Tag Archives: Adam Laredo

“The Nice Guy”

“Can you help me with my bike?”

He was white, balding underneath his Cincinnati Reds cap. Tall, taller than me, and pretty big. Doughy, but under that muscular, strong, the build and mannerisms of someone who worked for a living. His smile, glasses, the bib overalls, his easy manner all made me think I could be shaking hands with someone who was asked to play Santa every year at a church party or the local volunteer fire department Christmas celebration.

“Sure. Give me a minute.”

“No rush.”

After finishing the post-breakfast, camping rituals, I ambled over to his site. He was alone, sleeping in small, white-sided camper pulled by a half-ton, red Chevy truck. The Kawasaki was strapped down in the bed of the pickup. Everything was immaculate, no stains, no grease, no accumulated dust. With little trouble, we unloaded the cycle. He smiled again.

The smile doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Thanks.”

It’s like when you’re talking to someone, and there’s a … tic, a tell, something that exposes him as a liar. He’s not right.

“No problem.”

Or not. Whatever.

Later in the day, I saw our neighbor leaving. I was digging through the car for a towel when he rode off on his motorcycle. The bib overalls had been replaced with a deep blue jumpsuit, like you might see on an industrial worker or the pest control guy. He also wore his helmet, big brown boots, a backpack and black motorcycle gloves.

He looks like a serial killer.

I laughed to myself and returned to the search. I didn’t think again about my little joke until evening when our neighbor returned, looking just as spotless as when he left. As he cut the engine and parked, he gave me a wave. I waved back.

Maybe he really is a serial killer.

I waited, knowing sanity would soon overtake me. Yet …

He’s got a trusting face. Not that all serial killers have that. I mean, Gacey, Bundy, they had personality, that trustworthy vibe.

He took off his helmet, hanging it from one of the grips. Then he disappeared into the camper.

Everything’s so clean. Too clean. It’s weird. It’s a dirtbike with no dirt on it. A camper that doesn’t look like it’s been camping. A truck that’s six, seven years old, and it looks like it’s showroom quality. No dirt, no tar, no grass stains … no DNA, no fingerprints, no evidence.

A light flashes on in the camper.

The jumpsuit pretty much covers him head to toe. I wonder what was in the backpack? Lunch? First aid kit? Ropes and duct tape? I guess it’s not unusual to wear gloves to drive, especially on a cycle. But he had them on when we unloaded …

A campground light glints off one of the Kawasaki’s mirrors.

My prints are the only ones on the bike! Oh my God! I’ll be the suspect once the police find the body …

Crickets. The campfire pops and crackles a few feet away.

Ridiculous. It’s just a dude camping. You’re drunk. Go to bed.

In the morning, he approached me again, asking for help to get the bike into the truck. I agreed, and walked together to the pickup.

He’s wearing gloves. Going to accuse him of being Ed Gein?

We pushed the bike quietly and gently up the homemade ramp into the bed of the truck. I held it still as he strapped it down. He carefully stepped off the bed on to the blacktop of the short driveway, and reached out a hand, smiling.

“Thanks.”

Really? This is the guy you’re obsessing over.

“Yeah. You’re welcome.”

I reached out and shook his hand. He gripped it firmly, matching my gaze. I saw something, something that really did scare me. The look of the triumphant predator, a deep, burning hunger sated, a clean getaway.

My next visit was to the bathroom, to wash my hands.

Because only because you can’t really scrub your soul.

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“The End and The Beginning”

Writer’s note: My parents brought this to me a few weeks ago, a story I wrote as a 17-year-old high school senior that earned me an “Excellent story 98” from my senior composition teacher. I submit this to you with no edits. Another note at the end will address a few other things.

“The End and the Beginning”

Darkness. The sun rises in the early morning mist. A shadow approaches. Shades of gray. The shadow forms a man. Breath appears in the chilly air. Thudding of feet on the tarmac. The man is close. Details can be seen. Dark hair and dark eyes show a face that has grown old before its time. A young man who has seen more than many men two times his age. Dressed in blue denim and black hightops, the clothes are dusty and worn from much walking. Many road and many days make a man hard and old.

