The Power is Glorious – Condor and Jaybird

It’s taken me nearly a month to write a review of Condor and Jaybird’s newest album, The Power. No, it’s not just because I’ve been busy teaching and writing and giving readings in laundromats.

It’s because The Power not the type of album you listen to a couple of times and think, “Oh, I get it. It’s this: …”


This. Cover Art by Tyler White.

Dissecting The Power is a slow burn. It’s not a term paper. It’s a dissertation.

Example: According to producer Andrew Barkau of Future Apple Tree, ‘Lightbringer IV’ alone is a tapestry of 80 tracks that jostle one another as in a prelude to a mosh pit, and then swell into an orgiastic sonorous dogpile.

Barkau’s the same guy who describes the album’s theme as a “theological buffet.” An astute assessment, it serves to inject the soaring melodies and acrobatic syncopation with additional significance. But let’s go back, first, to the album release party:

The Village Theatre in East Davenport was beyond capacity, I can tell you that for goddamn sure. Not that anyone could have done a thing about it. If the fire marshal had shown up and turned the hoses on us, maybe some of the younger families with toddlers might have gone home. The rest of us would have found the blast refreshing, as we were already soaked with sweat, anyway.

The Golden Fleece opened and set the tone for the evening. The band is known for inventive melodies, a satisfactory amount of thumptastic percussion, and a barefoot lead singer very at ease with the audience.

Next: Mountain Swallower, another local favorite and a fine group of young fellows who bill themselves as bridge-gazers. They’re like shoe-gazers but not as boring. Mellow, but unafraid. It doesn’t make me want to sit in the dark and drink alone. I’ll keep the darkness and the drinking, but one cannot sit and listen to Mountain Swallower. Some form of creation is required. A little crying is acceptable.

By the time Condor and Jaybird took the stage, there was not a dry person in a one-block radius. I’m fairly certain I slipped in puddles of sweat as I got in line to exit the building for a smoke, as did most everyone else. Between sets, the room emptied out but for scatterings of torn and abandoned clothing, spilled drinks, a few old folks who weren’t about to get out of their chairs, and a handful little kids with those noise-canceling ear muff things.

Those last two details are important: Condor and Jaybird isn’t a sound that caters to a select few. Librarians, gutter punks, retirees, bartenders, bankers, schoolteachers, carpenters, toddlers, small-business owners, students, and exotic dancers were all members of the audience – I even bumped into a lumberjack.

It’s not that the band plays it safe with their music. Detractors might not appreciate so much experimentation or non-traditional use of instruments or the simple-yet-terrifying bird people that appear on stage.


Payton Shumaker Photography, The Power Release Show

In the very first minutes, a listener will assume that the band’s main influences include 90’s brit pop. Then: high school marching bands, Christian rock groups from Michigan, and some of the jazz trio that backed Mr. Rogers.

Then, we descend into deconstructed mythology: gentle, patient strings that collide and separate. Private myths. A little baseball organ. Jesus camp. Suggestive hip movements. Decompartmentalization. Synesthesia. Dogs wearing hats.

See? I’m not even sure what I’m talking about anymore. Wait here while I go back and listen one more time…

Fiends are Friends

Bloodsucking Fiends (A Love Story, #1)Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While Christopher Moore wrote this comedy-horror novel in 1995, I didn’t read it until twenty years later. During that period, unfortunately, the vampire-as-sex-object ascended from transgression to trope and into cliché. It happened with impressive speed, but I’ll leave an analysis of that phenomenon to people with the mental fortitude to study vampire romances.
My point is, does this book suffer?
Moore is always good for a laugh. And I laughed a few times. It’s not his best work, however. This is not entirely because of its subject matter. He has legitimately written comic masterpieces that outshine this charming story of [mild spoiler:] (view spoiler)
Amid all of this, Moore plays with canon in a way that is both surprising and satisfying (which is among his greatest strengths as a story-teller) even after a decade of sparkles and intense staring have made us all gun shy when it comes to messing with the laws of the vampire.
Still, something about this book feels a little tired. Is it the subject matter? It can’t be Moore himself. He apparently had so much fun writing this book that he continued the story (it’s a trilogy – You Suck and Bite Me follow).
Help me out, people. Let me know what you think.

Bottom line: It’s a quick read. The characters are amusing. The dialogue is sharp, as per usual with Moore. Just don’t hit this one right after reading Lamb or Fool.

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Bettendorf Public Library › Call for entries for NaNoWriMo flash fiction contest

Source: Bettendorf Public Library › Call for entries for NaNoWriMo flash fiction contest

Judge Ethan Canin presiding. He currently teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

I haven’t kept up with the workshop since 2009, when I applied to two graduate programs in writing. IWW turned me down. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago accepted me. Glean from that what you will.

