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Wednesday, Apr 9, 2008
by Robin Cook

Judging from the self-deprecating humor in Bobby Bare, Jr.‘s songs, you’d never guess he was a Grammy nominee at age five. Country fans may remember “Daddy What If”, his 1971 duet with dad, Bobby Bare, Sr. Bobby Jr., meanwhile, has settled in at Bloodshot Records, playing with a regular cast of musicians dubbed the Young Criminal’s Starvation League. Check out his Web site for a list of upcoming projects, including a Shel Silverstein tribute album with his dad. (Silverstein penned “Daddy What If”. Talk about coming full circle.)—Robin Cook



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Wednesday, Apr 9, 2008

As Ed Ward noted in a previous comment, another 60’s music mag staple has also returned.  Crawdaddy magazine is back, under the auspices of the Wolfgang’s Vault website (which offers many classic shows streamed).


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Wednesday, Apr 9, 2008

I still can’t believe Roisin Murphy’s 2007 LP, Overpowered didn’t have the impact of other dance acts like Lilly Allen or M.I.A., but I suspect that’s due largely in part to the slow rehabilitation of disco as an genre of influence. For some, the image of thousands of people destroying disco LPs at radio personality, Steve Dahl’s, disco demolition still holds enough cultural power to keep disco in its place as some sort of decadent symbol of “establishment” pop. I hold out hope that artists like Murphy will erode the critical blindness involved in that kind of blanket gesture. Besides, old categories of the countercultural simply don’t map that easily onto what’s being done in the world of music today.


Murphy’s image has a certain retro-futurism, like a classic Hollywood starlet stumbling out of Bjork’s closet. Part of my fascination with this video stems from its naked self-deprecation. While many videos involve the realization of explosively egotistical fantasies of the artist as a supernatural being, Murphy sings the song to herself in a dingy diner. Sure, it’s a diner that happens to convert into a low rent mock-up of a Saturday Night Fever club, but does so only in her head. The patrons ignore her coquettish posturing on the furniture and continue on about their business. The video is a tongue-in-cheek contrast between reality and fantasy: eating alone versus starring in your own crisply choreographed “fuck off” song. Murphy excels in strangely compatible moods, like the four-to-floor dance single that’s full of melancholic loss and solitude. “Know Me Better” is essentially a daydream of how we all wish we handled painful break-ups: with unflappable independence, style, stride and humor. Walter Mitty meet Giorgio Moroder.


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Wednesday, Apr 9, 2008

My obsession with the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels kicked into high-gear in 2004 when considering a topic for my Masters thesis. I’d been wrestling with an idea about literary osmosis, that what you read influences what you write. Writers I knew almost always wrote stories similar to those they read. My best friend is a fantasy fan, with her Raymond E. Feist’s in pristine order on her shelves beside rows of Sara Douglass’. She writes beautiful stories of human courage, all based in fantastical worlds. My husband reads Lenny Bruce, Dashiell Hammett, and zombie books and his fictional writing draws from each in the most exquisite ways.


As for me? When I read Alice Bloom, I write short stories. Erik Larson gets me in the mood to seek out ancient crimes and write about them. When I read celebrity bios, I write pretend memoirs of ‘80s sitcom stars like Jodie Sweetin. Reading Judy Blume? Writing about my teen years. Reading Toni Morrison? Writing about womanhood. Stephen King: personal demons. Steven Martin Cohen? You probably don’t want to know.


Discovering these links prompted me to experiment: What if I read only Pulitzer Prize-winning novels while writing the creative component of my thesis? Surely, I’d come up with the greatest creative work a student has ever produced.


In short, I found out that quality is what you make it. But plot-wise, utterly without even realizing, I stole from every book I read. And very specifically. This was more than thematic borrowing—this was osmotic plagiarism. And I didn’t even notice.


Key elements of a range of novels all ended up in my piece: Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, William Kennedy’s Ironweed, Ernest Poole’s His Family, Millhauser’s Martin Dressler, The Magnificent Ambersons, Willa Cather’s One of Ours, even The Age of Innocence, which I stopped reading half way through because it bored me to tears. (I’ll go back one day.)


