Sunday, April 29, 2012

Weekend Music Round Up (Traveling Edition 2)

So the road trip continues for a few more days. Since the last Roundup, I've done way too much record shopping, hitting stores in every town and flipping through the bins searching for deals, steals, and everything else that might catch my eye. Literally. It's getting to the point that my second carry-on is nearly too full of records...but somehow I'm sure I'll manage to get them back home. 

For the first stop, I went to Amoeba in San Fran. Though it shares a name with the store in L.A., the vibe there is very different, as is the selection. I bought a bunch of records here, almost none of which were available in the L.A. store. If ever on the West Coast, these are stores you have to check out. There is just a great music lovers vibe inside of them....not to mention the goods.

Here's the records I got there Some rare and wonderfully priced stuff. Of course this pile has since tripled since visiting Portland and now Seattle. I have photos, but the uploader is too slow today. So you'll have to wait until I review them. It could take a while. Not sure how long it will actually be before I get to listen to them all, but it's a task I look forward to undertaking.

Friday, April 27, 2012

West Coast Highway

My travels continue. Since my last post, I've rolled through L.A., up to San Fran, made a pit stop in Eureka and am now in Portland. I love how vastly different the west coast is from the east coast. It's amazing that we share the same country and culture (for the most part). 

Driving through the Redwoods was incredible. It's always nice to visit Endor. The ideas flowed fast and furious in those parts. One of the strange things about the way I work is my incessant need to stay in one place to work, coupled with me need for new scenery in order to recharge the batteries. 

Sometimes I think we writers have a tendency to over think a thing or two. Not everything has to be so complicated. Some things just are what they are. Like the photo above, simple and direct can be just as a amazing.

(artwork by Ina, unknown date, hanging in the Museum of Contemporary Craft guest wall in Portland)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup (Hollywood Edition)

Since I'm on the road this week and the next, I don't really have the time for a list of reviews. Instead, the next two weeks will be more of a journal of my record shopping experiences. One of things on the top of my list for every trip is record shopping. On this west coast swing, there are a number of amazing locations that I plan on visiting. 

The first stop in L.A. is home to one of my favorite record stores, Amoeba on Sunset. A trip there was the very first thing on my list upon venturing into the city. The last time I was in L.A. was before I was buying vinyl, so I didn't spend much of any time looking through the amazing vinyl collection they have to offer. This time it was the complete opposite...I spent the entire two plus hours digging through the stacks.

By the time I finished, I had a pile under my arm that was too much to carry. Choices had to be made. Selections had to be put back. In the end, this is what I ended up with. The true prizes being The Soft Machine's debut album, which I've had three dreams in the past couple years where I'd been searching for that album. Another was Appendix Out's first album for $7.99, which I own on CD but which is easily among my twenty five favorite albums of all time. Another was the Dwarves colored vinyl version of Fake I.D., limited to 1000 copies. Of course, they all have wait until later next week before I can listen to them, but what a week that will be. 

Next stop San Fran and another Amoeba and then onto Portland and Seattle...both prime record shopping cities. And the great thing is that the albums one finds on this coast vary a lot from the ones found on my coast. It's certainly going to be happy hunting.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

L.A. Times Festival of Books

In about an hour, I'm heading out on the freeway toward USC for the L.A. Times Festival of Books where I'll be signing at Once Upon a Time Book Store's booth @ 1pm. But besides being an author, I'm also a huge book fan. I'm just as excited as everyone else to walk around and get my book nerd mode on, not to mention the possibility of meeting some of my favorite authors. Yes, I still get excited meeting authors and often forget in those moments that I am one myself. 

Weather's great, as would be expected in this land of eternal sunshine...should be a great day.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Naturally the first thing I did in L.A. was spend a few hours, and a few hundred dollars, at Amoeba Records on Sunset Blvd, also known as the best record store in the world. Then I found myself with some time to kill, so I started to wander and quickly found myself stepping on the stars. Though I've been to this town a few times before, I've actually never crossed paths with this landmark. I figured it was worth a stroll, and to give myself a purpose, I decided I would keep walking until I found Shirley Temple's star.

Long time readers might remember this post from two years ago discussing the queen of child starlets. As a pop culture figure, she's always held a special place in my imagination. It seemed like a good enough reason as any to begin my walk. Well, that little scamp was difficult to find. I strutted up one block, then two, then more, snapping photos of Michael Jackson, Buddy Holly, George Harrison, Jack White and of course, Lawrence Welk, who very well might be my great grandfather (long story). After seven or eight blocks, I'd just about given up. I headed back toward my car and then, in a burst of California magic, there she was. 