Whether or not Canin opts for the minimalist style the workshop’s championed for the past seventy-odd years (which is roughly sixty-odd years too long), it’s nice to have some crossover between that literary community and the one in the Quad Cities – which, while special in its own way, is not nearly as centralized as Iowa City’s own writerly population.

The more participants we have, the more similar opportunities will crop up in our region. So everyone write a 300-word short story. Everyone. Even if you don’t feel like it. The average Facebook post is half that length. You can do it. You got this.

Do it for Uncle Sam.

Do it for Uncle Sam.

Deteriorations in Domestic Peace

We’re going to look back on this as a profoundly dark time in American history. The Institute for Economics and Peace just published its 2016 Global Peace Index report. The United States is charted alongside Saudi Arabia and Peru. (As the world’s largest producer of cocaine, Peru actually sees more homicides related to environmental activism than to its drug trade.)

These numbers are from data collected in 2015, so they don’t include the most recent surge of civil discord and public executions/assassinations.

People in my own hometown, who have never marched for anything, are holding a March for Solidarity tonight in response to the rash of shootings across the country. I’m actually afraid to go.

I was afraid at the G8 summit in 2012, when Chicago police stood alongside the protest route with their batons at the ready, held out in front of them so, together, they formed a human barricade. I made it through that, anxiety disorder and all, but then I got to the portion where the state police forced the route to narrow significantly so that protesters were all squished in together like sardines with nowhere to go. Nope, nope, nope. Staties are huge and reek of sadism. I walked over a mile out of the way to get to the end of the march rather than go through that.

Photos of officers beating protestors ran on every front page the next day. Press especially liked one of a local officer raising his baton amid a brawl, just about to bring it down, with an expression that appeared to be one of maniacal glee.


This one is my favorite. Look at this officer going to his happy place. Photo by Nina Berman 

My fear of police is relatively benign. I fear them as I feared playground bullies. I’m aware that they could kill me but am almost positive they’ll restrain themselves before it gets to that point.

But maybe they won’t. There’s no recess monitor. There’s no one to be the voice of reason and pull the kids apart. There’s no reason for restraint and no consequence for indulgence.

The smallest misunderstanding could be the first sign of violence, and in a society so filled with misunderstanding – and misinformation and misguidance and misplaced rage – I fear entering a large crowd like the one that will be at the March for Solidarity.

Why? Because a childhood friend’s teenage sister was shot to death recently. A few days later, police arrested a couple of suspects, one of whom was 14 years old. A 14-year-old had a handgun. It’s alarming, but no one seems to be truly and deeply shocked by this. I’m not even that shocked, if I’m honest with myself.

In a society where a 14-year-old owns and uses a handgun, killing an innocent child, and no one is astonished, it is reasonable to fear one’s fellow humans regardless of who they appear to be.

A March of Solidarity should be a peaceful affair. But I have every reason to believe that it won’t be. I have every reason to believe that it could turn into a deadly event.

The Global Peace Index report is 127 pages long. It gives the impression that while homicides and crime rates in the United States remain relatively stable, militarization increases are some of the greatest in the world. The Institute for Economics and Peace points out that this leads to decreased internal and external peace, as well as an increase in perceived criminality and domestic terror organizations. In short, we’re fueling a deep-seated cultural mistrust of our government (both local and federal) and of each other.

The Institute’s projections for future global violence are not encouraging. Deaths caused by terrorism have more than doubled in the past eight years. If you look at the Institute’s map, it looks just like one tracking an epidemic. We’re wandering right into the middle of that epidemic and we’re not protecting ourselves at all.

Into the Wild

I’ve spent the last semester encouraging non-readers to enjoy and engage with literature. I find it difficult to explain why reading is important. It’s something to which I’ve always applied inherent value.

How does one inspire an interest in reading? It doesn’t necessarily have to be Chaucer or Austen or Eugenides. In fact, most people spend more time reading than they realize. Jackson Bliss makes a relevant observation in an article he wrote for the Daily Dot: due to the increasing availability of digital information, “we have become both reading junkies and also professional text skimmers.”


*skims skims skims* tavern *skims skims*

To be fair, skimming can be useful, especially when searching for a specific piece of data or trying to get through 60 pages of an anatomy textbook between work and daycare pick-up. But how to adequately communicate the importance of deep reading?

