An Interview with Me at Untoward

just went up—well, Part One did, in which Matt Rowan asks me questions about my first book (Amazing Adult Fantasy), G.I. Joe, geek culture, Ota Benga, Ayn Rand, George Orwell, and bad writing habits; we also discuss Curtis White, Theodor Adorno, Viktor Shklovsky, and ninjas, among other things.

[Update: Part Two, which focuses more on my first novel, Giant Slugs, is now up.]


A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: Source Code, Friends, Woody Allen, The Man from London, Sucker Punch, Zardoz, Tron, Willow, and Shoot ‘Em Up

[Last weekend, while en route to Abu Dhabi, my good friend Jeremy swung by my cold-water Chicago flat. After a lengthy Indian-wrestling match, we headed downtown to the AMC River East 21, where we caught a screening of Duncan Jones’s latest film, Source Code. Two hours later, expelled into the brisk April evening, we hunkered down at the nearest Applebee’s and, after ordering multiple appetizers and pitchers of Stella Artois, recorded the following conversation.]

A D: Jeremy, did you like Source Code?

Jeremy: It didn’t offend me.

That’s high praise. I can envision it emblazoned across the film’s poster (which is hideous and which did offend me).

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“The 20 Greatest Liquid Television Segments”

A still from Æon Flux (of course).

I don’t usually link to this kind of thing, but this list, from geek culture site Topless Robot, is worth peeking at for a few reasons:

  1. It’s understandably nostalgic for a time when some pretty unusual stuff made it onto mainstream television*—check out, for instance, at number 20, the Was (Not Was)/Christoph Simon video, “Dad I’m in Jail”;
  2. It offers a clarifying glimpse at some of the dominant aesthetics in underground cartooning in the late 80s/early 90s (what an influence R. Crumb and Keith Haring were having!). The animation on display here looks so different from the cartoons popular today;
  3. It provides yet more evidence of how so very little, today, is inaccessible: given time, everything ends up at YouTube. It’s also evidence of how audience viewing patterns are changing: Who cares that MTV has failed to collect Liquid Television on DVD when one can watch so much of it online? (And isn’t it even more fitting that way?)

*Actually, unusual stuff is always making its way through; it just becomes easier to see it in hindsight. And underground artists aren’t necessarily better than popular ones. But MTV—like a lot of the culture—definitely used to be a lot less slick, a lot less orchestrated and polished. Some grungy folks were once given surprisingly free rein….

What’s So New about New Wave?


Vanity Fair, August 2008 (cover).

I’ve outlined some of the following in my Looking at Movements series of posts (more of which are forthcoming), but here I want to examine the New Wave tradition exclusively, and from a different direction. I’m increasingly fascinated by how that simple two-word term has been used over the past 50 years to describe so many different trends and styles, some of which have been fairly disparate. It’s a label that’s really traveled, and hasn’t finished moving yet.

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Where Do Our Desires Come From? (Want as Tradition)

Owl City: I steal, therefore...

I’ve been thinking about comments that darby and Mike Meginnis made on Amber’s recent post “I Don’t Like Crap Games.” In response, darby wrote:

[…] im saying dont think/worry about what editors want. dont worry about “what they like.” read what you like and write what you like. dont study a journal just to try to get published by them. first, you should love what you write. then you should love what you read. then think about maybe this fits here maybe.

Mike then added:

Yeah, I pretty much agree with Darby’s thinking on this. When editors ask me to figure out what they like I don’t think very much of them. That’s their job. My job is to make what I like. Sure, it’s possible to take that attitude too far, but editors who want fewer submissions can limit their window for slush or etc. I want everyone to submit to Uncanny Valley who wants to so I can choose the best possible, coolest work. I don’t want them worrying in particular about what I want. And I never worry too much about what they want.

I agree with Darby and Mike (and I admire Mike’s editorial stance); I’ve said things like this myself: writers should write whatever they want to write, and damn everyone else’s eyes.

But today I want to try thinking past that thought. Why do I want to write what I want to write? And is it really entirely my decision?

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Looking at Movements, part 5: New Wave (US)

Debbie Harry of Blondie

Part 1: The Post-Punk Revival
Part 2: Post-Punk
Part 3: No Wave
Part 4: New Wave (UK)
Part 5: New Wave (US)

In this installment, I’ll be looking at the late 70s American side of New Wave. Whereas British New Wave (The Stranglers, The Jam, The Boomtown Rats, e.g.) strikes me as emerging from punk, or at least leaning fairly closely to punk, US New Wave seems a pretty different animal. It has some clear punk tendencies:

  • looking backward nostalgically to “simpler” 50s and early 60s rock;
  • fast tempos, with aggressive basslines and drumming;
  • a minimalist tendency toward building songs around short, repeated melodic phrases;
  • shouted/declaimed/half-sung lyrics;
  • political overtones;

…but at the same time it’s also very different, being:

  • much more theatrical (and often more overtly bizarre and weird);
  • much poppier;
  • more willing to draw on “opposing” musical trends, such as glam, prog rock, and (later on) dance styles, such as world music and disco.

That all said, both US and UK New Wave share some similarities:

  • art/experimental overtones, resulting in complex songs often built around punk back beats;
  • an all-around angularity;
  • the heavy use of synthesizers;
  • an overall geekiness, with singers often exaggerating their faces while performing.

Not every band shares all of these characteristics, of course, but we’ll see plenty of them below…

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Looking at Movements, part 1: The Post-Punk Revival

Part 1: The Post-Punk Revival
Part 2: Post-Punk
Part 3: No Wave
Part 4: New Wave (UK)
Part 5: New Wave (US)

This is the start of an ongoing series, in which I’ll examine two long-running interests of mine: 1) the concept of the art movement (and related issues like “scenes” and “the zeitgeist”), and 2) how the culture-at-large is not all that homogeneous, but rather braided together from numerous different subcultures, each following their own individual traditions, which sometimes overlap with one another, but often don’t.

Since we have to start somewhere, let’s start with Interpol, as they have a new record out (but let’s look at an earlier song and video, since no one seems to like the new stuff):

“Obstacle 1,” 2002, directed by Floria Sigismondi

Interpol formed in 1997, and became widely known when its members signed to Matador in 2002. Since then, the band’s been associated with the “post-punk revival” (PPR) of the early 2000s, its fellow travelers being bands like Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, and The Strokes.

But how similar is Interpol, actually, to those other bands?

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