Saturday, April 24, 2010

Weird Up

In the new issue of the legendary Weird Tales I interview the soon-to-be-legendary Jesse Bullington about his book, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. I review it, too. It's my second byline in Weird Tales--the first being my tribute to the late J.G. Ballard in the Spring 2009 issue--and it's once again an honor to be a small part of fantastic fiction's greatest institution. (And if you haven't read Brothers Grossbart yet, it comes highly recommended--historical fantasy done scary, witty, bawdy, messy, and brilliant.)

Things Scattered

I don't know why I haven't heard of it before, but I just stumbled across Membra Disjecta, an online genre magazine published by Drollerie Press. It's fresh, edgy, progressive, well-designed, small-press-centric, and multimedia-minded, with fiction running alongside nonfic features and spotlights on DIY music and micro-presses. And it's all good shit, too. I just submitted a story of mine titled "When Men End" for an upcoming theme issue. Fingers crossed! But even if it doesn't get accepted, I'm glad I ran into this site.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ode to the Ugly

I was probably 18 or 19 the first time I read Basil Wolverton comics. If I remember correctly, my brain caved in. Here was a guy who predated Ed Roth, Robert Crumb, XNO, Peter Bagge -- not by years, but by decades -- and perfected the fine art of the grotesque long before punk rock made ugliness sexy.

Jules Feiffer, one of Wolverton's far more urbane and successful contemporaries, said this of Wolverton's homely, gleefully damaged cartooning: "I don't like his work. I think it's ugly." Mr. Feiffer, with all due respect, don't be such a pussy. There's more craft and feverish imagination to Wolverton's work than he's ever gotten credit for, although Fantagraphics, bless them, have been going out of their way for many years to collect as much of the man's output as they can (including the brand-new Basil Wolverton's Culture Corner, a mind-melting anthology of his WWII-era strips).

To me, Wolverton's eye-gouging gags and rubbery surrealism were as as subversive in their time as was the work of William Burroughs or Lenny Bruce -- maybe more so, seeing as how that subversion was smuggled inside kids' comics, a modus operandi he carried over to his seminal work on Mad. But Wolverton never seemed like a rebel. He was more of a merry prankster -- that is, a prankster with one foot in Bosch and the other in bubblegum.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A baby, some bathwater

The fact that we humans fetishize inanimate objects just as much, if not more, than those big, puffy intangibles like life, liberty, hope, happiness, and heaven is not surprising. And yet, I always thought my record-collecting habit was more than just a sickness. Yes, I used to spend hours each day working shit jobs to make money to buy records; hours rearranging and pawing through and writing about them; hours thinking about the ones I had yet to own. But I spent even more hours listening to my records. They were only inanimate objects until I put them on a spinning turntable; as soon as I dropped that needle, they unleashed a life, a liberty, a hope, a happiness, and a heaven all their own.

About a month ago I was force by circumstance to sell off a stack of my old LPs on eBay. It was easier than I thought it would be--not the mechanics of eBay, but the relinquishing of these objects I'd clung to so tightly for so long. I'd sold many of my records off in the past, but I really let go of some treasure this time around, shit that I had a personal stake in--the biggest being an original pressing of Jawbreaker's debut album, Unfun, on clear vinyl. It's about to be reissued, and I figured now was a good time to unload it for some bucks. And I did get some bucks out of it--quite a few, in fact, and far more than I'd expected--but when I packed it up and stuck it in the mail, it felt far less the amputation I'd expected.

I blame it on the mp3. I owe it to the mp3. If my younger self could see me now, he'd probably commit suicide (or at least get a lobotomy) to prevent himself from ever turning into what I've become: a dude who doesn't give a shit about vinyl. I couldn't even put my finger on the exact moment of my conversion, but sometime over the past ten years I realized I was sick of lugging around thousands of LPs every time I moved. I was sick of spending so much time, money, and energy an building and maintaining my collection. I was sick of spending 50 percent of every vacation I took combing through record stores while some exciting city lay unexplored outside. Mostly, though, I was sick of taking the medium as seriously as the message.

