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Telegraph Avenue

Michael Chabon is an author whose reputation certainly precedes him, and I don't know how I've managed to go this long without digging in to his work. Certainly, there is a nagging concern that what you've heard or read is hype, and that the actual experience is going to be a letdown. 

This is not the case here. Telegraph Avenue is everything I want in a novel and more. It's a deep and thoughful reflection on the relationships between blacks and whites, the intermeshing of cultures, of gentrification and urban renewal. It's a detailed and insightful memoir of a time and a place, populated with a rich tapestry of characters who are fully drawn and completely believable. There's a compelling story that spins an intricate web around you and makes you care about what happens; that involves you in a complex set of relationships between people and their community and the conflicts between their personal histories, their aspirations, their families, and their limitations. Local politics, social responsibility, Black Panthers, kung fu, environmentalism, aging blaxploitation stars, midwifery, the impossibility of being 14 years old -- it's all there.  

And music. Telegraph Avenue pulses with music, both in the many references that become a soundtrack running in your head and in the detailed, lively descriptions of the incredible conflagration of funk, soul, R&B, rock and roll and jazz that bubbled up out of the American cultural melting pot beginning in the Sixties and continuing to this day. If you don't know what a CTI release was, go do some listening. It will add a layer of depth to the experience of this book that is priceless. 

Chabon delivers extremely realistic dialog that includes plenty of street slang and Clarke Peters handles the narration of the audiobook with superb attention to the personalities and characterizations. He gives a believable and authentic voice to a wide cast of characters that includes everything from a 14 year old gay white kid to a nonagenarian Chinese woman, and delivers the narrative in a style that is deeply sensitive to cultural and political connotations. His wonderful voice becomes the music of this experience. 

Dig it.

Why I Am A Buddhist

Finally! My first audiobook production on ACX is out!

I truly enjoyed reading Dr. Asma's book, and I think it's a good listen. While I don't hold with everything he lays out in his "Chicago-Style" Buddhism, Asma's thinking is very broadminded and his approach is generous. He wants to bring everybody into the tent, and focuses on the practical aspects of Buddhist teaching. Very low on the mystical, hippy-dippy stuff, and high on the mind-focusing, ethical living side of the equation. I found the chapters on science and Buddhism and art and Buddhism particularly engaging.

So. Buy the book. It's worth it, and you'll be helping me get hired by more authors and publishers.

The video trailer is here and a special offer for the audiobook is here.

 

Class Warfare?

There's nothing wrong with making money. I believe in capitalism, because we don't have a viable alternative, and because markets usually balance out opposing forces. One of the underlying assumptions of capitalism is that every member of society gets compensated in some fair way based on the value of their contribution to that society, as judged by the market. 

What's the value of making money off of money? What's the value of protecting investments - of creating a hedge against the uncertainties of the future? Of speculating on which way markets will turn tomorrow or next year or next decade? Yes, we all benefit from the free flow of capital. Yes, there is value in creating security. Yes, we all have to think about and plan for the future. But imbalances in the distribution of wealth in our world today have led us to an unbalanced view of what activities have real value.

How does the value of a risk manager stack up against the value of a pre-school teacher? Is the profit margin of the commodities speculator balanced fairly against the salary of the sanitation engineer? Is a good poem worth as much a a share of AAPL?  A hundred shares?

All of us, inflamed by our constant media diet rich in consumption, are driven by desire. We want the stuff that's flaunted in our faces daily, and our wanting makes us misplace value. Money takes on value on its own, without any connection to real activity that benefits society.

We're out of whack, and we know it. The barons of Wall Street know it somewhere deep down, that their positions are morally indefensible, and that their hearts are bankrupt.

OWS is just trying to put the brakes on -- to get more of us thinking about the inequities that currently fuel the markets. It's working.

Uniform Motion

Fantastic! Independent artists with a vision, a plan, and metrics! Too many young artists approach the creation of their work as something completely separate from any other kind of business venture, as if they don't really want to make money from their endeavors, as if passion were enough. This band's approach takes passion as a given, and layers on carefully considered elements of communication, clarity, care for their fans and for the larger community of artists and creators, and immense generosity of spirit. 

The old Balinese saying on my homepage applies here: We have no art. We do everything as well as we can.

 

 

Did I tell you how much I love audiobooks?

I posted 40 new reviews to Amazon today. I admit, that's a bit excessive, but they've been accumulating for awhile. Here's the latest:

Nobody's Fool, by Richard Russo - narrated by Ron McClarty

Richard Russo writes tales of rundown and overlooked people living in places that saw their best days long ago. Empire Falls, That Old Cape Magic, Bridge of Sighs -- they're all variations on the same themes that animate Nobody's Fool. That takes nothing away from their power as stories, because Russo is such a great storyteller. He makes you care about his characters and want them to win in a game where it seems the odds are always stacked against them. Their transcendence beyond their own sad circumstances reminds us that life goes on, that we can and will survive, and that each one of us can rise above our own mistakes and bad choices. 

This very human story is brought to life masterfully by Ron McClarty, whose narration is pitch-perfect, evoking time, place, and the full cast of characters that populate the town of North Bath, NY. Forget Paul Newman. Ron McClarty's Sully is the one that will stick with me.

 

David Foster Wallace Lives!

