site is fully loaded by the time I'm off to grad school. This shouldn't be a problem; most of the hard stuff's out of the way. Please check it out and let me know what you think.


- The theme this month is, broadly speaking, Love and the problems it causes us.
- The cool friend this month is Whet. Whet's blog sounds off on politics and culture. Check it out.
- The cool person this month is Cory, who writes extensively on politics from a heavily informed left-leaning position. I discovered this blog during election season.
- The cool link this month is to William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet which made us all drool way back in 1996.
- The sidebar selection Lumas through Gloamane are three poems I've written and revised several times over the year.
- The background and all images above are photographs I took of Fahrenheit 212, a new coffee shop in river north that Sam introduced me to. Not only is the coffee good and generously served, but the staff is fun and accommodating. (I know these are incredibly generic comments, but I was up half the night setting up the blog.)


Last week I was unable to post a question one day (at least) because Enetation was down. Here is that day's question:

What ingredient do you consider to be most indespensable to a pizza?



Blue Skies Falling has a new home:


This is because my blog has been integrated into a website I've been developing to make me more professionally compatable with the "real world."

That site is:


At present, I've only completed the blog transfer and the introductory sections. I'll continue work as I'm able, probably starting with resume, message boards, and galleries, and moving on to individual projects pages. Hopefully, it will all be up and running by early September.

I will continue to maintain this url until I've properly archived all entries from February 2004 - June 2005. In the meantime, please update your links.

I want to thank Sam for all of his programming assistance, and the Occlusion Group for their continuing financial and artistic support.


Connor Coyne
"Blue Skies Falling"

Be Here Now.


That is... we're all new here... so leave your tag.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

No Post Today...


as Blue Skies Falling is moving...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Every now and then, you hear some news that makes you just want to smile.


Last December, mindful of gloom and thunder, I posted this. Six months later, when news in both Flint and the world at large tends to be more often depressing, something wonderful has happened.

In the (well-chosen) words of the Flint Journal:

'The rock' reborn
People's billboard, with care, could be better than ever
Monday, June 20, 2005

Whether it was creatively applied pressure or Don Williamson wising up on his own, we applaud the mayor's decision to resurrect "the rock" as the people's billboard.

It was an ill-thought-out action in the first place to ban overnight what has been a 30-plus-year tradition. Better, and certainly more acceptable, ways can be employed to combat debris and other downsides of this spontaneous message-painting, which the city is trying now.

For instance, garbage cans and barrels have been supplied for paint cans and other leftover material, along with a sign asking the "artists" to be tidy. That replaces ones posted last October threatening $1,000 fines for anyone caught coating the concrete-covered city pumping station at 12th Street and Hammerberg Road.

Not only will no one be fined for this technically illegal activity, but Williamson is offering a twice-yearly $500 prize for the best paintings.

Now that's an artful policy reversal, almost as clever as an American Civil Liberties Union campaign opposing the mayor's initial ban. The Greater Flint Branch of the ACLU used that edict as fodder for a freedom-of-speech campaign, handing out its own recognition Thursday for student essays on the topic. Additionally, it named the rock its Civil Libertarian of the Year.

However, that freedom we cherish requires responsibility. Spare the rock any profanity or gang symbols, and no paint should find its way to nearby road surfaces, concrete drains and light poles, as happened before. Perhaps a "rock band" might form to see to this upkeep.

In any event, it's nice to see a bit of Flint reborn, and maybe better than ever. Rejoice and grab your brushes.

In this case, I don't even mind their punnery, the news is so good. I always felt that the Rock was newsworthy because in some way, it represented the soul of the city. Depopulation, disinvestment, crime, and poverty have been "30-plus-year" traditions in this town, which was federally classified as "depressed" in the late sixties, and was suffering a large-scale exodus just ten years later. But the Rock has also come to be in that time. Situated between a factory and a school, the Rock and all that it represents in the authentic, real-deal hope for the future of Flint.

May this heap of concrete be ever splattered with paint.



- It was a long weekend, but one with little fanfare. On Friday, we had a residents day, so there really wasn't much to do after eleven. I took CTA down to the Auditorium building (Michigan and Congress) and "poked around" for awhile (ie. infiltration). I met Sam for lunch (ie. coffee) at F212 at a little after one, but we were both in too much of a dolor to make much conversation (besides some noise about politics). Afterwards, I didn't want to waste time trekking back to South Michigan, so I decided to explore River North instead. I started at Marina City and wound my way about to Washington Park. Then, I took the Red Line to the #6, miraculously catching both without much of a wait, and got down to Jessica's around six. We ordered pizza and watched Monk.
- The weekend from this point forward was somewhat strictly defined by wedding planning, and somewhat less so by planning the Move. A dreary interlude was more work on Jess' car, in which we found that the exhaust pipe is utterly destroyed, and coolant is still leaking from somewhere. A much better interlude was the barbecue at Armand's on Saturday night. I missed church, though.
- The midwest will continue to be clearish in the 70s and 80s for a bit, courtesy of Missourian wind. They're full of hot air.

