Friday, June 27, 2008

Thank You, Will Leitch

Like religion, sports interest me, but the surrounding culture involved make it very, very difficult to continue giving a shit. Especially since, growing up in Connecticut, I was sandwiched between cities with the most irritating of sports fans, Boston and New York. I grew up having to sit with my family and listen to out-of-touch commentators from ESPN, and hockey anchors with the WORST HAIR KNOWN TO MANKIND. Not to mention that 80-90% of sports fans are date-raping retards that care a tad too much about whether "we" won the game last night or not. Sure, I love the spectacle of an NFL or NHL game, and I love the feverish hype surrounding March Madness, but who the hell am I going to talk to it about? Sports moralists that hated Randy Moss until he joined the Patriots? People with a useless knowledge of stats that have no logical application? Very few people I know in real life can have an intelligent, funny, rational conversation about sports. Why bother when everyone around me would rather watch America's Next Top Model than be a "barbarian"?

That's where Deadspin came to save the day. I was a little late to the game, mainly because I spent a bit of time avoiding anything associated with Gawker after getting fatigued. Eventually I noticed that the blog was run by Will Leitch, a name surprisingly familiar to me! While in high school and making 'zines, I had a period in life where I enjoyed a certain kind of blogger, essentially the "first wave" back when no one really knew what a blog was supposed to be. Claire Zulkey, Ben Brown, Lindsayism, Elizabeth Spiers, and the crew at the Black Table. Zulkey (who I once interviewed for Placebo Effect, my old lit mag) linked to some contributions she made to the Black Table, and occasionally I'd browse the other content, mainly the Week in Craig (brilliant). Sometimes I'd stumble upon some other hilarious stuff written by AJ Daulerio and, yes, Will Leitch's "Life As a Loser" column. That whole group of writers set the standards for blogging, and, in retrospect, the Black Table is probably the best example of what makes a blog great: a group of kids with J-School backgrounds that kept some of the old values, threw some away, and added a few irreverent ones of their own.

Anyway, when I realized that the "dude from the Black Table" was running a sports blog, I finally found a way to get back into sports. It had been two years since I moved to Brooklyn, and probably one year since my brother essentially called me a sell-out for no longer watching sports. With Leitch at the helm of Deadspin, I found a voice in the sports media that I could empathize with, and make me approach enjoying sports in a different way, one that seemed tailor-made for my new life amid the wussiest pseudo-hipsters known to man. Hell, where else will you find writing that name-drops the New Republic and the Office while talking about sports. Actually, a lot of blogs now, but Deadspin will always be known as the first and the best. Deadspin was a life-saver, and helped me reconnect with my family during holiday sporting clusterfucks like Thanksgiving and Memorial Day. Hell, it even inspired me to do some sports writing of my own.

Sure, that piece of writing was for a class, but I also had to research the genre I was working in. Thus, I emailed Leitch with some poorly articulated questions that will embarrass me to the day I die. Still, he was gracious and replied no matter how stupid he probably thought they were. My last question was about whether he felt like he was stretching himself too thin by writing in so many places, and how keeps from being cynical. His response was this: "I try to keep my distance from those things whenever possible. Sports is still fun for me, and writing is the most fun thing I do. The minute I start to feel like I'm losing touch with the reason I started the site, I'll quit and write about something else. " Shortly after that little email exchange, Leitch participated in the now-infamous panel with Buzz Bissinger that serves as a microcosm of why mainstream journalism will die via its own ignorance. Will didn't fall to Bissinger's level either, a real class act.

Today is Leitch's last day as editor of Deadspin. He's joining Joe Hagan, David Amsden, and some other brilliant writers as a contributing editor at New York. Before actually joining there, he did some neat Office writeups and a few sports profiles. Let's hope his talent and insight will be put to good use with some hard-hitting long form journalism. Since it's his final week, he's been giving a farewell post each day and so far he's on a roll. Leitch and company have yet to name a replacement, but I trust them, and I'll still visit daily whether he's editor or not. Thank you Will, for everything.

Why? - These Few Presidents

Thursday, June 26, 2008

One Step Beyond

As a young lad just entering high school, I was less Kid Pretentious and more Kid Retard Hippie. Sure, I knew about The Beta Band and a few other indie bands, but my big thing at the time was still jam bands, which kind of extended to "new jazz" bands like Medeski, Martin & Wood. Another band in the latter category was Soulive, probably the best of the bunch, when that still seemed to show reverence to the jazzmen of old. They were also quick to embrace hip-hop, enlisting Black Thought of The Roots and Talib Kweli to appear on Next, which was released in early 2002 (or, the beginning of the end of my jam band phase). Overall, I still think it's a decent record - it probably contains the only tolerable song by Dave Matthews (covering Ani DiFranco no less!). But the hip-hop tracks really stood out to me - one of my first exposures to indie hip-hop, or things outside the norm that I heard on the radio.

