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Monday, Nov 5, 2007

Source: The New Yorker

It’s a long story, but for various reasons—inhering in punishment and perfectability, alike—I am working with my son on his brain. Well, he has a considerable one, so there is not much heavy-lifting involved, but nonetheless, there are still—to paraphrase Robert Frost—miles to go before we sleep.

In the process we are both able to learn a little more about this strange land that we find ourselves co-travelers in.


The way we’re working on it is variable and varigated, depending on mood and available tools. It can take the form of playing guitars together, writing stories, reading newspapers and summarizing them, commenting on world events. And yesterday, I had him writing captions for cartoons from The New Yorker. This turned out to be the equivalent of pulling toenails with one’s teeth, but they say “the journey to the Realm of 1000 Wisdoms always begins with the first step”—or maybe that’s “by putting on the first sandal”—well, either way, what else can one do when one is adrift on a rudderless journey but put the paddle in the water and take the first stroke.

Not to mix metaphors, (but it is always good to keep all your “i"s dotted and cross all your “t"s).


So, there we are, me boy and me, sitting at the kitchen table at 10:30 p.m. Sunday night, MacBooks open, pecking out text on own keyboards, trying to fill in all the blanks. And what we came up with was . . . well . . . you’d better decide for yourselves.

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Sunday, Nov 4, 2007

It’s that time of year again. Even though Halloween and the season of dread ended officially last Wednesday (31 October) the After Dark Horrorfest is back. 2006 saw the inaugural festival, accurately described by its subtitle as “8 Films to Die For” rule the genre box office, providing hundreds of scare junkies with a collection of creepshows they won’t soon forget. This year, a new octet of offerings is slated to give fright fans the wicked winter heebie jeebies. Running from 9 November until the 18th (one week, two weekends) the promising line-up on tap includes:

Crazy Eights (2006) – six childhood friends reunite to battle a secret from their past that’s returned to haunt them.

Lake Dead (2007) – when the relatives of a dead man return to his home, they meet up with a band of sinister psychos.

Borderland (2007) – a group of college kids run into a South of the Border human sacrifice cult.

The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007) – a young man is stuck in a parallel existence where he is murdered over and over again.

Mulberry Street (2006) - a deadly virus is turning the citizens of Manhattan into rabid, rat-like creatures.

Nightmare Man (2006) – an infertile couple discovers a demonic presence inside an ancient fertility mask.

Tooth and Nail (2007) – in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s survivors vs. cannibals.

Unearthed (2007) – a group of archaeologists disturb and ancient Indian burial ground, unleashing an ancient monster.

Partnering with AMC, Regal, and Cinemark, the macabre marathon will run on over 300 screens across the United States. For more information on After Dark Horrorfest 2007, including how to purchase tickets and all access passes to this hair-raising national event, please visit the official website at

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Sunday, Nov 4, 2007

Cate Kennedy talks writing at LiteraryMinded:

I’ll try to have two things on the boil at the same time so I have something to switch to if I feel really stale with the first one. I’ll promise myself a coffee if I just do another 500 words. I trick and cajole myself into getting to the end of the crap draft, as if my unconscious is some sort of mutinous toddler who needs bribery just to stay on the task. Or perhaps a better analogy would be a big, undisciplined dog who hates the lead and never comes back when it’s called. You’ve got to try and train a dog like that, but generally it sees you with the leash in your hand and just runs off ...
And last of all, when I feel really uninspired, I think: what would you rather be doing? Nobody’s making me do it, after all, so I remember what Raymond Carver said: Don’t complain, don’t explain.

In my opinion, Cate Kennedy is living the Australian Dream. She gets to live and thrive in rural Victoria, where her kitchen window view reveals cows in paddocks, and see her worked reviewed (complete with special red star) in Publisher’s Weekly. A lucky woman, if ever there was one. She’s also warm, funny, and stupendously talented. Her book, Dark Roots is out in America in January, published by Grove/Atlantic.

Kennedy’s story, “Cold Snap”, also found in Dark Roots, was published in the New Yorker on 11 September 2006. Cate’s other works include the memoir Sing and Don’t Cry: A Mexican Journal and the poetry collections Joyflight and Signs of Other Fires.

