Sunday, August 30, 2009

Entourage is the top seller

So the Poster Job is going well. It is not the most inspiring work ever, of course. Nor is it really that much fun. And despite all the traveling it requires, I haven't been able to see much. Perhaps that's the 12-15 hour days, the constant driving, the daily setting up and dismantling of an entire store and the need to do daily sales reports and expense sheets.

But it pays for future fun, and that makes it worth it. My partner and I have gotten into a rhythm, gotten used to eachother's foibles, and the truck has begun to feel like a lived-in home. I've also learned a few things on the way. For example, Ryder trucks have cabs that flip forward so that you can check the engine when the truck breaks down on the side of the highway - just make sure you've taken all your stuff out before you do so. I've learned that there are 18 million small colleges out there - who knew? I've gleaned that the bridges around Philly are super low, as low as 10 feet - this can put a real limit on your wanderings when your truck is 11'4. I also discovered that the New Jersey Institute of Technology has the best cafeteria EVER - it also has a mascot, the Highlander, that looks a bit like a zombie in a kilt.

That's a poster sale in the background!
And, I've learned, if you smash your Kindle because you have too many REAL books in the same bag, Amazon will send you a new one in 48 hours time. Sweet.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Have you seen the new Twilight poster? Only 10 bucks!

Okay, here I go. For the next three weeks I will be selling posters on college campuses. This involves driving around in a Ryder truck, setting up and tearing down poster stores everyday, and reviving my retail skills.

On the way to Chapel Hill.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Space-Rap: Deltron 3030

The use of science fiction and fantasy themes in music is nothing new. Tie-dyed college hippies have been exclaiming over the Ringwraiths in Led Zeppelin for years now, while references to Captain Marvel and sci-fi literary classics have populated garage rock since the 60s. But the stunned rock fans who’ve been awe-struck by David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust since 1972 (myself included) are not the only ones to love a good-old-fashion, science fiction concept album. In fact, the hip-hop genre has enthusiastically embraced SF and the idea of the rap-opera (or, as some call it, the hip-hopera). Many artists have created reoccurring characters, modeled on both comics and spacemen (although rarely on fantasy figures). There are three leading men in particular: Dr. Octagon, MF Doom and Deltron Zero. I can’t help but start with the latter, the space-rap hero Deltron, the star of one of my favorite albums ever.

Deltron 3030 came out in the summer of 2000, and we played it relentlessly and incessantly at Crossroads, the record store where I worked while at Virginia Tech. It’s emblazoned in my mind, and not just because of summer nostalgia (it really WAS a good summer). It’s an album with a rich and layered musical landscape, beautifully-realized production that feels like a movie, classical score and opera, all at once. In my head the songs are all blues and storm greys, rust brown and black. The album cover, too, is distinctive, with its mustard-gas-colored sky and futuristic architecture.

Critics consider it a masterpiece of underground hip-hop and I agree, although I know very little about the genre, so take my opinion as you will. The album features the talents of a virtual hip-hop supergroup, composed of Del tha Funky Homosapien (MC), Dan the Automator (producer), and Kid Koala (turntablist). Both Del and the Automator would later use their love of crazy concepts in the Gorillaz.
In Deltron’s world, it’s the year 3030, Earth is a wreck, and the universe is ruled by evil corporations. Whack MCs continue their rap battles, but this time in post-apocalyptic space, where they travel from port to port and use their verbal talents like sonic rayguns to annihilate the competition. Del describes the “interplanetary adversaries, battling for supremacy,” jetting through hyperspace, and establishing hideouts on Mars. Yet, our Deltron Zero is also a rebel, fighting against the monstrous reality of the 31st century dystopia.
As many reviewers have noted, narrative coherence is not something that one ought to expect from a rap-opera. Instead, it’s more about a general theme and especially a state-of-mind. Deltron has definitely managed that, since the anxiety, misery and hopelessness of his dystopia is palpable. One reviewer has suggested that it “is probably the closest hip-hop will ever come to an equivalent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.” Deltron rages, “Fuck Earth, I want to live on Mars somewhat closer to the stars/And farther away from dumb civilization with no mental stimulation/…The online is touching your head/ With brainwashing, with propaganda about your fearless leader/Who got two hundred body guards so you can't touch him either/Bodies disappear, obviously of fear/…Everybody's spirits are under control/ Computers run with the soul/ Elitists defeat us, they live by the beaches/Bubbledome over the hemisphere, so you can't enter here/We live in the dumps with mutant rodents/With blood red eyes, saliva drips for opponents/Scratch your ID chip off ‘cuz everybody own it”[‘Turbulence (Remix)’].