Sure, most blogging nerds were listening to Quality at the same time I heard Next, but it was an important record for me. Kweli's "Bridge to 'Bama" was remixed by Hi-Tek, one of the collaborations that happened right around when they split. It's probably not the best Kweli song, but it served as a good introduction to somebody who would become one of my favorite rappers, and one that made me more aware of socially conscious hip-hop at a time when my liberalism was just sprouting. So, thank you Soulive, and thank you Talib Kweli for being at the right place at the right time.

This Friday, Kweli is playing a show at the Museum of Natural History curated by Flavorpill (where, yes, I intern). It will be a good opportunity to make up for missing his free show at Pratt as a Freshman. If you see an awkward dude harassing people with a clip board outside, come say hi! See you in the pit.

Talib Kweli - Shock Body

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Everybody Cut Loose

Most people that meet me in person are sort of shocked that I'm a total geek for dance music. Sure, it started innocently enough in high school with rock-friendly acts like the Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, and !!!, but before I knew it, I was listening to the full-fledged disco of Escort and getting down at the unstoppable Daft Punk show in Keyspan Park. If high school Scott met present Scott, he'd totally laugh and say something homophobic about his music taste!

That probably has to do with a cultural shift - the "it" dance sound for a while was dancepunk, rock-friendly dance music or whatever. That was like five years ago - forever! - and now there have been at least two new trends since. For a while (last year) it was all about Justice and the Ed Banger crew, which really didn't have any staying power since it ripped off the worst parts of Daft Punk and made it their focus. That's terrible especially when Soulwax did a better job of that years before!

Everything's about "new disco" these days and I really don't mind. Did you know the Hercules and Love Affair album just came out yesterday? Yeah, me neither. DFA's whole disco revival thing is incredible, and definitely proves their staying power and ability to evolve as dance kings. Holy Ghost! is going to likely eclipse both Hercules and Escort (though their full-length is going to kill it). Aside from unleashing "Hold On" on the dance floor, HG! has also done some incredible remixing on Panther and Cut Copy, but this Moby remix streaming at RCDLBL proves they're something special, combining their synths with Hercules' horns for a classic cut. That EP release can't come fast enough, since they're touring with the Juan Maclean, who will also dominate when their full-length is released this year.

Aside from that, everyone and their headband-wearing hipster grandma is going totally gay for this new Girl Talk album. He gave it away in high quality for free, which is always great. I'm not sure what my official stance on Girl Talk is - it's a fun album, I like some of the mashups, but it's not life-changing or the best thing ever, and it's really irritating to hear anyone call it "brilliant" because recognizing songs is fun. Also, have you ever seen the crowds at a Girl Talk show? Fucking NYU kids. Anyway, this album is less abrasive than Night Ripper, and probably a little better executed. Congratulations on a lasting gimmick, Greg!

Girl Talk - Set It Off

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Another Reason I'm Moving

How does this even happen?

I currently live on the border of Bed-Stuy, and people like this are very strange to me. If you've taken a bus ride down Myrtle or Dekalb Avenue, you've seen them: massive condos surrounded by crack dens and projects. I've always wondered who, exactly, would want to live in these buildings, and now I've gotten my answer. This New York Times article also focuses on the Mynt (vomit) and reveals something scarier: these people like the way their apartments look. What the fuck are they doing in New York?

It's places like this that prove gentrification and the desire to live in "hip Brooklyn" have gone overboard. The original reason people moved to Brooklyn was because they were priced out of Manhattan despite oftentimes working there. Thus, they moved to places near convenient, Manhattan-destined trains like the L and F (Williamsburg and Park Slope). However, any idea of convenience has been thrown out the window at this point. Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy? Since when does the G train give anyone a convenient ride? We've reached the point of no return. There was a great New York article about reverse gentrification a little while back about people finally realizing that Red Hook is inconvenient and a stupid place to live unless you want to run a factory. Sure, IKEA could change that, but who knows. In five years these lofts will be abandoned, and in ten they'll be crack dens. Things come full circle. Suck on that, Real World cast!

The big move on Saturday just can't come fast enough.

The Notwist - Gloomy Planets

Monday, June 23, 2008

I've Found the World So New

I spent the last four days at my old home in Avon, Connecticut. Now that I live in New York City, I've come to enjoy visiting there for the same reason I despised living there: having nothing to do. Waking up each morning, I could sleep in, enjoy a cup of coffee, and turn my brain off while watching a movie without worrying that there was something else I should be doing. Here are some notes from a weekend of doing nothing.