Check out the LiteraryMinded interview, the Publisher’s Weekly report, and note the jackets on the US and Australian releases of Dark Roots. The American release features a woman’s head in need of fresh peroxide, while the Aussie cover is far grittier, a hand sort of mid-xray, with a vein-like tree sprouting from the wrist. Vastly different images, somehow they both represent themes key to Kennedy’s stories, themes of hidden warts, demons, and boiling points. If one were forced to make such a comparison, I’d make Anne Tyler hook up with Chuck Palahniuk in middle of nowhere Australia. The very thought entices, right?





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Sunday, Nov 4, 2007

I hate to turn this into tabloid fodder but rumors of writer Robert Christgau’s demise are greatly exaggerated.  Some message boards, mailing lists and even possibly his Wiki entry questioned this.  Christgau himself wrote to me this morning to say that it ain’t so.  No need to send flowers or anything then (unless you really just wanna be nice).

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Sunday, Nov 4, 2007

The past few nights, I’ve dragged myself to Greenpoint, a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn, to go to Cavestomp, an annual garage rock festival the brings together reunited bands from the 1960s with revivalist bands inspired by them for recitations of songs that generally were written and performed by teenagers for teenagers. Of course, there are no teenagers at Cavestomp, by and large. It seems mostly to be people in their 30s watching people in their 50s and 60s perform. I saw the New Colony Six, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and most notably, the Sonics, who apparently were playing for the first time in 40 years. They drew the most enthusiastic crowd; whether that had anything to do with a song of theirs appearing in a Land Rover commercial is an open question.

Like any convention, the principal draw seems to be an opportunity to spend money on something you love and have a lot of identity invested in. If you can’t spend money on something in a consumer culture, you can’t prove that you really care about—purchasing is the measuring stick of caring: You have to put your money where your mouth is.

I’ve mocked these sorts of things before as Star Trek conventions with guitars: most everyone gets into elaborate costumes and tries to escape into a world that never really existed. But that should probably be celebrated rather than mocked; the attendees at Cavestomp aren’t afraid to be publicly enthusiastic about something that could make them seem weird, and that enthusiasm can make them seem like they have a secret knowledge about how to come to terms with oneself that maybe we can all profit from. Of course, it can make them seem to be in state of arrested development as well. It seems like the fetishization of garage has something to do with preserving certain elements of teenagerdom—to hell with parents rules and the nine-to-five dork schedule and the mindless conformist drones in suburbia—and keeping them accessible to oneself in adulthood, but in a safe, carefully controlled manner. Like the music itself, this repository of teenageness is made into a formulaic genre with very definite rules, and the predictability of the formula, given expression in a variety of subtle variations, ultimately supplies the satisfaction. The chaos and hurt of being on the brink of unwilling adulthood is tamed into three-chord rock songs about heartbreak. Listening to the music takes you back to the pre-adult moment and offers the fantasy of imaging it was possible to make different choices, to refuse the compromises of adulthood and stay forever true and completely authentic to oneself.

So if Cavestomp is supposed to be a respite from the pressure and compromises of adulthood, it doesn’t really help to have the performers joke about how old and out of touch they are, as the New Colony Six singer tended to. It doesn’t help either when they look like a bunch of math teachers or retirees on a CostCo outing—though I prefer this actually to when they try to look “cool” and end up looking like geriatric Fonzies. An old man with a Stratocaster or a leather jacket just doesn’t fit the image one has of rock; it’s kind of like when people put sunglasses on babies—allegedly cute but sort of pathetic.

I tend to forget just how long ago the 60s was—it was the time just before I was born, which conceptually doesn’t seem so long ago. But it’s more than 40 years now, and the bands of that era are now composed of really old men. But it occurred to me as I was watching that what was happening at Cavestomp was not merely some escapism into a carefully patterned world of genre and youth symbolism, but was actually a strange form of paying respect to one’s elders and trying to establish a bridge between generations for people who feel, perhaps, desperately misunderstood by their own actual parents. Though these old folks seem at times ludicrous as performers, singing simple songs they wrote as teens about high school sweethearts, the crowd is eager and respectful, palpably yearning for reasons to give applause and recognition. And the bands respond with genuine expressions of gratitude, something increasingly rare in the commercial entertainment world that has in some ways crowded out the humbler forms of entertainment that were intergenerational in the past—the kind of folk festivals depicted in early Hardy novels, or the archetypal barn dance conjured by this image from today’s NYT.

Caevstomp, then, is a interstitial version of those lost kinds of entertainments, existing in a niche where it can thrive without getting commercialized and made cool and therefore spoiled. But that Land Rover commercial, though, may be a bad omen.

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