Friday, June 25, 2010

Fit to Be Dyed

On my trip to Philadelphia last week (or whenever it was), I read the Stieg Larsson "phenomenon" The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It's funny; I would say that literally two-thirds of the people on the train were reading either it or the sequel (The Girl Who Played With Fire). It really is one of those collective unconscious things; I found myself trying to hide the cover, as I felt embarrassingly conformist!

(By the way, the author is not to be confused with Gary Larson, who would probably write a book called The Dragon With the Girl Tattoo.)

Actually, I rather liked the book, although I'm not entirely certain why it's become the phenomenon it has. Possibly the real-life saga of the author has something to do with it (Larsson died abruptly at age 50 after delivering three completed manuscripts--the story goes that an elevator was out of order, he took the stairs and, being a heavy smoker, he had a massive heart attack as a result...make of that what you will). He's not a bad writer (although his books are translated from Swedish, which may explain some of the odd phrasing here and there), and spent most of his career writing for the financial press, so he has a very unadorned but functional style. His translator is British, so characters ride in lifts and hide things in the boot of their cars, etc., which I have no problem with.

I have to admit, compelling as it was (and, yes, it did keep me up late one or two nights), it's not a particularly complex story. I was expecting all sorts of twists and turns, and plots within plots, but it's all rather straightforward. (Actually, the things I was expecting may make for a more compelling thriller!) I was also expecting the two parallel plot threads--the corporate malfeasance and the family murder--to turn out to be linked in some way, and--spoiler alert-- they are not. And Mr. Evil--Wennerström--doesn't even make an actual appearance in the book. One would have liked some kind of confrontation between Mikael Blomkvist (the co-protagonist of the book) and his nemesis, but nothing doing, although Wennerström gets a great comeuppance; would that all the financial scumbags and Bernie Madoffs of the world got the same.

And the opening scene--elderly Henrik Vanger gets a mysterious flower on his birthday, as he has for 40-odd years--is a bit of a grabber, but at the end, I couldn't can't help but wonder, "He couldn't have figured that out ages ago?"

The other protagonist--she with the titular tattoo--Lisbeth Salander, is a well-drawn character, although the speed with which she bonds with Blomkvist seems a bit too facile, given her fundamental antisociability (I'm being vague to avoid spoilers). They don't meet until halfway through the book, so maybe a bit more set up would have made the relationship a little more realistic. Still, she's a great character, and you root for her even when she's doing something unspeakably horrible, because the people she's doing it to are the scum of the Earth. (The original Swedish title is Män som hatar kvinnor which means "Men Who Hate Women," which is apt, but probably a bit less commercial and cryptic.)

And with all the Swedish names and places, it's very easy to get umlaut fatigue. I am still seeing dots before my eyes. Or above them, actually.

I wonder, if the author had survived, and the book had been properly edited and perhaps bits of it rewritten, if it would have been a lot better. But even if it doesn't quite live up to its hype (but then what does?), it's at least a million times better than anything Dan Brown ever wrote, so it has that going for it.

So, it's ta ta to the tattoo; I just started the second book, so we shall see.

The Saratoga Film Forum showed the Swedish film adaptation last month, so maybe when it comes out on DVD I shall rent it. I can only imagine what Hollywood will do to it.

But then, maybe I like the Fountains of Wayne song better.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Books Without Conversations

I am deeply deeply ashamed that, when co-authoring Disrupting the Future or doing the various debates and presentations on the subject of print vs. new media...I am ashamed that I had completely forgotten about the opening paragraph of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversation?'
A fine English major I was! I hang my head in shame...

Unfriendly's Restaurant

Good grief. From the "that which doesn't kill you just makes you huge" file, via Ken A., the "successor" to the appalling KFC Double Down is the Friendly's (and one uses that brand name advisedly) Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt. What is it? Well, gird your ventricles:
First, there's a Friendly's Big Beef burger, but instead of a bun, there are two (count 'em, two!) grilled cheese sandwiches.
Ill yet? You will be:
1500 calories (870 of those from fat); 79g of saturated fat; and a whopping 2090mg of sodium (trouncing the Double Down, which weighs in at a paltry 1380mg of salt)
Here's my question: does it come with a defibrillator?

I'm beginning to get the feeling that Dagwood Bumstead was the paragon of healthy eating.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Censory Overload

Channeling both George Orwell and James Joyce...

Remember back in 1984, when Apple's famous Superbowl commercial introducing the Macintosh played on how Apple was going to destroy Big Brother (which was supposed to be IBM)? Well, to coin a phrase, "meet the new Big Brother, same as the old Big Brother." But, then again, at least they reversed their tyrannical decisions:
Once again, following bad publicity, Apple has reversed a decision involving content for the iPad. Just in time for Bloomsday--today!--the annual celebration of James Joyce and his modernist masterpiece "Ulysses," Apple announced that it was a mistake to demand changes in "Ulysses 'Seen,'" an adaptation of the book for the iPad that began life as a web comic. To win approval from Apple, the creators had altered several panels that included nudity.
Apple this week also overturned a decision involving a graphic-novel adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest that introduced gay themes (or extrapolated from gay subtexts). To get the okay from Cupertino, the creators of that app placed opaque black boxes over images of two partly disrobed male characters kissing and fondling. After bloggers complained, Apple called that move, too, a mistake.
Speaking of Ulysses, last night, during my annual re-reading of it, the "Cyclops" episode kind of reminded me of the Teabaggers.

