Thursday, July 29, 2010

Best Bands In the BOTG Mailbox

To wrap up the very popular BOTG Mailbox series (/sarcasm), I'm going to highlight four bands whose submissions impressed beyond the usual, the kind of submissions that will have me actually following these folks to see if they can manage to get somewhere bigger and better. This isn't necessarily the same as me saying I love the bands. Rather, they just seem somehow more accessible, or maybe they've kicked it up a notch, musically, or maybe they just hit a different groove, enough to raise a curious eyebrow.

So, without further adieu, here's your four Best Bands in the BOTG Mailbox.

1. School of Seven Bells 

Windstorm (mp3)
I L U (mp3)

Three days after I took advantage of this band's kind offer to test drive their album, I saw promos for it plastered all over eMusic, and I thought, Damn, I'm gonna be late to the promotion party. Trust me, if you like the songs above, you'll love their album. A mix of electronica and inspired by a variety of '80s and early '90s sounds -- My Bloody Valentine comes immediately to mind -- this band will find plenty of sullen teens and misty adults eager to embrace them. Their leadoff song, "Windstorm," is just damn good by any standard.

2. The Belles

Time Flies When You're Losing Your Mind (mp3)
The Burning Questions (mp3)

"Lo-fi." For such a simple concept, I can't ever quite seem to get it. Regardless, if The Belles are "Lo-Fi," then they're damn good at being "Lo-Fi." They're a little bit mopey, a little bit shoe-gazey. They play a simple and tight set, know how to craft a decent earworm, and wear their hearts on their sleeves. That guitar riff that carries through in "The Burning Questions" is the kind of thing that makes for great John Hughes movie moments.

Bands like this one don't do it to play in arenas, but rather because there's this poison in their souls that has to bleed onto a page. All the great artists have it -- even if not all of them make it -- and I'd love to see these cats play a live set, because I bet it would be intense and splendid.

Their second album, released in June, is titled Time Flies When You're Losing Your Mind. Consider losing your mind with them and buy a few of their songs. Their older stuff is available on eMusic, but the new album is on

3. Detox Retox

Caroline (mp3)

This band comes across as a little bit Weezer, a little bit Phoenix. Poppy jangly guitar music with just enough of a nerdy alternative edge to keep things interesting. While "Caroline" is my favorite from the EP they sent, their other songs are certainly worth a spin if this one catches your ear.

Their album is entitled Movement and is available now at eMusic and other online retailers.

4. Neil Nathan

Disappear (mp3)
Do Ya (mp3)

Rosario Dawson. Electric Light Orchestra. Matthew Sweet. If you can get the first into your video, and you have the audacity to craft a stripped-down acoustic version of the second, and if your sound is guaranteed to earn comparisons to the third, then you're guaranteed to get my attention and interests.

Neil Nathan isn't Matthew Sweet, but that's hardly a crime. Nathan has a little more old-time Lenny Kravitz in him as well. Some of his songs are a little out of my interest range, but there's no questioning his talents and production qualities.

His album is The Distance Calls and is available now at eMusic and other online retailers.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Christmas in July

Down here in sunny and hot Florida, my daughter and I went shopping yesterday and came home with an unusual haul: retro 60's dress $4.00, 2 retro scarves $3.98, a Bobbie Ann Mason memoir $1.00, 12 champagne flutes $7.00, a multi-colored top $3.00, a jar (for preserving lemons) $2.00. Oh, the most expensive item--a Hawaiian shirt for me to wear to her 21st birthday party $4.99.

Her being a hip, stylish woman in her 20's and me being an obliging, semi-curious father, we cruised the thrift stores and consignment shops up and down U.S. 41. For the unitiated, like me, a thrift store is more likely to be something of a junk store, possibily run by a church or an organization like Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army, while a consignment shop tries to offer higher ticket items, especially in the area of women's clothing.

At a consignment store, you can get a designer dress; at a thrift store, you will find clothing, perhaps some nice, but you are more likely to find a left-handed golf club, a box of 8-track tapes, or a copy of The Corrections.

Some of the thrift stores look like the "utility room" in my basement; some of the consignment stores look like, well, like their stuff has not actually been worn. The consignment store will have been arranged by a designer, with antique accent pieces, classical or New Age music and women with British accents. Their policies are very clear and do not involve haggling. If the piece hasn't sold in x months, they drop the price continually until it does. That's how you get a bargain: wait until July for something you liked in April and get it for a steal--if it's still there.

The thrift stores, on the other hand, have their own run-down, idiosyncratic charm. Sometimes. One place we went into, had, inexplicably, several shelves of Pepperidge Farm products. Not used. At another, the two proprietors, who must have been in their late '80s could not wait to get us out the door at 2 PM so that they could leave. They were church volunteers. Another had used, or at least resold, personal products for sale--mouthwashes, razors, etc.

Yes, there is something of the Auschwitz to these places. That may be unfair, certainly overstated, but if you have seen film or photograph of the piles, indeed warehouses, of personal belongings at the camps, you can't help but be a little creeped out by the buckets of mismatched knives, stacks of china, and racks of shoes still in good shape that line the shelves of a thrift store. Not to mention, of course, the clothes.

Florida, though, has two things working in its favor. One is that, if you can get yourself into the mindset to search these stores, Florida is, for obvious reasons, a better source of merchandise than most states. And, as my daughter said, "Somehow, these places aren't as sad when they're not located where you actually live." Because you are, indeed, sifting through people's lives at these stores, lives that have been discarded, mixed together, stacked, discounted.

But does an object in any way carry the memory of the person who owned it if you didn't know that person? Probably not. It becomes, once again, just an object that either has use or it doesn't. In a world that is running out of resources, reusing something that might otherwise have ended up at the dump is probably a good thing, even if you only reuse it for a themed college dance or a birthday party.

In the random, mysterious world of the thrift and consignment stores, there is an improbable, unstatistical chance that a dormant coffee mug or hat can regain its value, or some new value, when a traveller, who stopped by chance into a non-descript store, spied it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

BOTG Mailbox Music Week!

Once or twice a year, I've tried compiling some of the best of the hundreds of music submissions Bottom Of The Glass receives every few months. Every time, it seems, one of the songs gets busted by lawyers who apparently don't agree with the promoters who told me I could promote the songs in the first place.

But dammit, these bands need us. They need attention. So, for them, I'll risk it.

Besides, I'm on vacation at the beach this week anyway, so the feds'll never find me! Mwahaha!

Today, I present to you the BOTG Free Music Mailbox Mix, Summer 2010 version. On Thursday I'll highlight my favorite bands that offered EPs or entire albums. The best of the lot, if you will.

