Benito Vergara

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Weekend Reads, Late September.

In books on September 27, 2015 at 11:47 am

Megan Martin has an interview with me in SmokeLong Quarterly. It was a thrill to be asked such great questions, and be able to think and write about the writing process. I just hope I didn’t come across too… weird.

Speaking of weird. Given my sad history of starting and stopping projects — or quitting writing altogether — I thought I’d work again on the nth draft of a creative nonfiction piece I started writing a few years ago. It’s been a struggle, since back then, when I was exclusively trying my hand at CNF, I couldn’t see how fiction writers could just create things out of “thin air,” or so I thought. Now I’m frustrated as I work on this piece because I can’t just make shit up.

Also, this essay — about me as a young reader — makes me come across as a little… weird, but that’s fine.

One of the hardest things I find about writing is stopping myself from giving it up.

But hey, here are two articles partly about not giving up:

But no, I don’t think about giving up because of rejections. It’s just because I’m not one of those folks who write because they must. I could, for instance, give up writing so I can plunge into games, like these:

And speaking of writing, it’s been quite a month for kerfuffle, hasn’t it? Flavorwire ran an article titled “When a White Guy Uses the Name ’Yi-Fen Chou’ to Get His Poetry Anthologized, Who’s to Blame?” Why is this even phrased in the form of a question?

So two pertinent articles:

Which reminds me that I’ll be attending the Filipino American International Book Festival at the San Francisco Public Library next weekend. I look forward to a mainly brown room.

Other favorite reads of the month or so:


Weekend Reads, Late August Edition.

In books on August 29, 2015 at 5:01 pm

So it’s been a while since I’ve cobbled these together. So: something old, something new.

First off, some fiction:

Then two articles with writing advice:

It’s been years since I taught a class. Back then my students didn’t have smartphones; neither did I. I don’t know what it’s like now being up front, in a world where students surreptitiously (or not) look at their Vine feeds during lectures. I was in graduate school when that first wave of political correctness hit college campuses, but I can’t deny how this gut level of understanding — at least about how words shape perception, in a Sapir-Whorf kind of way — has been largely for the better.

Microaggressions are real, and I comprehend the logic behind trigger warnings, but I can’t help but think the examples mentioned in the article seem cherry-picked for their (to me) extremity. Anyhow, if I were teaching now, this minefield of trigger warnings that the authors describe seems awfully impossible to navigate. I look back on my Anthropology and Asian American Studies syllabi and realize that, if held to these trigger-warning standards, I can only assign the most basic of textbooks. No more readings on Gilbert Herdt’s work on the Sambia; no more Carolyn Nordstrom’s Shadows of War; no more Carlos Bulosan’s America Is In The Heart; no more Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters; no more Ed Lin’s Waylaid; no more R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind” (The Atlantic)


Story in SmokeLong Quarterly.

In books on August 26, 2015 at 6:54 pm

My story “Stone, Well, Girl” is out on SmokeLong Quarterly this week.

A Year of Writing.

In books on August 22, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Yesterday was my 365th straight day of writing at least half an hour a day.

I learned a few things:

The daily practice is non-negotiable. In the past several years I have stopped writing many times. That skipped day turns into a week, then a month, and before I knew it, I lost the right to call myself a writer because I wasn’t writing. That kind of sounds hard on myself, but really, I cannot let my writing slip like that ever again.

A consistent time and place works best. I’m lucky that I can psych myself into writing anywhere (the ferry, my desk, a plane, a cafeteria, a park, the beach, a waiting room, a hospital room at 3 in the morning) or on anything (notebook, laptop, whatever I have handy) or anytime (early morning, late at night, etc.). But what currently works for me is waking up at 5 am and getting the morning routine out of the way before I start writing — then I hop on the bus at 8 am for a change of writing venue. I find that being able to write before going to the office provides me with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I am otherwise denied for the next 8-9 hours.

My phone and the internet are the enemies of writing. Getting to Level Whatever on Clash of Clans, or a score in the 100s on Crossy Road, or leveling up my shaman in Hearthstone, wins me exactly nothing. I uninstalled them all last year, but that still left me with Facebook and Twitter and Feedly, those sly thieves of time, where I sometimes convinced myself that reading fiction and articles about writing fiction and articles about avoiding procrastination was somehow not procrastination. I can tell you what they are: they’re not writing.

Finish your stuff. This is way easier said than done. I write and revise exceedingly slowly and get distracted easily. (Like with writing quick book reviews and blog entries like this one.) I’m not that happy about my pace but right now it kind of works.

I finally have one forthcoming story (in SmokeLong Quarterly — a place I would have been scared to submit to had I known what their sliver of an acceptance rate was, so the lesson here is Don’t self-reject). I also have two other pieces making the rejection rounds; they’re done, but I smell revisions coming up for one of them soon. That’s fine.

But I also have these, in the space of this same writing year, in order of not-doneness:

  • about 18,000 words into a novel (?) set in the Philippines in the early 1900s, loosely based on Macario Sakay, a third of which I’ve polished over and over
  • a handful of flash fiction pieces that could easily be revised to doneness or made longer
  • a steampunky kind of story about a woman who guards a machine (unfinished, but getting close to a full first draft)
  • a few pages into a crime story about the hapless driver of a Tondo gangster (unfinished)
  • several pages into a story about a bunch of office workers lost in the desert (way unfinished)
  • a personal essay about my father (still way unfinished)
  • a few pages into my “Goddess of Lost Things” story (very much unfinished, but wouldn’t you like to know more about this girl and this village and what happens when an asteroid passes over)
  • a page or two into a story about Jose Rizal, medical examiner / detective (or supernatural investigator, I haven’t figured it out yet)
  • and I’m also cleaning up an old creative nonfiction essay about me as a young reader (unfinished, but it’s undergone several drafts).

As I said, I gotta finish. (I like thinking of the above as my product backlog, to bring in terms from work.)

I have the best readers. Writing may be a solitary act, but without my community of fellow writers and readers I am nothing.

If there’s only one takeaway from this year of writing, it is this: it’s all about doing the work. I’ve been told I have talent but at the end of the day it’s nothing but a field lying fallow if you don’t sit down and do the work.

My mother asked me if I had a goal. I told her, in all honesty, that my only goal was to write every day.

Weekend Reads; also, Rereading, and Some Tweets on Tweeting

In books on July 12, 2015 at 8:16 pm

I am not a big re-reader, and I know I should be. I happen to read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy once a decade for some reason — not because I am a huge Le Carré fan or of the spy novel in general (I am neither) — but because there’s a mystery in its patient rhythms, in how the story progresses through ellipses and silences, that I still cannot crack. I figure I will read Maria Dermout’s The Ten Thousand Things again sometime soon, in the same way that I will watch Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love again or reread Francisco Arcellana’s “The Mats.” You know, just because.

We all, of course, have different relationships to texts (novelistic or filmic) at different ages, and our life experiences necessarily provide us with shifting lenses through which to read them. The books don’t change; we do.

A movie I found charming and sophisticated in my late teens now seems unwatchable and, well, icky; Woody Allen’s Manhattan is a perfect example. Watching Antonioni’s L’Avventura in your relatively carefree mid-’20s is a very different experience from watching it at a decade later as an unhappy and bitter divorcee.

While I am glad that neither my parents nor the librarian at my elementary and high schools kept me away from books that I “wasn’t yet ready for,” I am sure there were books of my youth that were clearly lost on me. One of those books was To Kill a Mockingbird, which I read in the Philippines before I was a teenager.

I remember almost nothing of it, in the same way I remember almost nothing of the film which I saw around the same time.

And back then I knew almost nothing of the South, or of the Civil Rights Movement, or the implications of the African Americans sitting in the rafters and standing up for Atticus Finch. (Was that scene in the book?)

So I read the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman in The Guardian without much to compare it to, and reviews of the book will inevitably compare it to closely to the first novel. I found the chapter quite engaging, with the sentences beautifully constructed, and was eager to read more — but perhaps I should re-read To Kill a Mockingbird first, with a sharper critical eye. But is it still called “re-reading” if I first read it without historical context, a world and a lifetime away?

  • The other book coming out on July 14 — and the one I’m most excited about — is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Here’s a powerful excerpt, in “Letter to My Son” (The Atlantic)
  • “The internet means we’re a community and there’s no such thing as oversharing. Even this identity, Linda. We’re one in a way we never can be in real life. We’re an online forum past midnight.” Christine V. Nguyen, “Real People and Fake Friends: Linda Evangelista” (Entropy)
  • James Brubaker’s “Four Sci-Fi Variations on a Grandmother” (The Austin Review)
  • Two stories with something in common (guess): Hector Tobar’s “Secret Stream” (from ZYZZYVA, via Electric Literature)  and Emily Wortman-Wunder’s “Trespassing” (The Masters Review)
  • “She speaks to you as if you could speak back. Find a voice in your throat that wasn’t there before. She asks you questions, one after another, and though you can only answer Yes or No, you wonder if you are choosing the correct answer, or if one Yes or No in the wrong sequence could change everything, could alter your fate.” From earlier this year, Sam Martone’s chapbook “An Object You Cannot Lose” (Cartridge Lit)
  • Kerry Howley’s “The Cage of You” (Granta)
  • You might not agree with the assessment that “Elvis’s musical lift-off was never a simple black and white equation; it was more like a backroom radio left on between stations to pick up a tingly mix of all the different sounds in the air that month,” but what a sentence, what an essay. Ian Penman (again), from 2014, on Elvis; “Shapeshifter” (London Review of Books)
  • Otessa Moshfegh’s “The Weirdos” (The Paris Review)

Also, I thought I’d get back into using Twitter, but I clearly don’t know how to use it. I tweeted these below:

I suspect my reticence on Twitter has to do with a kind of tweet performance anxiety

Because I recognize two warring impulses in myself, or to be precise, my Twitter self, or the self I project on Twitter.

The first is equivalent to the nonchalant toss of a gum wrapper into a waste bin,

Where, like those early, tentative, Facebook statuses, I announce to the world that I’m eating a ham sandwich for lunch,

Or that the disco version of the Star Wars theme, pew-pew sounds and all, was playing at Safeway as I placed a jar of peanut butter in my cart,

And by treating Twitter as such — the repository of thoughts, relevant only to myself, flung into the ether —

reinforces the notion that I’m having a pointless monologue, except that other people may be listening in, but I know they don’t.

The second is the mystifying pressure, mostly self-generated, to announce, and not just retweet, something that promotes my own “content”

like a new blog entry, or an old blog entry, which of course implies the infrequency and a quick exhaustion of tweets on my end,

Or write some retweetable bon mot, with a labored incorporation of ‘80s song lyrics, or some nugget of wisdom mined with great effort,

Or some cruelly precise act of derision, or a Seinfeldian observation about the world we live in and life in general,

Each word, each character, polished and gleaming, chosen with care and agonizing deliberation

but projecting that same indifferent quality as the swing of the arm throwing that aforementioned gum wrapper.

And between these two overlapping compulsions one must add the need to engage with other Twitterers, to seek them out, to give praise, to follow

And perhaps retweet their words, which I suppose acts as a kind of validation,

though I myself traffic in the same cheap thrill when I receive the notification that I have been retweeted or favorited.

And so this, in combination with my two warring Twitter selves, explains this peculiar anxiety as I plunge into Twitter again.

Follow me, if you like: @thewilyfilipino.

Ten Weekend Reads; Also, How I Dedicated My Life to Satan

In books, music on June 28, 2015 at 8:11 pm

1. Sometime when I was 13 or so, I dedicated my life to Satan.

I’m sure someone dared me to do it, but I don’t remember. Which means I had a witness — my brother, or my cousin — other than smiling or frowning deities, but I can’t recall for sure.

I do remember thinking about my poor parents if the whole infernal plan backfired: how they would have to find an exorcist in case I started levitating from my bed. Or have to clean up the thick green soup I’d spew onto the walls.

I declared my service to the Dark Lord in my bedroom. No upside-down crosses or burning candles or “Hotel California” played backwards accompanied my declaration of faith. I didn’t write any renunciations, or recite blasphemous revisions of the Apostle’s Creed. I simply took a deep breath and said something uninspired, like “I give my life to Satan.”

Silence. Nothing happened.

I was still there. I was still breathing. My head neither sprouted horns, nor was zapped by a bolt of punitive lightning. I had not been bestowed with powers of clairvoyance or the ability to hurl small objects across the room with my mind. My life of evil, ending before it even began.

My bedroom was still there, and it looked the same. My bed, my brother’s bed, our Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet posters on the wall. That one, with Tony Hadley facing the other direction as the rest of the band.

Years later I dedicated myself to Christ — a long story I shall not go into here — and was confirmed and baptized by immersion in holy water. That moment was accompanied by all the appurtenances of ritual designed to heighten the experience: the robes, the prayers, the congregation.

Nothing happened then either.

I was waiting to be filled by the Holy Spirit. Would it feel like a tingle in my spine? A sudden lightness in the soles of my feet? The clouds didn’t part, no dove descended from the sky, and no angelic choirs sang.

Looking back, I figure Satan just didn’t have any wonderful plans for my life. He simply had no use for a young uncorrupted Spandau Ballet fan, momentarily acting out in pimply teenage malaise, with no experience in the pleasures of the flesh. I wanted Satan in my life, but the old guy, ever the practical schemer, didn’t want me back.

Which leads me to more demons, circa 1775, via The Paris Review.

2. Leslie Jamison, “Catechism for the End of the World,” an introduction to Ryan Spencer’s “Such Mean Estate” (The New Yorker).

3. Claudia Rankine, “The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning” (New York Times Sunday Magazine).

4 and 5. Alexander Chee on James Salter, from 2011. Then follow it up with an excerpt from A Sport and a Pastime, from 1966 (The Paris Review).

6. Columbia House was integral to the beginning of my musical education, via my mother when she ordered Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits as part of a 10-cassette package when we lived in California. (I think it was the only one of them that survived the Philippines; The Carpenters’ Greatest Hits and Frank Sinatra’s Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back was viciously attacked by mold, even as we attempted to replicate the slightly cooler temperature of Central California by placing the tapes in the freezer. That didn’t work either.) Anyhow, Annie Zaleski has a roundtable discussion / interview with former Columbia House employees, including Sasha Frere-Jones, as they “explain the shady math behind ’8 CDs for a penny‘” (The A.V. Club)

7. Mark Thompson is the deceptively affable fellow behind the monstrosity-filled Monstark Studios. I picked up his books at a local art fair recently and his books — especially Lepustrosities: Experiments Successful and Bugmen who Bear My Nose — are eloquent and horrid, suggesting a bestiary written by Lovecraft and Ligotti.

8. Issue 3 of The Austin Review was excellent; highlights were Jason Hill’s “Alex Gehry Changed His Status to Single” and Stephen Parrish’s “Metronome.”

9. The great Ian Penman has a wonderful article on Sinatra — his prose can be a little showy, but it’s gorgeous and well-crafted and the article is well worth reading even if you don’t care much about Sinatra. (I do.) Hard to pick which passages are my favorites, but I’ll settle for this, about the Sinatra / Jobim album:

Ten songs, 28’05”, voice never raised above a murmur: utter perfection. A music barely there, like pollen on a summer breeze, the drowsy strings not slathered all over everything, but coming and going like midnight optimism. Sinatra sings lines like ‘tall and tan and young and lovely’ – all these clicky, tricky consonants like soldiers on guard duty – and yet when you recall his voice it’s a soft, uncurling wave.

From “Swoonatra” (The London Review of Books)

10. “Is it possible that what we think of as genre boundaries are things that have been invented fairly recently by the publishing industry?” Kazuo Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman talk about “genre” (The New Statesman).

Epic Weekend for the Middle-Aged.

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2015 at 7:31 pm

So I’ve historically reserved Sunday evenings stressing out about the soul-crushing week of work ahead. This is obviously the worst way to end the weekend, so I thought I’d look back instead.

As I approach middle age, what constitutes an “epic weekend” has become more sedate; traveling, music, partying, the overconsumption of regulated substances, etc. need not be thrown in. This weekend sure qualified as one, though certainly aided by unexpected presents (for Father’s Day!), and a visit from my daughter.

Smaller pleasures all, though no less satisfying:

  • a healthy home-cooked meal (turkey meatloaf, tofu and spinach, mashed potatoes — and bibingka made with brie, which kind of cancels the healthy part but I’m not complaining)
  • Google Hangouts with my dad and the rest of the family (it’s also his birthday in a couple of days)
  • several rounds of Love Letter with Izzy, who roundly defeated me
  • the roasted corn pizza at The Forge, made even better by the fact that we hardly ever go out anymore
  • 2500-odd words into a story about a guardian / mechanic of sorts and her relationship to her inventor mother and a machine — the closest I’ve gotten to sci-fi lately — and I’m a little frustrated because all I have are the characters and the setting and two detailed scenes but there’s zero plot, then I stop writing, and then I take a yoga class, then a shower, then BOOM the pieces suddenly fit.
  • And did I mention a great yoga class? Man I could barely do a downward dog a month ago. (Obviously Darlene had a lot to do with it.)

(Lastly, True freakin’ Detective is back? But I’m going to do exactly what I did with the first season and watch it all in one marathon sitting, so shhhhh.)

Weekend Reads: Somehow June Crept Up On Me

In books on June 6, 2015 at 3:52 pm

  • First up for your reading pleasure, a gorgeously creepy transnational tale by the awesome Isabel Yap, “Good Girls” (Shimmer)
  • DrFaustusAU draws Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” as Dr. Seuss (via Dangerous Minds)
  • “From above, the mass of the city looks arbitrary, as if someone flung paint at a map and said, ‘That’s L.A.’” Dayna Tortorici, “Los Angeles Plays Itself” (n+1)
  • Dina Nayeri’s O. Henry Prize-winning story, “A Ride out of Phrao” (Alaska Quarterly Review, via Lithub)
  • “Some sort of black jam in the middle of porridge is very nice, very striking in fact. And then a few flaked almonds. Be careful though, be very careful with flaked almonds; they are not at all suitable for morose or fainthearted types and shouldn’t be flung about like confetti because almonds are not in the least like confetti.” Claire-Louise Bennett’s “Morning, Noon and Night” (The White Review)
  • A fascinating series of essays on the “7 Deadly Sins of the Writing Life” by Suzanne Farrell Smith and Cheryl Wilder (Hunger Mountain). I think I relate to sloth the most.
  • “Now you are at the place of annihilation, now you are at the place of annihilation.” Angela Carter, “The Lady of the House of Love” (from The Bloody Chamber, via Electric Literature)

Weekend Reads: The Morning After a Couple of Guys Apparently Danced Around Each Other for a Lot of Money

In books, music, Pinoy on May 3, 2015 at 10:23 am

The April 20 issue of The New Yorker was a bumper crop of gripping, if depressing, reading:

  • Sarah Stillman’s previous New Yorker article on the police’s reliance on drug confiscations to fund their departments — and we know now that it was standard operating procedure in Ferguson as well — is followed up by an equally exhaustively researched article on child kidnappings for ransom by the U.S.-Mexico border — and the DHS nightmare they’re plunged in after rescue. “Where Are The Children?” (The New Yorker)
  • Oliver Sacks, on the late Spalding Gray: “The Catastrophe” (The New Yorker)
  • Luke Mogelson has a really funny piece of fiction, “Peacetime;” how is it possible that he can put on a reporter’s hat and write in-depth articles about ebola in Liberia and executions in Aleppo as well? (The New Yorker)
  • Ah, those were the days. Not really: I do look back at those early days after I ditched dial-up — and I gave full rein to my acquisitive, obsessive impulses with an almost-total disregard for creative labor — I hang my head in shame, and am disgusted at the time I wasted. And money: we’re talking spindles and spindles of CD-Rs and DVD-Rs. Stephen Witt, “The Man Who Broke the Music Business” (The New Yorker)


Weekend Reads, Mid-April Roundup.

In books, Uncategorized on April 19, 2015 at 12:11 pm
  • This is the second Jenny Xie story I’ve read, and I’ll be looking for more. “If You’re Reading This” (Devil’s Lake)
  • John Joseph Adams has a new anthology of military fantasy entitled Operation Arcana — not the sort of thing I read at all, but these three stories below are pretty damn entertaining:
  • Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane, an outlandish and exuberant gangster novel of sorts set in a gritty, wharf rat-ridden dystopian future, was my favorite read of 2011. There isn’t much in common with his story “Wifey Redux” (Electric Literature), from his short story collection Dark Lies the Island, except that they’re both hilariously crude and similarly drunk on words.
  • “To MFA is to bathe in Eskinol,” and other disobedient thoughts. Barbara Jane Reyes, “Ibagsak! Or, This Pinay’s Epistemology” (
  • I uploaded a photograph of my daughter in a dry riverbed in Austin to, and this is what I got.
  • My life for the past few months: “An Emotional Guide to Your Submittable Status” (The Masters Review)
  • An 2013 essay by Michael Robbins, whose poetry is both ridiculous and sublime: “A Poem for President Drone” (Los Angeles Review of Books)
  • And I would be remiss not to link to this profile of my dad by Clarissa David, “A Scientist’s Primer to Benito Vergara, National Scientist” (International Journal of Philippine Science and Technology)

Notes on Jeff VanderMeer’s “Authority” (2014).

In books on April 11, 2015 at 3:20 pm

So I was going to write something like “Unlike sandwiches, the middle part of a trilogy isn’t usually where the good stuff is; it doesn’t have the excitement of the setup of Part 1, nor the fireworks of Part 3,” but then I remembered how the whole Cuba section of The Godfather trilogy was in the second movie, and how the Battle of Helm’s Deep was also in the second Lord of the Rings movie/book, so I left the sentence alone. But Authority, the second part of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, is even better than its thrilling predecessor, Annihilation. Actually, “even better” is an understatement; I think I was planning to start this little blurb by writing “HOLY MOLEY” and decided against that too. Writing is iterative; what can I say.

I’m going to end up relying on a whole slew of lazy comparisons, as above, for the Southern Reach trilogy, not just out of sloth, but because VanderMeer, I think, is consciously employing various pop culture tropes to trace the outline of the trilogy’s central enigma. “Something” happened, but the precise nature of that happening — its dimensions, its parameters, its implications — aren’t fully revealed to the reader nor to its protagonists, and the reader, as part of the reading experience, pulls different possibilities together to try to make them fit. Is it the fungi from Yuggoth? The glass barrier from Under the Dome? That evil kudzu from The Ruins? A government experiment gone horribly wrong? In Authority, both aliens and multiverses are discussed offhandedly by the characters themselves — hey, I was wondering about those possibilities too — and the fact that their explanatory power seems so weak only deepens the mystery.

It seemed to me that Annihilation, on the surface, took its cues most directly from Lost: people with hidden agendas roughing it in nature (or is it Nature, with a capital N? “Nature” in scare quotes?); a sense of temporal and spatial dislocation; a shadowy Dharma Initiative-like organization; something, neither fish nor fowl, lurking in the woods; even a hole in the ground. But one significant difference is that sense of unease, a peculiarly terrestrial dread, all throughout, and it’s testament to VanderMeer’s powers that the reader, too, is unsettled by what the protagonist comes to know, and what she realizes she doesn’t know.

Authority is a different beast altogether, because this dread is evoked in a more, shall we say, existential fashion. The explorations of Area X from Annihilation are paralleled in the middle novel by a similar journey through familiar though arguably more disorienting terrain: the offices of the Southern Reach. VanderMeer weaves together an indelible portrait of bureaucracy — not the dystopian chaos of Brazil, but a terrifyingly banal wasteland of desks and hallways, and the modern discomforts of cafeterias and parking lots. (There is, for instance, a scene in a storage closet that’s both hilarious and genuinely creepy at the same time.) The fauna inhabiting Area X, it seems, are no odder than the Southern Reach characters themselves, who are as deliberately flat — and therefore uncanny — as the members of Annilhilation’s expedition. The offices are supposedly inhabited by employees, but in some respect the building is as abandoned as the lighthouse in Authority: both places as dead archives.

In this respect Authority’s pace is closer to the patient interrogation and parrying of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Authority’s protagonist is nicknamed, helpfully, Control, but his character is defined by how weakly he gets to wield it. In this respect he’s closer to the George Smiley character minus the sitting rooms and cups of tea, slowly uncovering the layers of sediment like an archaeologist to reveal some buried truth.

VanderMeer has a sharp eye for the minute negotiations and compromises of office politics, and how they’re played out in seemingly innocuous conversations. VanderMeer’s concerns from the first book, with ordinary language, with what words mean — with borders and barriers, intrusions and protrusions (tunnel or tower?) — and the afterlife of words come into sharper play here.

There’s a similar care and perceptiveness in how VanderMeer depicts interior lives. For a genre that has been characterized as more narrative-driven, both Annihilation and Authority spend a lot of time exploring psychological topographies, mapping out the emotional contours of his protagonists. And if all this sounds like a slog — like, why did VanderMeer apparently choose to grind the cliffhanger narrative to a halt? — I can assure you that the slowness, like a vine curling across a wall, will reward the patient reader.

Weekend Reads, First Week of April Edition.

In books, Uncategorized on April 4, 2015 at 3:59 pm

So the thing about these “Weekend Reads” — and mind you, I read through a lot of stuff all through the week, and these are already the gems — is that being able to read them wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t done two things: a) go on a strict social media diet, and b) uninstall all my games from my phone. At some point last year I finally figured out that writing time was a precious, precious commodity, and that I would sneak it in any chance I could.

Easier said than done, of course. But waking up way earlier, choosing a commute that actually optimizes writing time (the bus takes longer, but it’s more convenient,  I have a seat, which lets me type), etc. has worked well. It also lets me read. Distilling my personal leisure time — in contrast to leisure time with family and friends, that is — to the binary options of reading and writing feels satisfyingly primal. I’m cool with that right now.

I found it terribly easy, actually, to limit logging on to Facebook to once on the weekends, and just enough for a couple of vertical swipes, maybe three. (Twitter I abandoned long ago.) It’s a huge contrast to the former way I would refresh my News Feed hourly. You might say it was an addiction. I would see the same Buzzfeed links posted over and over, the endless photos of food, and so on, and somehow they never registered as noise. That recalibration of my priorities exposed them for what they were.

That said, I do miss that plunge into the quotidian, that quick peek at what my friends are up to, to see photos of my nephew and nieces. That out there births and deaths and celebrations and complaints and dinners and oversharing are happening, an endless scrolling flow of events and non-events — but there’s nothing wrong with finding out about them only once a week.

  • Games, on the other hand, are another story, and one I’ll leave for another post. But here are a couple of smart pieces on games: Byron Alexander Campbell, “The Allure of Allegory; or, a Case for Cardboard.” (Entropy)
  • And an appreciation of Will Wright’s SimCity, by Ian Bogost, “Video Games Are Better Without Characters.” (The Atlantic)
  • I love this story, and even though during my first read I wasn’t quite sure if the lab monkey aspect really worked, I began to appreciate how the constantly interrupting voice of the writing teacher functioned as the voice of the State, and God, and the Parent all at once, and what I thought was merely a clever but weak metaphor (the lab monkey) was now burnished with sadness. Angela Woodward, “Clarity.” (The Collagist)
  • “It is all dirt; it is a useless exercise!” Jim Melrose, “Mister Lucas’ Punishment” (Solstice)
  • “In this moment, the confusion of my whole life has receded. No one will ask me if I am white or Asian. No one will ask me if I am a man or a woman. No one will ask me why I love men.” Alexander Chee, “Girl” (Guernica)
  • Not a read, exactly: Kindle Cover Disasters
  • I’m linking to this piece with some amusement because I don’t necessarily sympathize with these poor, poor folks stuck at home. (Though I should add that my snark is tempered by the fact that it’s great that companies offer telecommute privileges, and so these folks may actually love being at home, as I would too because it frees up my weekend to do something other than the laundry, but one may also argue that temporary contractors aren’t even given office space and are expected to get their work done at some cafe with wifi, which stinks, etc.) But I do wish the article could have dug a little deeper about the lives of the delivery and cleaning people.  Lauren Smiley, “The Shut-In Economy” (Matter)
  • Here’s an excerpt from a forthcoming novel by Hari Kunzru and it looks pretty darn great; it reminds me of Ian MacDonald’s fantastic novel River of Gods. “Drone” (Granta)



Weekend Reads, Plus Some Thoughts on E-Books and MFAs.

In books, music on March 15, 2015 at 10:39 am
  • Barbara Jane Reyes on teaching America Is In The Heart and Dogeaters (
  • Marathons, not binge-watching. Rex Sorgatz on “How Netflix Broke the Unbreakable Spoiler Alert” (The Message)
  • “‘Is the Philippines trying to kill me?’ I ask.” Laurel Fantauzzo, in “The Animals in My Home” (The Rumpus)
  • Wattpad infographics, an essay by Laura Miller, Steven Soderbergh’s edits, One Direction, and where the Philippines ranks in all of this: a guide to fan fiction (Vulture)
  • “I was supposed to use this trip to grasp something essential about the U.S., perceive something with my foreign gaze that Americans couldn’t see for themselves. Instead, I saw nothing. I experienced nothing.” Karl Ove Knaussgard’s “My Saga, Part 2” (The Sunday New York Times Magazine). This is huge mainstream exposure for Knaussgard, though I doubt it’s going to inspire the casual reader to pick up My Struggle because of it.
  • So that rather mean-spirited Ryan Boudinot essay has had an unexpectedly protracted shelf life, and I think it partly comes from the cyclical nature of the debate, if it can be called such, on the utility of a Creative Writing MFA. I seem to recall a similar brouhaha a few years ago, and another before that. Some (okay, maybe two) of Boudinot’s observations do seem spot-on, like what he says about shelving early work, though I’m not sure how one actually learns to write if said early work remained in the stale air of the lonely garret in which it was composed. And what he writes about woefully unprepared graduate students can be extended to that whole extended playing-out of neuroses that is called graduate school life; there are “good” grad students, and “bad” grad students, who have different levels of commitment to doing the work, and I’m sure I was a mix of both when I was a young pup in grad school. Anyway, there are a couple of good pieces in Electric Literature, one by Adrian Van Young, and another written anonymously; the latter’s title is “How the MFA Glut Is a Disservice to Students, Teachers, and Writers,” which goes a long way to explain the writer’s refusal to be identified. I actually had no idea that there were programs out there with “nearly 100% admittance rates.” I’ve been following all this with interest because I occasionally wonder — ok, I confess the correct term is “fantasize” — about an MFA. Whether I can even get in, what I can do with the degree, how I would spend those two glorious years doing nothing but writing and reading. In practical terms anyway, the prospect of debt terrifies me, so going back to school is really off the table. (I was told by a writer who I hold with the highest esteem that I didn’t need an MFA, and she told me why. To this day I still count it as one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me; it’s one of the things that keeps my butt in this chair every day.)
  • Rick Moody and Scott Timberg have a fascinating and digressive conversation — actually, Timberg’s phrase is “a lively and grimly enjoyable conversation” — on Dylan, Sinatra, Swift (Taylor, not Jonathan), James (Richard D., not Henry), and the paradox of aesthetic relativism and its coexistence with some Platonic ideal of quality (The Rumpus)
  • Colson Whitehead on how the filmic vocabulary of the reality show “has become a limber metaphor for exploring our own real-world failures,” in “The ‘Loser Edit’ That Awaits Us All” (The New York Times). There’s a hazy bit of grad school theory that this reminds me of — Paul Ricoeur? Hayden White? something about “narrativity” and “emplotment” — but that was too long ago for me.
  • And finally, Robin Reader, “So What’s Up (and Down) with Ebooks?” (Dear Author). I link to this latter piece with some misgivings because my reaction to it has swung from “appalled because writers need to be paid, dammit” to “of course I wait for everything to go on sale” to recognizing my complicity in a $9.99 price point (and lower) for an e-book because I’ve been conditioned by all-you-can-eat forms of consumption (Netflix, Spotify, your local Sizzler — though I haven’t been inside one since maybe 1996). The article also recycles that old debate about the price of print books is justified because of the physicalness of it, its resale value, the fact that you can lend it, etc. — a perfectly legitimate reasoning — versus e-books are just electrons and bits that cost nothing to store or ship and they should by nature be cheaper. I totally get that, because the very bookness of the book — the smell, the tactility of the pages, and don’t get me started about how much I love deckle-edged pages, my god — is something you pay for too. But I’d like to think that the value of a book inheres less in its resellability or the physical space it occupies on a bookshelf, but more in the book’s content regardless of how it’s delivered to the reader. Surely buying an e-book for a few dollars more — or a print book for full price at my local indie bookstore — constitutes some form of support that returns to the author at some point. (The fuzziness of “at some point” is another problem altogether.) Odd though how some of the readers’ umbrage — $12.99 makes the blog entry writer “feel so disrespected and exploited” — is more likely to provoke a response like “Fine I won’t buy your book you greedy publisher / author you” versus “Guess that means I’ll just buy the paperback then.” That doesn’t really make sense to me.



Nick Cave, on Limitations

In music on March 6, 2015 at 11:05 pm

- Nick Cave, in Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days on Earth (2014)

I should post his quotation in context; he follows this up with:

For me, that’s where collaboration comes in. To take an idea that is blind and unformed and that has been hatched largely in solitude and allow these strange collaborator creatures that I work with to morph it into something else, something better, well, that’s really something to see.

Weekend Reads.

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2015 at 9:55 pm
  • Nominated for the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novelette, Kai Ashante Wilson’s fantastic “The Devil in America” (
  • “Justice in Ferguson is not a matter of ‘racism without racists,’ but racism with racists so secure, so proud, so brazen that they used their government emails to flaunt it.” From Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Gangsters of Ferguson” (The Atlantic)
  • “How a handful of pacifists and nuns exposed the vulnerability of America’s nuclear-weapons sites.” Eric Schlosser, “Break-in at Y-12” (The New Yorker)
  • And finally, Jennifer Boeder with “a cheat sheet to which you can refer any time you’re confronted with a Hall & Oates hater,” in “The Maneater Manifesto: Ten Reasons Why Hall & Oates Win” (Cuepoint)

Weekend Reads.

In books on March 1, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Or for the rest of the week. Some old, some new:

  • Hope you’re near a taqueria while you read this (and not just Chipotle): Jun-Dai Bates-Kobashigawa on burritos (Medium).
  • Erica Plouffe Lazure’s lovely flash fiction piece, “842 Dongba RD, 6-B, Chaoyang, Beijing, PRC“ (Cha)
  • Goldberry Long’s “The Kingdom of No.” (New Orleans Review)
  • “What if we had met when we were sixteen?” From Liz Greenhill’s “Paper Birds.” (The Rumpus)
  • “I’m so angry, I’m actually just peeing bees. If you’re wondering where all these bees came from? I have peed them into the world.” Chuck Wendig writes “An Open Letter to that Ex-MFA Creative Writing Teacher Dude” (Terrible Minds). You should probably read Ryan Boudinot’s original post first.
  • Carmen Maria Machado is so good. Check out “Descent.” (Nightmare)
  • “The former objects of our affection or rage or fascination are… absent and voiceless: we build their lives out of scraps we find online, like birds foraging for nests.” From Amanda Miska, “The (Online) Stories We Tell.” (The Rumpus)
  • For anyone who’s ever had trouble feeding kids, Joe Fassler’s “The Hand that Feeds” is for you. (Story)
  • And I figure you folks read Karl Ove Knausgaard blocking up his hotel toilet bowl in “My Saga, Part 1.” (The New York Times Sunday Magazine)



Emeryville, CA

In photos on February 2, 2015 at 3:50 pm


1. To be wanting; to fall short; to be or become deficient in any measure or degree up to total absence; to cease to be furnished in the usual or expected manner, or to be altogether cut off from supply; to be lacking; as, streams fail; crops fail.

