the pizza underground

if you needed more proof than truth is stranger than fiction (or that child stars love pizza), look no further than the pizza underground.  what is “the pizza underground“?  well, obviously, it’s macaulay culkin & friends playing in a velvet underground tribute band where all of lou reed’s lyrics have been replaced with verses about pizza.  you simply cannot make this shit up.



fucking writer’s block


i get writer’s block sometimes.  i fucking hate writers that say, “i don’t believe in writer’s block.”  they are assholes.  and i don’t mean that in a i’m a jealous/frustrated/hack writer kinda way.  well, maybe a little bit of that.  but mostly i just mean they’re assholes for issuing an edict to all writers everywhere.  fuck those dudes.

the rest of us writers, we get stuck sometimes.  and those bullshitty listicles on buzzfeed/flavorwire/huffpo really don’t do a damn bit of good.  (they do have nice cat .gifs, though.)  which is why i did a little happy dance when i read jeffery renard allen’s response when he was asked about his secret to fighting writer’s block (as part of the spring books preview in the chicago reader):

When I get stuck, I will pull a random book off a shelf, open a page, and start reading. I usually search for a sentence or phrase that strikes me, write it down on a sheet of paper, then start to improvise on it until I come up with something…

why the shit i never thought of that before beats the hell outta me.  but i freaking love this idea.  i love the thought of encountering a random phrase, or a scene, or a place, or a person and trying to imagine how one of my characters would react to it.  inserting my character somewhere they (probably) don’t belong will inevitably lead to some nice surprises.  and if that random fictional prompt is too much a stretch, i love the idea of my character even just reading what i’m reading & having them react to the writing.  do they throw the book across the room in frustration?  does it remind them of someone they used to know?  so many possibilities.  so friggin’ great.


poems of the people

I heard that you ask’d for something to prove this puzzle the New World,
And to define America, her athletic Democracy,
Therefore I send you my poems that you behold in them what you wanted.
– walt whitman

it’s april.  which means it is, once again, national poetry month—that time of year when poets try like hell to get non-poets to give a shit about poetry.  (i kid because i care.)  if we are to believe the poetry foundation’s 2006 report, poetry in america, then 64% of adult readers think that people should read more poetry.  not only that, but while more than 80% of former poetry readers find poetry difficult to understand, only 2% of poll respondents didn’t read poetry because they felt it was “too hard.”  to me, this sounds suspiciously like all those nielsen families who over-report the amount of time they spent watching pbs.

but i’d like to give the poetry foundation huge props for trying something different this year.  last fall, they asked america “what’s your favorite poem?” and, god bless them, americans responded.  i’m not even talking about the obvious respondents: professors, mfa students, and sullen/lovelorn teenagers.  no, i’m talking about the people you didn’t think gave a shit about poetry.

the favorite poem project has some pretty fantastic video footage of everyday americans not just reading a poem, but talking at length about what that poem—and poetry—means to them.  you’ll see a jamaican immigrant talking about sylvia plath, a marine reading yeats, a construction worker waxing about whitman, hillary clinton (and her husband) reciting some verse, and dozens of others.  it’s enough to make you believe that, goddamn right, poetry is not dead.

still, on more than one occasion, i’ve found myself siding with the non-poetry crowd, those who say the knock against much contemporary poetry is that it’s not—what’s the word?  accessible.  i don’t recall ever thinking that poetry should be *easy* mind you.  but damn if there haven’t been some times when i’ve seen a contemporary poem and just thought, “you’re fucking with me, aren’t you? you fucker.”

that being said, i recently got a piece of direct mail from the poetry foundation, and in it was a quote attributed to the magazine’s editor, don share.  that single sentence is, perhaps, the best counter-argument to that “accessibility” issue that i’ve ever heard:

The value of reading contemporary poems, apart from the considerable pleasure of thinking about what they’re up to, is that it gets us to focus our attention and sharpen our critical skills, things we need more than ever in an age, like ours, of distraction.

i swear, i’m ]this[ close to subscribing to poetry magazine myself.


door’s open – walkens welcome


brackets of brackets

like many americans, i’m watching an obscene amount of basketball this week.  like most americans, i’m a little overwhelmed by the proliferation of “bracket” culture.  even the number of brackets focused just on books is a bit much.  so, after seeing brackets this year for npr vs. pbs personalities, the bitchiest fans, the most privileged demographic, curse words,  and (for fuck’s sake) life, i thought i’d be all clever and make a bracket of brackets.  but the internet beat me to it.  now the best i can do is encourage you to vote in the saved by the bell bracket.  and then cry.  or watch cat .gifs.  whatever.  ‘merica.


things you should know about cnn’s “chicagoland”


tonight at 10/9c, cnn will air the first episode of their original series, “chicagoland.”  because my employer was involved with some of the filming for this 8-part documentary, this past tuesday night i was able to attend a special debut showing at the bank of america theater in chicago.  based on the first episode that i saw, i would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in an insider’s view to how a modern american city works (or, sometimes, doesn’t).

their crews were given access to intimate & uncensored moments we members of the public rarely get to see, if ever: with the mayor, with the principal of a school which needs metal detectors, with the police chief, with grieving families, and—in the episode’s most haunting moment—with 10-year-old students who are literally scared for their lives just walking to school.

but, as someone who loves this city dearly, i want to give all of you not from chicago a viewer’s guide to the things that the cameras didn’t capture, or were edited out, or just plain weren’t explained…

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(some) money & beats & art

if it hasn’t been made abundantly clear on this blog, i can assure you that at least my friends are already well aware of my antipathy toward music streaming services.  it’s not because i’m an audiophile (my hearing never fully recovered after nine inch nails’ “fragility” tour back in 2000).  it’s not even because i have a janky internet connection at home (which i do).  it’s because i’ve yet to be convinced that any of the pay-for-service music streaming companies actually compensate artists fairly.

