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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey


It’s somewhat tempting to say that reunion albums are a Bad Thing — so many bad reunion albums and bad reunion tours have been done. On the other hand: The Soft Boys. After nearly twenty years apart, the band reformed to tour on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the release of their brilliant but critically-ignored Underwater Moonlight. I don’t think the plan was to make a reunion album; I think the plan was just to get together and play some old songs.
In the midst of that, Nextdoorland was born. It’s an odd album, in that one would hardly notice that over twenty years had elapsed between Underwater Moonlight and it. It could be that Underwater Moonlight was ahead of its time, but it’s more likely that The Soft Boys just have their own sound that isn’t particularly bound to a particular chronologically-locatable style. Whether this album were released in 2002 or 1982, it would probably sound just as good and just as bad to most of the same people. And therein lies the oddity — if someone were to tell me that this was actually an album of outtakes from the Underwater Moonlight sessions, I wouldn’t have much difficulty in believing them.
So: If you’re a Soft Boys or Hitchcock fan looking for surprises, you won’t find them here. If you’re a Soft Boys or Hitchcock fan looking for the same great songwriting that they’ve always had, then Nextdoorland is one more to add to the collection. And if you’re new to the whole thing — well, you’ve got over twenty years of great music on which to catch up. So get to it.

The Jungle

The Jungle
Upton Sinclair

I spent the entire month of February as a vegetarian. I was asked several times my reasons for doing so, and found them hard to articulate. The best explanation that I could offer is that it was an exercise in empathy. Basically, it’s worked like this:
I’ve never been a real vegetarian. While I would prefer not to eat my cat, I’m certainly not an animal rights nut by anyone’s standards. Neither am I a health food nut, a Hindu, or any more environmentally responsible than the average NPR listener. Nonetheless, I’ve always known people that are real vegetarians, and generally fit into one of the aforementioned categories. And, historically, I’ve had a great deal of fun at the expense of those people. (Why they’ve chosen to remain my friends is a question beyond my capacity for reason.) I have not generally been what one would call “sensitive”. This mostly rested on the assumption that most people didn’t really have good reasons for their beliefs, and just acted on them because it seemed like a cool thing to do.
Thus, the experiment in empathy. Last year, just to see what it felt like, I gave up being omnivorous for a month and only ate dead vegetables and non-meat animal products (I wasn’t quite radical enough to go vegan.) The idea was to gauge just how much of a sacrifice this really was for people — how much would it really cramp my lifestyle to be able to say that I was a vegetarian? The answer: it was fucking rough. It affected where I ate, with whom I ate, and how many options I had when I shopped and went out. When ordering pizza with friends, I had to be the annoying guy to say “I can’t eat that. I’m a vegetarian.” Restaurant menus which formerly had dozens of items available now had about three. Social patterns changed. People gave me the same sort of shit that I used to give my vegetarian friends.
And so, to remind myself that sometimes people do relinquish something significant for the sake of their ideals, I’ve repeated the experiment this year. It may or may not have the long-term effect of making me a more empathetic person, but it at least means that I give my vegetarian friends less shit than I used to.
In the midst of all this, I happened to read The Jungle. It wasn’t a calculated coincidence; it was just the next unread book on my shelf. Sinclair’s account of the packing houses of Chicago made it that much easier to stay away from meat for a month. I didn’t finish the book a rabid socialist, but it puts a nice historical shine onto anti-trust laws and the FDA. The story isn’t so interesting, really, although it does make me glad that I’ve been teaching English to immigrants for a couple of years. Looking for work in a country in which you can’t speak the language is a horrible thing to have to do.
New project: Transition away from factory-produced food to support local grocers peddling organic and local food. Compare price difference and resulting change in cooking and eating habits. Start April 1.