As the waters fail from the sea. Job xiv. 11.

From Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1828 Edition.


A Few of My Favorite Things, 2014 Edition.

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Man where did the time go. It’s almost 2015 and I’m a year older.

It’s been a good year. I spent the last third of the year angry and anxious, though I’m feeling a lot better now. The other two-thirds were a blur. Changed my job and moved to another department. Celebrated my dad’s 80th. Celebrated my daughter’s 13th. Made some headway in my Project Management classes. Lost weight. Got into an awesome writing workshop with awesome writers. Ate a lot of homemade lunches and dinners. Started the year by meditating daily but that didn’t work. Besides, my asawa and dog kept me sane.

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Notes on Gary Lutz’s “Stories in the Worst Way”

In books on January 15, 2014 at 10:31 pm

A summary wouldn’t do this collection of varieties of domestic disturbance any justice, and of course a parody, as tempting as that might be, would be impossible to do right. To read Lutz is to enter an unfamiliar world tinged uncomfortably with the real. Or more prosaically, the other way around: a real world that’s just… off. Kinked, somehow. Read the rest of this entry »

On Van Halen’s “1984.”

In music on January 10, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Yesterday (January 9), Van Halen’s 1984 album turned 30 years old.

Read the rest of this entry »

On Jeff Smith and Tom Sniegoski’s “Bone: Tall Tales”

In books on January 7, 2014 at 8:26 pm

I’m coming to this stellar collection rather late. I read Bone when it was coming out in comic book form — I started a little late, but I was picking it up regularly in the early ’90s — and became a huge fan of the title, even tracking down a copy of Disney Adventures when one of the rat-tails stories made an appearance. When my daughter was born about a decade later, figures of the Bone cousins looked down on her crib from the bookshelf above. (Ok, maybe not literally — like I’d have books right over her bed.) Read the rest of this entry »

Notes on “Breaking Bad: I Am The Danger”

In books on December 28, 2013 at 3:03 pm

For some reason I had the mistaken impression that it was going to be a coffee table book, i.e., the perfect thing to ask my wife for my birthday, but Breaking Bad: I Am The Danger turns out to be more of an expensive stocking stuffer. It’s really the sort of gift “book” they keep next to the register with those pocket-sized collections of Zen proverbs or blank books or LOLCat photos.

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13. Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era.

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2013 at 7:46 pm

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Notes on Thomas Tryon’s “The Other”

In books on December 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm

The oddest thing happened while I was reading this book. Two-thirds of the way through, I realized I had read it before. Read the rest of this entry »

12. Fame-Throwa.

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2013 at 12:39 pm

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A Few of My Favorite Things, 2013.

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 at 10:04 pm


This was a year of many great things (getting married! adding a furry canine to our family!), but thought I’d come up with a list of other favorite things in 2013. Here they are, in mostly alphabetical order:

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Lessons Learned.

In Uncategorized on November 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I haven’t posted in a few days, so I thought I’d step back and think about why, and what I’m getting out of this supposedly month-long writing exercise. (You might say it’s also an attempt to hack / semi-quantify my writing productivity; what’s working, what isn’t, when my squirrel mind is most receptive to flashes of insight, etc.)

The idea was to write 26 short pieces, each one after a Pavement song title. Easier said than done already, but the main twist was that I had to come up with one a day, like a multivitamin, and post it on the blog.

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11. Perfume-V

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2013 at 11:10 pm

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10. Two States

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2013 at 5:48 pm

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9. Here

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2013 at 11:21 pm

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8. Loretta’s Scars

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2013 at 11:19 pm

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7. Chesley’s Little Wrists

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2013 at 10:34 am

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6. Zurich Is Stained

In Uncategorized on November 6, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Driving around late at night after the show and maybe I’m a little fucked up still and I’m thinking to myself, Christ sometimes I wish I still lived in this city. Old haunts do that to you.

Up Hayes, cruising down Divisadero, then down Oak like a vein.

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5. Conduit for Sale!

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Once there was a tiny baby who flew.

It flew over fields of sorghum and chicken coops. It flew over tugboats and mountain peaks. It flew over people drinking their morning coffee and people climbing rocks. Then the tiny baby finally landed — with a soft thud of course — on a stained mattress sitting all higgledy-piggledy in a junkyard.

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4. In the Mouth a Desert

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2013 at 10:09 pm

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3. No Life Singed Her

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2013 at 9:09 pm

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2. Trigger Cut / Wounded Kite at :17

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2013 at 6:25 pm

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1. Summer Babe (Winter Version)

In Uncategorized on November 1, 2013 at 5:55 pm

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H.P. Lovecraft, Private Eye.

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Trouble slinked like silk stockings into my life, and I didn’t even know her name. I smelled her perfume in the hallway before I saw her silhouette through the frosted glass of my office door. Already I felt a twinge. In this business a man learns the good from the bad but doesn’t always have the sense to stay away from either.

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Crazy Writing Project, Iteration 2.

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2013 at 8:30 pm

After much deliberation — actually, it was a generous succession of free drink tickets and a flight of domestic bourbons at The Whiskey Priest which decided it for me — I’ve finally figured out what I’m doing for NaNoWriMo. Not an insane 1600-odd words a day though, but a more manageable stop-when-it-looks-kinda-right daily routine thing. (First time I tried it, with a piece based on Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” I stopped at around 600-odd words.)

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Tiny Dancer

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2013 at 5:53 pm

He had saved the bathroom vanity table for last. After clearing out her side of the closet, her few books, her knickknacks in the living room that he always thought was clutter. After the hospital, after the doctors, after the roses falling on wet earth, after the quick kisses on the cheek from the grandnephews and grandnieces, after the pats on the back, after the whispered murmurs of consolation, after the departures and farewells, after everything.

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I Found Myself A Crazy Writing Project!

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm

I had no plans to do NaNoWriMo this year. I have legitimate excuses, all work-related. (I should add that these are all career-development-related classes and projects that I am genuinely beginning to geek out on, so it’s ok.)

But the other day I did think of a possible lower-impact project to keep me occupied next month, in solidarity with all the other writers. The idea was to write short pieces, none over a thousand words, prompted by song titles. Just something silly and dashed off, or maybe if I put more structure on it, possibly flash fiction, though it’s something I’ve never done.

I didn’t think I could quite commit to anything, though, until this flash fiction challenge arrived in my mailbox today.

It’s a sign. Not from heaven, but from someone even better (Chuck Wendig!).

It’s not a hint. This is the equivalent of a giant sticky finger of an Elder God materializing from the depths of the rivers of Yuggoth and writing on the wall above my computer.

So, my basic rule:

One piece a day (is that possible?), published on the blog.

Gulp. Can I do it? Two years ago, as warmup for NaNoWriMo, I posted a movie review for each day in the month of October. That wasn’t too hard, except for the fact that I had to watch something every day as well. (I cheated on some days and wrote about a Kylie Minogue video instead.)

My song criteria:

The songs wouldn’t be random. I thought it would be good to use a pre-defined list, in a particular order, as part of the project’s constraints.

Here comes the hard part.

  • Guided By Voices’ Alien Lanes album has 28 songs.
  • I thought long and hard about it, but there was no way I could write a story entitled “Stairway to Heaven.” Or “Living Loving Maid.”
  • I love the Beatles too, but I’d start getting sick thinking of stories to go with “And I Love Her” and “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
  • The Billboard Hot 100 number one songs of 1973, 1983 and 1993. I think this experiment will fail starting with “Crocodile Rock.”
  • Come to think of it, “William, It Was Really Nothing” already sounds like a Raymond Carver title.
  • The first four Black Sabbath albums have about 32 songs. Hmm.

I’ll get back to you folks about this. In the meantime, let me see if I can even pull one song-story combo off.

What I Miss.

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2013 at 10:41 pm

I miss the days when people used to blog.

I miss blog entries that were small snapshots of people’s ordinary lives.

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On Gerald Brittle’s “The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren”

In books on September 7, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s nothing like a “Based on a true story” message at the start of a movie that drives a horror fan to Wikipedia afterwards. I’m guessing that I can’t be the only one who came to this book after watching James Wan’s The Conjuring, and the truth is that I picked up the book to be entertained — more specifically, to be scared. (Ed Warren may argue that this makes me a more inviting candidate for demon visitation, or a more innocent spirit manifestation, but at least I have better weapons now.) The Demonologist is touted as a reference book for exorcists-in-training, and you can’t get more authoritative than that — provided, of course, you give credence to the preternatural in the first place.

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On Zoran Drvenkar’s “Sorry” (2009).

In books on August 17, 2013 at 3:16 pm

A friendly warning to those who sampled the first chapters of Zoran Drvenkar’s Sorry on Kindle and thought the prologue was merely cartoonishly gory, in the hee-hee-that’s-gotta-hurt-as-you-dig-into-the-bucket-for-more-popcorn Hostel-like vein: the novel gets progressively disturbing and repugnant, in ways that get under your skin. I don’t mean that as an (appropriate) pun either; the crime that precipitates the narrative is set up to be deliberately nasty.

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On David Peace’s “Nineteen Seventy-Seven.”

In books on July 27, 2013 at 11:52 am

Deeply unpleasant but ultimately satisfying read. I can’t imagine that folks would go straight to Nineteen Seventy-Seven without reading Nineteen Seventy-Four first, so prospective readers would already be familiar with Peace prose:

The clipped, staccato rhythms.

Hypnotic in their repetition.

In their repetition.

The refusal to connect the narrative dots for the reader.

Words spat out like bullets from a machine gun etc.

Unpleasant: the torrents of profanity, the racism and misogyny, not to mention explicit violence, are relentless and punishing and not for the squeamish.

But satisfying: it’s nonetheless a hell of a page-turning read. Peace packs tension in between the lines, even in the most ordinary sequences (like in the many scenes of copious drinking). The reader’s patience for the damaged and obsessive protagonists is arguably tested by their tendency towards melodramatic torment — there’s an awful lot of drunken tears and suicidal self-pity, even more than characters in a James Ellroy novel — but the book on the whole is well worth the effort. Just don’t be surprised if you want to start viewing cute puppy videos on YouTube after reading the book just to shake the bleakness and grime off.

On James S.A. Corey’s “Leviathan Wakes.”

In books on July 27, 2013 at 11:49 am

And so my genre novel summer reading fest continues… Engrossing, highly readable old-school space opera, like Battlestar Galactica on the printed page. Best part is its cross-pollination with noir, namely, a rumpled, washed-up cop protagonist haunted by old cases and a woman. Not quite the intricate universe-building novel I was expecting — we keep being informed that things of massive planet-shaking historical importance are happening, but it all seems so distant — and the prose can be repetitive and clunky at times (count how many times characters “say something obscene”), but fans looking for laser and torpedo action and complex intergalactic rivalry should check this out.

On Scott Heim’s “The First Time I Heard The Smiths.”

In music on October 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm

What a great name for a series — it’s an announcement and, at the same time, a question to the reader: what was your first time like? I must have encountered the Smiths as the last song on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack (the wonderfully maudlin “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”) or by way of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” played on NU 107, a Manila-based FM radio station that specialized exclusively in the alt-radio format and forever changed my life.
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On Zadie Smith’s “NW.”

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2012 at 3:30 am

Both sweeping (in the chaotic breadth of its narrative) and exquisitely detailed (an extended sequence between two characters negotiating the price of a used car, for instance, has the reader hanging at every word), NW is an engrossing, electric, read.

What Smith does here with language is wonderful; it’s random, fragmentary, stream-of-consciousness. Not “postmodern” — though the novel is partly about that dizzying, interconnected, overstimulated chaos of our 21st-century lives, tethered to our mobile devices — it’s perhaps, more quaintly, modern. Joycean is the quickest, perhaps cliched, descriptor to mind, Smith popping into the heads of her characters, lonely flaneurs all, as they wind their way, through the council flats and streets of northwest London. The prose may not work for everyone; there’s a whiff of brash, first-draft-out-of-M.F.A.-school, experimentation (and to be clear, I’m implying nothing pejorative here), but when was the last time you saw established writers still willing to take these sorts of risks?

Also crossposted on Goodreads.

On Alex Gilvarry’s “From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant”

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Some notes on Alex Gilvarry’s From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant:

1. First of all: the sheer chutzpah, to write a comedy about Guantanamo. But comedy it is: Boyet (Boy) Hernandez, just-off-the-jet fashion designer from the Philippines and armed with a degree from the Fashion Institute of Makati; landing wide-eyed and hungry in New York to get the “dollar dollar bill y’all;” roaming through an underworld filled with exotic models, Williamsburg hipsters, and bad performance art; then, in a narrative shift worthy of a comedy of (t)errors, arrested and spirited away to Guantanamo as a “fashion terrorist.” A comedy set in Guantanamo is too soon, one might say, but as the detention camp just celebrated its tenth birthday, one may argue that remembering it is not soon enough.
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My Favorite Albums of 2011.

In music on December 21, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Heard any exciting new music this year? I mean, genuinely exciting, can’t-wait-to-tell-everyone-about-it music?

My friend Jane and I were talking the other day about how this year* seemed to be a particularly bland one for music. Is it the recession? The splintering of musical audiences? Or was everyone waiting for the holiday season to release their good music, the way movie studios release their Oscar hopefuls close to the winter holidays?

In a separate conversation, my friend Jens and I also wondered if it was because there was too much access to too much music in general. Back in the day, I’d play Remain in Light and The Joshua Tree and Wish You Were Here and Synchronicity and The Head on the Door and Hatful of Hollow over and over because those were all I could afford on a high schooler’s allowance, and those became, by default, the albums I was most excited about. Now, every musical obscurity could practically be had for free on the internet, each new release streamed on demand.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.

But really, what is going on? For the last few years now, Pitchfork seems to be hyping one unGoogleable band from Brooklyn after another, their music interchangeable and forgettable. I look at the lineup of the shows at the Independent and I don’t recognize half of the bands anymore.

The other month I preordered a bunch of fall albums from bands/singers I love — Wilco, Tom Waits, Bjork** — and realized I couldn’t even remember a single track from their previous albums. And that goes for my highly anticipated releases this year that I should have loved: The King of Limbs? Gloss Drop? Stone Rollin’? Let England Shake? Cannibal Courtship? Watch the Throne? They’re all from folks I love, in varying degrees (Radiohead, Battles, Raphael Saadiq, PJ Harvey, Dengue Fever, and Jay-Z / Kanye West, respectively), and the albums aren’t dull or bad by any means, but they suffer from the affliction of being merely… okay. (Back in the day I thought Polly Jean Harvey and Bjork were these two twin goddesses of music, but only recently I realized that their really good albums — and I mean really good — were released in 1995 and 1997 respectively.)

Nonetheless, there were numerous bright spots in 2011, and I’m happy to share what tickled my ears this year. Here they are in no particular order, with a Spotify playlist to accompany your reading.

Read the rest of this entry »

FilBookFest Events.

In Pinoy on September 28, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I’m absolutely thrilled to be reading with some fantastic writers this weekend as part of the Filipino American International Book Festival in San Francisco.

First off, I’ll be reading at Eastwind Books in Berkeley on September 29 (that’s tomorrow, Thursday) for an event entitled The Places We Call Home, with a killer cast of folks (in alphabetical order): Oscar Bermeo, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Rashaan Alexis Meneses, Veronica Montes, and Barbara Jane Reyes. I’ll be reading an excerpt from a non-fiction piece about growing up in my Philippine hometown of Los Banos, Laguna, which will be a first for me. (Another first: reading with all these fine people.)

The Places We Call Home

Sept. 29, 2011

Eastwind Books of Berkeley

2066 University Ave.

Berkeley, CA 94704

Next, I’ll be reading at Koret Auditorium at the lower level of the San Francisco Public Library on October 1, Saturday, for a FilBookFest event entitled Hot off the Press, where I get to read an eight-minute excerpt from my novel in progress. I expect this to be rapid-fire, flash-fictiony, haul-you-off-the-stage-if-you-go-over-the-time-limit stuff. I don’t think I’ll be able to kick the very tall Rafe Bartholomew off the stage (he’s reading right before me) so I leave that up to Veronica, who’s moderating the event.

Hot off the Press

Oct. 1, 2011

Koret Auditorium

San Francisco Public Library

100 Larkin St.

San Francisco, CA  94102

And I’ll also be signing books! I’ll be at the Philippine Expressions Bookshop booth on Saturday at 1:45 (right after the reading above), and at the Philippine American Writers and Artists booth on Sunday, Oct. 2nd. All the booths will be out on Fulton Street, at the Civic Center.

My latest book, Pinoy Capital: The Filipino Nation in Daly City will be for sale at both the Philippine Expressions and Eastwind booths, and if you have a hard-to-find copy of Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th-Century Philippines, I’ll sign it too. (Or just come by and say “hello!”)

Day 4: Kill Your Darlings.

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2011 at 9:04 pm
The Parking Lot.

The parking lot. I think that may actually be Anne Lamott in the foreground.

I’m loving the mix of people here. There are teachers, there are MFA students, there are retirees, there are folks like me with day jobs that have nothing to do with their writing.

One great thing about the workshop: no name tags. (You can figure out who the writers are by the familiar way they hug each other.) That snootiness I experience with strangers at (ahem) anthropology conferences — people in the hallway drop their eyes to your name tag, realize you’re a nobody, and walk on — doesn’t seem to exist here.

And can I say that these were the nicest people? Of course, I may have been lucky this year, but this was surely the warmest bunch of (then-) strangers I’d ever met at a conference. And I suspect it had a lot to do with the very nature of the conference and its organizers (although of course these participants were special too): laid-back, supportive, excited, friendly. It’s difficult to be shy when people are so welcoming, and soon you find yourself easily going up to other strangers and introducing yourself. The eagerness is infectious.

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Day 3: The Literary Liquor Store.

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2011 at 11:09 pm
Squaw Valley Mountains

Mountain + trees + stream: I saw this view about six times a day.

The clerk at the literary liquor store looked at us fiction writers and shook his head. All seven of us were at the register and between us we had only a measly couple of six-packs and a flask-sized Jim Beam.

“The poets drank waaaayyyy more than you folks,” he said, referring to the poetry workshop the week before. Indeed we had heard tales of drunk driving and general inebriation; whether this was conduct unbecoming a poet wasn’t clear. “They certainly bought more hard liquor,” he said. The clerk took our money and counted our bills. He still shook his head. “This is kind of sad.”

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Day 2: Would You Like Some Tea? I Would Love Some Tea!

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2011 at 11:32 pm

The view from my balcony.

Our first real day of workshop — and that photo above really was what greeted me first thing in the morning — is led by Karen Joy Fowler. She’s fantastic; I love her work, and happily direct you, dear reader, to What I Didn’t See, her alternately harrowing and enchanting new collection of stories. She’s even better in person: wise, funny and totally candid, especially (ulp!) about rejections. If I remember correctly, it was Sarah Canary that was rejected 20-plus times until it finally found its way into the right hands. (Later, Fowler also does one of the best readings of the day, from an upcoming novel: a hilarious and tense face-off in a high school cafeteria.)

We’re off to a good start: a couple of science-fiction pieces — one set way off (Fowler said it was too way off) in the future, another the beginning of a post-apocalyptic saga that starts in the Salton Sea. I dig the fact that one’s a social worker and another’s a lawyer — again, regular folks like me. “Too many adjectives,” the class practically agreed about the latter piece, except that I didn’t. In my head I figure they’ll all slam my piece later for being overwritten and hyperbolic.

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Day 1: Jitters in the Valley.

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm

The view from my daily workshop session.

So I landed in Reno tired, my eyes red from lack of sleep, lungs breathing in stale cabin air all the way, and I have the jitters. I’m anxious and my nerves are jangly, but it’s not because of the din and jingle of the slot machines by the luggage carousels. I’m not jittery because of the long roundabout trip, free courtesy of Southwest — Oakland to Los Angeles to Reno — or because of the even longer trip I did just 24 hours before (Oakland to Austin to Los Angeles and back to Oakland 12 hours later, just to drop off my daughter). I’m anxious because this is my very first writers’ workshop and I’m in the presence of real writers.

A bunch of us workshop participants are being picked up at the airport and so I click on the link in the email signature of one of the participants. (Let’s give her a pseudonym, like, uh, Janet.) Janet is already published all over the place: PANK! Storyglossia! Jitters, yes? I suppose it’s illustrative of my mindset — much of which I’ve already explored elsewhere — that my first nervous thought wasn’t “Wow, I’m in the company of these people!” but “Crap, what do I have to say to these writers?”

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Thoughts on Blogging, Engagement (and Google Plus).

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 at 8:57 am

Back in the early 2000s, one of my fonder blog-related memories was being part of an adobo blog-a-thon, back when I was getting my feet wet in blogging. The idea was that different bloggers would write something, anything, about adobo — a short essay, a recipe, even fiction or poetry if it moved them — with the different links to each other’s blogs. It was fun, even exciting, and I felt linked to this community somehow, imagining other writers I barely knew (and now I know some of them pretty well) at their keyboards, crafting their pieces and pressing the Send button simultaneously, our humble digital testaments to this culinary and ethnic connection.

Eight years later, in 2011, I can’t imagine myself being part of something like that anymore. It’s not because I’ve become indifferent to such communal endeavors; it’s mostly because I just don’t have much time. But it’s also because there’s been a shift, on my part, in the substance and mechanics of content creation and how people engage with this. In short, I think my “writing,” in all senses of the word, changed because these writing forums themselves changed as well.
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Shameless Self-Promotion.

In Pinoy, Uncategorized on July 12, 2011 at 12:53 am

Not so long ago I was talking with some academics (or some writers, I can’t remember), and the conversation turned to another writer (or academic, I can’t remember) who was — make your choice:

  • Getting invited everywhere
  • Getting all the editing/teaching gigs
  • Getting published everywhere
  • Et cetera

And then someone said:

Well — that’s because she’s one of those.

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Getting Serious.

In Pinoy on June 14, 2011 at 12:26 am
displaying filipinos manuscript

From the first draft of "Displaying Filipinos," summer 1992

There’s a pile of paper propped up next to my desk. They’re multiple copies of a chapter entitled “Arnold Schwarzenegger,” and it’s about a philandering businessman stuck in traffic as his long-suffering driver tries to navigate their SUV out of Manila and into the provinces. These copies are from my classmates, from a writing class that ended about a couple of months ago. Some of the feedback, like the ones from my teacher, are line-by-line edits, complete with single-spaced, typewritten advice, and those are invaluable. Some comments from my classmates are mere scribbles in the margins, checkmarks and instances of “not clear” and “nice!” but those are okay too.

I still haven’t incorporated any of the revisions into the draft in my desktop, and that’s not okay at all. I’ve read the comments, of course, but they lie there untransmuted, unconverted into kinetic energy. I have many excuses, ready to be fished out in case I have to answer to authority: work, the need to write a more workable ending first, work, tiredness in the evenings, work, my doubts whether the manuscript is any good, work, the nagging sense that I have to exercise which I don’t do anyway, work, and so on. But the only authority figure here is me.

And none of these are legitimate excuses, according to Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work. The book — until recently a free download from — is a great kick in the butt, with passages I simply had to highlight and read aloud to my girlfriend. But in certain ways the book also assumes a fairly level playing field, a sentiment I don’t always agree with, and its tough motivational advice won’t be new to folks who’ve read, say, Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! Pressfield’s main argument is all in the title — one has to do the work — and anything that prevents you from doing that act of creation (the book is also both New Age-y and Chaos Magick-y), anything that holds you back is the enemy. (Pressfield, who refers to the enemy in blatantly martial terms, argues it’s almost always inside you.) It’s the dark side, the Jungian shadow, the dragon that you must slay. Do the Work also argues that the only real and right reason to do this work is not because of riches or fame or that one has to prove anything to friends and family; it’s because one has no choice.

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On R. Zamora Linmark’s “Leche.”

In Pinoy on May 16, 2011 at 5:26 pm

There’s no reason why R. Zamora Linmark shouldn’t shoot for the Great Philippine Novel in his ambitious and wide-ranging new book, Leche, even if it’s told from the perspective of a balikbayan, returning to the Philippines after 13 years. The fact that there may be anywhere from 8.2 to 11 million Filipinos overseas – about 10 percent of the Filipino population – surely makes it an “authentic” Filipino stance from which to write. Two of the greatest chroniclers of the Filipino experience, N.V.M. Gonzalez and Bienvenido Santos, wrote from this same vantage point of in-betweenness, after all. Part linear journey of discovery, part fractured travelogue and history lesson, Leche brilliantly milks (ahem) those forms. (Yes, I can get away with that pun because I’m Filipino — see more below.)

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NaNoWriMo Random Excerpt of Crap #8.

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2010 at 3:49 pm

And so it ends, this experiment in kicking procrastination in the ass. 50,000 words in 29 days. Not a bad thing, considering the fact that I have zero experience in writing fiction and that I started this project with no outline or any real plot. I came up with the one-sentence plot summary only the week before NaNoWriMo began. In that sense it’s not really about procrastination, but simply a way to see if I could actually do it. Guess I’m crossing that off my list now. (I’m also turning 40 in a couple of weeks, and so a novel seemed like a perfect birthday present to myself.)

The story, as it stands, is about a minor catastrophe that occurs in the Philippines: one day, a random bunch of people wake up and discover they are turning into Hollywood celebrities. Something of a disaster, one might argue. The guy I happened to sit next to on a plane a couple of weeks ago said that it reminded him of “The Metamorphosis,” only that this involved “a different kind of grotesque.” The fun thing about this transformation was that it wasn’t exactly a disease; why bother looking for a cure when one could, conceivably, not mind looking like George Clooney?

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NaNoWriMo Random Excerpt of Crap #7.

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2010 at 9:22 am

So I realized that if I created a one-time character that seemed like he was on, say, amphetamines, and had seen a lot of, say, David Mamet plays, he would talk a lot, and I mean a lot, without having to really engage in dialogue. A great way of increasing your word count, plus he seemed like a good vehicle for some (obviously wrong-headed) ideas to put out there:

— Know what I think? Want to know what I think? I think this is the very… Pol pauses, thinking of the right word in Tagalog. — This is the very fruition of this history, our history. It has all led up to this. You and me, sitting right here. Right here. I think maybe that’s why we were chosen, for the changes, you know? Not happening to anyone else. We were chosen. You were chosen, Pol says, jabbing a finger in Tom Cruise’s direction. — Right? We read in English, we speak English, we write in English. That makes us more adaptable than anyone else. Only learning Tagalog or whatever, that’s what will make us a stunted nation. This is why we get to work all over the world, on cruise ships and ocean liners and restaurants and in Saudi, know what I mean? Because we can speak English. That’s how we got into the Navy in the first place. Because people could give us orders and we could follow them properly. Tagalog doesn’t earn you any money. Tell me of one industry, one profession, anywhere, where speaking Tagalog is an advantage. Just one. Tell me. I can’t think of any. It pulls you down if you ask me. It pulls you down if that’s all you know.

— You have to see the big picture though. What I’m saying is, this may all sound like some horrible disadvantage. Like the Americans and the Japanese and the Spaniards before them came and messed us up. But I can say that we can turn this into some sort of advantage. Advantages and disadvantages again. Turn the disadvantage into an advantage. Pol puts his hands together in a clasp, moves them from left to right. — Turn the disadvantage. Pol moves his hands to the right. — Into an advantage. See what I mean, huh? They may have messed us up, taken our land, polluted our rivers. But you got to think of it this way. It’s not a disadvantage, it’s an advantage. They can’t take our natural resources whatever they do. Our natural resources are our mind. It’s our mind. We must never forget that. It’s inside you, this gift, this gift of the Filipino mind. Forget this sky, forget the trees, all that stuff. Global warming will kill us all eventually, know what I’m saying? Let your kid watch cartoons all day. That will sharpen his mind, teach him better English. It’s our mind, our ingenuity that makes sense, that makes us better people. That capacity to speak English. All these people close their eyes, listen to us speak, and can’t tell us from the real thing. My god, it’s because we speak English in our sleep. We dream in English. We dream in English.

NaNoWriMo Random Excerpt of Crap #6.

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2010 at 11:39 am

Also from the same chapter excerpted in the previous post.

You might be wondering what all this is about, come to think of it. The novel, American Idols, is about a call-center employee in the Philippines who wakes up one day and discovers he is turning into Tom Cruise. Here he is at work:

Tom Cruise clears his throat. He is still on mute. Slowly Tom Cruise practices his vowels, stretching them out as long as he can.

Baaaaaseball. In Tom Cruise’s head: Not besbol.

The accents did not come naturally. Tom Cruise had to loosen his tongue, to unlearn years of speech.

Baaaaaaaat. Tom Cruise’s mouth makes a rectangle. Filipinos usually pronounce it closer to But.

He remembers being laughed at by some members of the class when he pronounced the word Salmon with a short A and the letter L, lingering and tucked inside the word.

Peeeeeeetsuh. Not picha like his father used to say. — Tonight we’ll eat some picha pie, Tom Cruise hears his father speak in his head.

Tom Cruise had asked his wife in the morning at the dinner table how Salmon was pronounced and Delphine quickly replied. — With a silent L, she said.

Faaaaaashion. Not pasyon.

Delphine did not know it was a long A either. — Not saaamon? She asked.

Boooooowling. Not balling.

— Salmon, Tom Cruise said properly. — With a long A. It was a fish he had neither tasted nor seen.

Fuhluhpeeeeeenooooow. Not Feeleepeeno.

— Salmon, Tom Cruise tells himself. — Salmon.

— American English is all about exaggerated vowels, he tells himself. AmSpeak is about exaggeration.

You are American, Tom Cruise tells himself to psych himself up. You are American. You are one of them. You are American. Not Fuhluhpeeeeeenooooow.

Tom Cruise logs on and watches the queue fill up with American names.

Time to perform.

NaNoWriMo Random Excerpt of Crap #5.

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Ahem. Bet you can’t come up with a metaphor as bad as the one in the first sentence!

Night, bringing no relief, spreads across Manila like a washcloth from a Chinese restaurant: hot, damp and redolent of chemicals. This is when the polluted sky boils an angry and beautiful crimson orange, as if to reward the city’s patient and sweltering residents with the generosity of a view at the end of a long day. The chemicals, naturally, flow untrammeled from the buses and cars and jeepneys idling in perpetuity on the highways and streets of the city. The evening displays the lethal beauty of particulates and carcinogens, deceptive in their psychedelic glory as they hang in the twilit sky. The heat and humidity is simply par for the course. It comes with the territory.

The cinematic image of Manila, as far as the few films that have been internationally distributed go, is that of a sense of illicitness, the tempting whiff of corruption: of deals going down in the dark, of alleys and back rooms, of whispers and negotiations, of secret indulgences and pleasures. For Tom Cruise and others like him when the sun goes down it is merely the start of a long, drawn-out day of work: tedium and spreadsheets and admin tools and the constant din of angry and bewildered customers.

NaNoWriMo Random Excerpt of Crap #4.

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2010 at 6:12 pm

And this is from the fourth chapter (not Chapter Four, because this occurs much later in the story). Note that I used the song’s refrain to cheat a bit.

At the fifty-eighth second of the video for the song “Single Ladies,” Beyoncé Knowles performs a series of pelvic thrusts that have the holy motive power of the Lord God behind them. Her stilettoed feet spread wide apart, Beyoncé Knowles pushes herself aggressively back and forth into the air, but her hips similarly describe circles at the same time. It is a feat that is only a little short of miraculous, since she starts lowering her body closer and closer to the floor while all of this is happening.

It is this particularly complicated dance move that is giving Beyoncé Knowles and the choreographer, Mark, a headache. Tita Mark, as everyone calls him, swipes the blue bandanna off his neck, wipes his forehead with it in frustration and calls a halt to the rehearsal again.

Under the blazing klieg lights, Beyoncé Knowles sweats. Her asymmetrical leotard, borrowed from some dancer in the costume department, is crawling up the cleft of her ass and she pulls at it. She is a natural lefty but Beyoncé Knowles uses her right hand instead to tug at her butt because her left arm is currently encased in an unwieldy gauntlet painted to look like silver. The guys from the props department, generally underused, have also helpfully provided an engagement ring with an enormous fake diamond chipped off a plastic magic wand from a fantasy soap opera filming in the next studio over. The ring is a little too large and threatens to slip off at any moment. Her head hurts because all she hears is

Woah oh oh

Woah oh oh oh oh oh

Woah oh oh

NaNoWriMo Random Excerpt of Crap #3.

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2010 at 10:35 pm

It occurs to me that the novel is partly “inspired” by Talking Heads’ two greatest albums, Fear of Music and Remain in Light. No connection to what’s excerpted below though.

From Chapter 3, in which I kill one of my more interesting characters, which may not be a good move.

Ext.: steam rising from a destroyed radiator obscuring the green mountains beyond the freeway. The camera does a slow pan along the slick black oil on the road and the underside of the chassis and the brand new treads still slowly spinning and they come to a non-ironic halt.

Cut to: The driver’s door, large dent along the side, the muffled sound of kicking from the inside. It opens with a creak and it scrapes along the spilled gravel from the truck. Mang Kaloy emerges, a gash on his forehead, dazed. He puts a bloody hand to his side, clutching his ribs, looks around.

Cut to: A slowly widening shot as the camera pulls back, revealing the truck that has wandered roughly into the opposite side of the freeway, the gravel from the truck bed scattered in random piles on the grassy median and on the concrete. Mang Kaloy in the center of the shot as he turns around slowly. The vehicles on both sides have stopped, their drivers aghast and curious and horny for vehicular accident porn. There but for the grace of god and all. No soundtrack, just the ambient hum of the highway and the maya bird singing non-ironically in the trees.

NaNoWriMo Random Excerpt of Crap #2.

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2010 at 8:42 am

For a long time I was debating whether to write a serial killer / science-fiction hybrid thingie — certain groups of people (I called them Mimics) were dying mysteriously, and this hard-boiled detective and a geeky hacker was going to join forces and hunt down the villain, which was this mysterious man who lived in the slums of Manila and had uploaded a virus onto the net. And then I thought, well maybe the Mimics were actually avatar-type creatures made of code, and therefore they could be infected by a software virus. That whole idea didn’t last very long, so the story’s completely different now. (A friend commented that he could imagine the pitch: “It’s Slumdog Millionaire meets The Matrix meets Blade Runner meets Macho Dancer.”)

Anyway, what used to be called Mimics is now American Idols.

From Chapter Two:

In the morning Brian will be awake before everyone else and will have burnt the pan de sal in the toaster oven and will be watching his Japanese robot cartoons. Delphine remembers watching similar cartoons with her older brothers when she was a little girl. Then President Marcos, in a dictatorial snit, cancels everything. Delphine’s mother tells her it is because the President was worried about children neglecting their homework and that discipline was what was needed for this country to progress upward and onward. Later the President would come for the video games, the arcades shuttered and padlocked. An entire generation of children, robbed of digital pleasure and prowess. Delphine’s brother wailed when he realized his robot cartoon was gone, erased from the airwaves by presidential fiat. Still they sat at 6 p.m. in front of the Radiowealth television set with the sliding wooden cabinet and waited in futility. Commercial after commercial and still no robots. Delphine turns the plastic knob to a different channel to make sure. Still no robots, and then finally their mother calls them to dinner. They have taken advantage of the disappearance of the robot cartoons to eat earlier from now on. She will never know what happened to Koji Kobuto, to the fey villain with the scar, to their lost scientist father. She is mixing up the cartoons now. She remembers that one of the robots had breasts which were also missiles. Delphine smiles in the dark.

NaNoWriMo Random Excerpt of Crap #1.