To get to the entire collection, click this link. Here's the playlist... in the order seems to just want it...
  1. Bomb Shelter - Nakatomi Plaza
    decent proto-punk. great name.
  2. Big Top - Proper Villains
    wicked good electro-dance-trip stuff. not my thing, usually, but this is fun.
  3. This Motion - Roman Numerals
    i get a little psychedelic fursy, bauhausy vibe. it makes me want to wear black eyeliner. but, like, in a good way, sorta.
  4. Hooked - Maylee Todd & Circle Research
    also not my standard fare, but this song's catchy and classic.
  5. Close My Eyes - Rudely Interrupted
    if you can hear this and not drift back into the '80s, you're either too young or there's too much pain involved.
  6. Let's Kiss - Living Days
    why leave the '80s? these dudes couldn't have stolen more directly from The Cure if they chopped off Robert Smith's head. but if you're gonna totally riff someone, riff the right bands!
  7. The Stalker - Hunter Valentine
    one hell of a catchy guitar riff. great first four measures. catchy femme voice with 'tude. definitely one of the best mailbox gifts of the season.
  8. Never Been Worse - Gasoline Heart
    a little j.mascis and a little drive-by truckers goes a long way.
  9. Darling Dear - Little Fish
    strong and fun build-up on this one. gets more fun the longer you hang with it.
  10. We'll Have a Real Good Time - Lights On
    this band almost made it to Thursday. decent album. decent nose for a hooky guitar lick.
  11. Make Out - The Gypsy Nomads
    ok this is just fun. this is one of those where the forest is much more beautiful than the individual trees.
  12. Dear Friend - Emmanuel and The Fear
    another of my faves from the summer freebies. got a little ben folds, but plenty of other fun influences in there.
  13. 7 of Spades - The Coppertone
    somewhere, soundgarden should be proud that their crunch lives on in songs like these.
  14. Go On - Basia Bulat
    um... i like it? is that enough?
  15. Lovesick Teenagers - Bear in Heaven
    i kinda cheated on this one. this is from the Pitchfork Music Sampler that's free for eMusic members. this is my favorite song in the bunch.
Anyone who downloads this, I'd love to know what the favorite songs were. It's always nicer to compliment the starving artists than to knock 'em down. Kicking a starving artist is just mean.*

* -- To the artists who sent us music but who are not starving, I apologize for lumping you all in together. I hope it's OK if I don't really condone people kicking artists no matter how well-fed they may be.

    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    Wonders of Nature

    Internet too spotty to load songs. Sorry.

    Florida needs no zoo. Not when a simple morning walk yields the following: a baby armadillo scouting its breakfast by the edge of the sidewalk, two sandhill cranes standing at the cart path, watching the golfers drive by. Even the leaf you are about to kick off the concrete turns out to be an insect momentarily away from its context.

    The screech from the dark swamp, the rustle in the brush, the memory from a decade ago of a small herd of something racing across the road, a something I’ve never solved. The slender head that emerges from the pond then slides back in. Sometimes, nothing but a pair of ominous nostrils.

    The squirrel looks out of place. You worry for the dog that gets off its leash.

    The fronds that fall from palm trees curl like the carcasses of dead animals; every twig in your path gets a second look to make sure it isn’t a snake. Instead of trash, you see along the raised roadways, white egrets with their long, slender necks wading in the water that collects after every rain.

    And the lizards. Are everywhere. Tan and brown and green and large and small and daring and tentative and shy and confrontational, the last holding their ground before you with puffed up chins.

    At sunset, drive to the jetty to watch the dolphins surface and dive, to see the seabirds fish, to laugh at the inelegant pelican whom evolution has not taught how to land on water with grace.

    At night, you return to your third floor, and there at the top of the stairs awaits a translucent toad, whose inexplicable climb has brought him as far away from nature as he can get.

    Which isn’t far. Each morning, like the swarms of gardeners covering Gatsby’s property to repair the damages of another party, the workers spread out on their machines to trim, cut, edge, water, mow, and restore order.

    But everything knows. We all know.

    This manicure of the earth is the most temporary of all efforts down here. Let man shape and plant the earth, give it paths and orderly trees and made pools of water, and still the gators will settle in, the birds will build their homes among the line of palms, the lizards will find their way through window cracks and brief door openings, and all the vegetation that waits on the sidelines will creep forward like a tropical glacier.

    Unless certainty somehow trumps mystery. Unless design matters more than spontaneity. Unless patient eyes find no reward of beauty. Florida needs no zoo.


    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    The Old Spice Man

    Man / Bag of Sand - Frightened Rabbit (mp3)
    My Old Man - Stephen Kellogg (mp3)

    I love the Old Spice Man.

    No. Seriously. I love him love him love him.

    This goes way beyond what is culturally acceptable, or what we deem as “OK.” This goes beyond my appreciation for good marketing and advertising. It is a statement of my admiration of what might well be considered the most amazing ad campaign of at least the last several years and quite possibly since the Pleistocene Era.

    If you’ve seen the ads, then yes, you have the genesis of what I believe to be awesomeness.

    If you’ve seen the ads Pre-OldSpiceMan, then you clearly appreciate that this mentality was already maturing and growing before OldSpiceMan was born, and awesomeness existed before he set foot on the pseudo-Earth that is AdvertisingLand.

    OK, stop. Seriously, you need to go check out these ads, because if you haven’t, you’ve somehow missed out on one of the greatest cultural powers of the decade. If you haven’t, you’ve chosen to be that person who doesn’t know who Clara Peller is. You’ve chosen to lack knowledge about the MicroMachines guy, or the Taco Bell dog, or the Time to Make the Donuts Guy, or the Fruit of the Loom gang.

    But then the good folks at Wieden & Kennedy (the ad agency behind Old Spice Man) one-upped themselves by making their Facebook page more fun than a day at DisneyWorld (well, at least it’s more fun in a dollar for dollar kind of way).

    The allowed all fans of their Old Spice Facebook page to ask Old Spice Man questions, and then Old Spice Man would answer them in a brief video response. What the notion lacked in genuine originality, it more than made up for it in simple hilarity. It even bled into Twitter and responding to celebrities from Ashton Kutcher to Ellen DeGeneres.

    And then there’s the four-in-a-row exchange he has with Alyssa Milano. By the third one, not only has coffee gone up Alyssa’s nose, but his work with a feather sent water up my own. Even after days and months of worshipping these ads, I find myself still able to laugh hard enough to end up wheezing.

    I’m all about being media-conscientious. All of us, as consumers and citizens, should be guarded and cynical about the power of propaganda. In some sense, I’m in the very profession due to my great respect and fear of that power. But this campaign transcends traditional levels of genius and manipulation and goes into an altogether different viral stratosphere.

