SOUNDTRACK: SIGUR RÓS-Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (2008).
Sigur Rós are nothing if not ethereal. Their music is constantly floating up in outer space somewhere. So imagine the surprise when the first song of this disc opens with some thudding drums. And, there are acoustic instruments aplenty this time around. Their previous disc Hvarf/Heim had them playing a number of acoustic pieces in various unexpected settings. And clearly the experience must have been a good one.
“Illgresi” is largely played on an acoustic guitar and “Ára Bátur” opens with a very pretty piano melody. But lest you think this is Sigur Rós unplugged, “Ára Bátur” turns into a nearly 9 minute epic complete with orchestra, choir and as much ethereal sounds that you can cram into one song. Indeed, a few songs before that is “Festival” another nine minute epic. Although like in the beginning, there is a lot of bass, and a lot of drum.
But despite all of the musical changes, the band is still clearly Sigur Rós. Jon Thor Birgisson’s voice is still unmistakable, and his lyrics are still inscrutable. In fact, the final song, “All Alright” is sung almost entirely in English(!) and I didn’t realize until I just read about it recently.
In some ways this disc is not as satisfying as previous Sigur Rós releases as it doesn’t take you to quite the same planes of existence as past discs have. And yet, in other ways it is more satisfying as it shows an earthbound side of them, allowing us to see their craft in action.
Despite any criticisms, Sigur Rós is still an amazing band, and this is an amazing record, too.
[READ: March 14, 2009] McSweeney’s #2
McSweeney’s 2nd issue retains some of the features from the first, and yet, some things have changed.
First: The cover retains that very wordy style that the first issue had. There are more jokes (a good pun about Big Name authors).
Second: The letters column is still there. What’s different is that in addition to some unusual letters (including the complete address of a letter writer), there are conversational letters between Gary Pike and Mr. McSweeney. There’s also several small entries from Brent Hoff. We are also treated to a letter from Jon Langford of the Mekons, Sarah Vowell, and a piece from Jonathan Lethem (the last of which was put in the letters column because they didn’t know what else to do with it).
Some new features:
First: The back page has a very nice feature in which each submission is listed by author, with the subject matter and, my favorite part, the number or words of each piece. This is a nice companion to the sort of contents page which lists the author, the title of the piece (new!), the page number, and the best part: the estimated reading time for each piece. What a thoughtful addition to the book.
Second: The colophon page has a very lengthy (and quite funny) explanation of the production and publication of the journal (including a trip to Iceland, the itemized cost of the book, and the excitement over buying return address self-inking stamps!)
Third: the author biographies have taken on the familiar McSweeney’s appearance now (although they are not in alphabetical order).
Fourth: McSweeney’s Marketplace is open for Business. Things available at this time: subscriptions, T-shirts, and various esoteric items (a Polaroid of the brown shoes that [McSweeney's Representative] wore for five years but recently replaced, or Piece of Shirt that [Mcsweeney's Representative] is wearing on the day you order etc.)
And lastly: there is an excerpt at the back of the book from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. The excerpt is, in my guess, 4 point type (ie. virtually impossible to read). And yet it is legible. It includes:
MORGAN PHILLIPS-Film Review “200 Cigarettes”
An amusing review of the experience of being in the theater during this film.
COLIN McENROE-“I Am Michiko Kakutani“
This story has since been published in McSweeney’s Joke Book of Book Jokes. It’s quite funny.
GLASGOW PHILLIPS-“Trisomy 21, Hollywood”
Observations of, and even for, Downies.
NEAL POLLACK-“I Am Friends with a Working-Class Black Woman”
Another of Pollack’s very funny, yet somewhat moving, stories of him getting it, but not quite getting it.
RANDY COHEN-“My Airspace”
A look at overzealous guarding of one’s personal space.
ZEV BOROW-“A Graceland for Adolph“
Imagine what a tour of Hitler’s vacation spot might sound like. Hilariously inappropriate.
RECENT HEADLINES EXPLAINED
A hilariously detailed…really detailed…look at newspaper headlines from Jan 6 /7 1999 all centering around the theme of “Got Game.” this was the day that the NBA decided not to strike. The extent of the explanation…going into slang and even skin pigmentation is absurd and very funny
THE TOP TEN CENSORED PRESS RELEASES OF 1998.
#10. Sales seen through the eyes of Dominos Pizza. This little piece looks at pizza sales on various days throughout the year, including the Super Bowl (up) and the World Series (down), as well as the Clinton trials (up) and John Glenn’s return to outer space (up).
An absurdly detailed look at TV on CBS on 11/22/98 from 6PM through 7:15PM, where the print cuts off. The subjects include a Jets game and all of the commercials during the game. As well as the first few minutes of 60 minutes summarized (Dr. Kevorkian being the subject).
A look back at Lester Bangs and the Mekons.
JONATAHN LETHEM-“Jerry Lewis: What Might Have Been”
A humorous look at the acting roles that Jerry Lewis turned down, and what might have become of them.