In Uncategorized on November 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm

So… the original idea was to write posts leading up to my first time to join National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, detailing my ideas for plots, figuring out whether I wanted to write in the first or third person (that process alone took almost a month), or whether the novel was going to be set in the present time or on December 26, 2043 — coincidentally, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines, but that’s not happening anymore. That subplot about the disembodied talking head gone missing from Utrecht and held for ransom — like Niles Caulder’s head on a bucket of ice, around the end of Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol — well, that’s fallen by the wayside. Maybe next year.

Instead, I’ll be posting a random excerpt once a day or so, just so I’m held accountable to more people, i.e., the few people left reading this blog. If anyone out there is doing NaNoWriMo this year, feel free to add me as a writing buddy. I’m behind on my word count and I need the motivation.

And here it is from Chapter One of American Idols, in all its unedited stinking glory:

Tom Cruise remembers the great flood from the year before: the hungry brown churn devouring everything in its path, LandCruisers and karetelas swallowed alike, houses and furniture and trees and carabaos and god, all those people, sucked in and spat out as useless debris. Tom Cruise remembers how the water recognized no municipalities or borders or class, how it consumed without prejudice. Waters that knew no bank accounts or property holdings until the rescuers arrived, when the boats came first for the wealthy who sat on their roofs and tweeted their locations. But the flood was impartial in its seething roil, implacable and blind. What Tom Cruise now faces is a mere trickle.

On Rafe Bartholomew’s “Pacific Rims” (2010).

In Pinoy on July 29, 2010 at 11:35 pm

When I was growing up in the Philippines, every guy in my neighborhood played basketball. As a writer one is trained not to use absolute terms like “every” or “all,” but this is surely a statement of empirical fact. Maybe those guys were too busy now, or their knees, like mine, had given way in middle age, but at some point in their lives, they had picked up a ball and chucked it through a hoop. And in every neighborhood, there was one. Even I can still remember the makeshift basketball court near my house: planks salvaged from some construction site and nailed to a tree, a frayed net clinging to a rusted hoop bent funny from all the dunk attempts, skinny street dogs weaving between the players’ skinnier legs, worn-out tsinelas and fake Reeboks raising little puffs of brown dust, overshadowed by the clouds of diesel smoke as a jeep rumbles down the street, and the game is temporarily interrupted to make way for the vehicle.

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On Arthur Phillips, “The Song Is You” (2009).

In music on July 10, 2010 at 3:29 pm

[Crossposted from a 3-star entry on Goodreads.]

No, it’s not a proper review (I leave that up to the experts), but more of an extended observation, which can perhaps be best illustrated with an example of Arthur Phillips’ prose, with our protagonist Julian listening to his Walkman in the Manhattan twilight:

…and he had the sensation that he might never be so happy again as long as he lived. This quake of joy, inspiring and crippling, was longing, but longing for what? True love? A wife? Wealth? Music was not so specific as that. “Love” was in most of these potent songs, of course, but they — the music, the light, the season — implied more than this, because, treacherously, Julian was swelling only with longing for longing. He felt his nerves open and turn to the world like sunflowers on the beat, but this desire could not achieve release; his body strained forward, but independent of any goal, though he did not know it for many years to come, until he proved it.

Because years later, when he had captured all that — love, wife, home, success, child — still he longed, just the same, when he listened to those same songs, now on a portable CD player, easily repeated without the moodicidal interruption of rewinding (turning spindles wheezing as batteries failed). He felt it all again. He pressed Play and longed still.

It’s eloquent stuff, yes, all this aching, the blunt and concise beauty of a phrase like “this quake of joy.” And yes, there are small gems like these scattered throughout the novel. But see, it’s that word “moodicidal” that’s, well, moodicidal. All this rapture, then a tiny thud, as if our appealingly lovelorn but not completely sympathetic protagonist — the sort of person who would craft a word like “moodicidal” as a form of emotional self-defense, if that makes any sense — had insinuated himself into the narration. A private grief made more palatable, perhaps, pulled to the surface, manifested and masquerading as verbal artifice. Because after all, the emotional core of The Song Is You is loss (the death of a child, a divorce), its depths momentarily excavated, dragged up to the light, by the fortuitous turn of the iPod’s click wheel.

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On Andrew Ross Sorkin’s “Too Big to Fail” (2009).

In Uncategorized on June 14, 2010 at 6:00 pm

[Crossposted from a one-star review on Goodreads.]

I always used to say that life was too short for bad movies or cheap beer, but with books I had an ironclad and perhaps foolish rule: you make a commitment to read it all the way to the end. Not so with Too Big to Fail; for once (okay, twice), I broke that promise.

I’ve been working in financial services for over two years now, and was then employed for a company that went down spectacularly in flames during the crash. It was important for me to read something that tried to make sense of the Wall Street chaos.

This isn’t that book. There’s only the most cursory discussion of credit-default swaps, for instance — for explanations, NPR’s Planet Money, or The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki, does a far better job — and for all of Sorkin’s attention to detail throughout, one doesn’t get a good sense of how everything is connected.

The book is also terribly formulaic. By the third chapter or so the schema is set: introduce yet another person, describe their backgrounds (disappointingly uniform, I must say), add some detail about their culinary habits or the car they drive or The Moment They Received the Fateful Phone call, then move on to the next COO (either the one about to be replaced, or the replacement). With a cast of characters as long as a business account’s legal disclosure, it isn’t immediately clear why each one is relevant other than the fact that they spoke to Sorkin for the record.

Sorkin has a good handle on what creates tension within a scene, but there’s no disguising the fact that most of the action takes place in boardrooms and offices. (If this were a film, we’d at least get an unconvincing montage of people staring at computer screens to gussy up the action, but there’s no opportunity for that here.)

What kept me doggedly reading the next few chapters after that wasn’t some narrative hook, ultimately, but the nagging, guilty, post-crash feeling of frugality that I spent good money on this, and that I could at least squeeze a few more minutes of entertainment out of it. But “life is short” won the day.

On William Vollmann’s “Argall” (2001).

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2010 at 2:22 pm

[Crossposted from a four-star review on Goodreads.]

Weighing only a little less than last year’s book ImperialArgall is Vollmann’s 746-page retelling of the “true story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith — though by “true” Vollmann refers to what he calls a “Symbolic History”, and that the facts contained within are “often untrue based on the literal facts as we know them, but whose untruths further a deeper sense of truth.” I can’t claim to be any good arbiter of the ethics behind this, only to note that it’s fiction, after all, and that Smith, as meticulous a chronicler as he was, was guided by ideological and commercial considerations just like anyone.

And indeed, Argall is perhaps closer to that “deeper sense of truth” in the sense that it’s stubbornly, refreshingly, anti-Romantic. (Smith himself barely mentions that famous incident — enshrined in elementary schools all across America, at least in the pre-Howard Zinn days — when Pocahontas supposedly saves Smith from execution, and so Vollmann similarly glosses over it.) One can imagine Argall almost as the dark twin of Terrence Malick’s film The New World (my favorite film of the last decade, but hey, go see the others). Where Malick’s vision of America is precisely to embrace the myth and the promise, in all its swooning, idyllic, but haunted, glory, Vollmann’s rendition is the opposite, a dense thicket of a nightmare: brutish, ugly, miserable, shit-streaked, and in the end, deeply, quietly, tragic.

And did I write that it’s all written in barely penetrable Elizabethan English, complete with variant orthographies, italics and font sizes whirling out of control, florid introductions and epigraphs, and almost a hundred pages of endnotes and glossaries? What at first looks like literary grandstanding gives way to a slow immersion into a Language peppered with unexpected moments of rapture. Paradoxically, the distance created by the prose makes the events even more unbearable. (I do wish we heard more from our good narrator William the Blind, whose rare atemporal interruptions are very welcome, as it shocks the reader momentarily out of the muck and into some sort of self-recognition.)

So read it all, if you can, even the endnotes; if anything, the latter provides a fascinating, if somewhat daunting, glimpse into Vollmann’s indefatigable capacity for historical research. I’m happy to wander down any digressive garden path Vollmann wishes to lead me, in any case.

On Brian Selznick’s “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” (2007).

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2010 at 8:03 am

[Crossposted from a four-star review on Goodreads.]

Engrossing and thrilling and wonderfully evocative of 1930s Paris. Best part: how the book nails the magical aspect of cinema (though there are many other movies that do this better, for obvious reasons). Don’t be daunted by the length; I finished it in three hours — but that’s because I was reading it out loud to my daughter. You adults will be done with it in less than an hour.

I had no idea it was going to be about Georges Méliès, so it was a treat to have the various aspects of his story — the boot heels, his career as a magician, etc. — be included in the book. (He becomes somewhat peripheral, in an odd sense, from the second half of the story; his wife Jeanne Méliès is transformed into a far more vibrant character at this point.) Fans of French cinema will enjoy the many cinematic references, including the stills of Méliès films reproduced in the book (and the unexpected homage to Truffaut).

Why only four stars? (Actually, I would have given it something closer to 3 and a half.) The crosshatched illustrations are beautiful, but there’s an uneasy fit with the text. By this I mean that Selznick illustrated many of the action sequences — and the contents of an important notebook, which is crucial to the book — but chose to leave out instead. Many times I would turn a page in anticipation of the subsequent drawing, only to be disappointed. The book isn’t as emotionally engaging as I would have expected, probably because the development of Hugo as a character more or less gets dropped in the second half.

On Tiffany Potter and C.W. Marshall’s “The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television” (2009).

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2010 at 12:09 am

[Crossposted from my five-star review on Goodreads.]

I rarely give out five stars, especially to an essay collection (where the quality can be uneven). But this is just fantastic: a highly readable selection of scholarly essays — mostly from professors of English, actually, but the essays are written from a more sociological perspective.

Doubtless the fact that I love the television show — perhaps the greatest in the history of the medium, but take my hyperbole with a grain of salt — has much to do with my appreciation of the book. The variety of the essays is its main virtue: there’s a discussion of “the production of gender” among the “Barksdale women”, two essays loosely about genre (the police procedural, and the melodrama), capitalism and violence (as seen through Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale), serial vs episodic narratives on television, inner-city manhood, a close reading/viewing of Agnieszka Holland’s visuality, and an analysis of fan reaction to Omar Little (and queerness and American citizenship). Foucault is mentioned a lot — not just because of the theme of surveillance running throughout the show, but because, like Foucault, The Wire takes as its main topic the nature of modern institutions and the distribution and exercise of power within them.

Of course, the book won’t make much sense to folks who haven’t seen the show. But for fans who want to delve further into the rich, complexly layered world of The Wire — and not just read a book that merely features making-of anecdotes or behind-the-scenes gossip (though I’d be happy to read that too) — this book is highly recommended.

On Lionel Davidson’s “Kolymsky Heights” (1994).

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2010 at 7:40 am

[Crossposted on Goodreads.]

Exceptional offbeat minimalist thriller, with an unlikely hero — a “Native Canadian” linguistic anthropologist! (Actually, I think the proper term is “First Nations”.)

The book didn’t quite suit my purposes at the time — I was about to board a plane, so I wanted a relatively mindless airport novel — but it generates its own peculiar level of excitement. It’s closer in style to, say, George Smiley interviewing and re-interviewing retired Circus employees and shuffling through redacted reports — in other words, a patient, incremental enumeration of observations and deductions and steps taken.

But it’s not a procedural in the usual sense; the narrative is set on a few continents, and the last third of the novel is pretty much an extended chase sequence. It’s a surprisingly complex plot nonetheless, full of carefully calibrated moments of subterfuge, and this complexity is all the more impressive considering the fact that the plot elements can be boiled down to only two phases: there’s a top-secret base, and our hero has to get in, and he has to get out. Recommended

On Dennis Lehane’s “Shutter Island” (2003).

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2010 at 11:10 pm

[Crossposted on Goodreads.]

VERY MILD SPOILERS CONTAINED INSIDE (you’ll have read the same in the book’s blurbs, anyway):

I love a good page-turner every now and then, and this novel — locked-room mystery, ghost story, haunted-house flick, cop thriller, in various amounts — definitely didn’t disappoint. (Especially when you’re on a plane.) But the success of the story is wholly dependent on some sleight-of-hand on Lehane’s part — nothing wrong with this, really, except that skillful construction doesn’t quite conceal the fact that Shutter Island is missing what Lehane does best. In Mystic River, with its Shakespearean dramatic arc, or almost any of the Kenzie/Gennaro books (except maybe for the weak Sacred), one had the sense that Boston and its people were living, breathing, essential characters in the story. (Other than the performances, this rootedness in place is what made Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, and Ben Affleck’s vastly underrated 2007 directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, so powerful.)

Would it be remiss to say that Dennis Lehane’s Boston is, albeit in a more limited fashion, as fleshed out as David Simon’s Baltimore? (Or Richard Price’s “Dempsey”?) It’s that sense of vibrant reality that’s missing from Shutter Island, the idea that a city and its residents had lived there long before our characters step on the stage.

Where’s The Other Pinay?

In music, Pinoy on April 6, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Dear Mr. David Byrne,

You mean to tell me the one single Pinay singer who actually has a lead vocal on your project didn’t get to be on your cool poster? I mean, she sings lead vocals and all!


The Wily Filipino

p.s. Thanks, though, for the big spike in visits on my very old Wit and Wisdom of Imelda Marcos page. And I dig the album, though I wish you’d written more about the horrific abuse of human rights (and corruption, and poverty) that the Marcos dictatorship perpetrated upon the Filipino people. That’s all.

Music Video Quiz #1.

In music on March 25, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Back in the day — four years ago, a lifetime in Internet terms — when I was more active on and had way too much time on my hands, I would change my avatar to a screencap from a music video and have people guess its source. (Back then YouTube wasn’t that popular yet, so it was a little more difficult for folks to confirm whether one’s guess was correct.) But at some point I lost interest and things got busy and I had no more images left — none of these screencaps were taken from YouTube, but from video files I actually had — so the whole thing just faded out.

Anyhow, in the process of messing around with my other blog last night, I found all the images on a stray USB flash drive, and so I thought I’d slowly post them here until they’re all gone. (And you friends who might know all of these already: play nice and don’t answer them all, okay? I know who you are!)

Guess the artist and song title in the comments:

1. vidcap1





The Runners-Up!

In music on January 15, 2010 at 12:45 am

But wait, there’s more! Of course there were runners-up — twenty, as a matter of fact — that, depending on the time of day or the way the sun streams through a window, could have made this top 15 (+1). And now to put my obsessive-compulsiveness to rest.

My Favorite Songs of 2009:

1. Mos Def, “Quiet Dog” (2009)
2. The Sea and Cake, “On a Letter” (2008)
3. Pinback, “Loro” (2008)
4. Quantic and His Combo Bárbaro, “Linda Morena” (2009)
5. Passion Pit, “Folds in Your Hands” (2009)
6. Ximena Sariñana, “Vidas Paralelas” (2008)
7. Thomas Tantrum, “Work It” (2008)
8. The Zombies, “I Want Her She Wants Me” (1968)
9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat” (2009)
10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

Read the rest of this entry »

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 1. Mos Def, “Quiet Dog” (2009).

In music on January 13, 2010 at 2:35 pm

1. Mos Def, “Quiet Dog”
- From the 2009 album The Ecstatic (Lala link).
- Official website.

Mos Def’s latest album, The Ecstatic – with a cover featuring a cropped still from Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, one of the greatest American movies of the last four decades – has been described as his best since Black on Both Sides. (See my short blurb on his recent “Black on Both Sides in its entirety” tour.) One might say that isn’t saying much; the previous two albums were merely decent, and didn’t quite live up to the promise of his debut album (and certainly not if you count Black Star, his excellent collaboration with Talib Kweli).

But still: “Quiet Dog” has become my favorite Mos Def track ever, the real Empire State anthem of 2009. It’s partly because I’ve found that I tend to love the songs that sound like Mos was merely messing about: “Fear Not Of Man”, for instance, is a State of the Hip-Hop Nation manifesto delivered, one thinks, almost off the cuff. “Umi Says” features him trying to sing (just barely, actually), over an ambling jazz groove that sounds more like a noodly instrumental coda.

At the end of a decade when the hip-hop charts seemed to consolidate its shift from its funk/soul sample base to European club music — from boom-boom-bap to boomf-boomf-boomf — “Quiet Dog” was a nervy single to release, featuring a stripped-down return to (for lack of a better term) “rap-o clap-o”, and starting off with an excerpt from a Fela Kuti interview (check out David Letterman’s usual nonplussed reaction to hearing his name in the YouTube video above). Mos Def seems infatuated here with that single kids-on-a-Brooklyn-streetcorner, drum-and-handclap rhythm – “The prominent bassness / Zulu arrangement / rockin’ amazement” — simmering down only towards the end.

It has a breathless intensity that the songs mentioned above don’t quite have, as if the thick torrent of words flowing through him and the Sugarhill Gang and everyone else before him can’t be stopped and won’t be stopped, and he needs to talk himself into staying cool. Dare I say it? It’s the dank, primal, musical embodiment of his most beautiful boogie man persona, the opposite of “bright as the A.M.,” the mighty Mos Def stirring a cauldron with strange sonic brew for your favorite nightmare.

The single was released exactly a year ago today, which gives it something of an unfair handicap on my list. It means that it’s been bouncing around in my head for a year now – the music in my headphones and in the streets and in the car and on the train and at work and my favorite song of 2009.

*I was going to cite Kid Cudi’s ubiquitous 2008 single “Day ‘n Nite” as an example, but remembered that Kanye West had already utilized Daft Punk, of all bands, for 2007′s “Stronger”.


The rest of the list:

2. The Sea and Cake, “On a Letter” (2008)
3. Pinback, “Loro” (2008)
4. Quantic and His Combo Bárbaro, “Linda Morena” (2009)
5. Passion Pit, “Folds in Your Hands” (2009)
6. Ximena Sariñana, “Vidas Paralelas” (2008)
7. Thomas Tantrum, “Work It” (2008)
8. The Zombies, “I Want Her She Wants Me” (1968)
9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat” (2009)
10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 2. The Sea and Cake, “On a Letter” (2008).

In music on January 9, 2010 at 2:13 pm

2. The Sea and Cake, “On a Letter”

- From the 2008 album Car Alarm (Amazon mp3 link).
- Official website.

I’ve loved the band The Sea and Cake for a long time now, but don’t ask me which of their albums I like the best. They’re a bit of a blur, quite frankly, and not because I haven’t listened to them carefully. It doesn’t help that their words have never made very much sense – all chosen, I think, simply for how they sound and what they evoke, and Sam Prekop’s slurred vocals have always hovered, barely intelligibly, only just a tiny bit over the mix.

So why all this affection? The adjective “tight” in indie rock is usually reserved for music on the faster, chord change-filled range of the spectrum (think Battles, or Don Caballero), and not for music that, for lack of a better word, more or less swings. Car Alarm is the sound of a sleek and efficient ensemble tightly but effortlessly coloring within the lines.

Okay, all this sounds like I’m dealing out backhanded compliments; words like “sleek and efficient” sound like a liability, and make it seem like I’m describing late-period Steely Dan or something. I think it’s indicative of the paradox within their music: the Sea and Cake seem to exemplify both a breezy offhandedness (Prekop’s breathy vocals) and a marvelous, controlled precision.

The Sea and Cake doesn’t exhibit the brawnier athleticism of drummer John McEntire’s other band, Tortoise; instead, it’s a calculated, subdued grace. You can hear it in “On a Letter”, a particularly fine work of musical craftsmanship: the instruments in gentle lockstep, the guitar tentatively teasing out lines to introduce the main theme, one last minimal guitar filigree a minute before the end, and then it’s gone.


The rest of the list so far:

3. Pinback, “Loro” (2008)
4. Quantic and His Combo Bárbaro, “Linda Morena” (2009)
5. Passion Pit, “Folds in Your Hands” (2009)
6. Ximena Sariñana, “Vidas Paralelas” (2008)
7. Thomas Tantrum, “Work It” (2008)
8. The Zombies, “I Want Her She Wants Me” (1968)
9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat” (2009)
10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 3. Pinback, “Loro” (1999).

In music on January 4, 2010 at 5:26 pm

3. Pinback, “Loro”
- Official website.
- From the 1999 album Pinback.

Hmmm. I suppose I can continue writing about why it’s so much easier to write about movies than it is to write about music: for the former, the lazy, fallback option is to simply answer the question “So, what is the movie about?” (And yet: writing a movie synopsis is probably the most challenging and quite frankly burdensome part of the process.)

For something like Pinback’s “Loro” –- well, it’s clear that “What’s the song about?” is the wrong question, and even the folks on the bulletin boards have their theories about what “49531” might mean, but again: wrong question. I can tell you, at least, that further listenings don’t exactly reveal much, not that it truly matters: those simple (maybe even simplistic) ascending and descending guitar figures, the electronic twinges that surface in the first minute and are never heard again, the voices mixed just barely above the instruments, a vocal progression from the individual to the collective.

So here’s my fallback option: I can tell you exactly when I first heard it — July 26, 2009, 6:06 pm. (I’m apparently the last person in the world – well, between myself and my brother, anyway – to know about “Loro”; I played it for my brother in the Philippines, who recognized it immediately after the first few notes.) I was driving home from a bar, waiting at a traffic light on Telegraph and 51st in Oakland. It was a warm evening, and still early; the ironing boards were in the process of being folded up in front of Bakesale Betty’s. I had just popped into the stereo a mix CD given to me by my anthropologist concert buddy, who had just taken off for fieldwork in Buenos Aires via Mexico City (hi Xochitl!).

And it was one of those “who is this?” moments, when you punch the eject button on the cassette player and pull out the tape to squint at the label and figure out what the hell you just heard. I don’t know how many times I listened to this mere wisp of a song this year, immersed in something like bliss. Bubbles floating and disappearing in air. Early-morning sunlight winking behind leaves.


The rest of the list so far:

4. Quantic and His Combo Bárbaro, “Linda Morena” (2009)
5. Passion Pit, “Folds in Your Hands” (2009)
6. Ximena Sariñana, “Vidas Paralelas” (2008)
7. Thomas Tantrum, “Work It” (2008)
8. The Zombies, “I Want Her She Wants Me” (1968)
9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat” (2009)
10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 4. Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro, “Linda Morena” (2009).

In music on December 31, 2009 at 1:25 am

3. Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro, “Linda Morena”

- From the 2009 album Tradition in Transition.
- Official website

The closer I get to the top songs, the more ineffable they become; it’s as if the sheer pleasure of the listening experience as such robs you of wordsmithing faculties. (I think it’s why I prefer writing about movies; not having any musical background, I can’t describe what I’m hearing properly.) Maybe it’s because there’s a somatic quality to music that movies will never have; they’ll never make you pump your fists in the air as you drive, or dance until you’re out of breath, and when this happens, my words can only describe the experience.

The Englishman Will Holland has been knee-deep in the funk — and soul, dub, bossa nova, R&B, jazz, cumbia, you name it — for almost a decade now, under different guises, and his latest project, Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro, just might be the best of the lot. Tradition in Transition, recorded in Cali, Colombia, where Holland now lives, is already his 13th album for the Tru Thoughts label.

“Linda Morena” is one unbelievably sizzling hot track; it jumped out of my speakers the first time I heard it and demanded I listen to it again. It’s not just a song that makes you want to dance, but a song that makes you want to dance to it properly. Panamanian soul singer Kabir’s vocals are fantastic, but when Alfredo Linares comes in with his piano solo halfway through the song, you wish it would never end.


The rest of the list so far:

5. Passion Pit, “Folds in Your Hands” (2009)
6. Ximena Sariñana, “Vidas Paralelas” (2008)
7. Thomas Tantrum, “Work It” (2008)
8. The Zombies, “I Want Her She Wants Me” (1968)
9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat” (2009)
10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 5. Passion Pit, “Folds in Your Hands” (2009).

In music on December 30, 2009 at 1:03 am

5. Passion Pit, “Folds in Your Hands”

- From the 2009 album Manners.
- Official website.

My other favorite album of 2009, Passion Pit’s Manners, dropped like, I don’t know, some sugarcoated candy-flavored meteor from heaven. My friend Laurel claims (I paraphrase here) that it’s “typical Wily Filipino music”, which I take to mean that “it features electronica roots, danceable beats, and unsyncopated ensemble rhythms.” Or perhaps she means that a) it’s happy, and b) that it’s sung in vocals way beyond my non-existent singing capabilities. Though, let me digress for a moment, the singers I like to sing along to – Neil Young, James McNew, Mac McCaughan (and on the more modulated side of the spectrum, Matthew Sweet and Dean Wareham) – all have that same pinched tenor.

Michael Angelakos’ falsetto, alas, doesn’t always hold up live, but the tooth-rotting goopiness of their keyboards is shamelessly, joyfully intact in concert. “Everything’s easy when you’ve never had to choose,” Angelakos sings, and quite frankly I had a difficult time choosing between “Folds In Your Hands” and just about every other song on Manners – the quest for spiritual uplift on “The Reeling”, that children’s choir on “Little Secrets”, the odd Catholicism of “Eyes as Candles” – but “Folds in Your Hands”, even with its inscrutable lyrics, wins this round for now.

Played live, it’s perfect because of the DJ dynamics engineered right into the song: the people singing “Like the sun and the moon I will circle you till you bloom”, hands raised to the ceiling, as the drums drop out, then the keyboards swell into a crescendo just before the beats kick back in. And that last refrain? “Feel it rain / Feel it rain / We’re alive / Feel it rain”? In a crowd of singing, jumping dancers with huge smiles on their faces? Didn’t I say it was perfect?


The rest of the list so far:
6. Ximena Sariñana, “Vidas Paralelas” (2008)
7. Thomas Tantrum, “Work It” (2008)
8. The Zombies, “I Want Her She Wants Me” (1968)
9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat” (2009)
10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 6. Ximena Sariñana, “Vidas Paralelas” (2008).

In music on December 29, 2009 at 1:08 am

6. Ximena Sariñana, “Vidas Paralelas”

- from the 2008 album Mediocre.
- Official website.

Sigh – two years of Spanish classes in college have sadly failed me for this song, but my lack of comprehension hasn’t stopped me from loving it anyway. (Parallel lives – I got that, at least, but I never did figure out the conditional tense.) And I wonder, of course, whether my inability to understand the lyrics (cf. my affection for the Japanese band Puffy) is a good thing: that it allows me to focus instead on the craft of the song, written by Ximena Sariñana and Baltazar Hinojosa. And, it should be said, to perhaps blissfully ignore what may well be mediocre lyrics; let it not be said that she wasn’t playing with fire by titling her album as such.

Sariñana – the scion of a successful showbiz family, telenovela actress, and all of 22 years old when her debut album was released – arrived carrying the unfair burden of expectations regarding what talent she actually had, given her network. Surely this song – and the album’s later comparisons by critics to Come Away With Me – quells any such worries: a perfect slice of breezy, summery pop.


The rest of the list so far:

7. Thomas Tantrum, “Work It” (2008)
8. The Zombies, “I Want Her She Wants Me” (1968)
9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat” (2009)
10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 7. Thomas Tantrum, “Work It” (2008).

In music on December 28, 2009 at 1:32 am

7. Thomas Tantrum, “Work It” (2008)
- Official website.
- From the 2008 album Thomas Tantrum.

From the best album I heard in 2009 – though it’s actually a photo-finish with Song #5 – comes the sassy, saucy, quirky “Work It” – words that should never be used in a dating profile, but are eminently applicable to Thomas Tantrum’s irresistible combination of jangly punk guitar and ooh-ooh refrains.

But who am I fooling: the charm of Thomas Tantrum is all about Megan Thomas’ vocals, her lips seemingly pursed in a perpetual pout, the singer ready to slam the door in your stupid face. And that accent! It was difficult to pick just one song – “Blasé”, “Swan Lake” (for that one it’s “ah ah ah”), or “Shake It! Shake It!” could have easily been on this list – but “Work It” wins the spot if only for the way she stretches the lone syllable in “it” into an impertinent six.


The rest of the list so far:

8. The Zombies, “I Want Her She Wants Me” (1968)
9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat” (2009)
10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 8. The Zombies, “I Want Her She Wants Me” (1968).

In music on December 27, 2009 at 1:08 am

8. The Zombies, “I Want Her She Wants Me”

- Official website.
- From the 1968 album Odessey and Oracle (Amazon mp3 link).

I fell in love with the Zombies only a few years ago – to think I’d lived so long without ever really hearing them, “She’s Not There” notwithstanding! — and it’s a relationship that continues to grow strong, particularly with their incredible 1968 album Odessey and Oracle – surely up there with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Pet Sounds as one of the great albums of the late ‘60s. (I’m reminded of how I finally “heard” Pet Sounds about a decade ago, once I really listened to it, and was floored at its beauty.) I still pull out Odessey and Oracle fairly regularly and I’m always surprised at the depth of its musical riches. Unfortunately, the Zombies would split up just before the album – and their biggest hit, “Time of the Season” – was released.

“I Want Her She Wants Me” wasn’t even released as a single, or even a b-side; it’s just one practically throwaway track tucked in between the baroque “Changes” and the sublime “This Will Be Our Year”. Recorded a few months after their biggest concert audiences at that point in their career – in the Philippines, as it happens, with Diomedes Maturan as one of their opening acts – the song is pure pop sweetness from Rod Argent, with impeccable harmonies and electric harpsichord. They constitute the only frills in what is otherwise an ordinary love song pared down to its very essence, to the simple logical proposition in the title. If only love was always that simple.


The rest of the list so far:

9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat” (2009)
10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat” (2009).

In music on December 26, 2009 at 8:47 am

9. Ben Kweller, “Old Hat”

- Official website.
- From the 2009 album Changing Horses.

Surely Ben Kweller had been threatening to do this from the start. For almost every power-pop slacker anthem he writes, particularly on his first solo album after the Radish days, Sha Sha, there was an unabashed bid for piano-based singer-songwriter greatness, placing him in the company of people of contemporaries like Ben Folds (which he would later collaborate with, along with another Ben (Lee) in 2003). But there’d also be one or two country/folk tracks that would seem suspiciously out of place, like “Family Tree” or “On My Way”, almost as if Kweller was winking at his listeners and nudging them with a flannel-covered elbow.

His 2009 album Changing Horses – as if the title didn’t holler the fact out loud enough – makes good on that wink and nudge; any closer to country and this would be his Tumbleweed Connection. (It’s probably because he’s moved back to Texas; I guess the 78704 zip code brings out good things in people.)

“Old Hat” is the standout track for me – an achingly beautiful ballad, where the central metaphor (an old hat) is a little shopworn but comfortable, and it works. The live footage on YouTube doesn’t quite do justice to the song – you’re missing out on a lovely pedal steel guitar solo by Kitt Kittermann – but check out this love letter of a song, which begins “Hello, sweet friend of mine” and ends with:

My tornado, love, tore it all down
Now I’m face down in all this muddy guilt
You know I wanna make you smile again
Warm your heart again like an old worn out quilt

Now listen
I’ll be your glove, I’ll be your scarf, I’ll be the cross that covers your heart
But I don’t want you to get tired of me honey after such a good start

I never want to be the old hat you put on your pretty head

Perhaps there’s something liberating in writing in the country genre; there’s a plainspokenness in country lyrics (and by extension, Kweller’s new album) that renders emotional truth less opaque than anything by emo bands out there. But there’s something about his yearning delivery that belies his words: you know in the end he’d settle for old-hat status for this girl anyway.


The rest of the list so far:

10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007).

In music on December 25, 2009 at 1:07 am

10. Ida Maria, “Oh My God” (2007)
- Official website.
- From the 2008 album Fortress Round My Heart.

Yes, it’s one of last year’s big songs, and it was on a bunch of 2008 year-end lists already, but hey, I’m not one of the Pitchfork cognoscenti or Sasha Frere-Jones, so it took a while before this song made its way through a hundred other bloggers and the occasional TV show and Time and finally to my happy ears. “Oh My God”, as the video captures quite literally, is a power pop anthem infused with agitation: the demand to “Find a cure for my life,” the jittery punk guitars, and that quaver in her hoarse voice early in the song just before she erupts into the bug-eyed intensity of the last third. “Is this fun for you?” she asks toward the end; it almost sounds like a threat, but oh, how much fun it is indeed. Probably Norway’s greatest musical export since Darkthrone, and with a better sense of humor about God too.


The rest of the list so far:

11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003)
12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003).

In music, Pinoy on December 24, 2009 at 1:22 am

11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me”

- Official website.
- From the 2003 album Oh, The Stories We Hold (eMusic link).

The Chicago-based singer-songwriter Anna Fermin has one of those expressively elastic voices that sounds like it belongs to an older generation of singers; she’s partly husky and intimate on one track, then belting it out Grand Ole Opry-style on another. While “country” is the dominant musical idiom in which Fermin writes her songs, it seems like a narrow label for the expansiveness of her band’s styles, like the lilting, jazzy nature of this tune that haunted me all year. “How Do You Judge Me”, is from her band’s 2003 album produced by the late Jay Bennett and was, the liner notes read, “recorded live around Jay’s kitchen table.”

It’s a shame that I couldn’t find longer sound samples or YouTube footage – and I would have loved for people to hear Frank Kvinge’s beautiful guitar solo as well – and that the CD looks out of print and unavailable either on CD Baby or their own website or as downloadable mp3s in the usual places (Lala, Amazon, iTunes). What gives? And why isn’t Anna Fermin an alt-country superstar?

I don’t know what the song means, though I have a guess. Here’s the first stanza and the refrain:

Is it the color of my hair?
Is it the darkness of my skin that keeps you frozen in your tracks?
Is it the clothing on my back?
Is it the unfamiliar drawl of my tongue that makes me small in your eyes?

How do you judge me?
How is it that you know me so well?


The rest of the list so far:

12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″ (2009).

In music on December 23, 2009 at 1:26 am

12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20″

- Official website.
- From the album The Phenomenal Handclap Band

The Phenomenal Handclap Band is a music collective / supergroup of sorts from Brooklyn – jeez, aren’t they all from Brooklyn now at this point? – and their debut album is a happy mishmash of different genres, psychedelic soul jammed together with funky proto-disco. “15 to 20” is the knockout single for obvious reasons, but let me digress.

I remember one day trying to convince my friend Luna about the real reasons Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” became such a big hit: not just because of the amazing Bob Fosse-inspired video, but because “Single Ladies”, at heart, was a sped-up jump-rope song, and therefore appealed to people on some subliminal childhood level. I don’t think she was convinced. (For the record, though, one of my favorite things about the song, iffy gender politics aside, are the incongruous synth squiggles running throughout the whole thing.)

Speaking of incongruity (bad segue, I know), “15 to 20” operates on the same principle: take a chorus straight from Schoolhouse Rock (cf. Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.”, already mentioned earlier), plant it on top of a ridiculously funky ‘70s detectives-with-sideburns movie groove, and see if you can get the damn thing out of your head. I couldn’t. That’s Lady Tigra on guest vocals, barely keeping up with the band (especially in the second stanza) – not that her lyrics amount to much more than babble, really. There’s something about the local police, and a savings and loan, and arms and thumbs – whatever. It’s all about that retro-groove and that elementary school chorus. “So what’s it gonna take to get through to you?” A refrain from a multiplication table was all it took.


The rest of the list so far:

13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009).

In music on December 22, 2009 at 10:29 am

13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009).
- Official website.
- From the album Speech Therapy.

This was my summer anthem of 2009, via a (still!) free mp3 from Amazon back in June. To be frank, it took a while for me to figure out the Cockney lyrics the lyrics websites to publish their iffy transcriptions, and even then I had to google the definition of the word “armshouse”. All I could really go on was the unassailable argument of a chorus “Overstanding is the key, key” — a mantra I associated in my head, somehow, with “What did you want to see / What did you want to be when you grew up?” from Atlas Sound’s “Walkabout”.