    I don’t know how long Isaiah Mustafa’s joy ride will last, but I rarely hop on a great roller coaster wondering when it will end. I wait until it’s over and feel that slight twinge of sadness and only hope I can get back on another roller coaster as soon as possible. Rarely can 30 million-plus people hop onto a single roller coaster and have this much fun together.

    Dare to enter the rabbit hole of pointless distraction that is the Old Spice YouTube channel, where his myriad of standing-still-in-the-bathroom responses have entertained millions. Or just go enjoy the old reliable standards of his more traditional commercials.

    I only ask that you look upon Mustafa’s works, ye mighty, and despair.

    This is Only a Test...

    Please stay tuned. We will have an actual post about The Old Spice Man, as well as a song or two, posted before noon today.

    And if we don't, you can have your money back.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010


    Sorry, Internet is spotty here, and I can't upload a song.

    I've written about walking before. Back in the fall when I had the pedometer. It broke. And I lost focus. Until now. Briefly?

    I don't know why I don't walk in Chattanooga. Even in the summers, when it's hard to keep busy at work, I can barely drag myself down to the bookstore to check the mail, even though I intentionally don't have my mail delivered to my office so that I will walk down there and check it. I've got to force myself to drag my dog around the block. If he gets it all done within two houses, we turn around and head home. I know I should tour the neighborhood on foot in the evening, when it's cooler, but I don't do that either.

    But get me down here in Florida, and I become a walking machine. Get me in New Orleans or Rome or Paris or Gatlinburg and I'll walk all day. Put me anywhere--Key West, Charleston, Chicago-- and I've got one, primary mode of transportation. Just not in Chattanooga. I can't figure it out.

    Maybe it's because in Chattanooga, to get to a place to walk, you've got to drive.

    Those of you who know me would be amazed to see me down here in Venice, Florida, out on a Tuesday morning at 7:15AM with my running shoes (irony intentional) on, headphones in my ears, striding at a pretty aggressive clip down Rockley Boulevard, past three-story condos, townhomes, Mexican landscapers, Sandhill Cranes, golf holes, tennis courts, and dark, wooded swamp areas, beautifully-sculpted and held back from the road, that still likely contain all of the wild creatures that Florida has to offer. Especially if you knew that I had already been out at the same time on Sunday and Monday. That's what time I get up in Chattanooga.

    When you get down here to Florida, there is an extra incentive to walk. You know what I mean, don't you? It's all of the machines. You see them just about everywhere, those motorized rides for the elderly and the disabled--in grocery stores, driving down the road, heck, even out walking! That's right. While the wife is walking, the husband is cruising along right beside her. While the owner is walking, the aged pet rides in front of her in a child's stroller.

    In Florida, you can't help but ponder getting older, and the realization hits you (however obvious it may seem from a far, abstract distance) that if you can't get around when you are older under your own power, if you give up your mobility too early, your options in those later years will be severely limited. You stare that reality in the face. Believe me, that puts a little extra speed in your step.

    Especially when you're out there at 7:15AM and you see the other walkers out there and they're all older than you are and you wonder why they're walking so fast and where they're in such a hurry to get to.

    Yeah, it's another obvious revelation. Sorry about that. They are trying to walk themselves toward the ever-receding destinations--health, independence. Who isn't or shouldn't be?

    It can't be overstated. Walking is life. And this is in no way intended to offend those who can't walk because of some lifelong condition. But for the rest of us, we have no business walking up to our cars at the end of a work day, feeling that heavy, unused quality in our legs that tells us we've been sitting too long.

    Because what follows from there? A night of sitting while you eat, sitting while you watch TV, lying down while you sleep?

    It's nothing but the earth pulling you home. Will you let it?

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    The Drowning Boy

    Talk Her Down - Starsailor (mp3)
    Everybody Out of the Water - The Wallflowers (mp3)

    The following is a true story. There’s a lesson in here somewhere.

    On an afternoon in late June, I receive a phone call from a friend’s wife. “Did a boy drown in your school’s lake?” she asks. We call it a lake. It’s not really a lake. It’s an over-large glorified round pool, the kind of overcompensation that makes masculinity and testosterone continue producing at the proper levels for future generations.

    “Come again?” I say.

    “Like, recently? Did a boy or some kid drown in your lake? Or something like that? I’m just calling you because you’d know if that was true, right?”

    She isn’t completely panicked, but she’s definitely fighting fear of a possible truth.

    “Um, no. No child or adult has died in or near our lake at any time that I can recall. Certainly not recently,” I say.

    “Well that’s what I figured,” she says, clearly relieved. “But Mac got in the car today and told me this story, and I just had to call you to make sure.”

    “What story was that?”

    “Well, he said that at camp today -- he started robotics camp over there today -- one of the counselors was standing with them before they took their swim tests, and Mac said the counselor told them that the reason they have swim tests is because a boy drowned in the lake.”

    My face scrunches up with a mix of disbelief and contemplation, but she can’t see that because I don’t have those new iPhones. “That’s weird,” I say. What I don’t say is that I have trouble accepting the veracity of this entire story. Their son is quite creative. Any part of it could have been generated from his noggin like Simon with his magic chalk.

    This theory was encouraged when she went further with stories about shark teeth that had fallen off necklaces and gathered a magic life of their own, biting kids who went in the wrong areas of the pool. Having to convince another adult that shark teeth simply cannot bite without mandibles and muscles and the like often helps chart the appropriate absurdity to a conversation.

    “Well, that’s all,” she says. But she’s clearly hanging on for something, some additional comfort or piece of information from me.

    “Listen, I’ll ask around just to be sure, but trust me that it’s not true... about the drowning thing, not the shark teeth.”

    The next morning, I’m sitting in my office, and my coworker comes in. His son is at a camp here, too, and he’s talking to me about his son swimming yesterday, which immediately gets me thinking about the phone call.

    So I tell him my amusing Tale of the Frightened Mom and The Drowning Boy. And something not good happens. He stops me before I’m finished and says, “My son actually said something similar last week.”

    “Come again?” I claim that’s what I say because it sounds a lot more professional and mature than “You’re shitting me.”

    “He said one of the counselors told him that a kid had drowned in the lake. I just ignored it at the time, because I figured it was one of those spooky stories counselors tell kids to get them to obey rules.”

    At this point, what was clearly a fluke, the product of one boy’s flighty imagination, mutated into something more disturbing. Two different campers. Two different camps. Likely two different counselors, both telling tales of children drowning to impressionable minds (and future admission prospects).

    So I sent an email relaying precisely this to the head of our camps. Accusing no one of anything. Merely laying out what I had heard as I had heard it. Including the shark teeth. But certainly expressing concern about the potential for serious headaches if the story proved out.

