Sunday, May 28, 2006



Once every few years I see a movie that completely knocks me sideways and gets me in that "holy shit, what was that?" obsessive mode where I watch the thing time and time again, as if I were dissecting it layer by layer in an attempt to understand it. Primer was such a movie.

I'm not going to give out many details of this movie to you since most of what made it work on me was the element of surprise. To my consternation, the packaging for the DVD gives a bit of the surprise away, but then again, with this movie it's not so much the plot as the execution of it that either drives you up the wall or sucks you in right from the get-go.

Primer was recommended to me over a year ago by a longime 'net friend, and I'd picked it up through work a few months back and let it sit on the shelf for a while with the other dozens of unviewed DVDs I intend to watch sometime or another. The other night, Sarah was looking for something for us to watch at a relatively late hour, and I decided to throw Primer into the DVD player, figuring its concise running time (73 minutes) wouldn't keep us up until past 5 A.M. (unlike, say, King Kong).

As it turned out, I was wrong: we were up a couple hours after Primer ended, looking for information and insight into the movie we had just seen and maybe partially understood...we think.

Rather than deal out typical Hollywood-style introduction to the central characters and "ease" you into the story, Primer drops you right smack in the middle of a group of bright and driven would-be inventors (all of them looking for a profitable break to get them out of their dull-as-dishwater day jobs) and dares you to keep up with them. At first, this seems like this is a film that goes out of its way to confuse the living shit out of you, though for me that feeling of disorientation had me wanting to know what the hell was going on right from the first scene.

While there are a few breaks in the "action" that let you do some "catching up" of sorts, Primer is chock full of dense, Robert Altman-esque overlapping conversations thick with tech-speak and, in the case of finally getting to the central idea of the movie, painstakingly slow reveals. While I generally find the use of the "subtitling" function on DVD players to be an annoying distraction, I was very thankful to be able to re-watch Primer and pay close attention to the dialogue and draw out far more of what was happening than before.

OK, that's all I'll say about this movie for now. Go find it, rent it, and watch it and let me know what you think. Primer is definitely not for everyone, and even for indie-cinema fans it isn't easy to process, but I found it extremely rewarding in the end.

For those of you who watch Primer (or have seen it and would like some additional insight and illustrative help with the whole thing), I'll end this post with a couple of websites that shed some light on the events of the film:

Here we have an illustrative page (apparently created by a guy who has WAY more free time than I do and has seen the movie possibly dozens of times more than I) providing a series of timelines to put the film's events into better focus.

And here is the official film site, containing a forum (frequented by the lead actor/writer/director Shane Carruth himself at one point) discussing various plot points and interpretations of key scenes/dialogue.

NP Eurythmics In The Garden

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Visit From Chuck

This is not ChuckThe following is a rather lengthy, agonizing tale detailing a most unexpected appearance from one of those visitors that seem incapable of taking hints and, thus, never leaves. My 'net friend Quag7 has affectionately named this guest "Chuck" (which explains the title of this post). Unfortunately, Sarah is well acquanited by now with these types of visitors, and I'd foolishly assumed that I would never have a guest of my own to deal with. However, last week I did, and here is what happened ...

It was shortly past noon last Thursday morning (18) when I awoke a bit earlier than usual, thinking I had slept wrong and managed to pull a muscle in my side. I turned over and attempted to catch a few more winks of sleep, but was unable to find a position that would make the knot go away. In fact, by the time I finally gave up and headed for the shower, it had become sore enough to make me grit my teeth as I rose from the bed: it felt like someone had kicked me with a steel-toed boot very hard square in the left flank.

The shower relieved the sensation almost immediately, and I went about my usual auto-pilot shampoo & soap-up routine, letting my arms move mechanically about while my head started to tot up a list of what had to be done when I got to work. Upon exiting the shower, I frowned as that persistent kicked-in feeling returned almost the instant I started toweling myself dry. I worked my left arm around a few times, trying to loosen what felt like a nasty cramp or maybe some kind of gas bubble and ultimately gave up and went into the rest of my pre-work routine of dressing, starting the car a bit early, (engine seems to be having some issues running "cold" lately, possible tune-up needed this weekend), checking the news online, locking up the condo and leaving.