Ever struggle with tedium? Who hasn't? Did you know the word "boring" did not exist in the English language until the advent of the Machine Age? I did not, until this fact was revealed in the course of experiencing David Foster Wallace's final epic, The Pale King. This labor of love, painstakingly brought to life by the author's long-time editor Michael Pietsch when the work was left unfinished after Wallace's suicide in 2008, reveals the infinity underneath boredom. Wallace removes the lid from the gaping void that is always right there for those who dare to look. Clearly, he spent a lot of time looking down that hole, for better or for worse.

 

Wallace has the gift of being able to stop time. He dives deep down in a headfirst rush into a single moment, peeling back the layers of thought, memory, feeling, experience, sensation, and circumstance that overlay every simple act, until they all stand exposed and elucidated. Then, just as quickly, he yanks you back up to the surface, back to the mundane and ordinary, back to the normal, back to the squeak of the wheel in the document collector's cart in the IRS processing center where much of the "action" in The Pale King takes place. Sometimes you feel like a fish gasping for water in the naked sunlight. Sometimes you feel as though you've been given some tremendous gift, a gem of insight that will sustain you and nourish you for years. 

 

The IRS? As subject matter for a novel? I cannot imagine anyone else who could pull this off. While the book is understandably ragged in many ways, Pietsch has made it hold together so that the undeniable voice of David Foster Wallace comes through loud and clear. The audiobook's narration is handled masterfully by Robert Petkoff. He lives inside the 200-word sentences, the parenthetical asides, the footnotes, and the flights of language that are Wallace's trademarks, making them real, accessible, and meaningful.

 

David Foster Wallace lives.

Interested? You can get The Pale King for $7.49 @ Audible.com.

Solaris

Solaris, the epic science fiction novel from Stanislaw Lem that inspired the slightly less inspiring movie of the same name some years back, is finally out in a direct-to-English translation, and Audible has it. It was my great honor to do the music for this one, and I came up with a perfect score, edited nicely by Rick Bradley.

Check out this preview

This is a book written by someone I met through the Zen Mountain Monastery. I like the Kickstarter concept, and I hope that Lee succeeds in his quest to get it published.

Chip in if you can.

Olympic Heros

I need a hero as much as the next guy. Someone to look up to as a model of discipline and achievement. Someone who takes the raw talent and brains they are born with and really makes something out of it. I love the Olympics because every four years, we get a chance to see what we all are capable of.

if we could only enjoy the Olympics without the filter of television. These incredible athletes are now groomed to be media stars as part of their training and are expected to do the TV dog and pony show to satisfy the great hunger for celebrity. Who can blame them for wanting the endorsement $ and the spotlight - they have certainly earned it - but TV reduces their stature, in my estimation. The more they talk, the less interested I become. The more often they appear in commercials and fluff pieces, the less I see their individuality and their inspiration.

I've been watching some of the practice runs and other raw material that hasn't made it into the production machine. NBC is graciously posting a lot of this stuff online. No commentary, no filter, no fluff. I am such a bore, but that's the way I like it.

Words

I love books. I love language. I love it when the precise word comes to mind that expresses the shade of meaning that you need at that moment. I love hearing a good reader or storyteller get down to the essence of a story.

As much as I love language, it's so inexact. Maybe that's why I don't talk so much. There isn't really a word that describes the angle and the intensity of the light careening off the new snow on a December morning, except perhaps for Eskimos. Everybody knows it when they see it, though. Thankfully, there is music to fill in some of those gaps where words fail us.

Is the Ipod Generation missing out?

question [from Mahalo]: Is the Ipod Generation missing out on listening to music properly? Is music better with big speakers instead of tiny earphones?

What makes music good and gives it value is the experience that is created in the mind and heart of the listener. Whatever helps to enable that connection with the spirit of the singer, musician, composer, ensemble, or band is also a good thing. For some, that experience may be delivered through $3.00 earbuds, for others, it comes through gold wires connected to $30,000 speakers. You could be sitting in the front row at the Blue Note or in a drum circle deep in the Brazilian rainforest and have equally transformative experiences in either place. The place, the technology, and the equipment can contribute to the enjoyment of music, but none are required. The question of what is better assumes a value judgment that you are free to make when deciding for yourself what it is that floats your boat, but it's not a value judgment that you can impose on others. Is there a proper way to listen to recorded music? In my opinion, there are as many proper ways to listen as there are listeners.

merce

Merce Cunningham opened the world for those who worked with him and for countless people around the world who experienced that work. The influence he wielded with Cage and Rauschenberg and other major artists is well-documented, but I do not think he was much moved by his own reputation. Merce was really all about the day-to-day dedication to excellence and the attention to the details of the moment. Today’s work always trumped yesterday’s. Over the years his company and his studio provided incredibly rich opportunities to thousands of dancers, musicians, artists, teachers, administrators, designers, and technicians. I had the good fortune to make music in class at Merce’s studio for more than 16 years. It was a daily opportunity to dig deep into my own wellspring; to turn over the rocks in my soul and make something useful out of whatever I found underneath. Horrible failure and mysterious beauty happening all at the same time, and often I couldn’t tell which was which. Merce’s work was like that: profound and baffling, immediate and cool, irritating and sublime, enigmatic and pedestrian. Often all at once. He made us think different, see different, hear different, and feel different. We will not forget.

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