East Side.


BBC News: Lebanon voters 'welcome change'.

Olive Tree. The Olive Oil Source.

What will be different about you by the end of the summer?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

My So-Called Life. (Part 1 of 2)


There will be a couple spoilers.

Check out the context. The context is important. Not all-important. It takes effect.

I saw this series in its entirety for just the second time this last month. Needing to be obsessed with something at all times, and too wound to allow myself to become totally obsessed by either the move or the wedding, this was to be a fine, brainless burst of nostalgia to shift the tempo from spring to summer and allow me to immerse in the hormones I'll need to survive the next three months.

Things did not go as expected. They never do.

* * * * *

To give some perspective, this whole moment started one night when I was at a party Cate threw. Cate lives literally two minutes from Jess (if Jess lived across the hall from where she does, they'd be able to look into each others' window), and so Jess and I walked over with threatening sounds of storms overhead, and celebrated Cate's birthday with her. I saw the DVDs sitting on the shelf, and was immediately inclined to ask if I could borrow them. But I didn't think it was right to bust out a question like that in the middle of actual real conversations and after six hours the party was still going strong, but I was exhausted. I went back to Jess' to lie down for awhile. I didn't even mention the DVDs.

I was a little surprised three hours later when Jess showed up with the DVDs. She'd noticed them on her own, and asked to borrow them, on her own.

I was a little surprised at how irritated I became when I found out she didn't wait for me to watch them with her. I sunk in, and, in the middle of wedding and grad school planning, caught all nineteen episodes in several binge sessions. (Don't let me fool you; things are really hectic right now, moreso than average, but still less than right before scavhunt).

And this wasn't just a brainless burst of nostalgia. Watching these episodes over again, with more age and maturity, I feel, like, connected.

* * * * *

"This life has been a test. If it had been an actual life, you would have received actual instructions on where to go and what to do."

* * * * *

Let's start with everything bad about this show, before we get into pedestal setting:

1) There's a sort of arrogance to the series that's deep enough to go unnoticed as long as you're not looking for it. The best documented of these is Claire Danes who seemingly has little in common with Angela Chase. Among other things she's said and done over the years, she also angled for the series to end while it was still in the throes of struggle. Claire's career, of course, has continued, but might have never been if not for Angela Chase. It's actually a testament to Claire's acting ability that none of this (apparent, since I don't know her) bitchiness seeps out on the show, and only a little peeks through on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

Claire is only the most obvious example. The more disturbing arrogance came on the part of an artist I truly admire; the show's creator, Winnie Holzman. It might seem catty of me to demand uncompromising art, even while I fault her for repeatedly saying this was a series to the effect that it "was a realistic depiction of a teenager's life" and not "and attempt at a realistic depiction of a teenager's life." I might even acknowledge a contradiction there. But in an interview, when the question was posed, "why did the characters use the word 'like' so much?" Winnie seemed to take offence.

Winnie: Well, like, I don't know. I guess it's just like how I heard them. But if it's annoying you, I guess I can like, understand that too.

In a similar vein, someone asked Scott Winant "how is the music for the show selected? Do you have any 'consultants' in Angela's age group?" he answered:

Scott: I pretty much select all the music for the show.

If they acknowledge more openly their limitations in portraying "realistic" adolescentia, these statements wouldn't smack of arrogance, but there it is: The question posed to Winnie is valid, but almost none of us used the word "like" quite so often, and if we did, we came out looking like asses. By the same logic, Scott's answer sounds foolish, because we equally know that his choices weren't particularly realistic... a look at high school halls everywhere at that time would've shown Nine Inch Nails, Candlebox, Alice in Chains, Pantera, Boyz II Men, Nirvana, and Smashing Pumpkins. The only times these bands are even mentioned is in a list Angela rattles off right before the closing credits roll in Ep. 4. These are kids from Pittsburgh, PA. They didn't care about the Afghan Whigs, much less Buffalo Tom. Just like I never heard of Aimee Mann before that flower movie came out.

Now I can already hear the vaguely post-teenage chorus yelling at me: "But I loved Buffalo Tom!" But look at the big picture, and you know I'm right.

Still, why am I making such a big deal of this?

Because I think that style of inauthenticity exposes a cockiness in creators and actors that flies in the face of the show's alleged vulnerability and openness and human fallibility. For those of us watching for "mere entertainment," the arrogance merely stings. For those of us watching for something more, it feels like a bit of a betrayal. And, of course, arrogance paves the way for criticism #2.

2) Miscalculations.

In their attempt to create realistic teenage drama, there were pervasive miscalculations. The whole "zit" episode, despite some mesmerizing moments and truly relevant themes, was a little absurd for its namesake. Teenagers don't get all that tore-up by zits. Maybe if your face is a pizza, but certainly not Angela Chase's non-zit. People don't say, "oh, go squeeze your zit." This isn't brain surgery: most of us get zits, and given the fact that we don't want it to turn on us, given the fact that people we admire get zits, and given the number of other, more effective ways to make someone feel miserable about her physical appearance, even Sharon Chursky would've found a better insult.

