Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Flat as a Pancake

I mainly bought this album for the cover. I mean, the front of the jacket is cool, but the back of the jacket is awesome. I wasn't too into the music, though. There wasn't too much that was special or unique about it -- just kind of 70's straight ahead Mellotron rock. The best song was probably "Brother Jacob."

But it did make me want to eat pancakes.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

I was excited when I first found this Rick Wakeman album, and realized that the title wasn't arbitrary -- it actually contained six tracks, each one dedicated to one of Henry's wives! But, upon playing it, I learned it was all instrumental prog rock with no lyrics, and the connections to the wives, well, it wasn't obvious to me. So, if you like the sound of a Mellotron, well, maybe this is for you.

Monday, July 22, 2013


This album is amazing. It sounds just like the cover. And it has a song on it called "Stargate." I think I'm going to listen to Stargate by Starcastle while I play Stargate and Star Castle at Babycastles.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Berberian Sound Studio

I'll be honest. This very arty film bored me. I felt like it was trying too hard, and repeating its message too much, and I kind of felt like I was looking at a situation where filmmakers are so in love with filmmaking that when they make a film about filmmaking they feel like it is okay to forget to edit the boring scenes, and the critics (mostly film school grads) feel like they have to say the film is so clever, etc., etc. And I was prepared to leave it at that. I mean, it was kind of fun, and kind of clever, but, jeez, it just went on for so long. (Not really long, only about 90 minutes -- but I came out convinced I'd just watched a 150 minute movie).

However -- I went with someone who felt differently. My filmgoing partner came out nodding, saying, "Yes... I know exactly how that feels." I asked questions, and he explained to me that the notion of being trapped in a situation where you are not brave enough to escape, even though you know you could, and you see it, each day, corrupting you more and more, was something he could completely relate to. I didn't grasp this at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated the film. And I must admit, though I was bored in the theater at times, I find the images, moments, tension, and the gradual slipping away of reality staying with me.

The Way Way Back

This was kind of a hard movie for me to watch -- a bit too much of it happened to me, one way or another. The whole thing was well crafted, and well acted, with no wasted moments. The most fascinating thing about it for me was the way they used 70's and 80's cultural elements (the station wagon, the girl's bike, Pac-Man, Candyland, REO Speedwagon, a plot that matches Meatballs pretty closely), but put them in a modern context. It was a way for the filmmaker to say "This is a film about my childhood", but set it in the present day. I can't say I've ever seen anyone do that before. Having been on that vacation, and in that station wagon, and having had my self-esteem saved by a theme park, this film meant a lot to me. I rarely listen to director commentary, but I can't wait for this to come out on DVD, because I'd love to hear details about how they decided to put this together.

And, unbelievably, Water Wizz is a real water park.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Parnassus on Wheels

I have fallen in love with this series of novellas from Melville House. My favorite so far is definitely Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley, a tale of a travelling bookshop. I'm not the kind of person who often re-reads books, but I found myself re-reading chapters of this one, just after I'd read them. Almost anything I say about the book is a spoiler, so I won't say much! I've never read anything that quite so captured the magic and love of sharing good books as this does, and the notion of adventuring on the open road in a horse drawn cart is equally exciting. Really, just about everything I like is in here -- there is even a mention of my secret hero, the Sage of East Aurora, Elbert Hubbard! And how thrilled I was to learn that there is a much longer sequel, The Haunted Bookshop, which I am very much looking forward to. I'll leave you with Roger Mifflin's business card:

Roger Mifflin's Travelling Parnassus 
Worthy friends, my wain doth hold
Many a book, both new and old;
Books, the truest friends of man,
Fill this rolling caravan.
Books to satisfy all uses,
Golden lyrics of the Muses,
Books on cookery and farming,
Novels passionate and charming,
Every kind for every need
So that he who buys may read.
What librarian can surpass us? 
By R. Mifflin, Prop'r
Star Job Print, Celeryville, Va.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Super Smash Bros. Brawl

I've never really been into fighting games. I mean, it's fun to button mash, but actually trying to get good at them feels like boring work to me. My daughter was all into this one, though. I'd played the original, a million years ago, and I was kind of shocked at how intricate the rules are for controlling your character, and even for winning the game. But, the normal arena mode isn't what I want to talk about -- I want to talk about a transcendent experience I had playing the single player campaign.

