Thursday, August 9, 2012

Waydown #12.08.09

Well, a little over three months, then.  About the frequency of the print version of the APA, so this is about fair. Not that I’ve planned it this way, and I really have tried to stay with posting one of these with some kind of respectable frequency, but I went through a lot of material and it soon outstripped what I had time to write about.  There’s no one holding me to a deadline so it got out of hand, as it usually does with me when I don't have a fire under me.

A big update is that I took my music from part-digital/part-CD to all-digital.  (There are number of music fans in this circle and a lot of that I’ve traded CDs with so this could be a relevant topic.)  It's been a  while that I've thought about changing my music-rotation system and I finally had a trigger to get it done.  For the last few years I've run everything I listen to through my iPods -- switching music in and out every morning, rotating fresh stuff so I don't listen to the same stuff over and over.  (Using the iPods was mostly so I didn't have to lug a case of CDs to work with me every day, like I used to.)  It's a process but it's made a lot easier since I ripped all of my CDs into my computer gradually over the last few years.  I still kept the CDs but really only for listening while at home.  Increasingly I've downloaded more albums than I've bought on CD, and I'd have to burn a CD just to listen to an album at home, if I even wanted to listen to music on the (increasingly more antiquated-looking) stereo and not on my computer or on Pandora.  While it became easier to put music directly on my listening device(s), CDs started to be a bit of pain.  But that's what I've done for music since I got a CD player (in 1992).  And left to my own devices, I'm going to keep digging furrows into the same paths day after day.  Really, the CDs were just place-markers so I could organize the music in rotation.  So Carla moving in* became the push to get the CDs out of the apartment.  We cleared out a lot of the space and we're not living with as much clutter.  But certainly I didn't get rid of the CDs, I just boxed them all up and they're in storage.  I have my whole music-rotation all in the computer and it's worked fine -- still some advantages to the CDs but overall all-digital is more efficient.  But if I've gotten along fine without the CDs, I don't know if I see a reason to ever bring them back.  The technology will only improve and it will only get easier and more efficient when the new stuff comes out.  And I personally don't hear a difference in quality between CD and MP3 that moves me in any way.  (I know there's a difference between vinyl and MP3 but I only have one vinyl album and it's not even music.)  It's a buyer's market for CDs right now so it might get to be too late to get a decent price for selling CDs (if it isn't already) but I can't give them up.  So the CDs sit in storage.  But I still have a bunch of CDs that were burns or copies of stuff I have in the computer, stuff I can't sell, so someone might be coming into a wealth of CD-Rs before too long, maybe someone around here.
(* Oh, yeah, that's big news too.)

The biggest update for me, at least for the last month, is my change in e-mail address.  I use my e-mail a lot and it's how I usually best keep in touch with my people so a change in it is a real big deal.  I've had my AOL address for nearly 16 years and I always thought I would have it forever.  It still serves me well but I can do better.  Gmail seems like a lot more efficient means of e-mail; put the two side-by-side and Gmail just destroys AOL (even if you use the new version of the latter, which I don't always do).  And there's no sense in continuing to pay for AOL -- yes, I pay for AOL.  Even if it wasn't just that, a change is good sometimes.  I've also got a Hotmail account that is just for mailing lists, no personal stuff, and I should have done that years ago.  I was planning to include an update of how many e-mails I’m behind, like I used to for my print-zine, just for everyone’s amusement, but I’m no longer keeping track.  I’m going through that old AOL e-mail and I still intend to reply to all of it, I’ve just changed the process of how I’m doing it and I won't organize it like I used to (probably a good thing, to have one less thing to contribute to my OCD).  So I'll have the AOL address for a little while longer until I transfer everything over.  And switching stuff (mostly mailing lists) might take a while because it's a real pain to do.  I've never done it before, I've just always had everything go through AOL.  But no longer.  There are new territories to explore.  This is the first, maybe biggest, step, in a long journey.  I have a lot of e-mails to catch up on.

It’s been a good summer.  I haven’t done a lot of summer-specific things, except trying to keep the apartment cooler than usual, and if it wasn’t for the San Diego comic con I might not have even noticed it was the summer.  When I’m not working in the summer I can take more advantage of the season but since I’ve been so busy it could be almost any time of the year (since you don’t get a lot of substantial change in the weather in California).  But it’s better that I’m working in the summer.  More time to get things like this zine/blog entry done.