I dropped myself into the front seat, debating a stop at the drugstore on the way to work to grab a box of Gas-X pills, and was about halfway into a turn towards N Marginal Road when that leaden lump of pain in my side stabbed me hard enough to make me groan aloud. I sat motionless for a second, probing the pain site with my hand and realized with mounting concern that the pain wasn't receding at all, but intensifying and pulsing in palpable waves. Slowly the idea that this was not, in fact, a gas bubble began to dawn on me. Deciding that sucking this in wasn't going to fly, I parked the car and headed back inside to call Greg and let him know I'd need an extra hour or so to work this out.

By that point, my voice must have already reflected how I felt since he seemed to know right away that something was wrong. When he asked me what it was, I took the best guess I had, which turned out to be the right one: "I don't really know, but it hurts like a sonofabitch and feels almost like a kidney stone or something." I gave my co-worker Brian a call, or at least left him a message, asking if he could spot me for a couple of hours and then attempted to get some rest ... well, at least for a minute or two until the pain seemed to kick it up another notch and I was doubled up on the bed, starting to breathe like a locomotive and moan softly, wondering what the hell I should do to knock this down a bit. Attempting to void whatever was sitting around in my lower gut didn't help matters at all.

A solution presented itself quickly: I reasoned that since my shower a bit earlier seemed to make the pain go away, then taking another one was the smartest course of action. Stepping into the shower stall a second time and letting the water land directly on my side was an almost orgasmic experience that time: the relief was so great and instantaneous that my response probably would have sounded like something from an X-rated movie had someone been able to hear through the bathroom wall. I didn't care. I just slumped gratefully against the sliding panels on the stall and soaked up a little bit of heaven.

After about ten minutes, I had dialed the cold water mix all the way down and was starting to lose the real kick of bracingly hot water, and I knew already as my side had started to awaken from its heated slumber that there was going to be some pretty rough times ahead (at least until the hot water tank downstairs refilled its supply). I stepped out and toweled off just enough so that I wasn't dripping wet and started skulking around, looking for a heating blanket that I knew we had somewhere but had no luck finding it. After a few minutes, I had to relent and sprawled back onto the bed, still wet, starting to writhe around, and unable to find any position that would lessen the continuous fiery pressure that was now definitely moving down towards my lower abdomen.

This is not ChuckSince I was out of hot water for at least the next half hour or so, by my estimation, I started to consider my painkiller options and (rather hilariously, in hindsight) opted to pop a couple of Tylenol gelcaps. Staggering downstairs and into the kitchen, I poured myself a glass of water and knocked it back in a rush to wash the pills down and get them working ... and almost immediately regretted doing so. By the time I'd made it back to the bedroom, my stomach was starting to do slow rolls, and I collapsed again onto the bed, clutching a pillow to my side and trying to will away the growing spinning nausea. Oh shit...

I'd barely made it to the 'loo before going off like Old Faithful: up came the Tylenols, the water, and who knows what the hell else since I hadn't had anything to eat since the previous evening. That was followed by a second torrent, and then a few good old fashioned dry heaves to get the point across: Don't do that again.

That was pretty much the point of no return. After that, with the afternoon descending rapidly towards all-out Hell, I made a semi-lucid, pain-slurred call to Greg, who asked if I'd had any luck getting Brian to come in yet. I hadn't, of course, and he told me not to worry about it and to get my ass to the hospital. I replied that there was no way I could drive a car in this state, and that I had to wait for Sarah to get home from work before I'd be able to get anywhere and she wouldn't be home for another couple of hours. I had tried to call her earlier at the wrong extension (nice form, there, Vic) and sent a couple of e-mails to various addys of hers, but she was away from the computer and tied up in the lab.

