Jesse Jarnow

Archive for August, 2007

georgie in the sky, no. 11

“Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone” – Neutral Milk Hotel (download) (buy)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

The first alien wildlife I saw was a sunflower. Perhaps five years old, maybe six, at a county fair. The stem was thick as my wrist. There was a small, one-track maze of them. My mother was ahead, with my younger brother, around a turn. Without her in view, I felt transported elsewhere, someplace far. I grabbed one in front of me and peeled at its skin. When I was finally able to pierce it, I found its Martian insides wet and furry. I recoiled at the coolness. As Morgan increased her affections with me in the days after she helped me with the parachute, her hands running from my hips and up my chest, it was a severed sunflower she wore behind her ear. And then the spaceship slammed into the water, sunflowers and imagined interplanetary terrains and Morgan’s mouth collapsed by the sudden pressure.

georgie in the sky, no. 10

“Jesus, etc.” (Swedish version) – David Holstrom & co. (download)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

For every test that Dr. Strommler conducted on Darla, I developed another system for the spaceship. He had her imagine shapes, colors, outlines. I devised a series of coils to create power for the launch. He played her a series of drones, had her focus on flickering patterns, and peeled them away from one another. I built an electricity distribution grid. When Darla described the exercises, in bed, it was with difficulty. “I feel so proud,” she said, as we started towards sleep. “No, not proud,” she amended after a moment. “Adjusted,” though she did not sound satisfied with that word either. I could tell she was still thinking, her breath against my shoulder like distant waves. I smelled salt, sand, and suntan lotion. Darla’s face was blank as she slept.

frow show, episode 26

(“Georgie in the Sky” will be continued tomorrow…)

Episode 26: Days of Labor

Listen here.

1. “Take the Cash (K.A.S.H.)” – Wreckless Eric (from The Wonderful World of …)
2. “Frow Show Theme” – MVB
3. “Timebomb” – Beck
4. “How Does the Brain Wave?” – Baby Elephant feat. David Byrne (from Nadia)
5. “Ed Is A Portal” – Akron/Family (from Love is Simple)
6. “Chaos 24” – DJ Chaos X (from Live Mixxx)
7. “Canned Goods & Firearms” – Sir Richard Bishop (from Polytheistic Fragments)
8. “I Miss the Girl” – Soul Coughing (from El Oso)
9. “Poison Flowers” – Mono Puff (from It’s Fun To Steal)
10. “Why Don’t You Smile Now?” – The Downliners Sect (from Nuggets II compilation)
11. “Maria Bethånia” – Caetano Veloso (from Caetano Veloso (1971))
12. “Squirrel of God” – Nels Cline Singers (from Draw Breath)
13. “Jesus, etc.” – David Sandstrom & co. (via YouTube)

georgie in the sky, no. 9

“Should A Cloud Replace A Compass?” – The Circulatory System (download) (buy)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

The falling was more vivid than the lift-off, a memory turned to stardust by the adrenaline. The speed increased, and my ears popped on and off, like a loose connection. The clouds came towards me. I wished I could escape my bonds and grasp at the cumulus topographies with my hands. Outside the portal, the land and the blue mixed. I tried blindly to calculate my trajectory, hoping it would end in the Gulf, Army surplus parachute or no. It was really a pair sewn together. Folded into two olive green duffels, I’d heaved them from the car to the shed. Morgan, that day and the next, helped me affix them to each other. When we finished, we kissed in a way that felt natural, which is not what I wanted or needed. Behind the silver and crimson and impossible white, there was a new taste, which began to corrode the old.

georgie in the sky, no. 8

“Absolute Lithops Effect” – The Mountain Goats (download) (buy)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

