Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Failure of the Day: The Unbearable Light(ness) of Tanning

My skin? Still hates me. The psoriasis is throwing the mother of all tantrums (which really should be the toddler of all tantrums but whatever) and let’s call it flaring. And I’ve had it. I’ve been rubbing goop on it for 25 years and none of it works for shit. What works is UV radiation, particularly UVB, but I don’t have the time to go all the way to Kaiser to use their light boxes three times a week. But I do have time to go to the tanning salon on 4th and King on my way home from work.

Tanning beds mostly deliver UVA light, so it doesn’t work quite as well, but I have it on good authority that it does work some, and that’s more than I can say for the goop. That’s the plus side. On the minus side, I’ve spent my entire adult life scrupulously avoiding ever getting even a hint of a tan. There’s a reason I don’t have any wrinkles into my 40s.

Tonight, in the tanning salon, I had what in truth was a very pleasant conversation with the 20-year-old receptionist’s hard candy shell. I had to stop myself from knocking on it—the gloss was so high I could almost see myself in it. But I found it oddly endearing, too, the effort he put into the show of being so nice and helpful. When I was a 20 year old receptionist, you couldn’t have gotten me to fake 10% of that friendliness with a gun to my head. What is it with kids today? No irony, no disdain, and not a loner in the whole fucking generation. I tell you, it’s eerie.

But in the end, what do I care that he started every sentence with an enthusiastic “Absolutely!”? Because, really, a simulation of friendliness and helpfulness is still friendly and helpful, and I needed someone to tell me how to get in the weird machine without setting myself on fire. I toasted for a brief 5 minutes (my whole face swaddled in towels) and none of my marshmallow bits seem to be burnt, so you can bet I’ll be back to continue the great Fuck the Goop experiment of 09. But first I need to moisturize. Seriously.

Friday, January 02, 2009

NON-Failure of the Day: Black Sabbath's Master of Reality by John Darnielle

I absolutely cop to being heavily biased in favor of Darnielle long before starting this book, and I further acknowledge that my opinions tend to the extreme and dramatic. However, even given all that, I have to say that to my eyes, this book marks the invention of a new kind of music journalism.

Instead of the studied music expert deconstructing the minutiae of the songsmithing and performance from a lofty and removed perspective, what Darnielle gives us is the idealized audience for the material at hand, expertly rendered with autobiographical precision. Who else but a 16-year-old kid thrown into a lockdown psych ward to explain the greatness of Black Sabbath? And who else but arguably the finest songwriter working in America today, not coincidentally also an RN who worked in a psychiatric lockdown facility for adolescent boys, to merge the story of the record with the story of the boy?

This new journalistic genre—criticism literature, let’s call it—provides not just an opinion of the music, but context, an experiential framework in which to hear it as it was intended by the audience it was intended for. It does what you want literature to do, that is, transport you into another person’s existence, and once you’re there, it plays the songs for you such that you hear them through the character’s ears, and through his or her lifetime of experience.

I don’t know; maybe other people are doing this and it is old news but this is the first I’ve seen of it, and I found it to be exhilarating and wrenching and ultimately transformative way of communicating in the single-dimensional world of words what it feels like to hear the multi-dimensional world of music. I’m awestruck by the achievement.