Archive | February, 2008

Brilliant Descriptions: Paris and Palm Trees

29 Feb

If you are an avid reader, you will occasionally come across a description that will force you to put down your book.  You wonder if the passage could possibly be as good as you just thought it was.  You reread.  If you were correct in your original assessment, consider yourself lucky:  You’ve unearthed an image that will stay with you.  

The Hangover has two favorites.  I first read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer as a teenager. It’s remarkable that even today when I hear “Paris,” it’s not my own impressions of the city that come to mind, but Miller’s description of it.  And when The Hangover spent a week in Florida last month, palm trees sent my Disney-rattled brain straight to prose from Leslie Epstein’s San Remo Drive

From Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller returns to Paris after a weekend away:

“Paris is like a whore.  From a distance she seems ravishing, you can’t wait until you have her in your arms.  And five minutes later you feel empty, disgusted with yourself.  You feel tricked.” 

From San Remo Drive, the narrator and his friends retreat to Los Angeles after an unsettling “coming of age” road trip to Tijuana:  

“It was almost three in the morning when we reached Santa Monica.  In the darkness the rows of palm trees looked frayed and exploded, like trick cigars.”

It’s worth noting that both of the descriptions involve the perspective of a return and are achieved through simile.  While metaphor is considered the pinnacle of writerly technique, mastery exists in the above prose.  Aristotle called simile, “a metaphor with a preface.”  In these pieces, that “preface” intensifies the effect.  Character and place are brilliantly revealed. 

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Best Albums for a Hangover Cure

26 Feb

Although the name of this blog is intended to be a metaphor, there are no doubt those who come here in search of a hangover cure.   It’s also reasonable to assume that at least some readers are familiar with the condition as a result of their normal, everyday lives.  As a public service, The Hangover offers the following assistance.

Note:  The Hangover is not a medical professional.  In fact, The Hangover’s study of science consisted of taking a “Physics for Poets” course as an undergraduate (I also had a roommate who was a biology major, if that counts for anything).

However, we do have experience with hangovers.  While any combination of pills, non-alcoholic beverages, or hair of the dog may help, there is only one thing that will truly cure a hangover:  TIME.  By that end, The Hangover recommends staying on your back, if possible, and waiting it out.  But turn on your stereo first.  

Yes, music can soothe the savage beast of over-indulgence.  The best hangover tunes will “take you away from all this,” allow you to contemplate recent events (if you can or wish to remember), and transport you to the promised land of recovery.   Extensive research has proven that the following five albums are worth their weight in golden Advil:

1)  The Rolling Stones, Black and Blue

The Stones get into a groove on this 1976 release and keep it going.  The Hangover suggests kicking back and riding it out with them.  The album starts with disco-Stones, “Hot Stuff,” likely the kind of thinking which got you into this condition to begin with.  It moves into the rocking “Hand of Fate” before settling into the rhythm that will get you through the morning.  From the mournful “Memory Motel” into the reggae and blues-tinged songs that follow, the Stones take it slow and wist-full.  The hurt in Jagger’s voice and the pulse in the guitars match the beat in your head.  It works. 

(If one were planning on being hungover and could prep, it would be wise to burn Black and Blueand then add “Slave” and the last five songs from Tattoo You.  These songs share DNA with “Black and Blue,” many being leftover from the original sessions for that disc.)   

2)  Blondie, Autoamerican

This album has everything from rap-lite to reggae to cocktail jazz as it crafts a luxurious soundscape.  Debbie Harry’s voice is strong, but soothing, revealing only a hint of reproach.  Instead of the punk elements that gave early Blondie its punch, the music here drifts, floats, and glides.  It’s more contemplative and expansive, overtaking a listener like a welcomed fog.  

3) The Cranberries, Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We

Plaintive.  Pleading.  Regretful.  Searching.  The Cranberries’ lyrics reflect one’s thoughts when contemplating the previous night.   These themes are embedded in lush, but pulsing rock and new wave.  Delores O’Riordan’s vocals soar as if she were a benevolent banshee.   With songs like “Linger,” “Not Sorry,” and “How,” it’s easy for the music to match the mood.       

4)  The Church, Starfish

Starfish harks back to 1988.  But if you’re going to have some of “those” mornings, it’s worth digging up.  The music and vocals combine a slightly trippy Echo and the Bunnymen sound with a Roy Orbison feel.  It could be raining; it could be that you’ve just been walked out on; it could be that you’ve been used and abused; it could be that it’s your fault, too.  That’s okay–it’s just the way it is.  There’s a moderate pace to the music, and the guitars twist through the bass and drums, giving the music a spare, yet deep sound.  Sonic recovery in action.