Morgan called it a “condition” and, when she did, her voice took on a sharp quality, like food left too long in the refrigerator. It made me not want to kiss her. I thought of it simply as the state of being Darla. It was some years into our marriage before I saw that particular look on her face, standing by the garden, though I am certain that I noticed its residue the first time we met, at a garage sale. When she smiled, she looked as though she not only meant it, but earned it. “You don’t see it,” Morgan said, “because you are at work all day, but she is not happy.” Darla’s smile had escaped, flown dissolving into the gaseous atmosphere, where I’d gone in search of it. It was all too fast for me to be queasy. I don’t remember holding the straps, but I know my hands never left them as I plunged towards the planet below me.

georgie in the sky, no. 7

“You Are My Face” – Wilco (download) (buy)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

Our routine: she comes into the shed, sits on the beach chair, and reads a spy novel. I work on the spaceship. It runs in a loop, over and over, even as I am in space itself, watching the stars manifest from pure daylight. That was what I wanted back. The plans are leftover from the space race, a design unpicked, rescued from an attic. Morgan sips her beer. Eventually, she stands, meets me by the workbench. We kiss, hands as neutral as possible on each other’s hips. We say nothing of consequence, and return to our respective stations. Later, Darla slips into bed beside me, and we have sex, passionately, tenderly, the missing colors slipped to me earlier from her sister’s lips. This happened, more or less, for five months.

georgie in the sky, no. 6

“How To Disappear Completely” – Radiohead (download) (buy)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

The colors were always there for her. At first, when she was a girl, they were just spots. “Almost like pets,” she said. “Like, milk was neon green. A cartoon frog that followed me around until the taste was gone.” As she got older, it was whole rooms. When we lived together, I would sometimes discover her standing in some corner, as if in rapture. “Hey,” she would say when I took her hand, breathy and sexy. It is funny now, almost, that I cannot recall when I found out Dr. Strommler, Morgan’s husband, was studying Darla, whether it was before or after Morgan and I first kissed. It was not an important reason why I allowed it to happen. From every other girl I’d been with — Karen and Seiko and Darla, all — I wanted everything, lives together, love in constant renewal. From Morgan, I only wanted a small, specific something.

georgie in the sky, no. 5

“Anchor” – Devendra Banhart (download) (buy)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

We honeymooned in the Caribbean, Darla and I, at a pink, three-story hotel by the ocean. All night, we listened to the murmur of the tide: softer as it went out, harsher as it came in, spitting up over the curve of the sand, long and low. The blinds were open, the stars visible. In our half-sleep after sex, she told me about the colors. A light outside shined on the pool patio, muted by palm trees, and occasionally illuminated the room when the wind blew the fronds aside. Her face, when she said this in the dark, looked like Karen, my high school girlfriend and Seiko, a girl I slept with once in college: all cheekbones. She also looked like herself. “It’s blue and gold,” she said. “That’s what I feel, when I come. Blue and gold.” Which is what I saw when I touched her cheeks the next time we had sex, and what I saw when the capsule peaked and tipped towards the Gulf.

georgie in the sky, no. 4

“Beach Party Tonight” – Yo La Tengo (download) (buy)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

So long as I fixed a toaster once in a while, nobody much bothered me in the shed. Still, I could not figure out a way to test the launchpad without making somebody, maybe Darla, ask what I was doing. There was no shame: I knew how to build a spaceship. But it was also an uncomfortable knowledge to possess, like I’d broken something but couldn’t tell my mother. I kept the parts tucked across the room. When Morgan came over that first afternoon, to see if I couldn’t unjam E.T. from the VCR, her eyes paused on the exposed circuitry on the workbench. Her husband, Jacob, a doctor, had been working late, so she was alone most evenings, too. “Like a menagerie in here,” she smiled, looking at the shelf of bulbs and plugs, and from then on co-existed with it. I looked past her, next to the Astros calendar, at the first sketch of the booster. Even going up, I knew the capsule would hit the apex too soon.

georgie in the sky, no. 3

“Sandy” – Caribou (download) (buy)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