The experiment, for all intents and purposes, was a resounding success: yes, I took in what I read and sent it out again. But I found something way more interesting than that. Writing is of course going to share similarities because of the universality of experience. The similarities between His Family and Breathing Lessons are greater than you might ever suspect, but they’re there. It’s true that the Pulitzer Prize winning novels will be thematically similar because of the award’s specific criteria, but I found, simply, that reading Pulitzer Prize winners from each decade revealed the history of America.


Since this discovery, I’ve become more intent on finding all the winning books. I’ve managed to collect 53 of 82. Those left on my list appear to be the most difficult to find: Scarlet Sister Mary, Dragon’s Teeth, Years of Grace, So Big!, and others. The best source is, of course, eBay, or the Franklin Mint. But the budget can only stretch so far.


I’m enjoying, far more than scouring the Internet, stumbling across the books, like the copy of Shirley Anne Grau’s The Keepers of the House I found early in my search in the bottom of a donations bin outside my public library. It was squished in between some huge World Book encyclopedias, all beaten and bruised. I found Arrowsmith for a dollar a matter of weeks after I had elected to steal it from the library’s branch room, where books go to die.


I even found some of the books—The Yearling, The Old Man and the Sea—long forgotten in the back of my very own bookshelves.


The later books have been easy to acquire—Philip Roth, Updike, Anne Tyler. But the old ones prove more difficult. And I probably haven’t added a book to the collection in over a year. The well, it would seem, has run dry. It might be time to go back to eBay.


My biggest eBay score was courtesy of a generous woman selling her collection of Pulitzer books, fiction and non-fiction. For about a hundred bucks, I got a box full of novels, plays, travel and science texts. My favourite eBay purchase, though, is a 1923 paperback of The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson. I picked up for about seven dollars. It came in a sandwich bag, and has a little pen squiggle on the inside cover. It’s beautiful, and, man, has it been read. Which, for this collector, only adds value.


I wonder who read it. And why. I wonder what they thought of it, if they wrote stories, too. I wonder how much we share.


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Tuesday, Apr 8, 2008
A giant box from Rockstar leads to a brief reflection on the context that swag can provide.

One of the nice byproducts of having a gaming-centric blog here at PopMatters is that we are now able to preview games, rather than just review them.  As such, there’s actually some incentive for PR to send us stuff before it actually comes out.


Today, I got some stuff.


Granted, when you get a giant box at your doorstep from Rockstar three weeks before Grand Theft Auto IV comes out, you hope there’s going to be a little, DVD-size box inside, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.  Instead, we get:


This is the stuff.  Please ignore the berber.

This is the stuff.  Please ignore the berber.


- A giant, black and white foam hand, emblazoned with the GTAIV logo, doing the “shocker
- A crayola yellow Burgershot T-shirt
- A GTAIV sticker


You can tell a lot about a game by the swag that gets sent with it.  Hudson sent a bright green and yellow headband to promote the upcoming Deca Sports, Sony sent a funky little black necklace with an Omega charm with God of War: Chains of Olympus (which also came with some copies of the Chains of Olympus demo disc back when that was a big deal).  Both of those were subtle little touches, trinkets whose primary purpose is to evoke a mindset rather than to serve any actual tangible purpose.


There’s nothing subtle about the GTAIV promotional items, yet another sign that Rockstar is looking to hit like an 18-wheeler come April 29th.


The funny thing is, I’m a father of three.  I own a minivan.  What am I going to do with a giant foam shocker?  Give it to my kid to bring to school?


What Rockstar seems to be saying here is that GTAIV is not for people like me.  It’s not for grandmas.  It’s not for girls.  It’s for a certain audience that will appreciate the GTA brand of humor: macho, college-age boys, preferably ones that pound beers and incessantly quote raunchy comedies.


The problem, then, is that the appeal of Grand Theft Auto goes beyond that crowd, important as it may be to Rockstar’s numbers.  Grand Theft Auto III first appeared nearly seven years ago, meaning that even if everyone who played that game is in Rockstar’s apparent target demographic, those are the folks who have now moved on to SUVs and jobs and changing diapers.  Granted, that’s an awfully broad generality, but there are plenty of people with fond memories of GTAIII who could well be turned off by a giant foam shocker.  This isn’t by any means a complaint, but I hope for their sake that Rockstar’s marketing scheme stretches beyond the demographic indicated by this particular round of stuff.


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