Del the Funky Homosapien has described how difficult it was to create an entire album of technospeak and space-talk; at certain times this becomes clear to listeners, when the futuristic, technology-laden language begins to make no sense. As Pitchfork’s Sam Eccleston noted, “Del was never shy when it came to flaunting his restless MC intellect, favoring elaborate puns and encyclopedic vocabulary over, like, meaning.”

Anger and rebellion course through the album as well. In one of the most memorable choruses, Del threatens, “I wanna devise a virus/To bring dire straits to your environment/ Crush your corporations with a mild touch/ Trash your whole computer system and revert you to papyrus/ I want to make a super virus/ Strong enough to cause blackouts in every single metropolis/ ‘Cuz they don’t wanna unify us/ So fuck it: total anarchy/ Can't nobody stop us”[‘Virus’].

Ultimately, Del has not imagined a future much different from others we’ve seen before. But he’s populated it with wonderful cowboy-esque, dueling braggadocios, flying around with oxygen packs and taking the rap battle to interstellar heights. Del stated in an interview that he was inspired to do the album by anime, comics and the books he read. But most of all, he compared his created world to Mega Man. When Mega Man X was released, he saw that it was the same old Mega Man, but more suped-up, flashier, better. Morphing like Mega Man, Deltron 3030 took today’s concerns and put them in outer space, together with a reinvented Deltron Zero. Del planned, “It’s gonna be Del still, but more suped-up.” [To watch Del discuss his idea for the album, watch this video starting at min 2:40].

Deltron 3030 is without doubt the most sci-fi of hip-hop albums, and one that presents a world definitely worthy of a “-verse” at the end: The Deltron-verse. I highly recommend you visit.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Goodbye, Sun.

I just had a nice vacation in the lovely city of Montreal. On the flight back, I caught a beautiful sunset.

Now that my vacation is over, my newest adventure is a hair-brained job that will let me travel around parts of the US and will hopefully pay for a few trips abroad that I would like to take. Since today was a training day that lasted 13 hours, I am a bit 'knackered' and will save the details for my next post.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Neil Gaiman chats it up

I saw Neil Gaiman speak yesterday. Given that he is one of my top three favorite authors, hearing him answer questions and tell stories was pretty damn exciting. He had a wonderful charisma and a very soothing, inclusive manner. I think I could listen to him talk all day.

Gaiman is truly a modern myth maker. Not only can he come up with astounding speculative fiction, but when so doing, he manages to retain that magical and slightly twisted element that you find in so much ancient mythology. Cause-and-effect make a different sort of sense in his works. He eschews the leap of logic for blind gut-feelings, he's full of the surreal surprises and plot turns that you would never expect but that still seem to make complete and universal sense. For those interested specifically in mythology, your first place to look would be Gaiman's American Gods (about what happens when Europeans bring their Old Gods to the New Country) and his Sandman graphic novels, which retell the story of Sleep, aka Morpheus.

And of course, for the classicists out there, be sad that you missed a really fantastic APA paper a few years back in a panel on Comics and Classics. It was entitled "A Dream of Augustus: Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Comic Mythology." Apparently when Anise Strong wrote to Gaiman to tell him she was writing an academic paper on his portrayal of the Emperor Augustus, he replied by sending her the original manuscript notes - a complete and utter shock for someone used to dealing with epigraphy, dead languages and rampant speculation about Vergil's 'intent.' Read the abstract here - although be warned, Comics fans, there are a few digs in there at your low-brow medium.

During his talk yesterday, Gaiman's stories were equal parts touching and funny. Sometimes they were groan-worthy. One such tale involved DC Comics. Now, I don't really read comics, but I've heard a lot about DC from Valarie D'Orazio's blog Occasional Superheroine, in which DC often is used as evidence for the problems in pop-culture and comics (with respect to gender and violence). I have to admit that I find many of DC's failings, which Valerie points out, to be pretty damn appalling. And then Gaiman told his story, which really seemed to show that DC was not just stupid, but The Man.

This is all old news to fanboys, but for me it was new: apparently for the 20th Anniversary of the Sandman series, Gaiman offered to write 6 new issues of the comic that explained what happened right before the series started - a prequel of sorts (what led Morpheus to the point of exhaustion on the fateful night that the story began?). DC was really excited about the prospect and supportive, but only if Neil Gaiman, a hugely famous/popular/beloved author (see: Coraline), would do it under the same contract that he first signed with DC when he was a starving artist in the 1980s.

DC was not willing to budge. Even a little. And so Gaiman walked away in shock, and those potentially legendary issues of Sandman were never born.

Besides the baffling action of DC, Gaiman told a whole ton of awesome stories, but one that I really liked was about his recent appearance on the Colbert Report.