5) Willie Dixon and various artists, Willie Dixon, The Chess Box

When it’s so bad that you don’t even want to think about moving, crawl to the cd player and load this in.  It’s a two-disk compilation honoring Willie Dixon’s songwriting for Chess Records, featuring the greatest blues artists of his generation.  The blues is well suited to accompany the misery of hangover.  One must suffer, persevere, and endure.  Dixon, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and others can take you from where you started the night before, relive the highs and lows of the evening, rationalize your actions, and commiserate in your pain.  It’s no coincidence that the last song of the collection is Koko Taylor’s “Insane Asylum.”  Her wails might have you thinking twice of doing it again.     

Unhealthy Debate

22 Feb

Last night’s Democratic presidential debate didn’t create much excitement.  But one exchange did bring The Hangover’s seatback to a full upright position.  It is excerpted below.  (The full transcript is available at CNN.com.  ) I have whittled down some of the exposition, but the lines remaining are unaffected and not taken out of context in any way:

CLINTON:   But then we’ve got to do the hard work of not just bringing the country together, but overcoming a lot of the entrenched opposition to the very ideas that both of us believe in, and for some of us have been fighting for, for a very long time. You know, when I took on…

When I took on universal health care back in ’93 and ’94, it was against a firestorm of special interest opposition. I was more than happy to do that, because I believe passionately in getting quality affordable health care to every American.

I don’t want to leave anybody out. I see the results of leaving people out. I am tired of health insurance companies deciding who will live or die in America.

(These are noble sentiments and the fact is true:  President and First Lady Clinton did try to reform health care in ’93 and ’94.  TH)

OBAMA then discusses aspects of his plan and then gets to this:

OBAMA:  One last point I want to make on the health care front. I admire the fact that Senator Clinton tried to bring about health care reform back in 1993. She deserves credit for that.

(APPLAUSE)

But I said before…

(Here is where The Hangover sat up straight, waiting for:  “when she took on health care fifteen years ago, she got her ass kicked and nothing got done, which is why we are still debating it today.” TH)   

….I think she did it in the wrong way, because it wasn’t just the fact that the insurance companies, the drug companies were battling here, and no doubt they were. It was also that Senator Clinton and the administration went behind closed doors, excluded the participation even of Democratic members of Congress who had slightly different ideas than the ones that Senator Clinton had put forward.

Hillary’s positing of herself as a champion health care refromer has been has been driving The Hangover to the Glenlivet.  She fell short.  Hillarycare did not even make it to the Senate floor for a vote.  (There are a variety of reasons for this, which are discussed substanatively and factually in this post at The Health Care Blog.)  While Hillary does deserve credit for the attempt, credit doesn’t provide coverage to those who need it.

One can only hope that Hillary learned from her first go-round.  In her husband’s second term she assisted Senators’ Kennedy and Hatch with the enacting of SCHIP, a program which provided health insurance to qualifying families through Medicaid.  Clinton’s current plan is also significantly different than her ’93 version and theoretically (hopefully, at least), her political approach would be modified when bringing it before Congress.  However, being an experienced  health care reformer does not make Hillary a successful  health care reformer.  The Hangover wishes she would note the difference. 

Hypocrisy in Diplomacy

20 Feb

Now that Fidel Castro is stepping down as President, Dictator, Grand Poohbah, or whatever it is he is called, American politicians are highly agitated over what happens next.  Conservatives claim that nothing should change until Cuba initiates democratic processes.  Liberals argue that engaging with the country would help them move in that very direction.  That we are still imposing an all out embargo on Cuba is ridiculous.  Cuba stopped being a threat as soon as Soviet missiles and bombers were removed in 1962.  The Mouse That Roared was a work of fiction, after all.

The arguments against normalizing relations with Cuba are all based in hypocrisy.

Argument:  Until Cuba initiates Democratic processes, we shouldn’t engage with them. If this were a tenet of our foreign policy we wouldn’t be getting toys with lead paint from China or getting raped over oil by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations (nearly all monarchies, totalitarian regimes, etc..,.). So much for Persian limes, too. 

Argument:  Cuba is a terrorist nation; we don’t do business with terrorists.  How many Cubans are there in Al Qaeda?  Weren’t most of those 9/11 hijackers from Saudi Arabia, our allies in oil and dear friends of the Bush’s?  How many marketplaces have Cuban suicide bombers blown up this year? Anyone heard of Tiananmen Square?  Where does our oil come from?

Argument:  Cuba is a communist country.  See: Viet Nam, where we make Nikes.  See: China, where we get our deadly tires, kid’s toys, pet food ingredients, etc..,.  Hey, we actually have a trade deficit with those Chinese Commies.

Argument:  The Cuban totalitarian government is oppressive; we shouldn’t do business with them.  None of the countries listed above are any less oppressive than Cuba.  Their citizens also lack basic freedoms and face overbearing restrictions, especially women in Middle East nations.   