    The director, in turn, passed it to three different camp directors and the teacher in charge of our lifeguards. The fire of panic spread quickly from there, with nervous detective work on the part of several people hitting overdrive the next day. By the end of that following day, barely 24 hours after the ruckus first stirred up, it was relayed to me the Closer-To-Real story: Mac, the original firestarter, had overheard two of the adults -- not counselors -- talking in the lunch hall -- not at the lake -- about a boy who had recently drowned in Lake Chickamauga -- not our school’s “lake.”

    Just over 36 hours after my first hearing of Mac’s drowning tale, I was writing an email apologizing to all parties involved for stirring up what proved to be a fairly pointless panic.

    A month or so later, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m still not sure how I should have done things differently. But I’m also feeling that I didn’t do things quite right, either.

    Maybe it’s inevitable to feel that way with false alarms.

    But dammit, maybe not.

    Thus, I’ve occasionally spent my space-out summertime fiddling with that little Rubik’s Cube of a dilemma.

    There’s a lesson in there somewhere. Isn’t there...?

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    And I Didn't Even Know I Had One

    Everything--"Hootch" (mp3)

    Don't even ask me how my whole family ended up in the den on a weeknight watching episodes of Tosh.0. Blame it on our modern tendency to flip channels randomly and end up collectively entranced in a stupid show that can waste the better part of the evening. Of course, we were watching it "on demand," so someone in our ranks, I'm guessing one of my children, actually sought out the show. In fact, many episodes of it.

    If you don't know, Tosh.0 is spin-off of The Soup, itself kind of a bastard nephew of America's Funniest Home Videos, with the raunch kicked up. All are part of a disturbing brand of comedy I call "Let's Make Fun Of People Who Are Already Making Fun Of Themselves." Geez, you can't even be self-deprecating anymore. Someone will be waiting to jump on that pile on of your own making.

    The Soup is raunchier than America's Funniest, Tosh.0 beats them both, partly because the host gets off on either being gay or pretending to be and so inserts himself more and more into compromising aspects of the actual situations. His, and the show's, raw materials are YouTube videos that demand scrutiny and deprecation and sometimes replay ad nauseum.

    Case in point: We're watching this kid, a skateboarder, coming flying off a set of public steps, like in front of a library or something, down onto the concrete below, and when he lands, the skateboard shatters. Now, if you think about the physics for a moment, when that thing splits all the weight of his body on the wheels is going to send the wood in the middle up into his center.

    You can see in the background all of the other skaters sitting on the steps, watching him impassively, even as he's running around and screaming in pain. No one reacts. He's screaming. He heads over to some bushes where, eventually, some of the other skaters join him and he apparently pulls his jeans down to inspect the damage, and one of the other guys yells, "His gooch is bleeding!"

    I'm like, huh? What's a gooch?

    That's where my education begins. I didn't even know I had a gooch. Have lived 53 years in complete ignorance of the fact. Though clinical testing has confirmed that there is indeed one there.

    I had to scroll down to definition #7 in the Urban Dictionary in order to find a definition suitable for a family audience: "the area between the male genitals and the anus."

    But I also like this little poem from definition #6

    This body part
    Keeps things apart
    Sep'rating balls
    From where shit calls.

    But back when my friends and I were out hurting ourselves in public places, or the complete opposite, we didn't even know such a thing existed. It had no name, and, therefore, it wasn't even real. It was like a side alley between two major thoroughfares that didn't get its own street sign.

    And that's probably why I'm so fascinated by the concept and the word. Gooch ("grundle" is also apparently acceptable). Where did the word and the name come from? And why? Aside from the poor skater who may have required stiches and the ability to explain where they were, why was the area deemed necessary for namehood? I mean, I get that it's in a sexual area, but I've been teaching adolescent males for 27 years and I never heard the term until now. Why now? Why this generation?

    There's probably no good explanation for that. I guess that what's so interesting.

    Adam, as the first human, got the privilege of naming everything around him, and it is a duty that continues to fascinate and inspire us, doesn't it? Aren't we always a little bit pleased when we hear a new word for something we'd taken for granted or a word that captures an idea or a concept that didn't previously have a name? I know I am. I love to try out a new word and to say it over and over until it becomes part of my daily language. Chances are, I'll even overuse it in order to break it in. So, I'm sorry for the young skater's injury and I'm hoping he had a full recovery, but I'm also the wiser for his mishap. Probably in more ways than one.

    In fact, if you think about it, the location of the "gooch" makes it a potentially interesting label to lay on someone. "Dude, you're being kind of a gooch." Meaning not quite an asshole, not quite a dick. Something just in between. But close. They'll get the message.

    "Hootch" is available at

    Friday, July 16, 2010

    America's Best Bar Band

    The Bottle Rockets--"The Long Way" (mp3) (played it)
    The Bottle Rockets--"Solitaire" (mp3)

    Because they've hung out in a lot of bars.

    Because they've played in a lot of bars.

    Because they write songs about being in bars.

    The Bottle Rockets are, without a doubt, America's premier bar band. And that, in no way, intends to damn them with faint praise. They are also one of America's best bands. And they are playing a free outdoor show in Chattanooga tonight. I'm fired up.

    I don't even remember how I got into the Bottle Rockets, probably followed one of those alt-country flow charts that somehow led me to them, but I've been with them since their first album, and they have very rarely disappointed.

    Who else:

    1) writes songs about being in love with the girl who sits in the booth at a small gas station?

    2) writes songs about a family burned up in their trailer because they tried to heat it with gasoline instead of kerosene? (played it)

    3) writes songs that reveal this kind of wisdom: "If a thousand-dollar car was really worth a damn/then why would anybody ever spend ten grand?" (played it)

    4) writes songs about a guy who watches "Sunday sports in his boxer shorts?"

    5) writes songs about Nancy Sinatra?

    6) writes songs about being "stuck in Indianapolis with a fuel pump that deceased?" (played it)

    7) writes songs that reference Rush Limbaugh as an "angry, fat man on the radio/[who] wants to keep his taxes way down low?" (played it)

    8) writes songs about coffee?

    9) writes songs about the "kid next store [who]...ain't comin' back no more" because he went off to fight in the Middle East?

    10) writes songs about an abused woman sitting alone smoking cigarettes who threw her man out of the house but knows damn well that if he'll just call, she'll take him back?

    And all of that is in addition to the songs about the bars--like "Slo Tom's" (played it) a shitty little bar that is right down the block from where they live and "ain't much a nuthin' but it sure is somethin'," or a bar where the narrator is seeing double, but is counting on "One of You" to help him get home.

