Book Review: “A Burglar’s Guide to the City,” by Geoff Manaugh

'A Burglar's Guide to the City,' by Geoff ManaughGeoff Manaugh’s A Burglar’s Guide to the City has at least one distinction setting it apart from nearly all non-fiction titles — especially when you set aside biographies and histories, which come with their own narrative lines: it’s in development as a fictional TV series. The appeal is obvious. Consider the elements which come into play:

  • “Hacking” buildings by any means necessary: tunneling, cutting through walls, punching out windows, stowing away in delivery vehicles,  simply talking your way in…
  • The lure of cleverly planned crimes committed against often cold if not outright evil institutions: banks, jewelry retailers, the homes of the wealthy…
  • Familiar cops-and-robbers scenarios, in which clever (or not so clever) criminals are matched against shrewd (or not so shrewd) detectives and street cops…
  • The excitement of chase scenes…
  • Precedents set by hundreds — maybe thousands — of popular, successful fictional precedents, from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” to Oceans ElevenThe Anderson Tapes and The Thomas Crown Affair, the Thin Man series of films, the Leverage television series…
  • Settings around the world, the phrase “the city” of the title engagingly non-specific…

No, not surprising at all that it would attract screenwriters and producers. But lost in the likely rush of media attention is one important fact: this is a heck of a good book.

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Midweek Music Break: Tracy Chapman

[Video: “Give Me One Reason,” by Tracy Chapman, with choreography by Chris Martin and Larkin Poynton. That’s Martin and Poynton dancing, too — and only Martin and Poynton. I’d already watched this a few times before that fact hit me, and then I had to watch it a few times more.]

When Tracy Chapman’s single “Fast Car” broke in 1988, it seemed to come out of nowhere, and suddenly was everywhere. (I could swear I remember a Muzak version.) Even so, thanks to a personal life full of complications, I paid less attention to music — including Chapman — for the next few years. By the time I started listening to stuff again, I learned that her career had zoomed (on the strength of “Fast Car” and her biggest single, “Give Me One Reason”) and then subsided in the meantime. It finally seems to have settled into something of a sui generis long-term marathon, punctuated by public appearances and likewise out-of-nowhere cover versions of her work.

Her Greatest Hits compilation came out a few months ago. It includes remastered versions of both “Fast Car” and “Give Me One Reason,” naturally, and a live version of “Stand By Me”; the latter was recorded during Chapman’s appearance during the last week of David Letterman’s Late Show, in May 2015. (The video of that performance quickly went viral all on its own.)

The album reminds me that there’s nothing flashy about Chapman’s songs. They’re just straight-ahead good music, highly personal and/or deeply political as the case may be. Like Chapman herself, they give and they give, rewarding repeated listenings and reworkings, in various forms, by other performers.

The dance routine in the above video, choreographed and performed by Chris Martin and Larkin Poynton, has nothing to do with the lyrics of “Give Me One Reason.” (When Chapman sings “Squeeze me,” for instance, the dancers don’t hug themselves or each other.) It simply celebrates the song’s music, as the vehicle — a fast car — on the roof of which the footwork, the elbow jabs, the sheer virtuosity of the performances are zipping up a highway.

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Weekend Music Break/What’s in a Song: Various Artists, “The Skye Boat Song”

[Video: opening title sequence from the Outlander television series]

The Missus and I have been watching, with pleasure, the Starz TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels. The pleasure is personal, since we both know Ms. Gabaldon. (As we have since her first drafts of individual paragraphs in what would become the first of the book series, twenty-five years ago.)

And the pleasure is also aesthetic, I guess you could say — of particular interest, today, the music.

When I first heard the Outlander theme song, I was dazzled — the lyrics, melody, arrangement, and accompanying visuals during the open credits: all seemed of a piece. Mysterious, mystical, wistful… all those adjectives that I thought to apply as well to (say) the closing title theme in The Return of the King.

Here are the lyrics:

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye…

It fits the story, sorta-kinda, and features a disappearing lass, and lots of rich imagery. (Outlander‘s protagonist is a 1940s-era British nurse who falls through a sort of temporal discontinuity into the Scotland of the 1740s.) From the start, I — grammar nerd alert! — liked about the theme that the lyricist used the first-person singular pronoun for those end-rhymes… exactly as s/he should have.

But then during the season finale episode, one thing suddenly grated on me. They hadn’t used “I” consistently perfectly. Last line of the middle stanza: see it? a subjective me. ARGH. You lazy bastards, I thought. And you were doing so well

As one does, over the next day or two I looked to the Internets for support from others outraged by such minutiae.

…and, um, well… I was wrong. (Sorta-kinda.)

