News and Notes
Kooser lives in Nebraska, teaches at the state university, and works as an insurance executive.
The Back Door
The door through which we step out
into the past is an easy push,
light as the air, a green screen door
with a sagging spring. There's a hook
to unhook first, for there have been
incidents: someone has come up
out of the past to steal something good
from the present. We know who they are.
We have tried to discourage them
by moving from house to house,
from city to city, but they find us
again and again. You see them coming
sometimes from a long ways off--
a pretty young woman, a handsome man,
stepping in through the back garden gate,
pausing to pick the few roses.
A couple of years back, an acquaintance and I were comparing notes on the latest Sonic Youth record. "There's something really screwed up about this album," he said with a grin, clearly thrilled at the prospect of wrestling with difficult music. Listening to Radiohead's OK Computer, I couldn't help but remember that moment. That's not to say the record is in any way inaccessible. It's just that there's something delightfully weird about it.
You can emulate plenty of old arcade games on your PC, but there's nothing like the thrill of pounding on the console of a full-size coin-op classic. Space Invaders and Pac-Man were huge hits, but some of the best games were much less ubiquitous. See if you can find cool vector-graphics titles like "Star Wars," "Red Baron," and "Tempest." The best place to scoop 'em is at an arcade distributor or maybe a really seedy bowling alley.
Bantock is the creator of the popular Griffin and Sabine series of illustrated books. These volumes are compelling not just for their visual richness but also for the simple mysteries that are at their heart. Bantock has upped the ante with his latest, The Venetian's Wife, combining his artwork with a more intricate and emotionally complex plot. You may also want to check out his earliest publications, a string of pop-up books illustrating classic poems such as "Jabberwocky," "Solomon Grundy," and "Kubla Khan."
The Complete Stories
"Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out. Finally, she found herself saying, 'Jesus, Jesus,' meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing."
--from "A Good Man is Hard to Find"
Today's Nugget is more cautionary than complimentary. Am I the only one a little uncomfortable with Microsoft's new target demographic? The software giant is teaming up with Barney (noooooooooooooooooo!) to bring your children their very own animatronic playmate. He talks, sings, watches TV, and helps with computer games. Sure, today's three-year-olds are tomorrow's Windows 2008 users, but isn't this going a bit too far?
Paderewski Plays Chopin, Vols. 1 & 2
These two discs capture the legendary Polish pianist performing a broad selection of Chopin's etudes, mazurkas, preludes, and nocturnes. Recorded from 1912 to 1938, the performances include a little bit of hiss due to the primitive recording equipment, but in every case the virtuousity comes shining through. Don't miss "Berceuse op 57" and "Polonaise in E flat minor op 26/2."
I Am One of You Forever
Part magical realism, part tall tale, this novel is about a young boy's life on a small Southern farm in the 1940s. It's also one of the sweetest books you'll ever read. After you fall in love with it, try the two other volumes of the "Jess" trilogy, Brighten the Corner Where You Are and Farewell, I'm Bound to Leave You.
Today's Nugget bemoans the sorry state of affairs in the movie world. Fifteen years ago, Ridley Scott teamed up with Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer to bring us a dank, dark, foreboding vision of the future. Of course, that future is looking better and better now that we're faced with epically unimaginitive films like Air Force One and G.I. Jane. And where the heck did Rutger Hauer get off to? Maybe he's hiding. I wouldn't blame him...
Lowell told it like it was. Capturing moments from the private lives of public figures, Lowell's scenes put photography to shame. History is out of print. Pick up Collected Poems when it comes out.
Robert Frost at midnight, the audience gone
to vapor, the great act laid on the shelf in mothballs,
his voice musical, raw and raw--he writes in the flyleaf:
"Robert Lowell from Robert Frost, his friend in the art."
"Sometimes I feel too full of myself," I say.
And he, misunderstanding, "When I am low,
I stray away. My son wasn't your kind. The night
we told him Merrill Moore would come to treat him,
he said 'I'll kill him first.' One of my daughters thought things,
knew every male she met was out to make her;
the way she dresses, she couldn't make a whorehouse."