Isaiah. The name given to him years ago. A last name he cannot remember, and does not want to. In the real world, names do not matter. Only faces. Deeds. The deeds he has performed are known to many, and feared by more. Relationships are a casualty in this line of work. Besides, who will trust him if they know his craft?

On an Arizona road to another job. Usual payoff, usual risk. He carries his equipment on his back, the equipment of a man who knows death. Up ahead is a sign. “Calhalda-1300” it reads. He has arrived.

A small town. Here to fill the gas tanks for passing travelers in the desert. Small mines outside of town. The bread and butter of a western community. There, the place he was looking for.

He entered the store. Musty. Dark. The community gossip center, also known as the general store. From condiments to condoms. Isaiah smiled grimly.

“Can I help you stranger?” There was an unfriendliness and suspicion in the voice that only years in an isolated community can foster.

“I’m looking for a Mr. Jonathan Roberts,” replied Isaiah. “Would you know his place of residence?”

“Well, I would probably know because I am Johnny. Who are you?” replied the proprietor.

“I am Isaiah. You sent for me,” he answered.

Johnny’s face went white. “I didn’t expect you quite so soon. I guess it’s for the better. She needs you. Come with me.”

Johnny led Isaiah through the back of the store. Isaiah noticed the large array of goods. With only a sixty watt bulb to light the way, he had to be careful of the supplies in the aisle.

They reached the back and began to ascend some stairs. As they reached the top, Isaiah noticed how dark the apartment appeared to be, not only in terms of lighting, but also in terms of decoration. The walls were all painted a dark blue, possibly black. There were also many crucifiction scenes adorning the loft. Those were not the typical christian (writer’s note: I didn’t capitalize Christian, thus the 98 instead of a 100 from Ms. Spencer) scenes, but seemingly more graphic.

At the top of the stairs, the turned right and entered a small bedroom. In the bedroom, darkness again. The smell of death. And there, on the bed, lie the woman.

She was probably in her early sixties. Not that it mattered. Cancer had eaten away at her body and soul. Now she was just an empty shell of a formerly vibrant woman. Now she wanted to die. That’s why Isaiah was here.

“Hello, my dear, ” a week voices asked from the bed. “Who did you bring with you?”

“It is him, love,” squeaked Johnny.

“Then let us get it over with so that I may meet my maker,” she said. “I have been waiting many days, you know.”

“I’m sure you have, ma’am,” replied Isaiah. “Shall I begin?”

The woman nodded. Isaiah set his pack on the floor and opened it. The sound of the zipper penetrated the room, bringing a grimace to Isaiah’s face. He withdrew a small pack and opened it. He took out a syringe and inserted the small dose of cyanide.

Isaiah then walked to the bedside. “My dear woman, if you have anything to say, you should say it now.”

“Johnny, come here,” the frail woman commanded. As Johnny knelt by her side, she said, “You know this is for the best, don’t you.” Johnny nodded as she continued, “We will see each other again on the other side, my love. Now kiss me and leave.”

Johnny gently kissed her cheek as tears streamed down his face. He gripped her hand for the last time, stood up, and head bowed, left the room.

“Don’t worry, ma’am, there won’t be any pain,” Isaiah said as he inserted the needle.

“Son, after the pain I’ve been through, it wouldn’t matter anyway,” replied the old woman.

Isaiah injected the poison, and sat for five minutes as her breathing slowed and finally stopped altogether. He then threw his pack over his should and went down stairs.

*****************

Euthanasia. Mercy killing. Whatever the name, not matter how grim the job, he would be there. The silhouette of the stranger began to disappear in the distance. No one liked the job, but it relieved the pain of many a person and brought peace to a soul which had not known peace in a long, long time. The shadow of the man was now gone, but the man himself would never, ever be forgotten.

Writer’s note: I re-wrote this piece a year later for my freshman composition class in college. The stranger then rode a motorcycle, went a to a private home and not a store, and I think I spent more time describing the condition of the home and the old woman. And yes, I I’m reasonably certain received an A on it as well, but I don’t have a copy of that revised piece.