Tales of Brave Ulysses

It's June 16--a happy Bloomsday to everyone!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Among the Madding Crowds

New Pornographers Friday night at the House of Blues in Boston!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Spanning the Globe

Once again, The Onion tells it like it is.

Boston Globe Tailors Print Edition For Three Remaining Subscribers

Flower Power

While in London a couple of weeks ago, Amy M. and I went to the Chelsea Flower Show, which was a lot more fun that I was expecting it to be. It really is quite the event; the BBC devoted an hour of prime time coverage to it each night all week.

It was also quite mobbed:
I was promised giant mutant vegetables, and I was not disappointed:
Some of the display gardens were quite elaborate:
I like the idea of this; would that all roads could be devoid of cars and covered with flowers:

And, of course, carnivorous plants are not without their appeal:
And here's a motto I think we could all live by:
After downing rather voluminous Pimms and lemonades, we went in search of food, and followed the signs that read "Seafood and Champagne." We were not disappointed.

I got bit by (among other things) the gardening bug, and picked up a bunch of seeds (mostly herbs) which, after only less than two weeks, are growing insanely.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

It Was 30 Years Ago Today...

Well, last Sunday, actually. On May 30, 1980, Peter Gabriel’s third album was released, the one widely believed to be his masterpiece, if not in terms of sales, than certainly of artistic vision.

1980’s Peter Gabriel was third album to be titled Peter Gabriel, even using the same typeface, his idea at the time being to have each album seem like subsequent issues of a magazine. As a result, the third album is unofficially called “Melt,” as the cover features what appears to be Gabriel’s face melting (courtesy of Hipgnosis). (He would have kept this going but his record company decided, with album four, that he should start naming them properly; so 1982’s Peter Gabriel ended up with the more or less official title of Security, likely because the cover picture appears to be a still from a bank security camera. Minimalist titles like So, Us, and Up followed. In fact, those are the only proper studio albums he has released since 1982; not the most prolific of artists, is he?) Five years into his solo career (Gabriel left Genesis in 1975, following The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour), his first two albums, Peter Gabriel (aka “Car”) and Peter Gabriel (aka “Scratch”) careened from style to style, sometimes successfully (“Solsbury Hill,” “Here Comes the Flood,” “D.I.Y.”), sometimes less so (most of “Scratch”). However, by album three, he had found a sound, a vision, and the songs that made them work. It could be called “world music,” although at this stage I’m not sure what world it would be; certainly not Earth. I first heard “Games Without Frontiers” on the radio circa 1980 or 1981 or so and thought it was one of the strangest—and coolest—songs I had ever heard. The rest of the album is only modestly less strange, but still very cool, and more than a little haunting.

“Melt” was produced by Steve Lillywhite, early in his production career, and the record boasts the sound—of which Lillywhite was a chief architect—of the “gated” drum sound; that is, a noise gate is applied to a conventional drum to change—or eliminate—the decay of the impact. Coupled with a lack of cymbals, it tended to add a unique, punchy, and at times almost electronic sound to acoustic drums. This became a popular sound in the early 1980s, and it is argued that this was the first album to use this effect. It is highlighted on the opening song “Intruder” (drums played by Genesis mate Phil Collins—the effect is also featured on Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”), a creepy creepy song about, well, an intruder. “I know something about opening windows and doors/I know how to move quietly—to creep across creaky wooden floors.” The obsession with obsessive personalities continues on “No Self Control” (“I don’t know how to stop!”). “Start” is a brief sax/synth instrumental that leads into the radio favorite (well, played on the radio once or twice) “I Don’t Remember,” featuring Tony Levin’s “Stick” (a type of mutant bass).

More deranged characters appear in “Family Snapshot,” an attempt to get into the mind of a Lee Harvey Oswald-like political assassin (“‘I don’t really hate you/I don’t care what you do/We were made for each other—me and you/I want to be somebody/You were like that, too’” After the heavy drama of “Family Snapshot,” side one (in the old vinyl days) ends with the light-ish “And Through the Wire” featuring guitarists Paul Weller (The Jam, whose classic Sound Affects came out in 1980) and Dave Gregory (XTC, whose extremely classic Black Sea also came out in 1980). Side two opens with the big hit (well, it occasionally got played—it rose to #48 in the U.S.) “Games Without Frontiers”—and, yes, that’s Kate Bush chanting “Jeux sans frontières” in the background), leading into “Not One of Us” (“You may look like we do/Talk like we do—But you know how it is...”). “Lead a Normal Life” is set in a mental institution. The album ends on a political note; “Biko,” about South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko, who was killed in police custody in 1977. The song begins and ends with a chant of the South African song “Senzeni Na?” (“What have we done?”) which was sung at Biko’s funeral. “Biko” was often played at the end of Gabriel concerts, and the audience were encouraged to chant along.

Speaking of which, several SU-ians and I journeyed to Rochester in 1986 to see Gabriel live on the So tour. Although he didn’t play “Solsbury Hill” (my favorite Peter Gabriel track), and I was not a big fan of So (it was his big mega-platinum albums with “Sledgehammer,” “In Your Eyes,” and “Big Time”), it was still a phenomenal show.

So, let’s put on the great Peter Gabriel, melt a bit, and get so strange across the border...

The official pre-MTV video for “Games Without Frontiers”—ah, the state of video technology in 1980!