Cuba has an abysmal human rights record, no freedom of the press, and a serious lack of personal liberties for its citizens.  That is reprehensible and surely nothing to brag about.  Although the US overlooks those same humanitarian issues when interacting with other countries, it chooses not to when dealing with Cuba.  There must be some good reason for this. 

Perhaps the Pan-American rum, sugar, and tobacco industries are funneling more money than they make into Washington to lobby against the normalization of relations with Cuba.  Jamaica, Aruba, Costa Rica, the Dominican, and Mexican resort areas must be savagely spreading anti-Cuban propaganda, fearing the potential loss of tourists to Hemingway’s favorite island.  What else makes sense?  

Of course, as Americans we should work (not invade) to help all citizens of the world achieve the same pre-Patriot Act freedoms that we enjoyed here.  The Hangover looks forward to one day doing so with Viet Nam-made Nikes on his feet and a Romeo y Julieta Petit Corona in his mouth.      

Making Antonement

16 Feb

When I first read Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr’s review of the movie “Atonement” I decided I needed to read the book.  Although The Hangover likes to be entertained by his reading material, I also read as a writer and hope to learn at the same time. Burr’s description indicated the book held great promise:  

“Regret is everywhere in Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel ‘Atonement,’ like the air the characters breathe or the water they keep tumbling into. It seeps into cracks, weighs people down, turns them brittle and exhausted. It’s the stuff of life and the clay of fiction.”

That sounds like compelling reading, and I believed my fiction could only be improved by delving into Ian McEwan’s mastery of authorial control and tone.  I ordered the book, scanned the cover, and was horrified by a blurb on the back:

“McEwan could be the most psychologically astute writer working today, our era’s Jane Austen.”  –Esquire

The problem being,  I just can’t read Jane Austen.  I’ve tried.  I couldn’t do it in high school when “Pride and Prejudice” was required in a world lit class.  I couldn’t do it in college when confronted by the same book.  Maybe the archaic sensibilities of Austen’s time were partly responsible.  More likely it was the narration which seemed to have six pages of detailed thought for every one line of dialog.  I remember myself screaming at several characters:  “Oh for chrissakes, just do something, you jackass.”

The closest I’ve come to reading Austen was seeing the film, “Sense and Sensibility.”  I must confess that I only went to the movie because it was Mrs. Hangover’s turn to pick, and more to the point, at that time we were only dating.  Somehow, Emma Thompson turned what had to be characters buried in an intolerable amount of thinking into characters actually doing and saying things.  I did enjoy the movie, although I did not feel in the least compelled to go buy the book.

I term over-the-top, stuck-in-the-head style writers, Henry Jamesians.  As you might guess, he is another writer I just can’t stomach.  I’ve failed in two attempts on “Portrait of a Lady,” including one in graduate school where I promised myself I would read everything.   I think my official “Lady” total was thirty-two pages.  I hated it so much that when I rented the movie (I would not lower myself to Cliff’s Notes), I couldn’t watch more than fifteen minutes (even with Nicole Kidman, Barbara Hershey, and Mary Louise Parker filling the screen). 

The Hangover is not alone in its disdain for these two writers.   Mark Twain couldn’t stand them either:

On James: “Once you put one of his books down, you simply can’t pick it up again.”

On Austen:  “Jane Austen?  Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen.  Even if it contains no other book.”

Ian McEwan, on the other hand, is a pleasure to read.  His characters may think, but they also talk and act–quite frequently.  The pages of Atonement resonate.   Description is tactile and comes from every angle.  And as Burr notes, mood and atmosphere are masterfully alive and real.  That The Hangover highly recommends a book that was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and named Best Book of the Year by the hordes of newspapers (Washington Post, Boston Globe, etc…,.) should not come as a surprise.  That we do so when its author was compared to Jane Austen is shocking.  

I cracked the cover fearing overwritten, Jamesian introspection.  I was not disappointed to find it missing. 

The Hangover’s Best Cover Songs of the Modern Era

14 Feb

A good cover song pays homage to the original while the band doing the ‘cover’ puts their own distinct stamp on it.  The tao of the band should tryst lustily with the soul of the original.  A great cover  manages that while taking the song to a different place.  The following are the five best since 1970.

1)  Sid Vicious, My Way  

While Sid might not have been the anti-Christ, he can certainly be termed the anti-Sinatra. He takes Frank’s signature tune and turns it into a snarling, spitting anthem that defines him just as it did ‘ol Blue Eyes.  That this song could also serve as Sid’s epitaph adds to its gravity, while at the same time making it somewhat pathetic.