With two hours to kill before Sarah got home, I made a final, half-crazed (yet fruitless) search of the entire upper floor of the condo for that old electric heating pad, all the while battling waves of nausea and feeling the pain reach an unrelenting intensity that I can't think of any comparison to (and my points of comparison include breaking fingers and getting tooth fillings sans anesthesia). With pain meds effectively out of the picture, I basically spent the time lumbering in and out of the shower (eventually having the presence of mind to plug the drain and do some additional marginally-effective soaking in the accumulated, cooling, bathwater while waiting for the hot water tank to refill once again), kneeling miserably in front of the toilet, or trying very hard to lie absolutely motionless on the bed. It was an ugly, endless slog, made only barely tolerable by the wonderful, blessed, all-powerful shower, which (when running at sub-scalding heat) was nearly making me weep in shoft-lived relief every time I stepped back into it.

Sarah made it home around 6 and I was flat on my back in the tub, soaking up the last of the precious hot water and I begged her immediately to find that electric heating pad, which she did (how the hell had I missed it?). To my considerable dismay, the effectiveness of the heating pad was virtually nil in relation to the shower and I lay dripping wet on the bed, pad pinned beneath me, fruitlessly trying to dial down the agony and waiting out the hot water tank once again. Sarah was trying to get me to commit to the hospital, and I knew I needed to go, but I told her that there was no way I was going to be able to handle a waiting room in my state. She then said she would call an ambulance, figuring that I would be taken into care (and, by extension, drugged) far more quickly. That sounded a bit better, so I let her make the call while I hobbled into the shower for probably the sixth or seventh time that afternoon for one last anesthetic blast.

This, sadly, is also not ChuckI made my way downstairs a few moments later (which Sarah wasn't very pleased about since my inability to move downstairs beforehand was part of what made her call the ambulance in the first place), walked slowly outside in a t-shirt sweats and socks and shivered as I lay down onto the stretcher and promptly started to throw up again in front of the half dozen-or-so people gathered outside wondering what the blazes was going on (don't worry, the paramedics had kindly provided me a towel for this).

Aside from being my first-ever trip in an ambulance anywhere, my ride to LakeWest was memorable for two reasons:

1) The paramedic treating me managed to get the IV line smoothly into my hand while we were in the middle of a surprisingly bumpy ride. That's some pretty impressive prick-fu.

2) There was some bizarre misunderstanding between us had the two paramedics thinking that I only had one kidney, which they relayed ahead to the hospital, followed by my hoarse, shocked "WHAT?" (I'm still not sure how that intuitive leap came about.)

Once at LakeWest, things get pretty mercifully faint as to what happened when: though unfortunately this narcotic dimming of memories was delayed a half hour and change as the promise of quick drug IV was quickly thwarted by the standard big hospital "Nurse A sets you up and asks your name and info, followed by waiting, followed by another Nurse who asks your name and info, followed by waiting, followed by appearance of The Doctor who asks your name and info and then decides to administer treatment via the second Nurse" rigamarole. Once that painkiller IV was finally hooked up, though, the fog began to roll in and the rest of that night is a jumble of conversations between me (mumbling or offering a thumbs-up to indicate comprehension), Sarah, and whatever Doctor or Nurse was in the room at any time, with a 20-minute adventure deeper into the hospital to be stretched out on another table and zapped by a CAT-Scan machine (this was kind of like being positioned in the hole of a 10' tall silver donut covered with switches and readouts). I wasn't paying a lot of attention to much of anything else: by then, I just wanted to sleep since the previous seven hours had utterly sapped me dry (in more ways than one). Thus, I spent most of my LakeWest stay drifting in and out of consciousness and trying not to accidentally rip the IV out of my hand while tossing and turning on my gurney.

Yeah, I was tossing and turning: the drugs weren't quite what I'd been hoping for. In fact, I was better off standing in the shower at home as far as comfort went. Apparently, at some point that night, The Doctor explained to Sarah and I that it was best not to dial down the pain to zero but to keep it around 5 so that I would know when the kidney stone left my ureter and entered my bladder at last, which would kill the sensations of pain in my left side instantaneously. The Doctor said that when this happened, the effect on me would be like being strung out on pure brown Mexican heroin (or some shit that sounded an awful lot like that) and that would be baaad, mmkay?

