I was hooked by the song “Gold Guns Girls.” I liked it so much, I bought the disc, and I was absolutely not disappointed. This disc reminds me of all of the best things about late 90s alt rock (one of my favorite musical periods). There are echoes of later period Lush, or of Garbage or some other slickly produced commercial alt-rock.
I’m led to understand that this disc would merit cries of sell-out from older fans (their earlier stuff it a bit rougher, I gather), and yes, this is a pretty commercial release, but I don’t mind. The songs are all top-notch: great songwriting, catchy choruses, wonderful production. And there’s something slightly uncommercial about the lyrics which I think is what keeps this album from being too slick for its own good.
I have listened to this disc dozens of times at this point and I never get tired of it. And, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go back and get some of their earlier releases too.
[READ: May 15, 2011] Fraud
I’ve seen Rakoff on the Daily Show, and his name has been cropping up in various places lately. So I decided to read his actual published work to see what he was all about.
Fraud is his first book. It is mostly funny, although it also dwells on serious matters by the end of the book. In many ways Rakoff is like a slightly wilder, slightly edgier version of David Sedaris (the two have a long history of friendship and working together, so this may not be totally surprising).
I’m not going to compare him to Sedaris in any meaningful way, just to say that there are similarities of temperament and style; I don’t think either one of them is hilarious, but that I enjoy both of them and often laugh pretty hard at their material.
I’m also not going to review each essay in this book. It seems to be constructed in a vague sort of narrative arc. Well, actually, the second half of the book has the narrative arc (I suspect that the essays that were published previously were modified slightly and that the new essays allude to some of the incidents mentioned there.
The first few essays of the book are the funnier ones (insert joke about Woody Allen’s early funny movies here), and they stick more to the idea of Rakoff as a “Fraud.” In them, Rakoff, a Canadian ex-pat (he’s from Toronto), somewhat neurotic, gay, New York Jew goes to different locations where he is an atypical person and then reports on them.
So, he goes to New England (where everyone calls him Dave, regardless of how many times he corrects them), or, more interestingly, to the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, the New Age retreat center for a week-long seminar led by Steven Seagal, yes, THAT Steven Seagal. (This essay was very funny for many reasons).
Later in the book, the travel segments become less about his fraudulence and about fraudulence in general. And because they are less personal, they are a little lees funny, but still interesting. He goes to Iceland to look for “Hidden People” who a small percentage of Icelandic people believe in. Or he travels to Loch Ness to look for Nessie. The essay shows that very few people there actually believe in the Loch Ness Monster, despite the tourism around it.
There are stories of his Jewish youth (not that funny and overlong), and of his depressing life as a publisher’s assistant (quite funny).
He also writes about his various connections to celebrity. Like his work in a soap opera which he calls Lather, Rinse Repeat, (As the World Turns) in which he played a minor character who he imagined would recur. He also attends the Sixth Annual Comedy Arts Festival and totally rags on Robin Williams, which is very funny.
“Christmas Freud” is probably the best essay in the book (and yes it reminds one of Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries”). He sat in a Barney’s department store window as a Christmas display in which he was dressed as Freud. It’s preposterous to summarize, but it is very funny. I know I’ve heard it somewhere before, most probably from This American Life, where he is a frequent contributor.
To me the most interesting essay was “We Call It Australia” which is about several Austrian math teachers who were invited to teach Math in New York City public schools. Rakoff is assigned to “cover” the story and becomes friendly with the teachers. It’s a fascinating story.
The essay “Back to the Garden” seems like it will be a reprise of his earlier fish out of water stories because in it Rakoff’ attends Tom Brown’s Tracking Nature and Wilderness Survival School (in Asbury, NJ…very close to friends of mine–although now it appears to be located in Manahawkin). Rather than being an amusing account of a man out of his element, Rakoff finds that he really enjoys the experience and endorses it. It’s still amusing, but somehow, it not being catty makes it more enjoyable.
The final two stories are related and are more or less serious essays. The first is about he trip to Tokyo. When he was in college he was an Asian Studies major and he spent some (terrible) time in Japan (where he was diagnosed with cancer and had to return home after three weeks). He is returning a decade or so later for an assignment and tries to relive and overcome concerns about his fears of the country. It’s a fascinating look at not only Rakoff (who would imagine he can speak Japanese?) and also Tokyo, removed from the glitz and scenes that one typically thinks of when they think Tokyo.
The final essay is about his sperm. When he had chemotherapy they requested a sample of his sperm (chemo makes you infertile) and this is a bizarre story of bureaucracy (he hasn’t paid his bill for “storage” for several years), and the awkwardness of sperm donation. But ultimately it’s about emotions, and one’s compulsion to suppress them. It’s not a sad tale, but it is reflective and nowhere near as funny as a story about one might imagine a story about sperm donation might be.
So, overall, I enjoyed these essays (some more than others). But mostly what it did was make me want to read his next collection. I feel like this was a sort of “early writings” from him. There seemed to be progress through the book, as the essays were more thoughtful yet still humorous. And so one of these days I’ll check out his second (of three altogether) book, Don’t Get Too Comfortable.