"It's a goddamn pączki!"

Mike Czyzniejewski (a Chicago native who now teaches in Missouri) prefaces his review of the Stuart Dybek story "Tosca" with this anecdote about yesterday's holiday:
One Walmart in town — of the nine (not a typo) — carries them, but I have to get there a day or two before, because they sell out early (something I found out in the dark, dark February of 2014). Then, if a colleague says, “Thanks for the donuts, Mike!” I go completely apeshit, throwing whatever I have in my hands against the wall, exclaiming, “It’s not a fucking donut! It’s a goddamn pączki!” So far, I think I’m winning the battle, getting the word out, but every year, I spend the day after Pączki Day with my Human Resources rep, discussing better ways to channel the rage I feel in the workplace.
Mike is doing great work with his new blog, Story366, in which he's reviewing a different story each day of this year. Writing that many reviews would already be enough of a challenge, but he takes it a step further - he only reviews a story that he's just read for the first time. The reviews have been great, and the personal asides even better.

February 10, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

R.E.M., Dead Letter Office


My second vinyl LP to be digitized is R.E.M.'s Dead Letter Office, a 1987 collection B-sides and outtakes. The album has both band originals (including the great "Bandwagon") and covers of the Velvet Underground, Pylon, Aerosmith and Roger Miller. It's probably the most fun album they ever did - with no concerns about great art or commercial success, but just letting loose and rocking out. And for such a meticulous band, it's particularly refreshing to hear their drunken version of Miller's "King of the Road", with Michael Stipe butchering lyrics and Peter Buck and Mike Mills shouting chord changes back and forth.

I upgraded my LPs of Murmur and Reckoning to CD quite a few years ago, and more recently bought their debut EP, Chronic Town, on iTunes. I've owned the Dead Letter Office LP for nearly as long as the others (according to the price sticker, I bought it at Second Hand Tunes in Evanston, where I used to sneak off to during my work lunch hour), and I'm glad to finally have it in digital.

February 7, 2016 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Blasters, Hard Line


My big Christmas gift this year was a Pyle turntable-receiver combo unit, the biggest attraction of which is its USB output. Like most music lovers who came of age up to around the mid 1980s - just before CDs got huge - I have a big stack of vinyl LPs that I haven't listened to in years. My stack (two boxes worth) ended up in the attic when my stereo system was finally stored away. Now, with my new setup, I can finally resuscitate my vinyl collection, and bring it into the digital age by ripping tunes to MP3.

After some practice runs with 7" singles (I have a lot of those, too - many more than I had remembered), yesterday I successfully tackled my first album, the Blasters' final release, Hard Line. Though critics back in the day had issues with the album, seeing it as a somewhat desperate stab at radio airplay, I think it's the strongest album of their too-brief career. (The brothers Phil and Dave Alvin, the creative soul of the band, parted ways during the late 1980s.) Sure, there's a John Mellencamp tune on there (having a Mellencamp connection back in 1985 was seen as commercial move) and the sound is heavier than their earlier albums. But the Mellencamp tune fits in fairly well, though it's clearly inferior to Dave Alvin's songs, and the heavier-ness really works for me. Their early albums sounded almost brittle at times, all trebly and thin. But Hard Line really rocks, and I'm enjoying listening to it again.

You might ask why, if I've always liked the album, why I never bought a digital copy. First, it was out of print for several decades, and never made it onto CD while I was still an avid fan of the band. (In 1985, CDs were still new enough that new releases still came out only in LP and cassette, and didn't necessarily come out in CD.) It looks like it finally came out on a small label in 2010, and on iTunes only recently. A lot of the Hard Line songs have been available in digital Blasters anthologies for a while, but I generally avoid anthologies, preferring to hear the songs in their original album context. And I'm, shall we say...frugal. I've only replaced a handful of my LPs with their digital versions, so I've always hesitated to spend extra money for a digital copy of something that I technically already own (even though it's stashed away in the attic). So making my own digital version was affordable and fun, and kept me busy for a few hours on a winter afternoon.

I plan to digitize an album every weekend for the next several months. Looking forward to it.

January 31, 2016 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

"You never knew what books would come in the door..."

Robert Archambeau shares his fond memories of Ron Ellingsen, co-owner of Chicago's old Aspidistra Bookshop, who recently passed away.
The Aspidistra is a plant, but not just any plant: it’s a plant you can abuse or ignore, but not kill.  You can put your cigarette butts out in its soil and it will keep growing.  You can put it in a coat closet for a month with no light and no water and it’ll laugh the experience off.  For Ron, it was an apt symbol not just for his bookshop, but for literary culture as a whole.
I passed the store many times - they always had sale shelves outside on the sidewalk - but never stopped in. And every time Robert reminisces about it on his blog, I really wish I had. Sounds like it was a unique place.

January 30, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion." - Edward Abbey

January 29, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"My loins trembled as the scent of toupee adhesive and spray tan swept through my nasal cavity."

I think I just found the next book to read. Dubious literary merit aside, it will certainly be more entertaining than Marilynne Robinson.

January 26, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...in the bloodpot of human hearts..."

Like father, like son.
I suppose
Old Man Trump knows
Just how much
Racial Hate
he stirred up
In the bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed
That color line
Here at his
Eighteen hundred family project...
- Woody Guthrie

January 25, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Big Rock Candy Mountain"

No, it's not the famous folk song of the same name. Instead it's the immortal pairing of Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson and Built To Spill's Doug Martsch. And I'm posting this simply because it's Friday, and we all need a goofy groove.

January 22, 2016 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)


"My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people." - Patricia Highsmith

Preach it, sister.

January 21, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Good Friday and Easter Sunday

At Belt Magazine, Mark Athitakis interviews author and Joliet native Patrick Michael Finn.
They definitely have a side of Good Friday. I think at that time I was writing them, I just had such a young, angry doomsday view of the world. What I’m trying to write now, I certainly want a lot more Easter Sunday in it. I want to have more of the joy in it.
I enjoyed Finn's story collection From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet and still need to hunt down his novella, A Martyr for Suzy Kosasovitch - both books are set in Joliet, a genuine rarity. From the interview, however, it seems like his next book will instead be set in the Southwest, where he has lived since high school. Though that change will be Joliet's loss, it will better reflect the happier person he is now, and his fiction will undoubtedly be stronger for it.

January 20, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)