    And in addition to that, Brian Henneman's songs convey the underlying romanticism of the best country music with some of the prettiest, saddest little songs you'll ever hear, like "Got What I Wanted, But Lost What I Had" and "Pot Of Gold." Their reach extends from the loneliness of modern cowboys to the Kit Kat Clock that's "hangin' in the kitchen." (played it)

    Add, finally, add to that a band that's tighter than a nun's crotch, with two killer guitar players, one of whom, Henneman, also possesses a wry sense of humor and an unabashed love of Neil Young and you've got authentic American roots rock at its finest.

    The Bottle Rockets are one of those bands that you kind of take for granted because they aren't that popular and so you kind of figure they will always kind of be around, but now that they are here, now that I've written about them, it all kind of coalesces for me: Man, these guys are really, really good and I can't wait to see them.

    The Bottle Rockets' new CD, Lean Forward, is available at eMusic.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    American Society of Curmudgeons, Assholes and Paternalists (ASCAP)

    Catch Me Now I'm Falling - The Kinks (mp3)
    Attitude - The Kinks (mp3)

    If you are remotely educated into the actual world of The Music Business (TM) -- say you know someone fighting for a record deal, or you write a music blog, or you have ever investigated why it took forever for Freaks & Geeks to make it to DVD, or you obsessively follow any band or artist -- then I almost guarantee you that you have an entirely different opinion of copyright law than the rest of America.

    And here’s another thing you’d know: the bigger the organization or company that claims to represent your rights and your freedoms, the more likely that organization is a leviathan more interested in feeding its very large and cavernous belly than it is in looking out for li’l ol’ you.

    It’s a story as old as Jerry Maguire. OK, even older. As old as the NEA, a group that once sincerely fought to protect a very deserving collective of teachers that became obsessed with protecting idiots and failures at the expense of every teacher’s reputation. (Rejected NEA slogan, by a 17-15 vote: “If we’ll fight tooth and nail for the apathetic retards in your profession, just imagine how hard we’ll fight for YOU!”)

    Whenever the teaching profession seeks comfort that their representatives and their public perception could be much worse, they look to one place: The Music Business (TM).

    Trust me on this one, the idiots running The Music Business make the folks at BP look like Gordon Gecko, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and all those dudes in Danny Ocean’s famous 11. The Music Business is run, in all ways, by idiots who were better-suited for the oil industry, because their best skill is digging large holes into the ground and tossing talent into them.

    And with that, I offer you an open letter from the amazing Lawrence Lessig, a man I’ve had the wonderful privilege of hearing speak in person, and a man who actually does have the best interests of artists and musicians and creative types the country over. His target of disappointment? The incompetent, oversized, and bungling ASCAP.

    His letter:
    The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has launched a campaign to raise money from its members to hire lobbyists to protect them against the dangers of "Copyleft." Groups such as Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are "mobilizing," ASCAP describes in a letter to its members, "to promote 'Copyleft' in order to undermine our 'Copyright.'" "[O]ur opponents are influencing Congress against the interests of music creators," ASCAP warns. Indeed, as the letter ominously predicts, this is ASCAP's "biggest challenge ever." (Historians of BMI might be a bit surprised about that claim in particular.)

    As a founding board member of two of those three organizations, and former board member of the third, I guess I should be proud that a 96 year old organization would be so terrified of our work. And I would be — if there were anything in this fundraising pitch that was actually true.

    But there is not. Creative Commons, Public Knowledge and EFF are not aiming to "undermine" copyright; they are not spreading the word that "music should be free"; and there is certainly not yet any rally within Congress in favor of any of the issues that these groups do push.

    I know Creative Commons best, so let me address ASCAP's charges as they apply to it.

    Creative Commons is a nonprofit that provides copyright licenses pro bono to artists and creators so that they can offer their creative work with the freedom they intend it to carry. (Think not "All Rights Reserved" but "Some Rights Reserved.") Using these licenses, a musician might allow his music to be used for noncommercial purposes (by kids making a video, for example, or for sharing among friends), so long as attribution to the artist is kept. Or an academic might permit her work to be shared for whatever purpose, again, so long as attribution is maintained. Or a collaborative project such as a wiki might guarantee that the collective work of the thousands who have built the wiki remains free for everyone forever. Hundreds of millions of digital objects — from music to video to photographs to architectural designs to scientific journals to teachers lesson plans to books and to blogs — have been licensed in this way, and by an extraordinarily diverse range of creators or rights holders —  including Nine Inch Nails, Beastie Boys, Youssou N'Dour, Curt Smith, David Byrne, Radiohead, Jonathan Coulton, Kristin Hersh, and Snoop Dogg, as well as Wikipedia and the White House.

    These licenses are, obviously, copyright licenses. They depend upon a firm and reliable system of copyright for them to work. Thus CC could have no interest in "undermining" the very system the licenses depend upon — copyright. Indeed, to the contrary, CC only aims to strengthen the objectives of copyright, by giving the creators a simpler way to exercise their rights.

    These licenses are also (and also obviously) voluntary. CC has never argued that anyone should waive any of their rights. (I've been less tolerant towards academics, but I have never said that any artist is morally obligated to waive any right granted to her by copyright.)

    And finally, these licenses reveal no objective to make "music free." Nine Inch Nails, for example, have earned record sales from songs licensed under Creative Commons licenses.

    Instead, the only thing Creative Commons wants to make free is artists — free to choose how best to license their creative work. This is one value we firmly believe in — that copyright was meant for authors, and that authors should have the control over their copyright.

    This isn't the first time that ASCAP has misrepresented the objectives of our organization. But could we make it the last? We have no objection to collective rights organizations: They too were an innovative and voluntary solution (in America at least) to a challenging copyright problem created by new technologies. And I at least am confident that collecting rights societies will be a part of the copyright landscape forever.

    So here's my challenge, ASCAP President Paul Williams: Let's address our differences the way decent souls do. In a debate. I'm a big fan of yours, and If you'll grant me the permission, I'd even be willing to sing one of your songs (or not) if you'll accept my challenge of a debate. We could ask the New York Public Library to host the event. I am willing to do whatever I can to accommodate your schedule.

    Let's meet and address these perceived differences with honesty and good faith. No doubt we have disagreements (for instance, I love rainy days, and Mondays rarely get me down). But on the issues that your organization and mine care about, there should be no difference worthy of an attack.

    Meanwhile, you can read more about Creative Commons here, and support its response to the ASCAP campaign here.
    The story of America, of humanity, of growth, is the story of people with grand ideas and heroic, unselfish hopes, people eager to watch our backs and look out for us and help us all be better, becoming people looking out for their own puffy and oversized asses. Our history is a never-ending tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a man who at some point in his youth was a decent, generous, kind human being, who grew too big and successful for his own good, lost his way up his own ass, and became... well... Scrooge.