On Writing by Stephen King (audiobook).  I haven’t read any more of King's work than some short stories he had in Esquire since I blew through The Green Mile in ‘99.  I just drifted away from his books and, though I owned (and subsequently got rid of) a lot of his stuff, reading most of it in high school, I didn’t think I’d go back to reading much of it.  Though his On Writing was something different and, while I wasn’t really planning on reading any of his fiction, I respected him enough as a writer that I wanted to read his thoughts on the process of writing.  I’m pretty sure I got the book a few Christmases ago but it’s been sitting on a shelf since, along with other books on writing that I plan to read... eventually.  eMusic had that book and I needed a new one to read (er, listen to) and this was my non-fiction book, after doing a fiction one.

I’ve read a lot of books on writing along with countless articles but there was advice in King's book that was new to me and it may fundamentally change my writing (as well as maybe getting me to write again... eventually).  I don’t know how much it may appeal to his fans who aren’t writers, though it may appeal to writers who aren’t fans, but it really spoke to me (um, literally, I reckon).  There was a goodly-sized section about how he structures his stories, about making them all a “what if?” scenario then running with it from there.  I never really thought about setting up a story like that but it made sense to me and I've compared stories that I've read to that in the time since reading it.  Also some mechanics about grammar that really place the book as being one about writing, though it's more a few things in reading that really irk him and he uses the book as a forum to get these pet peeves off his chest.

King declares that he will never write an autobiography.  He's fully aware that his life-story is nothing extraordinary and even telling of the rise of his success would be a short read.  But he's also been begged over the years, both by his fans and his editors, to write a book on writing so he splits the difference.  The autobiography part, about the first third of the book, is actually just to give some background to the parts of his lectures in the rest of the book. King has never been accused of skimping on words in his writing but it usually works, especially here.  Once he sets it up, he can go to a lot of corners.  But the autobiography really does shine a light on his early life, one that he might not realize he's opening up as much as he does.  As an autobiography, albeit an abbreviated one, it works well.  The story of when he sold Carrie is particularly affecting.  Then the book takes a turn near the end, going chronologically (unusual for a book on writing), when he details nearly getting killed when a van hit him.  There are clearly some issues he has about the incident and it impacted his writing, even so far as almost leading him to retirement.  That really doesn't contribute to the discussion about writing but it's interesting to see, early in the book and in his life and then later in both, that his life experiences so informed and changed his writing, life, and writing life.  The lessons he shares and the insight into his writing and life is the meat of the book.  Any advice from a successful artist, even if you don't care for their creations, is worth paying attention to, and for someone of King's caliber, maybe the top of all popular writers of the last 35 years, is worth its weight in gold, if you have any interest in it.  And it certainly is gold.  It's a different kind of writing but it's just as powerful as King's fiction. It's a shame he won't do more – he says it took a lot for him to do even one book – but that he did one is as satisfying as anyone could hope it could be.

King reads the book himself.   I realized as I started it that I don't think I've ever heard King speak -- it's probably a good thing he doesn't do more kinds of stuff like that because he has a pretty geeky voice.  He seems to want to distance himself from the book, that he only wrote the thing because so many people pestered him about it and he felt a sense of obligation to do it, but that he took the time to read the book aloud for recording shows that he has some personal connection to it.  To read such a personal piece of work, it's good to not have someone who doesn't have a personal stake in it do it.   He's very level in his reading, never going into a flight of fancy, and his voice is clear.  That he's connected to it probably brings a warmth to it as well.  The thing was about 10 tracks (about an hour and a half each) and I got through it in less than two weeks, but I was pacing myself.

I loved it so much, it may even get me back to reading King's stuff, especially if I can just download his catalog from eMusic.  I never got to The Dead Zone or most of anything past Dolores Claiborne (and after that one, can you blame me?).  Then right after I wrote this I saw that he’s doing a sequel to The Shining.  Oh, man, that first one was one of my favorites by him.  And he’s never really done sequels to his books.  Yeah, I can get on board that one.  Heck, I’d actually be really excited about it.  Oh, wow, that would be really great.

All Tomorrow’s Parties by William Gibson (audiobook).  I have a bunch of requests on and a number of those for audiobooks but I'm in no rush.  Pretty quickly after I entered my requests for audiobooks it came up that All Tomorrow's Parties was available so I took it.   I didn't really want to jump into another William Gibson book so soon after the last one but I needed a book to listen to and I didn't want to have to keep going back to eMusic for audiobooks and putting down another $10 when I could get some essentially for free on PBS because I have so many credits on there (as I have given out a lot of books).  The audiobook was sent to me as CDs, seven of them, so it took a while to rip those into my computer but it was a pain only by comparison because it's so easy to hit one button and download one from eMusic.

