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Perhaps because of my recent brush with death and flirtation with narcotics, I have had some contemplative moments lately. Last night, for instance, while walking Stella at the park (blasting ipod, avoiding sprinklers and eye contact with cruisers), I fell into deep reverie. Here are the things I thought about
Walking past the tennis courts
it occurred to me once again that lot of bands become more conventional (i.e. commercially viable) over the years, but Radiohead seems to get less conventional even as they get more popular. Their first album, "Pablo Honey" was a pretty blatant homage to (i.e. ripoff of) R.E.M., except for the song "Creep" which was a brilliant teen-angst anthem that didn't sound like any other band that came before them.
They found their legs on their sophomore album (traditionally the suckiest for most bands), "The Bends," which lived up to the promise of "Creep" and is still my favorite. I love every track on that album, except for the last one, "Street Spirit" which sounds a little too much like "Dust in the Wind."
Their next album, "OK Computer," has some great songs on it, but doesn't hang together the way "The Bends" does. Same goes for every album after that. It's funny that "In Rainbows" would be the album that marked the apogee of their critical and commercial success, even though it's much less accessible than "The Bends."
Although "The Bends" is one of my favorite albums of all time, I'm glad that Radiohead have continued to experiment with different sounds and concepts, even if the songs that result are "difficult" or even annoying. "The Bends" is as close to perfect as an album can get, and trying to recreate it would sully that achievement.
Near the velodrome
I caught a whiff of death, and it made me recoil a little and call Stella before she caught wind of it and went to explore.
When I lived in Virginia, I was used to smelling roadkill, or the festering carcasses of woodland creatures in the subtropical forest; but in arid SoCal, dead things become petrified before they decay, so the smell last night startled me.
Back in Virginia, I would ride variations on a 20-mile bike route with a couple friends about three times a week, and it was not unusual to find a decapitated deer alongside the road where a "sportsman" had tossed it after removing his trophy. Therefore it didn't faze us when, one week in August, the same quarter mile stretch of country road smelled like overripe flesh every day, causing us to hold our breath as we passed.
Only later, after the newspaper reported that a woman's body had been found under eight inches of leaves just off the pavement, did we start talking about how there had been something different--sweeter--about the smell we had been avoiding all week.
Rounding the corner by the baseball field
I wondered why we bother making literature a required subject in high school and college. I love literature and enjoy teaching it, but more and more, it strikes me as a bit frivolous. I have tried pitching it to students several ways: "this is how we learn to empathize," or "there's this thing called 'cultural literacy'," or "reading the stories of different cultures gives us insight into human nature." Students who are inclined to read can get a lot out of these classes, but for others, it doesn't stick. As a high school teacher, I was shocked that many of my students seemed to have never read a book before. Now I'm teaching college classes and I have students who can't name a novel they have read. Seriously.
The class I'm teaching now, at a kind of digital art trade school, ends up being more of a literature "appreciation" class than a real college lit class. And that's fine with me. It's fun to teach and there is very little pressure on the students and virtually none on me (except for what I create for myself). But if the idea is for the students to improve their understanding of the written word (which is kind of a prerequisite for "appreciation" as far as I'm concerned), what they really need is a few reading/writing/linguistics (rhetoric) classes, rather than a touchy-feely lit class.
We're now reading selections from Beowulf in the easiest translation I've ever encountered, and I still need to translate it for them. They don't know words like "spawn" and "moor." I'm supposed to teach them prose, poetry, and drama in fifteen class sessions, and they're not expected to do any reading at home. I could spend the entire semester (or "module" as it's called here) teaching one short story.
On my way home
I thought about a family friend who passed away recently. She was younger than me by about eight years and had some shitty kind of cancer. I was good friends with her older brother and had a crush on their older sister. The only memory I have of her is playing with her when she was about two years old. My friend and I put her in the little battery-operated swing and then later played "airplane" with her by lying on our backs and holding her up with our feet. I think that was the first time I enjoyed playing with a baby. It's hard to imagine that her life is already over.
Bummed? Sorry. Maybe this will help: