Thursday, April 30, 2009

We'll always have Lawrence v. Texas

I can't quit you, David Souter.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fun with Juxtaposed Pictures

From today's Huffington Post:

From the Chicago Tribune:

Monday, April 27, 2009

You're no mystery to me, Miss California.

On occasion, "Music Monday" requires a bit of setup.

Sometimes it feels like we meet someone loathsome every week. Last week, it was Miss California, Carrie Prejean. Prejean, who looks like nothing so much as a vinyl effigy of Elizabeth Berkley, was the frontrunner in last week's Miss USA Pageant--until, as you know, she was asked about her position on same-sex marriage. Her answer has become famous by now, especially in courses on how NOT to win Miss USA.

Indeed, Carrie's plea for "opposite marriage" (only, of course, in "[her] country"--wherever that is...) seems to have cost her the crown. Instead, our bronzed rack of lamb had to settle for First Runner-Up. Unfortunately, her consolation prize was merely to co-host the "Today" show for a couple of days. This is particularly sad as, if she had won the crown, she would gotten a much better gig. Like, um, cutting the ribbon at the new Food Lion in Greensboro, NC. Hang in there, Carrie--you'll make it someday!

Naturally, she immediately became a political figure. Insane people loved her "courage." Equally insane people hated her. Prejean herself attempted to crazy up her image a little, blathering about being "biblically correct." Eventually, someone finally noted that she had her facts wrong anyway. And somehow, we all cringed to discover that she casually dates Michael Phelps (has he made one good decision outside of a swimming pool?).

Now Fosco doesn't want to hate on Miss California too much. After all, asking beauty queens about politics is a recipe for disaster--as far as I'm concerned, she just mostly made herself look bigoted and stupid for posterity. (Although, whether we should be taking her "opinion" seriously for the rest of the week is a different question altogether.) And besides, no one has been able to adequately explain to me why two infinitely more loathsome people were on stage with her that evening (that would be Perez Hilton and Billy Bush). Carrie's clearly the distant third in that trio of repulsiveness.

What the hell does any of this have to do with music? I am pleased that you asked. Fosco's annoyance with Miss California last week was decidedly attenuated by his discovery of the song "Miss California" by his beloved Jack's Mannequin. Somehow, Fosco had managed to overlook this song (which is a bonus track on The Glass Passenger) until last week. For some reason, imagining Carrie Prejean as the Miss California named in the song makes Fosco laugh--a lot. Perhaps it has something to do with the lyrics:

But I'm gonna take you to my boxcar on the beach
And I'm gonna hang the sun above your bed
And soak your hair in bleach

You'll be missed Miss California
You'll be kissed by only me
When they can't find you, you'll turn into a mystery
but you're no mystery to me, Miss California.
Yes, these lyrics are a little creepy (or, as Oz suggested, a little "kidnap-ey"), but the song itself is really a great sing-a-long pop jewel. And of course, I'm not advocating the abduction of Carrie Prejean; however, these are the kinds of silly fantasies that stupid people have about beauty queens (and that Jack's Mannequin is clearly mocking in this song). It's just a funny song that is made funnier when you imagine Prejean's semisynthetic face in the middle of the narrative.

Sadly, the best version that I've been able to find online is this live video from YouTube. It's not a terrible performance (the energy is high), but you should probably find a way to listen to the studio version.

Also, why does he keep trying to stand up? Sit down!

Oh, and if you'd like a "bonus track" from Jack's Mannequin, listen to this excellent cover of MGMT's "Kids"--good stuff.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday in Venusburg

Fosco has been listening to Wagner's opera Tannhäuser this week. The music is absolutely ravishing (Don't believe me? Get a hold of the Overture--an easy download from anywhere.), but I had never really paid attention to the plot before this week. Guess what? The plot is stupid. Even so, the opera's a pretty thrilling listen.

Another thing I never knew about Tannhäuser: the overture is referenced in the title of an almost-equally ravishing Cézanne painting.

This is Cézanne's Girl at the Piano (Overture to Tannhäuser) (1868-70). It lives at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. It is entirely possible that this young woman is playing the piano transcription of the overture by Franz Liszt (although there seem to have been versions by several composers).

I wish you a restful Sunday, filled with wonderful music (and perhaps some needlework?).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Story Hour: Wells Tower

After taking a week off to reload, "Saturday Story Hour" is back. With a BANG.

This week, we're focusing on an author who is entirely new to Fosco! Just a few weeks ago, Fosco semi-randomly clicked on a story on the NY Times front page about a short story collection by an author named Wells Tower. The name of the collection is Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, which is a pretty catchy title. Fosco decided to buy the book (from his local independent bookstore--thus paying almost $10 too much), after reading these paragraphs in the Times piece:

Wells Tower’s book of short stories, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,” has attracted a great number of vivid descriptions from admiring critics in the few weeks since it came out, and “strange” is perhaps the most commonly employed.

Also: “lurid”; “crammed with more pathos than a 400-page potboiler”; “bittersweet,” “beautiful” and “ardently conflicted” (in the same review); and “sad-funny-disturbing” (all in the same hyphenated clause). The last came from Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, who wrote that the book “decisively establishes” Mr. Tower “as a writer of uncommon talent” and drew comparisons to Sam Shepard’s social radar, Frederic Barthelme’s ear and David Foster Wallace’s eye.
To me, those paragraphs pretty much sold it.

When Fosco got the book home and cracked it, he was surprised to discover that one of the stories had originally appeared in The New Yorker last November. Apparently, that one slipped past me. The story is called "Leopard" and I'm glad that I got this second chance to read it, because it's great.

