Monday, December 31, 2012

2013: Is That a Promise or a Threat?

Twenty-Twelve was a landmark year for my family. We came to terms with many important realities, namely, that unless I can make things happen on the writing front, we’re going to continue to be pulled into the Great Metaphorical Space Amoeba of Financial Oblivion. 

Like this.

Yet, this was also the year I discovered that I can finish a book. If I can finish the other two books in that trilogy I’ll have something I can sell. Then I can finish The Crisis That Was Christmas and make my definitive statement on a season no one should dread or merely “get through.” I can get going with Cringe City, the novel I’ve wanted to write since 1982, but never knew how to fill the large gap between the already-written beginning and end.

Of course, all of this has to be rolling and rolling gangbusters before the end of the first quarter or we’re as good as killed by that giant space amoeba come summer. So far, momentum is on my side as far as getting everything finished. The main thing is to keep writing, keep finishing things.

Twenty-Twelve is also the year my wife and I came to terms with the fact that we’re too old and tired and cranky to put up with the slave-driving misery of the working world. So it’s this or nothing. Maybe I’ll learn how to write a decent blog as I go along. I’d sure as hell better: I need to get at least two more Web sites up promoting my material by the end of February, if not sooner.

So it’s back to work for your never-so-humble scribe. Fortunately, another thing I learned in 2012 is how to party and work at the same time. This newly acquired skill should serve me well after January, when I’m done with the Great Post-Holiday Detox. Yep, 2o13 should prove to be something. What that ‘’something” is depends on how well I pull off what I’m about to do next. And then the thing after that. And after that.... You get the idea.

See you next year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Music for a Cold Sky

I woke up with this song in my head. It’s been haunting me all day. I stepped out for my mid-afternoon constitutional and immediately understood why.

“Eggs and Their Shells” is from Cocteau Twins’ 1985 EP Echoes in Shallow Bay, but the best-sounding version you’ll find outside of a vinyl bin is on Volume 1 of the 2006 collection Lullabies to Violaine. Play this while looking at these photos I took along my very short, very frigid walk. Now you can be haunted, too. 

Pikes Peak through the branches

One of many attempts to capture the layers of sky-color through the naked branches

December sun angling down behind the stratus clouds


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Crisis That Was Christmas

...was no such thing here. The Christmas 2012 After-Action Report.

I’m still reeling from yesterday’s warm and easy—and even productive!—Christmas Day. Given our negative cash-flow situation, anxieties among all of us in the family where we’re going next (both children are on the brink of young adulthood), we had no right to be mildly amused, let alone jolly. We made it happen anyway.

Recycling our gift boxes - by
putting them away for another year!
It helped that we stayed home, kept the gifts reasonable, and made up our minds to enjoy ourselves regardless. We’re not homeless. We’re not gunshot, sick, dying of cancer, etc. So far, so good. The furnace works, and we’re running it. There’s ham and sweet potato casserole with monster marshmallows on top; cranberries cooked with half an orange and regular mashed potatoes with gravy on the stove. No one’s going hungry.

[Sidebar: I am astonished at my good fortune for being married to a woman who knows how to shop, knows how to cook, and likes to cook. There’s no perfume like the smell of holiday cooking in the home.]

To all of my readers, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I’ve got one down and a good head start on the next. Here’s wishing you all the best with yours.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Postscript from the Crypt: Amy Winehouse’s Sad Remains

Amy Winehouse, Lioness: Hidden Treasures

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Amy was two albums and done; this is not the third album we were looking for. Download tracks 8, 9 and 10 as worthy bonus tracks to those collections. The rest—including the much ballyhooed duet with Tony Bennett—is overproduced, out-of-character schmaltz, or, as in the case of that much ballyhooed duet, just a subpar song.

Apparently, one of the tragedies of Amy Winehouse’s life and career is that she didn’t record much. Well over half a decade since Winehouse’s release of Back to Black there were only a handful of finished songs for a third album. As these songs are nowhere near the level of material that made people like me look past the photos of Winehouse drunk/stoned and held up for laughs on BBC America’s The Graham Norton Show,
those songs should have ended up as bonus tracks for the anniversary release of a much better album.

The first track is particularly telling. Winehouse should absolutely slay a song like “Our Day Will Come,” but once I heard that awful, ill-timed, and flat unnecessary reggae guitar scraping in the background I wanted to break that guitar over the producer’s head. 

A lot of the trouble with this album is the badly mixed, scattershot arrangements. For many agonizing tracks it sounds as if her producer wants to make her into some kind of Andy Williams-esque crooner, complete with those horrible, overwhelming background choirs enjoyed only by people of a very narrow demographic, i.e., really, really old. Not wise, kindly, been-around-the-block old. Obnoxious, stupid, ugly-trousers-pulled-to-the-chin old.

Ironically, Winehouse’s genius was in synthesizing the old and new in ways you’d never expect to work. I’m talking slow, snarling Billie Holliday 1940s lounge sass mashed with 1960s British pop horn arrangements laid over that shuffle-shuffle-THOOM! beat we all know from driving in town among the happy citizens of Hip-Hop Nation. It’s not until tracks 8 through 10 that we finally get a taste of that—and it was all I could do not to skip Winehouse’s terrible reading of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” let alone eject the disc and throw it the window. Then there’s the weak tea that is “The Girl From Ipanema,” another horribly arranged and mixed song she should have owned. 

It turns out that, of these three most listenable songs, two are from the time of her first album, Frank. “Half Time” features Winehouse and her acoustic guitar; no lush arrangements here. Although it name-dropped Frank Sinatra and was technically the song the album was named for the track was deemed not quite good enough. Given the amazing stuff on Frank—in my opinion, a much better album than Back to Black I can understand. On this dog’s breakfast of scraps from the cutting room floor, though, it’s welcome relief. 

According to the liner notes the haunting “Wake Up Alone” was the first track recorded for the Back to Black sessions, and all in one take. “Best Friends, Right?” was reportedly a show opener from Winehouse’s Frank days, and it has the sharp wit and clever rhymes that made me fall in love with this singer in the first place. I recommend their download, but once you hear these songs you in the context of the albums they were originally left off of, you understand why they were left off.

Yes, Amy Winehouse was a hot mess. I don’t think we were supposed to notice but it’s all there in the photos included in the CD booklet. In at least one she’s appears so emaciated one wonders why no one called an intervention for bulimia. Her signature unkempt beeehive, her ragged couture and tattoos look laughably out of place in some photos, especially outside in broad daylight, even more so on a Caribbean beach. Amy Winehouse was a one-of-a-kind creature specific to a very particular time and place: ‘round about midnight in the booziest, smokiest, stankiest hole-in-wall gin joint with a stage.

Seven p.m. on a bright Vegas stage surrounded by old people farting out the remains of the all-you-eat seafood buffet simply won’t do it. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Tony Bennett even if his songs or style don’t appeal to me. Besides, no one could make this crap sound good. “Body and Soul” is supposed to be a 1930s jazz standard but I can’t think of anyone who did their careers any favors singing these tin-foil on the teeth lyrics:

My heart is sad and lonely,
For you I sigh, for you, dear, only

Then Winehouse sings, and her signature rasp is gone. Was this the producer’s doing, or was Winehouse toning down her tough-girl smokers voice to gel with Bennett’s smooth croon? Whatever the reason, Winehouse doesn’t sound like Amy Winehouse. Just some baffled chick trying to make the most of a lame “standard” with Tony Bennett.

So it’s settled, then. There will be no third album. Frank and Back to Black will have to do. Still, what albums!

As far as posthumous releases go, let’s hope it’s one and done. The poor child has suffered enough. So have we.