Jesse Jarnow

Archive for November, 2006

travels with charley

The summer before eighth grade, in 1992, I read John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley as an assignment for fall English. If I’m remembering correctly, that same English teacher — fresh out of college and new to the school that year — passed out an untitled/uncredited novel chapter on the first day of class. After a few days, maybe, he explained it was from a book called On the Road. Later, he assigned us Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. It is probably not a coincidence that, the same autumn, I discovered hippie music.

But when I read Travels With Charley, I was bored by all Steinbeck’s sightseeing (at least, that’s what I remember the novel being about). What completely enchanted me was the preparation for the journey.

Equipping Rocinante was a long and pleasant process. I took far too many things, but I didn’t know what I would find. Tools for emergency, tow lines, a small block and tackle, a trenching tool and crowbar, tools for making and fixing and improvising. Then there were emergency foods. I would be late in the northwest and caught by snow. I prepared for at least a week of emergency. Water was easy; Rocinante carried a thirty-gallon tank.

I thought I might do some writing along the way, perhaps essays, surely notes, certainly letters. I took paper, carbon, typewriter, pencils, notebooks, and not only those but dictionaries, a compact encyclopedia, and a dozen other reference books, heavy ones. I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless.

I suppose I was in preparation myself, which is perhaps what appealed to me about it. It was a good summer, though, reading-wise. I also acquired my first Bloom County collection, Penguin Dreams and Stranger Tales, and, on a trip to visit family friends in Maine, a copy of Hunter S. Thompson‘s Great Shark Hunt.

POSTSCRIPT: After posting last night, I got into bed & finished off Jonathan Ames’ What’s Not To Love?. In the epilogue, Ames spends a paragraph talking about what he’s bringing with him to Europe, concluding, “well, enough of that, but packing isn’t talked about sufficiently in travel writing.” Pleasant convergence.

some recent articles

Song reviews:
Wind on the Mountain II” – A Taste of Ra (
If You Rescue Me” – Gael Garcia Bael & co.
Minute By Minute” – Girl Talk
Naomi” – Neutral Milk Hotel (Joe Beats remix)
Wizard’s Sleeve” – Yo La Tengo
Alice’s Restaurant” – Arlo Guthrie

Album reviews:
Eisenhower – The Slip (
Meek Warrior – Akron/Family (
Modern Times – Bob Dylan (Relix)
Out Louder – Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Wood (Relix)
The Eraser – Thom Yorke (Relix)
Colorado ’88 – Phish (Relix)
Live in Brooklyn – Phish (Relix)

Live reviews:
Beck at the Knitting Factory, 26 October 2006
The Music of Bob Dylan at Lincoln Center, 9 November 2006

Movie review:
Fast Food Nation directed by Richard Linklater (Paste)

Columns and misc.:
Looper in the Dark, micro-fiction
BRAIN TUBA: War on War (What’s It Good For), parts 11-13

Only in print:
o December/January Relix (Les Claypool cover): album reviews of the Apples in Stereo, Norfolk & Western, and Phish.
o Paste #27 (Christopher Guest cover): profile of Nicholas Hytner

“if you rescue me” – gael garcia bernal & co.

“If You Rescue Me” – the cast of Science of Sleep (download here)
from Science of Sleep OST (2006)
released by Astralwerks (buy)

(file expires January 22nd)

Hearing “If You Rescue Me” in the middle of Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep threw me for a loop. Like trying desperately to recall a dream, appropriately enough, I knew the melody that Gael Garcia Bernal and the cast were singing, but couldn’t place it until the performance was almost over: the Velvet Underground’s “After Hours” (one of the loveliest of the all-time lovelies).

I have no idea where the new lyrics came from, but I love the mood they create, of being lost in a grotesque adult world: “all the cars drive so fast, and the people are mean, and sometimes it’s hard to find food.” Like Cat Power’s approach on her Covers Record, the rewrite is something like a literal interpretation: a verbal articulation of the song’s emotional content that somehow happens to also fit the constraints of the original melody. Pleasant coincidence, eh?

“minute by minute” – girl talk & “naomi” remix – joe beats

“Minute By Minute” – Girl Talk (download here)
from NIght Ripper (2006)
released by Illegal Art (buy)

“Naomi” – Neutral Milk Hoel (remix by Joe Beats) (download here)
from the Joe Beats Experiment Presents Indie Rock Blues (2005)
released by Arbeid

(files expire December 4th)

I’m certainly fascinated by the increasingly frequent crossings of hip-hop and indie rock, and what each brings out in each other. Neutral Milk Hotel even turns up in a few places, including Joe Beats’ complete remix of On Avery Island‘s “Naomi,” and a sampled “2-1-2-3-4” count-off from “Holland, 1945,” dropped in the middle of Girl Talk’s “Minute By Minute” (from the super-fun super-mash-up Night Ripper).