    ASCAP? You, my friends, are Scrooge. You might at some point in your history have been good and decent. But you are now in serious need of ghosts coming and haunting you into liberation or death. Either option is fine by me.

    The music business deserves every negative comparison it gets, and it deserves to die a slow and painful death. And I can only hope, at some point down the line, some well-intentioned and good-hearted collective can come around and, at least for a decade or two, get the priorities right.

    I bet... if someone did that, they might even be able to turn around all those embarrassing and pathetic falling numbers.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    The Return of the (Trout) King

    There have been two great departures consuming my mind this summer. One happened, one didn't.

    OK, not quite true. The whole LeBron situation really didn't catch my attention, except that I ended up in a sports bar and a restaurant for consecutive nights and it was on TV, so I got to see all of the interviews and Q + A with the sound turned off. No complaints here about that. From what I could tell, but I am both cynical and not the greatest lip reader, it looked like he was saying "I. I. Me. I. Me. Me. Me. I. Me. I. I. I." Plus some of the lyrics to the Will Smith song about Miami. Or something like that.

    The other is the TroutKing. One of our colleagues here at Missionary Prep, he either found or was approached with a lucrative opportunity way out in Colorado, where good 'ol Lookout Mountain would not be considered a mountain. It might not even qualify as a hill. So he drove out to the Rocky Mountain State, with his dad, did the interview, was offered the job, and was given about a week to think about it. And eventually turned it down.

    Back here in Tennessee and throughout this great land via texting, there was a lot of "What's the word on Trout?" and "Is he staying or going?" and "I heard he took the job" and "Is he Hamlet?" and "Cool, maybe now we can get some fresh blood in the Fantasy Football league." You know, stuff like that.

    I don't expect to be able to ascertain the true motives behind either decision. Leaving vs. staying is one of those situations where people want to reduce the decision to something simple that they are comfortable with and leave it at that. It's like everybody wants to scroll down the list of motivations and choose the one that fits best, then be done with it, and move on. He was greedy. He was afraid. He was selfish. He was averse to change. He wanted a fresh start.

    But the funny thing about when somebody leaves, or thinks about leaving, is that it puts a lot of pressure on those who aren't. Somehow, your leaving cheapens my staying. That's the mindset. And when we've got that mindset, we've got do some major rationalization do help ourselves to feel good again.

    I mean, look at the president of the Cleveland Cavaliers. When he was lucky enough to get LeBron 7 years ago, he had a nothing franchise that almost immediately turned into one of the powerhouses of the NBA, competing in the playoffs almost every year. Beyond that, the value of his franchise increased 2 1/2 times, from $200 million to $500 million.

    And yet, when LeBron announced his decision to go to Miami, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert ripped him, calling James' decision "a shameless display of selfishness and betrayal" from a "narcissistic" player only interested in his own self-promotion. Both he and the city have got to find ways to staunch the wound of James' departure, an injury compounded by the fact that Cleveland offered James far more money than any other team, and he still rebuffed them. Man, that's got to hurt.

    So what should we say about the Trout King? Shall we call his return to this ridge a "humble display of selflessness and loyalty" from a "generous" employee only interested in the good of the school? After all, he could have made (and paid) more out in Colorado.

    Oh, I don't know about that, but I do know that one of the very weird things about this place where we work is the incredible camaraderie that has existed here for a long, long time. And that, without a doubt, exerts its own kind of pull.

    So whether LeBron did it to win a championship or simply because Florida is a state that has no income tax, I don't really care. I'll leave the dissection of those motives to 53 hours of upcoming discussion on ESPN by those who think they have the inside scoop.

    With the Troutking, I'll prefer to think that it was simply friendship.

    Tom Petty's Long After Dark is probably his hardest-rocking album, and one of my favorites.  Available at Itunes.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Scooter of Hope, Scooter of Change

    I Hope Tomorrow Is Like Today - Guster (mp3)
    Election Night - Broadway Calls (mp3)

    “How’s all that hopin’ and changin’ workin’ out for ya?”

    Transporting a full Grande Misto via scooter is no simple feat. Most scooters, mine included, come sans cup holder, sans trunk. I have two locations for storage on my Yamaha Riva: a very snug and teensy glove box set into the steering column, and my “hard case,” the roundish clamshell-looking contraption behind the seat.

    Thanks to Starbucks stoppers -- I once called it a “Green Coffee Buttplug” and received very disappointed looks from the barista -- I have created the fairly reliable practice of scooting back to work with minimal spillage using some 10 napkins and cocooning the cup in the glove box, where it fits quite snugly.

    That said, the process takes a few minutes. And it was in the midst of mummifying my coffee and nestling it into the glove that I heard, muffled through my helmet, the quote above. I looked up, and there was this older man, a little bit oily or sweaty, probably in his early 70s, smiling out of his Caddy. Or maybe it was an Oldsmobile. I’ve never been good with cars, but I know it was Amur’can.

    Being clueless, I said, “Excuse me?” because the quote seemed without context. I was trying to connect his comments to my attempts to store coffee in a scooter.

    And he repeated himself. “How’s all that hopin’ and changin’ workin’ out for ya?”

    I still didn’t really get it. So I said, “Um, fine I guess.” And I smiled.

    The man was shaking his head before I had even answered, with the same kind of smile I tend to have when I see some moron on the other side of the road driving without headlights after dusk. Then he pushed out a few of those annoyed chuckles before saying, “I’m glad I’ll be dead before I have to see this country go completely up in smoke.”

    So, at that point, I finally got it. By then, this old dude has rolled up his window and pulled out of his spot. Off, I guess, to sneer at other young fools and their idiotic notions of hope and change, preferably from the comfort of his enclosed air-conditioned American-made isolation chamber.

    My scooter has seven stickers. Three are UNC-related. One is the ubiquitous Apple logo. One is for a band called The Rescues. Another is for the Good People Brewing Company of Alabama. And one is for the Chattanooga Football Club. None of these are of a remote political nature. I’m not much of one for political signs, because I tend to think religion and politics carry too much negative energy in first impressions. And, in those rare moments when either topic creates positive impressions, it’s at the expense of those who don’t belong to your imaginary club.

    I don’t think anyone looks at my Good People Brewing Company sticker and thinks, “Ahh, a fellow beer drinker. We’re better than those snotty wine-drinking assholes.” No one sees my Chattanooga FC sticker and thinks, “Screw the Titans and their oblong monstrosity!”

    But put a cross, or a fish, or a “W” or an “O” on your vehicle, and you are painting a double-yellow line in the road that says, “You’re either on my side and going in the (proper) direction, or you’re not.”