This is the third book in the “Bridge” trilogy, continuing from Visual Light and Idoru. I read Idoru years ago and didn't care for it.  I figured it might be some kind of aberration, like maybe I got it at a bad time in my life or something about the material was just over my head.  Even now I don't remember anything I read in that book; before I read this one, I read the Wikipedia entry on the book and the whole thing was completely unfamiliar to me. I also didn't know at the time that it was the second in the series.  I finally got to Visual Light just last year, after getting the hardcover for a few bucks in a chain bookstore, and I don't even remember why I felt the need to read it but I already wrote my review in a past zine.  I'll refresh you on it: it pretty well sucks.  But I felt the need to complete the cycle, as much as I knew what I was in for, especially after reading Spook Country, an even more recent book by Gibson.  No surprise that All Tomorrow's Parties is more of the same crap, with uninteresting characters and even less compulsive situations.  The only moderately interesting thing in the book is that the characters from the other books meet and collide into each other, though it would be a lot more exciting if they were interesting to read in the first place.  That they have a reason for existing, even if it's just for the author to play with his toys all together at the same time, gives it a little bit of readability but the whole thing doesn't even start to get warm until the end, when the characters get some kind of motivation, even if it's just to survive, then a few pages later it's over.  Apparently Gibson wrote the story in the wrong time of the characters' lives.  I don't know if naming the three books after the Bridge, where the action happens, is an official designation, but if it is, it's a little unfair, since it accentuates the location over the characters, which is what happens anyway, since Gibson makes the setting vastly more interesting than the players.  But he closes it off at the end, which is a shame, since it could continue to be a great setting with a potential for putting actually interesting characters and situations into it.  As it is, Gibson closes the book on the writing he's going to do about the future, after writing some classic books in nearly that same time period, and if this is what he's going to come up with anymore, it's just as well.

The narration is unremarkable, which is probably a positive thing.  That the narration is not completely annoying is to say that it is serviceable and that is all it needs to be.  The narrator checks into voice-acting class by giving the characters distinct accents, which only becomes irritating some of the time, and more of the time at least it gives the characters some life.   As this was downloaded from eMusic, it was less than 10 tracks, probably taken off of CD so each track is a CD, with one long track.  Took about two weeks to get through, and most of that was pushing myself to get it over with so I could get onto anything better.

Life by Keith Richards (audiobook).  When I was going through rock star biographies, I knew I would wind up at Keef’s book before long, though it came sooner than I thought it would.  Also the first audiobook I’ve listened to when I didn’t have the print version but I didn’t lose anything there.   (Sometimes I've used the print version to revisit a passage I didn't catch, to keep track of how much of the book is left, or if there are pictures.  Also, printed books are just cool.)  I don’t know what urged Richards to write a memoir -- whether it was the advance or getting his story out while he’s still alive -- but it should be one of the great prizes in rock star tales.  To get the inside story and to get into the mind of the legendary guitarist of the Rolling Stones, in his own words, every one of them approved and chosen by the man himself, is something we surely don’t deserve.  Richards has all the stories, and the book starts with a bang, with the story of how he and the Stones came within a hair’s width of being busted and put away forever while traveling through the South in the ‘70s.  It’s a story that sets the pace for the rest of the book, and establishes, as if you need it, that Richards’ life is just as crazy as the legend has it.  After that it settles into the A to B to C details of his life, from early life up through the rise of the Stones, moving quickly through the first few years but settling into a groove once they’re on top, going into the making of Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers with some detail, and that’s most of all you really need.  He goes into his relationships, particularly with his now-ex-wives and current wife and especially with Mick Jagger, which could be expected, and while you might wonder if it’s included just to appease those who read it expecting a detail history of the band, you also wonder how much he might have wanted to divorce the story of his own life with that of the history of the band, though the two are pretty closely linked, as well as his history with Mick.   To make that a bit clearer, he doesn’t go into great detail about the band in the late-‘80s through mid-’90s, though the band didn’t have much going on anyway, but he does spend time on the making of Bridges to Babylon, as that was a time when the band came closest to breaking up, in particular a time when he more clearly established his working and ongoing relationship with Mick.  Of course there is some explanation about the years of drugs and addiction but it’s glossed over a bit more than you might assume it should be, since a lot of those stories have already been told and, contrary to the usual thinking, Keith has been off hard drugs for the last few dozen years (though the alcohol, he’ll tell you, is another story).  He dispels a few myths and he puts the drugs into context, like how being a rock star they’re just there but also that they contributed to his relationship with John Lennon, but that’s about it.  Some controversial stories are thrown in there, though there aren’t a lot left that everyone doesn’t already know, and there are even some purposeful jabs at Mick, including a line about the size of Mick's wang, as well as one of the best stories in the book, when Charlie Watts would have once literally killed Mick if not for Keith saving him, only because Mick was wearing the jacket Keith was married in.  I wouldn’t necessarily say this is the Holy Grail of rock star bios but I couldn’t come up with one by a living legend that would be more fascinating or better sum up rock n' roll itself.   Mick probably won’t put out his own book, and Paul McCartney might not have many scandalous stories, so this just might be the peak.  But it’s a peak we didn’t think we’d get and we’re fortunate to have it.