As for what was going on with my 17-year-old self that prompted this dark short story, I have no idea. Probably the two issues I felt strongest about at the time were freedom of speech (I did my senior composition research paper on Broward County’s (Fla.) attempt to censor the 2 Live Crew) and homosexuality, when I was a much more Christian, much less enlightened, gay-hating individual (grew up and got over it). So I’m not at all sure where this statement on euthanasia came from.

All in all, I think, for 17, not bad. I cringe at some of the dialogue choices, now I would have added a bit more suspense to the stranger and his purpose, and I don’t think I would have added that last paragraph, but that’s a much older, somewhat wiser writer’s opinion.

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Just do it … right

“To put it country simple …” – William S. Burroughs

When my brother, a musician, introduced me to the above Gary Clark Jr. performance, we talked a bit about the blues. Clark’s Bright Lights, Big City is nice, but the performance is what really elevates it. Or, as my brother put it, “The blues isn’t about re-inventing the wheel. It’s just about doing it right.”

I thought of my brother’s comment when I read a recent blog post by Margaret Atwood. The post itself is about dreams, but at one point Atwood mulls whether or not you should allow your characters dream. She notes it’s somewhat forbidden, or at least frowned upon, and that you can’t necessarily control the interpretations of the readers. But her final line in that brief section of the post is what nails it for me: “As in so many things, it’s not whether, but how well.”

I’m a fan of the CW’s Nikita. It’s something of a guilty pleasure. Lots of gorgeous women – Maggie Q., Lindsay Fonseca, Lyndie Greenwood, Melinda Clarke – as well as more than its fair share of explosions and fights. It’s a guilty pleasure because the relationship stuff is incredibly soapy, so much so, in fact, that I’ll be disappointed if Susan Lucci doesn’t make a guest appearance at some point. And Nikita definitely isn’t re-inventing the wheel. It’s pretty similar to what you’d find in the Mission Impossible and James Bond movies, as well as Alias.

But I’m not looking for the same depth of engagement I get from critically acclaimed shows such as The Walking Dead, Fringe or The Wire when I watch Nikita. I’m looking for pure escapism, where a tiny, beautiful women in shoes so ridiculous you wonder if they might actually be instruments of torture takes a piece of pipe and beats the living snot out of half a dozen, roided-out giants whose lunch weighs more than Maggie Q does, probably while she’s holding a 10-pound bar bell. I’m looking for a race against the clock, a hero to save the day, over-the-top villainy, subterfuge, seduction, laughs, bullets flying, cars exploding and, if I’m lucky, the occasional surprise.

What I guess I’m saying is, they’re “getting right.” Nikita has figured out “how well” to do what they do, and they do it. Fulfillment of potential. As writers and as fans, can we really ask for anything more?

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Finding value in ‘Noise’

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I recently watched the Swedish film The Sound of Noise. It’s damn near impossible to describe, so here are some of the thoughts that passed through my head as I watched.

* It’s kind of like the Magnificent Seven, except A) there are only six of them, B) they aren’t really the good guys (even though they aren’t all that bad) and C) instead of the wild, wild west’s greatest gunslingers, they are Sweden’s greatest drummers.

* It’s an unlikely, organic mix of heist film, rom com, police procedural, Pink Panther-like absurdist humor and performance art. How that mix ends up being organic and not a messy cluster fuck is a mystery to me, but it is.

* I now want to take a pair of drumsticks and beat on Muncie.

* What’s really funny is, while The Sound of Noise is solidly in the corner of inventiveness and fearlessness in music making, the hero is tone deaf and loathes music. And he gets the happiest ending.

* Musical terrorism. A bomb isn’t ticking; a metronome is.

* The Sound of Noise is to Stomp what Motorhead is to Carly Rae Jepsen.

* I’ve watch all sorts of violence on film, but when Inspector Amadeus Warnebring’s ears start bleeding after he is blasted with loud noises, I was very uncomfortable.

* The writing is phenomenal. The directing makes it come to life in a way you’d never believe if you didn’t see it.

* “Funk bass.” Watch the movie. You’ll laugh your ass off.