I felt like I'd accomplished something. The winds of fate have changed once more to blow in my favor. That's the state of mind only Los Angeles can inspire. So thanks Curly take your bow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Like You, You Like Me

Lately I've been seeing a lot of book reviews that state the reader didn't like a certain title because he or she "didn't really like" a character. I wonder when it happened that we started to think we're supposed to like every main character or that every one of their actions is supposed to make us happy? Isn't an intriguing character supposed to challenge the reader...just as a book is supposed to (though that seems slightly out of favor as well).

Personally, I blame Harry Potter and other mega hits of our time for having an all too clearly defined sense of right and wrong, good and evil. In my experience the differences are often more blurred and characters, like people, are far more dynamic. 

If you're interested in hearing me discuss this and other such literary fluff, you'll have the chance tonight...provided you're in the L.A. area. 

TONIGHT ONLY: I'll be reading & signing @ Miss Nelson's Toy & Book Shop
1030 Bonita Ave.
LaVerne, CA 91750

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup - Hall of Fame Edition

For this week's Roundup, I decided to talk about the biggest music story of the week. Or at least, the biggest story as far as I was concerned. Of course I'm talking about Guns N' Roses being inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame on Saturday. 

Like most fans, I've been curious as to how all of this would play out ever since the band's induction was announced. Given the personal relationships between the original band members, there was endless speculation about whether they would attend, and if so, whether or not they would all play together. While most out there were hoping they would reunite for this one night, I was always kind of hoping they wouldn't. In my mind, Guns N' Roses is a band that has evolved into the current line-up (now together longer than the original). It wasn't as if the band split up and Axl reformed a new band. The members quit one-by-one and were replaced one-by-one. And though it took a long time, this current band has grown into a rock band that is about so much more than nostalgia. If the original members were to play last night, it would detract from all the work this band has put in over the past decade.

Even so, I was sort of wishing to see them all there. And then came the letter Axl Rose sent declining his induction and informing the event that he would not be attending. (The full letter is here). After reading the letter, I can't say I disagree with him. I won't paraphrase what he said, but the letter was intelligent and respectful. The fact is, the personal relationships involved do not belong to the fans. To force a reconciliation for the sake of some trumped up awards show is unfair of us or anyone to ask for. As usual, many people were angry with Axl. Though from my point of view, I thank him for taking the time to explain his point of view. He had no obligation to do so, yet he cared enough about the fans to offer one.

So the event goes on as planned last night. The members who did attend took the stage to perform. Now, you'd think given that this is supposed to be such an 'honored' event that the Hall could get some legend to sing with the band. Somebody with a name, something that would honor Axl's role in whatever song they were going to sing. But no! Joining them onstage was the current singer in Slash's solo project. I find that so incredibly insulting that it only confirmed my belief that Axl did the right thing. Not only did this organization not honor his wish not to be inducted, they completely disrespect him enough to allow some version of Slash's GNR to take the stage. Shame on them.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

High Flying Birds

So next week I take off for my West Coast trip. The Missus and I will be driving up from L.A. to the great north regions. I'm so looking forward to a road trip and seeing new places and old friends. There's nothing quite like a car adventure to get the creative tank refilled. 

The Pacific Coast seems especially potent to my imagination for some reason. After all, Life is But a Dream is set around L.A., inspired by my last trip out there. The Heights is set in San Fran, drawing heavily from my visit there in 2001. Dirty Liar is set in an unnamed place near Portland...but was based on my drives through Washington state a few years before writing it. We'll see what emerges this time around.

While I'm out there, I will be making a few book appearances. So if you around, definitely stop by. I'll also be making a NYC appearance when I get back. The details are listed below.