Even when I collected LPs like a madman, the seeds of my demise as a collector were already there. I never took particularly good care of my records. I'd leave them laying out for weeks at at time, somehow aesthetically titillated at the disarray. I was never that concerned with the condition they were in when I bought them. Even more telling, I couldn't give two shits about owning an original pressing of anything. I'd often trade a first press for a repress PLUS another LP (or five). To me, it was all about having as much music as I could get my hands on.

Now, via the Internet, I can get my hands on practically anything, anytime I want. If it's not available through a reputable vendor, there are blogs that offer free downloads of rare classics and other, ahem, less reputable sources. In this regard, the most ironic and beautiful use of the Internet is YouTube--particularly those clips that show some collector actually playing his own copy of a record from his collection and then posting a video of it, scratchy audio and all.

My copy of Unfun was a little scratchy. But not too bad; after all, I hadn't spun it in many years. I still listen to the album all the time, but I do it on my iPod. It's perfect: I listen to it while I'm riding the bus or waiting in line or walking around town (that is, when I don't have anything else to occupy my time). It's perfect; I could never cart my turntable around in my backpack, but now I've got an entire library of songs in my pocket, music that's effectively been liberated from those slabs of plastic that have sucked up so much of my cash, sanity, and living space over the years.

Before I sound like some grandpa gee-whizzing over all these newfangled gizmos, let me say that the profundity of this basic shift in music-listening is still more striking than most people realize, even after a bazillion blogs have been written on the subject. On a personal level, it's the reason I can now throw a baby like Unfun out with the bathwater of my erstwhile materialism. I may be in denial, but I've never considered myself a pack rat by nature, and I never understood my own impulse to horde shit--even good shit--while I ate macaroni and cheese until the next payday.

It's perverse, I realize, to write this on Record Store Day (which I am). Not only do I wish the best to all brick-and-mortar music shops, I used to work in one, and I believe they're subcultural institutions that no online store can replace. But it makes me even happier that I'm letting my records reenter circulation; not only do I sell off huge stacks of good shit to my local used-record store from time to time, I honestly, truly am thrilled at the thought of some young, starry-eyed collector--you know, like I how used to be--stumbling across some LP of her dreams because some old dude like me decided not to let his collection be pried out of his cold, dead hands.

I know this whole issue is tied into vaster issues like artists getting paid for their labor; whether analog sounds better than digital; if pressing LPs is a good use of our dwindling oil reserves; and even the very future of recorded music itself. For me, though, it's simple: The music I love has been freed from the grooves it was locked into, and now it exists--at least for me--on a purer, more ethereal plane less tainted by grabbiness and gluttony.

Even better: Now that I'm selling off my LPs, I'll have tons more room in my apartment for all these massive stacks of science-fiction books I keep buying.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An open letter to gaping assholes

Dear tea party protesters,

Kindly get the fuck out of my neighborhood. I just saw one of you inbred dipshits throw a full sack of fast-food trash into a bush. And what the hell are you all doing on the RTD? Shouldn't you be boycotting the socialist public transportation system?



P.S. You know, you're really not being clever with your "OBAMA WANTS YOUR GUN!" bumper sticker. It's pretty obvious it has nothing to do with the Second Amendment and everything to do with you wanting to put a bullet in a black man.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ink Big!

I wrote the cover story in this week's issue of Westword, Denver's Village Voice paper. It's about local comic-book creators and all the rad stuff they've been up to around town (and beyond). The panels here are by Lonnie Allen, one of the main artists I interviewed for the article. He does great stuff; check it out. And, you know, support your local cartoonist and all that.

The Mistake

This morning on the sidewalk near Colfax and Sherman, I looked down and saw a leaf. It was deep red, streaked with snow, its thin edges wilted and curled. I thought it was a piece of bacon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

John Lydon's calming effect on the universe

My interview with John Lydon (in advance of the PiL reunion tour) is up at The A.V. Club. He starts out combative, then gets surreal, then gets approachable. Kind of like his body of work.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Writer of wrongs

I think I'm finally getting over my mythical notion that writing nonfiction for a living somehow saps my fiction-writing energy. Writing is writing is writing: The more you do it, the more you do it.