It’s nice that indie rock has been effectively pulled into the conversation, but it does make me wonder about the value of all these mash-ups. Girl Talk is a blast, an endless parade of pleasing hooks, but I’m still not sure how far it extends past novelty. Can a mash-up ever get to the point where I need to hear it, like I need to hear, say, “Two-Headed Boy”?

Though I react more instinctively to Girl Talk, I think I like Joe Beats’ approach a little better. His version of “Naomi” sounds like a complete song, the new beat somehow natural. It is something I could get into, beyond the initial shock of the new context. I’m not sure where the conversation is headed, but it’s most entertaining.

closed for thanksgiving

Have a yummy one.

See you Monday.

theoretical art: self-mutating mp3s

(Don’t even know if this is possible. If you or someone you know can possibly code this, do drop a comment below.)

Idea for art: an mp3 that changes itself with each copy. That is: a computer-generated piece of music that contains a mechanism/algorithm to alter its contents whenever somebody drags it somewhere. No two listeners would end up with the same song..

“wizard’s sleeve” – yo la tengo

“Wizard’s Sleeve” – Yo La Tengo (download here)
from Shortbus OST (2006)
released by Team Love (buy)

(file expires November 28th)

The second post-Beat Your Ass b-side is from the soundtrack to John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, and is really quite groovy: two minutes of sweetly wordless space age exotica that sound like they could’ve been crate-dug on some Numero release, possibly French. There are faint strings, but mostly just atmosphere and a nearby ocean (and likely a view from a stucco balcony).

Haven’t seen the movie yet, so maybe there’s some context there, but the title seems a conceptual sequel to the ironic anti-shock of Beat Your Ass and its contents. Or perhaps they’re just incidentally meme surfing: I think Borat uses the phrase to describe his wife.

“alice’s restaurant” – arlo guthrie

“Alice’s Restaurant” – Arlo Guthrie (download here)
from Alice’s Restaurant (1967)
released by Warner Reprise Records (buy)

(file expires November 27th)

On one hand, the film adaptation of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” directed by Arthur Penn, can be written off as a period piece. Starring a ridiculously young-looking 22-year old Arlo, there are confrontations between rednecks and longhairs, a dude playing Woody Guthrie in his deepest sickness, and a gaggle of super-stereotyped hippies.

On the other hand, though, it also shows remarkable foresight. Released in 1969, the same week as Woodstock, it is also brutal. There are overdoses, spotty runaway groupies, and domestic abusers. There is, in short, a complete collapse of the ’60s idealism that wouldn’t crumble on itself — at least in the fashionable terms of mainstream perception — for quite some time.

The story of the Alice’s Restaurant Thanksgiving Day Masacree — presumably what earned Guthrie the right to make a movie of it — takes up only a small chunk near the end. It’s great, for sure — it’s even got the real officer Obie as himself! — but it’s also quite striking how the song and the film hit totally different tones.

Anyway, it’s Thanksgiving week, and I figured people’d be searching for Alice. Here, once again, is the shitty-ass mp3 I downloaded in college. Enjoy.

useful things, no. 5

The fifth in an ongoing collection of functional webpages and dork tools (excluding any/all Google programs).

o — Print books, hardcover or softcover, color or otherwise, with no minimum order. Quick turnaround, too. (Thx, MVB.)
o — People search. Remember when there was just, like, a phonebook? (Kaw!)
o DownThemAll — Download all the links on a page with this Firefox extension.
o ZipCar — The other night, I watched a friend arrange a ZipCar so he could pick up his cousin at the airport. Bloody amazing.
o Hype Machine — Besides aggregating the latest leaks, the search function is also an easy way to keep up with b-sides, radio sessions, and the like. If only it didn’t buffer so often.

looper in the dark, no. 12

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)

Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12

The broken machine’s canister was deployed, Looper noticed. He followed the source of the sound. Kneeling, he saw a canvas belt that had stopped. A loose spring had sprung, and caught in its motion. A heavy rubber stopped caused the spring to vibrate against the cogs with a precise, metallic rattle. Looper glanced at an adjacent machine. There, the canvas belt moved slowly.

