Saturday, August 18, 2012

Chapter 84: In Which I Discuss The Things I Cannot Live Without

This young lady Elisa Carbone interviewed me once, when I was in high school, about my writing habits. It was for her thesis at the University of Maryland. When she became a published author, my mother got a complimentary copy of Starting School With an Enemy. I find it very cool how many books she's put out in the ten years since then, and the breadth of history she covers. Kind of a Katherine Patterson vibe. I meet other authors all the time now, but it's cool to think back on the ones I encountered before they had all their success.

I no longer live in the San Francisco Bay area. As of Wednesay, I am a proud resident of Lafayette, Louisiana. Cajun country. I'll be working on a doctorate here for the forseeable future. Moving was bittersweet, because I love the energy of San Francisco. Three words: Purple Rain sing-a-long. Also, while hanging in the Mission these last few weeks, I kept randomly running into people I met over my west coast tenure (and one friend from DC who I randomly encountered). Now, as I write this, I am listening to the bullfrogs and crickets and various unidentiable animal noises of the horse ranch where I live. Yes, a horse ranch. Be jealous.

I move a lot. I don't like this fact, but at this point I follow the wind. As always, I'd acquired a ton of stuff, mostly papers, and I couldn't pack it all. I threw away every workshop critique from Mills and the Berkeley Writers Circle. By then I'd read them all, and either applied their suggestions or not. I'd kept the feedback to remember the people in the workshop. Keepsakes and momentos. But, practically speaking, I didn't need them, and stuffed the trashbag with paper.

Left the David Lee Roth and Slice shirts. After letting that hippie at my old house keep the Michael Jackson Bad Tour shirt, any of those could go, far as I'm concerned. Left a stack of CDs that I might ask someone to mail to me when it comes time to make the audiobook. Left an iPod nano. Left all those baggy pairs of pants I should have gotten rid of a long time ago. Sold an old, virus-ridden laptop to a friend of mine.

So I had to determine the Things I Can't Live Without. I'd considered getting rid of my 25-year-old copy of Legends from Fairyland, the one I had since I was a kid. I thought of giving it to Half Price Books, where some other kid would find it and discover the magic. Nope. Couldn't do it. I could easily get another off Amazon, Not now. Someday.

BTW, they showed The Avengers on the plane. Drifting in and out of consciousness while listening to one side of a broken pair of headphones is the only way to watch that movie.

Without further ado, The Things I Carried (to the airport):

-A set of Staples steno books. I bought them for a summer journalism unit I taught middle schoolers in 2006. Admittedly, I used them more than the kids. They contain early notes on stories like "Dead Teenagers" and "How Brother Roy Lost His Dog," notes from the old NCOR conference, and markered writing from the students about subjects such as Eddie Guerrero (RIP) and Runescape. Those kids are in HIGH SCHOOL now. Yep, they stay.

-A Staples notepad containing circa 2008 notes on "Graveyard Shift." Back then, Mason's was called "Dallmart." Notes from an aborted novel (one I'm starting on again soon). Some very interesting notes I took about the history of East Liberty from a Carnegie Library librarian. To-do lists. Here's an example:

Sunday 5/18/08
0. Ask Andrea for clothes
1. Talk to dad
2. Get shit from Mom's hous (sic)
3. interview prep
4. Vegan BBQ/show
5. Wine & Bike
6. Sleep
7. Go to Pittsburgh

Thinking back on that day, that's pretty much how it went.

-Bank statements. Bleh.

-Jack Daniels Sessions EP 2011 tour posters. There were so many of them, and Bay Area Alternative Press used up so much black ink, and they were so nice-looking. Finally, I had to throw out the majority and keep a few. Only 20 or 30.

-My friend Lisa's husband's violin and assorted violin books. My violin fetish has been steadily growing. I plan on self-teaching myself one day, just as I will with that acoustic guitar I mysteriously own.

-Letters from my Pittsburgh friend Amanda. I'm a horrible pen pal. But she writes the best letters.

-Copious papers from the Braddock Youth project, where I was an urban farming counselor in '09. Stage directions for a gardening video project. Supervisory critiques on the kids' performance. End-of-year superlatives. A piece of string from some AmeriCorps game. In case I ever feel like starting my own nonprofit, those scraps are the first place I'll look for inspiration.

-An awesome Jimi Hendrix hat my friend Nara left at the hippie house when she went back to Germany. I jumped on that like a dog on a newspaper.

-A large and weighty collection of keys for houses I no longer live in and cars I no longer drive.

-A Best Buy Geek Squad-salvaged collection of Microsoft Word files, circa 2006, holding about 400 pages of notes for my radio show "Fort Liberty" (it'll happen someday, I promise!).

-Programs for the science fiction conventions I've been a guest at. This includes my very first, Balticon 2010. The detergent stains on the program are part of the charm.

-Elvenslaughter Tour 2010 posters.

-My Mills diploma holder (sans diploma), a paper graduation cap-shaped fan, and Mills English department ball point pen. Total cost = $70,000.

-A small red notepad that I've had since right after FaerieCon 2008. The con where I met Wendy Pini. Inspired by the whole fairy atmosphere, I left after the last panel, bought a notebook from CVS, sat on the Chinatown bus to DC and started on a story called "The Wizard's Homecoming." It was a sword & sorcery type deal about a wizard who could change form and move through time as easily as other people breathe. He is on a mission to rescue a child, and I will definitely return to it one day. The notepad also contains notes for "When the Law Come," a New Orleans-based story called "Talkin' Monkey Gumbo," and a story called "Albino Alligators of Mississippi" that I never really finished, but I've been cannibalizing metaphors from for the last 4 years.  There is also a flier for the RNC benefit I helped organize, drawn by my good friend Eleanor, who was recently a keynote speaker at her Corcoran graduation.

-Assorted holiday cards. Nope, can't let 'em go.

-Dozens of circa 1970 and 1971 newspaper and yearbook articles from Carnegie Mellon University, photocopied by my friend Jennifer, background research for a book I will write one day that will win the Hugo and make me a millionaire.

-A copy of Coming of Age Around the World, edited by Faith Adiele, which a friend gave to me as a graduation present, having no idea that I had to read it that spring for Adiele's class of the same name. My previous copy got snatched up by one of the crackheads in People's Park when my back was turned, leaving me high and dry come classtime, which was embarrassing, since I didn't read the book. But now I can! Good stuff, so far. Also, a copy of Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner. It reads like Lord Dunsany on crack. Definitely a future installment of Obscure Fantasy.

I see a pattern emerge: I keep the things that took the most effort. Posters, cards, letters. And I keep the things that show the personal stamp of people I love. The more I enjoyed a moment, like, say the RNC benefit, the more inclined I am to have a keepsake. And I keep anything I feel might be useful for a story down the line.

I had a 9-hour layover in Houston International, thanks to general incompetence. I was afraid they'd lose my luggage and, wonder of wonders, they did. Standing alone in Lafayette Regional with nothing but a laptop, some audiobook recordings, and a violin to my name, I thought about how I would be fine. I could survive without all that stuff. Even the clothes could be easily replaced. Our keepsakes are not our past. They are merely reminders. Moot point, however, as the luggage came over on the next flight.

Come the next time I move (hopefully no time soon) who knows what will be in my suitcase.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Music of the Elvenslaughter Part 2

Here is my long-belated update for "Music of the Elvenslaughter." As I ready for my next, and most ambitious book tour in 2013, I am thinking of my first tour and the music we listened to on the way.

In the spring of 2010, I and Cyberpunk Apocalypse founder Dan McCloskey embarked on a 7-state, 13, 14, maybe 15-city tour. I'm not sure off the top of my head. Some scheduled dates didn't really happen. My supervisors at Job Corps were kind enough to give me the time off. They even gave me a "Welcome back" cake when I returned, and I thanked them by quitting a few weeks later.

Tour started in Pittsburgh with The Jack Daniels Sessions EP book release. We made it as far north as Buffalo, NY, as far west as Madison, Wisconsin, as far south as Cincinnati, before returning to the Steel City. We drove my dad's Crown Victoria station wagon. The thing got such bad gas mileage I suspected it had an external combustion engine. For this old-fashioned iPod-less journey, one of Dan's friends supplied us with several cassette tapes, and I brought a few of my own.

I see two things in looking back at pictures from tour. One, I had a swell little troubador fedora that I wish I still had. Two, I was wearing the black-and-gray Champion track jacket that I wore pretty much every day for six years. It belonged to my college buddy Matt, who gave it to me on my 21st birthday after I said that I liked it. This was during 80s Nite at the sadly defunct Club Laga. My 21st birthday was, well, everything you'd expect of a 21st, with the jacket being one of the parts I'm not ashamed to write about online. I wore that jacket an awful lot, until I managed to lose it (and other articles of warm weather clothing) at the ConDor science fiction convention last year.

My editor Nathan got me copies of The Jack Daniels Sessions EP about two days before the release. Maybe the day before. I'd been planning the party itself for about a month. When doing any kind of event, I find it best to overdo things instead of underdo them, and I went all out with this one.

Rule #1 in organizing readings: gather together your friends and have a good time. Don't worry about who the hotshot writer is. For the book release at Artist Image Resource, I recruited a lot of old friends, which made it special for me.

The other readers were Bill Kirchener and Maddy Barnes. I've known Bill since I was a little boy. I was a camper at the University of Pittsburgh's Young Writers Institute; he was a graduate student at the time. This would have been the mid-90s. Later on I had Bill for Introduction to Fiction Writing. He's a good guy, extremely laidback and sardonic, has always been supportive of my writing, and is by far the longest relationship I've had with another writer. Madeleine Barnes is a young Pittsburgh poet who I'm pretty sure was 19 at the time. I knew her through my Cyberpunk housemate Di-Ay, who attended Carnegie Mellon with her, and we'd done an awesome house reading together a few months before. One of the cool things about Di-Ay is she knows so many amazing artists. Through hanging with her I met a ton of writers I wouldn't have met otherwise.

Anyway, Madeleine Barnes. I wish I had half of her skill at that age. Maddy's won a shelf full of awards, has been published everywhere, and I am intensely jealous of her. I like doing readings with her because I look more impressive through association.

I'm about to discuss party preparations. Feel free to play some 80s montage music. Preferably "Heart on Fire" from Rocky IV.

The party had DJs. All three of them were folks I cooked Food Not Bombs with back in the day. Sean MC spun jazz and funk music as people came in, and DJ Sideboob was more hip-hop, and DJ Sara Vicious was kind enough to play whatever I requested. That meant blasting Nightwish and Blind Guardian as people were leaving. They all played for free, which I appreciate.

My contact person at AIR was Jenn, an awesome graphic artist and fellow Food Not Bomber and all around lovely person. She's since gone off to graphic design school. AIR has always had a close relationship with Cyberpunk Apocalypse, hosting visiting writer events, and the anniversary party, and a few of Art Noose's zine releases. Naturally, it seemed the place to do my launch.

I also made a flier. I'd been trying my hand at fliers, and designed a few for different readings. Thankfully, I had a friend at Pitt who would let me use their computer account to do such things. This led to encounters with several ex-classmates at the Hillman Library, who would small-talk with me about their wives and whatnot, and ask me how my grad studies at Pitt were going, to which I would say, "Wonderful. Yeah, yeah, still doing English. Definitely." Anyway, for this flier, I took my cue from old rock'n'roll show posters, the kind you'd see to advertise Otis Redding or the Ike Turner Revue. To prove I was serious, I got all Kinko'd out and made color copies. Only the most serious people use color.

Pittsburgh's an interesting place for me because it's a place of habit. I have certain habits that I've maintained for ten years, like using the guest login computers at CMU, or eating at the food trucks there, or going dancing at Belveder's, or coffee at Kiva Han. Fifteen-year-old habits, like joyriding around Monroeville. Twenty-year-old habits, like Eat'N'Park or going through the comic books at my dad's place. The city changes, but the habits don't. If I went back today I'd probably find some reason to sit my ancient ass in Hillman or the Cathedral of Learning, because I can't imagine not visiting.
There was food at my party. Maybe more than was necessary. A few weeks prior, I won a Residence Employee of the Month at Job Corps, where I was a residential adviser on the dorms. Gift card to Red Lobster, the Olive Garden, or any affilliated chain. Seeing this for the blessing it was, I promptly got both seafood and Italian food. I wanted to go down in history as the guy who had seafood at his book launch, and, by god, I did it. Immediately put that fish on ice. As I got closer to the launch I realized I should have bought the fish and shrimp a day earlier, as now I'd have to reheat it and all of the initail flavor was probably gone. Shows what I know about about the culinary arts.

I ordered a cake from Giant Eagle with the name of the book on it. I wanted a dragon on the cake, and they told me the best they could do was a decorative toy from a then-current kids' movie about training dragons, so I just asked for the book's title in Jack Daniels colors. The lady at the cake counter found this amusing. Art Noose made some cupcakes, and Madeleine brought some cookies. Right before the reading, I bought a case of beer. Fearing that wasn't enough, I bought another case. Ultimately, that meant Pabst for breakfast at the Cyberpunk Apocalypse for the next two weeks. Got some wine. Beer and wine. I'm pretty sure there was a lot of other food, seeing as I was the guy who had to clean it all up at the end of the night. On that sunny summer day I loaded up the car, picked up Maddy from her apartment, and drove to the Northside in the Crown Vic. Oh, and I brought a typewriter for decoration.

One thing that came up between Maddy and I: Alanis Morrisette. I was blasting a recently-discovered cassette of Jagged Little Pill. Maddy said she loved the record, which surprised me, as it was a little before her time. She was more of the Jonas Brothers generation. She couldn't stand Morrisette's newer stuff. 

Definitely the most emotional reading I've had. A lot of old friends (and new ones) came by. My editors were there, and Rachel Dorrett stopped by to pick up a copy of our book. Bill and Maddy teamed up to read "Dead Teenagers," which was all kinds of cool. All you writers: hearing your friends read your work at a book launch is the coolest thing that will ever happen to you. Pulitzer be damned. I loved how Bill stumbled over the word "prep," a high school term that grown men are just not used to saying. After the break, I read a little bit from "When the Law Come." Seemed like everyone was getting restless, so I bid them a good night. Cleaned up. Went to 80s Nite at Belvedere's.

Dan handled the door. I've always been reticent to charge for readings I do, and it's totally the fear that people won't come. Usually I pass a tip jar and split the money with the readers. The book launch was one of the few times I charged a cover, as I was trying to raise funds for tour. I can say that I've since gotten over the no-charging thing. Last year, during the IWL workshop, Brenda Wong Aoki told me something that still sticks with me: "As artists, we're used to thinking that our talents don't have meaning, and we need to get out of this thinking. It's a trade like any other. You should be compensated for it." Writing is a trade, a skill that I've mastered, and there's no problem charging a fee if you have something worth paying for. But back in those days, I was a tip jar kind of guy.

Highlight of the night (you know, other than my first book): Sean MC playing the Tetsuo theme from Akira on vinyl, and then scratching during the "Daaaaaa!" part. Just magic.

Dream Evil

Dream evil
The darkness you find
In the back of your mind

I wish you could design book covers like old-school metal album covers. Now that I think about it, you can. Look at any first-print Clive Barker book. Pretty metal. But I digress. How awesome would it be to have Nightmarelands! by Elwin Cotman, and a picture of Satan standing at the mysteriously Gothic window of a little boy's room, while demons crawl out from under the bed and an absinthe fairy goads them on. It would tell the reader exactly what they're getting into, wouldn't it?

At this point I knew of Dio's contribution to metal, and had even seen him play with Sabbath two years prior (along with Motorhead! And Priest!). Guy was a hell of an entertainer and had one of the best voices in rock. Of course I'd heard "Holy Diver" and "Rainbow in the Dark," those monuments of Eighties cheese. Until Dan's friend Chris Coworker (they called him this to differentiate him from Chris Neighbor who lived up the street) loaned us Dream Evil, I'd never heard a Dio album start to finish.

Eighties metal is interesting in that it is both heavily literate (a remnant of prog rock) yet unselfconscious in the way it explores literature and myth. I read an article recently about how Iron Maiden is unique in taking dark subject matter and turning it to enjoyable anthems. It's complete theatre for them. Dio is different in that he takes it seriously. I think you're average 21st century metal bands know the ridiculousness inherent in the genre, but you would not say such a thing to Dio. He's working in the classical tradition here, supplying straightforward bombast. Wagner would be proud. From the first guitar lick, you are in Dio's world of demons, nightmares, and rainbows.

Dan and I listened to Dream Evil on the drive from Baltimore to Philly. We had spent the night at a friend of mine's, a coworker from my grad-school-at-College Park days. I caught up not only with her but with a friend from Pitt, as well. Over Indian food and wine, we discussed our lives, and the conversation got pretty heavy. I was in an introspective mood when we departed. It was a soggy day that would turn intolerably rainy, not much scenery besides nondescript trees. Eventually, Dan and I tired of listening to Phantom of the Opera, so Dio it was.

Dream Evil doesn't seem to be too famous among metal fans, other than being the namesake of a particular band. There's a reason why Dio is legend. Guy could sing. Lots to love on this album, a quick, no-frills LP that had me picturing long-haired teens in Sabbath shirts rocking out in a basement, geeking out over the album artwork. Oh, Dio.

"Night People" is just a great rocker to start off the album. "When A Woman Cries" is as ridiculous as it is enjoyable, and I'm not sure if the "Ah-aaaaah" noise Dio makes is what a woman crying actually sounds like. "All the Fools Sailed Away" is the obligatory 5+ minutes epic song. Pretty enough, but I get sort of lost in all the sonic noises toward the end. "Sunset Superman" is a fist-pumping anthem of metal sexual virility. "Faces in the Window" and "Dream Evil" are more baroque tales of darkness.

Dio sings all these songs with absolute passion, and the lyrics are typically unpretentious. Personal favorite: "I Could Have Been A Dreamer." This is the Eighties-est of all the songs, with keyboards forming the spine of it. It's about missing your destiny and becoming just "another number." I think we all can relate. Did I mention the lyrics are ridiculous? Gloriously so. Dan and I were especially fond of this classic:
Running with the wolfpack
Feel like I'm never coming back
But maybe that was sunshine
That I saw
I heard about a rainbow
He does not say "this rainbow" or "that rainbow." He implies that he's learned of the concepts of rainbows, being the ecological result of light refracting off water molecules in the air, and that they cause mental defect. Of all the natural wonders, the fact that he chose rainbows is awesome.

Dan and I pulled over to a rest stop. I'm not sure if we needed to pee or if we needed time to digest Dio's words.

I love you, Dio.

Jagged Little Pill

Our next stop was Philly. Dan and I, while friends, do not always see eye to eye. And not just because he's incredibly tall and I'm a halfling. He's more business-like, while I have an intrinsic goofiness. He's a pragmatist, I lose sight of reality sometimes. He's more about the art, I'm more into politics. He's very stubborn and outgoing. I like it that way. I respect a man who will tell me to my face that he disagrees with me, as Dan has done several times during our 5+ years of living and working together.

A compromise I made before the trip: I wanted to do two shows in Philly. A friend of mine's husband ran an art space, and we were talking about doing some kind of event, maybe with another poet or a musician. Dan said it would be redundant to do another Philly show besides our reading at the Wooden Shoe infoshop. I personally believe that it's fine to do more than one date in the same city, if these dates are geared to different audiences. An infoshop and an art space don't attract the same people. If anything, you maximize your efforts by readings to different audiences, IMO. But I didn't want to fight over it, so we did one Philly date.

The Wooden Shoe is located in what I can only conclude is the "hip" area of Philly. Very nice infoshop. We killed time eating cheesesteaks and perusing a comic book shop. We played a round of Street Fighter in which I button-mashed my way to victory. Also read the graphic novel of Warren Ellis' No Hero. I'm not usually freaked out by gore, but Juan Jose Ryp's illustrations are so detailed that, well, they scare the crap out of me. I haven't read that comic since.

Only two people showed up for the reading. I'm sure both of them were friends with my mom. Understandable. The torrential rain killed our chances. That was when I realized the importance of having a friendly venue. Not every reading will be awesome. In Baltimore it seemed like nobody would show up, but they did. In Philly it seemed like nobody would show up...and nobody showed up. But the staff at Wooden Shoe were very nice, and listened attentively, and gave us great feedback on "A Film About Billy" and "Assistant." One of the volunteers was a good friend of mine from DC Food Not Bombs who I had known for a long time, and she was a sophomore in college, and I was a 26-year-old social worker, and I had to make the mental connection that after all those years I had grown old and she hadn't. Anyway, she's an absolute sweetheart.

The best event organizers will do craploads of advertising, maybe even get local readers on the bill to attract people. Even then, there's no guarantee the event won't get rained out, or Kimya Dawson won't be playing somewhere that night, or whatever. I just enjoy reading. If my audience is comprised of awesome staffers, all the better. Dan and I were supposed to crash with a friend of his, who couldn't come to the reading because he was playing a capture the flag game, and I guess he got lost while playing it, because he never got back to Dan. Cue exhausted nighttime drive to Emmaus, PA. The DC-Baltimore-Philly leg of the trip was my "family reunion" part of tour. Our next stop was Dan's family reunion. Literally.

As I recall, we listened to Alanis Morrisette and Korn's self-titled debut on the way over. I got the Korn tape during high school, and I'll talk about it some other time. Jagged Little Pill belonged to my jagged little sister in elementary school. I'd fished it out from behind the back seat of my dad's station wagon during a shift at Job Corps. Everything that can be said about Alanis has already been said, but I'll make an attempt.

The third album by Alanis Morrisette (or "Annisette Morrissey," as my dad thought her name was back in the '90s) was a breakthrough album for many of my contemporaries, in transitioning from our parents' Simon & Garfunkle records to whatever we'd end up listening to. One thing I notice right at the start, on "What I Really Want": Alanis is not a great vocalist. Apparently inspired by her break-up with Dave "Least funny guy on the planet" Coulier, the pop princess completely reinvented herself as a snarling singer-songwriter, but her singing is still one step above Debbie Gibson. I've never heard the word "justice" shrieked in such an ear-bleeding way. I've been listening to The Gathering lately, and the control Anneke van Giersbergen has over her voice is amazing, illustrating just how uncontrolled so many others in that 1990s Shrieky Folky Indie-Rock Woman genre were. Alanis is no exception.

What it all comes down to, my friends, is that the vocals are just fine, fine, fine. This is because Alanis knows harmony. Songs like "Mary Jane" and "Not the Doctor" are infinitely singable, and that she spends half the time howling only makes them more fun to sing. Her unpolished voice actually adds to the feeling of vulnerability on the record. What I like is that the songs are all unique. Alanis sings and screams and growls and moans and wheezes, and tackles a range of personal subjects. She's as willing to take the optimistic "you learn" approach to life as she is to delve into depression.

Alanis gets a lot of credit as a songwriter, and it's deserved, but she's also great at composition. The jilted lover anthem "You Oughtta Know" starts out with percussion, then ramps up the guitar work with each verse until the chrous. There is no fancy instrumentation, it's all pretty restrained, but effective in conveying her anger. Listen to the next track, "Perfect." The quiet singing and instrumentation breaks at just the right moment into a sing-screaming section that feels liberating after the calm.

Of course, the lyrics carry the album. "Head Over Feet" is pretty much a perfect love song. "Forgiven" has some pretty dark storytelling to go with the impassioned vocals. "We sing hallelujah in the choir/I confess my darkest deeds to an envious man." God, fuck Catholic school. The desperation in the song perfectly evokes the feeling of being in that system. "If I jump in this fountain/Will I be forgiven?" She's a master of imagery. The idea of feeling so dirty that you need a fountain of holy water to wash your adolescent sins...My god. I find it a bit unfair that JLP gets classified as a "breakup" album, when there's only two breakup songs on it, and they're lyrically different.

There's no filler. No transitions, no crap, every piece is worked to perfection. That said, I can't listen to "Ironic." It's not a bad song. Far from it. I've just heard it too many times. It's jarring, as I can listen to the whole album straight, feeling that fire in my chest as "Mary Jane" ramps up, then the opening moans of  "Ironic" dropkick me into boredom. Also, I feel the subject matter is the least compelling on the record.

Thankfully, things pick right back up. "Not the Doctor" was my favorite track for a long time, until recently I fell in love with the next one, "Wake Up." Alanis takes the concept of moral cowardice and makes it epic. The music starts off sinister and by the end you're in a sonic maelstrom. "You like snow but only if it's warm/You like rain but only if it's dry." This song can speak to everybody because we've all had those moments where we take the easy road. Imagine listening to "Wake Up" while driving on a flat highway. The sun is setting before you, muted fireworks of yellow and purple and pink. "What goes around never comes around to you." Imagine the windows are down. "Get up, get up, get up off of it." This is a confrontation song; a weary, winter song. With so little space left on the album, she wants to get out her definitive message before it's all over.

"And wake up."

Such storytelling. And speaking of storytelling, the bonus track. The idea of a woman going into her lover's house without permission, in order to get the sensation of being close to them, can be seen as romantic or creepy, depending on who you are. That ambiguity is what makes her music so good.

I burned your incense
I ran a bath
I noticed a letter that sat on your desk
It said "Hello love, I love you so love, meet me at midnight"

At this point I'm thinking, "Aww, he knew she would sneak in and left a note for her. What a nice twist." Then I'm thinking, "What if the letter's not for her?" Then,

It wasn't my writing!

Gut punch. Alanis finishes up the song, and the album, on a note of total sorrow. This is the cassette, so I don't have the alternate take of "You Oughtta Know." We blasted Alannis a few times on the trip, up until we touched down in Bloomington, and I was pretty sure Dan was sick of her.

I believe it was during the rainy trip to Kutztown that I first heard "All You Zombies" by the Hooters. I don't know whose read my story "Graveyard Shift," but that's the unofiicial theme song.

Kutztown was Dan's triumphant rock star return. We parked at his parents' handsome three-story house, took a walk up the street to the university. Dan knew everybody in the English department. If walking through Oakland is like a Super Mario game, walking through Kutztown is like the most intense Mario game--like, Super Mario World--with frat boys hurling water balloons from balconies like those annoying Lakitus hurling spiked turtles from clouds. As you get farther from the university it gets better,  but around the school it's bro central.

But let's backtrack. Kutztown was having some type of festival, and seeing all the vendors and students on the small campus lawn was a pleasant greeting. Dan's dad, a longtime art professor, informed us that he'd put up several of our posters. Everyone thought the poster said "Eleven's Laughter." How dare they not understand my made-up word. It was pretty interesting to take a walk through Dan's past. To meet his family and friends. To bike the eastern Pennsylvania farmland on Dan's bike. He's a lucky guy getting to grow up in such a place. As he got a glimpse into my life, I got a glimpse into his. His family are all artists. I find the idea of an art legacy to be super cool.

In order to save gas, Dan's mom drove us to our reading in Emmaus. His friend Kyle runs a bookstore there, and was very hospitable. It was an intimate affair, the audience sitting crosslegged, all fireside-like. Emmaus was the only tour stop where I read "Dead Teenagers." There were some musical cues I wanted to try out, and Dan ably did the DJ work, clicking Youtube videos whenever certain parts came up. The part with Korn's "Falling Away from Me" at the end worked best. It's a blast to read, but I generally stayed away from "Dead Teenagers" because, thematically, it was too similar to Dan's story. Informal Q&A afterward.

Dan's mom: "Why do you both write so much about death?"

Dan pulled a quote from The Fall of Western Civilization, saying that when you talk about death you're really talking about life. I'm of the opinion that ALL writing is about death, because life is defined by its fleetingness. People spend their whole lives trying to cheat death, whether by raising children or joining religions that promise afterlives or various other things; it natural. With art, you either address it implicitly or explicitly, but it's always there.

Dan was good at scheduling pit stops. There was a release party/open mic for Kutztown's new lit mag. Another difference between me and Dan is he's naturally outgoing. He read at the open mic, I was too shy. I had no problem yelling and dancing my stories in a controlled environment, but spontaneity just wasn't (and isn't) my thing. It was a nice event in a pretty atrium, and the magazine was one of the more impressive-looking journals I'd seen. Being in that atmosphere made me feel good about my decision to return to school.

That Dan sold books at a college reading was impressive. I've suffised with the fact that I am only comfortable advertising onstage. I know I'm a good writer. It's just hard for me to self-promote; I always feel like I'm inconveniencing people by shoving my work in their face. I had a workshop instructor tell me that you will never get anywhere by being quiet and unassuming, that you have to yell to get people's attention in our ADD world. This was right before she had a meltdown in class, so take it for what it's worth.
We stayed with Dan's parents for what felt like a week, but was more like three days and three nights. Lovely people. They sent us off to New York City with some cash and snacks.

The Lost Boys

After our reading in Cleveland that no one showed up to I had a panic attack. Thought I was dying. After a while I had Dan pull over at a gas stop, where I found a familiar sedative: a 40 ounce of malt liquor. That calmed me down. It was one of those obscure brands that only seem to materialize on the shelves of Ohio truck stops. It's amazing how much of America is still rural, unmodern. Athens, Ohio, is full of farms and woodlands, and old bridges over creeks. The gas stations have those old-fashioned mechanical pumps that look like something from the '50s. I used to drive through southern Ohio all the time to staff anime conventions, and the feel of antiquity would put me in a dreamy mood. By the time I got to the actual convention, I was ready to indulge in fantasy.

I'll discuss Athens in another post. It was one of the Dan readings, scheduled by him, where we stayed with his friends. Dan is an interesting writer in the way he works with his influences. A Film About Billy is a strange piece, half-text, half-comic, addressing the personal through the lens of dystopic science fiction. Pretty interesting. I believe right now he's doing some anime-based work. For the Elvenslaughter, Dan was selling a zine he made about the origins and writing of his book. He was projecting images from the comic while reading the text parts. Another plus to touring with him was having the cover artist on-hand to take the accolades for his work. To this day, people always compliment me on the cover.

I'm pretty sure Dan was also selling the new issue of the Cyberpunk Apocalypse zine, the G20-themed issue that the editor was late on (G20 took place in '09). A fascinating time capsule. It had some political theory articles, and an article about how the cops raided Cyberpunk, part of their Keystone Cops-esque attempt to squash anarchy prior to the summit. Obama's crass exploitation of Pittsburgh's economic recovery had longterm effects, particularly for my friends who got arrested. And I'll never forget the sight of the Towers covered in tear gas, or the cops posing for photo ops over their arrestees. It's a scary country.

The G20 issue was, like, seven months late. I made a few cracks about its timeliness. It had a beautiful stencil cover. Dan told me that next issue would be his rap album. It would have him spitting against all his haters and include skits of him having gunfights with people calling him a "smelly motherfucker." I don't know if that ever came to fruition. Cyberpunk Apocalypse #3 was where I first published "Graveyard Shift." It was originally commissioned as liner notes for the Baby Killer Estelle album Awaken Necropolis, an album which was at that point stuck in limbo, so I ended up publishing a condensed version first. It's crazy to think I was hawking "Graveyard Shift" on that tour. It's Dan's personal favorite Elwin Cotman story.

I was on a book tour. Dan was on a book/music/tattoo tour. One way he supplemented income was testing out his new tattoo gun. Pretty sure he did a few in Columbus. I was onhand when he gave a friend a tattoo of the Pittsburgh Steelers insignia. That was the first of a few, that night. I distinctly remember, in my inebriated sleep, hearing the sounds of the drunk punks using the gun.



This was around the doldrums part of the tour. Buffalo and Cleveland were duds as far as sales and attendance. Dan wasn't selling as much merch as he would have liked, and was getting pretty worried, and I'd sold the bulk of my books during the first few stops. I offered to cover Dan's end of the gas, since I was making more money at the time, while secretly I wondered if this whole tour thing was going to work out. I asked Six Gallery if they could mail more books to a location on tour, say Dan's sister's place in Chicago. They told me to sell the books on receipt, and they'd handle mailing them after tour. Left with no options, that was what I did for the last four or five stops.

Around Columbus it was time to re-up on the tunes. I got a copy of The Lost Boys soundtrack, among other cassettes. Columbus is a screamingly drunk college town with a pretty campus library. I was listening to Phantom of the Opera at the time, and could imagine Eric running around in those shelves. While I was walking around campus or something, Dan got on the bill for a folk show. So, you can imagine my surprise when, the day we left Columbus, it turned out we'd acquired hitchhikers.

The girl was named Leaf. She was a very talented singer, and quite pretty. She liked that we had Phantom of the Opera. I forget her boyfriend's name, but he was cool, too. They were oogles. As the landscape got flatter, the guy oogle told us the finer points of shoplifting while traveling: going to the local chamber of commerce in any new town, finding the stores to mark, renting out a locker to store stolen goods. He was about 30, and this was his life.

A cop trailed us for a fucking mile. I slowed down to an obnoxiously low speed yet, for some reaon, he took his time putting on the lights. I am a working-class black man. I have no misunderstanding of who the cops are or what their purpose is, especially since I've been getting shit from them since I was ten years old. As such, I have the same mistrust for them I would have for anybody who hates me, and has the ability, directive, and desire to kill me. So, anyway, Officer Hayseed eventually pulls us over.

"You were going way below the speed limit," says this fat fuck. "Why is that?"

"That's because you were behind me," I say.

We produce IDs and he runs them. He asks me to go by his cruiser. We're on the edge of a corn field.

"Get in the car, please."

Since when do they ask you to get in the car? Does this guy want to rape me? I don't know. I get halfway in the car, and explain to him I don't want to get all the way in, because this whole situation is weird.

"What have you been drinking?"


"I don't smell alcohol on your breath?"

"No, you don't." Moron.

He wrote me a citation for driving too slow or something. Pulling over hippies in station wagons like it's still the Flower Power days or something. Any-fucking-way. Welcome to Indiana.

The oogles were pretty mad about getting harassed. I explained to them that it's something I've grown used to. That doesn't make it less scary, as these guys could certainly shoot me for wearing Nikes, or trying to get in my own house, or having the gall to write books. But I've been stopped by police so many times that I'm pretty clear on the protocol. Leaf told me she was sorry that's happened to me.

Already, our trip to Indiana was off to an auspicious start. People talk about how horrible the South is. When I go down South, all I see are black people everywhere. In Indiana I was the only person of color in sight and, frankly, it was scary. We dropped the oogles off at a friend's house, and Leaf spotted us some gas.

I asked Dan why so many Pittsburgh radicals loved this particular DJ friend of his. By all accounts, all she did was DJ and go to parties and do nothing political, yet had this giant cult of personality around her. I found it slightly obnoxious. Dan explained to me that the parties she held were often benefits, lately for G20 arrestees. I stood corrected.
So, The Lost Boys. I have always loved the movie, which is way better than it has to be. A hip movie that's actually hip, a horror movie that's actually scary, a movie stuffed with teen idols that's actually sexy. It's also the greatest demonstration of the late Corey Haim's squandered talent. That a kid that young was so funny and charming, while rocking that absurd wardrobe, is one of a kind. The parts where he's hanging out with the Frog Brothers seem like Goonies outtakes, and are fun for that same reason. I watched the movie recently, and was astounded by how genuinely scary it is.The part where the Lost Boys reveal their vampirism was shocking. There's a part in there where Keifer Sutherland bites into a skinhead's bald dome, issuing a geyser of blood right from his brain. Crazy.

It's also got some genuine pathos. The best thing a horror movie can do is make me care about the characters. There is a heartbreaking scene where Michael discovers his vampiric power of flying, and is absolutey terrified. Sam is terrified, too, thinking his brother's going to eat him. He tries to call his mom, but hangs up when he sees how scared Michael is, clinging helplessly to the window so he doesn't go flying off. This leads to a beautiful moment of brotherly love between the two. There is only one Lost Boys. I don't care how many shitty sequels Corey Feldman signs on for.

I hear the soundtrack in my head every time I go to Santa Cruz. (By the way, why did the movie refer to it as Santa Carla? It's obviously Santa Cruz). "Cryyyyy, little sister" is permanently embedded in my wiring. The soundtrack is way better than it has to be, an '80s time machine. When watching the movie I always noticed the background songs, and have owned the OST in varying cassette and CD forms. They run the '80s song gamut, between moody despair and synth-heavy self-affirmation. To add to the glory, it has not one, but two INXS songs. They both fall into the self-affirmation category. (For more INXS soundtracky goodness, check out "Do Wot You Do" off Pretty in Pink.)

I was never a huge fan of The Doors. There are individual songs I like, even love, but I attribute them almost entirely to the instrumentation. Echo and the Bunnymen's cover of "People are Strange" was the first version I heard, and still my favorite because it doesn't sound like it's being sung by somebody drunk off his gourd. This is the first of many covers on the album. It makes sense with the film; the teens in this movie are obsessed with pop culture, from the comic books the Frog Brothers read to the Jim Morrison shrine in the Lost Boys' lair, so it works that the OST is as referential as a teenager. "Beauty Has Her Way" by Mummy Calls is just a cool, smooth-as-ice synth ballad, and the singer has a syrupy English accent I dig.

INXS and Jimmy Barnes deliver a double whammy. "Good Times" is a straightforward rocker with some solid guitar work from Kirk Pengilly. Michael's trademark crone goes well with barnes' screaming man-voice. I prefer New Wave INXS, but it's always cool to hear them indulge their rocker side. "Laying Down the Law." Michael's laidback crooning sounds like improv, like he downed a scotch and is off in his own groove, shouting "listen!" over the saxophone like he's singing at a pub. "There's no need to tell you what I think is going wrong / Those gray clouds of dissention/ They show, they show a silver linin'." INXS is maybe my favorite band. I would rank Queen higher as far as talent, but acknowledge that they made some terrible songs. "Hammer to Fall," anyone? I have never heard a single INXS song that I haven't appreciated on some level.

Gotta love those fist-pumping anthems. "Say Hello To the Night" makes my flowing locks grow out, makes a mountain appear under my feet, tears my shirt off so I can yell to the heavens "I can't wait! I'm feelin' light in the shadows!" And yeah, things are hopeless with all this night and shadow creeping up, but ya gotta scream: "I keep movin' on til the darkest hour makes me want to drive these wings, yay-eah, yeah!"

Repeat after me: "Cryyyy, little sister!" Now do your own backup vocals: "Thou shalt not fallll." The song sticks to you. It starts off with that ominous drum machine, then the synth, and my mind is conjuring images of storm-tossed waters. The lyrics, with their incest overtones, actually make you sit up and listen. "I Still Believe." You remember the movie. The characters attend a concert where an oiled-up mullet-wearing barbarian is wielding his sax like a sword, like a mace, like a giant penis. The power of his sexual force is so great he's got metalheads headbanging to the saxophone. The song is pure self-affirmation, a roaring challenge to the darkness of this world. Tim Capello's version is very similar to the original 1974 song by The Call, but that version did not have sex-ophone. He's making love to that sax. He starts out teasing it, rubbing it. As the song goes on he's working it harder. By the end it's a full-blown explosion of ecstacy right into his sax, and now I want to shake my ass in purple spandex. On of my favorite songs ever, and not just because of the image of chains and spandex burned in my brain.

Daltrey's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" is, theoretically, cool, because it's a legend covering another legend. I just find it too bombastic, with all the Styx-like soaring synth and backing vocals and god knows what else. "Power Play," which has a title as energizing as "I Still Believe," is in fact a mellow love song with a great melody. "Take a chill pill, baby/Relax, go downstream." Lyrics, schmyrics. I can't get enough of jazzy '80s songs like this. They just chill me out. Leaf was digging them, too.

People complain about the record industry pushing artists to appear on soundtracks, like the recent feeding frenzy to get artists in the Twilight movies. Guess what? It was always like that. Not every OST is a cool mix tape like Pulp Fiction. But a savvy filmmaker (I am reticent to call Joel Schumacher good) will look at the options, choose the best ones, and incorporate them skillfully into the movie. These songs are just as important to the film as any other aspect, which is why I remember them.

Bloomington, IN is a pretty famous punk town, which was how it got on my radar. We read at Boxcar Books. A lovely woman named Genevieve organized the event, and read with us, as well. She also arranged for Tony Brewer and Matt Jackson of the Reservoir Dogwoods to read. The Reservoir Dogwoods are just brilliant, old-school poets who did some neat collaborative stuff. One thing I found interesting was their dedication to building a Midwestern brand of spoken word. On their own admission, they are not urban; the themes and inflections of hip-hop spoken word don't work for them. Tony Brewer and Matthew Jackson. So they do memorized poems in their own way. That tells you nothing. Check out their website.

Prettyy good turnout. Our new oogle friends showed up. Even better, it rained which means we had a captive audience. Dan did his zine, I read excerpts from "When the Law Come." After a while (neither of us had GPS) we located Genevieve's house in the suburbs. She'd spent most of her career teaching the disabled, and had recently gotten into writing and volunteering at the infoshop. She made us dinner and gave us wine. Leaf invited us to an oogle party, so that was where we went, listening to Dio on the way.

Do you like the dark?
Do you love the way it moves?
Do you come alive when neon kills the sun?

Yes, Mr. Dio. As a matter of fact, I do.

Crummy house in the middle of nowhere, with several crusty kids in the middle of an eternal party. I don't think I did much besides drink vodka out the bottle. Dan did a tattoo on Leaf's boyfriend's gums. Like, the meat behind his bottom lip. It didn't stick. I didn't even know a tattoo could wash off, but apparently the gums will do it.

In the morning, Bloomington looked more like a giant market than a town. All sorts of cozy stores and stores, a relaxing drive through the woods. Dan stopped by Microcosm Press to get distro for the zine. I have never seen that many zines in one place before, including at zine fairs. I went to the Salvation Army to try and find new cassettes. A lot of gospel. Not much else. I found some Wagner and considered myself successful.

Around the time we went on tour, Sonata Arctica put out their latest album, Days of Gray. This is a band that snuck up on me. I always thought them basically as Nightwish's little sister. Every once in a while I'd find a song of theirs on Youtube, then blast it twenty times in a row until it was permanently burned into my cortex. I also saw them when they were opening for Nightwish, but Annette Olzen got sick, so I ended up seeing Sonata Arctica for free. Such a fun live band, and all their music is so passionate. Slowly but surely, they became one of my favorites. They don't have a single bad album, and they still experiment with their songs. Every chance I got on tour to sit at a computer, I put on "In the Dark," the Japanese bonus song off Days of Gray. This band is an addiction.

On to Chicago. We stopped at a rest area, where, to my dismay, I saw The Lost Boys was warped and melted. Death by stereo?

Nope. Killed by the sun. just like a vampire.

Next: Korn, Wagner, The Beatles

Monday, August 6, 2012

Elfquest piece

I've been reading Clive Barker lately. Love his sense of pace and brevity. He will literally say in six words what it takes me two sentences to write. Even his novella "Rawhead Rex" is pretty short, especially considering all the mayhem he fits in there. There's a lot to learn from him. I'm working my way through Books of Blood before tackling those doorstopper novels.

Also, Jack Daniels Sessions is now available at the Long Haul infoshop in Berkeley. Great spot, and they do good work in the community.

As usual, my updates are late. Here's a link to my article about Elfquest I wrote for my friend Laurie's site two months ago. Laurie's a lovely person, a true Pittsburgher, and her series where writers recount their childhood reading experiences is just a great idea. I saw an opportunity to dork out over EQ and I took it. My discovery of my favorite comic book was unconventional, but it's a love affair that's lasted a lifetime.

I do have to correct her. I did not have a Babysitters Club reference in every story for Chuck Kinder's class. Just two. Out of three.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chapter 83: In Which I Discuss Blowing the Shit Out of Pittsburgh

I saw Batman in IMAX. It was big and loud. Sometimes I was entertained, sometimes it bored me, and I left the theatre having no strong feelings about it whatsoever. I told myself I'd see one superhero movie this summer, and that was it.


Somebody needs to make a film version of Wicked, stat. Seeing the Wicked Witch of the West cast as the villain in an Oz movie kind of upset me, after the character's been reimagined so well. That version should get a movie. They didn't show the Witch's face, so I'll bite if they have a kickass actress commanding those screechy flying monkeys. IMDB says it's either Mila Kunis or Rachel Weisz, both interesting choices. Mila's been in line for a villain turn for a while. But it would be great to see Elphaba get her due in film, with all the singing and dancing that entails.

Batman. My first thought: hey, it's Carcetti! Love Nolan's casting. If you're wondering how "dark" and "gritty" this movie gets, having one actor from The Wire is as far as that goes.

After all the talk of a "dark, gritty Batman" universe, I loved that Nolan quit faking it and made his movie as comic book-y and Hollywood and stupid as possible. Nuclear bombs with ticking clocks. Nuclear explosions. The most needlessly complicated corporate takeover in history. The whole affair is just as dumb as your average Silver Age "What if Batman was 5 inches tall and Bat-Mite was a hundred feet tall?" storyline. I like this because Nolan's universe, while sporadically dark, was never gritty. In The Dark Knight, he borrowed the language of Michael Mann movies to tell an over-the-top story full of outsized characters. Comic book fans made it the flagbearer to prove the validity in superhero comics, as if they ever needed validity. In The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan explodes his own myth by chucking internal consistency right out the window. On the one hand, I found this disappointing. In TDK and Inception, he tried to do a smarter action film. TDK had the moral grayness, Inception had the intricate plot structure. Here, he tells the audience to kick back and enjoy people kicking ass in funny costumes. Maybe soon comic book fans can get over this grimdark fetish and just focus on whether the story is good. If I want grit, I'll watch, you know, The Wire.

So just how crippled is Bruce? In the same scene a doctor tells us he has all this nerve damage, he rappels down the side of a building. For a guy with a bum leg he can dance pretty well. Not to mention someone with a bad leg could have never made that jump. I don't get it. But in a universe where you heal broken backs just by punching the bones into place, I guess I'm not supposed to.

Loved the ending. In this movie, moreso than any other Batman film, I felt for Bruce Wayne as a person. Part of this had to do with Christian Bale looking sicklier than he has since The Machinist. I just wanted to give him a hug. Bruce Wayne is absolutely human in the movie, and Bale brings all sorts of pathos to this physically and spiritually broken person. What separates Nolan's Batman from any other incarnation: he does not want to be Batman. He sees cleaning up Gotham as a mission, but even in The Dark Knight he dreams of somebody taking his place so he can set aside the cowl. His ultimate victory is not just in defeating Bane and Talia, but going on to become a regular person. For me, this is the most realistic aspect of the films. Being Batman is not fun. The Batman of the comics is an obsessive control freak who would never dream of leaving the job. He will continue to brood and scowl and punch muggers in the face long after we are all dead. Nolan gives Bruce the happy ending that the comics never will. I'm down with that kind of fanfic.