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Weekend Music Break: TV Crime Shows (A Playlist)

[Video: “Teaser trailer” for HBO’s True Detective, Season 2]

Season 1 of HBO’s True Detective series made for pretty great viewing, if you like that sort of thing. (I do, in controlled doses.) What sort of thing? Gritty. Noir-saturated. A tone so dark at times that you had to glance away from the screen. Snappy but realistic dialogue. Sharply etched characters, right down to the uncredited-cast level. Touches of humor (although never for long)…

So when Season 2 was announced, I immediately put it on my must-watch list. I haven’t started to follow up on that yet, although a couple of episodes have been broadcast so far. (I watch it on HBO’s streaming channel, so can pick it up whenever I’m ready.) But I did start poking around in some of the series’ “extras”: making-of videos, cast interviews, and so on. Among them: the so-called “teaser” trailer for the new season, shown above.

Damn, I thought. That is a song

As it happens, it’s not the theme song for the season. (More on that in a moment.) But it did get me thinking about how many crime-and/or-detective television series have featured great theme music.

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Mother’s Day Music Break: Sinatra – All or Nothing at All

Sinatra, 1970s -- maybe even the farewell concert

Something a little different for me for a Sunday… I’d like to open it by welcoming the lady herself, should she find her way here. Happy Mother’s Day (again), my iPadding and supposedly [N]-year-old Mom!

This playlist consists of twenty-one Sinatra recordings. I’ll explain my reasons for their selection and sequence later in this post. For now, let’s just set the music going, shall we?

Per usual with these RAMH mixes, the little audio-player thingamabob follows the playlist itself, below.

Here we go:

sinatra: all or nothing at all / mother’s day 2015 edition
— 1971 “farewell” concert set list —
# Title Album Time
1 All or Nothing at All The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 3:45
2 I’ve Got You Under My Skin The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 3:33
3 I’ll Never Smile Again The Best of Tommy Dorsey 3:12
4 Ol’ Man River The Concert Sinatra (Expanded Edition) 4:25
5 That’s Life The Very Best of Frank Sinatra
6 Try a Little Tenderness Romance: Songs from the Heart 3:21
7 Fly Me to the Moon The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 2:30
8 Nancy (With the Laughing Face) The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 3:40
9 My Way The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 4:38
10 The Lady Is a Tramp Classic Sinatra: Great Performances 1953-1960 3:16
11 Angel Eyes Romance: Songs from the Heart 3:44
— bonus tracks —
12 Put Your Dreams Away Greatest Hits 3:14
13 (Love Is) The Tender Trap The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 2:35
14 A Foggy Day The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 2:17
15 In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 2:47
16 It Was a Very Good Year The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 4:27
17 Love and Marriage The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 2:13
18 One For My Baby Classic Sinatra: Great Performances 1953-1960 4:27
19 Strangers in the Night The Very Best of Frank Sinatra
20 The Way You Look Tonight The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 3:22
21 Young at Heart The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 2:54

Sinatra: A Mother's Day Playlist


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The Gods Who Live in the Gaps between Time and the World

Opening scene from Myst ('realMyst Masterpiece Edition')

[Image: opening scene from the classic computer game Myst, as rendered in the later so-called realMyst: Masterpiece Edition. (Click to enlarge.) For some wool-gathering about Myst, see the bottom of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Reality is greater than the sum of its parts, also a damn sight holier. And the lives of such stuff as dreams are made of may be rounded with a sleep but they are not tied neatly with a red bow. Truth doesn’t run on time like a commuter train, though time may run on truth. And the Scenes Gone By and the Scenes to Come flow blending together in the sea-green deep while Now spreads in circles on the surface.

(Ken Kesey [source])

and:

October

I used to think the land
had something to say to us,
back when wildflowers
would come right up to your hand
as if they were tame.

Sooner or later, I thought,
the wind would begin to make sense
if I listened hard
and took notes religiously.
That was spring.

Now I’m not so sure:
the cloudless sky has a flat affect
and the fields plowed down after harvest
seem so expressionless,
keeping their own counsel.

This afternoon, nut tree leaves
blow across them
as if autumn had written us a long letter,
changed its mind,
and tore it into little scraps.

(Don Thompson [source])

and:

I am here not only to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it’s possible, the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us. I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture, a spider, and see it as it is in itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities, anti-Kantian, even the categories of scientific description. To meet God or Medusa face to face, even if it means risking everything human in myself. I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a non-human world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock.

(Edward Abbey [source])

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Real-Life Dialogue: The Inscrutable Double-X Chromosome Edition

Real-Life Dialogue[The setting: a comfortable suburban home in North Florida, USA, on an August weekend in 2014. She is sitting in the living room, her laptop computer open; He is walking through the living room on some mission or another, in one direction or another.]

She: Oh, these people.

He: Hmm? What people?

[He stops to look over Her shoulder. On-screen is a publicity still from a current television mini-series, based on a hugely popular novel of romance and time travel. The photo depicts an early moment in the romantic relationship between a twentieth-century English woman, Claire, and an eighteenth-century Scotsman named Jamie. Claire is tending Jamie’s battle wounds. Jamie is sitting quietly, looking at Claire, and of course wearing a kilt.]

