Monday, February 21, 2011

Sleeping... But Not Gone

Seems I was having this same debate about a year ago. Then, as it is now, it was over Blogger's less than feature-rich commenting system -- plus it seemed over the short life of this blog, I received feedback stating that the same system had munged their detailed remarks and forced them to re-type their comment more than once. Not good. I did manage to delay the argument by deploying a third-party system (JS-Kit's Echo system) last April, and that helped... some. But even with its nice social networking features, threading, and better editor, that too began to crack (and some like my friend Will couldn't even comment because older browsers had issues with Echo). Of late, whether it was Blogger's or JS-Kit's fault, it stopped working more than once... then Echo's support (did I mention it's a paid service?) stopped responding to this client's requests. It appears like I wasn't the only one unhappy with it.

While all of that was diverting enough, I began to feel that wasn't the only thing driving this. Then I remembered this scene from Silence of the Lambs:
Hannibal Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?
Clarice Starling: He kills women...
Hannibal Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?
Clarice Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir...
Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Clarice Starling: No. We just...
Hannibal Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day...
I guess the gist of it has been the fact that I've wanted to change or improve things for a while. Don't get me me wrong. Blogger is not a bad blogging system. In fact, Google made it quite easy for me to join in on the sphere back in 2008. Ridiculously so. But again, after a while, there were things I began to notice that I craved. So when I opened a account (also free like Blogger) early last year on a lark (or so I believed), I liked what I saw in its writing and publishing features. I'm not, nor do I ever expect to be, a blogger that produces extraordinary content or have a boatload of followers. However, I am one who likes to tinker with things. That's just me. And I'm not interested in getting into flame wars over platforms: Mac vs. PC, iPhone vs. Android, or Blogger vs. Wordpress (but there are loads of posts arguing one way or another on this one). But, I am making a switch... or sorts.
Since change seems to be in the air with some many of my blogging friends (Jen and Kaye have deployed her own custom domains [ and, respectively], and author John Kenneth Muir and Sci-Fi Fanatic have updated their blogsite's design with nifty new templates), I'll begin posting new content exclusively over at my Wordpress blog site: It Rains... You Get Wet (points awarded to the first person who names the film this quote emanates from) starting this week. I contemplated moving my Blogger posts and comments over to the new blog with this change, but decided against it since I am not really abandoning this blog site or giving up my Blogger account. The only difference is what I've written about in the past (here) will just begin to land over there, instead. If someone leaves a comment on a blogpost (on either site), they'll still get a reply and thank you, regardless, since I'll monitor both to the best of my abilities. I don't do this lightly (hence my months long procrastination) because I realize getting people who are regular readers of Lazy Thoughts... to also make a change to a new site (and/or add another email subscription or RSS feed) is a big request.

I sincerely hope I don't alienate anyone with this, especially those who have read (or lurked), followed, and/or commented over the last few years. In many ways they are the best part of it all, but I do feel like it is for the best at this point in time. Lazy Thoughts (past) will be here, and there (those future posts that are coming). This in no way changes my commitments to friends -- I plan on contributing the promised posts to Kaye Barley and Edward Copeland on their wonderful blogs, and continuing the joint post project with the wordy one, Rachel over at Scientist Gone Wordy. I've learned, too, to never burn your bridges. So who knows, I might myself right back here sometime in the future. But for now, one leopard will be sleeping while another begins prowling. My heartfelt thanks to you all for your readership and understanding.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

The Border Lords

Having been introduced to author T. Jefferson Parker care of Robert Crais a few years back at a L.A. Times Festival of Books panel, I can honestly say it's been an enjoyable stretch. While friends have read and recommended his earlier works (notably The Fallen, Laguna Heat, and Silent Joe), I started it off with his L.A. Outlaws novel from 2008. It introduced the character of Charlie Hood (along with the personas of Joaquin and Alison Murrieta who continue to haunt all of these novels) and launched a series that has constituted my entire connection with the author. Though I have to admit my time with this string of novels hasn't been without its bumps -- see my review of The Renegades (the L.A. Outlaws follow-up) as a case in point.

