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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

An Unfortunate Woman

An Unfortunate Woman
Richard Brautigan
An Unfortunate Woman
Richard Brautigan was an early obsession of mine. Not only did I love the books, but they were rare enough that finding them added a ongoing adventure to my life. I would wend my way through countless used bookstores, hoping to find a paperback that I didn’t already own. (I never did find a copy of June 30, June 30…) I gave Richard Brautigan books as gifts, I received Richard Brautigan books as gifts on rare occasions. Whenever I became so depressed that nothing else seemed interesting or worthwhile, I would read them — particularly In Watermelon Sugar, which could calm me down like virtually nothing else. And I always kept one book in reserve as insurance. Knowing that the author was dead, and there wouldn’t be more, I always kept one Brautigan book on my shelf that I hadn’t read, so that if things ever got really bad, I would still have that one thing to look forward to. Until this week, that one book was An Unfortunate Woman.
I read it not because I’d had a really bad week. On the contrary — I read it because I feel like I don’t need the insurance any more. There are enough other stable fulcrums in my life by now that the books don’t have to bear the same weight that they used to. They have become what they actually are: just books.
Richard Brautigan
Unfortunately for him, Brautigan himself lost track of any sort of fulcrum, and killed himself at home in 1984. I’ve always felt that, as they did for me, his books kept him alive, too, and when he ran out of books, he ran out of reasons. Following his writing chronologically is like following a timeline of declining genius. His early books introduce a truly unique writing voice, and his later works read as an imitation of that voice. An Unfortunate Woman, discovered in his personal belongings and published sixteen years after his death, is about as melancholy as a book can be. It reads like Richard Brautigan going through the motions of writing a book, but in the full knowledge that he simply doesn’t have anything left to say or write. It’s like a diary of giving up; a shadow of a shadow.
So while I’m thankful to Brautigan for his post-mortem balancing that he provided for me, I’m somewhat regretful that he didn’t have someone do the same for him. An Unfortunate Woman will never stand out as one of his better pieces of literature, but it is a very personal and difficult chronicle of what happens when one’s vitality dries up.

Southern Rock Opera

Southern Rock Opera
Drive By Truckers
Southern Rock Opera
My assimilation into southern culture is coming along nicely. I’m playing unheard-of amounts of banjo, spending untold hours on my front porch with frosty beverage in hand, and talking progressively more slowly. Part of all of this was, no doubt, brought on by my introduction to the Drive By Truckers. Eddie gave me a CD with six songs from various albums, and I’ve been consuming additional material since then. Pizza Deliverance was especially taste-altering. So many songs about drinking on one album. Just as the Pogues changed my life years ago, the Truckers have done so now. There’s just something about cursing while playing banjo that brings out the best in me.
scissorsSouthern Rock Opera has been hailed by all sorts of sources as one of the greatest albums of 2002. It may be that, butPizza Deliverance it ain’t. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a great album, and there are some brilliant songs here. In particular, “The Three Great Alabama Icons” is one of the smartest songs I’ve heard in a long time. Short on rock and long on storytelling, Paterson Hood rambles on about the “duality of the Southern thing” in a way that is truly eye-opening for this Pennsylvania Yankee. When the rock on this album is at its best (i.e., “Let There Be Rock”), it’s great. However, in staying true to the rock opera double-disc format, I can’t help but feel that there’s a fair amount of filler. There could have been one amazing album here, but instead there are two pretty-good albums. Which is still miles ahead of many of the other “greatest albums of 2002”, but sub-par for the Drive By Truckers.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, some of my favorite lyrics on this album are by Cooley, not Paterson. While Cooley’s vocals tend to be drowned beneath a sea of Marshall fuzz, the bits that surface make me laugh. “I got 350 heads on a 305 engine — I get ten miles to the gallon; I ain’t got no good intentions.” My copy of the Trucker’s newest album, Decoration Day, hasn’t come in yet, but it’s my hope that it abandons some of the “monster guitar” attitude of Southern Rock Opera, and returns to the solid songwriting that makes Pizza Deliverance the gem that it is.

Goin’ To The Chapel

Headed north this weekend to be the best man at the long-awaited wedding of Dee and Dave. Despite the fact that the last couple years have most certainly been the Era of the Peer Wedding, the whole best-manning thing was a new one for me. It was my first time in a tuxedo, and hopefully the last for a little while. Summer heat + wool + torrential rain = really uncomfortable McViking. That aside, it was a terrific time. Got to see a lot of folks that I haven’t seen in a while, and got to cut up a dance floor at the reception. Spent a lot of time before the wedding trying to keep Dave from thinking too much about the whole thing. I’ve discovered that a large part of the Best Man role is just to run interference with the groom’s rising sense of panic. I believe I managed it with a fair degree of success.
In any case, pictures of the wedding are up. They’re fun.

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
Steven Levy

hackers
The subtitle of this book should have been a damned giveaway. It sounds something like Kirk Cameron: Dream Guy, or Def Leppard: Rock and Roll’s Bad Boys. I was anticipating a nice bit of computing history, and instead got a mostly silly fan book written by an adoring groupie. (John Draper Position: Phone Phreaker Height: 6’2″ Likes: Chinese Food Dislikes: Smokers.) Which means to say that this book was a bit of a joke. There is a bit of history in here, but it’s smoothed over by so many layers of idol worship that none of it can be taken as any sort of literal account of the facts. At times, Hackers nonetheless succeeds in being an interesting read, but more often it’s about as interesting as a Britney Spears web log. (“Britney spends four hours in makeup before every show! Can you believe that? Four hours!“)
draper
I would like to think that the early hackers were actually complex and interesting human beings, and not the autistic dweebs that Levy describes. And if they were the autistic dweebs that Levy describes, then they certainly don’t strike me as heroes. The Bible even permits god to have a more complex personality than Levy ascribes to his hackers. As far as I’m concerned, a heroic hacker is one who can hack a whole lot more than computers and phone lines. I’m much more a fan of the rennaissance hack: hack bureaucracy, hack relationships, hack oil painting. Manipulating a predictable, orderly system ain’t really much, when you get down to it. Manipulating (or even navigating) a disorderly system like human relationships is a hell of a lot tougher.
Hack life.