The story is written in the second person--which is somewhat unusual and, in the hands of some writers, very show-off-y. However, in this case, I found it very easy to slip into. By the third or fourth paragraph, the oddness of second person address had entirely disappeared. At that point, I was comfortably living inside the head of Towers's teenage protagonist.

The story is also, in places, extremely funny--and poignant at the same time (just like your own teen years, right?). Consider this section that describes a small fungus spot that has appeared on your upper lip (wasn't Junior High absolute torture?):
A tiny hamburger is what the fungus resembles, cracked and brown and perfectly centered in the little fluted area between your septum and upper lip. Yesterday, in the cafeteria, Josh Mohorn pointed out the similarity before a table of your friends. A painful thing, considering how much you would like to be Josh Mohorn. He turned to you and said, “Hey, Yancy, do me a favor.”

“What’s up?” you said, excited by the rare pleasure of Josh’s attention.

“Could you take that seat down there?” he said, gesturing toward the far end of the table. “I can’t eat my lunch with your fucking burger in my face.”

Even you had to admire the succinct poetry of the line, which launched an instant craze of everyone jeering and calling you Burger King, or Patty, or All Beef, the name that stuck for the rest of the day and that will surely greet you this morning at school. You are eleven years old, the age that our essences begin revealing themselves, irremediably, to us and to the world. Just as Josh Mohorn is irremediably a soccer ace and a clothes ace, with feathered hair and white bucks, you are irremediably a fungus man.
I don't know about you, but for me that passage pretty much sums up my life during the years 1985-1989.

Sadly, it turns out that you live with your loathed stepfather. By the end of the story, you'll be silently praying for him to be devoured by a renegade leopard. How does the story go from your fungus to the leopard? That's what makes it so amazing--the strange chain of contingency that seems so perfectly normal for a day in the life of a misfit eleven-year-old.

You can read "Leopard" here.

If you would like to purchase Towers's collection from Amazon (thus saving almost $10), you can do so by following this link:

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Primatology of BBQ

"Foodie Friday" returns (a little late in the afternoon) with something mouth-watering.

The first week of April brought Fosco's friend Todd on his annual pilgrimage to the Bay Area. You may not know that, in recent years, Todd has become something of a BBQ expert. Because of his travels around this country (and a group of very food-obsessed friends), Todd pretty much has recommendations for good BBQ in almost any major American city. I never travel without asking Todd if there is a good BBQ place to visit at my destination. Todd was particularly excited this visit, as he finally had a lead on some good Bay Area BBQ. And so we drove to the small town of Pacifica, just south of San Francisco along the coast, to find Gorilla BBQ.

Gorilla BBQ turns out to be notable for several reasons. First off, there is its location in a bright-orange boxcar. Second, there is its theme song (listen to it at the website). Third, there is the fact that the owners spent $26,000 on a smoker. Fourth, the place recently appeared on punk bear Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" on Food Network. And perhaps most interesting: one of the co-owners has the words "PORK" and "RIBS" tattooed on his knuckles. Indeed!

Let's check out the setup. This is boxcar (and over that hill is the ocean--that's Highway 1 right there).

The sign is perhaps slightly misleading, as I have yet to see much smoke coming from the place. Too much smoke is probably against local environmental restrictions anyway.

This is Jeff, one of the co-owners (and apparently the primary chef). Notice all of the monkey tchotchkes on the counter.

This is Rich (aka "Gorilla"). He's the one with the tattooed knuckles. He takes the orders.

As you can see, there isn't much space in the boxcar to run the whole operation. Of course, it's takeout only.

So let's talk about the food. The menu features the standard smoked meats: pork ribs, chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork, hot links. There are traditional sides (mac and cheese, red beans and rice, corn muffins, potato salad) and NorCal-inspired sides (portabello mushrooms, grilled eggplant). When Oz and I went with Todd, I opted for the three meat combo: brisket, pulled pork, and hot links. It came in two containers: one for the meat, one for the sides. Plus sauce on the side. Here's the meat:

The pulled pork is fine. The hot links are spicily delicious. The brisket is EXTRAORDINARY--crusty, smoky, tender, cut-able with a spork (yes, a spork is what they provide you to eat with...). The BBQ sauce (appropriately served on the side) is tart and wonderful--best I've had outside a hundred-mile radius of Memphis. One thing I liked: the attention to the sides, which were pretty much all delicious. The Mac N Cheese is absolutely awesome, and the corn muffins are the Platonic ideal of corn muffins--best I've EVER had. Seriously.

Oz and I were smitten and we returned the next week (with Todd in our memories...). This time, we concentrated all of our attention on the brisket and mac n cheese:

At this point, I am absolutely obsessed with this brisket. Apparently, however, I am not alone. This was the line at 11:45 on Saturday (for the opening at noon):

Sure, it may have taken half an hour to get to the counter. But it was worth it. Brisket!

Of course, Gorilla may not compete with the best of Memphis (or Texas and North Carolina, for that matter), but I suspect it's the best in Northern California--and that's not too shabby. If you are ever within 50 miles of this place, it is worth a trip.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Did Jesus ever rebuke "Ankle Biters"?

In yesterday's post, I published a photograph of lovely Christian gentleman and his informative sign listing all of the groups of people who will be judged harshly by God. Here, again, is a closeup of his sign:

In my previous post, I helpfully turned this poster into an easy-to-read list and my readers responded--by determining how many of these categories are going to contribute to their own eternal damnation.

However, as you may recall, there were two groups that Fosco couldn't quite read. With the help of some new bionic eyes (and some other pix of this guy from other sources), Fosco is pleased to announce that he can now complete the list:

ADDITIONAL People Who Will Be Judged (Presumably Unfavorably) By God

  • Thieves
  • Ankle Biters (what does that even mean?)
Do these additions cause any revisions in your personal number, readers? (Especially if any of you are small dogs...)