Politics? Eh. People have been going on about how pro-authority, pro-cop, anti-protestor this movie is. I'm sure Nolan's right-wing leanings are there, but they ignore the fact that every Hollywood movie is pro-state. I haven't seen a blockbuster that challenged the system since X-Men 2. I hate cops just as much as the next guy (by the way, fuck you assholes for breaking up the East End Share Fair in Pittsburgh, hope you get sued), but seeing the police lionized in a Hollywood movie is not atypical. I am disappointed that the battle for Gotham boiled down to cops versus mercenaries, especially after the focus on civilians in the last movie. But it is the disappointment of seeing something I've seen before. Part of what makes the movie forgettable.

Christopher Nolan does love some cops, but he sure doesn't make them look good. Thousands of police march in a line into a tunnel, all together. No scouts, no strategy. Literally just a clump of cops. Of course they get buried alive. Bane proceeds to send them food and water, for no discernible reason, other than I guess he's the nicest supervillain ever. In the end, the cops come charging out, no worse for wear after their months-long imprsionment. They're not even dirty. Then they face off against Bane and Occupy Gotham. Once more, they all walk up the street in a line, and charge straight at them like Braveheart. Never mind that they have guns. And because this is PG-13 there's a bunch of sparks going off at their feet instead of people dying, and I'm watching fat beat cops charging down the street to do hand-to-hand combat, and I have to wonder if this is supposed to be a comedy.

I've gotten to the point where I have to laugh at scenes where white men say Important Things. Once Bane brings out the bomb they cut to a scene on some batteship somewhere. Nameless Radar Guy says wit horror "They've activated the bomb." Cut to Crusty and Repsectable White General looking like his underwear's giving him a wedgie and he says "Get the president on the line." I laughed. These people have nothing to do with the plot. The most the government does is send in a really terrible Special Ops team. How many movies have I watched with generals standing around uttering Important Things? And then they show the president, who in the Nolan-verse is another old white man! Never mind that the movie has a retired black movie-president in the cast. In the Nolan-verse such nonsense never happens.

Fanboys have long said that Robin would never work in the Nolan-verse. Nolan found a way around that, brilliant in its simplicity: just make him a grown damn man. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character fills all the functions of Robin, only he's old enough to convincingly kick ass and doesn't wear a silly costume. That's how they should have done it in the comics. The idea of Robin was always stupid. A 12-year-old fighting grown men every night? What's the bright red costume for? So the criminals shoot at him instead of Batman? Moronic.

I love how everybody and their mother knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne. Not just the random cop who outs him and Bruce inexplicably doesn't care. Let's face it, Bruce never had a good disguise. In the modern age, it wouldn't take long for somebody to do some computer composite on Batman's face. In the Nolan-verse, Batman retires for 8 years. Bruce Wayne goes into seclusion for 8 years. Unless the citizens of Gothan are absolutely oblivious (a conceit the comic is based around), I'll just assume half of them suspect he's Bruce and choose not to dwell on it.

There is a such thing as too serious. This movie moves from one ponderous scenario to the next. From speech to interrogation to murder to fight to arguing to the next speech. The sheer heaviness with which the film treats this gets silly. I know DC wants to kickstart the JLA movies so they can get in on some of that Avengers money, and it's about time. Hell, ditch the Nolan stuff and keep Christian Bale. it would be cool to see him have fun for a change.

Loved Bane. They did the character right, with all the physical presence and eloquence. His brutal fistfight with Bruce was easily the highlight of the movie.

There is a such thing as too long. It moved along at a steady clip during the introduction parts. Adored Catwoman and all her scenes. Then halfway through, when the movie turns into the Akira manga, it slows down and stays slow up until Batman starts demolishing everything. I can only watch so many explosions. I can only watch Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt speechify for so long. I can only watch Matthew Modine for so long. It's a stop the bomb plot. It shouldn't take forever. I could have watched a whole movie about Bruce and Catwoman, but instead I got filler, the characters slogging toward an ending that felt rushed, anyway.
The Scarecrow cameo was awesome. Such a comic book moment.

There are definite disadvantages to PG-13. It took me ten minutes before I realized Bane was dead. Yeah, Catwoman shot him, but he's a big guy wearing a possible bulletproff vest, and she shot him with Batman's bike which has been proven to shoot non-lethal explosives. Why would he have live rounds in his bike? So when she blasts Bane across the room, I expected him to come back. I hate to say it, but a little blood spray would have done that scene some good. It reminded me of the scene in Dark Knight when Joker slits that guy's throat and there's no indication he died other than a dramatic music beat. Hella confusing.

But all my qualms with the movie we're forgiven, because they blew up Pittsburgh. I've been waiting thirty years to see my hometown demolished in a film, and it was magical.

I heard they filmed the movie in Pittsburgh, and there was a part of me that resisted the notion on instinct. Since when do they make blockbuster movies in the Steel City? I mean, they should. Imagine Jason Statham chasing a villain through the abandoned Steel Mill. Imagine Vin Diesel doing a car chase on Mt. Washington. But they hardly ever film anything in Pittsburgh, for some reason.

So I go see Batman, and the US military set up on what is very obviously one of our bridges. Yeah, they CGI'd a harbor in there, but it's Pittsburgh. Then I see Matthew Modine hangin' aht in Bloomfield. But it's not over. They DEMOLISH HEINZ FIELD (and were those the Steelers in there, or am I imagining things?). Batman chases the nuke through dahntahn in his Bat-plane, and at that point I'm just picking out landmarks. They fly under One Oxford Center. They shoot missiles at Mellon Bank buildings. They go zooming down Penn Avenue. They were really, genuinely, blowing up Pittsburgh. It was the most fun I've had at the movies in a long time. Take the joy I got seeing Carnegie Mellon in Wonder Boys, stick Michael Douglas in a gas mask and pump him full of steroids, then magnify everything by 100. That's how I felt.

I wonder if New Yorkers feel the same way watching action movies in New York. Other than Tokyo, their city gets the most film damage. Even real life terrorism can't stop Hollywood from nuking NYC once a year. Do New Yorkers watch a giant flaming alien fall on Central Park and think "Hey, I've been there!" Or are they cynical about it. I'd imagine your average New Yorker knows half of their city through images anyway; it's that ubiquitous in media. Have they completely divorced the nonstop images from the reality they see every day? Or do they get that thrill of seeing the fantastic literally occur in places where they've set foot?

That was the magic, for me. And I have the Nolans to thank. I'm hoping for their next movie they go back to basics, learn some editing and tighten their storytelling. And they're free to have Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Caine blow up the Warhol or something. My score on the movie? Hmm. A B. For Batman.