It’s a lot easier to enumerate what Speech Debelle isn’t about, which is basically the usual material obsessions of most hip-hop nowadays; there’s a little bragging on “The Key”, but still she addresses her absent listener, “truthfully you bright like me / The only real difference is you slyer than me.” One realizes quickly that Speech Therapy was, indeed, speech therapy; her lyrics sometimes read like slightly rambling journal entries written at the breakfast table, or confessional letters never sent, and it’s all part of the song’s utter charm:

I’m getting older now starting to make sense of it,
Seeing the signs, reading minds like hypnotist,
Understand the figures like arithmetics and my guess is,
People are bad, man,
Insecurity breeds hate it’s a fact find,
In fact I’m sure it’s uncurable,
Some people positive while some people are negative
and totally oblivious to the harm they cause

Alas, the backlash against her began immediately after she won the Mercury Prize later this year — inevitably, by people whose favorite bands didn’t win — and disappointing record sales and apparently poorly attended concerts didn’t help.

But listen to the song! A joyful declaration of independence on a bed of clarinets and oboes, like it emerged from a Tribe Called Quest album circa 1991. The sound of swinging South London.


The rest of the list so far:

14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008).

In music on December 21, 2009 at 12:50 am

14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.”

- Official website.
- From the Best of Bootie 2008 compilation (free download from

Bad mashups are probably pretty easy to do: place a crowd-pleasing chorus over a familiar riff, add more than a dash of incongruity for effect. But good mashups, like good cover versions, aren’t just about beatmatching (though when done right, like marrying Timbaland’s stuttery production for Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On” to the rockabilly rhythms of George Michael’s “Faith”, the result can be surprisingly inventive). The true test is how the mashed songs play off each other’s respective histories and cultural connotations and perhaps even illuminate each other through musical recontextualization. (In this respect, it’s far easier to do bad cover versions – think of all the superfluous bossanova and lounge music produced in the last decade, lazily done by slowing the tempo a notch.)

This track by the Parisian DJ named ComaR vaulted to the top of my list early this year with what might be one of the best song mashups ever — two dance hits, about a quarter-century apart. “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” doesn’t quite pass the test I mention above, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t sound tailor-made for each other.

In retrospect, the two are obvious choices; “D.A.N.C.E.” is a warped tribute of sorts to Michael Jackson, after all. ComaR strips all the spluttery trebly funk from Justice’s original and “returns”, as it were, “D.A.N.C.E.” from Paris to Motown and to RnB roots it never had before, with that children’s choir now an unironic echo of the kids who performed the older song.

The rest of the list so far:

15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009 — 15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973).

In music on December 20, 2009 at 1:39 am

15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
- From the 1973 album Music and Me.

I’ve never been a big Michael Jackson fan, really. (I did tell my students once that “dance music was all about Side One of Off the Wall”, and was met with laughter — not because it was an album that came out at least a decade before they were born, but because I had said “Side One”.) Like many people, I had pretty much checked out by 1987; my last memory of participating in something communally MJ-related was John Landis’ video for the forgettable anthem “Black or White” back in 1991. The next was at a crowded sports bar at lunchtime in July of 2009. I ate a pulled pork sandwich while his funeral played on the TV with the sound turned off.

But I felt a little twinge of sadness as well, if only because I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t a Michael Jackson. He was always on television when I was growing up, even on the Marcos regime-controlled TV stations during martial law in the Philippines, and of course there was no escaping “Beat It” or the inimitable “Billie Jean” (still an amazing track however you slice it). And perhaps one of my earliest musical memories ever – other than Stevie Wonder singing “Superstition” on Sesame Street — was “Happy” on the AM radio, though it was only in 2009 that I heard it again and remembered it even existed.

And what a song indeed – here’s young Michael in full Diana Ross mode, his girlish tenor positively angelic in its purity. Credited to Smokey Robinson (!) and Michel Legrand (!!), its subtitle is “Love Theme from Lady Sings the Blues”, but it isn’t featured in Sidney J. Furie’s film or its soundtrack. “Happy” is a ballad about “love and happiness”, he says in the out-of-sync YouTube video above, but it barely conceals the song’s profound melancholy. The first two lines of “Happy” begin with:

Sadness had been
Close as my next of kin

And you think to yourself, Good lord – especially now that we know how he suffered as a child — he was singing this was when he was all of fifteen years old? Lyrically, it’s a bit inscrutable; it sounds like he’s singing about a dog, and having “Happy” and “Sadness” personified as characters in the song is simply clumsy writing.

But when the song (and Michael) suddenly turns an oddly philosophical turn, it’s a little more than just teenage melodrama. There seems – at least from my perspective, writing from 2009 — to be an unbearable emotional weight in his plaintive and beautiful singing, a burden that even in his mere adolescence seemed all too real for this young boy:

Where have I been?
What lifetime was I in?
Suspended between time and space
Lonely until
Happy came smiling up at me

But enough of this cheap psychoanalysis, and on to the other reason I loved this song this year. My younger brother Happy supposedly received his nickname because as a child I kept saying the “happy” word over and over while touching my mother’s pregnant belly. After hearing this song again, I wanted to think my brother was named after the Michael Jackson song, all over the airwaves when he was a baby. But I subsequently did the math, and it proved impossible (it was released after Happy was born) – but that’s how I like to remember my brother (“My life began when Happy smiled”), and it’s how I like to remember Michael Jackson.


The rest of the list so far:

16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody”

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009 — Number 16: Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008).

In music, Pinoy on December 19, 2009 at 12:23 am

Continuing a series I more or less started in 2008 (here’s my 15 favorites from last year), I’ll be counting down the rest of the year and into 2010 with my list. (Best to start it now, because the order keeps changing, and many other songs — “Laura” by Girls, Parov Stelar’s “Blind Alley”, Eulogies’ “Is There Anyone Here?”, Thom Yorke’s “All for the Best”, “Surprise Hotel” by Fool’s Gold, “What About Us?” by Mr. Lif, Atlas Sound’s “Walkabout” — keep threatening to crack the top 15, and I’ll never get this finished.)

Unlike last year, only six of the songs on the list were actually released in 2009. I’m sure no one would object.

We’ll start with what might be called a postscript.

Read the rest of this entry »

2009 Concert Roundup.

In music on November 16, 2009 at 11:21 pm

And there I was, thinking I had somehow slacked off on my concert-going this year. (Movies are relatively low-impact nights out.) But in a few days I’m off to see my 20th concert of 2009 (Ben Kweller, who’s playing at a PTA fundraiser for Izzy’s elementary school), then Simian Mobile Disco again, and one more to go after that — The Gossip (!), with Passion Pit (!!) opening — which puts me on track with 2008 (22, my page reminds me), but nowhere near the insanity of 2007 (see my blog entry entitled Best Concert Year Ever).

But quality always beats quantity, which makes me think that 2009 may be my real Best Concert Year Ever — some, in my mind, positively historic; some with bands performing at the height of their careers; some with revelatory performances. None of these bested my single favorite stage lineup, from last year at Outside Lands (Stars / Andrew Bird / Broken Social Scene / Wilco — I mean, come on), but 2009 was stellar nonetheless.

Highs and lows, in chronological order (This Charming Band, Wilco / Okkervil River, and the Felice Brothers not included):

1. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
The Warfield, 1/28/2009

I started the year off with one of the best concerts in recent memory (and there are more to come below) — eight men and one force of nature. These folks really know how to put on a show — not just involving people staring at their ratty sneakers or hunched over their laptops, but an exuberantly unrestrained experience, with full-gospel belting and horns blaring in a frenzy. Though I gotta say my favorite moment (other than their show-stopping version of “This Land Is Your Land”) was seeing my former student Jocyl suddenly get up on stage and dance with Miss Jones. So jealous.

2. The Philip Glass Ensemble
Davies Symphony Hall, 2/16/2009

Like Mark E. Smith, Philip Glass digs repetition. Certainly more than the former, I figure. The occasion was a heroic, marathon performance of Glass’s landmark Music in Twelve Parts from 1974, with Glass himself on piano — over three hypnotic hours of unspooling musical lines, variations slowly weaving into each other. Valerie called it “monomaniacal” — sure, but in a good way.

3. Cake
Fox Theater, 2/21/2009

Perhaps in the grand tradition of Radiohead not playing “Creep”, or the Clash not playing “Train in Vain”, or the Pixies not playing “Here Comes Your Man” (not true anymore, which is a good thing), Cake didn’t play “I Will Survive”. Or maybe we were just unlucky that night. I suppose any band might be a little resentful if one of their biggest hits happened to be a tossed-off cover song (albeit a great version), but still.

But this at least marked my first visit to the Fox Theater, which, as Kim Deal described, a little later in the year, “This place is fucking beautiful.” Indeed.

4. Masada String Trio
Yoshi’s, 3/11/2009

I’ve seen John Zorn perform four times, and each time, as William Vollmann would put it (in his novel Argall), my mouth was filled with gawp-seed. (Masada’s 1998 performance at Temple Emanu-el is still the only concert I’ve seen that I would describe as a religious experience.) This Masada String Trio concert, part of Zorn’s week-long residency at Yoshi’s — oh, if only I had money and time, and could go to every show — didn’t exactly have Zorn performing, but he conducted Mark Feldman, Erik Friedlander and Greg Cohen through pieces from the Masada songbook, and the results were nothing short of staggering.

5. Simian Mobile Disco
Mezzanine, 3/15/2009

Simian Mobile Disco, San Francisco, March 2009

Says it all.

6. Dengue Fever
Castro Theatre, 5/5/2009

Not exactly a concert, but part of the San Francisco International Film Festival’s yearly indie-band-meets-silent-movie event — in this case, Harry O. Hoyt’s The Lost World, from 1925. Woozily beautiful psychedelic music, broadly entertaining adventure film with some very cool stop-motion animation (the Pixar film Up pays homage to it), but they don’t exactly play well together, and it’s a little disconcerting, no pun intended, to have Chhom Nimol’s singing in Khmer — a legible and living language, after all — be stirred into the primitivist exotica of Hoyt’s film. (I know, I know, the film is about dinosaurs, and not jungle savages, but still…)

I’ve always liked these yearly marriages of music and film, even if it’s the sort of radical recontextualization of the material that I usually find disquieting. But I’m hoping for music that’s more intertwined with what’s on screen, and not just, say, Yo La Tengo jamming on a single groove the length of a Painlevé short film (which I loved, don’t get me wrong). What I’d love to see is someone like John Zorn doing elaborate sound cues for every minute of a film, but I figure that’s the sort of commissioned soundtrack whose costs would get prohibitive really quickly.

7. Little Dragon
The Independent, 5/20/2009

Good show, but see the November date below. (And a rude observation: why does Little Dragon always seem to be saddled with the most mediocre opening bands ever?)

9. Thao Nguyen
Make Out Room, 6/8/2009

Even more special not just because my musician crush was playing two feet in front of me, but also because my good friend Barb read her poetry during the same event (at the first Monthly Rumpus).

12. Joe
The Fillmore, 7/12/2009

The best part (musical): it was perhaps a couple of weeks after Michael Jackson’s death, and the almost-obligatory MJ medley — here, “Rock With You” and “Human Nature”, with Chico DeBarge — just felt absolutely right.

The best part (non-musical): my date and I were elbowed by some drunk who crashed his way to the front of the stage. A few minutes later, Joe literally stops mid-song (and so does the band) and says (I’m paraphrasing here), “At my shows, women are treated with respect, and you sir, are not doing that.” Then he pauses to let the bouncers strong-arm the drunk guy out of the venue, and only then does he start singing again. A true gentleman.

Second-best part (also non-musical): how Joe would react when the women in front of the stage would hand him their business cards. Joe would take the cards and, without skipping a beat, hold them up between his index and middle fingers and an assistant would run in from the wings and file them for future reference. Dude.

13. Bob Dylan
Greek Theatre, 10/10/2009

Well, I was warned. I guess we all were. And of course Dylan in ’09 would never come close to Dylan in ’69. But those 90 minutes of mumble-and-slur were a bigger letdown than I expected, the only consolation being in the company of my friends (hey, that’s a lot, and ultimately it was a fun evening nonetheless) and hearing the really, really hardworking bar band backing him up.

Random assessment #1 (from Randall): “He seemed pretty spry for a man approaching 70.”

Random assessment #2 (from Keith): “I finally figured out he was singing ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ when I caught the phrase ‘like a rolling stone’.”

Then again, all I wanted was just to be in his presence. I guess we all did.

14. Mos Def
The Independent, 10/19/2009

What an amazing concert. Mos Def smashed it like an Idaho potato.

Of all the Albums-In-Their-Entirety concerts I’ve seen (Sonic Youth, Built to Spill, Slint, Liz Phair, and see two more below) this was hands-down the best of the lot. Performing the unimpeachably brilliant 1999 album Black on Both Sides album from start to finish, Mos Def circumvented the built-in predictability of the setlist with the musical interludes in between each track — basically, whatever the guys on the decks would throw on: a Latin groove, a fragment of old-school hiphop, the entirety of proto-punk band Death’s track “Freakin Out”.

And therefore, the element of surprise: Would he lipsync a bit? Would he lead the crowd on a singalong to “Umi Says”? Would he dance? Would he freestyle? Would he crack jokes? Would he do the robot? Would he mime playing the vibes on “May-December”? Did he have a huge, goofy smile the entire time? Yes to all of the above. Probably my favorite concert of 2009.

(I figure this was my friend Melissa’s favorite concert too, because she was one of five people he was shaking hands with at the end. You should have seen Melissa jump up and down. Anyhow, I can’t link to Melissa’s photos because they’re on Facebook, so I’ll do the next best thing: a link to the concert photos by the woman standing in front of me. That’s how close we were.)

15. Echo and the Bunnymen
Fox Theater, 10/22/2009

Hmm. And there I was, honestly prepared to weep during the last minute of the song “Ocean Rain”, but no. What was billed as the Ocean Rain album in its entirety “with orchestra” was something of a letdown: a too-long break between encores, poor acoustics (oddly for the Fox), which made Will Sergeant’s Scouse even more difficult to understand, plus the “orchestra” turned out to be what was more or less just a conductor, a string quartet (though there might have been more), and a percussionist (who was drowned out by the real drummer anyhow).

16. Built to Spill
The Fillmore, 11/1/2009

Doug Martsch must be the calmest guitar soloist in indie rock. He can break a sweat, that’s for sure — halfway through the set, the combination of perspiration and running his hands through his hair with the tufts standing willy-nilly made him look like some demented scientist — but the effortless way he sends his guitar lines soaring over the crowd is almost uncanny. I’ve seen Built to Spill maybe five times now, but this was surely the best I’d seen them play, even if they didn’t perform “I Would Hurt A Fly”.

Random observation #1: If the Dylan concert had the most heads of gray hair in the audience, BtS had the most facial hair on stage.

Random observation #2: I haven’t been to a concert with that many teens in the audience since Oasis in 1996. Very strange.

17. Little Dragon
The Independent, 11/4/2009

I think my tweet from the concert — it’s odd revisiting real-time tweets to recall states of mind — just about sums it all up. (It was actually a rather inarticulate “Holy crap Little Dragon are ON FIRE tonight”.) This was my fourth time to see them (and, I’m pretty sure, their fourth time to visit SF), but I was unprepared for their sheer energy this time — fueled, I’m guessing, by an enraptured audience cheering and yelling every time Yukimi Nagano rocked that tambourine of hers. (Indeed, she was swinging it so hard during the encore that she fell down on stage — and, without missing a beat, continued to hammer the tambourine on the floor.) Part of the joy of watching them live is seeing the lead singer get lost in the music, dancing with a seemingly complete lack of self-consciousness; you will, too.

18. Pixies
Fox Theater, 11/8/2009

Oh, what a great time. They played the Doolittle album from start to finish, and really, how could you go wrong with that? Highlights: Frank/Francis/Charles completely shredding his lungs out on “Tame”, the goofy footage playing behind “Here Comes Your Man” (an echo of its video), the crowd shout-along to “Hey” (Chris pronounced it “absolutely fucking genius”), Un Chien Andalou playing on the LED screen before the band walked on stage, and the best surprise of all — the UK Surf version of “Wave of Mutilation” during the encore.  When they gathered together in the middle for their final bows, messing about with each other, they looked so — dare I say it? — happy. (p.s. Don’t quit your other band, Kyp!)

19. Buraka Som Sistema
Mezzanine, 11/15/2009

The exemplary ability of Buraka Som Sistema to drag you onto the dancefloor stems from a simple combination: vocals (in Portuguese) spat out like a weapon, steel drums and whistles and stabbing horns, simple choruses that demand either call-and-response or just plain old yelling along (at some point they even sample Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction” just for the hell of it), and an unflagging, irresistible techno thump. And if it’s a venue with acoustics as good as the sound system at the Mezzanine, even better. My dancing for three hours — “with uncharacteristic abandon”, I noted on Twitter — was made even sweeter by the fact that I had been in a leg immobilizer and knee brace and a Kaiser-issued cane for most of the fall of 2009. Praise the baby Jebus, I can dance again.


And once again, a shout-out to all the good people who didn’t mind me bugging you about buying tickets and the late nights and spilled beer and pushing our way to the front and standing in five feet of cubic space with me, some of you more than twice. Thanks to, in concert-chronological order, Courtney, Joey & Lynn, Valerie, Sue, Jeff H., Xochitl, Frank, Laurel, Barb & Oscar, Jens, Jeff L., Lisa, Patrick, Keith & Margaret, Melissa, Chris, Randall & Robin, Dawn, Shaylih, Izzy, Jane, Romeo, Jake, Heinzel, & Monch. Here’s to 2010.

LitCrawl, Saturday 10/17, SF.

In Pinoy on October 14, 2009 at 11:34 am

I’m part of this year’s LitCrawl — phase 3, to be exact (scroll down to the Fabric8 entry) — come by and say “hello!”

PAWA Arkipelago at Litquake!
8:30 pm @ Fabric8 Gallery, 3318 22nd., San Francisco

PAWA & Arkipelago Bookstore Present:
Of History & Myths — Writings from Philippine-American Authors.

Curator: Karen Llagas, Emcee: Anthem Salgado

Readers: Luis H. Francia, Aimee Suzara, Rona Fernandez, Jenesha “Jinky” de Rivera, Eileen Tabios, Benito M. Vergara, Jr.

Happy’s Notes from Ateneo and Ondoy.

In Pinoy on October 3, 2009 at 1:52 am

Reposting my brother Happy Vergara’s latest note on Facebook — I thought it needed to be seen by folks who are outside Facebook, pretty much because the good news is good and the bad news is, as Happy wrote me on IM, “really really bad.”


These are going to be pretty random, with a smattering of my own thoughts, but I will try to stay as true to what I saw, or was told or heard. There is a very long list of people involved here and I can’t possible name them all. Maybe next time.
Good news first:

1. Help reached isolated places in Sta. Cruz, Laguna (two nights ago). The idea was to shoot a truck with prepared food from Enderun straight down there. More on this later.

2. Most of the donations went to Ateneo and some went to Megatent. However, we sent help to Tadlac, Laguna. Binan, Laguna and to the Red Cross feeding in Sta. Cruz and nearby towns.

3. Our contact at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has two choppers available, along with 10 trucks and will be coordinating tomorrow with the US Navy to get goods from around metro manila to the most isolated places. This is a new development, by the way, and it’s worth noting that the “AFP contact” has been working in the backgrounds (they sent the truck with cooked food from Enderun to Sta. Cruz, Laguna for example), but has only now made direct contact with us here.

Those trucks are all deployed now and we are coordinating with a few relief goods center to make sure all trucks are maximized. The choppers, while available, cannot fly because of the current storm conditions. They will be with the US Navy tomorrow. My point is that I am personally attesting to these people, and that, in our time of greatest need, by my personal experience, they are there. There are more good people in government than they are bad.

4. To stay sane, the volunteers at Ateneo have a Best ONDOY Acronym Contest. The current winner is “ONDOY – Our Nation Depends On You”. Naks.

That’s all the good news.

Bad news:

1. The AFP sent 2 trucks to Ateneo to pick up goods for Tumana, Marikina. The people there are still in waist to chest deep water and it’s important that the goods be accompanied by soldiers to keep things orderly. The trucks too are the only vehicles able to get through. Several volunteers from Ateneo went with the AFP. There are pics in the album. THEY WILL NEED MORE HELP.

2. Sta. Cruz towns, unfortunately, are being slowed by politics. Ayoko ng magkwento pa at naiinis lang ako. But at least the food got there.

3. There are still several towns nearby — places in Malabon and Cainta — that we heard HAVE NOT BEEN REACHED by relief. One observer called it “zombieland” as people are either in shock from starvation, too weak to do anything or will grab at all the goods and volunteers. This is where we are helping send the AFP to.

4. In some towns they managed to go to, says Christelle who is with the AFP, some people will wade through chest deep water to come to their truck to get the relief goods. No rescue there. No government. That’s where we want to send your donations the most.

5. In many cases, the relief is slowed down not by politics but by the fact that there is no disaster preparedness. I suppose, that’s politics indirectly.

6. Kulang pa volunteers everywhere. Lots of relief goods remain unprocessed/unpacked in Ateneo for example. It’s a Saturday and it’s raining: where are the people? Sleeping in?


Here are Clarissa’s; they’re a little… sunnier, shall we say:

Monica and I spent the night at Ateneo as volunteers, I wanted to share this experience with all of you out there who sent their donations through us. They have an incredibly organized and efficient operation there, so rest assured that your donations went out to affected areas as soon as humanly possible.

Yesterday was the first day that Ateneo did not have enough manpower to do the packing and organizing (it was raining hard most of the day, and typhoon Pepeng was threatening Manila). A couple of hundred volunteers really is NOT ENOUGH to process mountains of bottled water, canned food, clothes, blankets, medicine and various other essentials. These are some random things I can remember at the moment:

1. New volunteers sign-up, are briefed about the lay of the land at the courts, and then herded to a holding area where “area managers” can pick them up when needed. The wait to get deployed to a task is about 20 seconds.

2. The task of putting together a “relief pack” is called “shopping,” which we found really amusing. You go to a station where plastic bags are opened (6 ppl do this) for easy carrying, then you walk those bags through a water bottle station, canned goods station, biscuits station, and rice station. At these stations another 30 or so people put stuff in your bags. Once filled you drop them off at another station where 20 people are tasked to tie up the bags. Another 20 people pick up those bags and collect them for counting.

3. Packed bags are counted out and piled up on 500-bag hills of goods, each pile has a note on top that indicates where they will go (seen were Laguna, Pateros).

4. In other areas of the courts, covered by boxes of unsorted food, were smaller operations. Teams of around 15 people each put together toiletry packs, medicine packs, blanket and clothes packs. These are aggregated into large boxes and labeled.

5. At around 10pm a HUGE (and I mean HUGE) dump truck pulls in. It is headed for Pateros and is assigned 4,000 food packs plus a lot of boxes of blankets. Two lines of volunteers are formed, each line about 40 people deep, that go from the pile to the truck. Ten students gamely climb into the inside of the truck and on the roof of the driver’s cab to complete the assembly line. Loading takes an hour. At 11pm the truck pulls out and drives off to Pateros. Those students are having the time of their lives, sincerely enjoying making a difference.

6. Sights to see: 5 year old child helping carry 2-kilo food packs onto the truck, guy in an Audi convoys truck to site, parents putting cans onto plastic bags alongside their kids, drivers and yayas working alongside their “wards”, people thanking you at every turn just for being there

7. Morale boosters: professional comedy duo on the mics providing hilarious (and clean) commentary, Krispy Kreme donuts for volunteers, Starbucks sends free coffee for volunteers, on the radio “525,600 minutes” on the radio and everyone around you singing at the top of their voices while busily packing relief goods

After a couple of hours of carrying things, we realized we didn’t have the stamina that these teenagers had. We were exhausted and yet the kids who had been there since the morning were still running around at full speed.

Smiling faces all around.

We took about 70% of the goods we purchased with your money to this operation. The rate at which donations come into the Ateneo covered courts has dropped markedly, but the number of volunteers has not. Let’s keep em coming!

Typhoon Ondoy Relief Goods to Tadlac, Los Banos, Laguna.

In Pinoy on October 2, 2009 at 10:46 pm

I thought I’d repost some photos from Happy, Clarissa and Monica’s most recent grocery run — okay, not literally theirs, because someone else did it for them this time — but once again, almost all the donations came from people on Facebook through Happy’s Paypal account.

Tadlak is a barangay in the municipality of Los Banos, my hometown, in the province of Laguna. If you Google “Tadlak” you’ll see a pretty photograph of Tadlak Lake — practically a pond, really, and barely showing up on a map next to Laguna de Bay. I think it must have been this same lake that overflowed after Ondoy came through.

There is no evacuation/relief center in Tadlac which, as Happy reminded me, is only 1 kilometer away from the main highway.

I’m reposting some of the photographs with Happy’s original captions.

Tadlak was still flooded as of yesterday.

The Tadlac Mission of a local Los Banos Church was flooded

The Tadlac Mission of a local Los Banos Church was flooded

A not so unusual scene in these parts.

A not so unusual scene in these parts.

People were sleeping by the railroad as that was the highest point in the area. No evacuation center here.

People were sleeping by the railroad as that was the highest point in the area. No evacuation center here.

Here were some of the relief goods purchased from the Facebook donations. (About half of that batch of donations went towards a grocery run for Sta. Cruz, Laguna.)

Relief goods were mosquito nets, mats and a rubber hose.

Relief goods were mosquito nets, mats and a rubber hose.

They were very happy to receive the donations. They hadn't slept well (others were providing ample food though) but they had no evacuation center. In a way, YOU DONATED ONE. Please note that the distribution was very orderly. One person at the foreground was calling out family names and checking that the distribution was even.

They were very happy to receive the donations. They hadn't slept well (others were providing ample food though) but they had no evacuation center. In a way, YOU DONATED ONE. Please note that the distribution was very orderly. One person at the foreground was calling out family names and checking that the distribution was even.

There's the tarp, mats and mosquito nets you bought. These people have been out here for days, and maybe more with the coming storm. You help keep them safe and dry. THANK YOU!!

There's the mats and mosquito nets you bought. These people have been out here for days, and maybe more with the coming storm. You help keep them safe and dry. THANK YOU!!

One of those mats, by the way, costs about $2.85 — about the same price as a tall caffe mocha at Starbucks. The mosquito net, crucial to preventing the spread of dengue fever, for starters, is a little pricier: the same price as a grande caramel macchiato.

A rubber hose to bring drinking water across from the other side of the village. He was really happy with the impromptu plumbing.

A rubber hose to bring drinking water across from the other side of the village. He was really happy with the impromptu plumbing.

This house had a tap with running water. But it was difficult to get the water from there to the tracks. With the hose you bought, they are now able to.

This house had a tap with running water. But it was difficult to get the water from there to the tracks. With the hose you bought, they are now able to.

Running water!

Running water!

Please see my previous post, which includes various links where you can donate online!

Ondoy Letter of Appeal.

In Pinoy on October 1, 2009 at 3:03 pm

I’m reposting my brother Happy Vergara’s “Ondoy Letter of Appeal” (originally posted on Facebook; requires Facebook login). Please see my previous blog entry on Ondoy as well.


Hello Friends,

I hope this reaches you well.

I am writing on behalf of the millions of victims of Typhoon Ondoy, which four days ago flooded 80% of Metro Manila and the provinces of Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan. Three hundred people have died and thousands have been rescued from their rooftops. Hundreds of thousands of people are in evacuation centers all over.

Still, there are numerous reports of people in the provinces in need of rescue or of entire villages being inaccessible to rescue and relief as the flood waters have not receded. In Sta. Cruz, Laguna, which we have been able to communicate with directly, more than 7,000 families are in evacuation centers from 4 barangays alone.

Please see a slideshow, a video here, and more on YouTube. Google also has an Ondoy page.

The government estimates that damage could run up to Php 5 billion.



We have set up a Paypal account. Through this account, we have raised more than U$5,900.00 from friends in the US and through Facebook. We are using this to purchase relief goods that we send straight to Ateneo University’s relief efforts. We have posted a photo album of our efforts here (link requires Facebook login).

We are appealing for more help, as much more needs to be done. Through the kindness of friends, we have sent funds to Binan, Laguna and Sta. Cruz, Laguna. They in turn are using this to purchase relief goods for their area. We hope to do more of the same.

1. You can help us by sending money via Paypal to paypal [AT]

2. If you do not have a Paypal account, please email me at benito.vergara [at] with the amount you are willing to donate. We will then send you an email Request for Payment in that amount which you can respond with using a credit card.

3. You can also donate using your credit card to:

World Food Programme



UNICEF (with matching dollar-for-dollar grant)

And while people are still awaiting rescue, another typhoon is coming to the Philippines.

Please help us in this desperate time of need.


UPDATE 100109

We have raised $5,900. We are now coordinating with friends in Laguna who are willing to advance the funds so they can be used IMMEDIATELY for relief goods in Binan, Los Banos, San Pedro and Sta. Cruz. Thank you for all your help.

Happy, Clarissa & Monica’s Grocery Runs for Victims of Typhoon Ondoy.

In Pinoy on September 29, 2009 at 8:23 am
The first batch of relief goods they purchased from Facebook donations

The first batch of relief goods they purchased from Facebook donations

Relief Center in Ateneo.

Relief Center in Ateneo.

I had originally posted the 9/27 note below on Facebook (see original note) — and made it viewable to “everyone”, not knowing that “everyone” did not mean people without Facebook accounts! So here it is — the most important part is the ONLINE DONATIONS section close to the bottom:


Hi folks, here’s a slightly more direct way of helping out the victims of Typhoon Andoy — my brother Happy Vergara has set up an email account just for Paypal donations (paypal [at] and has raised $1500 today from Facebook friends alone! He and his spouse Clarissa David, and her sister Monica, have been running off to the supermarket and buying the canned goods themselves and dropping them off personally at the relief center in Ateneo. Please help!

See also pictures of Happy, Clarissa and Monica in action. (Requires Facebook login.)

UPDATE (9/28: 12:30 PST): They’ve raised enough money to make a second run to the supermarket this afternoon (9/28 Manila time) and will keep returning to the supermarket to buy canned goods as long as the donations keep coming in. But we know that won’t be enough — some people are still stranded on the roofs of their houses, the flood waters aren’t all receding yet, and thousands of people are still displaced from their homes (or what’s left of them).

UPDATE (9/28, 6:00 PST): And once again, the Facebook posse has come through: my brother woke up this morning to find over $790 more in funds, bringing the total up to $3031 in 24 hours! He’ll be making a third run to the supermarket and the pharmacy today (vitamins and rehydration salts are what is needed right now).

UPDATE (9/29, 8:30 AM PST): The third batch of groceries were just purchased and delivered, and they’ve raised $4,100 — thanks to all you Facebookers!

UPDATE (9/29, 9:15 PM PST): the total is now $4,700 in 48 hours from Facebook — thanks again! Clarissa and Monica are out buying groceries again; we’ll keep you folks updated!

UPDATE (9/30, 7:00 PM PST): the total is now $5,900 — money and relief are going to to Sta. Cruz, Binan, San Pedro, Tadlak in Laguna. Thanks again!

UPDATE (10/1, 7:50 PM PST): we’ve raised $6,300! Pictures from the donations to Laguna will be posted soon.

UPDATE (10/2, 7:00 PM PST): we’ve raised $8,400 thanks to you amazing people. An increasing number of donations have been coming from people who aren’t in any of our friend networks — just people who saw them reposted on a friend of a friend’s profile, and those were only the ones I could locate on Facebook.

UPDATE (10/4, 9:00 PM PST): we’re up to $9,100, thanks to you! Please see Benjamin Pimentel’s article, “For FilAms, a ‘Happy’ Way to Help”, on



I know it’s frustrating for those of us who live away from the Philippines and can’t seem to find a way to do this securely online [EDIT: not true anymore, see below] (and not have to bother with wire transfers and check clearing, or worry that the funds may go into the wrong hands). Happy just took the initiative and set up the Paypal account. They’re not set up to give out receipts for tax deductions or anything (sorry); all we’ve been doing is sending quick thank-you notes on Facebook and tagging donors in photos of the relief goods. (But yes, I think it’s great that you can see what was purchased with your donations just a few hours afterwards, and see them being delivered to the relief centers, and no, the trio are not getting paid for any of this.)

[What I do find amazing about all this is the speed in which this all took place, not to mention the fact that an increasing amount of the Facebook donors had never even met Happy or Clarissa or Monica. My and their Facebook friends in turn reposted the original note on their profiles, and we started receiving donations from people who weren't even friends of friends. So you see, Facebook isn't just for inane quizzes after all!]

There are now many other places that also accept online donations:

And see even more here, at the Moongirl blog.

There’s probably a drop-off site in a city near you as well; NAFCON/Sandiwa, among others, are coordinating them.)

Whichever way you donate, it’s extremely appreciated, and a little goes a long way in the Philippines. Of the grocery items that the three have purchased:

- $1 will buy 10 juice boxes,
- $5 will buy 5 cans of tuna,
- $10 will buy 24 packs of powdered milk,
- $17 will buy a 55-pound sack of rice (more or less, we think, 100+ cups of cooked rice, which means a hundred-odd people!)

PLEASE, PLEASE HELP. (Yes, I’m shouting here.) In three villages in the city of Sta. Cruz in my home province of Laguna alone — and it’s not even the worst-hit area, unlike Metropolitan Manila which was 80% submerged — 5,000 people are still in waist-deep flood water, and reports are still coming in of entire baranggays still stranded, with no food or drinking water for the last three days. All in all, 280,000 people have been displaced from their homes.

PAWA Arkipelago Reading Series.

In Pinoy on August 10, 2009 at 3:28 pm

I’ll be at the Philippine American Writers and Artists Arkipelago Reading Series in SF on August 23rd — stop by and say “hello!”

Where: The Bayanihan Center 1010 Mission Street @ 6th Street, San Francisco

When: Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Who: Penélope V. Flores, Joaquin Jay Gonzalez III, Kevin L. Nadal, and Benito M. Vergara, Jr.

More details at the PAWA blog.

No Tears.

In Pinoy on August 3, 2009 at 2:58 am

Corazon Aquino is dead, and — especially since I’m writing this in the Philippines — I’m in the midst of a fit of national mourning. It’s all over the place: the funeral procession on TV, people wearing yellow T-shirts, banners on buildings, tweets and Facebook status updates, constant newspaper coverage, the lines of mourners, tributes from world leaders. Even Pope Benedict XVI has lauded Aquino’s “courageous commitment to the freedom of the Filipino people, her firm rejection of violence and intolerance”.

Yet I can’t seem to feel any sorrow over her death. Quite frankly, I’m a little disgusted by all these encomiums and how easily people forget.

This is not to say that I’m some sort of heartless grump — quite the contrary — but I’m hoping that this blog entry may serve as more of an explanation. It really has to do, I think, with where I was twenty-three years ago, about my emotional maturity and my political education. It has to do with what I remember.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pinoy Ethnography, American Suburb.

In Pinoy on July 26, 2009 at 10:21 am

Cutting and pasting from the Facebook invitation — many thanks to Maria Jovita Zarate for setting this all up!


A lecture by Dr. Benito Vergara
Host: Dean’s Office, UP College of Arts and Letters

Tuesday, August 4, 2009
2:00pm – 5:00pm
Bulwagan ng Dangal, UP Main Library
University Avenue, UP Diliman
Quezon City, Philippines

The College of Arts and Letters takes great pleasure in inviting you to a public lecture to be delivered by Dr. Benito Vergara, author of Displaying Filipinos (UP Press, 1995) and Pinoy Capital (Temple University Press, 2009).