Looper pushed the rubber stopper back into place, freeing the gears. The belt began to turn again. Within seconds, the whole room evened into silent harmony. Stepping back, Looper noticed a pattern on the floor that reminded him of the tile fountain in the plaza near the factory. He left the flashlight in the secretary’s window and walked home. The snow fell through the buildings’ massive spotlights, which shot upwards and illuminated the top floors.

At home, he sat still. Soon, he found himself drifting in the perfect quiet he had long known. There, the apartment was all at once. It could bend in the dark, yes, but only in ways Looper knew: his wife drinking tea in the corner, the warmth he knew would await him when he returned from his cousins’. It could be any of these, at any time, and Looper listened. Around the city, the offness had lifted, Looper knew. It was gone. [END]

looper in the dark, no. 11

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)

Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12

Looper lost count of the floors. They bore no correlation to the windows. He reached the top of the stairs. There, he found a space that opened across the span of the entire building. The streetlamp outside cast a familiar, buttery glow on the rows of machines. Looper turned off the flashlight.

Strolling cautiously down the aisle, he felt their humming. Their arrangement was methodical, if irregular. Looper felt as if he were in a garden. Each machine, he saw, had a glass tube emerging from it. The tubes shot straight out, before turning 90 degrees, and disappearing into the floor. Each tube had a copper canister at its bottom.

Near the room’s center, there was a plain metal desk. Next to the desk, there was a large open area. And, next to the open area, there was a machine that did not hum as the others did. Looper approached it. The machine cried quietly, wounded. Looper could hear a whirr coming from its back.

looper in the dark, no. 10

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)

Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12

The factory was again unlocked. The lights were off, but the entry was no less inviting. Looper could not see the olive green walls in the dark, but he could feel them. A large black flashlight sat in the secretary’s window, like fresh linens for a houseguest.

The upper floors were like catacombs, Looper found. They did not conform to the blueprints Mr. Brown had shown him. On the fourth, Looper branched off from the main hallway. He passed through a series of telescoping rooms, one after another. The beam was strong. In some, there were cabinets. In others, there were shelves. Jars of screws and electrical parts filled them.

On another floor, Looper saw the machines Mr. Brown had described. They were under canvas, mostly. He imagined stuffed animals, dead fur matted, concealed beneath them. He let the light linger on one machine, tracing its shape. He could not get a sense of its whole. Looper sniffed at the air for dust.

looper in the dark, no. 9

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)

Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12

Christmas fell on a Tuesday that year, so the city closed its offices the Friday previous. As usual, Looper would go to his cousins’ home east of the city for dinner. He did not see them often. This year, he looked forward to the three-hour train ride more than he had since his wife died.

The final straw came on Saturday night, however. Looper had called the cousins to remind him he was coming. He opened the window to admit cold air into the room to mingle with the radiator’s pleasant humidity. Instead, the offness filled his apartment, and he felt as if at the bottom of the ocean.

Looper had the sense to bundle up before he walked onto the street. He did not rush. It was late. The city was silent. He needed to surface. Looper again walked west on 79th Avenue. Soon, he would reach the plaza. And, on the other side of the plaza, he would emerge into the normal. It was only when he got there that he remembered how close he was to the factory.

looper in the dark, no. 8

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)

Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12

It got worse. Looper remembered reading a story in the newspaper about how sunspots caused interference on people’s telephones and televisions. He wondered if the sun had caused this, too. He sat for hours in the warm living room. The furniture moved silently, like tectonic plates, and shifted back. Looper wondered if he was running a fever.

As the holidays approached, Looper thought again about the factory he had visited some weeks earlier. It was the milk that did it. The milk that now always tasted wrong. He had smelled it, at the factory, he knew. It was in the air, trace elements were.

It was not hard to get the secretary to print out the file for the building. Bowman Manufacturing, it was. The documents were unclear about the factory’s purpose. In fact, the file contained little more than Looper’s notes. He tucked the folder in his briefcase. It was the last day before the vacation, and he was glad. Even in the offness, it was still his room.

looper in the dark, no. 7

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)
Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12
It was in the next week that other people began to recognize the offness, too. Walking to work in the snow, Looper saw a boy, perhaps about 9. The boy was blonde, and he studied the row of Christmas trees on the sidewalk as the snow fell around him. Looper could see why instantly.
The trees were not in a straight line, absolutely, but the wind blew through them wrong, as well. In some places, the branches sagged, as if in a breeze. In others, they threatened to snap. Looper could not tell if it was the fault of the wind or the trees. He and the boy acknowledged each other, and Looper continued on to work.
The man at the newsstand complained of too much ink on his fingers. At the bank, Looper overheard tellers speaking in hushed voices about the ledgers being several dozen cents incorrect. In the dark, Looper drank his off-flavored milk and wondered when society began to expect it to taste the same every time.

looper in the dark, no. 6

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)

Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12

Mr. Brown led Looper off the floor. They entered another hallway. Looper felt a change in the air. He smelled something, too. He could practically taste it on his tongue. The sound of the machines quieted as they walked deeper into the building. The odor increased, though. Looper could feel a layer of saliva on his tongue.