Still, there are Southern California authors I will stay with no matter what because they write so well and craft their stories in and around the landscape that is their home (and mine) so adeptly. Parker is one of them. As well, he regularly delivers a consummate perspective (through a myriad of new and continuing characters) on the Drug War theatre happening on either side of the California-Mexico border through the four novels I've read. This author manages to give all the personalities he puts on the page a depth that poorer writers just turn into stereotypes and caricatures. Although, what I've finally come to recognize in the Hood novels is that Charlie is not so much the lead character, but is the platform that forms the basis of Parker's narrative. CH remains relatively interesting, but he can pale when compared to some of those TJP puts into orbit around him by way of southland crime.

That realization of mine began with last year's Iron River, the third book in the series. The history of southern California gun-making and gun-running, and its impact on both sides of the border, were manifest. Let alone the acts of devilry and butchery perpetrated among the drug cartels which Parker chronicled in that novel. Still, the SoCal native raised it up another notch with the fourth in the series published last month, The Border Lords. The synopsis of which has Sean Ozburn, a lone ATF agent 15 months into a deep undercover with the Baja Cartel, going rogue and devising his own strategy for doing good acts and 'fighting evil' that his own people would never condone, let alone authorize. It'll be left to Charlie Hood to ferret out the truth and what is behind the madness on both sides of the border. Jeff Parker has admitted that Border Lords is his implicit homage to his favorite work, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. IMO, it is one of his best books in the series (one that is projected to be six novels in length) and the genre.

A bit of fair warning, however: the author, who's research and detail of crime and the bureaucracy of law enforcement in the southland is extraordinary, introduced what many have perceived as a bit of mysticism into the last two Charlie Hood novels. Some readers have found it oft-putting (if you bother to read some of Amazon's customer reviews). If that seems incongruent, you may want to steer clear. However, if you do, you'll miss some compelling storytelling by this author and the spellbinding amalgam he's managed to capture on the page. Tim Rutten in his L.A. Times book review may have described it best:
"The border, for both peoples, always has been a moral frontier and a boundary of the imagination as much as a political one, and in this latest novel Parker takes full advantage of the physical and mental landscape's ambiguities. Almost nothing or no one in this gripping narrative is exactly who or what they seem to be. The author, moreover, has a knowing hand and pushes — in a sophisticated but never merely ironic way — against familiar literary memories as varied as Cormac McCarthy's border-hopping cowboys, Carlos Castaneda's Native American shaman and Graham Greene's whiskey priest. In fact, the book's most chilling character — and it's a tight competition — is a twisted pirouette off Greene's memorable character and one of the most appalling clerics in contemporary literature, if he really is what he appears to be."
Brilliance Audio once again produced the audiobook of this novel, as they've done for many of Parker's novels, with their usual fine production values. As well, David Colaci performed the narration with his customary skill, and he's been involved with the entire line since L.A. Outlaws. If you've heard him before, I think you can tell this narrator has become quite comfortable with the Hood character through his readings. Still, Colaci really seems to get a kick out of the variety of individuals Parker brings on to his stage. Although, having to assemble a large and distinct stable of vocal characterizations would not be his strong suit, IMO. Still, he's an asset for the audiobook listener and delivers on what the author has in store for fans who savor what he brings to the table.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Forgotten Song: Castles in the Air

In the 1975 film adaptation of James Grady's first novel, the re-titled Three Days of the Condor, Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway portraying the reluctant 'draftee' to Robert Redford's Joe Turner) says something that decades later continues to strike a chord with me:
"Sometimes I take a picture that isn't like me. But I took it so it is like me. It has to be. I put those pictures away."
The printed photos of desolate city scenes ("lonely pictures", says Turner) in her apartment catch the protagonist's attention, and for which he finds telling. That they are personal in a way that's difficult for her* to share is obvious in those scenes. Such is the case with the song of this forgotten post.

Don McLean is the folk singer-songwriter that broke through in the early 70s with his now legendary ballad, American Pie. In it, he told the story of the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) in a plane crash in 1959 through the scope of his own experience. The National Endowment selected it as one of the five greatest songs of the 20th century in a poll for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America. 'Nuff said. The man's talent for song and lyric (he's a veritable poet, IMO) was clearly on display with that first hit, and the albums and singles that followed. But for whatever reason, it is the Castles in the Air song which resonates with me over time, especially through the darkest of moods and times. If I was down in the dumps, this song would be up and playing endlessly on whatever CD player I had at the time.