Darla and Morgan, brown-haired and blue-eyed both, were variations on the same family code, though Darla came out prettier. Where Darla’s lips were slim, Morgan’s were puffy. Darla’s clear eyes were perpetually wide with awe, Morgan’s were dopey. And Darla’s voice was bell-like when she yawped in ecstasy, Morgan’s flat and nasal and tired. I saw her, Morgan, a flash of her freckled shoulder, as the capsule launched from the backyard. I was aware of the Chrysler door slamming, but didn’t look up. It was like jumping a car, really, to get it hot enough to launch. She had found Darla’s note with an awful quickness, perhaps with not even enough time for Darla herself to gain any distance.

georgie in the sky, no. 2

“Beautiful Jam” – The Grateful Dead (download) (buy)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

Back then, everybody tinkered. It is not as if it was a lifelong ambition to build a spaceship, or even be an astronaut. Believe me, that’s not my personality. Installing a new car radio, putting together a kitchen table, those are closer to my areas of expertise. Sure, I watched the moon landing. I didn’t give much thought to it, though. Not like that, anyway. The decision was gradual, something to do during the cool evenings when Darla worked late. I thought of this as I grasped the oxygen tube between my lips, my hands desperately clenched in the side straps. As I rose, a half-dozen balls of sweat emerged from my cheeks, fell, and froze instantly into silver airborne droplets.

georgie in the sky, no. 1

“The Big Ship” – Brian Eno (download) (buy)

Georgie in the Sky: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3 , no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11, no. 12, no. 13, no. 14, no. 15, no. 16

Between looking at Texas from outer space and looking at outer space from Texas, I would take the latter, and not out of any great love for Texas. Anyplace you look, I figure, half of what you see is in your head, what you want to see. So, up there, pressed against the glass from my father’s Ford, all I could see were Darla’s cheekbones, the night glow of the gas station, and the cat. Darla’s sister, Morgan, had come in the middle of the afternoon, her white Chrysler extra-bleached as it rounded the corner in slow motion, like the Kennedy motorcade turning onto Dealey Plaza. And so it was afternoon when I took off, no other choice, and it rushed beside me for a minute, a faithful dog, before the blue deepened.

“sometimes a pony gets depressed” – silver jews

“Sometimes A Pony Gets Depressed” – Silver Jews (download) (buy)
from Tanglewood Numbers (2005)
released by Drag City

(file expires August 21st)

“That guy’s a better songwriter than Bob Dylan,” my friend, an aggressive and renowned contrarian, once said of the Silver Jews’ David Berman. “I bet you didn’t know that, did you?”

“No,” I admitted. “I didn’t.” And, even having been informed, I’m still not sure if I do. Nonetheless, it’s something to consider. The argument is not to take anything away from Dylan, or — for that matter — to even say that Berman is the greatest songwriter of his generation. If it is not about standing on the shoulders of giants and all that (which it might be), then it is at least about how pop audiences have evolved over the years and what they are prepared to accept in a song.

Berman might be a more interesting formal songwriter than Dylan, but an artist is only as exciting as the limits he’s transcending. Again, not to take anything away from Berman, but it’s all about context. “Sometimes A Pony Get Depressed” is in no ways a revolutionary song. But it’s great, and I can see what my friend was getting at: Berman is simply a more modern songwriter, unencumbered by the properties of music grounded in folk and blues.

An argument about David Berman being a better songwriter than Bob Dylan is stupid if one expects to come up with a victor. If one just wants it to use it as a crowbar into a discussion of songwriters’ trickbags then I’ll bite: David Berman is a better songwriter than Bob Dylan.

links of dubious usefulness, no. 16

o Thurston Moore on free jazz. (Thx, SoS.)

o The original manuscript proposal for William Gibson’s Spook Country. (via BB)

o A wiki-list of ballplayers’ entrance music. (So Julio Franco’s entrance music really was called “Everybody Get Ready, Jesus Is Coming”…)

o Douglas Wolk on leaked albums. (see also: his great James Brown reviews at Pitchfork.)