“The vents from upstairs,” Mr. Brown noted. “Some people seem to like it. I do not mind it myself.”

“What is it?” Looper asked. He had tasted it before, somewhere. Perhaps inside a chocolate, once.

“Byproducts, mostly,” Mr. Brown replied, fixing his tie. “Byproducts,” he said again. Looper inspected the remainder of the building.

Twice, he got lost in passages of endless doors. Both times, he was unhappy to recover his bearings.

looper in the dark, no. 5

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)

Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12

In the warehouse’s halls, Looper felt as if he were on an exotic vacation. “We’re mostly a factory now,” Mr. Brown, the manager, explained to him as they walked. They passed door after door. The snowy street seemed miles away. The collar of Mr. Brown’s red shirt jutted at an unusual angle, Looper thought. It was most pleasing.

“The upper floors are for specialty machines,” Mr. Brown pointed out, showing Looper the building map. “None gets used more than once or twice a month. There are rarely more than a half-dozen men up there at a time.” Looper nodded. The tone of Mr. Brown’s desk was one he could not name, like a shade from an early color photograph.

On the factory floor, high windows transformed the thin winter sun into something magnificent. Earphones muffled Looper’s ears. Mr. Brown pointed out the fire exits, professionally silent in the din. It occurred to Looper that he did not know the factory’s purpose. One machine was at least two stories tall. Two men tended to dials and counters at its base.

looper in the dark, no. 4

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)

Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12

In fact, the warehouse looked especially normal. It was a perfect cube. The walls were a soft, white cinderblock. They met the sidewalk evenly, giving the entire block symmetry. The windows began on the third of the five stories. Looper could not find a doorbell. For a moment, he stood confused. He tried the knob. It was a silver sphere. Clean, very clean, and quite unlocked. There was no lock on the door at all, in fact.

Looper stepped into entry. It was empty. The ceiling was low, Looper observed. Lower than he would expect. The room was an olive green, the light warm. He felt welcome, which is not what he usually felt when it came to inspecting warehouses. A sliding window opened into an office, also empty.

The chair Looper sat in while he waited was of bright white leather, also welcoming. The arms were wooden, cut at sharp 90-degree angles. Looper relaxed into the room’s plainness. It washed over him like a sea breeze. When the secretary called at him from the window, he was not upset. He stood, still in reverie.

well, i’m glad they’re selective about what they sell dept.

Looper in the Dark will continue next week…

looper in the dark, no. 3

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)

Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12

It was perhaps on account of the offness that Looper was even there, in the other neighborhood. That is what he called it: the offness. Looper considered this as he walked west on 79th Avenue. To be fair, he had not yet called it that to anyone. He merely thought it. Nobody else seemed to do even that.

Like the new secretary. She reminded him of wool, dense wool. She was the one who sent him to the neighborhood. The printed dispatcher sheet was in his coat pocket. Its folds were uneven, of course, despite his best efforts. The destination was far afield, a distance from his office’s assigned territory. “That’s what the computer says,” the secretary shrugged, chewing her gum.

The wind was biting. Looper counted Salvation Army Santas. He looked for a pattern in their distribution. At least his scarf still worked as it should. He crossed a plaza. He remembered a farmer’s market he’d once been to there. On its far side, everything was normal again.

looper in the dark, no. 2

(Short fiction, shorter increments.)

Looper in the Dark: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12

In the morning, everything remained flawed. The alarm rang at 6, as usual. It seemed too dark, however. Looper’s coffee was too strong. His toast was too burnt. Even his bootlaces were too short. Walking to the dispatcher’s office, all the world seemed askew. The newspaper headlines were off-center. The traffic signals hesitated before changing.

The time clock punched Looper’s card with an abnormally resounding thud. It echoed through the office. Looper looked around, though neither of the secretaries looked up from her desk. All day, Looper trudged about the neighborhood in the dirtying snow. None of the buildings failed his inspection, though each was wrong, as if it might remove a mask as soon as he was out of sight.

In the dark, later, he held the milk in his mouth. He could taste something else in it, as well. Besides milk. He swallowed it slowly. In his chair, he tried to feel the room around him. He did not want to feel the room. He just wanted to sit. Why should that be difficult?