The lament-filled tune tells of a disillusioned urban dweller coming to grips with the reality that his needs no longer jibe with his girlfriend or her lifestyle. The seemingly contradictory 'I’m city born, but I love the country life' response shouldn't work as a verse for me at all (being the jaded Angeleno that I am), but somehow it does. As well, the tune is unique in that it has more than one form by the same artist. The first manifestation of the song came from his debut album Tapestry. Songfacts reports the...
"... original song, which was recorded in 1969, featured a strings section. This was released the following year on Mediarts Records. In 1971, United Aritsts Records re-released the song, but overdubbed a Moog Synthesizer part. The UA version is more common as the Mediarts version is now out of print."
That initial tune can be found here. The song was originally released as the 'B' side of the 45 single for his next best seller, Vincent, back in 1972. Then and now, many prefer that early form. The song was played enough as a radio 'flip' to reach the Hot 100 back in its day. However, I still prefer McLean's later 1981 re-recording of the track -- that's the one which is marked as his last true 'hit' (making it to the pop Top 40 that same year). For me, its slower tempo combined with the vocal low notes deployed by the artist transforms the track into something more sorrowful compared to the previous rendition. It's more in tune to that of a requiem, I think, and is likely the reason it transfixes me still.

When I'm in the car with my children randomly slinging tunes through the stereo care of my iPod, and come across Castles in the Air, I'll purposely skip over it to the next track. Like Kathy, it's not something that I think is typical of my (musical) tastes. I own very few tracks like it. But the fact that I have them must mean they are me. And that it still touches 'me deep inside,' paraphrasing McLean. Perhaps that is another reason I put it away, and only bring it out when I'm at depth. Anyway, I hope you enjoy.

And if she asks you why, you can tell her that I told you
That I’m tired of castles in the air.
I’ve got a dream I want the world to share
And castle walls just lead me to despair.

Hills of forest green where the mountains touch the sky,
A dream come true, I’ll live there till I die.
I’m asking you to say my last goodbye.
The love we knew ain’t worth another try.

Save me from all the trouble and the pain.
I know I’m weak, but I can’t face that girl again.
Tell her the reasons why I can’t remain,
Perhaps she’ll understand if you tell it to her plain.

But how can words express the feel of sunlight in the morning,
In the hills, away from city strife.
I need a country woman for my wife;
I’m city born, but I love the country life.

For I cannot be part of the cocktail generation:
Partners waltz, devoid of all romance.
The music plays and everyone must dance.
I’m bowing out. I need a second chance.

Save me from all the trouble and the pain.
I know I’m weak, but I can’t face that girl again.
Tell her the reasons why I can’t remain,
Perhaps she’ll understand if you tell it to her plain.

And if she asks you why, you can tell her that I told you
That I’m tired of castles in the air.
I’ve got a dream I want the world to share
And castle walls just lead me to despair.

* BTW, composer Dave Grusin nails the soundtrack for this film, especially with his Goodbye for Cathy love theme from the movie.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Black Swan Discussion at The Aero Theatre

Last night, the good folks at American Cinematheque Los Angeles had another of their Oscar season events. This one highlighted Darren Aronofsky's five time nominated Black Swan film. Shown along side his debut work, Pi (1998), a discussion occurred in between the screenings with the director, DP Matthew Libatique, and film editor Andrew Weisblum. Some interesting back stories were revealed -- I mean who knew the director feared his 90 lb. lead actor more than Mickey Rourke from The Wrestler and how much those characters are alike. It really was another enjoyable event by the staff at The Aero Theatre who gave their usual marvelous presentation to the film fans in attendance at this sold out event. Below is the start of my video recording of the discourse (you can see the rest in parts 2, 3, 4, and 5). For those who haven't seen the film or anything by this director, it is highly recommended. I'll refer to you to two reviews by a couple of my favorite bloggers:

I hope you enjoy.

Sunday, February 6, 2011