The first few chapters are read by Johnny Depp.  You don’t even have to know him as an actor or celebrity to be impressed by his reading.   It’s calm and measured, with just enough nuance to add something to the reading rather than distract from it.  He doesn’t have to overdo his narration since the words are the attraction, not his voice (at least that’s the idea).   I can appreciate him more as an actor in other things based on his performance on this.   The rest of the book is read by a man with a rough, gravelly voice, who seems familiar enough with the material to read it lazily, even laughing at a few bits, and I assumed it was Keith doing the reading but then Keith reads the last chapter and the difference in the voices is more than obvious. It’s a well-done production, even won a few awards in the audiobooks world, one that’s fitting for such a work.  About 25 hours or so, so it took me a few weeks to get through but it was pretty smooth.   Really long chapters.

I've also listened to the Steve Jobs biography, another Gibson book, the Bob Mould autobiography, the first Burke novel by Andrew Vachss, and The Man Called Cash.  And I got through A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, also on audiobook, but there’s a chapter in the printed book that isn’t in the audiobook so I’ll do the full review once I’ve read the whole thing. 


Fresh n’ Easy. This is a supermarket chain based here in southern California so I don’t know if there’s one near you yet but there should be.  It’s close to a more mainstream Trader Joe’s (if you even have Trader Joe’s near you), with an emphasis on fresh, as in the name.  A lot of the food sold there is fresher, though that’s a problem if you’re not planning on getting to it right away (as is often my case).  (They also have a discount rack of stuff almost by its sell-by date but seeing how quickly that time comes, a lot of times it’s discounts on stuff about to go bad in hours.)  They have a lot of meals for two, a bit different from stuff sold in individual portions or family-sized, with nothing in between.  When I have no idea what to make for dinner I go there and can find something.   And a great selection of good but cheap wine.  For Carla's and my lifestyle it's one-stop shopping.  It’s even open later than TJ’s by an hour.

Ctrl + F. The search function.  I used to think this was only available in MS Word, which makes it useful there, since I often use that program to compile a staggering amount of lists and data, but I didn’t think to use it in, say, e-mails and websites until recently.   I think back to those times I would have to scroll down entire pages or sift through a huge list to find something, even when I knew the subject line or the word I was looking for was unique, and how I could have avoided wasting that time if I’d just used this function (with a hot-key, no less.  As a matter of fact, I don’t even know how to use it without the hot-key).  Now a function I use more than maybe any other.

I've been using Opera as the browser for my blog(s) while at work.  I use Mozilla Firefox (which I've reached a compromise with only recently) as a standard but I don't want to have to log out of Google to use Blogspot (as I've registered there with my AOL account).  At work they want us to use Firefox and they won't let us download any other software and the only other option is Opera.  It's not bad, maybe not too different except that it's glitchy (often infuriatingly so) and it has this thing where if you double-click on a word and hit another letter, like to replace a word with something else, it will assume that letter is a hot-key and switch to another page, ditching what you were working on.  For some reason.  Like this function is some revolution that is better than the usual thing you get on every other program in the world where you type words.  I've lost more than one entry because of that.  And it's enough that I'm trying to get permissions for my blogs switched over so I can abandon both AOL and Opera.

Even still I hate HTML with a such a burning passion that I truly wish it would fuck itself hard and die a cold and lonely death, as it deserves.

That's it.  More in a month (hopefully).