In this lecture, Dr. Vergara will talk about his ethnographic forays into the lives of Filipino Americans living in Daly City.

Dr. Boi Abaya (UP Anthropology Department), Dr. Patrick Flores (UP Arts Studies), and Dr. Raul Pertierra (UP Asian Center and ADMU Department of Sociology and Anthropology) sit in the panel of reactors.

Book Talk at Eastwind Books, Saturday, 4/4/09.

In Pinoy on March 20, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Please mark your calendars! I’m having a book reading / talk / Q&A at Eastwind Books in Berkeley — come over, bring friends, have your book signed! I’ll be talking about my new book, Pinoy Capital: The Filipino Nation in Daly City, out earlier this year from Temple University Press.

Here are the details:

Saturday, April 4, 3:30 pm
Eastwind Books
2066 University Ave. @ Shattuck
Berkeley, CA

Please see for more info about the reading; more information about the book itself can be found here:

Upcoming Book Talk, Thursday, 3/12/2009, SFSU.

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2009 at 11:56 am

For those of you in the Bay Area — I have a book talk (more like a short reading plus introduction and Q&A) at SF State this coming Thursday.


The Asian American Studies Department Presents:

“Pinoy Capital: The Filipino Nation in Daly City”


Dr. Benito M. Vergara Jr.

Date:  Thursday, March 12, 2009
Start Time: 5:00pm
Location: Thornton Hall 327
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132

Description: Dr. Benito M. Vergara Jr. shares with us his ethnographic study of the Filipino American population in Daly City, CA. He probes into this community’s nostalgia for the ancestral country while delving into how colonialism, identity, transnational culture, and family impact this population. Dr. Vergara addresses how the Filipino American community shapes Daly City and is in turn also transformed in the process. Following, there is a Q&A with light refreshments.

This event is sponsored by the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University and cosponsored by Asian Student Union (ASU), Manalo Movement, and Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor (PACE). For more information you can contact Jeannie Woo at

Thinking about Television.

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 at 7:47 pm

So this has been one of those great weeks for me: the book finally in my hands, four sweet long days with my little daughter Izzy in Austin, Inauguration Day, and tonight, in an hour or so, the premiere of the fifth season of Lost.

Lost (and also The Wire) has been one of the main reasons why I haven’t been blogging about movies as much. I’m not a big fan of television at all, so I myself am surprised about the amount of time and energy I’ve invested in these two shows in the last three months. (I consumed all four seasons of Lost in a little less than two months, bloodshot eyes be damned.) I suspect part of it has to do with the sprawling, sequential nature of both serials, but even that seems to be a fairly new development. (My friend Ben was wondering whether the popularity of Mexican and Korean soap operas around the world had influenced this reimagining of what television audiences could handle; I’d like to think that The X-Files‘ shifting between their mythology arcs and stand-alone Scooby-Doo episodes had something to do with it as well.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Tooting My Own Horn.

In Pinoy on January 12, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Pinoy Capital

Pinoy Capital
The Filipino Nation in Daly City
Benito M. Vergara, Jr.

Home to 33,000 Filipino American residents, Daly City, California, located just outside of San Francisco, has been dubbed “the Pinoy Capital of the United States.” In this fascinating ethnographic study of the lives of Daly City residents, Benito Vergara shows how Daly City has become a magnet for the growing Filipino American community.

Vergara challenges rooted notions of colonialism here, addressing the immigrants’ identities, connections and loyalties. Using the lens of transnationalism, he looks at the “double lives” of both recent and established Filipino Americans. Vergara explores how first-generation Pinoys experience homesickness precisely because Daly City is filled with reminders of their homeland’s culture, like newspapers, shops and festivals. Vergara probes into the complicated, ambivalent feelings these immigrants have—toward the Philippines and the United States—and the conflicting obligations they have presented by belonging to a thriving community and yet possessing nostalgia for the homeland and people they left behind.


Pinoy Capital is a colorful and nuanced ethnographic foray into the social institutions and quotidian lives of Filipino Americans living in Daly City. Vergara is a gifted writer and his work delves closely on the affective and reciprocal relationships and practices of Filipino Americans as immigrants. This is a welcome and important study, and Vergara puts forward important and innovative assertions and arguments that will have repercussions on debates about Filipinos in the United States.”
—Martin Manalansan, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and editor of Cultural Compass: Ethnographic Explorations of Asian America

Pinoy Capital is a landmark text—an exciting, refreshing, and critical ethnography that continues, but revitalizes, ongoing conversations regarding Filipino immigrant/transnational life in the United States. There have been very few ethnographies of this group, and I think this one not only offers a much-needed and provocative study, it complicates arguments and discussions about the specificities of Filipino immigration to the U.S. Vergara provides solid and rigorous engagement with his objects of study, and he is especially attuned to the clarities and complexities of everyday life in a particular site that is touted as a quintessential one for Filipino American settlement.”
—Rick Bonus, Associate Professor, Department of American Ethnic Studies, University of Washington

About the Author

Benito M. Vergara, Jr. is the author of Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th-Century Philippines. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.

232 pp
3 tables 2 map(s)

paper: $25.95, Jan 09
EAN: 978-1-59213-665-0
ISBN: 1-59213-665-6

cloth: $74.50, Jan 09
EAN: 978-1-59213-664-3
ISBN: 1-59213-664-8

My 15 Favorite Songs of 2008.

In music on December 23, 2008 at 7:22 pm
Austin, March 2008.

Every December or January, in a yearly ritual that somehow became more and more of a chore, I do a roundup of my favorite albums I heard throughout the year. Last year’s sorry excuse for a list was the result of writing exhaustion: what else could I really write about Boxer or Sound of Silver that hadn’t already been written?

Unlike the real critics, though, I included everything, old and new, in my year-end list — for the simple reason that musical excavation was a lot easier (and many times a lot more rewarding) than trying to keep up with new releases. I don’t get free advance CDs, after all. 2008 was the year I plunged deeply into irrationally different discographies: Led Zeppelin, Wilco, Ricardo Villalobos, Broken Social Scene, Arab Strap, and almost every compilation of ’70s African music (especially the wonderful Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-6) I could get my hands on.

This year it seemed even harder to write up a list because my musical consumption, and perhaps my attention span as well, had been downsized. I had caught up, finally, with the iPod Generation, and succumbed to the sonic implications of the shuffle function, my beloved MusicIP Mixer, the Genius Playlist,, and downloadable tracks from iTunes and Amazon — all features designed, it seems, to be at cross-purposes with the overarching framework of an album.

Such features make it easier to subvert and/or disrespect the artist’s intentions somehow. Surely Radiohead, for instance, wanted you to hear “All I Need”, a total stunner of a track, between “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi” and “Faust Arp”. But random playlists and shuffles also work in the service of a song. One might say that the shuffle liberates a song from the confines of the album, recontextualizes it, and makes it new. Stateless’ “Bloodstream” popped up that way (on a Radio station based on Clara Hill), and Captain Audio’s “Lemon” came bubbling out of the speakers on an Austin radio station like some long-lost Liz Phair track.

Hearing songs in different contexts played a huge part of my musical listening in 2008. My iTunes statistics tell a different story from the list later below: my most-played songs were the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps”, OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again” (really — with 42 and a half million views on YouTube, you don’t even have to click the link), and Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” — and you players of Rock Band know why. Jill Scott’s “Golden”, a total declaration of independence, was one of my favorite songs this year since I saw strippers ironically dancing to it… in Grand Theft Auto IV.

So was Antony and the Johnsons’ “Hope There’s Someone”, from an album that didn’t make much of an impression on me until I heard the song at the conclusion of Wayne Wang’s The Princess of Nebraska. (Here’s my review, by the way.) Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s “New Year’s Kiss” plays during the opening credits of Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy (another quick review here). And yes, also Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend”, from “Harvest Moon” — an album I always thought of as being all about the gorgeous title track — because Tunde Adebimpe sings it a cappella in Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married.

Which is not to say that there weren’t any albums I played all the way through until I wore out the grooves — oh wait, I haven’t done that since “Dark Side of the Moon”. Little Dragon‘s 2007 debut album was, hands down, my favorite album of the year (you all need to watch the video for “Test”), as were a couple albums noted below, and two older albums — Houses of the Holy and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — which I had listened to back in the day, but only really clicked this year.

But here, nonetheless, is a sweet surrender to the joys of song, all released in 2008 for real (with the exception of the Vampire Weekend track, which Pitchfork cognoscenti probably found out about in 2007). They’re actually ranked in order, too, which is something I’ve never attempted before. As it is, the order will probably change (as I type this, Point Juncture WA‘s “Melon Bird” is threatening to crack the top 15).


Read the rest of this entry »

My Bloody Valentine, The Concourse, San Francisco, 9/30/2008.

In music on October 1, 2008 at 11:54 am

My Bloody Valentine was punishingly loud — louder, perhaps, than the SUNN O)))) or Merzbow concerts I’ve attended. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, even if I do enjoy the sensation of my ribcage and my nasal bone rattling the entire length of the concert; inevitably you’ll have to wear earplugs, and if they’re cheap Flents like mine, you run the risk of submerging MBV murk into non-trebly murk.

And at a venue much like an airplane hangar like the SF Design Center Concourse, it’s diffused non-trebly murk, but Jane and Xochitl and Jens and I were about a fifth of the way up front, so it probably sounded better for us. And it then becomes hard to make out the thick layers of guitar, like the wobbly choral ocean bed to which “To Here Knows When” is anchored. (On the other hand, the guitar motifs are practically burned into your head: I woke up this morning and could still hear that ten-note riff from “When You Sleep” ringing somewhere back there.)

But nonetheless, this means that one could still enjoy the live My Bloody Valentine experience on a purely somatic level, your body vibrating in sympathy to the speakers and to everyone else. Add to this a whole array of flash strobes so bright you can see where the lights are attached to the ceiling through your closed eyelids — well, you can see what I mean by “somatic”. You could have been asleep and the music would have still burrowed through you.

I can’t really provide a setlist — Jens said he recognized songs from both albums and both EPs — but as one can imagine, most of “Loveless” made an appearance. (“Loomer” was fantastic; MBV opened the set with “I Only Said” — you know, it’s the one with that repeating chirp — went on for what felt like a blissful ten minutes.) They came on a little after 10:30, and finished right at midnight — and as expected, around 11:35, “You Made Me Realise” began, culminating in 20-odd minutes of a tsunami of churning guitar feedback. One of my best concert experiences of 2008, in a year filled with them.

Fetch… The Comfy Chair!

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2008 at 7:33 am

From “The Michael Chabon Interview: Special Sarah Palin Edition”, on

Jeffrey Goldberg: Isn’t it great that Michael Palin’s sister is running for vice president?

Michael Chabon: Jeffrey, I fear it might actually be kind of sad that I had exactly the same thought when I first heard her name. At least we can safely assume, at this point, that Governor Palin fully appreciates the deep wisdom contained in that old axiom: nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

New Blog!

In sine on August 17, 2008 at 11:04 pm

I was playing with WordPress this morning and thought I’d repost my longer blog entries on movies into a new site. (The category page was getting too unwieldy to load anyhow.)

So: three entries will be uploaded a day until the old posts run out, which will probably be a month. I won’t be editing any of them (regardless of how wrong they might sound to me now), just reposting them as I go.

It’s interesting to see that, in the 11 years or so I’ve been blogging, my writing has actually changed — for the better, I think. Whether it’s an improvement in style (debatable), an acquisition of both writing and cinematic vocabularies, or a genuine attempt in taking the stuff more seriously, it’s a reflection of an ongoing, immersive, giddy education in consuming movies. Or, perhaps more aptly, being consumed by them. I can’t think of any other art form that has given me as much pleasure.

It should be clear that this cinematic “education” is not formal at all; when it comes to movies I’m a total amateur — and yes, in the older sense of the word too. (And I should add that despite the mention of Tarkovsky and Kubrick — and that screen capture from Last Year in Marienbad, which will change from time to time — I’ll still be mostly writing about flicks you can find at your local multiplex.)

The name of the WordPress blog — Film, Eyeballs, Brain — partly comes from an essay in The New Yorker by Jonathan Lethem called “The Beards”. An excerpt from the piece is reproduced in a sidebar, and it should be self-explanatory. (However, I’ve actually taken it a bit out of context. It may be best not to reproduce the succeeding paragraphs as they’re probably a little too revealing — not of Lethem, but of myself. You can find it in anthologized in Lethem’s essay collection The Disappointment Artist, but he rewrote the passage I quote.)

Please add me to your feedreader, link to me on your blogroll, tell friends, and most of all: please leave comments! (And please don’t tell me that the url looks like it’s four separate words (“Film, Eye, Balls, Brain”) — I know that already.

New American Pop Entry: Accents.

In Pinoy on August 16, 2008 at 7:27 pm

Called Accents, because I couldn’t think of a title: mother tongues, Tagalog, from sea to shining sea, forming words in my head, dismay at “losing” my accent, and (I’ll stop with the Journey references at some point, honestly) yet another little mention of Arnel Pineda towards the end. And no mention of “tongues like parrots” either, how about that!

New American Pop Entry: It's Steve, And It's Not Steve.

In Pinoy on July 21, 2008 at 10:55 pm

The third and last part of a series of related posts on Journey’s new lead singer, Arnel Pineda, called “It’s Steve, and It’s Not Steve“, on American Pop.

New American Pop Entry: Unfunny.

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2008 at 10:09 pm

I’m in a crabby mood, so be forewarned: a new American Pop entry on the rather dreadful Esther Ku, some petty infighting, and what happens when satire runs off the rails, called “Unfunny“.

The Police / Elvis Costello and The Imposters, Shoreline, Mountain View, 7/14/2008.

In music on July 14, 2008 at 11:52 pm

At some point in your life, Dear Reader, you must have said to yourself — and you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t — you must have said to yourself, This is my favorite band. That band was The Police, back in 1983, at the tender age of [don't even ask], when I saved up my allowance to buy my very first album on cassette, Synchronicity, which was followed by a voracious rifling through their back catalog, beginning with Outlandos d’Amour. In hindsight I can see, even back then, the obsessive quality of my consumption: it wasn’t enough to get the five studio albums; I had to go buy a bootleg Synchronicity T-shirt, and even that volume of The Secret Policemen’s Ball, on vinyl for crying out loud, where a solitary Sting sings “Roxanne” without his fellow band members. (But my incipient critical faculties didn’t cling to The Police for too long, fickle as they were; they were supplanted, in too-quick succession, by Talking Heads, U2, and The Cure (1984, 1985, and 1986 respectively) as my Favorite Band Of All Time, but no matter: The Police were the very first.

Just a few hours ago, with Son and Eloise, I finally fulfilled something of a lifelong and impossible dream of mine: to see The Police in concert. It feels odd to report that the highlight of the concert was Sting making a surprise appearance to sing a duet with Elvis Costello on “Alison”, but the element of surprise gets me every time. (Costello also played “Pump It Up”, “Radio Radio”, “Watching the Detectives”, “Everyday I Write The Book”, “Clubland”, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”, and I swear they were playing “Accidents Will Happen” during the soundcheck, but he didn’t play it.) But again, no matter: The Police gave a fantastic concert from start to finish, with my brain completely fried from what was technically 25 full years of waiting.

So, the setlist, as far as I can remember, below:

  1. “A hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore.”
  2. “I hope my legs don’t break.”
  3. “I’m a walking disaster.”
  4. “Echoes things that you said.” / “Same tape I’ve had for years.”
  5. “Just like that old man in that book by Nabokov.”
  6. “Shame wells in my throat.”
  7. “I shake like an incurable.”
  8. “I resolved to call her up a thousand times a day.”
  9. “I will turn your face to alabaster.”
  10. “And no one’s jamming their transmission.”
  11. “Looking like something that the cat brought in.”
  12. “And my LP records and they’re all scratched.” / “Rio riay riayo.”
  13. “I won’t share you with another boy.”
  14. “There’s a skeleton choking on a crust of bread.”
  15. “I always play the starring role.”
  16. “I keep crying baby baby please.”
  17. “I sold my house I sold my motor too.”

Style Sheet.

In Pinoy on July 12, 2008 at 12:38 pm

In most matters of style, the Press follows the Chicago Manual of Style… unless the author has used an alternative style that is reasonable and consistent.

The alternative style sheet, as provided by my copyeditor, which is an oddly accurate snapshot of what’s inside my forthcoming book, though I hesitated for a minute about “Q-Bert” versus “QBert”:

Adobe PageMaker

balikbayan (ital. at 1st appearance, not afterward)


DJ Q-Bert


family-reunification as adj. before noun
family-reunification preference as adj. before noun
The Filipino Channel
Financial District
first-preference as adj. before noun

Hiphop Nation

Invisibl Skratch Piklz

Jefferson High School District


national origin as adj. before noun

occupational-preference as adj. before noun

PhilNews Network


Second Wave open as adj before noun
Serramonte district
St. Francis district
Sunset District

Tenderloin district
Third Wave open as adj before noun
third- and sixth-preference as adj. before noun
third-preference as adj. before noun
Top of the Hill district


Westlake district

Stevie Wonder, Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, 7/6/08.

In music on July 10, 2008 at 2:38 pm

One of my earliest childhood memories ever — come to think of it, this is the first time I’ve seen this clip from Sesame Street in color, since I watched it back in the day on a small black-and-white TV. I don’t think it gets any funkier than this.

Three decades later, I finally saw him live for the first time at the Shoreline, just over the weekend with Joannie and Luna. An amazing concert all around — not quite as tight a band as in the vintage video above, and with an audience a little more sedate than the kid in the red shirt, but with massive amounts of goodwill radiating outward from the stage, it wasn’t hard to be swept up and feel overjoyed. (Despite the odd sequencing, at times: the crowd on their feet with “Higher Ground”, only to sit back down with an extended jam on Chick Corea’s “Spain”. A great reminder, nonetheless, of Wonder’s place as a titan of American popular music, one not “limited” to funk and soul.)

And I can’t pick from my favorite 1-2-3 combos: was it the “Isn’t She Lovely / Ribbon in the Sky / Overjoyed” combination halfway through, or “Signed Sealed Delivered / Sir Duke / I Wish” two hours in? Nevertheless: an unassailable selection of songs, a fantastic concert.

New American Pop Post: "The Man Can Sing Anything."

In Pinoy on July 9, 2008 at 8:10 pm

The answer: someone was hot enough — Arnel Pineda, that’s who. Following a previous entry on Filipino overseas musicians, a new entry on Pineda as “the ultimate OFW”, called “The Man Can Sing Anything”.

(Image swiped from the WFMU blog.)

New American Pop Entry: Cool Stupid.

In sine on July 3, 2008 at 1:26 am

My summer class got cancelled (long story having to do with new job opportunities in combination with low enrollment), so I guess I get to watch summer movies instead.

New American Pop Entry: Tongues Like Parrots.

In music on June 27, 2008 at 5:38 pm

A new entry, on Filipino musicians, on my American Pop blog, called Tongues Like Parrots.

American Pop.

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2008 at 6:18 pm

Yes, that’s my ugly mug staring at you from my brand-new “American Pop” column for

There are a few entries posted already, waiting to be read:

- Introduction
- What Asians Listen To
- Grand Theft Auto IV and the American Dream (the first part)
- Grand Theft Auto IV and the American Dream (the second part)

Please drop by! I want your comments, folks!

You Wouldn't Get This From Any Other Guy.

In music on June 17, 2008 at 1:34 am

Either Manila is the greatest concert city ever…

…or the most cursed.

Still: Rick!

And Where I Was The Afternoon Before.

In Pinoy on June 16, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Where I'll Be This Afternoon.

In Pinoy on June 15, 2008 at 7:03 pm

From the University of the Philippines Centennial Recognition Rites — check out that last guy on the National Scientists list! (Galing talaga nang erpats ko!*)

2008 UP Parangal Sentenyal: The University fetes past former UP Presidents and National Scientists and Artists from the University in a fitting ceremony June 16, 6 p.m., at the University Theater.

UP Presidents: Murray Simpson Bartlett (1911-1915), Ignacio Borbon Villamor (1950-1920), Guy Potter Wharton Benton (1921-1923), Rafael Velasquez Palma (1923-1933), Jorge Cleofas Bocobo (1934-1939), Bienvenido Ma. Sioco Gonzalez (1939-1943; 1945-1951), Antonio Guillermo Sison (1943-1945), Vidal Arceo Tan (1951-1956), Vicente de Guzman Sinco (1958-1962), Carlos Peña Romulo (1962-1968), Salvador Ponce López (1969-1975), Onofre Dizon Corpuz (1975-1979), Emanuel Valdez Soriano (1979-1981), Edgardo Javier Angara (1981-1987), José Veloso Abueva (1987-1993), Emil Quinto Javier (1993-1999) and Francisco Nemenzo Jr. (1999-2005).

National Scientists: Encarnacion A. Alzona (1985), Teodoro A. Agoncillo (1985), Clare R. Baltazar (2001), Julian A. Banzon (1986), Paulo C. Campos (1989), Gelia T. Castillo (1999), Onofre D. Corpuz (2004), Lourdes J. Cruz (2006), Geminiano T. De Ocampo (1982), Fe Del Mundo (1980), Casimiro Del Rosario (1982), José Encarnacion Jr. (1987), Pedro B. Escuro (1994), Francisco M. Foronda (1983), Bienvenido O. Juliano (2000), Alfredo V. Lagmay (1988), Ricardo M. Lantican (2005), Hilardo D.G. Lara (1985), Clara Y. Lim-Sylianco (1994), Luz Oliveros-Belardo (1987), Eduardo A. Quisumbing (1980), Dolores A. Ramirez (1998), Juan S. Salcedo Jr. (1978), Alfredo C. Santos (1978), Francisco O. Santos (1983), Dioscoro L. Umali (1986), José R. Velasco (1998), Carmen C. Velasquez (1983), Gregorio T. Velasquez (1982) and Benito S. Vergara (2001).

National Artists: Napoleon V. Abueva (1976), Virgilio S. Almario (2003), Fernando Amorsolo (1972), Francisco Arcellana (1990), Francisca R. Aquino (1973), Daisy Avellana (1999), Ishmael Bernal (2001), Lino Brocka (1997), Antonio R. Buenaventura (1988), Benedicto Cabrera (2006), Levi Celerio (1997), Felipe D. de Leon (1997), Carlos V. Francisco (1973), Jovita Fuentes (1976), N.V.M. Gonzalez (1997), Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero (1997), Amado V. Hernandez (1973), Abdulmari Asia Imao (2006), F. Sionil José (2001), José T. Joya (2001), Cesar Legaspi (1990), Leandro V. Locsin (1990), Bienvenido Lumbera (2006), José Maceda (1997), Vicente Manansala (1981), Antonio J. Molina (1973), Severino Montano (2001), Ramón Obusan (2006), Carlos P. Romulo (1982), Lucio D. San Pedro (1991), Ildefonso P. Santos (2006), Guillermo Tolentino (1973), Andrea Veneración (1999) and José García Villa (1973).

*Someone asked me to translate this into English. How about: “My dad rocks!”)

The Joys of Dislocation.

In Pinoy on June 10, 2008 at 5:50 am

I read the first half of uncommonly prolific scholar Patricio N. (Jojo) Abinales’ new collection of essays on a Philippine Airlines flight from San Francisco to Manila. Unlike myself – I only had a 90-minute ride to the foothills of Mt. Makiling once I arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport – some of my fellow passengers had to take dusty jeepney rides to the provinces, to places driven past on the way to Baguio.

The second half of Jojo’s book I read on yet another plane – one from Manila to Tagbilaran (a place I know close to nothing about) and back – and then I’m typing this up in my childhood home in Los Banos, a town from whose everyday life I’ve been long detached.

There’s a reason I’m sharing these particular bits of information, even if it likely comes across as indulgent hand-wringing on my part. But to the Tagalog-speaking, Laguna-educated reader like myself, whose knowledge of the Philippines is embarrassingly parochial and severely restricted to Manila’s egregiously narrow cultural production, the book, as a whole, comes as a sharp and necessary rebuke. I suspect that Jojo would certainly have meant it to be one.

Entitled The Joys of Dislocation: Mindanao, Nation and Region (Anvil, 2008), these uniformly intelligent, wide-ranging essays – laced with bitingly honest wit – are superb illustrations of Jojo’s life as a scholar and a public intellectual. A collection of columns from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Newsbreak, and UP Forum, among others, the book spans a little over ten years of Philippine political upheaval, and Jojo – both as perpetual and peripatetic outsider and uncomfortable insider – was there to chronicle the events. If anything, this compendium serves as a correction, even (or especially) to academics who generalize about the country as a whole from the Diliman Republic. (Though Jojo may sometimes need to be gently poked in the side and be reminded that UP does not equal Diliman.)

What the book is most concerned about is Mindanao, as should be clear from the book’s subtitle. (An inversion of the traditional “Luzon-Visayas-Mindanao” arrangement would have worked as well, but Jojo, himself happily afflicted by “el demonio de las comparaciones“, instead writes perceptively about Southeast Asia as a region. Abdurrahman Wahid and Lee Kuan Yew probably figure more in this book than do the miscreants in Malacañang.)

One of his primary arguments is about Mindanao’s centrality in the formation of the Filipino nation, forced into both benign and malicious neglect by Manila and its Western enablers by the middle of the 19th century. He writes, pace Warren and Reid, on the incipient “transnationalism” (my words) in Sulu and Zamboanga’s historical role as a Southeast Asian entrepôt. There is a certain repetitiveness in this initial section – the neutralization of Nur Misuari, for instance, is discussed about half a dozen times – but nevertheless the essays display a remarkable breadth.

A column on wild boar meat, for instance, becomes an opportunity for culinary nostalgia and a reflection on business relationships between Christians and Muslims. Reminiscing about his days as a nicotine fiend, Jojo writes (in a gem of an essay, “Smoking and the Pulang Silangan“) about how smoking was de rigueur for members of the kilusan – at least until he discovered that Mao actually preferred British cigarettes and not Chinese peasant cigars. But by then, his diminished lung capacity made outrunning riot policemen a little more difficult anyway.

One might think that, amidst such somber topics as the breakdown of peace talks in Mindanao, or environmental degradation, or an open letter to Hashim Salamat, that the “joys” of the title are meant sarcastically. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as Jojo’s well-chosen zingers and bon mots alone are worth the price of admission, give or take a belly laugh or two. Abinales pulls no punches: Jose Ma. Sison, the “Filipino Ayatollah” (his words), is singled out to hilarious but deadly serious effect. In fact, one of the collection’s many pleasures is its sometimes subtly scabrous humor. (Full disclosure: I experienced Jojo’s humor first-hand, as we braved the below-zero winters and tinikling-at-gunpoint of upstate New York together. I consider him a mentor and a slightly elder brother, though he would no doubt bristle at being called “Kuya” or worse, “Tito”.)

This very frankness makes the collection a constantly stimulating read, as Jojo, in essay after essay, takes a stand and defends it. He argues, for instance, for the abolition of UP Diliman’s “intellectually deficient” Institute of Islamic Studies – arguing, rightly, for its establishment in Mindanao as it should be – and promptly kicks to the curb a reader who wrote in response, daring to defend the Institute. On the arguments about the burial of Marcos’ “putrid cadaver” in Philippine soil in 1998, Jojo writes about how over 43 percent of military salvaging in a ten-year period were from Mindanao and asks, rhetorically, “How can people ever forget what Marcos did to Filipinos, especially those far from the national center? If there is one reason to oppose Marcos’ burial in the cemetery of dead heroes, it should be the viciousness with which he unleashed state power on us.”

A lingering bitterness (nay, sorrow) at the failures of the radical Left if not its stunning lack of foresight to claim a stake in the EDSA Uprising, then its murderous purges of anti-Sison cadres in the early ’90s – is the topic of many a column. His scholarly knowledge, for instance, of different peace negotiations between communist organizations and the state throughout Southeast Asia underpins an essay called “Peace Negotiations and Peace Processes” and very likely puts Satur Ocampo and Roilo Golez (the putative subjects of his column) to shame.

For all his concern about dislocation, one wonders why there aren’t more essays about migration, or – given his current position as Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University – at least about his fellow Filipino countrywomen condemned to pouring drinks for Japanese businessmen. I can only hope that he is saving those essays for another volume, but this intelligent collection fits the bill for now. May it shake you out of your provincial complacency as it did mine.


In Pinoy on June 3, 2008 at 8:15 pm

We learn to trust maps for their indexical, authoritative quality, for their capacity to be the arbiters of truth. Out comes the map from the glove compartment when we are lost. We put our faith in the soothing robotic voice of the GPS computer to tell us where to go. Maps ground us; they give us direction; they help us find our way. It is a lot to ask from a sheet of paper.

The artist Lordy Rodriguez makes maps, and it was a map of his that stopped me in my tracks, the first time I came across his work at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, when it was still in Golden Gate Park, back in 1998. The piece was called State of Quezon, near-obsessive in its hand-drawn detail, looking very much like a Rand McNally-style highway map, with different-colored freeways, airports, parks, and a legend in the upper-left corner.

This was, however, no “real” map of Quezon: the outlines resembled the Philippine province, but on it, San Francisco was the capital, a few cities southeast of Iloilo City. Across Laguna Lake, one could find Missouri City, Houston, and Brooklyn, the latter further north from Tacloban City and Davao City. Up Highway 15, past Rizal State Park in Zambales County, Baton Rouge and Dipolog City formed the gateway to the Basilan Sound.

Rodriguez’s maps, I thought, were perfect visual representations of how Filipinos, in their dispersal throughout the American continent, brought something of themselves from their homelands. Baggage in tow, Pinoys were reconfiguring their relationships to places, and were simultaneously remaking their destinations, in the same ways that many migrants live their lives across borders. A metaphorical defiance, perhaps, of the map’s authority, with migrants dissolving frontiers in their wake.

His next series of maps — pastel renderings of every state in the union, and a few more besides — also illustrated the symbolic aspect of place, how memory shapes personal geographies. There’s no reason, you might say, why Quezon City and Palo Alto shouldn?t be located a few freeway exits away from each other, in Texas. But this series is more deeply haunted by history, with additional states like Disney, Internet, and Territory, the latter rudely forcing together Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. But instead of the utopian feel at play in his late ’90s maps, spilling over with the freedom of creating his own private Idaho, Rodriguez’s newer maps seem more like dislocations, throwbacks to pre-Industrial Revolution mapping technologies.

His new series, currently on exhibit at the Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco, plays with our notions of what maps ought to look like. Dispensing with words altogether, Rodriguez has drawn not maps, exactly, but abstractions of maps — two hundred and one, to be exact — turning the gallery into something looking more like a colonial surveyor’s office. The map grids are still there, but his cartographer’s eye has settled instead upon peacock tails, gray axons of barbed wire, cores of onion skin, Doppler patterns, cobblestones, and the Great Lakes looking like beached whales. Meandering rivers flow next to salmon-colored blobs. Electrified shards of olive green border tessellated peninsulas. Crumbling suburbias share space with seaweed poking out from an ocean bed.

The effect is both beautiful and jarring: they can be rivers seen from above, or they can be cells seen under a microscope. The maps foreground the interplay of landscapes and interiors being mapped, muddling our sense of recognition. What is most interesting about these maps are their precisely somatic quality, leading viewers to think not just of the land as a body, but of our insides being relentlessly explored by science as well. It?s a twenty-first century take on the old-fashioned method of cartography: re-imagining everything familiar as terra incognita, and finding dragons everywhere.

When Did I Become Such A Music Fanboy?

In music on May 24, 2008 at 6:46 pm

A Musical Exercise: 6 from the ’60s.

In music on April 21, 2008 at 7:14 pm

The rationale behind all this.

5 songs from the ’50s.

And now 6 songs from the ’60s, in chronological order:

1. Irma Thomas, “It’s Raining”

This is the second-greatest slow-dance song ever – second only to “Sabor a Mi” (also from a great movie, Wayne Wang’s Chan Is Missing, and a decade later, John Sayles’ Lone Star). Real-life spouses Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi danced to “It’s Raining” at the end of Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law, and it was my first time to hear it.

I call it only the second-greatest because it’s not really a slow-dance song. Irma Thomas is very much alone; if she’s dancing at all, it’s with herself. But you at least expect the song to end — especially with the cheerful “drip drop” refrain echoing throughout — with a knock on the door, or a sweep of the headlights across the window. Instead, there’s a slight emotional shift — just a little one, but it means everything — in the third stanza: you think she’s just waiting for an absent lover, but you realize the lover has left for good. And so she’s left (and so are we) with a silent resignation, a surrender to the raindrops. “I guess I’ll just go crazy tonight.” What a last line.

Amazon link to the compilation Sweet Soul Queen of New Orleans


2. The Spencer Davis Group, “Every Little Bit Hurts (Live)”

I don’t know the circumstances of this recording – probably a small club, people not paying much attention. And everyone messes up a bit, actually: Steve Winwood simply repeats the same stanza he sang earlier, the piano comes in a little late, the guitar plays the wrong chord at some point, an amp or speaker or something falls to the stage floor at 1:35. I have this image of Winwood singing his heart out while everything collapses around him.

The song — a Brenda Holloway hit in 1964 written by Ed Cobb (who also wrote Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love”) — is anchored by a crystalline agony in Winwood’s voice. He cries, he sighs, “yet you won’t let me go,” he sings, but we wonder who really keeps holding on.

Amazon link to the compilation Live Anthology 1965-1968


3. The Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
from the 1966 album Pet Sounds

It starts with a melody taken straight from a carnival roundabout, with an accordion thrown in. I’ve always wondered whether it was meant to sound parodic. But no, it’s pure innocence, bursting with the thrill of youth and the wishful dreams of adulthood; divorced, no pun intended, from reality, the natural bloom of an endless summer. The song finally peaks with a crescendo of professions of love, and the romantic sweep makes you almost forget that the song ends with a parting (“Good night my baby / Sleep tight my baby”).

Indeed, the song is driven by a simple, almost unassailable logic:

We could be married,
And then we’d be happy,

perhaps an equation that only young people in love could truly believe, and it’s a testament to the Beach Boys’ wide-eyed, eternal youth that you, jaded and older and carrying more baggage than you’d like to admit, even while you’re listening to the overplayed song on the supermarket speakers as you pay for your groceries, can have faith in this if only for a moment.

Amazon link.


4. The Beatles, “And Your Bird Can Sing”
from the 1966 album Revolver

When I was nine or ten the Beatles stole into my life. (Even before that, when I was three or four, apparently I used to dance to these four musical thieves, boogying down in the living room while my mom put “Taxman” on the turntable, my toes digging into the green carpet.)

But that year I was nine, an entirely new universe burst open from the speakers, a moptopped riot in my ear. Issuing forth from the hi-fi was this magic, the way colonial officials would enchant natives with phonographs, transfixing them with the ghost of the machine inside.

It was at that age that I was turned on — not in the late ’60s sense, for this was 1980 and I was too young and barely conscious of drugs — but miraculously electrified, jolted, opened to a new magical sphere of listening and hearing and comprehending, as if my nine-year old skinny self had waited all that time for “Nowhere Man” or “Girl” or “A Hard Day’s Night”. Of course I understood none of it, and its relative emotional simplicities were still lost on a kid who was still deep into “The Electric Company” or Saturday-morning cartoons.

It was the young Beatles — the baby-faced Paul McCartney — that my mother adored. So did I, really — singing along to “Yesterday”, though I can’t stand it now. My mother dismissed everything after Revolver – even Sgt. Pepper’s was too noisy, too chaotic — and it was more than a decade later that I really began to appreciate the joy of the White Album, of Lennon’s acid tenor keening through the grooves. But Revolver was (and is) the touchstone, something my mother and I still share. I think she would pick “Here There and Everywhere” as her favorite; for me though, it’s “And Your Bird Can Sing.”

