I was going through the NPR recordings that I’ve downloaded and discovered that I had four from The Swell Season. This Tiny Desk concert is the shortest of the four recordings (although it’s one of the longest Tint Desk concerts–most are about 10-15 minutes, this one is over 33 and has an encore!). Glen Hansard is charismatic and funny as he says he feels foolish playing just a few songs and would they mind if he played one or two more.
I usually prefer the louder Swell Season songs, but the quieter songs work well in this situation (especially when the NPR staff helps out with backing vocals). He plays the same songs that you’ll hear a lot on these NPR recordings (“In These Arms,” “Low Rising,” ‘Feeling the Pull” and the highlight of the show: “When Your Mind’s Made Up.”
I’ve liked this song from the first time I heard it in Once. Every live version I’ve heard is great. And this one is no exception. He brings so much emotion to the end of this song as it gets louder and louder and his voice (man he can hold a note) gets louder and more strained. It’s truly a great musical moment.
And, of course, Markéta Irglová is there as well. She only sings one song, but her gorgeous harmonies are all over the session (no piano, though).
This is the most subdued of the four concerts, but it’s a good one. (The NPR halls must have been ringing with his voice during this one!)
[READ: August 21, 2011] JPod
JPod holds a special distinction on this blog. It is the first book that I have read twice during my time of writing this blog. It’s also the only book that now follows this pattern: I read the book, I watched the TV show based on the book, I reread the book. So now I have the actors from the show in my head as I re-read what happened to them (hi Alan Thicke!).
I’ve been on this Coupland kick (which will now come to a halt for a bit, but will pick up again in the not too distant future) and since I just read Microserfs, I wanted to read this book right on its heels as it is seen as kind of a sequel (but not really at all) possibly because it, like Microserfs has Lego people on the cover.
So let’s get things out of the way first. This book is not related to Microserfs in any way (except that there’s a (different) character named Ethan, it’s set in a techie world of computer programmers and there are huge swaths of pages that are, if not wasted, then certainly not very practical in terms of reading–more on that). But there are no overlapping characters, it’s not set in the same country and there’s lots more violence.
The book starts off with a series of pages that tell you the book is not going to be terribly conventional. There’s a series of super large-font words (like in Microserfs) of random ideas. They’re followed by a break-free four-page rant (in a different font from the rest of the book) about modern life and technology. It’s hard to read, but it really conveys a sense of the world we’re entering.
When the book proper starts, Douglas Coupland is mentioned in the first few pages (in a very disparaging way).
“Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel.”
“Who does he think he is?”
Then the story kicks into gear. We learn that the characters are coding a skateboarding game called Board-X and that their new boss, Steve (who totally turned around Toblerone) wants to put a turtle into the game. A game that’s pretty far along–which means an awful lot of extra work–and but seriously, a turtle? (The explanation for the turtle comes later and it’s actually kind of sad).
The work rant is interrupted by Ethan’s mom calling because she has a problem. She’s just killed a biker. Turns out that Ethan’s mom (along with apparently everyone else in Vancouver) has a grow-op. Ethan’s mom’s pot is some of the best though. Anyhow, she just had a bit of an accident with a guy who was getting rough with her. So they need to dispose of the body.
The TV version of Ethan’s mom was nothing like I expected. The awesome Sherry Miller plays her perfectly–innocent and pure (she gets mad when Ethan curses) but unafraid to be tough–when she goes to collect her money, she’s packing heat). Ethan’s dad, meanwhile, doesn’t know a lot of what’s going on. When we first meet him he is hooking up with a girl who was too young for Ethan to take to his senior prom (she was a sophomore). Jim is a wannabe actor (and former ballroom dance god) who is desperate for a speaking role. Any speaking role.
