Friday, September 17, 2004

You oughta know...

...that the fabulous rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef will be at the Crystal Corner Bar on Sunday, Sept. 26. Sleepy is one of my very favorite artists, and he has influenced my music hugely with his long sets and breathtakingly huge repertoire and, surtout, his tremendous baritone.

And I'll be opening! The Cash Box Kings' White Ass Joe put this show together, and he brilliantly proposed that he, several Cash Box Kings and I join forces to create an exciting new roots-music band: the White Mule Country Blues Band. A few days ago we played a show at the Slipper Club that went swimmingly, and we'll do our best to warm up the Crystal crowd for a Sleepy extravaganza.

Showtime is 7:30; admission is $10. The Crystal Corner is at 1302 Williamson St. in Madison.

And just look at the great poster that Madison designer David Michael Miller made for us!
Good word

"But I say when people bring music into the world, it's a gift. It's a spiritual gift, regardless of who sings it."

--Brian Wilson

Thursday, September 16, 2004


About a year ago I was reading about divorce. I've never really understood my parents' divorce, and although I'm past the point of blaming my problems on it, except at certain dark moments, I got curious about how other kids experienced the big D. I turned up some so-so self-help books and made a few notes. The other day I found one of these notes, which referred to the John Updike story "Separating," about a married couple who tell their kids they're splitting up.

So this week I dug up the story--it's in Updike's collection Too Far to Go: The Maples Stories--and read it. It's sad and gently funny and not much like my family's story. But I was struck by this passage:

Years ago the Maples had observed how often, among their friends, divorce followed a dramatic home improvement, as if the marriage were making one last strong effort to live.
This is eerie, because just before my folks split up in 1980, they enlarged our house with an addition that included a big master bedroom for them to share. After Dad moved out, I remember standing in the new rooms and thinking, "So why did we build this?"
Must be love

I just noticed that in this montage I created some weeks back, a photographer seems to be making eye contact with Beach Boy Al Jardine.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Who will teach the teacher

Friday, Oct. 15 will find me in Whitewater for the Kettle Moraine Press Association's annual Scholastic Journalism Conference, at which I'll be talking to teenage journalists about writing movie reviews. Joining me at the colloquium will be such luminaries of Madison journalism as John Nichols and Jake Stockinger of The Capital Times and Natasha Kassulke, former music writer extraordinaire for the Wisconsin State Journal. I appear to be the only Isthmus writer.

The association promotes school journalism in the region. I'll do what I can. If you're dying to, you can download a brochure about the conference here.

I didn't write the description of my talk in the brochure:

Writing about a movie without revealing too much of the plot, especially the ending, takes certain skills. How do you focus on acting, dialogue, cinematography, social effects and tell just enough to entice or discourage your reader about the film? This session will help answer these questions.

Fair enough, although I forget what social effects are. So if you're a high-school journalist and want to learn about my exciting career--which last night got me into a free screening of Resident Evil: Apocalypse!--mail in your twelve bones (ten bones for members), and I'll see you at 10:15 that morning.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


I'm so sick of the election. Bush and Kerry are both goons. I can't remember an election season in which people were as worked up as they are in this one, but what this means is that everyone talks about it, all the time. I find it all very dull, and sometimes I have the impulse to be like the hermit in Life of Brian who lives in a hole in the ground for 20 years, doesn't speak and subsists on juniper berries.

May the better goon win.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Critic's lament

I'm delighted my writing about the new documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster prompted at least one reader to seek the film out--despite Marcus Theatres' dismaying efforts to keep it in celluloid purgatory.

But in rereading my piece, I'm struck by something: although I really liked the film, not enough of that comes across in the review. Overall I'm pleased with what I wrote, but I wish I had praised the film as unambiguously as I did on this blog the other day: "The movie is great!"

OK, maybe not that unambiguously, although it seems to me the lifestyle of the blurb whore does have its advantages. But if I fail in a review, including this one, to firmly state a like or dislike, it may be because I'm struggling with a verity of arts and entertainment writing I've learned in my 22-month career as a newspaper critic: it's not always easy to come up with opinions on deadline. My fondness for the Metallica movie has grown in the weeks since I saw it, and today I would write a different, more enthusiastic review.

This may fall in the category of well, duh, but it bothers me that my critical reactions have a pesky way of changing over time. For one thing, when I'm reviewing a film, book, play or CD, I'd like to think my reactions are always relevant, but I confess they sometimes relate immediately to things other than the work: whether I'm hungry, for example, or sitting in an uncomfortable seat. (I do, of course, strive to compensate for an empty belly or a sore rear.)

Also, I don't always have enough time to take in a work fully, although this is mostly a concern only for CDs. I know I can competently evaluate a film or play based on one viewing, or a book on one reading, but CDs generally take repeated listenings. So I fret that I don't always give CDs enough attention. I mean, I'm still discovering things about albums I loved when I was nine and have listened to hundreds, even thousands of times. So can I really come to appreciate a CD over just a few days of listening? Probably not. But I try.

Fortunately, the act of writing has a way of helping me coax out my reactions, and I'm learning to trust my opinions, even when they provoke hate mail. But I sometimes can't help but look back and wish I'd written something differently.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Snap snap

Cowboy shirts sure do make a racket in the dryer.