The lyrics, whatever they may mean, hover around the edge of comprehension and unattainability (“you can’t see me”, “you can’t hear me”), but the guitar is not beseeching; it soars and dips in and out of the song with utter delight. “And Your Bird Can Sing” has a guitar solo that would be prolonged in other people’s hands, but here it’s cut deliciously short to fit the strictures of a pop single, with an insistent guitar riff sneaking through the bridge and chorus, running through my blood.

Twenty years later it is still Revolver that reaches out to a much older self. But in the car when I’m singing along to “And Your Bird Can Sing”, it still feels like I’m nine years old.

Amazon link.


5. Van Morrison, “Sweet Thing”
from the 1968 album Astral Weeks

There is a kind of corniness in the jarringly dated slang (“Hey it’s me, I’m dynamite”, “just to dig it all”) that shakes you out of its timelessness — Edenic images, promises of eternal youth, all the flutes and plucked strings and guitars, but it reminds the listener, who may look at Big Ivan now and see what looks like a portly, perhaps crotchety, old man, that he was once a wavy-haired hippie troubadour poet, dappled with freckles and spring foliage, the musical descendant of Yeats. It’s the words that makes the song slip back and forth from 1968 to an eternal present, where Morrison continues to murmur to his “sugar baby.” I don’t know what everything in the song means, if not a song of praise to the gift of a woman’s arms, but, as Morrison sings, “I’ll be satisfied not to read in between the lines.”

Amazon link.


6. The Beatles, “Here Comes The Sun”
from the 1969 album Abbey Road

If you ask me, the utter beauty of this song alone (okay, this and “Something”) almost solidifies an argument for George Harrison as the coolest Beatle. (Plus he was in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.)

This is the saddest happy song ever, lighter than all your melancholies, radiantly lit from within.

Amazon link.


Get Yer Summer Reading On!

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2008 at 7:04 pm

I really just wanted to use this picture again. I mean, it’s a photo of summer, and it’s in Southeast Asia.

Despite my previous melodrama about never teaching again, et cetera, et cetera, I’ll be teaching what promises to be an exciting class at UC Berkeley this summer. Lots of moving parts, and I’m not sure yet how it all fits, but it will:

Cultures, Texts and Politics of Southeast Asia
Southeast Asian Studies 138
July 7 – August 15
7233 Dwinelle Hall
MTWTF 10-12

This seminar examines Southeast Asia from the late colonial era to the present through literary and visual lenses. Utilizing a wide range of sources including novels, films, ethnographies, photographs, and scholarly articles, we will explore shifting conceptions of national and regional identity, and the form of the modern nation-state, throughout modern Southeast Asian history. How is Southeast Asia, both as a region and as an area of study, seen in texts from postcolonial and transnational frameworks? How do these texts contribute to emergent or state-sponsored nationalisms? How do affective elements, like memory, laughter, and longing, engage with forms of the national? This class will also encourage students to fashion a critical perspective regarding the authorial voice and the sociohistorical circumstances under which the texts were produced.

It’s too short to actually assign a book a week, but this is as close as it gets. In alphabetical order:

- Couperus, The Hidden Force
- Duong, Novel without a Name
- Hagedorn, Dream Jungle
- Orwell, Burmese Days
- Rizal, Noli Me Tangere

And no summer’s complete without your summer movies — list still way subject to change, with a documentary or two tossed in, and just excerpts from one or two instead:

- Ahmad, Sepet
- Bahr and Hickenlooper, Hearts of Darkness
- Bernal, Himala
- Coppola, Apocalypse Now
- Davis, Hearts and Minds
- Fuentes, Bontoc Eulogy
- Monnikendam, Mother Dao the Turtlelike
- Phan, S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine
- and maybe Weerasethakul, Mysterious Object at Noon, if I can figure out how to teach it.

And of course, a (short) reader of different essays and short stories and maybe some poetry somewhere there. As I wrote earlier, lots of moving parts…

The Spring 2008 Mix.

In music on April 16, 2008 at 6:03 pm

I haven’t done this in ages, and I thought I’d try a simpler and more user-friendly, if somewhat less elegant, interface than for the music. No, you can’t download these anymore either, but that keeps me off the hook.

And so: twelve songs, in no order except for a vague mixtape-y flow between them, that I loved in the first four months of 2008, at

1. Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, “Bag of Hammers”

- From the 2008 album We Brave Bee Stings And All.
- Official website.

“The trick is / You do not get on that interstate bus / The catch is / You stay and see what becomes of us.” (I really will be writing a review of this album, I promise.)


2. Donovan, “Get Thy Bearings”

- From the 1968 album The Hurdy Gurdy Man.
- Official website.

Donovan gets funky. And yes, that’s also Biz Markie’s “I Told You.”


3. The Budos Band, “Origin Of Man”

- From the 2007 album The Budos Band II.
- Official website.

This is what I imagine: Mahmoud Ahmed by way of Staten Island, to accompany the very beginning of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but all the apes start dancing instead.


4. Radiohead, “All I Need”

- From the 2007 album In Rainbows.
- Official website.

“I’m the next act / Waiting in the wings / I’m an animal / Trapped in your hot car.”


5. Taken by Cars, “Uh Oh”

- From the 2008 album Endings of a New Kind.
- Myspace page.

Quoting myself here: “The second track, “Uh Oh” (the album’s real beginning) has a perfect opening, as instruments fall rapidly into formation: drum heartbeat, stabbing guitar riff, and suddenly, best of all, a synth refrain parachuted in from 1982.”


6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Maps”

- From the 2003 album Fever to Tell.
- Official website.

I hadn’t heard this song before until Rock Band, to tell you the truth. I love the way the notes cut diagonally across the frets: red red red red, yellow yellow yellow yellow, or something like that.


7. The Cool Kids, “A Little Bit Cooler”

- From the 2007 album The Bake Sale.
- Myspace page.

“Does that belt say ‘Star Wars’?” An ode to being a nerd: “I’m in the crib Saturday night with my Sega that’s right / Playing a game of that Street Fighter, Street Fighter, Street Fighter / I guess that makes you think you cooler than me / But any girl you can pull I can pull ‘em with ease.”


8. Fujiya & Miyagi, “Ankle Injuries”

- From the 2007 album Transparent Things.
- Official website.

I drove up and down from Oakland to Davis and back twice a week, and this song — plus Can’s “Uphill” — provided the perfect driving soundtrack.


9. m-flo, “Hands”

- From the 2000 album Planet Shining.
- Official website.

You’ll be hearing that piano riff in your dreams, I swear.


10. Little Dragon, “Test”

- From the 2007 album Little Dragon.
- Official website.

“A test, a test, a test. No rest, no rest, no rest.”


11. Captain Audio, “Lemon”

- From the 2000 album Luxury or Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared.
- Myspace page.

I heard this on UT Austin’s college radio one morning: at first I thought it was some long-lost Liz Phair track, with wah-wah guitar and ragged “We Will Rock You” handclaps and footstomps thrown in.


12. Led Zeppelin, “The Ocean”

- From the 1973 album Houses of the Holy.
- Official website.

“Now i’m singin all my songs to the girl who won my heart / She is only three six years old / now that’s a real fine way to start.”

Again, the songs are here:

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down, Rasputin, Berkeley, 4/12/2008.

In music on April 12, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down played for about 30 adults — and one little girl dancing — at Rasputin Records earlier this afternoon, and I hope you were there because it was fantastic. “I’ve never played at this level of heat before,” Thao Nguyen told the audience. It was 74 degrees out on Telegraph this afternoon and possibly just a little hotter inside. But no matter — their particular brand of witty, literate folk-pop, beatboxing and all, was perfect for an afternoon that felt an awful lot like summer.

The setlist, I think:

1. ? [new song, maybe, or something from Like the Linen?]
2. Big Kid Table
3. Swimming Pools
4. Beat (Health, Life and Fire)
5. Feet Asleep
6. Bag of Hammers
7. Violet
8. Fear and Convenience

Full album review of the band’s Kill Rock Stars album We Brave Bee Stings And All coming soon on this blog, but if they’re ever in your neighborhood (though the last show of their tour with Xiu Xiu is tonight at the Bottom of the Hill) do check them out.

Taken By Cars Interview.

In music on April 3, 2008 at 3:49 am

Image swiped without permission from MTV Philippines.

This is my third Taken By Cars-related blog post — the first was about a June 2007 concert of theirs, the second was a review of their superb debut album, Endings of a New Kind, my favorite album released in 2008 so far — and this third post, I am thrilled to write, is an actual e-mail interview with the band!

The “interview” — I’m hoping to actually see them in the flesh this summer — took place over email in March 2008. The questions were answered collaboratively by all the members of the band.

And here we go:

1. Where does the name come from?

We wanted to use a name that will stick with us for the long term. So we were thinking of mixing and matching some terms, then Kong came up with ‘Taken by Cars’. According to him, this was simply based on the fact that we all spend most of our time listening to music in our cars. We all thought that the name connotes movement and a certain sense of mystery so it was a perfect fit for the sound that we play.

2. How did you folks meet? Were you in high school bands, were you classically trained, that sort of thing?

The boys all went to the same high school and were in a band ever since. Back then we were covering 90′s alternative rock and even classic rock. Then we met Sarah along the way and continued our stint as a cover band. None of us thought of breaking out really, we were just side entertainment in friends’ parties or school events and such. Then by mid-2006, we decided to start writing our own stuff and taking the next step.

3. I really like these lines from “Logistical Nightmare”: “Hands to the sky / We’re gods tonight / A million songs to listen to / Thank the letters / I thank you.” I’m thinking they’re about the music writing process, or the act of performing on stage — but what *is* the song about?

It’s actually one of the happier songs in the album. It’s dedicated to the promise that life should be about being grateful (thus the words “thank the letters, i thank you”), about making mistakes and learning from them (thus the words “kiss the ground where I fall”), about not taking yourself or other people too seriously and acknowledging that life is about the little things that move us sometimes (“out of breath, whispering a letdown, moving smile, signaling a turnaround, candid shot, a face to launch a thousand pieces of a dream”).

4. What were you listening to while composing / recording the tracks? (I’m hearing Bloc Party, Interpol — maybe some early-80s stuff?) Was there a particular sound you were shooting for on the record? (I’m thinking as well of the lead vocals, and the synthesizer riff on “Uh Oh”.)

We were listening to a lot of Bloc Party and Interpol prior to making the album and during recording also..but we were listening to a lot of other things as well. The energy and the vibe of those two bands inspired us no doubt. But then we all have our individual influences too. The things we listen to change constantly. We never really want to rely on a fixed peg for the sound we’re trying to achieve.

5. I’ve always been interested in musical histories, in formative listening experiences — what were yours? Were you folks listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam like everyone else back in the ’90s, or did you have different musical backgrounds? Were there bands you wanted to emulate?

Ya, we were definitely listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam back in the 90′s. But, I think there was more to the 90′s than was also the era of ethereal, dream pop, and shoegaze. Bands like Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Chapterhouse, and Slowdive, among many others, were around at that time. Other than that there’s always been the 80′s – new wave, dark wave stuff like Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears and Duran Duran. There’s so much more to that too though. There were bands like The Ocean Blue, The Bible, The Railway Children… Presently we like the dance rock, electro stuff..that of bands like CSS, Digitalism, LCD Soundsystem and many other things. Some pop ( Madonna) and trance (Tiesto, ATB) and house as well. We could go on and on!

6. What’s the next project? Are you working on any new songs and trying them out in concert yet?

We’re looking to come up with new songs very soon and hopefully be able to play them at gigs already.

7. And finally, the proverbial desert island disc question: If you had to be stuck on a desert island with just one album / CD, what would that be?

If you put a gun to my head and asked me that question I still would not be able to give an answer. A compilation maybe! A cd containing one song from all the bands/singers I just mentioned! haha

Little Dragon, Elbo Room, San Francisco, 4/1/08.

In music on April 2, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Image swiped from, in turn swiped from their CD.

For an hour last night at the Elbo Room, Little Dragon was the greatest band in the world.

Well, my new favorite band right now, at least. Their 2007 debut album on Peacefrog (it’s also available on iTunes, by the way) is just the right kind of sublime — an effortless downtempo RnB simmer, one of my favorites this year so far — and their absolutely tight playing last night, at their very first U.S. concert ever, confirmed this.

Little Dragon is a band, first of all, and this is even clearer in concert. (All those tricky drum fills are performed live.) But there’s no denying the fact that Yukimi Nagano’s voice — wonderfully wispy, soulfully expressive — is the real draw. She’s also totally riveting to watch on stage, especially when she seems to lose herself in the music, dancing and twisting just before she begins to sing.

They started the set off with “Twice”. The last three songs were “Constant Surprises” (right before the encore), “Wink”, and “Scribbled Paper” (about one of their favorite poets from Gothenburg).

“Test”, of course, was somewhere in there. So was a ridiculously funky “Recommendation” (prompting an echo of “Recommendation” from the crowd during the chorus, all embellished with fluty keyboards and major hi-hat action), a slinky “Forever” (that “ha ha ha ho ho” refrain towards the end was even better live), “Turn Left” (and yes, the crowd was singing along to the “pa pa ra ro pa ra pa” refrain at the end as well), “After the Rain” (is this song about Hurricane Katrina or something?), and a few songs (one called “Tendencies”, plus two new songs, “Roundabout” and “Looking Glass”) that I didn’t recognize.

Anyhow, as you folks can tell, I enjoyed the concert immensely. Only two U.S. dates left — Goleta tonight, Los Angeles on Friday — so catch ‘em if they’re in your area! (Here’s a good idea of how they sound live — a concert recording at Cargo in London earlier this year.)

p.s. Eloise and I were dancing up front right next to the stage, even to the music played by the DJ in between sets. (Geraldine and Kennedy and Stephanie were somewhere in the middle.) At some point Eloise wonders out loud why there were only five other people dancing in the club. (Everyone else was doing the hipster nod, which Little Dragon parodies so wonderfully in the “Test” video.) “Probably because we’re from the East Bay,” I said. She turns around to ask the woman next to us where she was from. We were right.

p.s. 2. Sorry, Darren: I didn’t take any photos, though I was about three feet away from Yukimi’s toes.

Pinoy Academic Porn.

In Pinoy on March 22, 2008 at 1:43 am

The list below — “dusted with glitter, sparkles and fairy dust” — comes from an unnamed Pinay university professor from the Northeast United States. (I suspect the title of her unnamed forthcoming book would be a perfect candidate for this list, but she didn’t want to jinx it.)

A mini-list of factoids:

1. I’m not posting the other companion list (Anacleto’s Structurally Queer Siblings, or A List of Drag Queen Names of Some Filipino Academics in Random Order of Fabulousness), simply because there were too many in-jokes to interest the general reader. I can’t even remember who “Anacleto” was supposed to be.

But let’s just say that “Martina Navratilova Manalansan” had a wonderful ring to it. (It’s also the oldest in terms of provenance, I think.) “Li’l Kim Alidio” sounded great too.

2. A particularly filthy (and bad) pun on, um, a seminal Filipino American text — let’s just say it involved Carlos Bulosan and a boner — was originally on the list, but Neferti asked everyone, “Let’s not go there,” so we didn’t.

3. People cheated on three titles by adding new subtitles, or changing them around, in the grand tradition of Shaving Ryan’s Privates. But that’s absolutely fine. It was nice to discover that Displaying Filipinos actually allowed for many variations (“displaying”, “splaying”, “playing”, and “laying”), but obviously its porn-title possibilities were completely accidental. No, really.

4. I can’t categorically say I wasn’t involved in this, but I was mostly a spectator in the back seat while this was all happening. The list was further refined in the hotel lobby. The chardonnay helped.

5. The order is not mine, though Dylan was upset. “How could I not be Number One??” he asked.

And this is how it all went down:

The Top Ten Porn-Sounding Philippine and Filipino American Studies Book Titles:

1. White Love
2. Forced Passages
3. Splaying Filipinos
4. Fantasy Production
5. American Tropics 14: Sequel to Forced Passages (“It’s a compilation,” Allan said, by way of explanation.)
6. Creating Masculinity: Behind the Scenes of White Love
7. Five Faces of Sexile
8. Passion and Revolution (Soft)
9. The Gangster of Love
10. The Philippine Temptation

At Random.

In sine, Uncategorized on March 21, 2008 at 1:17 pm

1. My comment boxes have died — I suspect people (or spammers) have been posting something, but I can’t read them somehow, and even some old comments aren’t showing up anymore. So I’ve turned them off, unfortunately. Anyone wanting to leave me a message or a comment can send them to me via the Meebo widget on the upper right-hand side of the main blog index page. (I can get them even if I’m offline.)

2. Arthur Dong’s Hollywood Chinese is one of the best Asian American documentaries I’ve ever seen, period, and one I’d assign to students in a heartbeat if it were out on DVD. It’s also out on a limited theatrical release all across the world, but Bay Area audiences are lucky enough to have it for almost two weeks (April 11-23 at the Kabuki and at the Grand Lake). (Los Angeles viewers have it made though, as it’s part of an entire Hollywood Chinese film series at the Egyptian from May 15-22, including a cast and crew reunion of Wayne Wang’s The Joy Luck Club.)

Hollywood Chinese is a fascinating film all throughout, including jawdropping footage from Marion Wong’s The Curse of Quon Gwon) — the first Chinese American film ever made, in 1916 (!) — plus revealing (and sometimes hilarious) interviews). (It’s also worth noting that Arthur Dong walked off with a Golden Horse for Best Documentary last year — and that two of the other winners (Ang Lee and Joan Chen) are interviewed in his documentary as well.)

3. Up next, to be posted in the next few weeks:

- possibly more movie reviews
- a handy and totally opinionated guide to the San Francisco International Film Festival, whose lineup is coming out next week
- a summer reading and watching list
- my life as the neighborhood invalid
- Pinoy academic porn

This Weekend's Conference.

In Pinoy on March 10, 2008 at 12:35 am

My fantastic weekend just came to a close, and tomorrow I return to my 9-to-5 “exit strategy / escape route” job. I can’t say enough about the intellectual energy of the roundtables, and the superior quality of the circulated papers (which I devoured — you have no idea how much exciting stuff is out there, and about to be published), and just the overwhelming sense of fun.

(Can I add as well that the late-night discussions — actually, they started at dinner — in the hotel lobby were just transgressively, hilariously filthy? Readers will see some sanitized examples shortly, but I don’t think I’ll be reproducing the Pinoy Academic Drag Queen Names list here, partly because mine just doesn’t sound sexy enough. I expect it to be sent by email from the northeast pretty soon.)

And now for more random non-intellectual musings. I must confess that, despite my excitement (and temperatures in the teens notwithstanding), I was worried and fearful about being the lone, unaffiliated non-academic interloper presenting at the conference. I honestly didn’t feel particularly worthy to be included with all these luminaries. It had already taken me about a year of difficult readjustment to get used to the idea that I was now an Ex-Professor. (Any resemblance to “ex-parrot” is deliberate.) Amazing, really, how the academic life seems to be the perfect breeding ground for ontological insecurity — but then I really know of no other career.

These anxieties (mostly) melted away once I got there — not necessarily because my feelings of self-worth magically increased, but because I suddenly felt like I belonged somewhere. It helped that I personally knew probably a good five-sixths of the participants (and of course met and talked with the other one-sixth later). But there was also a keen historical sense on my part — mostly engendered by Rey Ileto’s fascinating keynote address on scrapbooks — of how these linkages and networks were forged throughout the years in classrooms, in conferences, in libraries, in hotel lobby bars, in textual exchanges. After all, these were folks whose books I had taught, or had read, looked up to, informed my own work, been on panels with, e-mailed, gotten drunk with, and so on, throughout my relatively long adventures in higher education. Half my life — essentially, my life outside of the Philippines — has been spent in that arena, and these were most of the people who were present, both physically and symbolically, in that journey.

There’s a lot of negative talk about “the Filipino community” — the general hollowness of the concept, the way it’s used as an anti-intellectualish cudgel to beat the recalcitrant into submission (and ha! I contribute to that discussion as well), or as the amorphous, blobby mass to which Filipino American scholars and activists must pay obeisance (and not dare criticize). But the genuine intellectual acuity and emotional warmth of this particular Filipino community cannot be denied.

And as much as the word “family” can be abused in a heteronormative fashion (and honest to god, some people have to learn that the social sciences really aren’t that heteronormative), I have come to see, especially in recent years, this group of intellectuals as members of my extended family. (We Filipinos are supposed to be expert practitioners of fictive kinship after all.) And yes, families can be fucked up, and sibling rivalries will always exist, but such networks can also be the basis of enduring intellectual and affective solidarities, from which more political work and critique (both of the self and others) can be done. I honestly can’t think of a more generous, supportive, wonderful (and good-looking!) group of scholars anywhere as the ones I hung out with this weekend, for whom I will be forever thankful.

So — thanks and congratulations to the organizers, August Espiritu and Martin Manalansan (who’s currently Acting Director of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), for an amazing, unforgettable conference. (And curse you too for making me radically rethink my career trajectory! Again!)

The Power of Mimicry.

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2008 at 11:05 pm

They are excellent mimics: as often as we coughed or yawned, or made any odd motion, they immediately imitated us…. They could repeat with perfect correctness each word in any sentence we addressed them, and they remembered such words for some time. Yet we Europeans all know how difficult it is to distinguish apart the sounds in a foreign language. Which of us, for instance, could follow an American Indian through a sentence of more than three words? All savages appear to possess, to an uncommon degree, this power of mimicry. I was told, almost in the same words, of the same ludicrous habit among the Caffres; the Australians, likewise, have long been notorious for being able to imitate and describe the gait of any man, so that he may be recognized. How can this faculty be explained? is it a consequence of the more practised habits of perception and keener senses, common to all men in a savage state, as compared with those long civilized?

– Charles Darwin, on the natives of Tierra del Fuego, Dec. 17, 1832, The Voyage of the Beagle

We Always Forget The Ballast.

In Uncategorized on March 3, 2008 at 10:41 pm

I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I somehow missed reading this book in my previous life as a Southeast Asianist scholar, but there you go. Look — just do yourself a favor and buy this book, okay?

   A story of the Moluccas Suprapto had to hear the professor tell.

   A young prince from Tuban on Java pours water over his father’s hands during a ritual washing, he drops the basin, is slapped by the old man, insulted, and then has only one wish: to get away.

   On a sandbank at the shore he draws a proa in the sand, with all the accessories a proa has: rudder, mast, sails, oars for a calm, rope, anchor stones in baskets, jugs of fresh water and food, fuel and a piece of flint, a brazier and a cooking pot, mats to sit and sleep upon, goods for barter, scales, money, and above all, arms. He thinks of everything — he is a clever young man, he forgets nothing, except one thing! He forgets the ballast.

   Then, when the Lord Allah has answered his prayer and made his drawing into reality (and his brother and sister and his old nurse who want to come along have gone on board) the proa floats too high on the waves.

   Ballast is needed! What kind of ballast?

   There is nothing available but the earth of their country; and they carry earth aboard and throw it in the hold; then they set sail without looking back.

   They pass many islands, and at all of them they weigh the earth there against the earth they took with them — the two never have the same weight.

   Until they come to the Moluccas, to that one island — there the earth weighs as much as the earth of their own country, and there they stay and found a small state, and the Javanese prince from Tuban is the first Rajah.

   ”Don’t you ever write poetry, young friend? You could make a poem out of this, an epic, in hexameters, and what deep meaning it has!” The professor laughed his cackling laugh, he looked Suprapto in the face for a moment and then suddenly said very seriously, “You too, didn’t you? You too had to hold the water basin and you too dropped it, my poor young friend, that is always the beginning –”

   For once Suprapto did not control himself. “A water basin, what do you mean?” he said shortly, almost angrily. “I’ve never in my life been made to hold a basin for anyone!”

   The professor shook his head, “but you have, young friend, you have. All of us, always, when we’re young, have to hold something for those who are old, and we drop it and want to get away, and draw a ship in the sand to reach a new country, and we always forget the ballast — there is no ballast but the earth of the old country — and the new country’s earth is always just as heavy as the old country’s — and for that, then, we have left and crossed the seas and might even have drowned on the way, in deep water, or grown old and in our turn let someone hold a basin up for us — you too, you’ll see, you too, Raden Mas Suprapto,” the professor said slowly and clearly, “just like that other prince.”

– from Maria Dermoût’s The Ten Thousand Things (1955), translated by Hans Koning

Quirky Quirky Quirky.

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2008 at 1:28 pm

I was in the middle of writing some entry on Juno and whiteness when I thought I’d Google a couple of phrases. I have to say there’s something rather confounding about these results, unless I should use “woman” or “man” instead:

“quirky Asian guy” (9 results)
“quirky Asian girl” (76)
“quirky black guy” (40)
“quirky black girl” (76)
“quirky white girl” (7)
“quirky white guy” (9)
“quirky Latino girl” (2)
“quirky Latino guy” (1)
“quirky Jewish girl” (10)
“quirky Jewish guy” (5)

Unless, of course, “white” is the unmarked category. (Best of all is the fact that a good majority of the hits above are actual self-descriptions on Friendster and MySpace, which strikes me as really, really sad.)

But then you get this:

“quirky sidekick” (1,810)

Now we’re talking.

p.s. There are no quirky Filipino girls. Just wanted to let you all know that.

Yo La Tengo, and an Idea.

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2008 at 6:58 pm

On Sunday, March 2nd, one of my favorite bands in the world, Yo La Tengo, will once again be doing their fundraising requestathon (their thirteenth, and responsible for the wonderful Yo La Tengo Is Murdering The Classics), where Yo La Tengo plays (or, more important, attempts to play) donors’ song requests, for the Jersey City-based radio station WFMU, and, even though I’ll be away from the radio, and if I remember, I will, God help me, do the following three things:

1. I will call 1-800-989-9368 between the hours of 5 and 7 Eastern Standard Time.

2. If I get through, I will make my donor pledge.

3. And then I will make a request for my fellow Filipino Renaldo Lapuz‘s smash hit of 2008, “We’re Brothers Forever.”

If Yo La Tengo actually plays the song in its entirety — and it’s really only a couple of stanzas — I think my year will be made. If they somehow make it segue into “Speeding Motorcycle” my head will probably explode from the sheer awesomeness.

If not, maybe some good reader out there can do it for me.

Three Pinoy Books.

In Pinoy on February 22, 2008 at 2:04 pm

1. As my current employer would say, Whoo hoo! Dawn Mabalon‘s book for Arcadia Publishing, Filipinos in Stockton, is available for ordering on, with a book launching on February 24. But all proceeds go to the Stockton chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society and the Little Manila Foundation if you get it at the Stockton launch. (I’m sure there will be more California signings on the way!)

2. So is Carina Montoya’s Filipinos in Hollywood. The photos alone should be great.

3. Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s Memories of Philippine Kitchens has been out a while, but I only discovered it a couple of weeks ago at Barb and Oscar‘s. The photographs by Neal Oshima are gorgeous.

Besa and Dorotan are the folks behind the fantastic Cendrillon in SoHo, a restaurant I was lucky to visit twice — the second time, hobnobbing with the luminaries from Vestiges of War. The dozen of us walked from NYU to Mercer & Broome and happened to be walking behind this guy for a few blocks, and who ended up going to the same restaurant as well. (Apparently he fell in love with Philippine cuisine when he filmed this and this — the latter film, shot in my hometown, during my high school graduation weekend. Some old high school classmates are still tickled by the fact that a 23-year old Johnny Depp was wandering around our little town in the boondocks before he was Johnny Depp.)

The Best Music I Heard All Year, 2007 Edition.

In music on February 14, 2008 at 12:16 am

San Simeon, CA, December 2006.

So yes, this list is awfully late. And it’s rather odd, because the two bands I probably listened to most this year — mostly because I did a massive, expensive-at-import-prices excavation of their discographies — don’t show up on this list. They happen to be two wonderful Japanese bands, Spangle call Lilli line (here’s their profile on and chatmonchy. I suspect this is because both may be best appreciated in terms of some amazing singles, some of which have been featured on this blog before). (Come to think of it, my favorite album of the year is also of Japanese provenance.)

And at the end of this year — especially since I was so busy in December and January — I found myself in the depressing position of being part of a weary chorus, led by Pitchfork and the late lamented Stylus and the Village Voice and every other music blogger out there, all trumpeting the praises of the same albums repeatedly and all swooning over “All My Friends”. So did I.

Nonetheless, I’m a little reluctant to add to the verbiage, so I broke from tradition and did the next best lazy-ass thing. For a few obvious choices, I just took reviews from the usual places (actually, just the first page of reviews on Google or Metacritic), pasted the text into online software, and generated a word-frequency count. (This exercise would have been a little more productive if I had added more reviews, but again: too lazy.) The results are below, excepting articles and words like “drums” or “guitar”, or song titles. And hey, it seems to work.


And now, the best music I heard all year, in alphabetical order:

1. Battles, Mirrored (2007)


Amazon link.
Video for “Atlas” on YouTube.
Official website.

The Best Music I Heard All Year, 2007 Edition: The Runners-Up.

In music on February 13, 2008 at 6:51 pm


As always, my (very late) list of favorite albums I heard in 2007 is limited to just that, which includes albums I missed the first go-round. (This is why none of these albums are actually from 2007.)

The three runners-up, in alphabetical order:

1. Eluvium, Talk amongst the Trees (2005).

Ghostly, static haze lingering at the portals of perception.

Amazon link.
Official website.

Love Ko 'To!

In music, Pinoy on February 9, 2008 at 1:52 am

Image taken from — oh, you all know where it’s from.

So there’s this project I’ve been working on for some time (and to be roundtabled here next month — oops, they have my affiliation wrong!) that deals with the question of Pinoys and music and how Pinoy performers explain why and how they do what they do. A big excerpt from my writings might explain this better:

In my interviews, Overseas Performing Artist returnees constantly spoke of a spontaneous and naturally Filipino ability to imitate. As a skeptical cultural anthropologist, I initially wanted to dismiss this out of hand. There was, of course, no such thing as a natural ability to imitate, much more a naturally Filipino one.

But the discourse that supported this supposedly inherent mimetic ability could be consistently drawn from over a century’s worth of history. What was one to do, for instance, with Dean Worcester’s assertion in 1900 that “the Filipino …is endowed with great talent for imitation…. …in a short time [the Filipino] learns how to play any sort of an instrument, but the bands…are poor because of their lack of knowledge of principles, and many of them play by ear without understanding a single note?”

Or of the New York Times reporter who wrote in the twenties, “Where music is concerned, the Filipinos are known as the Italians of the East. Add their own barbaric musical strain — a blend of Oriental and Spanish ‘ear culture’ — and you get an idea of their adeptness with the torturous instruments of jazz?” Or of essayist Pico Iyer, and anthropologist Arjun Appadurai after him, who, after watching a Filipino band play the music of John Denver, would pronounce Filipinos as “[creating] a nation of make-believe Americans?”

Or the countless Filipinos who would assert the seeming truism, “Magaling manggaya ang mga Pilipino [Filipinos are great at imitation]?” Or Danny, a keyboardist who had played in Tokyo and Pasadena, who told me, matter-of-factly, “Filipinos can imitate any sound?” Or RJ, a guitarist I interviewed in the summer of 2007, who said, “Ang Pilipino, sila lang ang tanging may dila na katulad nang loro [Filipinos are the only people with tongues like parrots]?”

A “natural ability to sing” and a “natural ability to imitate” are two different things, of course, but you get the general idea: to sing well is seen as natural for and by Filipinos. (Not me, of course, as my friends can attest. But give me a karaoke mic in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other and I can do the collected oeuvre of Thom Yorke fairly well.)

So I am quite tickled by the idea that 3 out of the 14 finalists for the Voice of McDonald’s II competition — which I found out about via the New York Times — are Filipino. (The third, if you even had to guess, is the Canadian guy.)

And I just love the fact that Mary Yu — who does those cute hand gestures (and more) on “Son of a Preacher Man” — is a choir member and “worship/song leader in our church.” Holy Dusty Springfield! That’s sure some church — sign me up!

Meanwhile, speaking of other Filipinos, my friend Carolyn (who isn’t Pinay but knows how to spot ‘em) sent me this hilarious YouTube video of a Southwest Airlines commercial. That guy’s gotta be Pinoy. What’s even funnier is that I could totally see a Filipino guy doing this in real life, if I actually went to clubs.

Taken By Cars, "Endings of a New Kind".

In music on February 8, 2008 at 12:02 am

Taken By Cars @ saGuijo, 6/7/2007.

My friend Ruthie, who’s all the way in Manila, and I (over here in Oakland) have this ongoing exchange over IM: she envies my being able to watch, say, Explosions in the Sky, and I’m envious of her being able to see, for instance, Up Dharma Down, pretty much any evening of the week. She’s probably right, of course, but I would love to be able to catch my new favorite Filipino band discovery, Taken by Cars, in concert again.

I do like championing music I hear on this blog, even if everyone already knows who they are, but it’s especially cooler to me if they happen to be Filipino (for obvious reasons). I saw Taken by Cars live at saGuijo in June of 2007, and I realize now, looking at my old entry, that I didn’t really write anything about them. This was probably because I was being the uber-fanboy with the two other bands, but I do remember asking their lead singer (Was it her, drinking outside? How could I have forgotten that? How much did I have to drink?) about when their debut album was going to be released.

Well, it’s finally out. The name Taken by Cars suggests a soundtrack to an abduction. Or escape. Either way (and those contradictions are present in the music), their debut album Endings of a New Kind is a driving record, no question about it. The propulsive rhythms suggest a restless urban energy, speeding metal vehicles, dangerous sideswipes in the dark, streetlights reflected off kilter in windshields, shards of glass twinkling dully on the pavement. In Manila that kind of driving happens anytime, but this is an evening record for sure. There’s a chill to this music, but it’s great for dancing to: imagine a sweaty tangle of brown limbs on the dance floor, if people weren’t so shy at saGuijo (and the place wasn’t so small). Cold and hot: those contradictions again.

It’s not necessarily groundbreaking music, but if the idea of, say, Bloc Party, fronted by a woman vocalist sounds appealing to you, then Taken By Cars should be worth checking out. Endings of a New Kind is full of a nervous, postpunk energy — maybe a little too clean to sound like the bruised guitars of Gang of Four, but it’s certainly from the same musical gene pool. And it’s simply great stuff.

The second track, “Uh Oh” (the album’s real beginning) has a perfect opening, as instruments fall rapidly into formation: drum heartbeat, stabbing guitar riff, and suddenly, best of all, a synth refrain parachuted in from 1982. “Here I am in full battle gear,” sings Sarah Marco. “Here I am wanting you,” she adds, and it’s a tribute to her voice — of limited range, maybe, but perfect for communicating this hovering between desire and defense, between languor and tension. It’s slurry and drugged for one song (as on “Colourway”), breathy and poppy on another (as on “The Afterhours”, with its swirl of crunchy electronic squiggles). (Her phrasings are from the same era, too — Anja Huwe? Siouxsie? I can’t tell.)

The guitar introduction to “All for a Tuesday” seems to steal a bit from Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” — there’s no hiding their musical influences, which is okay — but this track showcases the twin guitar attack from Bryce Zialcita and Siopao Chua: chug and jangle on the left, soar and swoop on the right. “Logistical Nightmare” rests on a spiky foundation of driving rhythms and piercing guitar chimes, then positively levitates when it gets to the chorus. “Sexy confrontation” indeed.