Although Ethan’s parents turn up a lot (this is really a story about Ethan and his family), the focus of the every day work day life is on Ethan’s coworkers in JPod. The six coders who work in JPod were assigned there by some quirk of the company (all their names begin with J). And, in typically atypical Coupland fashion, we meet them all through Living Cartoon Profiles in which Ethan makes a cartoon version of all six of them. Cowboy, a sex crazed Robitussin addict (there are Tussin addicts in Microserfs too, is this really something people do?); Bree, a type A Korean woman (she’s Korean in the TV show, I’m not sure if it’s specified in the book) who wants to sleep with every guy she meets, but just once; John Doe (who legally changed his name to John Doe so he could be statistically average in every way (he was raised on a lesbian commune and his real name is crow well mountain juniper); Mark (who is so plain, they decide to call him Evil Mark just to see what he’ll do [Mark is not in the TV show, so that threw me off in this reading]; and Kaitlin–she’s new to JPod and is desperately trying to get out of it. And we learn all of their idiosyncracies and funny behaviours. And their near autistic behaviors (which is an interesting sidenote to the book and I wonder if Coupland did any research into this). None of these things advance the plot, they just create wonderful scenes (and the TV show fleshes out many of them in a wonderful way).
I don’t want to call too much attention to the differences in the show, because, well, a book is not a show, but since the show is fresh in my mind (although scenes from my first reading were still fresh as well) it’s fun to see what they changed. Kaitlin has a number of things that are different. In both media Ethan is really into her. But in the TV show, she has a boyfriend (who is a clown) who is nowhere to be seen in the book; she’s American (which is alluded to but never really emphasized in the book) and she used to work for Mac with a pesky secret as to why she doesn’t work there anymore (none of that is in the book). Obviously the TV show had to do different things than the book (there’s no mention of Coupland in the show which would just be kind of stupid in a TV show) and the old boyfriend is a great character which allows for a romantic tension that’s not really explored in the book.
So the story follows the JPodders as they try to sabotage the stupid turtle game and then watch in horrors as Steve goes missing and their new boss morphs Board-X into an Elf game–it should be easy to repurpose the skateboarding streets as a dungeon. The JPodders decided to get revenge by sneaking in a crazy Easter Egg which would be hilarious (and really gory) to encounter.
The other major plot point comes via Ethan’s brother Greg, a real estate salesman. He sells vacant houses to Asian business men who are looking for a second home when the shit goes down in Japan/Korea/China. And that’s how we meet Kam Fong. I seem to recall Kam Fong being a really scary guy at first and maybe he is portrayed that way in the show. But really he is a kind of goofy guy with major connections who can “take care” of any problem.
Kam becomes a major fixture in Ethan’s life (and eventually becomes his roommate). When Ethan introduces him to his father, Kam knows Jim from his ballroom dancing days (Kam is a dancer himself). This leads to very funny scenes (very well done in the show, too–Raugi Yu is great as Kam Fong). But Kam Fong also becomes very important to them when Ethan has to go to China on a mission I won’t spoil.
The China plot is a little long but it features another wonderfully meta-scene when Ethan runs into Douglas Coupland. This encounter sets the stage for a lot of behind the scenes activities (which Ethan doesn’t know the details of because everyone else signed a Non Disclosure Agreement and won’t tell him–and since he’s writing the story, we don’t know the details either).
One thing I had forgotten from the book (not in the TV show) was Kaitlin’s assignments for her writing class. They are an excellent way not only to break up the first person narrative but to offer insights that Ethan would never be able to get. They also move the plot forward in unexpected ways. It’s a good device.
The end of the story is funny and delightful and ends on a pretty happy note even as the final lines totally undermine it. And I really enjoyed the book (even after a second read and after the TV show, in fact I think I enjoyed it more), even if one of the nice characters ends up a (happy) heroin addict and even if we never learn what’s in the safe deposit box or if Dglobe ever takes off.
But there are some weird things in the book. For instance–the first 10,000 digits of Pi are written out (for a JPod quiz) as are all the five digit prime numbers, or all of the acceptable three-letter words in Scrabble. I dare anyone to actually try reading all of those pages. Or, for more page wasters: all of Jim’s “dialogue” is written in 64-point font so that a paragraph of text takes up some ten pages. Basically what I’m getting at is that this 450-page book probably has about 100 pages of nonsense in it. But it doesn’t detract from the book, and it’s not like the book is only 100 pages altogether or anything.
You don’t need to have read anything else by DC to enjoy it, although it is such a Douglas Coupland book that a little familiarity with the man will bring out more enjoyment for you.
For ease of searching I include: Marketa Irglova