I mentioned that my daughter was all into this game, and part of that involves a single player platforming adventure. I walked by and heard her cursing the game, and entering some kind of game induced delirium. I asked her how it was going, and she said, "I... I don't know. I've logged 12 hours playing this thing, and... I can't actually tell what's going on." This made me curious, and as she tried to show me the peculiar nature of "The Great Maze" section of the single player mode, I became fascinated. She brought up the map, which was a set of boxes, lines, flashing diamonds, and weird faces. I asked what it meant, and she had no idea. I said, "Well, what are the diamonds?" She stammered, "I... monsters? Treasures? I really don't know... there are green ones and pink ones and blue ones, and they do different things... and I..." Now I was really intrigued. We started to poke at it some more, and I realized that the normal rules of videogames did not apply here. Old school gamer that I am, I gleefully ran for pencil and paper, to try to make sense of this bizarre world. I had to explain to my daughter that in the old days, most games required you to make maps with paper. I'm pretty sure she didn't believe me. "Okay," I said, "bring up that game map again, so I can try to make sense of this." "I can't," she said. "You can only bring up the map in certain places." WHAT? Uh... okay... "But that's okay, I need to get back there, so I can get healed." "Oh, so the healing point is near where you can bring up the map?" "No," she explained, "the map heals you." Now I was in full-blown WTF mode. I can't remember feeling this way after 1989. It was very exciting! Gradually, I made a paper map, and through experimenting, we figured out what the faces where, and the diamonds, and how you can teleport, and where the monsters were hiding, etc., etc.... and it was the most videogame fun I'd had in years. I didn't realize how much I missed not actually understanding what was going on in a game, what was actually possible! It's got me wondering about a Lens of Mystery. But you know, there is something else. Part of what makes this thing work is the absence of anything like a sensible story. Why are 30+ Nintendo characters teaming up to fight some mysterious teleporting bald dude in a world that makes no sense? The game has no answer, and it left us to have to just decide for ourselves. And bit by bit, a little fantasy of us as adventurers with the ability to take on the roles of these characters, but trapped in a weird maze started to form... as we talked to each other, I found myself forgetting about us in the living room, and thinking of us more like movie characters, trapped in this strange world trying to decode its weird rules as we uncovered monsters and obstacles that got stranger and stranger. It worked so well because the characters had so very many options, and could do so very many things. Once we understood it, and beat it, I was pretty sad that it was over. I'll be thinking about how I can capture these feelings for my own games for a long time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart

I bought this book by Gordon Livingston on a whim. I'm always on the lookout for wisdom, and I thought there might be some in here. The book has the kindness to be well-organized (30 simple principles) and brief. Clearly, Doctor Livingston has seen some things in his life -- he's an MD and a psychiatrist, and he's lost two children -- one to illness, one to suicide, which is unthinkable for anyone, much less someone trained to save lives. In short, if anyone has had reason to come up with coping wisdom, it's this guy. The wisdom tends to be oriented toward older folks "The problems of the elderly are frequently serious but seldom interesting," but there is good advice for everyone here, I think. Some is richer, some is more diluted, but at no point did I regret reading it.

The deepest insight I personally took away was from #28: "Of all the forms of courage, the ability to laugh is the most profoundly therapeutic." I didn't expect much from this chapter -- I think we all understand that laughter is therapeutic. But that wasn't the focus -- the focus was on how all laughter is a form of courage. I'll be thinking about his wise words for a long time... I may get a tattoo:
Above all, to tolerate the uncertainty we must feel in the face of the large questions of existence requires that we cultivate an ability to experience moments of pleasure. In this sense all humor is "gallows humor," laughter in the face of death...We usually smile when we meet people for the first time. When we do so we are conveying more than friendliness. Smiling is an indication of "good humor," and represents an acknowledgment of the joke embedded in our common humanity: Things may be grave but they need not be serious. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Park Güell

When I agreed to go to Barcelona, I expected a beautiful European city, full of romantic sights and sounds, but I had no idea what I was in for, not really. I mean, it is a beautiful city that has tremendous respect for its past, and great swaths of it are similar to the way they were 500 years ago, surely. And it is a city that loves art. But what I could not have understood is the city's relationship with Gaudi. Never have I encountered a city where one man made such an impression. At first I thought, "Okay, he's kind of like Frank Lloyd Wright, an interesting artist/architect, and the spectacle of his bizarre eye-catching designs is a point of pride for locals, and a photo opportunity for tourists." And, that is true, I suppose, but it is only the surface of something much, much deeper. And I didn't understand it until I took a trip to Park Güell. It made me think of a comment Emerson made in his essay on Love:
The statue is then beautiful, when it begins to be incomprehensible, when it is passing out of criticism, and can no longer be defined by compass and measuring wand, but demands an active imagination to go with it, and to say what it is in the act of doing. The god or hero of the sculptor is always represented in a transition from that which is representable to the senses, to that which is not.
The park is on a high hill that overlooks the entire city, and is so unexpectedly large and varied that I was taken aback. The park is far too large to look at... instead, you become immersed in it, and with all the spectacular views, you find yourself looking through it instead. And shockingly, it is not out of place with the city around it. I could not escape the distinct feeling that, exploring the park, I was no longer in my own mind, but in the mind of Gaudi. And looking out at the city, I found the fanciful colors and swooping shapes were not just in Gaudi's work, but were everywhere in Barcelona. Gaudi simply set them free. Even after I left, I found myself seeing the city differently -- as if the colors and shapes were ready to erupt from every apartment building, from every bank and grocery store. I found myself seeing through Gaudi's lens, as it were. And if this were just about one man, that would be one thing -- but I think it is not. I feel like Gaudi found something special that lives in the heart of everyone in Barcelona, maybe everyone in Spain. He found it, turned it up to 11, and set it free, and a nation said, "Yes... yes, that is truly how we are inside." How else can one explain Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that Gaudi started designing in 1883, and, through the love of the people of Barcelona, is expected to be complete by 2026.

For me, it serves as a testament of what one individual can do when he can see into the hearts of his neighbors, and bring their proudest, truest selves into the light.