I figured saying "no" might somehow lessen my current weak-ass painkiller dosage so I gave The Doctor a thumbs-up and tried to rest. A couple of enthusiastic appeals for urine samples early on were fruitless as there hadn't been a drop of fluid in me for a couple of hours before getting to the emergency room, and whatever fluid IV they had started me on wasn't exactly getting Mother Nature on the hotline. It didn't really matter, as they had apparently lost their zeal to get me to piss in a cup when the giant CAT-Scan donut reported that I indeed had a 4mm guest wending its way through my system. Smile for the camera, Chuck.

This is also not ChuckAfter some more rest, I was given a pat on the head and taken out to Sarah's waiting car, dry-heaving most of the way, and clutching a plastic bag containing a plastic jug and a couple of paper strainers (you do the math) and a prescription for the same Percocet I still had leftover from my wisdom tooth extraction. I was told to set up an appointment with so-and-so at such-and-such a time once my guest left and have a nice night, etc.

Back at home, I fell almost immediately into bed, fumbled down a Percocet tab, drank a couple sips of water (which in itself was a battle to keep my hitchy stomach from rejecting) and dropped into an uncertain, fitful sleep punctuated by trips to the 'loo as my earlier fluid IV worked its wau through my system. A few hours later, stumbling through the dark towards the bathroom for the third or so time that night, I realized with a slow smile that the pain was gone: my guest had finally reached the waiting room.

Barring the appearance of a possible second guest (or maybe Chuck's crumbly coulda-been twin) that made Saturday an unpleasant (though Percocet and hot shower-maintained) echo of that awful Thursday, things have been steadily improving ever since. I was finally able to start eating more than a couple of spoonfuls of food at a time by Sunday morning, and actually had an honest-to-God full-on dinner Monday night. Barring a lone Pepsi on Sunday night, I've been almost entirely cold turkey from caffeine (and 100% so on the nicotine) for exactly a week as of this writing. Go team me.

About the only thing that hasn't improved is my guest, who has yet to leave the premises as of the hour of this writing, and I have long since grown exasperated with pissing into a jug in an attempt to retain my guest "Chuck" for further study. Being that 1) I am probably looking at a bill totalling at least a grand for my LakeWest adventure last week (and I'm not much for adding to that figure) and 2) I have a pretty good idea exactly what caused Chuck to crystallize in my left kidney in the first place, my zeal to capture him is also declining as nearly a week passes since he made his dramatic stage entrance.

Now now, don't get too uppity with my impatience: I still plan to try to catch the bastard when he leaves. Despite my near-certainty that my once-heroic Mountain Dew intake is 100% responsible for Chuck's entire existence, there is always that little uncertainty that there might be something else at work here (though I doubt it), so I have to at least give this a shot. Perhaps sensing this (as if a calcified crystallized chunk of excess chemical crud could do so), Chuck has been a very quiet and courteous tenant ever since he arrived, and has been extremely reticent to show himself at daily curtain calls. Unless he has somehow spontaneously disintegrated, I will certainly be very aware when Chuck makes his exit at last (though apparently the discomfort level will be nowhere near the scale of last week's extended suffering).

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Not The NY Times Book Review, 2006 Edition

It's spring again, and that seems to be the time of year that my book reading starts to spike for whatever reason. With that in mind (and since it's been rather slow in here with business being so surprisingly brisk at work), I thought it was high time to do another catch-all book review post.

For Christmas, I received John Harris' The Dark Side Of The Moon: The Making Of The Pink Floyd Masterpiece, which was a reasonably entertaining and quick read, but didn't do an awful lot to shed additional light on a record that I know as well as the back of my own hand. If there is any unique quality to this book, it would be the freestanding nature of the piece as I can't think of any Pink Floyd book I've ever seen that focused primarily on one record to the exclusion of all others. That said, Harris does take plenty of time to bring the reader up to speed by recounting the band's trajectory over the years 1966-1972, and then tackling the album's extended live unveiling and then the subsequent recording sessions that honed and refined the new work to its perfect final state.