    Nothing too wrong with talking politics and religion, but not on a first date, and certainly not with people you haven’t even met yet.

    This old man made an assumption: youngish coffee-drinking asshole on a nerdy scooter = Obama voter. That he was right makes him more lucky than brilliant. That he looks forward to dying before the US sinks into some Muslim apocalypse makes him exactly the kind of conservative that makes lots of people despise conservatives. (Just a reminder that I’m plenty guilty of this prejudgement habit.)

    Why would someone be anti-change? As a species, we talk all the time about how dangerous it is to forget our past, yet so many of us use words like “tradition” and “the good ol’ days” without the slightest bit of irony. Tradition is for Druids. Want tradition? Go to a 3rd world Muslim country, because they’re steeped in tradition so ancient it would knock your great-great-granddaddy’s socks off. But in America? Seriously? Tradition for us is, like, McDonalds french fries. Or something even more shameful like watching an evening news program together as a family while eating TV dinners on TV trays.

    As a country, very little of our history is based on anything BUT change.

    But I get the whole anti-change thing. We get older. We wish Peter Gabriel and REM still ruled the music landscape. We detest those wacky R&B people with their wacky R&B booties and def cuts. We detest Faith Hill for being twice as hot and half as talented as Loretta Lynn. I get it. It’s kinda goofy, but with every passing year, I find myself fighting that very instinct to wish things were more like they Used Ta Be.

    So it sucks to be anti-change, but it’s also an absurd curse of human nature.

    But here’s what would really really suck: to be “Anti-Hope.” To be the person who is opposed, politically or otherwise, to hope. I’d like to think that one could be reasonably opposed to Obama and the Democratic Party without being Anti-Hope. Obama didn’t trademark the word. He doesn’t own it. I’m rooting for the guy, but even if you don’t want to, please don’t be against Hope.

    Trust me. You don’t want to be that old man in the Oldsmobile. It’s not a happy or contented life.

    Monday, July 12, 2010

    A New Kind Of Protest

    Buffalo Springfield--"For What It's Worth" (mp3)

    I had a vision the other night of protest for the 21st Century. It was like nothing I had ever seen. People were milling about, holding signs, expressing opinions, but there was no conflict, no drive-by comments from people in cars, no hurling of insults, no counter-hurling of insights. No, it was all very friendly.

    Here were some of the signs:

    I Support Gay Marriage. I Think. Unless You Convince Me Otherwise.

    Make Government Smaller Or Larger, Depending.

    It Sure Is Sunny Out Today, That's Why I Felt Like Carrying This Sign.

    I Really Don't Know What I'm For This Week.

    Tell Me About My President Or I'll Have To Make Something Up.

    Yes, the protestors were out and about, but there was no common theme among them. They were protesting everything. And nothing. From both sides. It was all very happy.

    They were citizens like you and me, people who don't know their ass from their elbow, or at least don't know too much about the differences between the two.

    They were citizens who had easy access to all of the information that has ever been known. But it was boring and overwhelming and way too much work to try to sort through all of it. There had to be a shortcut. So they had been on the Internet earlier that day, had found one good thing that they were pretty sure they could hang their hats on. Some of them didn't wear hats. Some of them were anti-hat. They had heard, with good justification, that that was a good position to take.

    They were pretty sure that they couldn't really do anything about anything. It didn't matter whether it was a local issue, a national issue, or something that (like an increasing number of issues) affected the entire planet.

    They were pretty sure that they were angry about something. Maybe they had just heard of other people who were mad at the government, so they decided to be the same thing. But some of their neighbors were for the government, and they didn't want to hurt any feelings, so they waved when they saw signs that they didn't agree with. They hoped that if they didn't agree with the front of the sign, they might still agree with the back.

    Or maybe it was really just a sporting event. I don't remember. Maybe they were all good sports and shook hands and went home, secure in the knowledge that both sides had fought hard and that the game had gone either way. Maybe even though the other team had just bought their best player, they could understand that. If you had a lot of money to spend, you might as well spend it.

    Or maybe there was a war going on and because they had all been for it (or against it) at one time, they really didn't feel like it would be fair to take the opposite position. Someone had worked really hard to start that war, a bunch of people had worked even harder to maintain that war, and it would be rude and not very American not to celebrate their efforts.

    Anyway, it was all just kind of a dream, and I don't put much stock in dreams. Like everything else these days, they're pretty easy to explain. You just have to know where to look. And in the dream, I was holding a sign, too. And I was walking among all of the other people holding their signs. And my sign read............

    Friday, July 9, 2010

    Random Friday Thoughts: King James and Divorce

    King of Spain - The Tallest Man On Earth (mp3)

    The Day LeBron Jumped the Shark

    ESPN has announced it's next hour-long celebrity athlete special, which they are going to make into a reality series. Each week, one athlete will make a "crucial life decision" after an hour of bad Spinal Tap-esque docudrama and generated hype.

    Next week, it's Peyton Manning. He will take an hour to decide whether he will continue to touch himself with his throwing hand or retrain his masturbatory tendencies using his much safer -- but less familiar -- left hand. Others in the planned series include:
    • Terrell Owens -- an hour to decide whether anyone gives a crap about him anymore (sponsored by Mello Yello!);
    • Michael Vick -- an hour to decide whether to pet or kick a dog (sponsored by Purina!);
    • Phil Mickelson -- an hour to decide whether to lose weight (sponsored by NutriSystem!);
    It's my understanding -- and my Facebook stream will back this up -- that a large number of people actually wasted an hour of their lives waiting to find out what LeBron James planned to do next year in the NBA. As best I can tell, when I found this out via Facebook last night at 11:45, I was no farther behind these people on any level of intelligence or knowledge. The only difference is, while they wasted an hour watching this ESPN special, I watched... the startling conclusion of Shark Boy and LavaGirl with my daughters.

    My point is only this. Anyone capable of sitting through 15 minutes of commercials for the pleasure of knowing what LeBron James will do several months from now -- anyone capable of watching multiple hours of NBA or NFL draft programs, for that matter -- really shouldn't insult Americans who watch the World Cup. The "soccer is boring" argument doesn't work very well after three hours of seeing who the Seattle Seahawks picked in the 3rd Round, or after you've waited breathlessly to find out how Peyton hopes to pleasure himself in the future.

    The Big D... And We Ain't Talking DEFENSE

    While I'm very happy that The Atlantic has paved the way for austere and in-depth magazines to churn out a profit without selling too much of their souls, I can't deny a place in my heart for The Daily Beast, which manages to mix the best and worst parts of actual newspapers and tabloids into a single saucy site.

    Lately, the site has come out with several intriguing articles about divorce and behaviors or events that help to predict the likelihood that a ball and chain will soon tear asunder.