It’s more than just that immersive sweet spot where the text becomes all and the rest of the world drops away – that feeling of heightened senses and lowered blood pressure. Deep reading does more than offer the reader an experience. Fiction builds empathy. A biography brings history to life, which itself gives the reader a clearer understanding of society and his place in it. Science writing shows us the astounding in the everyday phenomena that we take for granted.

Deep reading enhances comprehension, which allows a reader to get the most out of the material. I felt this intuitively years and years before I could articulate it.

I don’t feel qualified to teach reading classes. I know how to explain the importance of reading. I know how to explain context and show students how to break complex selections down to their smallest parts to improve understanding. But how does one teach others to recognize that immersive sweet spot? How does one motivate others to find it?

Into the WildInto the Wild by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure what made me read this book. I, like many others, did not have a very charitable view of Christopher “Alexander Supertramp” McCandless prior to digesting Krakauer’s sketch of him. McCandless seemed like a spoiled trust fund kid who arrogantly tripped up to Alaska to live out his half-baked ideals built on a post-adolescent misunderstanding of philosophy 101.
Now I have a bit more admiration for the guy. He still sounds like a pain in the ass with an inflated ego and a penchant for melodrama, but he was intelligent and fairly brave (though it’s difficult to tell how much of his behavior is based in bravery or in a failure to comprehend his own mortality). In short, I like the guy, but I wouldn’t want to have a lengthy conversation with him.
What the book really gave me was a deeper understanding of the nature of the wanderer and how far a person is willing to go in search of something they themselves can’t define. That’s what makes McCandless a sympathetic character, ultimately. We can see ourselves in him, in how he can’t go long without scanning the horizon. You even get the sense that he was on the right track in his search; his journals give you the impression that he was starting to understand the virtue of roots. While he always would have had the travel bug (or “itchy feet”, as he called it), if he’d made it out of his predicament in Alaska, he’d probably be another family man with a steady job and we might never know his name or story. Instead of being known for his wandering, he’d be the one interesting guy in someone’s office who everyone hopes will come to the company Christmas party but who probably won’t because he’ll be on a plane to Japan.
Interestingly, all of the wanderers Krakauer mentions are men. Are men more prone to wandering? Or maybe it’s just that no one pays any attention to the women. That seems more likely, actually.

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Let Mark Twain Love You

This morning, one of the first things that happened when I got out of bed was this: I discovered that Alan Rickman died. From cancer. At age 69.

It reminded me of a day earlier this week, when one of the first things that happened when I got out of bed was this: I discovered that David Bowie died. From cancer. At age 69.

The universe is stuck in a rut. That’s typical of this time of year. The holidays are over, and we all have to go back to work. There’s ice all over the goddamn ground, the sun rarely shines, and everyone’s hot, sexy bodies are covered in layers of bulky cloth.

Don’t let yourself get bummed out. Get a Happy Light and a good book. The light bouncing off the pages and directly into your eye holes will make your brain feel awesome. For optimum awesome, I recommend Mark Twain’s descriptions of California and Hawaii. Yes, it’s old-timey escapism, but consider this: So far, 2016 has killed some of our favorite people. Perhaps it’s time to cut our losses and abandon this present reality.

Roughing ItRoughing It by Mark Twain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twain’s semi-autobiographical account of his time on the Western frontier of the United States around the time of the gold rush. He tells of his work in mines, in processing mills, and on newspapers, as well as buying into a few get-rich-quick schemes. These schemes never work out as he hopes (of course; few plans of this type ever do), but they make for brilliant fodder: Humorous accounts of youthful hubris and naiveté. Character sketches that are a goddamn scream.
The book ends with a trip to Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands). Though this section seems to have been tacked on as a sort of bonus track, it’s an exceptional piece of work in and of itself. Prepare yourself for some good old fashioned racism, but take mild comfort in the fact that Twain’s perspective seems progressive for a white guy in mid-to-late-1800s; he takes the piss out of the Christian missionaries who demand that the native Hawaiians abandon the hedonistic ways that Twain says perfectly suit life in such a Paradise.

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New Amsterdam

One of the great things about abandoning your blog for over a year is the feeling of renewal when you get that email telling you your domain name is about to expire and you decide, what the hell, this is my piece of the Internet pie.

I’m an American. And a Viking. I’ll take this already occupied land and call it something new; we’ll chop down some forests, reroute a few rivers, and voilà! It’s The New World.


Remember the ’90s?! REMEMBER?!?!

In this New World, it won’t matter that we can’t commit to a theme. It won’t matter that we cherry pick the rules of grammar and punctuation. It won’t matter that we can’t stop listing examples in groups of three.

Because, in this New World, we make the rules. That’s the New Deal. And we’ll mix metaphors all we want because FREEDOM.