SARAH VOWELL-“Diminishing returns letter”
Vowell relates the dismay of reading the same author’s books rapidly in succession. A trap I’m glad I haven’t fallen into yet.
NEAL POLLACK-“Letter from Paris”
A typically Pollackian story; although inverted somewhat. In it, Pollack exaggerates his naivete while in Paris. He does not eat for days because he can’t speak French. Quite silly but also quite funny, especially as a letter to the editor.
TIM CARVELL-“Amusement park convention letters”
Carvell goes to a convention for amusement park worker/owners. He sends back several letters, including one where he speaks to a man in a parrot suit, and one where he insults the folks from Ripley’s.
TODD PRUZAN-“Hopper’s Bathhouse”
This is a choose your own adventure. You are a 13 year old boy visiting your aunt. You make two new friends who live there and have an exciting day planned. Your first choice is to go dig for a pirate ship or to explore a cave for an archaeological dig. Hilariously, all options end in a mundane (but different) way.
ANA MARIE COX-“Speak Korean to Me”
A hilarious commentary about a Korean phrasebook written during the 1960s. The phrases, while not as “bad English” as they might have been, are hilarious for their peculiarities. Cox includes many footnote commentaries that are keenly observant and very funny.
AMANDA DAVIS-“Fat Ladies Floated in the Sky Like Balloons”
An unusual, and very cool story. When Eloise sees fat ladies floating in the sky (like balloons) she realizes that her ex-boyfriend is back in town. Great premise for a story, and wonderfully executed. Such an interesting look at a surreal yet heartbreaking story.
DAVID SHIELDS-“On Views and Viewing”
Three parts. Each part is something of a proto-flash fiction piece. In the first part (The Presidency) he realizes that even if he wants he can never be President. In the second (Celebrity Diptych) he realizes there are reasons that he doesn’t like certain celebrities. In the third (Air Time), tag lines from various commercials are aired.
SEAN WILSEY-“The Republic of Marfa”
This is a lengthy piece (the contents suggests it will take 54 minutes…which was fairly accurate). It discusses the history of Marfa, Texas. In a nutshell, Marfa is a small hardscrabble town in Far West Texas. It has two restaurants and is quite far from anywhere else. The town has about 2,500 residents, who run the gamut from environmentalists to secessionists. And then one day, the artist David Judd up and left New York and its cosmopolitan ways for the empty spaces of Marfa.
The author’s wife has been dispatched to Marfa to cover an architectural summit, one which draws 600 attendees (making the population of Marfa jump by a quarter). So the author shows some of the fascinating history of the place, interspersed with this architectural summit.
It was a very interesting piece: yet another article about which I cared very little before I started and which I enjoyed thoroughly. Wilsey’s writing style is very readable. And, once you start reading about the Marfa Lights, you’ll be totally hooked.
ZEV BOROW-“Linda Greenhouse is Stubborn. (An Open Letter to Linda Greenhouse)”
In the second open letter from Borow, (first one in McSweeney’s #1) he explains that Linda Greenhouse’s stubbornness will affect her happiness in the future. Greenhouse covered the Supreme Court for the New York Times for nearly 30 years. It never mentions what exactly she’s stubborn about though.
PAUL COLLINS-“Walking on the Rings of Saturn (or Dr. Dick vs. The Man-Bats of the Moon)”
It took me a few paragraphs to realize that this is non-fiction (mostly because I’m not used to McSweeney’s having non-fiction. It works much better as non-fiction, frankly.
BRIAN KENNEDY-“I Know What You Did Two Moons Ago (The Revenge)”
This title is something of a parody of horror films. The twist is that it is set on a Native American reserve. It’s kind of funny and yet it uses a lot of stereotypes. For what happens in the story it’s too long, as well.
JIM STALLARD-“No Justice, No Foul”
This is one of the funniest pieces in McSweeney’s history. This is my third read of it (it also appears in Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans) and I laugh every time. The premise is that since 1923 the Supreme Court has solved all of its 4-4 tied decisions by playing basketball. There are diagrams, seated Justice scouting reports, and eyewitness accounts of crucial decisions. It is hilarious, even if you don’t know all the basketball lingo.
HEIDI JULAVITS-“The Mineral Palace: The Lost Chapters”
Julavits did write a book called The Mineral Palace. I haven’t read it. This is apparently comments and notes from that book. I have to assume this would be funnier if I knew that book. As it was, it was kind of interesting, especially her hilarious notations) although really it was mostly confusing.
AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL-“1998: The Year in Review”
An amusing one page wrap-up of 1998. Example. November: People died.
LAWRENCE KRAUSER-“The Lemon”
I have not read Krauser’s Lemon, although I do have it at home. I assume that this is an excerpt from the book (and the other chapter titles). The excerpt is surreal and funny, the long form poem was a bit odd without any context, however.