I suppose, for those new to the music of Pink Floyd, Harris' book will probably be seen as an invaluable aid in the understanding of the album's dense thicket of sonic layers and lyrical ideology, but for longtime fans, there is very little revealed here that has not been recounted elsewhere, minus perhaps a few previously-uncirculated points of insight from various band members or industry names. But being such a pivotal record in the Pink Floyd's career (and for rock music as a whole), accounts of the recording of Dark Side (be they oral, written, or televised) are legion, and have been for years, so there isn't a lot to be said anymore that will surprise and enlighten.

From there, it was off continue reading the pile of books I'd had boxed up ever our move. Of these older books, by far the best of the lot has been Stan Cornyn's Exploding!: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, And Hustlers Of The Warner Music Group, which was exactly the kind of thickly-detailed music industry insider's tome I'd been looking for ever since reading Frederic Dannen's fantastic corporate/payola expose Hit Men back in 1996.

Covering nearly 50 years from the resurrection of Warner Bros. Records in the late 1950s (the label had a brief, calamitous initial existence in the 1930s) and closely following the company's first baby steps into novelty, pop, folk and eventually rock music, Exploding! tracks the major releases released by Warner Bros., as well as the ever-accumulating list of labels owned or distributed by the company (soon known, variously as WEA, Warner Music Group or WMG) as the decades went by.

Having started at Warners from the get-go (starting as an acclaimed liner notes scribe and moving into advertising and then nearly all the way up the executive ladder over the following 30 years) Cornyn offers insight into nearly every significant event to shape the record industry in the rock era and how these insane profits of the 70s and 80s began to shape the industry into the reviled reptilian behemoth it has become today. While only referring to artist stories on an incidental basis (rarely is a career followed), Cornyn stays focused on the larger trends and executive deals that steered the emerging monolith through the massive 1970s sales surge, through the post-disco hangover and into the go-go CD-driven 1980s.

Cornyn also takes time to set up the stories of the other labels that eventually came to represent the most successful music corporation in the history of the music business, and introducing all of the key players who pulled the strings, including the beloved label heads Mo Ostin (Reprise) and Joe Smith (Warner Bros.), longtime Atlantic Records eminence griese Ahmet Ertegun, and benevolent WCI CEO Steve Ross (whose death seems to coincide with a tailspin that shook the corporation to its very core in the early 1990s).

If there is a drawback to Exploding!, it is the occasionally very dry and exhaustive asides that lay down the details of distribution, manufacturing, corporate expansion and executive shuffling on all levels, which might put off anyone not intimately familiar with the music industry. But once you get around the mechanics that made the industry work, the rest is a very smooth, revealing, and entertaining read.

On the other side of that coin is Walter Yetnikoff's Howling At The Moon: The Odyssey Of A Monstrous Mogul In The Age Of Excess, which I'd picked up under the bad assumption that I would be reading some engrossing memoirs of Yetnikoff's stewardship of CBS Records (WMG's only true rival) from 1975-1990. However, rather than dishing out enlightening gossip on artists or boardroom politics, or even discussing the hows and whys of CBS's success (climaxing in their surprise trouncing of WMG in the Thriller-powered early 1980s), Howling At The Moon is instead a tiresome, egotistical litany of "I smoked this, I drank that, and then I said this and I fucked that" excess that had my eyes rolling instead of widening.

If you want to read about one man's all-consuming, self-destructive drive for absolute power and a shitload of money, then Howling At The Moon is just the book for you. Those looking to find out what made CBS tick will come away sorely disappointed, if not outright revulsed. Hell, Exploding! gave more details on what was going on at Black Rock more than Howling At The Moon, which instead obsesses on underlining again and again in thick black Magic Marker just how much of a king-sized prick Yetnikoff was to everyone he encountered (professionally and otherwise).

The last third of the Howling At The Moon deals with Yetnikoff's dismissal from CBS just after he'd finally started to reap the rewards of its purchase by Sony Music (who apparently had finally had it with his increasingly psychotic behavior). We then follow his directionless flailing about in the 1990s as he tries his hand at Hollywood, goes through de-tox, and makes a second attempt at success in the music business via. his ill-advised, self-financed independent label, Velvel Records (after his Yiddish first name). Finally, the book draws to a close with this human Tyrannosaur apparently tamed at last ... yet instead of feeling any kind of relief or joy over Yetnikoff's renewed membership in the human race, we are simply left marveling at how he was able to keep his job for as long as he had. Ugh.

Finally, I am currently winding my way through Tom Tomorrow's The Great Big Book Of Tomorrow as I write this. The Great Big Book... is a cherry-picked best-of collection spanning the entire existence of This Modern World, a lacerating weekly "alternative" comic strip that mercilessly zaps the criminals we regularly elect into positions of power (no matter what side of the ideological fence they may sit on). Tomorrow also saves plenty of venom for the forces of consumerism, capitalism, and conservatism running amok in contemporary society as well as the apparent near-total apathy of our voting population, and the sad state of modern televised news programming (if you've never heard of this strip and are interested in seeing what I am talking about, you can keep up with current editions of This Modern World here).

While always hilarious (and generally spot-on) with his satire, Tomorrow's humor, much like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's, is equally capable of making you laugh aloud or seethe in contempt: as with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, This Modern World isn't so much outrageous as simply outraged, and his fury is contagious. Be prepared to giggle ... and think.

NP Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

Monday, May 08, 2006

Baseball's Best: Online

I was in a bit of a Tribe nostalgia mood (or perhaps merely feeling a tad masochistic) a couple of weeks ago, and I wound up watching both of my aging commemorative World Series videotapes over a couple of evenings.

The 1995 series against the Atlanta Braves was certainly the far less painful of the two to watch, since the Tribe was quite simply outmatched on the pitching front from the get-go.

The 1997 series against the Florida Marlins, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish to watch. This time, the times were far more evenly matched and walking into a packed-to-thegills BW-3's to watch Game 7 on that cold late October Sunday night, it looked like we were finally going to get the sports championship that this town has wanted for so long. Of course, it wasn't to be, and perhaps in the worst way possible ... we were one strike away from winning it all in the bottom of that ninth inning.

One. Lousy. Strike.

Thus, instead of becoming one of the the high points of my life as a baseball fan, Game 7 represented instead one of the most excruciating evenings in the history club. Talk about having your heart just ripped out of you. Ugh.

Anyway, while watching the opening set-up montage for the '97 Series, I was shown blips of the preceding, bitterly-fought ALCS battle with the Baltimore Orioles which reawakened my memories of that series, particularly Games 3 and 6, which remain to this day two of my favorite Indians games ever. Wishing for the thousandth time that I'd taped these marathon pitching duels, I started combing the web looking for a way to land copies of these gems for myself.

What I came across instead of way to own these games was a way to watch at least one of them (Game 3) via. streaming video from MLB itself. I also managed to kill the rest of that day with a $3 "day pass" to's Baseball's Best library, where a large array of their selected greatest games await you in streaming form (be it audio or video), including that gutwrenching 1997 Game 7 in full. There are also a bunch of "shorts" as well, which combine some highlights with modern interview footage for those who don't feel like watching entire games, or you can pick specific innings to watch, should the mood strike you. Pretty cool stuff, and I've become a bit tempted to subscribe for a month in July or August when the pennant races get going and watch whatever games I please whenever I want.

A quick note: your overall enjoyment of the Baseball's Best selection will be greatly enhanced if you happen to be a fan of the Goddamned Yankees, since they seem to dominate a large part of the offered games on the list. Even if you aren't, however, there are a couple of reccomendations I can pass along in the form of featured perfect games from David Wells and David Cone, both of which manage to transcend being Yankees games and become more about individual achievement. Despite my intense loathing of the Bronx Bombers, I couldn't help but get swept up in the moment as these two guys pulled off the rarest feats in the game (there have only been five of these in my lifetime to date).