Friday, September 26, 2008

Palin-ese, or Rather, Unease

From today's NYTimes

On the “CBS Evening News” on Thursday, Katie Couric asked Ms. Palin what she meant when she cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as foreign affairs experience. Ms. Palin could have anticipated the question — the topic of their interview, pegged to her visit to the United Nations was foreign affairs. Yet Ms. Palin’s answer was surprisingly wobbly: her words tumbled out fast and choppily, like an outboard motor loosened from the stern.

“That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land — boundary that we have with — Canada,” she replied. She mentioned the jokes made at her expense and seemed for a moment at a loss for the word “caricature.” “It — it’s funny that a comment like that was — kind of made to — cari — I don’t know, you know? Reporters —”

Ms. Couric stepped in. “Mocked?” Ms. Palin looked relieved and even grateful for the help. “Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.”

Ms. Couric pressed her again to explain the geographic point. “Well, it certainly does,” Ms. Palin said, “because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, they're in the state that I am the executive of.”

Ms. Couric asked the governor if she had ever been involved in negotiations, for example, with her Russian neighbors.

“We have trade missions back and forth,” Ms. Palin said. “We — we do — it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border.”

Ms. Palin, looking at Ms. Couric intently, kept on going. “It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to — to our state.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

David Foster Wallace reading

New Bluegrass Albums

A few new bluegrass albums have made it across my desk and into the iTunes folder lately. Here are some capsule reviews. (I’ll be going on about Cherryholmes in an upcoming profile in Acoustic Guitar.)

Cherryholmes, III (five stars)
Yes!!! There is hope for contemporary bluegrass. This is like Nickel Creek with banjo--or AKUS pre-CMA awards. Cia Leigh Cherryholmes is my favorite young bluegrass-related singer, she writes edgy songs, and plays banjo like Ron Block on steroids. Skip Cherryholmes is a total rhythm guitar monster. The sort of over-the-top metal-ish chord stuff is very cool and the whole mash/thrash rhythm thing makes total sense when played with this sense of abandon and rock and roll energy. “Sumatra” is the coolest bluegrass instrumental I’ve heard in a long time.

Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, Leavin' Town (four stars)
Totally great pre-Lonesome River Band bluegrass. If you, like me, heard a band like this at your local pizza parlor at an impressionable age, it could change your life. Go to the Bluegrass Blog and vote for 'em in every category you can.

Cadillac Sky, Gravity's Our Enemy (three stars)
These guys are all great players, but the vocals and songs are too much like those pop country bands I only hear when I accidentally turn on the CMA Awards or get to a movie at a multiplex too early. I really don’t like contemporary country music, whether it’s played by an arena rock band, a contestant on American Idol, or a quintet of young bluegrass virtuosi. But obviously millions of people love it. It’s just not my thing. Good luck to these boys, though. They should go far.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More DFW

Here's an edited transcript (minus coughing, etc.) of the Kenyon College speech.

Punch Brothers

I wrote this awhile ago, but Acoustic Guitar finally published it here. Lately, I've been getting into Chris's new CD with Edgar Meyer. When does this guy sleep?

Punch Brothers

The Punch Brothers are a new band composed of some of the hottest young musicians in bluegrass—Chris Thile (mandolin and lead vocals), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Greg Garrison (bass), Noam Pikelny (banjo), and Gabe Witcher (fiddle), but there is little here that traditional bluegrass fans will recognize. Combining early-20th-century harmonic ambiguity and dissonance, angsty alt-pop-influenced lyrics and rhythms, and pastoral minimalist counterpoint, as well as contemporary folk and bluegrass, the Punch Brothers have created a new kind of string music as revolutionary and distinct as that of Bill Monroe, David Grisman, Django Reinhardt, or Alison Krauss, but it’s hard to imagine Punch Music becoming a musical genre. This will not be easy music for musicians to imitate. Time signatures and tonal centers shift regularly, there is rarely a clear delineation between soloist and accompaniment, and written and improvised sections merge seamlessly. The core of the album is Thile’s four-movement, 42-minute suite “The Blind Leaving the Blind,”written in reaction to his recent divorce. Though each movement includes lyrics and vocal melodies (many of which are hauntingly gorgeous), Thile eschews any regular kind of song form; the vocal sections are just one part of the whole, integrated with the breathtaking instrumental work. The suite is bookended by four shorter pieces written by the band. The dissonant bluegrass of the leadoff track, “Punch Bowl,” gets you ready for the expansive central suite, while the three concluding pieces operate as both a series of epilogues and a preview of the next Punch Brothers group effort, although it may take awhile to completely recover from the auditory effect of this Punch. (Nonesuch,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

David Foster Wallace 1962-2008

I was pretty devastated by the death of David Foster Wallace this week, and I've been trying to find something to say about him and his writing that would be fitting and approach the way I feel about him/it.

A.O. Scott got it right in today's NY Times:

"The Best Mind of His Generation"

For the uninitiated, check out DFW's brilliant essay, Tense Present, on English grammar and usage, originally published in Harper's, also included in Consider the Lobster.

Appreciation and mourning in Paper Cuts.

The Howling Fantods, DFW fan website.

From the commencement address DFW gave at Kenyon College in 2005:

"Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

"They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

"And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. ... The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

"That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008