    Here's the latest, by Anneli Rufus. It explores "15 Signs You'll Get Divorced," including the fact that having two daughters instead of two sons increases the likelihood of divorce from 36 to 43 percent, and that anyone who ever lived with someone with whom they're not married is more than twice as likely to divorce as someone who never cohabited pre-nuptials.

    Ms. Rufus came out with a similar interesting write-up a while back, offering correlations and stats along the same lines. This one includes stats like: If you live in a red state, your marriage is 27-percent more likely to fail than a marriage in a blue state. And: Two married smokers are much more likely to stay married than a non-smoker to a smoker... and you might be surprised just how much the chances increase! Lesson: Don't quit unless you can quit together.

    Finally, they had an article about how VISA allegedly (VISA denies it) tracks purchasing and charging habits in order to better predict a couple's likelihood of divorce, as those going through divorces are much more likely to go into debt and fail to make payments.

    These articles are not, like, Cosmo articles or erectile dysfunction drugs that promise you a better sex life. They're not proclaiming that they can predict the security of your own marriage. It's just numbers. Twisted, sick fun numbers that offer a glimpse at some things that, at the very least, can raise the stress factors in a marriage. If we're all going to engage in the private (or gossipy) act of predicting the survival rates of other marriages -- and c'mon, you know you do this, too -- you might as well be equipped with the best information possible.

    "King of Spain" is from the Pitchfork Music Sampler, a sampler collection of songs that cool people who belong to eMusic can download for free!

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    On First Looking Into Amazon's Kindle

    Emily Haines--"Reading In Bed" (mp3)

    I am always surprised to find myself to be a typical American after all. Here's how: once you sort through all of the economic b.s. that comes your way on a daily basis--stimulus, price index, consumer confidence, corporate earnings, etc., you can reduce our economic situation in any given day, week, year, decade or century very, very simply. If we don't spend, we die. So I must do my part.

    Ain't that America?

    And while a 40% off sale at Banana Republic may not rouse me from my summer slumber, while car commercials sound, to me, exactly like adults talking in a Charlie Brown special, you drop the price of a gadget I've been marginally interested in by about 30% and you've got my attention. Thus I have done my patritiotic duty, my contribution to economic stimulus and purchased a Kindle.

    It's been kind of a gadgety summer. I splurged for the ability to watch World Cup Soccer on my phone. I'm spending a new $5/month to access the Internet, and especially email, for that same gadget. I've given myself eyestrain playing Spit obsessively on a handheld device. And now I've got a Kindle.

    Here are my initial discoveries:

    1. The device. The Kindle has a nice, light, cool feel. It's easy to use, as long as all you want to do is read on it. But there are kinds of ways to highlight, bookmark, type, search and a bunch of other things, and I didn't have the patience to wade through the directions to figure all of that out. I don't do a whole lot of that in a regular book, so I don't figure to do too much here, but we'll see.

    As soon as you get your Kindle, you are immediately positioned to spend more money on it. After all, it is "The Precious," and you've got to protect it. So the very first night I had it, I was out at Target buying a case for it. Already, Amazon is pressuring me to buy an extended warranty. There are even little pieces of plastic that you can put over the screen to protect it. So far, just the carrying case (at about $30).

    And, of course, the major expense with a Kindle is....

    2. The "books." I'm guessing that most people want to load the damn thing up (see Ipod ownership). I did. And I wanted to do it as cheaply as possible. First stop. The freebies. Amazon gives you pretty good access to books published before 1923 that don't have standing copyrights (you can get Beowulf, but you can't get Seamus Heaney's Beowulf), so you start scrolling through the page after page of classics that you've never read but intend to and still probably won't, even though you're loading them like mad onto your new Kindle. I've now got Moby Dick, I've got Edith Wharton, I've got every work Edgar Alan Poe ever wrote, I've got some cookbook from 1874, and I've got Heart of Darkness because I've read it a bunch, understand it, know how difficult it is, and want people skimming my Kindle to know it's on there. And a bunch more.

    And then there are those other kinds of freebies, current books, mostly novels, largely romance, that Amazon or someone has seen fit to offer for free. And some of them, like The Heir have high ratings from Amazon readers. What the heck, I like thrillers, throw it in the buggy. The only problem is that The Heir is an amateurishly-written, religion-lite tale of a guy who decides that inheriting a billion dollars isn't really all that. The real treasures are not stored on earth, they are, blah, blah, blah. I know that because I've spent the last two nights reading it.

    And, finally, to the real books. By this point, I was feeling pretty cheap. The New York Times bestseller that I expected to buy for $9.99 was actually $12.99. I guess it didn't make the list. I didn't buy it. I bought one of the guy's earlier books that I'd never read for $7.99. Beach read, if I ever get there.

    3. The reading. The Kindle is very easy to read on. But it may play to my weaknesses. I am a fast reader, and, left to my own devices (no pun intended), I read too fast, which means that I'm purely skimming for plot and not remembering much when it comes time to have a conversation with my wife who will at some point read the same book and remember every stinking detail. But anyway.

    I like the feel of holding the Kindle, reading from it, pushing the "Next Page" button. The only thing that works against me some is that you don't read a book by pages, you read it by percentages. I guess I haven't really adjusted to this yet, because it makes me kind of nervous. Percentages have a way of doing that to me. And so I have it in my head--productivity, you know--that I've got to get to a certain percentage during a reading session. I've got to work on that.

    4. The misrepresentations. You think you're going to spend your mornings reading the Times, your bathroom minutes reading the Atlantic Monthly. I don't think so. For one thing, a subscription to The New York Times will cost you about $15/month, the Atlantic about $3/month. As far as I know, you can still access those on the Internet for free.

    But the clincher is when you read people's comments on Amazon and you find out that you are getting portions the publications, not the publications in their entirety. Admittedly, you're getting most, but there doesn't seem to be any rhyme, reason, or way of knowing what you're not going to get. So, no periodicals or mags for me, at least not yet. Do you really want The New Yorker without all of the cartoons?

    5. The verdict. I like ease and portability of the Kindle and the way its look and presence call me to read. Like the Ipod, which I carry everywhere at all times, the Kindle reassures me that it can easily step in to fill time riding in a car, sitting on a bench while the family shops, eating alone. These days, I like to keep my time filled up. I'm interested to see if, once I settle down, I will read with the same depth, or if I'm feeling like I'm needing to speed, speed, speed to meet my quota or to get to the other books packed on my Kindle. Perhaps I'll have to give Heart of Darkness another go round and see what that's like. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if I am ever going to read Moby Dick, that event will need to take place on the Kindle. Perhaps the newness of the gadgetry will counterbalance the challenge of the text to create a pleasurable experience.