And I, "Sometimes I'm so happy I can't stand myself."
And he, "When I am too full of joy, I think
how little good my health did anyone near me."
Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
In the early nineties, Nirvana created a diversion while Pavement created some of the best albums of the decade. Hard-core fans have a sentimental affinity for Slanted and Enchanted, but Crooked Rain is the better record. Not only do the individual songs stand out as among Pavement's best, but taken as a whole the album is much greater than the sum of its parts. The closing "Fillmore Jive" is pure brilliance.
Shown as a summer-replacement series in 1967, only 17 episodes of The Prisoner were ever made, but creator and star Patrick McGoohan packed each show with the perfect blend of fast-paced action and high-concept ideas. McGoohan played "Number 6," a disaffected secret agent held captive in a mysterious resort known only as "The Village," where everyone was referred to only by their number. Needless to say, escape was impossible. The Prisoner has a mod, late-'60s feel to it, and is the perfect tonic for those tired of the far more shallow James Bond.
Wednesday, 10 pm
It all started as a five-minute video greeting card called The Spirit of Christmas. Now, it's a half-hour of crude animation and cruder humor that airs Wednesday nights on Comedy Central. Follow young heroes, Cartman, Kenny, Kyle, and Stan, as they wreak havoc on small-town Colorado. If you don't like Beavis and Butthead because it's too "highbrow," then South Park is for you.
Everyone knows that he was the best James Bond, hands down. But more than that, Connery is a genuine screen presence. He invariably makes lame movies palatable (Outland), average movies good (The Rock), and good movies great (The Man Who Would be King). Of course, behind it all is the ultimate Scottish accent. Yesh.
The original Modern Lovers (Jonathan Richman, Jerry Harrison, David Robinson, and Ernie Brooks) never really recorded an album. This disc is basically a collection of demos recorded in '72 and '73. That said, it has gone on to be universally recognized as one of the best rock 'n' roll albums of all time. Richman shifted gears radically in coming years, and while his later music is still compelling, he rarely approaches the brilliance of songs like "Road Runner," "Girlfriend," and "Hospital."
Free Font Archive
Mac and PC platforms
If you're a web wonk, graphics are a vice--and bandwidth-guzzling fonts are perhaps the ultimate sin. Why send a 20k file to convey 20 bytes of information? Well, because fonts are cool. And free fonts are really cool. Chank Store not only makes some of the best free fonts around, they present them in exciting, irreverent showcases.
He's probably best known for his translation of Dante's classic Inferno, but Ciardi own's work is also built to last. He may not have been J. Edgar Hoover's favorite writer, but he wrote smart poems such as:
Who could believe an ant in theory?
a giraffe in blueprint?
Ten thousand doctors of what's possible
could reason half the jungle out of being.
I speak of love, and something more,
to say we are the thing that proves itself
not against reason, but impossibly true,
and therefore to teach reason reason.
Before his untimely death from pancreatic cancer, Bill Hicks was perhaps the most incisively funny man on the planet. Spiritual brother to Lenny Bruce, Bill's subjects aren't your typical comic fodder. Drugs, crime, fundamentalism, the first amendment--it may sound more like a sermon than a set, and Hicks probably wouldn't disagree. Try to dig up a bootleg video and prepare to laugh hard.
This site provides facts, reviews, and availability for thousands of films, from the current blockbusters to video classics. Of course, there are plenty of sites out there that offer similar information. The difference is that Moviefinder.com will email you when your favorite movies are due to appear on your local TV system. You'll never miss Cool Hand Luke again!
Homicide, A Year on the Killing Streets
You've probably seen the critically acclaimed television show that is based on Simon's book. A reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Simon took a year off to follow a shift of the Baltimore PD's homicide unit around the clock. The result is a riveting book that easily gave life to a riveting TV show, evidenced by the fact that many of the show's storylines are taken straight from the text.