i know that my friends are aware of this opinion because one of them was good enough to email me a link to an article on the guardian this week regarding that very issue.  independent musician zoe keating shared her payouts in 2013 from iTunes, youtube, spotify, and other services—even going so far as to make the figures available publicly in a google document.  the guardian did some quick math, revealing that 92% of keating’s income still came from album sales, not streams.

it’s worth noting that the guardian also supplied an october 2013 quote from keating on this very topic:

I don’t feel like streaming is the evil enemy. I think it’s a good positive thing to get music out there… All I’m asking is make a direct deal with me, let me choose my terms.

while i do find keating’s transparency here quite admirable, i’d like to reiterate my earlier statement that, as a fan, i don’t actually care what the exact numbers are.  i don’t even care if a streaming service pays all artists the same rate (as beats music claims to).  what i care about is artists feeling like they’re getting a fair deal.  if they feel the system is equitable—regardless of where a given artist is at in their own particular career arc—that’s what i’m interested in.  and regardless of what numbers appear in keating’s spreadsheet, the thing i’m going to remember, and the thing that’s going to continue to keep me away from streaming services, is that keating still lacks control over who profits from her music.


p.s.  on a somewhat related note, last week new republic had a nice article on how/why book publishers haven’t exactly been as devastated by the digital revolution as the music & film industries.

bark review: “ruth: woman of courage”

ruthso, there’s been this trend lately to be, like, all positive & shit when reviewing books.  which i kinda understand.  technology has enabled us all to be content producers.  anybody & everybody can not only write a book, but publish it.  and negative reviews help no one more than the writer.  especially if that writer hasn’t come up the old school way and/or become part of a writing community, building up a stable of editors they trust to critique their work—but it’s also true for established writers, who could be otherwise unchallenged because of their burnished reputation.

as readers, however, we might get a perverse thrill from a literary takedown by a critic, but do we really need negative reviews?  if the end objective for readers is to know which books to (not) read, couldn’t we more or less glean that by seeing which books never get (positively) reviewed anywhere, ever?  on the other hand, is a critic who only writes glowing reviews in danger of becoming overly fawning, or desperately sifting for gold where little (if any) exists?

it is in that context that i wonder what the fate of ruth: woman of courage would be were it published in 2014.  it is, ostensibly, a children’s retelling of the story of ruth (i.e., from the bible) which was published in 1977 & beloved by tiny young christians across the land.  but let’s pretend it was released today.  would it come out on a vanity press, and be panned by academics and lovers of literature alike as unserious, barely(?) sensical words spewed on a page?  or would it be snapped up by some by some indie publisher, and hailed by the masses on html giant as a pre/post-ironic deconstruction of contemporary amerikan language which delves into the myth of feminist biblical moral strength?  tough to tell.

whether or not the world needs negative reviews in 2014 is up for debate.  but i submit that if you’re going to use the *literal* word of god as source material, you’re setting yourself to an awfully high standard—a standard which some reviewer should hold you to.  and, paula jordan parris: for you, that reviewer is me.

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guilty as the nfl: an open letter response

melissa huggins

february 3, 2013


dear huggiebear,

thanks for your letter & let me begin with this: congrats.  your beloved seahawks made peyton manning’s record-setting broncos look completely ineffectual (even in denver’s best moments).  how do i know they did that?  cuz i watched the super bowl.  kinda.  steve almond was right in that this game has practically become a secular holiday.  friends of mine host a big party for it every year—and there are actually some friends of mine that i only see at that super bowl party (yes, their kids are fine & life is pretty good, in case you were wondering).  so, i did see that safety to start the game.  and then basically nothing else until the 2nd half.  but i was there, and i definitely stole glances at the tv screen (was that james franco with a fucking tiger?).  i even watched a good part of the 2nd half as more&more guests headed home (yes, those parents are responsible & their kids do have bedtimes, in case you were wondering).  but that does kinda prompt the question, wtf, jason?

so let me also acknowledge this: i didn’t exactly maintain a strict ban on watching my beloved bears this past season.  i tried to stay away.  but then some guys would invite me to the bar to watch monday night football with them, and i’d want to hang out with them because i haven’t seen them in a while, and then i’d see alshon jeffery make an absolutely sick catch against dallas, and then i’ve fallen off the wagon, as it were.

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white folk bling

i wanna get this outta the way right up front:  i live in a deep, dark hole w/r/t pop culture.  and also, yes, i’m maybe a bit racist (especially w/r/t hip hop).  i just wanted to remind you.  in case there was any confusion as to why this whole macklemore/grammys backlash has me perplexed.  i totally get the whole “recording academy is out of touch” argument.  but, fuck, what awards association isn’t?  bitching about macklemore winning grammys is like bitching about a biopic winning too many damn oscars.  pissing & moaning about why *your* guy didn’t win (whoever *your* guy is) only serves to legitimize the whole absurd enterprise.  if you’re gonna attack the grammys at all, why not make it about the ludicrous prospect of giving awards for art?

but maybe you wanna make this about race.  and, to be fair, because we’re talking about america, you can pretty much bet race is a factor.  but is it the factor?  have we already forgotten that kanye west swept the 4 rap categories of 2011, and 4 of 5 in 2007?  or that lil wayne won 4 of 5 in 2008?  in fact, other than a handful of awards given to eminem, and a single award to the beasties in ’98, the grammy’s rap category has been completely dominated by black artists since the recording academy began awarding them in 1988.  so someone whingeing about a white artist in 2014 strikes me as someone actually having an issue with their own long/short-term memory.  if you’re gonna get on the grammys about diversity, why not make it about the GLARING omission of female hip hop artists (and not just in 2014, but for 25 years now)?

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