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South Carolina values: A play in once act

INT. HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM – DAY

A harried, white-haired male TEACHER stands at the front of the classroom. His students are chatting, checking their phones, preening before handheld mirrors, etc. They are mostly caucasian and, judging from their clothing and accessories, wealthy. The bell to start class rings.

Teacher: Good morning class.

The teacher is roundly ignored, and all activities continue as if he doesn’t exist.

Teacher: I’d like to talk about the special election in South Carolina this week.

Crickets.

Teacher: It’s an interesting case. The newly elected Republican congressman is former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Mr. Sanford lost his gubernatorial powers in 2009 after he was found in Argentina with a girlfriend when he’d told his wife and staff that he would be hiking the Appalachian trail. It was also discovered that he misused taxpayer funds to take the trip to visit his mistress. And after this particular affair was uncovered, Sanford admitted to being unfaithful previously to his wife, the mother of Sanford’s four sons, on more than just this occasion and with more than just this one mistress. Then, this February, Sanford’s ex-wife filed trespassing charges when she found him breaking into his former home.

He looks around. Seemingly no one is paying attention.

Teacher: It’s often been said by Republicans themselves that  they are the party of “family values.” Yet Republican voters re-elected Louisiana Rep. David Vitter after he was found to be paying for the services of prostitutes. Republicans have repeatedly voted for Sen. John McCain, who cheated on his crippled wife – who had been faithful to him while he was a prisoner of war – to the extent that it so concerned and disgusted President Ronald and Nancy Reagan that the couple refused to continue to socialize with him. Georgia voters elected Newt Gingrich even after he’d filed for divorce while his wife was in the hospital fighting cancer, a divorce which left her and his daughters destitute to the point where they had to rely on their church for assistance. And so on. So can anyone tell me why the voters of South Carolina’s first district, likely people who would consider themselves folks with solid family values, would choose to elect someone who had lied to voters, cheated on his wife repeatedly and misappropriated public funds?

The teacher scans the room. Surprisingly, a hand is up. It is the hand of WALLACE, the lone non-white student in the classroom.

Teacher: Yes?

Wallace: Because South Carolina hates niggaz more than it loves family values. Mark Sanford could have beat his wife, raped his neighbor, killed his preacher, sold crack to Catholic school children, converted to Islam and wore a Georgia Bulldogs sweatshirt for his entire campaign, but in the end, what mattered to South Carolina most was that they elect a good, white male Republican who would go to Washington D.C. and make sure the nigga in charge didn’t get too big a head and think he could just boss around good, white, Southern Christian folks.

Teacher: Anyone else have anything to add?

Another hand raises.

Teacher: Yes?

Student: Is this going to be on the test?

THE END

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The remake trap

He's good, but he's no Patrick Swayze.

He’s good, but he’s no Patrick Swayze.

I recently watched the Green HornetTotal Recall and Red Dawn remakes. Yawn.

Why bother? Philip K. Dick’s original story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, had the great reveal at the end that saves the protagonist’s life. The basic idea – the implantation of false memories revealing a secret agent who has lost his real memories – is used in the first Total Recall movie, as well as the focus on the mystery and promise of Mars. Director Paul Verhoven’s version chose to take a slightly different direction, focusing more on the idea that the main character’s memories and current thoughts and actions may or may not be real, and we can’t be sure which it is. The film did a nice job of hewing to the original story without following it note for note, even if the camp factor is a bit high.

Then there’s Len Wiseman’s recent version. Mars disappears from the picture completely. We never really doubt that Colin Farrell’s character is indeed the secret agent he is revealed to be. To tell you the truth, I’m not even entirely sure what his mission was after having watched it. Because it wasn’t important. What the movie was about was Farrell, Jessica Beal and Kate Beckinsale strutting around looking hot and shit blowing up in the background periodically. Which, if you can get paid obscene amounts of money for it, isn’t the worst job in the world. However, it’s mostly a waste of everyone’s time when you try to turn it into a movie.