2) Devo, (I can’t get no) Satisfaction

First, it is a fun, totally Devo-ed, herky-jerky version of the Stones’ classic.  It’ll make you laugh and groove at the same time, great for a mixed tape when you actually want everyone to stop and listen.  On the other hand, one can analyze it with an egg-headed approach.  The song itself describes one’s inability to connect with society and its expectations (Are your shirts white enough and are you smoking the right cigarettes?).  The disjointedness of Devo’s signature vocals and music indicate a relationship between the individual and society that has further deteriorated.  The overall oeurve of Devo’s version reveals the anomie suffered by modern man.  Either way, it’s a great party song.   

3)  Barrence Whitfield and Tom Russell, Cleaning Windows

Boston strongman Barrence Whitfield and Texas legend Tom Russell take a contemplative, steady Van Morrison song and rave it up into a workingman’s Friday night.  Roots rocking at full force, the back-and-forth vocals bring out the heart of the lyrics.  This is the version you’d want to hear playing in your local “down joint” after a hard week at anywhere but the office. 

4)  John Mellencamp, Jailhouse Rock

Mellancamp takes Elvis’s romp and slows it down, letting spare vocals emerge from behind a haunting, restrained backbeat.  This is what would play in your head at light’s out if the cell to your left contained Pam Smart and the one on the right held Maynard, Zed, and The Gimp.

5)  The Clash, Brand New Cadillac

The original version, done by Vince Taylor and the Playboys, is plaintive rythym and blues, in which the singer laments the loss of his girl, who laughingly drives away in a brand new Caddy.  One imagines the singer is down and out, both emotionally and economically.    The Clash don’t lament, however.  They turn the amps up to eleven and roar.  Their girl is certainly tougher and the Clash don’t take it so well.  The guitars and vocals are electric and reeling.  The song is imbued with an urgency that reveals a band at its full-throttle best with a song they could have written themselves.

Lifetime Achievement Award>>>The Blues Brothers, Soul Man

John Belushi is not a great vocalist, but he puts his heart into it here, backed by an excellent band.  This version doesn’t stray far from the original, but it does employ a bit more wattage.  What makes this version so great is what it accomplished:  A revitalization of the blues.  This song, the album it came from, and the subsequent movie brought a back-burnered style of music to white, suburban America.  And give people credit for knowing what to do when they heard it.  Blues music has never been more popular than it is now, and we’ve got the Blues Brothers to thank for it.

Songs that made the discussion:

X, “Soul Kitchen” (The Doors)

The Bangles, “Hazy Shade of Winter”  (Simon and Garfunkel)

The English Beat, “Tears of a Clown” (Smokey Robinson)

David Bowie, “Waterloo Sunset” (The Kinks)

The Bouncing Souls, “Better Things” (The Kinks)

Kd Lang, “Crying” (Roy Orbison)

Cheap Trick, “Ain’t that a Shame” (Fats Domino)

Van Halen, “Pretty Woman” (Roy Orbison)

Democracy in Action Moves Slowly

11 Feb

Even though The Hangover’s preferred candidate had already been knocked out (or dropped out, take your pick) of the presidential race, I lived up to my responsibility as a citizen and took part today in the Maine Democratic Caucus.  It took approximately two hours and thirty-seven minutes for me to cast my vote for Barack Obama.  This was not the result of indecision on my part, but the cumbersome mechanics of this specific process.  The caucus system has to be the electoral equivalent of the pony express.

It happens like this:  Once a party member arrives, they are checked off on the registration list and herded into the meeting area.  Following the National Anthem the caucus is called to order and the group rubber-stamps some pre-written bylaws and, in Soviet style, nominates and accepts certain caucus officials (In regards to expediency, this is a good thing).  Speeches are made by either present candidates or their supporters (Neither Clinton or Obama chose to show up in Kennebunkport to speak on their own behalf.  Shocking, I know.)  The group then gets divided with the supporters of respective candidates literally going to their neutral corners.   Those who are undecided or wish to reconsider are given their own spot on the floor and can be subjected to more speeches soliciting their support.  Luckily, the fervor of the current election left no ambivalent voters and therefore no reason for more oration.  A count is taken.  After that, delegates to the state convention are chosen based on the proportions of the vote.  Only then are citizens free to resume their normal lives.   

While the caucus system at one time must have been useful (perhaps in the pre-industrial age) for keeping voters informed of candidates, platforms, and issues, today it is simply antiquated.  With the information bombardment one encounters with newspapers, radio, cable and satellite television, the Internet, and text messaging, it seems impossible that a citizen could walk into a presendential vote without knowing something of a candidate’s beliefs or stances.    This is the modern world:  There is no reason that what could be a one-second effort with a number two pencil needs to take three hours. 

Like many voters in 2008, I’m hoping for change.  And changing Maine’s preliminary election method from caucus to primary would be a good start. 

BTW:  Obama 177, Clinton 66, Edwards 1 (an absentee ballot, probably submitted before he dropped out).  As detailed in my Perfect Record post, that I supported Obama could mean real trouble for him down the road.