If I have one small complaint, it has to do with the sequencing: all the fast songs are in a cramped queue on the first half of the album, with the second half being noticeably brighter and club-oriented than the first. (“Stereolove” is probably the weakest track in the collection, as if some DJ simply took the vocal track and plopped it onto a lackluster techno remix.) But we are at least rewarded with the concluding “Shapeshifter”, though it does nothing of the sort, except that it builds into an uncoiling, multivocal crescendo that ends the album on a high note.

p.s. to Ruthie: Go get the album!

p.s.2. While the CD can be purchased at their gigs, mp3s can be downloaded at, though I haven’t tried it yet.

Song of the Day.

In music on February 7, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Just because: Eraserheads, “Huwag Mo Nang Itanong” (Cutterpillow, 1995)

Hika ang inabot ko
Nang piliting sumabay sa’yo
Hanggang kanto
Ng isipan mong parang Sweepstakes
Ang hirap manalo

Ngayon pagdating ko sa bahay
Ibaba ang iyong kilay
Ayoko ng ingay

Huwag mo nang itanong sa akin
Di ko rin naman sasabihin
Huwag mo nang itanong sa akin
At di ko na iisipin

Field trip sa may pagawaan ng lapis
Ay katulad ng buhay natin
Isang mahabang pila
Mabagal at walang katuturan

Ewan ko hindi ko alam
Puwede bang huwag na lang
Nating pag-usapan

Huwag mo nang itanong sa akin
Di ko rin naman sasabihin
Huwag mo nang itanong sa akin
At di ko na iisipin

Ewan ko hindi ko alam
Puwede bang huwag na lang
Natin pag-usapan

Huwag mo nang itanong sa akin
Di ko rin naman sasabihin
Huwag mo nang itanong sa akin
At di ko na iisipin

Huwag na lang
Huwag na lang

Jim Zwick, 51.

In Pinoy on January 31, 2008 at 8:10 am

[Obituary and Guestbook at the Hartford Courant.]

Jim Zwick, 51, an American Studies scholar whose specialties included Mark Twain, political history, and the educational usages of the internet died Thursday (January 24, 2008) at his home outside of Syracuse, New York. Zwick was the author of numerous noted books and articles on Twain, anti-imperialism and other topics. Major publications included the books Mark Twain’s Weapons of Satire, Inuit Entertainers in the United States, and Confronting Imperialism: Essays on Mark Twain and the Anti-Imperialist League. He was a frequent contributor to a wide range of journals and anthologies. Zwick began creating websites in 1994. He created and ran the Mark Twain site at, later consolidating his many writings into the widely cited, which was included in the reading list of Mark Twain courses at universities worldwide. In 2000, he ran the author’s posthumous online campaign for the Presidency, MSNB’s top-ranked campaign website. With his unique perspective, he provided consultation and commentary for documentary films including Ken Burns’ Mark Twain. Living in Hong Kong during the 1970′s, his language skills allowed him to travel extensively in the Peoples’ Republic of China in 1979, long before the current openness. He later traveled in the Philippines, and was long active with the Friends of the Filipino People. Zwick also served on the Executive Committee of the Mark Twain Circle. Zwick received his BA at Earlham College in 1981 and his MA in Comparative Politics and World History at Syracuse University where he continued to do post-graduate work and teach for some time. He attended Wethersfield High School and the Shanti School in Hartford. Zwick is survived by his father and step-mother Frank and Lynn Zwick of Myrtle Beach, SC, his sister Joan Zwick of Tolland, brothers David of Old Saybrook, Douglas of Los Angeles, and their families. He is predeceased by his mother Joan Jenkins Zwick, and sister, Susan Laurie Zwick. Memorial contributions may be made to Human Rights Watch, 350 5th Avenue, 34th Floor, New York, NY 10118 (

Published in the Hartford Courant on 1/30/2008.

Ten Years Old This Year.

In music on January 29, 2008 at 1:10 pm

My friend Karen reminds me that I haven’t updated my blog in almost a month. Well, I’ve been busy. I haven’t even come up with my usual year-end lists (and this year, the music list is rather predictable). Stay tuned for those though; the post on my favorite movies is shaping up pretty nicely.

But since this is the first post of 2008, I thought I’d remind you readers of the inexorable passage of time: everything below is ten years old this year.

A list of some of the pop singles of 1998 tells me that very few of these have aged particularly well (not that they were ever very good in the first place):

- Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One”
- LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live”
- Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” (okay, I actually really like this song)
- Madonna’s “Ray Of Light” (this one too, plus it has the second-greatest Madonna video ever, next only to “Lucky Star”)
- Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You”
- Marcy Playground’s “Sex And Candy”
- Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”
- Alanis Morissette’s “Thank U”

and of course, the theme song from the biggest movie of 1998, and possibly even the decade, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” The horror.

Meanwhile, some very good artists released some very middling albums: Whitechocolatespaceegg, Hello Nasty, Is This Desire?, Mutations, Angels With Dirty Faces. I bought them all that year and I don’t think I’ve listened to them since then.

But for every single by Savage Garden, Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind, Jennifer Paige, and Creed — god, just typing these names makes my skin crawl — there were at least a few bright spots: Lauryn Hill’s debut album, Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life”, Black Star, Buena Vista Social Club, The Boy With the Arab Strap, New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give”, and Music Has The Right To Children.

But yeah, think about it: it’s been ten years.

Best Concert Year Ever.

In music on December 13, 2007 at 11:26 am

34. Shonen Knife, Slim’s, SF, 12/11/07.

Shonen Knife set list, Slim's, San Francisco, 12/11/07.

(Snagged by Laurel, since we were standing in front of the monitors.)

There used to be a time, back in those days when Kurt Cobain was still alive and saying things like “When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert,” Shonen Knife was being derided as part of some Hello Kitty Orientalist Conspiracy, only valued for being petite and cute and not having real musical chops and playing sub-Ramones songs. Well. That’s clearly because they’ve never seen Shonen Knife live.

Funny, too: I was properly introduced to Laurel about three years ago at a Shonen Knife concert, also at Slim’s, and we’ve been carrying halves of a BFF medallion ever since, ha ha. (Just be gentle when you pull out the feeding tube.)

And with that, my concert year comes to an end — 34 shows!!! — with some of the most memorable concerts I’ve ever been to, period. (And since this is an end-of-the-year thing, I’d like to say “thanks” to my 2007 concert buddies too: Laurel, Rinna, Eloise & Son & Weiss, Lan & Juan, Jens, Randall, Karen & Craig, Romeo, Roy, Talaya & Ben, Jeannie, & the other Eloise (who calls the other Eloise “the other Eloise” too). Here’s to 2008.)

Best Concert Year Ever highlights:

Read the rest of this entry »

Items May Have Shifted During Flight.

In Pinoy on December 9, 2007 at 11:41 pm

(The photo of kare-kare above is actually taken from Kamayan sa Palaisdaan, in Los Banos, Laguna; it’s the yummy mess in the upper left-hand corner that’s under discussion below.)

It’s been a great week for me in terms of Filipino food. Last week I was the lucky beneficiary of a delicious estofado a la poeta (props to the guinataan too), which was accompanied not only by late, if minor, Kurosawa (with analysis both high and low, the latter to which I mostly contributed) but a conversation about Filipino cuisine.

(I actually have the transcript of a lunch conversation I had at Market Market, somewhere in my files around here, which I should really post some time, with Tita Cely Kalaw, the proprietor of the legendary Bamboo Grove, and the naming of Bicol Express, and her dream of restaurants specializing in quickly-disappearing provincial cuisine, using only ingredients from those provinces.)

But all this was preceded by a dinner earlier that week with my new friend The Llawyer at Palencia, a relatively new Filipino restaurant in San Francisco (in the Castro) that friends have been raving about. Funny, though, how the food — and this “review”, for that matter — ended up revolving around the bagoong, which was served with the kare-kare.

Read the rest of this entry »

The October / November 2007 Mix.

In music on December 5, 2007 at 12:05 am

I want to make a quick plug for my new favorite album, Anna Järvinen’s Jag fick feeling, from the Häpna label. Reviews later (like every other blogger out there, I feel obliged to come up with my year-end list soon), but here’s the album blurb (plus downloadable mp3s and a video), and you can buy the whole album right away from Klicktrack (there are 30-second samples for each song). Or, if you want the physical thing, it’s arriving on Amazon in a week. I’m not kidding, though, when I write that it’s one of the greatest things I’ve heard this year. I just wish I could understand what she was singing.

(For people who don’t know how this works: a flash widget opens at the bottom of the entry. Sometimes it takes a long time. You can play them and do other things, like d–nl–d them. Then I delete the mp3s after a while.)

1. Bergheim 34, “Take My Soul”
from the 2003 album It’s Not For You As It Is For Us

I love the cold, Teutonic, skeletal clatter: the metallic rattle of robot femurs in a disco laboratory.

Forced Exposure link.
Bergheim 34 discography.


2. Caribou, “Melody Day”
from the 2007 album Andorra

I was totally unprepared for the twin-drum attack at the Caribou show at Slim’s a few months ago, but you can hear it on the bridges of this track of swirly, sun-tinged electronic pop.

Video on YouTube.
Amazon link.
Official website.


3. Wild Billy Childish and The Musicians of the British Empire, “Date with Doug”
from the 2007 album Punk Rock at the British Legion Hall

There are more things in the Billy Childish discography than are dreamt of in your philosophy, and this three-minute, eleven-second track is but a tiny fraction of Childish’s output. The man’s a jack of all trades: singer, painter, composer, poet, Stuckist, guitarist, “the king of garage rock” — and purveyor of this ragged piece of pop bubblegum, with Nurse Julie on vocals. (It’s an unnecessarily mean song though, but it’s part of Childish’s long war against the insipid.)

Amazon link.
Official website.


4. Hem, “Jackson”
from the 2002 album I’m Talking With My Mouth

Something in the water in Brooklyn feeding all this talent — check. (That’s where Hem is from, and not somewhere a little more south.) You may be more familiar with the faster Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash duet from At Folsom Prison; Hem slows it way down and luxuriates over one of the greatest opening lines ever: “We got married in a fever.”

Amazon link.
Official website.


5. Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?, Part 1″
from the 2006 compilation Daptone 7-Inch Singles Collection, Vol. 1

It’s a 21-year old song made to sound 35, and the dance pop of Janet Jackson’s original is channeled here into a furious Declaration of Asskicking.

Amazon link.
Official website.


6. Jean Knight, “Do Me”
from the 1971 album Mr. Big Stuff

This song just sounds dangerous, a nice thick slab of sizzling funk that can’t be healthy for you.

Amazon link.
Wikipedia page.


7. Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter, “Your Eyes Told”
from the 2004 album Oh, My Girl

Tin roof shaking, crashing black
Well, i ain’t going back
Deliver me, take me in
Let me breathe your coarse wind
Day is empty, night too long
River hums a sweet song

Every song your lungs sang
Every lie your eyes told
Canyon whisper, canyon weep
I thought you were behind me

Tin roof shaking, crashing black
Well i ain’t going back
Deliver me, take me in
Let me breathe your coarse wind

Sublime music for driving in a dry country.

Amazon link.
Official website.


8. The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year”
from the 1968 album Odessey and Oracle

The warmth of your love
is like the warmth of the sun
and this will be our year
took a long time to come

don’t let go of my hand
now darkness has gone
and this will be our year
took a long time to come

and I won’t forget
the way you held me up when I was down
and I won’t forget the way you said,
“Darling I love you”
You gave me faith to go on

Now we’re there and we’ve only just begun
This will be our year
took a long time to come

The warmth of your smile
smile for me, little one
and this will be our year
took a long time to come

You don’t have to worry
all your worried days are gone
this will be our year
took a long time to come

and I won’t forget
the way you held me up when I was down
and I won’t forget the way you said,
“Darling I love you”
You gave me faith to go on

Now we’re there and we’ve only just begun
and this will be our year
took a long time to come

Yeah we only just begun
yeah this will be our year
took a long time to come

My first reaction upon hearing this song was, “Where has this been all my life???” People should dance to this at weddings.

Amazon link.
Wikipedia page.


PokerStars Sunday Million Tourney.

In Pinoy on December 4, 2007 at 2:15 am

Yes, it’s an ad. Yes, I think I get beer money for it courtesy of the folks at Mad Crowd Media. (Actually, my kid brother, who people constantly mistake for my elder brother when we’re in the same room, is managing director of the outfit.) Yes, I’m about to totally ramble because I don’t know how to make this ad post count.

I’ve never played poker online myself, and I think I’ve played Texas hold-’em exactly once, at a graduation party in Milpitas, CA. (The city is 15% Filipino, so: clearly a connection there.) I can’t bluff, which is why I’m bad at a) dates; b) telling students I loved their work; c) convincing players to raise their bets. Ah, but the joy of card games. I did use to play Pusoy Dos back in the day, and can happily admit to bringing the game to Ithaca, NY — okay, to one household in Ithaca, anyway, where its name was met with skepticism. “Pussy Doze? What sort of perverted game are you teaching us, Vergara?”

How these PokerStars folks figure out your Filipino identity is a mystery to me — a Philippine address? A nickname like Cookie, Bongbong, or Doods? A particularly wily way of bluffing? Do Filipino Americans count? What if you’re only a permanent resident alien and have a Philippine passport? Beats me. But check out that phallic stack of chips anyway, and marvel at the wonder of a champion poker player actually named Chris Moneymaker. I’m off to bed.


Can’t get enough of poker? Ready to go all in with the pros? PokerStars is looking for the next Filipino millionaire on the PokerStars Sunday Million Tourney. Anyone can qualify for free on Pokerstars.NET, where they have daily freerolls (free tournaments) exclusive to Filipinos starting December 3, 2007 from Monday to Friday at 7:00 pm. The Top 5 winners from each day of the week advances to a 25-player Saturday Tourney. The winner of this Saturday Tourney moves on to the Sunday Million Tourney on and gets a chance to play with the pros and win some serious serious moolah. More details at! Promo ends 6 January 2008!

"Battling the Neoliberalization of University Life: A List of Strategies."

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2007 at 11:42 am

A couple of weeks ago, Angela Jancius, the moderator of the Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology (SUNTA) listserv, posted a query for “a top ten list of ways to battle against the neoliberalization of university life.” Members of the URBANTH-L list replied, and four days later, this was Angie’s compilation of the answers. (I haven’t edited anything, but fixed formatting for readability).

And while some tactics are either of the hippy-dippy or Smash-the-State varieties (hope that didn’t sound too pejorative) and wouldn’t work at so-called research institutions (or so-called teaching institutions, for that matter), a good chunk of these are implementable, even on an individual basis. (I’m always shocked at the prices of textbooks in the sciences, for instance; I’m usually hesitant if my assigned books are over 30 bucks in total!)

If you ask me, it’s the size of classes that has the most direct impact on classroom quality. It’s bad for the professor, of course, who has to slog through grading all those papers and will therefore be tempted to cut corners (shorter papers, insubstantial multiple-choice exams). But it’s just as bad for the students: less time with professors, briefer comments on papers, radically decreased opportunities for participation, and a semester signposted by exams and binge-and-purge learning. (It was only a few years ago that, in an attempt to increase class size, the administration where I used to teach kept pushing more chairs inside the classrooms until the safety marshals hollered “Fire hazard!”) And don’t get me started on how criminally underpaid adjuncts and temporary lecturers are…

My former employer, an urban school by reputation, has essentially abandoned its decades-long “commitment” to the working class from its immediate surroundings, and instead has concentrated on recruiting aggressively from the O.C. to fill up their dormitories. (I have nothing against SoCal in particular, but it does raise the question of where the SF high schoolers are ending up. A year ago an overwhelming majority of the first-year students in my anthropology class were already dorm-dwellers. This is a fairly profound student demographic shift in my opinion, suggesting, perhaps erroneously, that they were relatively moneyed and that they had few ties to the local community. But that latter part can change.)

(If you want to cut and paste this and repost on your respective lists, or blogs, or whatever, please remove all the above drivel first.)

Enough chitchat; here we go:

Read the rest of this entry »

Kinetic Force.

In this damned war on November 25, 2007 at 3:40 pm

I don’t think I’ve seen BAE Systems advertise in the Chronicle of Higher Education before, and I may be wrong — and a quick Google search shows places like,, and, all places I don’t frequent — but lo and behold, it showed up in the Anthropology listings this week (though it was on the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology job site almost a month ago):

The Human Terrain System (HTS) is a new Army program, designed to improve the military’s ability to understand the local socio-cultural environment in Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowledge of the local population provides a departure point for a military staff’s ability to plan and execute its mission more effectively using less kinetic force.

Unlike the other postings, this job description specifically mentions Iraq and Afghanistan. And despite the deliberate vagueness of “less kinetic force,” this statement is probably as close to saying (and excuse the bluntness), “Having an anthropologist or two around makes it less likely that we’ll have to waste some Iraqis.” I suppose if you put it that way, it makes the job a little more attractive. Kind of.

The whole topic has been discussed in academic circles for a while now, but has only recently hit the mainstream press (in particular, a high-profile article in the New York Times). See Savage Minds for a primer and links to other articles, dating from as early as 2005. (For something earlier, Eric Wakin’s out-of-print Anthropology Goes to War: Professional Ethics and Counterinsurgency in Thailand will fit the bill.)


In Uncategorized on November 20, 2007 at 11:31 am

1. My mom’s Christmas Village 3.0 is, as the kids say nowadays, ginormous. Wish I were going back this year but there’s too much work.

2. Work is slowing down, but the end of the quarter at Cal State Hayward (I refuse to call it Cal State East Bay, sorry) is approaching quickly, and I have a winter class at UC Davis that I haven’t taken care of yet, and I have a manuscript due in January.

3. So those monthly mp3 mixes won’t be showing up for a while, I’m afraid. But a glimpse of what it would have looked like:

- Caribou, “Melody Day”
- Chatmonchy, “Renai Spirits”
- Wild Billy Childish and The Musicians of the British Empire, “Date with Doug”
- Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, “What Have You Done For Me Lately, Part 1″
- Jean Knight, “Do Me”
- The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year” (where was this song all my life???)

and a couple of stray Spoon tracks (“I Turn My Camera On,” “Sister Jack”), plus an old Interpol song (“Obstacle 1″).

4. Though I’m still reading stuff online — check out my feed / bookmarks on the right.

5. Yes, I’ve gone back to Twitter.

Dengue Fever, The Independent, SF, 11/09/07.

In music on November 10, 2007 at 2:46 am

1. In what is clearly my Best Concert Year Ever, I met Chhom Nimol, the lead singer of Dengue Fever (the coolest band in America, as I’ve written many times) this evening. I bought her a shot of Jagermeister, which she requested (“Medicine for singers,” she said).

(2. Imagine three exclamation points at the end of each sentence and you’ll have a good idea of how I’m feeling.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Thanks For Making Me Feel Really Old, Pitchfork!

In music on November 8, 2007 at 3:15 pm

Give or take a year, I’m the same age as (my musical heroes) Polly Jean Harvey and James Murphy, who I presume are also in that big nebulous open-ended Middle Age / Senior Citizen group.

A Musical Exercise: 5 from the '50s.

In music on October 19, 2007 at 4:34 am

Arranged by year of release, here are my five favorite songs from the ’50s. (See also the rationale behind all of this.)


1. Nat King Cole, “Red Sails in the Sunset”

There are two distinct periods to Nat King Cole’s long body of work: first, the pianist leading his swinging jazz trio; second, the “Unforgettable” crooner bringing his music to a bigger (and whiter) audience. My dad loved the latter Cole, his uncomplicated, unruffled songs now overlaid with strings and the most syrupy backing choral arrangements this side of, I don’t know, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Listen to his renditions of “Ramblin’ Rose” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, for instance; they’re irredeemably terrible.)

This was unfortunate, and I did not, in fact, find out that Cole actually played piano until the early ’90s! It was, however, the Nat King Cole I grew up with: the Cole of “Smile” and “L-O-V-E” (though the fantastic “A Blossom Fell” is from this era too); the Cole played over and over on the stereo and later, once technology permitted, on long road trips; the Cole whose enunciation was held up by my father as a paragon of good singing, “unlike the music you listen to — is he even saying anything?” he’d address me. (I might have been particularly obsessed with New Order’s mumbly “Ceremony” at that point.)

And so “Red Sails in the Sunset” is from the wrong Cole period, but it’s lovely nonetheless, and included here for all the right reasons: my dad sang me to sleep with this song, and I sing my daughter to sleep with it as well.

Amazon link for the compilation Unforgettable.


2. Frank Sinatra, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”
from the 1955 album In the Wee Small Hours

The song is cinematically, melodramatically, solitary from the get-go: the ironic lullaby-like notes in the beginning, with the strings gently nudging the weary Sinatra into an effortless recitation of his loss. The languidness of the song’s arrangement, and the odd, redundant juxtaposition of “wee” and “small” (but what the first few words do is shape the singer’s mouth not into a caress, but into a kind of tired, slackjawed mourning, i.e., no plosives or fricatives), are in perfect consonance with the resigned melancholy of the lyrics. But the almost somnolent haze of the song belies what’s most important: he is wide awake, he does not want to go to sleep, and he is waiting for a call which he knows will never arrive. And he is all alone.

Amazon link.


3. Billie Holiday, “I Thought About You”
from the 1956 album Lady Sings The Blues

For me it’s all about that purring lilt in her voice at the end of the line when she sings “The one going back to you.” Sometimes, though, what does it for me is the couplet that goes

And every stop that we made
oh, I thought about you

The “we” of course refers to her and the train’s passengers, but I like thinking she’s with someone else.

Amazon link.


4. Link Wray, “Rumble”

I mean, listen to it! It even sounds filthy and dangerous and about to stab you with a dirty knife.

Amazon link for the compilation Rumble! The Best of Link Wray.


5. The Teddy Bears, “To Know Him Is To Love Him”

Phil Spector was all of seventeen years old when he wrote this simple, straightforward philosophical equation of “to know” and “to love” (he also arranged it, and sang in the background), and it’s already a fully-formed marvel of adolescent longing from afar. (Though it’s really a tribute — like Bread’s “Everything I Own” — to Spector’s late father.)

But we don’t find out about the “from afar” part until we hear the second stanza, and we move from the present tense to the future conditional, and the bridge, when Annette Kleinbard finally lets loose, only accentuates the despair: “Why can’t he see me?” This three-part structure is mirrored as well in that fantastic opening line, progressing from “know know know” to “love love love” and finally to — what else, in 1958? — “and I do and I do and I do.”

Amazon link for Phil Spector’s box set Back to Mono.

A Musical Exercise.

In music on October 18, 2007 at 12:45 am

I wish I understood music better. That lack of vocabulary or technical background feels like it renders senseless my faux-critic writing for this blog: I can’t tell a middle fifth from a particular piano chord, but I know when a guitar solo kicks ass. But I can’t tell you exactly what makes the music good. It’s easier on my part to chart the emotional trajectories of the music, to map out the avenues of sentiment, to write, if paradoxically, about the ineffable. I suppose it’s an oblique testimony to what’s best about popular music: its ability to better articulate words that can’t be said. (Which is why pop music is also responsible for the phenomenon of the crappy mixtape.)

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Boris / Damon & Naomi, The Independent, SF, 10/14/2007.

In music on October 17, 2007 at 12:16 am

Last Sunday night’s show at the Independent was as pedigreed a concert as could be assembled on one stage in one evening: two-thirds of Galaxie 500 (one of my favorite bands ever), one-fifth of Ghost (yet another), one-sixth of Espers, one-half of nmperign, and all three of the mighty Boris. The “linchpin” for the concert, as Damon Krukowski put it, was none other than Michio Kurihara from Ghost, who was essentially playing that night for a couple of hours with both Damon and Naomi and Boris.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Wily Filipino's Greatest Hits.

In Pinoy on October 16, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Taking a cue from my brother Benito Vergara (not to be confused with the even-cooler Benito Vergara, here’s The Wily Filipino’s Greatest Hits (i.e., most read and linked-to articles), for folks new to this blog:

On Eating Balut.

Eating, Shopping and Laughing. Oh, and Massages.

Some Random Thoughts on Adobo.

Agapito Flores.

Kahulugan nang Kakonyohan.

My Cousin, the Pornographer.

My Friend R.

Modern Girls and Modern Rock & Roll.

In music on October 12, 2007 at 4:19 pm

It’s Lack of Circumspection time at The Wily Filipino again! A few years ago I decided to give online dating a try — which I had never done before — and so one night put some thought into writing a description for myself (what I was like, my interests, who I was looking for, and so on). And I thought I’d toss in, as a tidbit (but probably also as an unnecessary “test” of sorts), the fact that I was still in shock that my favorite band, Guided by Voices, was breaking up.

So I wrote this all up — these things take forever to write, by the way* — and decided to send a copy to my good friend Jane so she could vet it — and the following frustrating (paraphrased) IM conversation ensued:

Read the rest of this entry »

The September 2007 Mix.

In music on October 11, 2007 at 12:21 am

Only four songs this month (and about ten days late too), but rest assured they’re of very high quality.

It would have been five, actually — the fifth would have been the excellent “Long Summer Day” by Two Gallants, but it threatened to turn into this big disquisition on its lyrics, race, Quentin Tarantino, the “N-word”, and one of the funniest scenes in Richard Wong’s Colma: The Musical (one of my favorite films this year), and I couldn’t hook it all together coherently enough, so I dropped it.

Also, I’m removing the files off once the entry drops off the first page on the blog. They won’t be here forever, folks!

1. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, “Underwater (You and Me)”
from the 2007 album Some Loud Thunder

Some songs see us sailing away
Navigating foreign borders, and climbing the waves
Someday your secret will be revealed
Either one you’re thinking of when the sun goes down into the water

We’re struck by the still of the moon
Hanging up there in the sky as though a balloon
Anchored by an astronaut’s patriot tune
We will buy the ship and fly to the land that would be rediscovered

We’ll design a clever disguise
We’ll retreat to the bottom of the sea
We were destined to live out our lives underwater, you and me

We’ll escape beneath the violet sky
Clouds come and night falls
You seem different on my mind
Upon an endless trail of moonlight
You’ll never realize that we have gone, we have gone right out of, out of sight

We’ll design a clever disguise
We’ll retreat to the bottom of the sea
We were destined to live out our lives underwater, you and me

Fact: Alec Ounsworth is a terrible singer on record and an even worse one live. My friend Eloise and I saw them play live at the Treasure Island Music Festival (along with the aforementioned Two Gallants, a lackluster Au Revoir Simone (but I knew that coming in), a very cool M. Ward, an always-reliable Built to Spill, a very good Spoon, and Modest Mouse, whom we skipped. My humble pictures taken from the center here, by the way; scroll down to the 20 pictures at the bottom).

Our response, unfortunately, wasn’t clapping our hands or saying “yeah”; it was more of looking at each other with puzzlement. (Though the lone, barely-sentient Filipino guy who just happened to be standing next to us made the concert way, way better with his generosity, for which I traded a couple of oatmeal cookies. The woman behind us commented that this was “the greatest thing I’d ever seen,” referring to our exchange. “This restores my faith in humanity,” she said. Eloise was happy too.)

The best thing about the concert was the excellent title track (“Some Loud Thunder”), which we hear in the shittiest mix imaginable on the record, but was now more intelligible through the wall of speakers. Unfortunately they didn’t play “Underwater (You and Me)”, which does restore my faith in indie rock, at least. There’s nothing quite like a good Running Away Song — like Born to Run is full of nothing but Running Away Songs — and “Underwater (You and Me)” is a perfect example. If this ever came out as a single, Michel Gondry would do a great job directing the video.

Live version on YouTube.
Amazon link.
Official website.


2. Monday Michiru, “Slo”
from the 2003 album Moods

I’ve said it a couple times before, and I’ll say it again: Monday Michiru should be a massive, worldwide star. An already-glorious career as an acid-jazz diva, a hugely appealing lyricist, a bold and ambitious plunge into straight-up jazz, a genuine musical pedigree, a remarkably supple and sophisticated voice (not to mention the fact that she’s drop-dead gorgeous) — what’s wrong with you people?

Amazon link.
Official website.


3. Maria Taylor, “A Good Start”
from the 2007 album Lynn Teeter Flower

You’re one with the burden of intuition.
You’re one with the freedom of a blank stare.
You’re one with the best friend you lost,
You wish was still there.

You’re one with the dust on that old piano.
You’re one with the strings on your new guitar.
You’re one with the wind through the open window,
You are.

It was a faint line that brought you here,
And a pulse that kept you in time.
It was the comfort of a tradition,
Like the few that were not that kind.

It’s a shame now, baby, you can’t see yourself
And everything you’re running from.
And it’s the same world, honey, that has brought you down,
As the one that’s gonna pick you up.
And pick you up.

You’re one with the echoes of conversation.
You’re one with the strangers you overheard.
You’re one with the lesson that was the best one you learned.

It was a faint line that brought you here,
And a pulse that kept you in time.
It was the comfort of a tradition,
Like the few that were not that kind.

It’s a shame now, baby, you can’t see yourself
And everything you’re running from.
And it’s the same world, honey, that has brought you down,
As the one that’s gonna pick you up.
And pick you up.

It was a cold, dark, sleepy morning walk.
You fell down facing up.
It was a good start.
It was a good start.

It was a cold, dark, sleepy morning walk.
You fell down facing up.
It was a good start.
It was a good start.

It’s a shame now, baby, you can’t see yourself
And everything you’re running from.
And it’s the same world, honey, that has brought you down,
As the one that’s gonna pick you up.
And pick you up.

And it’s a shame now, baby, you can’t separate
Yourself from where you stood.
And it’s the same world, honey, that made you feel so bad,
That makes you feel so good.
Feel so good.

I’m a not-so-secret admirer of indie female singer-songwriters (whatever that means), and this song goes straight to that indie-female-singer-songwriter-admiring part of my brain.

Video on YouTube.
Amazon link.
Official website.


4. Kanye West, “Barry Bonds (feat. Lil Wayne)”
from the 2007 album Graduation

And finally, the best song, hands down, from my favorite album of the month and certainly one of the best albums of the year. “Only I could come up with some shit like this.” Indeed. (But why Lil Wayne — in a fantastic, even more gravelly-voiced than usual, guest appearance here, still feels compelled to stupidly say “no homo” in such enlightened times is a mystery.)

Why I love this song: lots of reasons — “bow so hard till your knees hit your forehead,” the way the instruments all tumble together slowly at the beginning, “ice in my teeth so refrigerated,” the constant stop-start rhythm, but when it comes down to it — it’s all about the throat-clearing.

Amazon link.
Official website.


Why Yelp Sucks (Sometimes).

In Uncategorized on October 10, 2007 at 8:31 am

So is it just me, or is Yelp one of the most casually racist websites on the net? (There are, of course, bloggers who make spewing hate rants part of their business; the old Yahoo forums, now closed down probably for the same reason, were way worse than Yelp.) But Yelp seems far more insidious to me because all the slurs are done under the guise of reviews; what’s more, they’re perpetrated by young people who clearly think this is all funny and cool and hip and vote for similar entries.

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New Routine.

In music on September 19, 2007 at 11:16 am

Izzy is short for Isabella. I don’t always call her with all four syllables, unless it’s in a singsong tone (“I-sa-BEL-la!”) or an escalation of a series of unheard “Izzy!”s. (Of course, her full name gets deployed only when I’m really angry, which rarely, if ever, happens. And her full full name only got trotted out to impress visitors when she was younger.)

A couple of weekends ago, we accidentally stumbled upon a new routine. (Izzy says she heard it on a summer day camp field trip — the bigger kids knew the song, she said.)

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The Sky Is Falling!

In Pinoy on September 5, 2007 at 11:55 pm

Last week Beting Dolor officially but quietly announced his taking over of the editorship of Philippine News. His Aug. 29 – Sept. 4 2007 column making the announcement was not online as of this writing; in its stead was a snarky, Dolor-written column (not too subtly entitled “He Asked For It”) gloating over Joma Sison’s arrest by Dutch authorities.*

This was after a two-month, seemingly rudderless though smooth period when the top of the editorial masthead remained empty after the quiet dismissal of Lito Gutierrez, the former editor in chief. Quiet, because Philippine News was characteristically silent about the transition. Gutierrez’s column, “The Inverted Pyramid”, simply vanished from its usual position to the right of the readers’ letters, and that was that.

Read the rest of this entry »

The August 2007 Mix.

In music on September 1, 2007 at 10:17 pm

It’s The National month here at The Wily Filipino, but there’s other music besides. So here goes: my favorite music of the last 30 days. (The mp3s can be played in the Box widget at the end of the entry. No, you can’t download them, because I’m already violating enough copyright as it is. UPDATE: Oops. It looks like you can indeed download the stuff. Hmm.)

1. the brilliant green, “Flowers”
from the 2002 album THE WINTER ALBUM

Other than the fact that their lead singer, Tomoko Kawase, is the most beautiful woman in the world other than Rosario Dawson — and feel free to navigate away from here and come back in 15 minutes — the brilliant green specializes in straightforward, no-nonsense, radio-friendly guitar pop of the highest order. Tommy Kawase herself has two excellent side projects, Tommy February6 and Tommy Heavenly6, exploring different facets of her personality, but now TBG are together again. (Funny thing is, Tommy clearly can’t sing live very well, and despite her danceable, creme-filled TF6 songs, is a rather lackluster dancer. I love her anyway.)

It’s the brilliant green’s midtempo ballads that really shine, though. Folks familiar with their singles would probably hear nothing very little in “Flowers” to differentiate it from, say, their hits like “Angel Song” or “Hello Another Way”, but such perfectly calibrated, wistful pop — particularly this song buried in the middle of the album — shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Lyrics in English transliteration.
Live version on YouTube.
Amazon Link.
Official website.


2. Eggstone, “Against the Sun”
from the 1994 album Somersault

I’ve always had a soft spot for jangly indie pop, particularly in short bursts like “Against the Sun”; the fact that Eggstone comes from Sweden [insert gratuitous reference to IKEA, the Cardigans and Volvo here] seals the deal.

Amazon link.
Official website.


3. Maria João & Mário Laginha, “From Both Sides Now”
from the 2003 album Undercovers

Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” is as chestnutty as it gets, covered to exhaustion by different artists in the last four decades. (My first exposure to it was not to the original song, but to a Frank Sinatra version on his odd 1968 album Cycles — which I remembered because of its front cover, showing a weary Frank.)

And despite the relative triteness of the song — it’s like the Beatles’ “Yesterday” — there’s something awfully sweet about this version, all lovely piano tinkle and that soft but insistent percussion in the background. (It’s not actually representative of João’s work; in my favorite song of hers, “Pés No Chão”, her vocals swoop and sputter like Bjork.)

Amazon link,
Official websites.


4. Mandy Moore, “Looking Forward to Looking Back”
from the 2007 album Wild Hope

Drove to your house in the hills
Where I wanted to be
The lights were all on
And I knew you were waiting for me
And that road became familiar
Like the mystery shape of your heart

And I know you loved me in your way
I’m looking forward to looking back on these days
And I’m fine, but I’m not okay
I’m looking forward to looking back on these days

The fog in the morning clouded the world that we knew
It was almost enough being lonely and living for you
And the rain came to our window

And I wish I could’ve stayed


Let it go
Let it go sunshine
Now you know
Now you know it’s time
It’s time

You were asleep while I gathered my things in the dark
The burns on my fingers were all that was left of the spark
Didn’t want to wake you
‘Cause I knew I couldn’t stay


I’m looking forward to looking back on these days

It’s a remarkably simple song, but filled with little grace notes: the harmonies on the chorus, the great line “And I’m fine, but I’m not okay.” As I wrote in a previous post, Wild Hope is Mandy Moore’s largely successful attempt to be taken seriously as a singer-songwriter, and if the writing of the songs probably started off with her and an acoustic guitar rather than a producer with a synth and ProTools, then so be it. People grow up.

