Sunday, November 29, 2009

GrammarPiano TweetCloud

TweetCloud, this cool new website, is "a service that lets you generate a cool looking cloud of the words your tweets mostly contain." I like that they call this a "service." This is what mine looks like:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ms. Difranco at Town Hall, 2009

Ani Difranco played the Town Hall last Saturday night, and I was there. My friend Robert Maril, who later asked that in this blog post I describe his hair as "shiny" and "with body," joined me for this, my 37th Ani show. This indicates some kind of insanity, surely. (That's approximately $1700 in tickets, if you're quick at math.) But here's what I think I have finally discovered--after so many performances in so many cities across this country, even a show in Paris: I think more clearly, more crisply and thoroughly, at an Ani Difranco show than anywhere else.

My first show was in Knoxville, back in 1996. That night's recording of Dilate made it onto her 1997 record "Living in Clip," minus the part in the middle of the song where she stopped, and proceeded to have a quite valid, fussy, frustrated and yet especially articulate in a way that only Ani can be, scolding of the audience for singing at the top of their lungs. As I recall, she said something along the lines of "This song is not a soccer chant." She would never do that now, as far as I can tell--and the way she keeps playing Both Hands as the first encore song over and over starts to push her, and the song, into Closer to Fine territory. (Some of you will know what that means.) The birth of her child, her second marriage, and I think the election of Barak Obama, all of this has made her more relaxed. She seems to really be enjoying herself again.

It was dark back in 1997. Things started to get more exciting in the early 2000s, but by 2003 she had seemed to wind herself down into another period of, well, Ani-inwardness. The songs from that period are lonely and cold. She toured solo for a while, and then when band members started showing up again--her sound changed dramatically. Most recently, with the incarnation of the previous two years--Todd Sickafoose on bass, Allison Miller on drums, and Mike Dillon on percussion--have made her music sound more robust, more textured, more grounded than ever before.

Because this show was on a Saturday night, there were lots of younger people in the audience. It might be unfair of me to presume--but lots of them seemed to be teenage girls perhaps dropped off by their parents in cars. (I went to my first Indigo Girls concert in 1992 at the Fox Theater in Atlanta this way--we sat in the very last row.) Two rows in front of us, were a gaggle of young ladies who insisted on dancing and swaying and singing to every song they knew. That they knew the songs is the important part. It makes me think that the experience, for these kind of concert-goers, is not about the music or the moment, but about recreating the private experience they've had in their living rooms and bedrooms and iPods.

If you feel one thing at home alone listening to Ani, you want to feel the same thing in concert--such is the logic, I guess. And because the swaying and dancing doesn't extend to the new songs--that is to say the songs that Ani hasn't released yet, and therefore only the savvy, and increasingly numerous, internet traders know them--to my eye, it's even less about the show. A few times, the dancing girls attempted to get the people sitting around them to join in, standing and dancing and singing and generally annoying everyone around and behind them. As if their own experience would be made better if they were not so alone in their revelry. As Joan Didion might write: "The narrative is already in place."

So, back to the way I think. I've seen her so many times that it feels like a family ritual--some of the same notes are struck here and there, like a favorite dish at a holiday meal, and then some new things appear and disappear, changing as the seasons do, but staying the same. Something about sitting there, in the dark, watching the lights change and watching Ani sing, listening to those songs I've been listening to for almost twenty years, some of them, it just feels comfortable. My brain shifts into a happy neutral.

I'm glad she's delving into her back catalog more these days. She Says, a song from her 1991 record "Not So Soft," has been appearing in the middle space of sets lately--a revised guitar riff and slightly shifted melody makes the song even more lonely, even more beautiful. I almost write "if that's possible." But clearly, with Ani, it is.

