Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Is pop doomed to be the sound of a regional party?

Catherine, Tommy, and Yglesias complain that Pitchfork's year-end best-of leaves them high and dry. Oldsters!

I didn't quite realize until I read over p-fork's 50, but for the nu prog enthusiast, it's been an amazing year. I loved releases by The Knife, Mastodon (Mastodon!), Man Man, Destroyer (Destroyer!), Brightblack Morning Light, and Boris (Boris!). The Sunn O))) + Boris collaboration featured Kim Thayil, and therefore it is unimpeachable. I was also pleased with Joanna Newsom and TV on the Radio. I didn't spend too much time on the Grizzly Bear, Xiu Xiu, or Fiery Furnaces releases, in part because I had so many other topical entrees to sample. Some comets complete a tour around the sun in the time it takes Scott Walker to release an album, so The Drift alone makes 2006 a banner year.

So, not so strong on the pop front. Yet I don't think it was so grim as the gang's making it out to be. No whisper campaign–generating groups like Arcade Fire or Wolf Parade broke out, but pop mainstays like Cat Power, Rainer Maria, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs put out good discs. I kept expecting my friends to rally around both Lupe Fiasco and Be Your Own Pet; either my assessment of their tastes is off or some economic failure prevented BYOP from popping up on area radars. And how did everyone forget that great Final Fantasy record?

Matt thinks Pitchfork's to blame for burying pop; Tom cites a breakdown in the U.S./Canadian import–export dynamic; Catherine thinks she hasn't looked around hard enough. Ryan just really hates the Hold Steady. (Man, me too.) I'm sure dance rock will regain its footing (snicker), but for the moment it seems that popular rock musicians are fairly intent on writing songs as long as their beards. Exit polls among critics suggested that sectarian violence on the dance floor and dismal American Idol turnout also played a part in pop's poor showing.

Look on the brightside—at least you're not the jerk who agrees with Pitchfork.

MORE: Oh yeah, Clipse. Damn it all if Hell Hath No Fury isn't as good as everyone says—the best hip-hop album since Enter the 36 Chambers. "Ain't Cha" (featuring the Re-Up Gang) is required listening for fans of The Wire. Unsurprising—or perhaps a minimum bar for quality?—that a record about selling crack should appeal to fans of television dramas about selling crack. Crackheads probably just go nuts over these guys.

EVEN MORE: What about the Native Americana mini-meme (exhibits A, B, C)?

Some bris with your bread and wine

Wait for it, oh, wait for it—yeah, that's a joke about the Second Coming in an article about the stolen foreskin of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Airport enabled

Dulles is so goddamned gorgeous—of course it winds up squirreled away in Herndon, Virginia. I don't love going out to that airport by any means, and the interior is difficult to navigate and ugly to boot. If by some combination of mishaps and misfortunes, though, you come to arrive on time but miss your flight, it's the best airport for a stroll.

I love Eero Saarinen's designs: the Gateway Arch is a great symbol for America and for freedom. Susan and I drove through St. Louis once, and she double-taked when I declared my love for the place, since we hadn't even stoped. I have great feelings about that place: Any city that erects optimistic, minimalist sculpture on that monumental scale is okay with me.

Now, I don't know about those space-y lounge cars Saarinen included with the original Dulles design—downing a martini on the shuttle doesn't sound like the way to kill the time between terminals. I don't even think most people here have found the wifi network. Airports, indicators of the newfangled, seem to be getting less futuristic as time goes on.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Laura Gainey, a high-school friend, was swept off the deck of the Picton Castle, a barque on which she served as a lead seaman, when the ship was traveling through stormy weather. Though her death is tragic, she was able to seek and find the adventure she craved in life. Few seek and fewer still find the rich life she led.

O, think how, to his latest day,
When death just hovering claimed his prey,
With Palinure’s unaltered mood,
Firm at his dangerous post he stood;
Each call for needful rest repelled,
With dying hand the rudder held,
Till in his fall, with fateful sway,
The steerage of the realm gave way.

—Walter Scott

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have designs on you

The flight home for winter hibernation involves a degree of preparation that's altogether absent from my gift planning for the season. All week I've been slowing my metabolism to ready myself. The work outputs drop off; the inputs increase in scope and ambition, as I print out a diet of papers: a comprehensive survey of art theft incidence, economic explanations for the avant garde, some sources on japonisme. I've packed an 800-page, Dickensian mystery novel, and some slides by some sculptors I've been meaning to consider. I relish the winter privation.

Most of the year—or all year, most years—I complain about my parents' home near Dallas. It borders the city, but it's closer in spirit (and damn near in proximity) to an expanse of east Texas that is just about the loneliest place on Earth. It's a lunar plain, bigger than many states, crisscrossed by blue highways and farm roads that connect a constellation of towns and townships with names like Athens, Carthage, and Naples. Paris, Texas is situated here. As if these East Texas towns could just aspire so hard, they could bridge that gulf between themselves and the world's capitals, or maybe just between the local economy and that of the oil-rich west. It's not without its relics and monuments: county football stadia, derelict derricks standing like stelae. There's room in Texas for a certain kind of romantic. Don't know why, however, anyone would name a town in Texas Palestine.