-Is there anything more miserable than a graduation ceremony? But younger sister's had something like 8 (!) speakers, and seemed about twice as long as my own. Every speech had a line that started "To quote the great...". But the celebration was fun, lots of food and drink, the usual thing you'd expect from a family celebrating the end of boring high school graduation ceremonies.

-Mindless movies thrive in suburbia specifically because there is nothing to do. I finally saw Iron Man, which is perfect at what it aims to be: a fun action flick with some cool explosions and effects. And hey, sober Robert Downey Jr. is pretty funny! Meanwhile, I finally got around to catching Ocean's Thirteen. Ocean's Eleven was my favorite movie in high school, but Ocean's Twelve was a bit of a disaster since the characters became the actors they were played by. The main reason Thirteen works better than Twelve is a return to having actual characters, and even an awesome subplot involving Casey Affleck starting a worker's strike at Mexican manufacturing company. Also, Matt Damon's father is totally played by Gob's surrogate dad!

-Bowling? Yes, bowling. I went to an alley in Torrington that is basically everything that Gutter in Greenpoint wishes it was. We don't know who won because we don't know how to score bowling with a pen and paper. Damn technology! Also, cheap beer! This was followed up with a trip to a nearby 24 hour diner. We are All-American kids!

-Nature. Trees and stuff. It's great.

-Errands without a sense of urgency. I got a new bank account and bought some sushi at a grocery store. Also, Landshark has joined the canon of summer beers, despite the douche factor of being associate with Jimmy Buffet.

While it was good to get away from the city and relax, I'm glad to be back. I'm still young, and I'm still ready to savor it every day. I move to Ridgewood on Saturday.

The Avalanches - Since I Left You

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Send Us Your Coordinates, I'll Send a Saint Bernard

In case you didn't know, Nam Le is currently the new "it" author in the lit world. Two years after his first story debuted in A Public Space, he continued getting published everywhere from One-Story to Zoetrope. Last month marked the publication of his first story collection, The Boat, and the reviews have been pretty damn positive. A lot's been made about the amount of research in the story, the fact that the stories are so strong you'd thinking someone over the age of 29 wrote them. On the other hand, there's been a lot of criticism that the stories are sort of, well, lacking substance and a certain "oomph".

Reading the book, I'd say my opinion is somewhere in the middle. Le's research skills make these stories enthralling. The reason most people seem to think Le is older than he actually is is the fact that most young writers don't bother with copious amount of research. If you're under 40, odds are that you're still writing away your angst with thinly-veiled autobiographies (hey, that's me!) or missing the mark entirely with a poorly-researched story that you think is kind of neat despite its awfulness. We can all learn something from Le, or at least attempt the sort of rigorous seriousness with which he approaches writing a story.

That being said, Nam still has a few kinks to work out when it comes to making us care about his characters or the outcome of his story. Sure, Colombian assassins and Iranian activists make for interesting subjects, but is there anything to take away from either of those stories? As Hari Kunzru said, there are small flourishes that feel like a breath of fresh air throughout. But the thing is, why bother writing a story about something you have no attachment to? It's something I've struggled with over the years: I want to write about what's important to me, and there always needs to be a venue or form that best supports that. If I were to write about Hiroshima, it probably wouldn't be about Hiroshima, etc. Le's biggest emotional impact comes from the already-talked-about-to-death opening story in the collection and "Halflead Bay", which perfectly captures the teenage years in which we are unsure of what we do and why we do it. There's a real connection there: you can tell Le cares about the characters in both of these stories. The others, who knows? He's probably sincere about his intentions, but only gets half of it right.

Frankly, that's OK. No one should be claiming that an author's first seven stories should be incredible, life-changing pieces of work. It's astonishing that he points to the stands like Babe Ruth with every story, and though he may not knock it out of the park each time, he at least hits the literary equivalent of a ground roll double every time. Dear Lord, did I really type that last sentence? Anyway, how many writers under thirty are capable of that? None, probably. "Pride..." and "Halflead Bay", in the end, are a sign of what's to come for Nam Le, the proof that he is going to be a future literary master, and it's necessary that we start paying attention now.

Tonight, Nam Le reads with Leslie Jamison and Keith Lee Morris at Fort Greene Park for APS. Be there or be square!

The Silver Jews - Party Barge

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Beating Another Dead Horse

The new Ratatat album kind of sucks. There, I said it. I'm sure a lot of people have, even when their other albums came out. I enjoyed their self-titled and I thought Classics was pretty good too. Their hip-hop remixes are fucking incredible. And you know what? They should stick to those remixes.