Here's the setlist:
Coming Up
Alla This
November 5th, 2008
She Says
Which Side Are You On?
New Bible
If You're Not
Untouchable Face
Both Hands

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This Week

Part One:
One of the (many) benefits of living in the great City of New York is that cultural events happen here on a very large scale. The downside of this is that everyone wants to attend these events, and when something comes around like Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall for two nights only, way more than 12,000 people clamor for tickets at 10:00am on that fateful Friday only to discover that, surprise, you are too, too late. Even the presale tickets were gone at 12:00 noon the day before. But somehow, StubHub was selling tickets throughout each section, orchestra and all three mezzanines, days and days before even the date of sale was announced. People on Craig's List were selling Orchestra pit tickets weeks ago. This speaks volumes about the terrible truth of how the music industry and its cronies and friends-of ruin the music business for fans. But then, after it became clear to me that I was not getting tickets, and no one I knew was able to get tickets, I realized that maybe this wasn't such a big deal after all. Everything Lady Gaga does is about visibility, about being seen. So, I figure, whatever she does those two nights, I'll see it. It will be on YouTube, or all over the blogs, she'll Twitter her thanks to all her fantastic gay fans, and perhaps this monopolizing of the imagery and webwaves, maybe this is what Gaga is all about.

Part Two:
Tonight's dinner turned out terribly. Does rice expire? Even when you have it in the fridge? I guess it does--it sort of fell apart, like puffed rice does in leftover cereal milk. I was trying to re-create this leek and white truffle risotto that I made a few weeks ago when some friends were over to watch the Emmys. That night is was spectacular. I was actually surprised it came out so beautifully. But, like other things, and like a lot of people, I need a little reason to shine. So, when it came time to make this big pot of dinner this evening, I felt half-assed about it, and the results are hideous. If I weren't alone, I'd throw it out.

Part Three:
The new Margaret Atwood novel is intriguing, as one might expect. I'm having a weird reaction to it--I'm loving the writing, the specific sentences. But the overall narrative isn't that compelling to me. And this is odd, considering that this one, The Year of the Flood, is kind of a continuation of a thought, a sort-of sequel to one of her books that I loved, Oryx and Crake. I sit on the B61 and read and read, and I keep wondering when the story is going to start. In fact, today I skipped ahead and read the first two pages of a later part of the book to see if there was something maybe I wanted to get to. The good news is: There was. So, I continue on.

Part Four:
I just finished the new Dan Chaon novel, Await Your Reply. This was a totally different experience. The story itself is so exciting, so twisty and slow-to-reveal itself, that I couldn't wait to get to the end. I felt really torn about it. The writing is so beautiful, and so concentrated and thoughtful, that I wanted to take my time. But the what-is-going-to-happen was pressing on me so much that I wanted to stay up all night and read and read and read.

Part Five:
The madness of the holidaze has begun. What to do for a holiday card this year? When to schedule the tree-trimming party, in which people don't actually tree-trim but admire the tree-trimming that you have done earlier in the day? What to buy people? Whether to buy for people? How long do marshmallows keep if you ship them?

Part Six:
Can we see Levi Johnston naked already?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Learning to Write, Part 3

My friend Jane over at Leaf-Stitch-Word tagged me in this meme she created. She asks us to look for three essential markers, practices, or maybe habits. She asks, "What can you tell me about your twisted paths to becoming a writer?" I'm going to take this in three posts. Thanks, Jane!

Part Three: Since Always

This meme has been really difficult. My instinct is to say, at this point, in trying to chart my path toward being a writer, something like: "It's just who I am." I don't ever remember doing anything else that was as satisfying.

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion writes that she believes that "...meaning itself [is] resident in the rhythms of words and sentences." She is writing about meaning in the large sense--capital M, big ideas, Meaning Of Life. When I read this, on the 6 Train underneath Lexington Avenue, I wanted to blast off into the sky, exploding off the ground like Neo does at the end of The Matrix, having finally understood that he is infinitely powerful, unbeatable. Nothing--absolutely nothing--feels more right to me than a string of words that say what you have been feeling all along.

I love reading because it is singular--not like other performing arts where the experience is collective. The intimacy of a book is different than the intimacy of a concert, or a well-made play. The experience is, I think, a more direct line to the reader's emotions and sense of space, self and emotion. It's an entirely cerebral immersion. I'm not trying to say that it's the best way to experience a work of art--I'm just saying it's my personal favorite.

Friday, November 06, 2009

From Eileen Myles

Most likely, we travel to exist in an analogue to our life's dilemmas. It's like a spaceship. The work for the traveler is making the effort to understand that the place you are moving through is real and the solution to your increasingly absent problems is forgetting. To see them in a burst as you are vanishing into the world. Travel is not transcendence. It's immancence. It's trying to be here.

--From the essay, "Iceland" by Eileen Myles