There damn sure isn't anything to do where the Urban Coyote's going, so I'll be reading, sleeping, and writing.

Hibernation culminates in transformation: I hungrily welcome the new year. This one that's nearly done has been a hard year, though it didn't pass without its burning-bright moments. I don't want to linger on it any more than to say that, and sure, I know that nothing really changes with the calendar. But it's good enough for an arbitrary bookend, and I find that comforting. New year, new aspect.


I don't ever get tired of opening envelopes that are addressed to titles such as "The House That Blogging Built." Especially when they contain holiday cards, not bills! Thanks, friends.

The Shape of Posts To Come

No one's reading this one any more, right? Right. I might diddle here for a while, since the other site is down for reasons I can't understand.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sinestro returns

I can't believe my roommate just slurred the entire Green Lantern Corps.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I need a camera/ To my eye

SOS to the Internets: I've lost my camera. I might have lost it any time between today and beach weekend—that's anyway the last location at which I took a photo, if memory serves. Which makes me think that I won't see it again, since I'd've already seen the found-camera e-mail had it been found in North Carolina. But if by some chance you were wondering whose Canon Powershot SD400 is sitting on your coffee table, that'd be mine.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

You impress me, Kryptonian. More, your valor has touched my heart. Oh, yes, there is still some small part of me that knows mercy.

Yesterday E.J. Dionne wrote:
This month's offensive by President Bush and his allies in Congress against gay marriage and flag burning proves one thing: The Republican Party thinks its base of social conservatives is a nest of dummies who have no memories and respond like bulls whenever red flags are waved in their faces.
That's right, of course, but what a missed opportunity. Clearly the Republican Party thinks its base of social conservatives is a herd of cattle who have no memories but respond like bulls whenever red flags are waved in their faces.

It could even be a fun game: Clearly the Republican Party thinks its ______ is/are a ______ of ______ who have no ______ but respond like ______ whenever ______ are waved in their faces.

Monday, June 05, 2006

On the personal blog, I get down to personal issues

After some thought I consulted my friend B— on the barbecue question, and his reply is worth sharing in its entirety:
Ok, here's my take on the deal. We will divide it up into two discrete propositions: 1) Is it morally and culinarily acceptable for male over the age of the majority who hails from the nation of Texas to prepare, directly or indirectly, and/or allow his pit (re: The Unit) to be used for the preparation of the dish known as "pulled pork", and 2) should fusion-y and nouveau-Q preparations be entertained as a gesture toward diversity and openness, or should the home fires be tended as they ever were, in the belief that as it was in Lockhart, so it was in Heaven. With regard to Prop 1, I have no problem recognizing pulled pork as *a* BBQ, but never as *the* BBQ. As a BBQ, it certainly beats all manner of grilled dishes, and it certainly qualifies as meat cooked low and slow over smoke to render a large, tough cut tender. I believe that when properly done, it renders an excellent interpretation of the nature of the Pig; it is appropriately subtle where brisket is bold, as pork is to beef. However, it is here, in its subtlety, where it fails. Pulled pork, as a composition, has too few notes, too few challenges. Pulled pork aficionados recommend smoking over hickory coals, not the lit wood itself; some even advocate for hardwood charcoal. Wood selection, grading, and usage is one of the pillar skills of the accomplished pit master; to reduce it to a minor element is to degrade the position. Smoking a pork butt is the recommended first step for any new BBQ'er, while smoking a brisket is often spoken about in hushed tones, words of frustration and crushed egos. Pulled pork is BBQing with training wheels; only the truly masterful can perfect the brisket.

Which isn't to say that pulled pork is without its positives, it's just that, in my mind, it should be treated as a side project. So go ahead, change the expected style, give yourself a ridiculous name, make an album with an unknown backing band that no one will buy, but just remember what got you on that major label in the first place. With regard to Prop 2, I hew to a fairly Zen style when it comes to my own Q. I like to hone in on the essential and stay clear of bling. However, that's not to say that innovation and experimentation have no place in BBQ, I just believe they should be built on a foundation of the classics. Properly executed Q needs no accompaniment; everything else is for the tourists.
B—'s thoughts are as commendable as his own work behind the smokestack, work that I've long admired. Naturally, to the end of the message he tacked on a recipe for the Brinkmann: chicken tucked with jalapeño, bacon, and cojito cheese. God, I miss home.

On Barbecue (part 1)

It's time we had a sit-down. A barbecue sit-down. And while I'd like to say that a barbecue sit-down means plumping asses on a long park bench and burying faces in a wax-paper plateful of smoked beef n' sides, a couple of rowdy pork partisans demonstrated to me this weekend that we don't all share a similar vision for the summer's grilling agenda.