Red Dawn, the original version, holds up fairly well after all of these years. Yes, it’s a bit of a survivalist fantasy piece, but the casting is good, the screenplay does a good job of giving some historical context, the conflict felt by the senior Cuban officer who is not sure he likes going from occupied to occupier is a solid secondary plotline, and the background of the northern plains states really gives it an empty, frightening feel. A classic by no means, its has some legs. Patrick Swayze also does a good job of bringing some maturity and command to the eldest of the young, bratty Wolverine rebel group.

The new Red Dawn is much like the new Total Recall: Just kind of an average action flick with an old movie’s name. It has a real chance to discuss some serious things – the difference between being a terrorist and freedom fighter, to name one – but glosses over that sort of nonsense quickly to get on to the next gunfight. I love Chris Hemsworth as Thor, but he didn’t bring much to role as the lead Wolverine. He very much lacked a certain … Swayze-osity, a Swayze-ness that the role requires. The idea of healing the brotherly bond and the maturation of Hemsworth’s younger brother, played by Josh Peck, was nice, but again, there wasn’t much focus on it. It was addressed briefly and never developed, like pretty much every other thematic or plot thread introduced throughout the movie.

The Green Hornet was different for me. I remember watching a few of the original episodes as a kid, but the show doesn’t hold the same place in my youthful heart as Red Dawn and Total Recall do. In this case, I was in it for the talent behind the camera, director Micheal Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) and writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Gondry has made a living creating unique, gorgeous videos for any number of musicians – The White Stripes (Fell In Love With a Girl), Bjork (Army of Me) and Radiohead (Knives Out) – as well as some interesting, quirky features (mentioned previously). Rogen and Goldberg are the writers behind two of what I consider to be the funniest movies of the last decade, Pineapple Express and Superbad.

Yet The Green Hornet is an unfunny, unoriginal, slow, dumb piece of crap. It’s awful. At least the Red Dawn and Total Recall remakes were watchable. The Green Hornet lacks center, the writing is appalling and the direction seems to be focused more on making a film for 3D than it does making a film worth watching.

Of course all of this is really my fault, because I fell into the trap, didn’t I? Hollywood remakes films and TV shows in an attempt to capitalize on the sentimentality of folks like myself who are in some way attached to the originals.

But it didn’t work out as well as Hollywood hoped. I didn’t pay movie theater prices to watch any of these. I didn’t rush right out and purchase them. I waited until well after the DVD release to watch all three of them.

And while Hollywood is generating profits from these films, they’re also creating something self-destructive: Aware consumers who become less and less likely to spend to see what they now expect will be disappointing films at best, complete crap at worst.

Hollywood, ask the music industry how that worked out. You might want to reconsider what you’re doing.

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The Flaming Lips: Indianapolis, 4/29/13

The Flaming Lips bring 'The Terror' to the Hoosier State.

The Flaming Lips bring ‘The Terror’ to the Hoosier State.

When I was back in college, a buddy of mine and I came to my hometown to watch my brother’s band play a show. It was a big deal at the time, the first time the under-21 dance club in the area was having live bands. For the bands, it was an opportunity to have professional lights, fog, video and all sorts of neat stuff your average garage bands don’t usually have access to when they’re playing basements and veterans’ halls. It was a helluva show. The bands were hyped, the crowd was into it, everyone into the local scene was there.

The next day, my buddy and I were required to attend church (my parents’ house rules). Midway through the sermon, my friend, eyes glazed over as he fought the desire to sleep, leans over to me and says, “Why do I feel like I had the religious experience last night?”

I thought of that as I watched the Flaming Lips at the Egyptian Room in downtown Indy on Monday. This wonderful, beautiful, intense group experience. People of like minds and spirits focusing all their energy for a few hours on the moment, the power of music and art to unite, the comfort and ecstasy of being part of a like-minded community.

After the Lips finished covering David Bowie’s Heroes, lead singer Wayne Coyne spoke to the crowd, the “heroes” he was singing about. He made the point that we should celebrate living life the way we chose, and not fight or engage those who would impose their will, their doctrines, their dogmas on our lives. Rise above the small minded, the emotionally crippled, the self righteously enraged. We’re just a bunch of animals spinning around on a rock, the clock is ticking, so now is what we have, and we should do everything we can to honor that.

So sayeth the word of Wayne, straight from the trippy-lighted pulpit.

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Worshiping at the altar of Atwood

As fans of any artist – musicians, writers, composers and so on – know, when you are a fan of a particular artist, that artist is going to consistently revisit certain themes, motifs, settings, etc. It’s part of the artistic territory. The creative class are inspired by events, conversations and art that pertain to topics that in some way engage them. Maya Angelou is always going to have something to say about race. Public Enemy consistently attacks systemic injustice inherent in American society. The Wachowskis, particularly in their original works (Bound, The Matrix franchise), dig into the nature of reality and perception.

The most interesting artists are the one to explore that same ground in different and exciting ways. The best example I know of an artist who succeeds at simultaneously revisiting similar touchstones while generating original work is Margaret Atwood.

In Atwood, you know you’re going to be presented something about the systemic oppression of women. Whether it’s The Blind Assassin, Oryx & Crake or The Handmaid’s Tale, the ritual, cultural denigration of females is important to what is happening.

In The Blind Assassin, this comes through in the fall of the Chase sisters. Iris is essentially married off to a wealthy industrialist without much choice on her part, a move her father hopes will save his own manufacturing empire and hopefully provide for his daughters’ future. The industrialist is a sadist who is sexually abusive to his wife, a predator who forces himself on Iris’s younger sister, Laura, when Iris is pregnant with their daughter. While the events in the lives of Iris and Laura are the focus, Atwood continues to spin the tales of downtrodden women in the secondary characters. Winifred Griffin, the sister of Iris’ husband Robert, longs to climb to the top of the Canadian social and political landscape. But she isn’t “old money” enough to marry into such power, so she feels she must support the aspirations of her brother, defend his sick predelictions and ride his coattails as high as he will take her. Reenie and her daughter, Myra, are the caretakers of the Chase family. Reenie is trapped in the servant class, by birth, gender and lack of education. Myra manages to rise to the merchant class, but still can’t separate herself from her familial duty to the Chases. Even Iris’ and Laura’s mother, mentioned briefly in flashbacks, is doomed to death by her gender. Her and her husband’s attempts to produce a male heir end up being what breaks Mrs. Chase physically, leading to her untimely death.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, the fall of the democratic United States is staged to establish a totalitarian Christian theocracy that’s first priority is to turn women and racial and ethnic minorities into second class citizens. The U.S. – now the Republic of Gilead – becomes a Christian version of oppressive theocracies such as Saudi Arabia. Women’s rights are limited, as most are not even allowed to learn to read. Something has caused a decline in the birth rate, so the handmaid class – essentially fertile concubines – is created. Wives become merely a woman on an arm at social functions, while men use their sex slaves for reproduction and as escorts in underground gatherings out of the public eye.

In Oryx & Crake, the future is all genetic manipulation and advertising. Small, prosperous compounds house corporations, scientists and their families, keeping the general public in their ghettos and at a distance. Crake is the greatest of the scientific geniuses, even creating his own race of humans designed to stay simple and peaceful forever, without prejudice or superstition. His in-between with the neo-humans is Oryx, a one-time child sex slave that teen-aged Crake and the narrator, Snowman, watched perform online. Oryx represents desire in its best forms – Snowman’s obsession and desire to save the innocent, even after she no longer needs saving – and worst – Crake uses Oryx to manipulate Snowman and eventually hasten Crake’s man-made apocalypse, as well as Oryx’s life in child porn and as the live-in sex slave for an American businessman. Crake’s final act before his own death is to kill Oryx, a show of victory in a tug-of-war for her affections with Snowman and the ultimate tantrum of a child who is taking his toy and going home. So even in death, Oryx is dehumanized by a man.

The themes of oppression and abuse of women are prominent throughout these works. Yet the tales themselves have little in common. The Blind Assassin is epic historical fiction, running from just before the first World War until near the end of the 20th century. The Handmaid’s Tale is the dystopian future of blind religious fanaticism. Oryx & Crake is the ultimate post-apocalyptic tale, the story of man’s desire for knowledge run amok, destroying the world and taking us back to the not-so-paradise-like Garden of Eden, a book that would comfortable sitting on the bookshelf between copies of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and The Stand.