He: Nice picture of them.

She: Yes. I’m just saying, you should read some of the comments on it.

He: Such as?

She: Like this one. [She points.] “Those knees. *SWOON*” [She laughs.]

He: Er, uh… Wait. Women swoon over men’s knees? They even notice them?

She: You’d be surprised what women notice.

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Confused Reality

From whiskey river:

The most interesting thing about the world is its fantastic and unpsychoanalyzed character, its wretched and gallant personality, its horrible idiocy and its magnificent intelligence, its unbelievable cruelty and its equally unbelievable kindness, its gorilla stupor, its canary cheerfulness, its thundering divinity, and its whimpering commonness.

(William Saroyan [source])

and:

The Great Clod belches out breath and its name is wind. So long as it doesn’t come forth, nothing happens. But when it does, then ten thousand hollows begin crying wildly. Can’t you hear them, long and drawn out? In the mountain forests that lash and sway, there are huge trees a hundred spans around with hollows and openings like noses, like mouths, like ears, like jugs, like cups, like mortars, like rifts, like ruts. They roar like waves, whistle like arrows, screech, gasp, cry, wail, moan, and howl, those in the lead calling out yeee!, those behind calling out yuuu! In a gentle breeze they answer faintly, but in a full gale the chorus is gigantic. And when the fierce wind has passed on, then all the hollows are empty again. Have you never seen the tossing and trembling that goes on?

(Chuang Tzu [source])

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This Just In: Fox, ESPN Bracing for Niffleist Protests

NEW YORK (March 23) Supporters of the National Football League — dubbed “niffleists” — have pledged to “bring baseball to its knees” unless television networks make certain changes in broadcasts of professional baseball games.

The Major League Baseball (MLB) season opens at the end of March. Games are carried by the Fox and ESPN broadcast and cable networks.

“To be fair, I personally haven’t watched a baseball game since 1957,” said unofficial niffleist spokesperson Alfredo de Darque. “We just think it’s past time for the networks to acknowledge that baseball doesn’t have a lock on the word ‘rulebook.'”

When reporters asked what sort of changes in MLB broadcasts niffleists would like to see, de Darque suggested three:

  • Umpires must wear uniforms featuring vertical black-and-white stripes.
  • Winning coaches must be doused with Gatorade. (De Darques said, “But we’d accept tins or pouches of chewing tobacco, as long as they’re national brands.”)

And, most controversially:

  • “Whoever’s holding the ball may be tackled by one or more members of the opposing team.”

Still under consideration by the niffleists: rubberized baseballs. Said one source, “We believe in our hearts that balls designed this way will ‘spike’ much better than the current models.”

De Darque insisted, “Every single one of our rules is just as valid as any of theirs.” When asked if the NFL would accept counter-proposals to introduce baseball rules to football games, he said, “Well, no. Certainly not on Sundays, anyway. They’re sort of sacred to us.”

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Here (for Now)

'Too bad about old Ainsworth,' by Barney Tobey in the New Yorker

[Image: cartoon by Barney Tobey in The New Yorker of September 13, 1982 (source)]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

The Sensual World

I call to you across a monstrous river or chasm
to caution you, to prepare you.

Earth will seduce you, slowly, imperceptibly,
subtly, not to say with connivance.

I was not prepared: I stood in my granmother’s kitchen,
holding out my glass. Stewed plums, stewed apricots —

the juice poured off into the glass of ice.
And the water added, patiently, in small increments,

the various cousins discriminating, tasting
with each addition —

aroma of summer fruit, intensity of concentration:
the colored liquid turning gradually lighter, more radiant,

more light passing through it.
Delight, then solace. My grandmother waiting,

to see if more was wanted. Solace, then deep immersion.
I loved nothing more: deep privacy of the sensual life,

the self disappearing into it or inseparable from it,
somehow suspended, floating, its needs

fully exposed, awakened, fully alive —
Deep immersion, and with it

mysterious safety. Far away, the fruit glowing in its glass bowls.
Outside the kitchen, the sun setting.

I was not prepared: sunset, end of summer. Demonstrations
of time as a continuum, as something coming to an end,

not a suspension; the senses wouldn’t protect me.
I caution you as I was never cautioned:

you will never let go, you will never be satiated.
You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.

Your body will age, you will continue to need.
You will want the earth, then more of the earth —

Sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond.
It is encompassing, it will not minister.

Meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you,
it will not keep you alive.

(Louise Glück [source])

and:

Aphorism #33

One of the best means for arousing the wish to work on yourself is to realize that you may die at any moment. But first you must learn how to keep it in mind.

(George Ivanovich Gurdjieff [source])

and (italicized portion):

Sabbaths: VII

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

The sky
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.
What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.

(Wendell Berry [source])

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