The thing about Ratatat is that their sound can only go so far. Pushing a one-trick pony two albums without people getting sick is commendable. But frankly, with LP3, they've managed to exhaust it. They pushed themselves, but not very far. There's a little experimenting with tribal drums and light strings, but there isn't enough to make this album feel new or worthwhile. This is why the remixes are so good: they were forced to stretch and make a new sound. It would be interesting to see them tackle more remixes now that they've mastered hip-hop. A track like "Shiller" proves that they might have a talent for more ambient tracks, sort of like DFA managing to stretch to make remixes that sounded more like Briano Eno and Arthur Russell than Liquid Liquid.

"Mirando" is one of the better cuts on the new album, and probably the closest they come to something new while maintaining the "Ratatat" sound. However, they're going to need a little more oomph than this "standout" if they want anyone to pay attention to LP4. Better luck next time, fellas!

Ratatat - Mirando

Thursday, June 12, 2008

There is No Such Thing as Parodic Narcissism

For the past eight months or so I've been struggling to figure out how to feel about Keith Gessen.

It was around then that I first saw the man in person as part of the (kind of useless) intro to the workplace class at Pratt. I was regrettably hungover and that's a bad thing for everyone involved, since everyone in the writing program hadn't heard of n+1. I managed to grumble something about James Wood and rant about the New Yorker but I was too tired to make any points. A female classmate tried to hit on him. He talked about hockey so that bumped him slightly respect-wise. I felt bad for some of the bad questions (what do you think of the internet (since I've never read your many internet rants in your magazine)?)

Basically he seemed nice and earnest but probably too earnest for someone in the lit world. A little self-important but you need that to even consider playing the public intellectual card.

A little while after that his name started popping up on Gawker a lot. I told Sharon Emily Gould was probably banging him and she didn't believe me. Ha! Anyway he did a lot of stupid things like that got taken out of context probably.

I haven't read his book (just like everyone that hates on him probably!) and now I probably never will because of his fucking Tumblr. Interviewing himself, getting into petty arguments, taking Gawker too seriously - Sharon's got a post coming about this, but he's pretty much become exactly who he despises: Tao Lin. That might be a little unfair, but there's still a lot of truth to it.

What's really infuriating about this whole Gawker v. Gessen thing is that I even give a shit about him. It's proof that not only Gessen needs to get out of New York but myself as well. On a trip to Connecticut this past weekend it was nice to not have the urge to discuss the death of print of n+1 or anything similar. Gessen needs a vacation, we all do. On his blog he says that we all went to the same six schools and fucked the same people. Obviously not true, but the media world is essentially that: middle school feuds played out on a public stage while everyone outside of this city ignores them. The dinosaurs of print like Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen are nearly gone, and now they're getting replaced with somehow more boring monopolies that make you wish Gore Vidal was capable of getting his aging fat ass out of a chair.

So please Keith, please listen to that one "pedantic" reader of your blog. Leave the city for a while, stop caring so much about the petty stuff. Hole up in New Hampshire and write about something that matters like politics. Lead the way if bloggers are turning the world into a turd. Honestly, I should be the type that's sympathetic to you: as a straight bookish male, I know it's impossible to say anything in New York without getting called a douchebag by someone. Hell, you're probably still on the shortlist of people that I might tolerate watching sports with in this city. So please, get out of here, write something that matters, and throw the ego out the window for just a little while. Maybe I'll buy you a beer when you come back.

Wilco - How to Fight Loneliness

My New Blogging Technique is Unstoppable

Once again I've been habitually bad about updating. Mainly I've been out and about, battling the heatwave.

Important personal things:
-I'm moving to Ridgewood! Yes, I'm aware that's in Queens. It used to be Brooklyn, though! Mainly I'm excited because Clinton Hill is unaffordable and I'm getting a nice place elsewhere for the price of what you pay for a crack den in my old neighborhood. It's mostly families that keep to themselves. There aren't condos or some crazy rich-poor divide or constant muggings. I'm sure I'll hate it commuting to school in the winter, but whatever man! Excited!

-Flavorpill has been incredible so far. Everyone in the company rules. Here's my first listing.

-I got a job as an "administrative assistant" in the Pratt purchasing department. Mostly I do mundane tasks. I'm there now and for once there's nothing to do. Thus, more blogging to come. The days go by fast.

-Something I've noticed about my media consumption: "news" or "newsworthy" seems to have been relegated to entertainment news (New Muppet Movie! VQR's blog assault!) that I find interesting. Anything involving actual news gets thrown out of my mind quickly. I'm hiding myself because things like Zimbabwe will destroy whatever shreds of earnestness or hope (copyright Obama) I have left in my cynically-beaten-to-death body.

I'm going to zone out for a few minutes and maybe write another post before I go home.

Arms - Kids Aflame