Is it possible to ask more of an artist than this, consistent inventiveness in story telling while simultaneously finding new ways to expose and attack cultural and societal bias?

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Yes, apparently, I am that stupid

I’m a huge fan of the work of Tom Robbins. Another Roadside Attraction is my favorite, although I’d probably argue Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is his best. Recently, I started re-reading – for the third or fourth time – Jitterbug Perfume.

A brief synopsis: Jitterbug Perfume is an epic tale that connects the desire of an ancient, pagan king to thumb his nose at death to the activities of a group of modern perfumers making an effort to create the ultimate natural scent. Scent is the center around which the rest of this novel works, whether’s it’s the incense of Kudra, the earthy odor of Pan or the jasmine that permeates the modern scenes. It’s all about odor.

So I get about 75 pages in, enjoying the read, catching those little things you sometimes miss on earlier reads because you’re caught up in the tale or because you were a less mature reader last time around. Then it hits me: My developing novel doesn’t stink. Which is a bad thing.

I realized that, through all the work I’ve done setting scenes, drawing the reader in, giving them that vital mental picture, I’ve pretty much completely ignored one of the five senses: smell. There’s a church scene where smell comes up, and there’s a specific scene where the change of odor in the room is a hint that someone’s broken in. But that’s it. I’ve set a novel in rural Indiana, in the middle of a bunch of cornfields, yet never mentioned the smell of fertilizer, cow shit, tractor grease, outdoor cookouts, that fresh, breezy smell of the early rural morning. I’ve got a Grandma getting down in the kitchen, but I never mention the odor of butter, baked bread, cooked corn, greasy ham, nothing. I even have a character who smokes weed, yet never mention that distinctive, skunky smell.

I don’t know why, is the thing that’s driving me nuts. I understand the power of smell, the power it has for me, particularly when it comes to nostalgia or a sense of place. How did I pretty much completely ignore that?

Perhaps I should focus on the positive, that I caught it now, while still in the developmental/writing stages.  I’ll just call it a win, and move on.

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Hungry like the ‘Wolf’

It’s hard not love an album that hits the popular consciousness with a big, old haymaker that the mainstream never saw coming.

I feel like Wolf‘s going to be one of those albums, by the time all is said and done. Yes, lyrically, this stays true to all of Tyler, The Creator’s work to this point: A chuckling, stoned, dead-eyed agent of chaos in a world that doesn’t understand that it truly loves the resulting madness. Too many drugs, too many “faggot” callouts, too much intelligence gone out of control. Tyler is that nasty, uncontrolled Id lurking under the surface that no one wants to admit is there.

It isn’t that this is approach new. Eminem managed the balancing act on both The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP, and Old Dirty Bastard took the madness to a previously unheard of level on Return to the 36 Chambers. But unlike Eminem or ODB, Tyler has created an album with limited single potential. There’s no Real Slim Shady or Shimmy Shimmy Ya on Wolf. Yes, true hip-hop heads will be down, but it’ll be interesting to see if Tyler can mimic the sales, chart success or awards of the previously mentioned predecessors.

What really helps elevate Wolf is not Tyler, The Rapper but Tyler, the Producer. He’s the man behind the knobs for the most part, and he manages to create a full, dark, off-kilter background for his hip-hop diorama. Whether it’s the minimal, bass-heavy, slurred feel of Jamba, the otherworldy “da da da da DA da” melody on Domo23, the manic Latin energy that backs the juvenile Tamale or the slow jam synth of IFHY, Tyler finds the right sounds to back whatever approach he’s trying to take lyrically. More importantly, nothing has an assembly line, jam-of-the-moment feel. Wolf isn’t about ring tones; it’s about legacy.

The final product is an album … a full album, not three or four front-loaded singles with what Sean Combs once called “album tracks” aka half-assed filler. I can imagine a time a decade or so from now Wolf being mentioned in the same breath as We Can’t Be Stopped, Ready to Die or Midnight Marauders. History is being made, so, as a wise man once said, ya betta recognize.

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