On April 18th I'll be reading & signing @ Miss Nelson's Toy & Book Shop
1030 Bonita Ave.
LaVerne, CA 91750


On April 21st I'll signing books at the L.A. Times Festival of Books
1pm @ Once Upon A Time Bookstore's booth #774


On May 1st I'll be making an in-store event @ Third Place Books
17171 Bothell Way NE
Lake Forest Park, WA  98155


On May 19th I'll be back in NYC to sign books @ Books of Wonder from 12pm-2pm
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY 10011

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

What better way to spend the holiday than talking about music? Actually, what better way is there to spend pretty much any day? This week I was still catching up with music that has been given to me, as well as the last round of vinyl I purchased. But I've also been exploring old albums of mine in preparation of revamping my iPod for an upcoming road trip. It makes for quite an interesting list and hopefully there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Joose Keskitalo - Joose Keskitalo ja Kolmas Maailmanpalo: This 2008 album is the first I've heard from the Finish singer songwriter, but I'm sure it won't be the last. This album is absolutely beautiful. The songs are very simple, yet haunting. It's folk music with usually just an acoustic guitar to accompany the voice. Though I can't understand the language, I can sense the emotion in the songs. It's sad and desperate and uplifting at the same time.

Guided by Voices - Under the Bushes Under the Stars: Following up 1994's Bee Thousand and 1995's Alien Lanes is a near impossible feet, but the Dayton indie band has never been shy about releasing material. Robert Pollard has a seemingly unending well of songs to fetch when needed and this 1996 album is proof of that. When other songwriters might be feeling bankrupt, he churns out another 24 lo-fi gems on this record. Sure, some of it sounds repetitive but the when the formula is good, the repetition sails along easily and enjoyably.

Rush - Caress of Steel: My journey through Rush's catalog continued with their third album, and second one released in 1975. Given that it came out the same year, understandably this album differs very little from Fly By Night. However, this does feel a little heavier. Like the previous album, there are moments when Rush soars and moments where they falter. I'm greatly looking forward to the next album, the 1976 masterpiece 2112

Metallica - ...And Justice for All: The 1988 thrash metal masterpiece has been in my collection since, surprise, 1988, when it rocked 7th grade like few other albums could. I pulled this CD out recently and have been listening to it for nearly every car ride since. This is the holy grail of thrash/ speed metal and nothing has really topped it in the genre since it came out. Hearing it again, I also noticed how there are moments where it also helps invent what is now known as melodic folk metal. It is unbelievably fast and best heard extremely LOUD. Too many great songs to name here, but "One" is definitely one of my favorite songs of all time.

Judas Priest - Killing Machine (aka Hell Bent for Leather): The British metal band's fifth album, released in 1979, falls right in the heart of their blistering hey day. By this time they've perfected duel guitar attack that defined the sound of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Every song on this record rocks, from the relentless opener "Delivering the Goods" to the end of Side B, it never lets up. This was given to me on vinyl and has been in heavy rotation ever since.

Pink Floyd - Amazing Pudding in Bath 1970: Any regular reader of the Roundup knows I'm a huge fan of this Floyd era, the time between Syd's leaving and the band finding their new direction that came in '73 with Dark Side of the Moon. I have many bootlegged concerts from this period, most consist of the same set list. This one is slightly different. Included are era staples "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," "Careful with that Axe, Eugene," and "A Saucerful of Secrets," but this set also includes "Green is the Colour," a brilliant gem from the More album as well as song they introduce as "The Amazing Pudding," which would later become "Atom Heart Mother." The recording quality is a little suspect as always with these concerts, but this one holds up a little better than most and is easily one of the best from the dozen live recordings I've heard from '69-'70.

Babyshambles - Royalty Songs: This Japanese bootleg contains demos from sessions for the band's 2005 debut album Down in Albion. Produced by Mick Jones of The Clash, these versions are messier and more raw than the already messy ones on the album, but that sound has always suited this band. There are many bootleg sessions of theirs and they rank among my favorite output of the band. Pete is just entering the height of his artistic production, and sadly also the height of his drug troubles here...but the two combine to create amazing tales of modern helplessness and wandering. Truly a great addition to the all too limited Babyshambles catalog.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Barking at the Moon

Since when did reading become something that was supposed to be easy and uncomplicated? Sure there's a place for so-called 'light' reading. That place is mostly in magazines, online, and even some books. But not everything is supposed to be a quick entertainment. 

While the reviews of Life is But a Dream are overwhelmingly positive, I once again see myself pitted against the insatiable appetite for an action-filled plot that is easily digestible. The handful of readers who haven't liked the book seem to keep mentioning the 'slow pace' of which I expected. I've dealt with that one my entire career. I don't write books that ooze plot and I don't apologize for that. My books are about character and perception and language. Plot is secondary, just as plot is secondary to our thoughts in real life. 