BRENT HOFF-“Math & Bullshit: Interview with Dr. Paul DuChateau”
This interview is something that would probably be published in The Believer once it comes into existence. It is a fascinating in-depth interview with a mathematician. The questions are intellectual and clever (except when they’re silly) and the answers are well thought out and meaningful. I didn’t get all of the content, but I enjoyed what I understood. Just goes to show that celebrities don’t give the best interviews.
JOHN HODGMAN-“Fire: The Next Sharp Stick?”
This is a pretty funny little story about a neanderthal Maker of Fire trying to convince the firm of Ten Men Who Are Not Brothers that fire is useful to their needs. It’s a funny look at corporate jargon and mumbo-jumbo. It may also have been inadvertently responsible for the Geico Cavemen.
MARY GALLAGHER-“Gaelic Self-Taught: Sicily’s Huge Capybaras: Mohair, Mohair”
A written graphic novel: Each box has the action written along the top (like a comic) but the graphic part is actually just explanations of what would be drawn there. Whether this is because she can’t draw, or because they didn’t print drawings yet or just because it’s funnier, I don’t know. It is a tale of five 200ft capybaras. Neat!
JOHN BOWE-“The Author’s Voice”
This is a very funny piece. It shows a man relating a sea-going tale into a voice recognition machine. The text is written verbatim, and as the machine gets things wrong his delight in the machine slowly erodes. I actually wish it had degenerate further, as the humor could have been even more crass.
PAUL MALISZEWSKI-“Two Prayers”
I’m familiar with Maliszewski’s name, but I’m not sure from where exactly (ah, The Baffler). This piece is two very short stories (each one half a page or so). The first is a literal look at putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It starts strong, but sort of fades away. The second is an interesting conceit about holding on to loved ones. Neither Prayer was especially essential.
ARTHUR BRADFORD-“Chainsaw Apple”
A darkly comic story about a man who practices chainsawing someone’s initials into an apple that the person is holding in his mouth. When he attempts to display this trick in public things goes horribly hilariously askew.
MARNY REQUA-“How a Bill Becomes a Ship, Sinking in the Atlantic”
Boy, politicians sure do reference the Titanic a lot. Requa uses quotes from Senators who mention the Titanic, or indeed any sea-related metaphor, to create a one act play. Although the play itself was not as successful as I would have liked, I enjoyed the conceit very much.
TIM ROGERS-“The Monkey and the Snake”
A fable about a snake who can cook (the literal-minded can go screw themselves if they have any questions about that). The snake is a treacherous, evil-doing snake, who bakes pies that are fantastic. All the animals get hooked. But why are the animals getting sick? It’s a very funny piece in all respects.
ZEV BOROW y D. EGGERS-“Todd: A Show for Television”
The authors claim that this is all true. In this piece, Borow and Eggers had been asked to present a TV show pilot to a network executive. Their premise is a sitcom where the main character is a serial killer. Some other characters include Todd’s roommate Casey, the obligatory bisexual character; Maxine, Todd’s best friend; Mr and Mrs Kudgel the old folks upstairs (could he be a war criminal?); and Grant, Todd’s imaginary friend [suggested to be played by the Great Gazoo from The Flintstones].
It’s hard to tell exactly whether or not they were just messing with the exec from soup to nuts, or if they were just mocking the fact that everyone seemed to be able to write a screenplay in those days (they posit that they’d like to make a film crossing soccer and racquetball called SOcqueter, and I had to look up to see when BASEketball came out (1998)). Or maybe they were genuinely trying to push the TV envelope. I note this especially because well, here it is ten years later and we do have a tv show, albeit not a sitcom, about a serial killer, Dexter. Although given who Todd’s victims would be, it’s clear they weren’t really serious. It’s also interesting because, again, ten years later, Zev Borow has written two episodes for Chuck. So, who knows what to make of this.
The screenplay is typical nonsense, but very funny in a sitcom sort of way. And you never know, it could still be picked up.
COLLEEN WERTHMANN-“During the Day I am Privy to the Machinations”
A twisted little tale of THE FRESH AND CLEAN BATHROOM COMMITTEE. The narrator is an exceedingly meticulous person. Her story notates every single detail of her trip to and from the bathroom area. She also notes signs from the aforementioned COMMITTEE. It insists that everyone flush twice if need be and be sure that the seat is not wet. But who is this committee, she wonders. A very cool, very twisted little story.
In this meta-piece, Daniel Radosh recounts his attempt to sell a story about Broadway flops to GQ magazine. He includes lengthy excerpts of his attempt to cash in on an admittedly poor idea. No one published it. The great joke of course being that the story is more or less published here. It’s also quite funny, especially the quotes of bad reviews of Broadway plays.
This issue ends with a list of the (presumably) fake The Willi Nilli Series. At least 40 hilariously titled volumes already!
And thus brings us to the end of #2. The magazine is still finding it’s feet somewhat, as the pieces are so varied. Although, really, having these funny short pieces and some nonfiction is a good way to add variety to an issue.
[For ease of searching I include: Sigur Ros]