Specifically, it was alleged that the vinegar-based pulled-pork method, sampled by many (including this writer) at a roadstop in North Carolina en route to Beach Weekend, is superior to the slow-smoked brisket of my homeland. The allegers even profferred testimony to the fact from two "Texans" to buttress their case. Having no opportunity to cross-examine these so-called Lone Star witnesses—and knowing only that one hailed from Plano, TX, which would be sufficient reason to dismiss his deposition, given a jury of my peers—I can only maintain my steadfast obstinance in the face of a party of negativity.

Or perhaps I can't. So loud has the call for pulled pork grown from certain parties that the debate appears on the verge of boiling over into a conflict. I want to cut off a crisis before it brews into a mutiny, and so I'm here with a message of explanation and, I hope, reconciliation.

There's only one standard of barbecue to which I aspire. (Close this window now if you think I was about to say Bobby Flay. You ass.) An eater versed in the ways of Texas barbecue might assume I mean Black's, which has since 1932 stood as the seat of Texas barbecue power, in a class alone among even the giants of Lockhart, TX—the true capital of the state. Nor do I hold to the severe model set forth by Kreuz Market (pronounced "Krites"), whose outright hostility toward sauce (a popular view in some parts of Central Texas) and forks (less so) is coupled with a rejection of traditional sides in favor of a more holistic approach (e.g., whole tomatoes, avocadoes, and onions are served). Which might bring to mind the austerity of Alice Waters, if, you know, that weren't sort of a silly thing to say about a smokehouse with deep German roots.

No, I only ever hope to come within an order of magnitude of the excellence as can be found at the Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX. Maybe it's merely the fond memories that puts the Salt Lick above the fold—along with the cherished Grist Mill, it's one of those places you only go after a long day spent working on your sunburn or tubing down the Guadalupe—but the Salt Lick's menu stands the test. Every platter is served with just the right sides: pitch-perfect potato salad, crisp cole slaw, pinto beans, bread (thick-sliced, white bread, obvs), pickles, and onions. Not a selection of them, mind you—all of them. Anchoring those platters you have either perfect smoked brisket, perfect Elgin sausage, or perfect pork ribs—or all three, via the gut-splitting family-style option. (Point of reference: the Gigantomachy was catered by one $15.95 Salt Lick family-style platter. I'm only saying.)

And my lord, the sauce. What a sauce, what a sauce. A NYT correspondent writes that her BBQ-apprenticing husband calls the unique Salt Lick sauce "the elixir of life, if by life you mean grilled meat. Which I do." It is unique in the correct, superlative meaning of the word—there isn't another sauce like it. It's a sweet mustard-based sauce that contains no tomatoes. Nearly heresy; certainly, sacrilicious.

Each time I step up to the smoker I think about the Salt Lick standard. Okay—so that really isn't true at all. In fact I haven't been thinking much about new ways to push Grill Command. I pushed back my plans to take a serious stab at a signature sweet sauce (i.e., develop something that isn't grainy or chunky or just kind of wrong), and having just acquired the tools and makings for chow-chow, that sauce milemarker looks all the more distant. We all remember the last barbecue, with an attendance of maybe 25 people, a group far too large for our modest facilities—much less for a season opener. More depressingly yet, the garden isn't coming in so well, which although not strictly related to the barbecue may be another indicator of a lapse in focus. The pride commeth before the fall, which is followed by scraggly cilantro.

The garden notwithstanding (and which shows signs of improvement! I think I see a 'peño!), we're only talking one barbecue—and we've definitely had good ones in the past. Nevertheless it's been a complete jolt to the senses. Thus has foolishness and hubris blinded me to the position in which I now find myself, eyes open wide, facing down fanatics maddened by the vinegar-y allure of pulled pork.

I have to cut this off at the pass: It's not something I can make. Really. I just don't know what makes for good and bad when it comes to the North Carolina style (good god, just writing the words!) pork. By which I mean both that I don't know a recipe myself (it's a baste, not a rub) but much more importantly, I don't have the foggiest notion about how to pick one. I understand it calls for mustard-based slaw—something between the sweet stuff I know and the spicy stuff from the true south. But what the hell is a mustard-based slaw? It sure doesn't sound tangy. The words don't make sense. Like paper-based oranges, or New York–based football. See what I mean? I'm feeling like anything I tried would not only be deeply frustrating to make but truly disappointing for everybody to taste.

It is, of course, incumbent on a pitmaster, if he is to live up to that mantle, to master beef, ribs, and pork, along with the sides dictated by the region to which he holds. (NB: I'm fairly certain my chosen career aspirations preclude me from ever attaining the title.) To what ends I can't say, but I'm committed to following through with this beef and ribs stage. The whispers about seder brisket—yes, I hear them—only strengthen my resolve.

Of course I'll brook most any compromise. The smoker is available for those who'd like to try; we can work out a reasonable rental rate, and I'll spend the time in the Library of Congress archives researching the arcana of gourmet practices among early German settlers in Texas. Okay, I'm half kidding here. Of course I'm not going to charge you to use the smoker.

(In all honesty: It sounds like a pain in the ass to learn how to do that sort of baste, and there are so many technical hurdles I'm still learning to overcome. I don't think pulled pork is the right option, right now. Let me instead propose a third way: we'll call it the Davenport Accord. More on that later.)