o The preview for Michel Gondry’s forthcoming Be Kind Rewind:

richard ford’s “a minors affair”

A fine meditation on the slowness of the dog days, originally published in Harper’s, via Baseball: A Literary Anthology:

Everywhere, from Portland to Pawtucket, baseball’s the same slow, sometimes stately, sometimes tedious game governed by extensive, complexly arbitrary rules, and practiced according to arcane, informal mores and runic vocabularies which compel that almost every act of play be routine. Even the great smashes, the balletic defensive turns, and the unparalleled pitching performances — by being so formally anticipated, so contemplated and longed-for by the fans — become ritual, even foregone. It’s a Platonic game in this way, with all visible excellence (and even unexcellence) ratified by a prior scheme of invisible excellence which is the game itself.

“piggy in the middle” – the rutles

“Piggy in the Middle” – The Rutles (download) (buy)
from The Rutles (1978)
released by Rhino

One should never feel guilty about the music he enjoys, but I’ve been feeling mildly guilty at how much happiness the Rutles have given me of late. I’ve had the desperate urge for songs: stuff that I can sing in the shower, or play quietly on guitar when my roommates are asleep. I sometimes go through minor life crises where I think I’ll never find one of those again. Maybe on account of that, and because the Rutles are a literally formulaic reimagining of the Beatles (who will probably always remains the most irreducible source of aural pleasure for me), I’m just a pushover for the stuff. Who knows? (I also kinda dig that even when Neil Innes is trying to parody Paul, like on “Let’s Be Natural,” he still comes out sounding like John.)

“Piggy in the Middle” doesn’t approach “I am the Walrus” as a technical achievement, but it also doesn’t rely on anything but its songwriting wits for its momentum. It’s got lots of the stuff I love about certain tunes: random resonance with intimate inside jokes (“talk about a month of Sundays”), mysteriously pleasing phrasings (“toffee-nosed wet weekend,” with the emphasis on the “week”), and changes that can be strummed almost as a ballad (which is more than one can say for “I am the Walrus” itself). It’s funny, too. I mean, “do a poo-poo” instead of “goo goo gajoob,” but even that seems somehow Lennonesque.

frow show, episode 25

Once again, the Ropeadope fake office went on vacation without warning me. Anyway, here’s Frow Show #25, which will be up officially on their site next week. Next episode in three weeks.
Episode 25: The Dog Days

Listen here

1. “Meet the Mets (1962 version)” – Ruth Roberts and Bill Katz
2. “Birthday Boy” – Ween (from GodWeenSatan: The Oneness)
3. “Frow Show Theme” – MVB
4. “The First Inquisition (part 4)” – The Sadies (from New Seasons)
5. “fri/end” – Thurston Moore (from Trees Outside the Academy)
6. “The Passenger” – Iggy Pop (from Lust For Life)
7. “Piggy in the Middle” – The Rutles (from The Rutles)
8. “Jimmy” – M.I.A. (from Kala)
9. “In the Shadow of the Pines” – Bascom Lamar Lunsford (from Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina)
10. “Green Typewriters, part 1” – The Olivia Tremor Control (from Music from the unrealized film script, DUSK AT CUBIST CASTLE)
11. “The Cave Song/Garden of the Dwarfs” – Spacious Mind (from Garden of a Well-Fed Head)
12. “Wawahkel” – Sack & Blumm (from Sack & Blumm)
13. “Maremaillette” – A Hawk & A Hacksaw (from A Hawk & a Hacksaw)
14. “An Occupation Grooms Me” – The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast (from Early Recordings)
15. “Birthday Boy” – Marco Benevento & Scott Metzger (from Live at Tonic)
16. “The Revolution” – David Byrne (from Look Into the Eyeball)

a thought about the value of the sunday new york times on a tuesday

Whatever Victorian classification philosophy initially divided Sunday newspapers into their compartmentalized hunks of knowledge is long obsolescent in the culture at large. But I’m not sure it’s outlived its usefulness. The Sunday New York Times was never interchangeable with the world it described, though it sometimes seemed like it was. Now, especially, it seems like an obviously incomplete sampling of events presented with a strongly limited perspective.

Lately, though, I’ve come to value its finite qualities way more than its reportage. One could probably find the same stories scattered about the cyberether, but the fact that the Times has chosen to focus on them is what’s important. Data smog is an old problem (to borrow David Shenk’s phrase) and one result of being so overwhelmed is to enter blogospheric niches — be them centered around, say, obscure mp3s or liberal politics — and simply never emerge. Or, worse, only see the world through that community’s eyes.

The Times, especially on Sundays, isn’t just all the news that’s fit to print. It’s not all the news, for starters. But it does fit, neatly and valuably, into a few pounds of tree meat: a microcosm, or at least an organized place to enter the dialogue.

postcards: fourth of july

“Drums, Sun, Birds, Bells” (download)

“Birds, News” (download)

As shaman-in-residence at Boulder, Colorado’s Naropa Institute, folk archivist/alchemist/animator Harry Smith once recorded the entirety of his Fourth of July, from fireworks to crickets. Here are two mono-recorded excerpts of Independence Day 2007. Sounds in the field include the distant bells and marching drums of a parade, siren blasts, low-flying airplanes, a layer of constant bird chatter, and breaking ocean waves. Despite the mono, headphones are recommended, nuances revealing themselves with each upwards nudge of the volume knob. On “Drums, Sun, Birds, Bells,” everything is dense. On “Birds, News,” a more ambient reading of the same gives way to chaos when the birds react to sudden sirens.

The Smithsonian edition of Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music box set included his Fourth of July recording as part of the bonus features on one of the discs… except, so it seems, the “enhanced” multimedia technology, issued in 1997, no longer functions on current Macs. Oh, well. Anybody got an mp3?
Permanent link on

our stories fit into phones.

In two recent movies I’ve seen for review — Jeffrey Blitz’s just-about-to-be-out Rocket Science and John Turturro’s forthcoming Romance and Cigarettes — the telephone plays a typically minor role as a plot device/prop, in much the same way it has for decades. That is, some element of the story is forwarded/revealed by a third party picking up a shared landline. Though plenty of people still have landlines, of course, the sight of them on screen becomes increasingly anachronistic with each usage. To be sure, cell phone use in movies is way up, too, perhaps the single most convenient prop ever invented, but such is the power of the landline, which won’t easily surrender itself to the present.

i r in ur ballpark stealing ur jose valentin.

o Feral cats living in Shea! (Thx, IvyP.)
o Wally Backman bugs out.
o RIP former Mets first base coach Uncle Bill Robinson.
o Lasting Milledge’s MySpace profile.
o With his solo shot tonight, Shawn Green is now just five home runs away from tying Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg at 331 for all-time Jewish home run leader.

under the jaguar sun

It is worth noting, perhaps, that Microsoft Word’s spellcheck assesses the following beautiful passage of Italo Calvino as being written 60% in the passive voice:

As we reentered the hotel and headed for the large lobby (the former chapel of the convent), which we had to cross to reach the wing where our room was, we were struck by a sound like a cascade of water flowing and splashing and gurgling in a thousand rivulets and eddies and jets. The closer we got, the more this homogeneous noise was broken down into a complex of chirps, trills, caws, clucks, as of a flock of birds flapping their wings in an aviary. From the doorway (the room was a few steps lower than the corridor) we saw an expanse of little spring hats on the heads of ladies seated around tea tables. Throughout the country a campaign was in progress for the election of a new president of the republic, and the wife of the favored candidate was giving a tea party of impressive proportions for the wives of the prominent men of Oaxaca. Under the broad, empty vaulted ceiling, three hundred Mexican ladies were conversing all at once; the spectacular acoustical event that had immediately subdued us was produced by their voices mingled with the tinkling of cups and spoons and of knives cutting slices of cake.