Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankenweiler

By the time I'd read E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankenweiler, I'd been to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art many times. My parents took us there, mostly to amuse themselves. Looking back, I think they'd visit the museum in an attempt to break the crushing monotony of Long Island suburban living, an admirable goal. But I don't think they realized how those visits infused the imagination of a young boy who, perhaps they'd just brought along as luggage.

The Met was one of the first places that introduced me to the notion that human existence was perhaps something greater than the banal suburban landscape I'd known. The Egyptian wing, the hall of armour, the pseudo-sexual statue of Perseus holding Medusa's severed head, the lush, massive historical European murals - I processed all these things and although I did not understand their context and discourse...I understood that this palace-like building housed an experience providing a toehold into wonder and dreams.

I'd read From the Mixed Up Files in seventh grade and never forgot it. Claudia decides her parents need a lesson in Claudia appreciation, so she decides to take her younger brother Jamie and run away to live in the Met. That's when this book hooked me. Besides the fact that there was a male character named Jamie (my name), the main characters were kids and they were fearless of the dangers of 1970's New York City.

As if I needed another reason to adore Wes Anderson's work, when I saw The Royal Tenebaums in 2001, I nearly leapt out of my seat and screamed during the film's opening sequences. Young Margot and Richie Tenebaum are shown camping out in the 'African Wing' of the 'City Archives' building. The beauty of The Mixed Up Files is that it captures the spirit of uncorrupted children seeking an adventurous sense of beauty before they are shackled with the stagnant doldrums of adulthood. (Anderson's Tenebaums is rooted in a Franny & Zooey-like exploration of the rigors of adult disappointment).

I checked this book out of my local library and raced through it. It was like remembering an old friend, from a simpler time. Considering I've been toiling through Proust's In Search of Lost Time. This was a light, welcome distraction.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010


I delude myself with the fabricated notion that there is only one me and no one is complex enough to understand the intricate and amazing Slimbo.

Then something comes along, whacks you between the eyes and tells you that you are actually one of a multitude and that all these attributes which you think compose your identity, are tracked, charted and even predicted as though you were just another hamster on a wheel in life's totalitarian laboratory.

On a very fun and superficial level, there is the wonderful list/website, Stuff White People Like. By the name you might think they're aiming for a sly dig at the low hanging fruit - NASCAR or trailer parks. But no, dear hipster reader, they're gunning for you and I. The uber-liberal, East Coast, highly educated, environmentally and politically conscious navel gazer is the prey SWPL aim to skewer, and skewer they do. What's on the list? - Yoga, tea, camping, humus, Bob Marley, Non-profit organizations, moleskin notebooks. Put on your painfully fashionable chic-framed reading glasses and take a look.

My initial amusement at SWPL quickly turned to panic, as their list went on and on because I realized that their portrait of the narcissistic Gen X'er felt familiar and repulsive at the same time. Oh crap, I begin to wonder, am I this much of a schmuck? The list went on and on, hitting home...public radio, The New Yorker, Claiming to Hate Television, Hating Corporations, loving Soccer. That's the brilliance of SWPL. It has put the harsh spotlight on my generation's cadre of self-righteous, insular urban hipsters and forced us to realize that perhaps, all we've done is conform to a culture of non-conformity that ultimately feeds into the machinations we claim to protest. All with a coffee in our hands that cost $2.69.

Then on Sunday, I open the 'Week in Review' section of The Times to find A.O. Scott's article, Gen X Has a Midlife Crisis. 'Oh crap, I'm gonna get skewered again', was all I could think.

So what is Generation X? I dunno. In the middle of the Twentieth Century, we had 'The Greatest Generation'. They survived the Great Depression and saved western civilization with their sacrifice in World War II. But unfortunately, they procreated. And the generation they spawned has engulfed America like a hostile alien invasion, intent on sucking all natural, financial and spiritual resources dry.

And then they had kids. Generation X, it is. A lousy label created by pompous ex-hippies; a sly dig intended to insinuate that we don't care or believe in anything. Bullshit. I'm tired of defending my generation against our parents' generation who abandoned all their faux counter-culture idealistic laurels to become divorce-mongrel, Gordon Gekkos, masking their shallow greed as 'ambition' and 'industriousness'.

But I digress. Generation X is getting older. We now have grey hair, and Scott's article explores the paradox that GenX'ers are aging despite the fact that their alleged identity is rooted in the claim that they've never actually grown up.

I'm not sure what caused me the greatest dyspepsia - the poignant portrayal of struggling with midlife:
[The driving impulse to shake the straight jacket of adulthood...when it happens to dad, it's a 'crisis'...when it happens to mom, it's an 'awakening'...].

Or was it the paradox inherent to GenX itself. We claim to ache for authenticity, ostentatiously rejecting the materialistic gods of the Baby Boomers (and finding The Big Chill insufferably precious), yet we ourselves are equally guilty of our parents' navel gazing.

Just as Stuff White People Like hit close to home, the following line from Scott's article cut me and put me in my place: "...two-thirds of GenX'ers have written memoirs that they dream of reciting on This American Life..."

Oh crap. They got me.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

Nick Drake - Pink Moon

So I'm sitting here watching the Mets tortuously take a game against the Reds into extra innings, with a golden opportunity unseen (the Cardinals are beating the Phillies).

What the hell was I going to talk about? Oh yeah, Nick Drake.

So I'm sitting there and a commercial comes on and I hear Nick Drake's From the Morning, the last track on Pink Moon. I've wanted to talk to you about Pink Moon for some time but I haven't found the right launching point. Now unfortunately, it's been forced upon me by a commercial for Verizon (or was it AT&T, or Sprint - it's all the same bullshit - either way, you can tell I despise the fact that whoever owns Drake's catalogue chose to sell out to this).

Drake himself could not release this song for this commercial because he's dead. He's been dead for almost as long as I've been alive. But whenever I hear the songs of Pink Moon, it feels as though a very beautiful and complex person has taken up residence with what I always assume to be an impenetrable emotional place. Drake's songs are moody explorations, meditating on life's utterly unanswerable questions. His vocals are accompanied only by his ponderous, lyrical guitar playing. This is early morning music. When I'm waiting for my coffee to make its way to my bloodstream and I seem capable of only blankly looking out a window, Pink Moon is what I'll listen to.

It's heartbreaking to know that this work of quiet magic has now become the stuff of boardrooms and focus groups. It's heartbreaking that the man who made this music lived in commercial and critical obscurity, lacking the egotistical machinations to escape anonymity. It's heartbreaking that Nick Drake took his own life at age 26.
Anyway, yeah cell phone coverage! Woohoo!