As I said, the music seemed a little weird. I had a hard time imagining the brooding flunky alternateen choosing the Ramones of all things for his musical debut, and it's incomprensible that Angela, who listens to all the groups I did at her age, would have had no conception of the Grateful Dead.

Sometimes, miscalculations hovered about important choices, and could've been averted with just a bit more attention. For example, Rickie is constantly in the girls' bathroom. This is an important choice. It would've worked, and been a lot more believable, if it had just been a bit more of an issue.

3) Character Arc.

This is the medium-imposed difficulty, and if it made me flinch a little during My So-Called Life, it essentially ruined Desperate Housewives for me. Now I think Housewives is the most brilliantly conceived show on TV right now, so this gives a sense of how I highly I regard Life and how, in short, both Nielsons and Aristotle are huge liabilities when it comes to realism.

This criticism, which could apply to most characters, is best summed up in one name: Graham. Two observations about Graham. First, he has about the closest thing to an ideal liberal American dad life: his smart and fun kids revere him, his attractive wife is devoted to him, he's intellectually stimulated by what's going on around him, he has (surprise, surprise) some sort of adventure almost every week, and perhaps most importantly on this list, he has a well-above-average sex life. Second, Graham is the best listener on the show, meaning he recognizes these things and knows their value. Otherwise, he wouldn't be such a positive model for Rayanne.

But, in a fifty minute drama you have to make every character relevant. You have to do this about twenty times a season. And as we learned from Aristotle and on down through Chekhov, you have to keep the stakes high. While Graham's contemplation of an affair made sense at the beginning, all of the reasons for an affair have eroded by mid-season. Moreover, the potential for chemistry with other women has eroded because the guy's been getting profound doses from Rapunzel, I mean, Patty, all along, and one human can only handle so much chemistry. In short, they never convinced me that Hallie stood a chance. I still don't think she does. Here's an example of My So-Called Life, with 'Totle and ABC in toe, pushing the show in a direction it doesn't belong.

These are my so-called beefs with My So-Called Life. They only really bother me when they intertwine, with arrogance conspicuous and in front. Now I can safely gush.

To be continued...

Flint Housing: Caldwell's Out, Simmons' In


The Flint Journal has just announced this week the abrupt "debriefing" of Flint Housing Commission Director Clyde Caldwell. Given the housing catastrophe that's played out this spring in addition to the inscrutible (at best) actions of the FHC, the action isn't surprising. Oddly, however, there has been no public statement to justify the termination. In a modest improvement, this issue has not been completely banished from the Journal this week, printing both a compelling editorial (which nevertheless plays third fiddle to a spat between two Grand Blanc Township officials and a quip against the Clio Schools) and the original article: Housing Commission fires fourth director in four years.

The best news to emerge from the mess this week, however, is that Caldwell's replacement (at least temporarily) will be former director with twelve-years experience Kenneth Simmons. If the Journal article is an accurate indicator, Simmons piloted the Commission successfully through some of Flint's most trying years, effectively improving public housing even as the city was affected by the worst fallout of GM downsizing.

Perhaps he can be persuaded to stay...

Lunas 27, 27.


- I'm too tired and in a bad mood to write much today. >:(
- Enetation sux.



New York Times: House Blocks a Provision for Patriot Act Inquiries.

Are you special?. explodingdog 2005.

Tragically, there will be no questions of the day until I've had a chance to switch over to Blogger for comments. Enetation has been continually down for the last two days and sporadically down for the rest of my life. I'm tired of their deal. When I make the switch, though, I'll past a whole bunch of super awesome questions. Promise!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I do want your comments.


But Enetation's been ridiculous lately.
Please try back now and then, and hopefully they'll go up soon.
I'm switching over to Blogger's comments in the next week, approximately.

My own Mr. Picassohead.

New Blog Test.


Testing. 1. 2. 3.

Lunas 26, 27.


- Last night was another relatively short day at work. Summer is the down time the year for Lasik, and I'm having a hard time consistantly logging even thirty-five hours a week. I got home, took a nap (I'm starting to feel like an erstwhile former president, except alive and nicer), worked on the usual, and walked about a mile-and-a-half south/southwest to visit with Sean and Alejandra in Uptown. At about 10:30 we walked back to my apartment, and then an hour after that, he headed home. I haven't seen Sean in a year, but it was just like old times, and that's probably sufficient explanation.
- The skies are gray and brooding, and so am I.
- Doesn't look like rain, though.

South Deering.


BBC News: EU summit budget deal 'unlikely'.

Ryu Hayabusa kicking ass on a NYC rooftop with sweet music blasting through the background. Dorando.

From Whet. Who are your top five musical heroes?