When indie roots rockers Uncle Tupelo broke up a couple of years ago, it seemed appropriate to take sides in the matter. Tupelo's frontman Jay Farrar created Son Volt, while co-contributor Jeff Tweedy founded Wilco. Now, after two records apiece, the results are in: Wilco is the better band. Listen to Being There just once and you'll agree.
This book follows the life and times of John von Neumann, father of the digital computer and a pioneer of the branch of mathematics known as "game theory." The dilemma of the title refers to a hypothetical "game" wherein two criminals are offered the chance to betray each other in return for lesser sentences. Sounds like a harmless brain-teaser? Well, von Neumann and the folks at RAND were crunching the numbers on these types of games in order to devise policies regarding nuclear war. The book is a fascinating glimpse into the U.S. scientific community at the beginning of the Cold War.
The star of this lush pastoral film is Jenny Agutter , who you may have caught in the classic Logan's Run or possibly American Werewolf in London. A cinematographer who turned to directing, Nic Roeg created this story of lost children finding their way through the Australian Outback over 25 years ago, but most people have never had a chance to see it. Now, Walkabout has been restored and released on video for the first time.
Charles Baxter writes about magic. And whether it's the magic of connection or the magic of destruction or desperation, the results are still astonishing. From "Reincarnation:"
"We had reached that part of the dinner when all the guests, smoothed out with wine and the meal, the first and second helpings, sit back and speak their minds. 'Hearts,' I would once have said, 'sit back and speak their hearts.' I used to think that this was the basis of civilization, such conversations."
Answers to yesterday's quiz: 1.b, 2.a, 3.c
This volume, subtitled "A Thematic Dictionary," is not only a useful reference tool, but also a fun read. The cool thing is that the words are organized by category rather than alphabetically. You'll find sections on everything from bowling to Buddhism. Try matching these terms with their definitions:
1. a river wave with a crest that turns back on itself, sometimes swamping canoes (from
2. a Roman structure used to house goats (from Architecture)
3. a narrow dress having a short ruffle below the waistline (from Dresses)
Lonely at the Top
While we don't usually endorse "Best of" albums, this Randy Newman sampler is an exception. It offers 22 tracks gathered from Newman's best song collections, such as Good Old Boys and Sail Away. And while almost every song on this disc is a winner, standouts include "Political Science," "Louisiana 1927," and "Jolly Coppers on Parade."
RealAudio has always been cool, and it's only gotten better with each successive release. Now the folks at Progressive have upped the ante: the latest version of RealPlayer offers streaming video, as well as customizable "destination" buttons that allow you to retrieve your favorite audio and video feeds on demand. It's no suprise that our favorite feed is a RealVideo version of the opening of the Daily Show.
Published "now and then"
Paul Lukas writes about the stuff we see every day, but take for granted. That's why his 'zine is subtitled "The Journal of Inconspicuous Consumption." Covering products from Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to Reindeer Pâté, the writing is insightful without being pretentious. The focus is on both the functionality and the presentation of the items. If you can't track down Beer Frame, you can catch some of Lukas's pieces in New York magazine or at Homearts.com.
This is perhaps the most wonderful disaster ever recorded. Full of stops, starts, and studio banter, the album was too loose to be released in 1975. Only after the music industry grew up a little did bits and pieces of the Bach's Bottom session begin to surface. Now, the CD includes multiple versions of the gloriously unkempt "Take Me Home and Make Me Like It" along with pop gems like "Free Again" and the Rolling Stones' "Singer Not the Song."
Sessions at West 54th
Since Sunday Night went off the air, the state of musical performance on television has been a sad, predictable parade of musicians hawking singles on talk shows or generating intensely uninteresting live albums via the MTV Unplugged machine. Hopefully, this new public television show, hosted by LA radio personality Chris Douridas, can bring some of the excitement back to live music on TV. This week's installment features Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter and composer of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Blood on the Fields."
Somehow this hour-long video biography of Jesco White, the "best" mountain dancer in West Virginia, manages to be simultaneously frightening, touching, and hilarious. Since originally airing on West Virginia public television, it's become something of a cult classic, resulting in some minor fame for its subject and thus the eventual sequel, Jesco Goes to Hollywood.