Los Lobos at the Triple Door

I’ve seen Los Lobos perform four times over the last twenty years (the latter half of their 40-year career) and they’ve never stepped in the same water twice so to speak. It’s always a different show. When I heard they were playing three nights in a nightclub in Seattle, and some friends said why don’t we go, I could not resist.

Their newest recording, Disconnected in New York, tilts toward the acoustic side, and when we saw them at Woodland Park Zoo a few years back, their show featured some of that as well as the full-on rock, roots, and blues they are also known for.

Disconnected, though a live performance, is very polished, very perfect—just a great record. Friday night at the Triple Door was not polished. It was a ragged, but beautiful, a highly amplified excursion provided by one of the greatest bands California has ever produced (in any genre).

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King of Interface of the Future and Other Flying Cars

There are differences in the experience of reading a printed book and an electronic book. On the one hand, some people tend to underestimate the difference with clichés about the ubiquity of screen reading, from computers to phones, or on the other end, there are the Luddites who want to smash Amazon’s looms. But, objectively, and more importantly, reading a printed book and reading an ebook are different experiences with different cognitive results, no matter what the content, and it’s important to acknowledge that when talking about reading, which along with writing, supports one of the brain’s most complex cognitive achievements, language. Unlike digital music where subtleties and frequency ranges may be an issue to sound connoisseurs, the verity of digital music reproduction is excellent for most people. The music industry has a long history of dealing with these issues. Books are a different matter. With music it’s play/pause and a speaker. What else do you need really? I would argue that’s basically all you really need in an ebook reader (assuming you have accurate texts).

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Robert Stone

I’m re-reading Robert Stone’s A Flag for Sunrise, his third novel published in 1981. (A Brooklyn native, Stone died January 10 in Key West.) Much is made of his characters. They are a lunatic fringe for the most part, etc. but engaging. (See Emily Langer’s piece in the Washington Post–


Having re-read A Farewell to Arms recently, Stone’s Hemingway lineage is remarkably clear and strong. Stone has many of Hemingway’s gifts for dialogue and writing about moral dilemmas. But his language goes beyond Hemingway in its sophistication, more to the Joyce side of the family emotionally. He’s also a great journalist of the landscapes that do a whole lot more than frame his stories. Here’s an example of the whole package from A Flag for Sunrise. Holliwell is an American professor here taking a side trip from a speech in a neighboring country to Somoza’s Nicaragua (page 157-158 in the Knopf hard cover). Stone’s alias for Nicaragua is Tecan.

“They drove on in silence over the dusty plateau. The coastward volcano was abreast of them, a second, larger rose ahead. To Holliwell, they seemed freakish mountains; only malignant gods could inhabit or inform them. They rose solitary out of featureless tableland, bare, without harmony, unbeautiful enough to appear exactly what they were–burst excrescences on Tecan’s pocked dusty hide. A geology lesson, he thought. They communicated a troubling sense of the earth as nothing more than itself, of blind force and mortality. As mindlessly refuting of hope as a skull and bones. The landscape was a memento mori, the view ahead like a dead ocean floor.”

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Writing about War

Michiko Kakutani has written an excellent piece in the December 26 New York Times on the novels, stories, and journalism written by Americans about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a good overview that also relates current writing to what came out of Vietnam and the “tradition” of war literature. This essay is fertile ground for suggesting other books and also for understanding some of the new issues these writers and all Americans lived and are living through because of our involvement in war pretty much since the country was founded, pretty much since the human race was founded. Continue reading

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Dave Douglas

The 2014 Earshot Jazz Festival concert at Town Hall in Seattle with Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano, and Sound Prints is still ringing in my ears as I listen to a 2008 Dave Douglas CD I got at the library, Spirit Moves. As is often the case with Douglas, interesting collection of players: trumpet, french horn, trombone, tuba, and drums. Tuba is a unique bass instrument and it brings a New Orleans feel to some of this music. In fact it’s easy to imagine this band marching down a street and drawing a crowd. But there’s more to it than that. Douglas pays tribute to Lester Bowie on a couple of tunes. In the liner notes he mentions that he heard Bowie while still in high school. It’s a little bit of a cutting session in some ways, though the best parts of the album (as Douglas advocates in the liner notes) occur when the whole group is involved.


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Genre Irrelevance

Science fiction and literary fiction. Ok, I accept the terms. They are realms of marketing mostly unless you’re locked into a limited spectrum of the imagination. Case in point, Margaret Atwood. She seems to have succeeded to some degree in encouraging people to ignore borders in favor of a sort of fiction that just has its own life no matter what can the critics want to can it in. Of course genre is a ladder to nowhere. No matter what people call you, any writer’s talent with words and storytelling is more important than genre. It’s like an internet ad: “What the publishers don’t want you to know.” They don’t want you to know that genre is low on the list as a descriptor of a given novel’s style, import, or genius. It sells books by trying to build, some might say manipulate, an audience.

This is a good thing in many ways. People who read science fiction have developed networks and conventions. Connections between readers, writers, critics have a certain neighborhood feel to them. We’re all in this together. And the thinking is pretty high level, on the fringe of science like a huge ring, giving rise to magnificent stories told with sense of the history of the genre and a totally daft, totally creative approach to the universe we live in. That’s right folks, you don’t just live in New Jersey, you also live in the Solar System in a galaxy in a universe with a history of it’s own, possibly many parallel histories. Continue reading

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A Farewell to Arms

FarewellWhen a friend mentioned re-reading Hemingway’s 1929 novel I was ripe for suggestion, especially when he said that the book held up well. He thought the published ending was the best, though variations have appeared. I’d just finished reading a gut-wrenching, totally page-turning sci-fi novel, mostly reading on an airplane and no, not on my Kindle, but the Tor paperback of Jack McDevitt’s Deepsix. Carried an iPad, camera, and phone on this trip. Used only the phone except for a snapshot of the Lexington, Missouri Civil War battlefield. I may have used the iPad in the hotel for web browsing. I think my brain is currently taking a spur off the digital track.

A Farewell to Arms is still as great a novel as it’s always been. Hemingway’s writing is so direct it’s like a drumbeat. We all know the origins, the journalism, hanging out with Gertrude Stein. (Is there any bigger influence on Hemingway, other than Michigan of course?) It also occurred to me that the novel is very much aligned to the blogging/Twitter/instant communication media of 2014. God, Hemingway on Twitter. Maybe he would have hated it, but no one could have packed more into a short sentence than Hemingway!

One of the things that I was reminded of reading the novel again was how much Hemingway was interested in language, his skill with dialog, his use of languages other than English as a kind of dramatic foil—people can or cannot understand Italian, French, German. He’s a very modern writer. I suppose that’s obvious but I don’t think he gets much credit for that, at least in the popular view where his safari’s and suicide outshine his books to some degree. It’s important to remember what’s important, which is how moving and powerful A Farewell to Arms is.

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