The one unexpected criticism that I've seen is that some readers have been turned off by the fact that the book forces you to actually think. They falsely confuse that aspect of the book with it somehow being confusing. I wonder how they would do with Gravity's Rainbow or Ulysses? Just because you have to pay attention, doesn't mean something is confusing. However, I guess this shouldn't have been so unexpected. But it saddens me that some people aren't willing to concentrate when they read. (And then have the nerve to publish a book blog!). 

The truth is, some of us don't aim to write fiction, we strive to create literature. There's a difference. Not everything in this world is meant to be pure spectacle and entertainment. And when you pick up a book about a severe mental illness, can you really expect the story not to challenge you? If I didn't, would I really be doing my job?

This isn't a rant on negative opinions. I've said many times before that I actually enjoy a well-written critique of my writing. This is more of a sad observation on the state of reading and those who profess to cherish the activity, yet don't want to do the heavy lifting. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

I'm still working my way through music given to me recently, as well as a wealth of vinyl I purchased over the past month. Therefore I'm a little behind on new releases, but have managed to squeeze a few in this week. Most of the albums on this list have a distinct mood to them, a mood I've been trying capture in the latest project I've started. Mellow and dark. But there are a few more upbeat picks as well. Enjoy.

Blind Willie Johnson - The Complete Blind Willie Johnson: The Texas native lived in early part of the 1900's, passing in 1945, but not before leaving behind a catalog of raspy acoustic roots blues that reaches into the gut and stays there. I've known his songs for quite some time from another collection, but was given the complete collection the other week and it's been in constant rotation since. His voice is a raw growl and his picking is steady and swift. The combination makes for an original sound within the roots blues catalog. Great stuff.

Ghost - Freedom of Thought: This album, released in 2009, has been the biggest surprise of the week. It's an experimental hip-hop album from the UK. It has the kind of creativity that many British trip-hop albums had in the late '90s, but with the intelligence of the new wave of consciousness hip-hop. Most of the album is haunting instrumentals and samples, with the occasional voice working its way into the dreamlike flow of the record. Extremely well done.

Mount Eerie - Black Wooden Ceiling Opening: This band is another incarnation of Phil Elvrum of The Microphones. Given that, the basic structure isn't much different. Both bands are lo-fi indie folk and judging by what I've heard of each, both are brilliant. This EP is quite remarkable. Everything he does seems to be in a fog, until it suddenly breaks through into hymn like wonder. "Domesticated Dog" is the rare Dinosaur Jr.-esque melody driven rocker on here. Can't wait to check out the many, many other albums.

Tengger Cavalry - Tengger Cavalry: This 2010 EP was the debut release from this China based folk metal band. I'm not well versed in Chinese music, though I've heard some traditional folk music from that culture and love the complicated note structure which manages to still feel soothing. These four songs do a nice job of blending that concept with black metal elements. Not an essential album by any means, but certainly interesting if you're into seeing how music blends and evolves.

Odawas - The Aether Eater: I've been familiar with this band's 2007 album Raven and the White Night for a few years, but finally got to hear this 2005 debut last week. They play a unique blend of psychedelic folk music that reminds me of the late '60s era Pink Floyd. The songs are expansive, swollen with story and depth, much like the post-Syd version of Floyd. This album is definitely a little less defined than the follow-up, but that's neither a positive or negative. This is the kind of music that would frustrate a lot of people, but the kind that I love to get lost in.

Kaizers Orchestra - Violeta Violeta Volume 2: The second album in the Norwegian band's planned trilogy is another manic collection of furious unique rock. This project has seen them branch out a bit, incorporating hip hop elements and gypsy punk into their indie rock style. As with the first volume, there are a few songs I could do without, and I do miss the evil thread that ran through their earlier work, but this is still an enjoyable album and I look forward to the third and final part.

Howlin Rain - The Russian Wilds: Released last month, this is the San Francisco rock bands third album. I've been back and forth on this album all week. There are parts that I truly enjoy. It's a throwback to the classic rock radio sound, and when it works, it sounds really good. But there other elements of it that sound more like 80's rock radio, and not that I particularly dislike that style, it just doesn't work on here and the mixture of the two sounds is a little off-putting. This is one of those albums that will either take a little more getting used to and then I'll love it. Or it will irk me to the point that I never listen to it again. As you can see, I'm really torn.