Amazon link.
Official website.


5. The National, “Secret Meeting”

and 6. The National, “Mr. November”
from the 2005 album Alligator

All right, so The National is my favorite artist of the month, and I’ll tell you why: it’s not just Matt Berninger’s baritone, but also the darkly ambiguous, vaguely romantic, evocatively filthy lyrics. Most of the time they don’t make much sense; one gets the feeling that, like Yo La Tengo’s songs, the lines refer to various private references, to glimmers of intimacies. “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November,” goes the chorus for the last song on Alligator. There’s something both valedictory and despairing in his delivery, and it’s this contradictory combination of elements that also animates the uplifting yet self-absorbed “Secret Meeting”, with his vocals half-drowned out at the end by the voices inside his head.

Lyrics (scroll to the bottom for “Mr. November”).
Amazon link.
Official website.

7. The National, “Fake Empire”

and 8. The National, “Mistaken for Strangers”
from the 2007 album Boxer

Fake Empire

Stay out super late tonight picking apples, making pies
put a little something in our lemonade and take it with us
we’re half-awake in a fake empire
we’re half-awake in a fake empire

Tiptoe through our shiny city with our diamond slippers on
Do our gay ballet on ice
bluebirds on our shoulders
we’re half-awake in a fake empire
we’re half-awake in a fake empire

Turn the light out say goodnight
no thinking for a little while
let’s not try to figure out everything it wants
It’s hard to keep track of you falling through the sky
we’re half-awake in a fake empire
we’re half-awake in a fake empire

Mistaken for Strangers

You have to do it running but you do everything that they ask you to
cause you don’t mind seeing yourself in a picture
as long as you look faraway, as long as you look removed
showered and blue-blazered, fill yourself with quarters
showered and blue-blazered, fill yourself with quarters

You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends
when you pass them at night under the silvery, silvery citibank lights
arm in arm in arm and eyes and eyes glazing under
oh you wouldn’t want an angel watching over
surprise, surprise they wouldn’t wanna watch
another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults

Make up something to believe in your heart of hearts
so you have something to wear on your sleeve of sleeves
so you swear you just saw a feathery woman
carry a blindfolded man through the trees
showered and blue-blazered, fill yourself with quarters
showered and blue-blazered, fill yourself with quarters

You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends
when you pass them at night under the silvery, silvery citibank lights
arm in arm in arm and eyes and eyes glazing under
oh you wouldn’t want an angel watching over
surprise, surprise they wouldn’t wanna watch
another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults

You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends
when you pass them at night under the silvery, silvery citibank lights
arm in arm in arm and eyes and eyes glazing under
oh you wouldn’t want an angel watching over
surprise, surprise they wouldn’t wanna watch
another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults

It actually wasn’t very easy to pick my favorite The National songs; I ended up having to cull out “The Geese of Beverly Road” and “The Daughters of the SoHo Riots” and “Slow Show” (which contains the fantastic refrain, “You know I dreamed about you / for twenty-nine years before I saw you”). “Fake Empire” is the first song on their new album, which is very likely to be on my year-end shortlist of albums; “Mistaken for Strangers” seems like a dark companion piece to LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”, or at least the way Hua Hsu writes about it.

Video for “Mistaken for Strangers” on YouTube.
Amazon link.

Mandy Moore / Paula Cole, The Fillmore, SF, 8/22/2007.

In music on August 23, 2007 at 12:35 am

It was Mandy Moore’s first concert ever in San Francisco — “at the Fillmore, can you believe it,” she asked. I think a smaller venue would have worked better. Some people on commented with surprise about my going to a Mandy Moore concert. But friends know I have a soft spot for pop. And yes, J-Lu dragged me there, but I do like her latest album: Wild Hope, is a remarkably strong bid for singer-songwriter status; it’s a solid, if safe, collection of sober, mature folk-pop that gets better with each listen. It’s a far cry, in any case, from her old teenybopper days, which is something clearly reflected in the setlist. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. My only complaint: I honestly thought she was the headliner, but I was wrong (see more below).

Read the rest of this entry »

Midweek Link Roundup.

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2007 at 2:21 pm

1. At the age of 23, anthropology major Lauren Bush had visited more countries outside the United States (at least seven in the Global South) than her Uncle George did by 2000 — true or false? (True.)

2. Hopefully it’ll still be on the front page, but here’s a video of Radioactive Sago Project performing Nick Joaquin’s “The Summer Solstice” live, at (If not, reload. PS: “miskol” is the 2006 word of the year.)

3. Of course I’m pre-ordering this.


At the end of practice, Pati ushers two medium-size stray dogs inside the fence. He tells his players to line up for conditioning, blows his whistle and watches his team thunder downfield. The dogs take off after the players, their chase instincts triggered. They catch up to the last runner, bark and snap at the player’s ankles. The runner speeds up to avoid being bitten, and the dogs go after the next-slowest runner. Pati slaps his hand against his thigh and laughs.

“See that?” he says. “That’s what we call a speed coach in American Samoa.”

From Eli Saslow’s Washington Post article on high school football in Pago Pago. (Thanks for the link, Viva!)

5. I love the pathos / absurdity of this piece by Jessica Zafra, like something out of a Hal Hartley movie. If he remade Bicycle Thieves or something.

6. I’m trying to get my online friend Ardee to sell me the iPod diptych for my new apartment.

7. Speaking of the new apartment, which you’ll read more about later: Walk Score calculates your place’s proximity to restaurants, bookstores, bars, libraries and so on. My new place is fairly walkable (68/100), even higher than my previous one by the beach (54). (It doesn’t factor in certain crucial elements, though: my old Ithaca addresses kept scoring a whopping 92/100 — and it’s true that there were indeed hardware stores, parks, movie theaters, etc., within a quarter-mile radius — but it doesn’t tell you that most of these are strung along the steepest-ass hill in a city that has snow on the ground six months out of the year. The difficulty of the slope is helpfully magnified when trudging in knee-high snow; your descent is equally facilitated when the slush freezes to ice. Okay, Ithaca rant over.)

That said, I haven’t even gone walking through my neighborhood — even though Fentons is literally less than half a mile away. Most of my time has been spent getting books into shelves (and splitting them into smaller categories as opposed to just “fun” and “work”) and driving back and forth from the gleaming two-story Target store in Albany. It’s so big it has its own freeway!

Mobile Homes.

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2007 at 11:35 pm

I’m writing this in a hotel room while Izzy sleeps. It is one of many hotels over the last year in which we have made our temporary home for a few nights, all uniform in their anonymity and proximity to freeway offramps. But we make the room our own nonetheless, our domestic rituals almost unchanging as we open the door, turn on the lights, and step with half-dread and anticipation into our new home. She gets to pick which bed she wants to sleep in, but this does not matter because come dawn she joins me under my blanket.

Our toiletries are perched, on opposite sides, around the small sink; her asthma medicine in a big Ziploc bag on the nightstand next to the clock radio. Two toothbrushes and two tubes of toothpaste stuffed in a plastic cup; her night light, the same one we’ve used for three years now, poised by the lone wall socket. We never bother to unpack; the bags are always open, sitting on the floor by our Chuck Taylors. Mine are brown. Hers are pink.

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In Uncategorized on August 6, 2007 at 11:23 pm

My last three years have been marked by various transitions — some huge, with no small amount of trauma. One is easily Googleable, and I have no doubt that I’ll be posting more about it in the months to come; the others can be read between the lines. Actually “transition” is a euphemistic way of putting it; it’s been, for the most part, sheer hell.

So there’s really no explanation for why I’ve been unreasonably happy the last month or so — okay, certain burdens like my manuscript have been lifted, but the fear of unemployment and rejection still looms large — but there you go. My brother teases me about living the life of a teenager with all my carrying on — absolutely not true, but if it resembles a pre-midlife crisis (or the lingering aftereffects of being rudely kicked out of the 18-to-34 demographic), let it be known that it comes at a great, great price. And if there’s something in all of this that resembles callow, adolescent bravado in my manner (especially if you’ve been out with me lately), you’re probably interpreting it correctly as well.

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Smashing Pumpkins, The Fillmore, SF, 7/31/07.

In music on August 1, 2007 at 1:50 am

1. And so it ends: the concert I’ve been waiting to attend for so long. Eloise and Son and Weiss and I were standing there maybe 10 people from the stage. And alas, it was rather anticlimactic…

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The July 2007 Mix.

In music on July 29, 2007 at 2:22 pm

It’s the end of the month, so… my favorite music of the last 30 days.

1. Chatmonchy, “Otogino kuni no kimi”
from the 2006 album Miminari

No idea what it means, unfortunately (lyrics are here), but my heart just leaps once Hashimoto Eriko gets to the chorus about 35 seconds in.

Amazon link.
Official website.


2. Chatmonchy, “Joshi tachi ni Asu wa Nai”
from the 2007 Joshi tachi ni Asu wa Nai single

I believe it’s roughly translated as “There Is No Tomorrow For The Girls” (or “Girls Will Not Have Tomorrow?”). Chatmonchy is my new favorite Japanese band.

YesAsia link.
Video on YouTube. (Fantastic, by the way.)


3. Chillitees, “Sama Na”
from the 2006 album Extra Rice

Sama na
Wag ka nang magtanong
Lapit na
Ipikit ang mata

Ibigay mo ang yong damdamin
At ibibigay ang iyong hiling
Walang tayong mapapansin
Walang iba kundi sarili natin
Magdamag tayong magsasaya
Nakatitig sa iyong mata
Hangang maabot natin ang ligaya
Kaya’t sa ‘kin ay sumama na

[repeat CHORUS]

Mula ngayon ay wala ng iba
Ikaw lang ang tanging kailangan
Wag ka nang mag-alinlangan
Sa buhay ko’y ikaw lamang

[repeat CHORUS]

Ako magbibigay ng ‘yong kaligayahan
Hawakan mo aking kamay di kita pababayaan
Gagawin ang mga bagay na di pag sisisihan
Lumayo kaman mananatili pa rin sa ‘kin
Ang pusong inaalay at malalim na damdamin
Kahit anong gawin hindi ito maisasalin
Sumama ka at libutin natin ang buong mundo
Ang oras ay ating limutin
At ating ipanalangin na itong paglalakbay
Tuloy tuloy nating tahakin
Wag nang pag isipan pa
Lumapit ka’t tanggalin ang pangangamba
Pagkat ikaw at ako punung puno ng alaala

[repeat CHORUS]

No need to translate the lyrics, really; of course it’s about sex.

Amazon link.
Official website.
Video on YouTube.


4. Some Tweetlove, “La Nostalgie Des Hauts-Fourneaux”
from the 2006 album Cafard Mondial

First heard it on a Wire compilation, and it’s been running through my head ever since.

Matamore link. (Couldn’t find a US distributor for some reason, so I bought my copy here.)
Official website.


5. The Thermals, “A Pillar of Salt”
from the 2006 album The Body, the Blood, the Machine

We were born to sin
we were born to sin!
we don’t think we’re special sir
we know everybody is
we built too many walls
yeah we built too many walls!
And now we gotta run
a giant fist is out to crush us

We run in the dark
we run in the dark!
we don’t carry dead weight long
we send them along to heaven.
I carry my baby
i carry my baby!
Her eyes can barely see
her mouth can barely breathe
i see she’s afraid
she could see the danger
we don’t want to die
or apologize
for our dirty god
our dirty body

Now i spit to the ground
i spit to the ground!
i won’t look twice at dead walls
i don’t wanna white pillar of salt
I carry my baby
i carry my baby!
Her eyes can barely see
her mouth can barely breathe
i can see she’s afraid
that’s why we’re escaping
so we won’t have to die
we won’t have to deny
our dirty god
our dirty bodies!

I’m jumping on the Thermals bandwagon late (thanks Allan!): a scary song from a scary album. (Though the song and the video sound awfully cheery.)

Amazon link.
Official website.
Video on YouTube.

The Polyphonic Spree, The Great American Music Hall, SF, 7/17/2007.

In music on July 27, 2007 at 8:35 pm

(No, it’s not an attempt at poetry; just notes.)

And so, the beginning stages:

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Weekend Link Roundup.

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2007 at 10:30 am

1. Via Kerim Friedman at Savage Minds, Alton Thompson at Conductor’s Notebook:

Half the students who begin school do not finish.

If this statement described an American inner-city public school system, the story would already have made headlines. Outraged parents would be asking hard questions of the mayor at the next press conference. If it described undergrad athletes at your local collegiate sports factory, the NCAA would already be leaning on the program to change something.

But this statistic is not about those students. It describes students enrolled in American Ph.D programs.

This dirty secret, long known to officials at universities, is gradually becoming public. For decades, half the students who begin doctoral programs at American universities have been walking away.

The secret is dirty because the students who walk away are not failing. They are successful. The grades non-completers earn are as high as those of their colleagues who complete their degrees. Recent research shows the undergraduate GPAs of female students, in fact, to be higher among the walkoffs than among their colleagues who finish. The secret is dirty because these are adults who have already completed at least two college degrees just to get where they are. Their competence for academic work, and their willingess to follow through, is established. The secret is dirty because these are adults who have invested enormous amounts of time and personal resources into the very programs they decide to abandon.

And from the original article, Barbara E. Lovitts and Cary Nelson on grad student attrition from AAUP’s Academe magazine:

As we begin to think through the differences such practical programmatic changes can make, a more fundamental conclusion begins to take shape-that the real problem is with the character of graduate programs rather than with the character of their students. Yet most faculty assume that the best students finish their degrees and the less talented and qualified depart. Those who leave are often called “dropouts” to emphasize both volition and inevitability; the term suggests the problem is with the student, not with the program.

Everything about the way students depart reinforces this conviction. Most leave silently; they simply disappear, without communicating any reservations about the program to faculty or administrators. Exit interviews or follow-up contacts with departing students are rare. Moreover, students are effectively discouraged from voicing complaints while they are still actively enrolled. The “successful” student is “happy” and compliant; such a student is more likely to receive financial support, good teaching assignments, and strong letters of recommendation. A student who criticizes the program is a problem. Of course this reasoning is circular and self-fulfilling, since complaining students may well be turned into problem students by neglect or discrimination. Meanwhile, the accumulated silence of previous “dropouts” reinforces the view faculty prefer to hold: the problem is with the student, not the program.

2. Playing around with the Jing Project. Easy as pie — I just used it to walk a student through the U.S. Census Bureau website, using City College’s address for the demo. My first attempt.

3. And via Stereogum: the dance routines of inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center. It’s funny, yes. But this isn’t funny: the massacre of Muslim prisoners at Bagong Diwa Prison is only a little over two years old. And the Philippines seems hellbent on pushing more people into prison, including children — a 30 square-meter cell in Quezon City Jail, for instance, that holds 20 has 180 to 200 inmates crammed in it.

4. My brand strategies professor handed an article out yesterday from the Washington Post by Karen DeYoung about “boosting the image and effectiveness of U.S. military operations around the world” and “establishing a brand identity.” The $400,000 monograph from the Rand Corporation — though the discounted web price is $27! — argues, among the following (this is from the DeYoung article):

[Todd C.] Helmus and his co-authors concluded that the ‘force’ brand, which the United States peddled for the first few years of the occupation, was doomed from the start and lost ground to enemies’ competing brands.

Helmus added “that it could be too late for extensive rebranding of the U.S. effort in Iraq.” I think my professor was amused by all this. I wasn’t.

5. Going to hear Slint perform all of Spiderland at Bimbo’s tonight. And I’m representin’ by wearing my “SUPPORT PINOY ROCK” t-shirt from SaGuijo.

Unpacking My Library.

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2007 at 1:32 am

Right now I’m reading this excellent — no, fantastic — book entitled It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Peter Walsh. No, it’s not exactly about organizing your clutter — it’s about examining your emotional attachment to objects and why you still hang on to them. And yes, it sounds like a self-help book, despite my misgivings regarding the genre. But it absolutely works. The only reason I haven’t finished it is that I’m going on a decluttering rampage at the apartment right now.

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Pages 1 and 2.

In Pinoy on July 13, 2007 at 7:22 am

Well, it’s done. Three hundred and six pages, on their way via Federal Express to my editor in Philly later today. Just don’t ask about how long it took to research and write, because the whole process cost me more than you can ever, ever imagine.

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Seona Dancing, Again.

In music on July 12, 2007 at 12:06 am

I swear, I still keep getting hits on my old blog entry about Ricky Gervais and Seona Dancing. A quick google search revealed that some enterprising soul had linked to my blog on Seona Dancing’s Wikipedia entry. No wonder.

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Threadless Pinay.

In Pinoy on July 9, 2007 at 10:36 pm

A Pinay from Cagayan de Oro (Kristy Anne Ligones) just had one of her designs picked for a Threadless T-shirt:

(Her portfolio is linked above, but I think I like her other Threadless submissions better, not to mention this lovely vector illustration of Audrey Tautou.)


In Uncategorized on July 8, 2007 at 12:14 am

1. It’s amazing how much time I can squander trying to learn how to become more productive and more organized. Luna absolutely nails the experience in a blog post from last month. The problem with me is that I implement GTD and various “lifehacks” in spurts — organizing my desk, or whittling my email inbox to zero — and then watching it pile up until I get all GTD-frenzied and do it again six months later. I never even got to finishing David Allen’s book, but hey, at least I got my folder system set up.

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In Uncategorized on July 6, 2007 at 5:34 pm

[Phone ringing.]

Me: Hello? Izzy?
Me: Why?
Me: What do you mean?
Me: What do you mean? [forgetting that it's the summer] Have you been learning about lightning at school?
Izzy: Yes. [pause] BUT DADDY! I CAN’T TALK TO YOU!
Me: Is it still raining really hard there?
Me: Aren’t you on a cordless phone though? I don’t think it works the same way, baby.
Me: Okay, okay. I love you!

[End of call.]

SUNN O))) / Earth / Weedeater, The Independent, SF, 7/4/07.

In music on July 5, 2007 at 7:34 pm

1. This was my second sold-out show on a weekday (the first was the amazing Battles show, sold out on a Monday night). I arrived too late for Wolves in the Throne Room, a shame.

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The Concert Mix.

In music on June 27, 2007 at 8:04 pm

Some of my favorite tracks by these artists, all uploaded for you in a “concert mix.” You Bay Area folks are going, right?

1. The Album Leaf, “Another Day (Revisited),” from In a Safe Place (2004)
2. Under Byen, “Byen Driver,” from Det er mig der holder traerne sammen (2002)

Saturday 30 June 2007
The Album Leaf
with Under Byen / Arthur & Yu
@ Slim’s

3. Battles, “ipt2,” from EP C/B EP (2006)

Monday 2 July 2007
with Ponytail
@ Slim’s

4. SUNN O)))’s “0))) Bow 1,” from Flight of the Behemoth (2002)

(Sorry — encoded at 128 kbps because wouldn’t allow a file over 10 mb.)

Wednesday 4 July 2007
Sunn O)))
with Earth / Wolves in the Throne Room / Weedeater
@ The Independent

Not my favorite SUNN O))) track (that would probably be something like “Bassaliens”), but everything else was over 12 minutes long.

5. The Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty in Pink,” from The Psychedelic Furs (1980)
6. The Fixx’s “Secret Separation,” from Walkabout (1986)

Sunday 15 July 2007
The Psychedelic Furs
with The Fixx / The Alarm
@ Mezzanine

7. The Polyphonic Spree’s “Section 9 (Light & Day / Reach For The Sun,” from The Beginning Stages of the Polyphonic Spree (2002)

Tuesday 17 July 2007
The Polyphonic Spree
with Jesca Hoop
@ The Great American Music Hall

8. Sonic Youth’s “Teen Age Riot,” from Daydream Nation (1988)

Thursday 19 July 2007
Sonic Youth
@ Berkeley Community Theatre

They’re playing the entire album from start to finish.

9. Slint’s “Good Morning, Captain,” from Spiderland (1991)

(Sorry — encoded at 128 kbps because wouldn’t allow a file over 10 mb.)

Sunday 22 July 2007
with Phantom Family Halo
@ Bimbo’s

They’re playing the entire album from start to finish too!

10. The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Glynis,” from the No Alternative compilation (1993)

Tuesday 31 July 2007
The Smashing Pumpkins
@ The Fillmore

11. Pelican’s “Red Ran Amber,” from The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (2005)

(Sorry — encoded at a horrible 112 kbps because wouldn’t allow a file over 10 mb.)

Sunday 12 August 2007
with Clouds / 400 Blows / Gargantula
@ The Great American Music Hall

12. Wing’s “For All We Know,” from Wing Sings The Carpenters (2003)

Tuesday 21 August 2007
@ Cafe Du Nord

Plus Wing wrote to tell me: “please inform all my fans as many as possible since i come so far and spend so much money wich i don,t care. i just want to greet all my fans in sanfran. my first visit.” I asked if there were any other concert dates in other cities and she wrote: “i just doing one singing for sanfransico only.see how my fans like me. i,ll come back very soon if all my fans want me.” That means you.

13. Midlake’s “Van Occupanther,” from The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)

Thursday 27 September 2007
@ The Great American Music Hall

The House I Grew Up In.

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2007 at 10:23 am

It’s only been in the last year or so that I became interested in what houses looked like. Since then I’ve had more appreciation for the house I grew up in — therefore, this guided tour of sorts. (I’m extremely lucky in retrospect to have parents with great aesthetic sense!)

The house was designed by — [name later, sorry] according to specifications from my folks — the result of stacks of clippings of architectural magazines — and construction finished in late 1971.

This is a shot of the “back” of the house (the front door is reserved for visitors). It’s actually the first thing you see when you walk up the driveway though.

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I Can't Believe I Was Just Here.

In Pinoy on June 20, 2007 at 1:30 am

The Nacho Libre and Esqueleto Traveling Roadshow Part Two!

In Pinoy on June 13, 2007 at 1:12 am

This is actually earlier than our Ateneo gig (which is later the same afternoon at 4:30). Seriously though, any readers of this blog in the area are welcome. No cover charge, no one drink minimum!


In Pinoy on June 12, 2007 at 3:15 am

Tagpuan: David’s Salon, sa tabihan nang parkingan sa ilalim nang Robinson’s sa Los Banos. Alas-onse nang umaga.

Tauhan: Jem, isang batang lalaking walang kibo na taga-shampoo at tagakuha nang sopdrink; Evelyn, isang customer; Sonia, isang maliit at buntis na hairdresser; Jaylord, isa ring hairdresser na puro itim ang suot.

Malakas ang aircon sa loob, sa awa nang diyos. Hindi mo marinig ang ingay nang mga batang naglalaro nang Ragnarok sa tindahan sa harap. Sa loob nang parlor malalanghap mo ang iba’t-ibang amoy nang kemikal at shampoo. Pati na rin ang nasusunog na plastik.

“Eh biruin mo ba namang anim na oras yung rebonding. Eh magsasara na, sila na lang ang hinihintay,” kuwento ni Sonia. Si Sonia ay buntis at mukhang malapit nang manganak, dahil parang bumagsak na ang batang pababa sa kanyang tiyan.

“Paano kasi iba-iba technique nang tao,” paliwanag ni Jaylord. Kasalukuyan niyang ginugupitan si Evelyn. Mukhang malapit nang silang matapos. Hanggang balikat ang buhok ni Jaylord. Naka-itim siya na polo at itim na maong na parang binaston sa may paanan.

“Puede ba naman iyon, anim na oras? E di dinugo nang hindi oras yung customer?” tanong ni Sonia. Ubod nang bilis ang kamay niya sa paggupit sa akin.

“Ikaw ba, anim na oras magrebonding?” tanong ni Evelyn, sabay tingala kay Jaylord.

“Hoy Evelyn, hindi ha?” sagot ni Jaylord. Kinuha niya ang hair dryer. Mas magaling naman ako kay PJ.

Tawa si Evelyn at si Sonia. “Ang galing mong manira, wala lang dito si PJ,” sabi ni Sonia. Tawa rin si Jem.

“Hmmph,” sabi ni Jaylord habang sumimangot. Binuksan niya ang hair dryer sabay tinikwas ang kanyang buhok. Madalas niyang ginagawa ito.

“Hoy, iyan yung nangangamoy!” sigaw ni Sonia. Unti-unti kaming nakaamoy nang nasusunog na plastik. “Natakot yung isang customer kahapon noong ginamit ko.”

“Ginagalaw ninyo kasi,” sabi ni Jaylord. Tinigal niya ang pagboblowdry at inilipat niya ito sa ibang outlet. “Ako lang ang hahawak nito,” sabi niyang bilang babala sa mga katrabaho niya.

“Sasabog iyan,” sabi ni Sonia. “Hindi mo ba naaamoy?” Lumalakas na ang amoy nang nasusunog sa loob nang salon.

“Hindi ‘to sasabog,” sabi ni Jaylord. “Paano kasi, pag tumatama sa kahoy, nag-pipeedback yung init sa loob noong dryer kaya dalawang klaseng init yung nagsasama sa loob. Kailangan patakbuhin muna nang matagal para mawala ang amoy.”

Medyo natahimik ang tropa sa loob nang salon. “Nagsalita ang expert,” sabi ni Sonia makatapos nang ilang segundo. Umaandar pa rin ang hair dryer.

“Hoy! Dalawa anak ni Eb!” sigaw ni Sonia. Hindi ito narinig ni Jaylord, dahil nakayuko siya sa hair dryer at inaamoy ang likod noong makina.

“Putaragis ka!” sigaw rin ni Ev. Pero nakatawa siya. “Hayaan mo munang manganak si Sonia!”

Nakangiti lang si Jem, pero mukhang kinakabahan siya at katabi lang niya si Jaylord at ang hair dryer.

“Hindi ‘to sasabog,” inulit ni Jaylord. Nilakasan niya ang setting nang hair dryer. Mas umingay sa loob nang salon.

“Ano ba naman, Jaylord!” Bumunot bigla nang suklay si Sonia sa tabi nang lalagyan malapit sa mga bulaklak na plastik at inihagis kay Jaylord. “Itigil mo na ‘yan!”

“Hindi ‘to sasabog sinabi, eh.” Kalmado si Jaylord na inaamoy-amoy yung hair dryer. Medyo lumayo na si Jem. Ako tumitingin-tingin na rin sa pintuan kung saka-sakaling kailangan akong umisplit bigla.

“O, ayan, wala nang amoy.” Matagumpay na pinakita niya ang hair dryer. Baka nga lang nasanay na kami sa amoy nang nasusunog na hair dryer, pero tunay ngang hindi na naming maamoy.

“Oo nga, ano?” Mukhang medyo hanga si Sonia.

“Mga wala kasi kayong tiwala sa akin, eh,” sabi ni Jaylord. “Mga walang tiwala.”

Tinaas niya ang isang kamay na hawak ang hair dryer. “Trust in Jaylord,” sabi niya. Tumalikod siya at umexit.

The Kiko and Sunny Wrestling Tag Team!

In Pinoy on June 11, 2007 at 4:22 pm

Seriously though — any readers in the area are all invited (I can personally vouch for the brilliance of Kiko’s paper):

Filipino Department
Ateneo de Manila University

invites you

to the lectures of
Dr. Benito Vergara, Jr. and Dr. Francisco Benitez

June 14, Thursday
430 pm
Faura Audio Visual Room

Filipinos can imitate any sound:
Improvisation. Karaoke, and the Labor of Filipino Overseas Musicians

Benito M. Vergara, Jr. , Ph.D
San Francisco State University

In 2003, over 58,000 Filipinos were scattered worldwide in nightclubs and hotel lounges; however, the majority of people who migrate as Overseas Performing Artists (OPA) travel to work in Japan. OPA is, in this instance, a euphemistic, bureaucratic category that denotes the sex trade, and comprises the crucial distinction between Filipinos working in Japan and those elsewhere working as more professional musicians.

Vergara argues that the practices of performance and improvisation, both as musical activities and as metaphors of everyday migrant life link both kinds of OPAs. OPA returnees constantly spoke of a spontaneous and natural Filipino ability to imitate, especially through karaoke. This imitative performance, however, did not allow for musical improvisation; they were limited to learning and mimicking particular idioms from a globally shared musical repertoire. Such practices parallel the relationship between the state and individual. One can see performance and improvisation as strategies utilized to compete with restrictive migration policies , to evade state surveillance, or, more ordinarily, to resist drunken customers. As an economic strategy, migration also exemplifies a kind of adaptability, despite exploitative government policies of migrant labor.

Transnational Desire
in Star Cinema’s Kailangan Kita and Milan

Francisco Benitez, Ph.D.
University of Washington

By looking at 2 specific films, this paper attempts an initial exploration into how commercial cinema in the Philippines mediates the affective and emotional labor required to maintain the flows of migration from the Philippines. This exploration suggests that these commercial films imagine a neoliberal mobile subject where the individual is not just the enterprise but the entrepreneur of him or herself, and does so in a manner that sutures desires for social mobility to transnational labor markets.

Francisco Kiko Benitez is assistant professor in Comparative Literature at the University of Washington where he teaches courses on colonial and postcolonial literature and theory, Asian American and diasporic literature, and Southeast Asian Film and Literature. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his BA from Cornell University where he graduated with top honors.

Benito M. Vergara, Jr. is an assistant professor in Asian American Studies/Anthropology at San Francisco State University. He obtained his MA and PhD in Anthropology and MA in Asian Studies at Cornell University. He is the author of Displaying Filipinos, published by University of the Philippines Press.

Up Dharma Down / The Dawn / Taken By Cars / Paramita, saGuijo, Makati, 6/7/07.

In music on June 8, 2007 at 2:29 am

I’ve only been dreaming about this for two years: to see Up dharma Down in concert. (First it was waiting for their first album to be released.) And my wish finally came true last night after seeing them at SaGuijo after travelling almost 7,000 miles. (There were about five bands who played — Ruthie had warned me that club gigs usually didn’t have headliners, but had bands play short sets one after the other — but for me the evening was all about Up Dharma Down.)

Our group (earlier it included my brother and most of Eloise‘s siblings and their partners) arrived at saGuijo an hour after the concert was supposed to start (key locked inside the ignition, then driving up and down trying to find the venue, then the folks at the door had no change). But we made it in, thank goodness — and there they were, the best goddamn band in the entire archipelago playing only a few feet in front of me. We may have missed the first or second song, but came in just before they started playing my favorite UdD song (“We Give In Sometimes”). Totally. Freaking. Awesome. Then they played a fantastic “Sleepwalk,” and another song for an (unreleased?) movie soundtrack (Armi said she couldn’t even find it on LimeWire or Soulseek). But just hearing them play “We Give In Sometimes” was enough. I was done for the year.

The Dawn played next — perfect, in a way, because they were the very first band I’ve ever seen play live. (The late Teddy Diaz was still the lead guitarist at that point.) They were in excellent form, with Jett (in a Misfits T-shirt) sounding much like he did back in 1986, and the obligatory Carlos drum solo. Plus they played songs I hadn’t heard in probably two decades: “Love Will Set Us Free” and “Living Seed.”

(Taken By Cars and Paramita are going to blow up soon; keep an eye out for their albums. Taken By Cars‘ debut album will be out in July or August.)

I should also put in a good word for saGuijo: the place is tiny — it’s literally the living room of a house — and so the musicians are always only a few feet away from you. There isn’t a bad seat in the place, unless you’re by the bar — even if you’re outside you can see them through the window — and you can sit on the floor up front, which is fine too. Beers are P50 (the first one is P10), and the sisig was outstanding. If I lived nearby I’d be here every night.

Blurry pictures here.

Campaign Against Atrocious Music.

In music on June 3, 2007 at 3:51 pm

Radioactive Sago Project’s Lourd de Veyra, in a Pulp interview:

I… listen to everything from Basil Valdez to Justin Timberlake. Anything except the kind of emo-metal crap and today’s nauseating brand of pop-rock — it’s just enough to chip away at one’s sense of tolerance. I know it sounds bigoted but we must urgently engage in affirmative action against atrocious music. All the evils of the world can be traced to bad songs. Bad songs cause mental pollution, which can lead to social injustice, disrupted traffic systems, terrorism, environmental degradation, government corruption, and Kris Aquino.

The title of the Project’s new album is Tangina Mo Andaming Nagututom Sa Mundo Fashionista Ka Pa Rin.

Summer Songs.

In music on May 25, 2007 at 12:32 am

Two of the greatest songs that mention the summer, not including five others, like Luna’s “Indian Summer,” Pavement’s “Summer Babe (Winter Version),” Yo La Tengo’s “The Summer,” Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” or even Richard Marx’s “Endless Summer Nights.”

1. The second-best Modest Mouse song ever (after “Dramamine”), “Summer,” from the 1997 ep The Fruit That Ate Itself:

wake-up we’re stealing cars…. bars

in 1996 and 1997
1998 we’re all waiting for the year 2000

just the smell of the summer can make me fall in love

we go to the parties and listen to the DJ’s
dance dance dance and go crazy

she’s the party queen and she’s in party heaven
her clock is stuck on late
got a first name basis at 7-11

we go to the parties and listen to the DJ’s
dance dance dance and go crazy

just the smell of the summer can make me fall in love

hold the slip n slide taste the sweat it’s salty
irrigation ditch and a swimming hole
nationwide loved the movie

just the smell of the summer can make me fall in love

2. This just has summer written all over it — from Teenage Fanclub’s 1997 album (about which I’ve gushed before) Songs from Northern Britain, “Ain’t That Enough:”

If you can I wish you would
Only if you feel you should
Bring your loving over
All adds up with circumstance
All stood up with taking stands
Bring your loving over

Highlights glisten
Silence listens
Days that found you
Embrace that found you

Here is a sunrise Ain’t that enough
True as a clear sky, ain’t that enough
Toy town feelings here to remind you
Summers in the city do what you gotta do

Time can only make demands
Fill it up with grains of sand
Bring your loving over
Highlights glisten
Silence listens
Days that found you
Embrace that found you

Here is a sunrise Ain’t that enough
True as a clear sky, ain’t that enough
Toy town feelings here to remind you
Summers in the city do what you gotta do
Toy town feelings whose gonna argue
Summers in the city Summers in the city

Because I'm Too Busy To Write…

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2007 at 10:09 pm

1. Thank you for purchasing tickets on Ticketmaster.

Your order number for this purchase is xx-xxxxx/xx.

You will receive your tickets via: Will Call – Tickets held at Will Call can only be retrieved by the cardholder with original credit card of purchase and a valid photo ID with signature such as a state ID, driver’s license or passport.

You purchased 2 tickets to:
The Smashing Pumpkins
Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
Tue, Jul 31, 2007 09:00 PM

Went on sale Sunday, 8 nights sold out in 8 minutes, 3 additional nights sold out in the same amount of time… and then my psychic friend Eloise (with whom I was doing clairvoyance tests back in first year high school) does the impossible: while scrubbing the toilet, she thinks to herself, “Hey, maybe I should go check out Ticketmaster,” in the incredibly slim chance that someone’s credit card didn’t get approved and the tickets were released to the general public… and drops the toilet wand, washes her hands, and goes to the computer, on Tuesday afternoon at 4:30.

2. And I want this T-shirt:

3. I’d post a photo of myself as a white man, but it’s too damn creepy, so you have me sketched Modigliani-style instead:

From the Perception Laboratory’s Face Transformer at the University of St. Andrews.

4. And you have to admit this is kind of cool news about Nora Aunor.

Killer of Sheep Soundtrack Mix.

In music on May 23, 2007 at 12:23 am

In musical tribute to Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, hopefully playing at a theater near you, a soundtrack / mix of sorts, more or less in chronological order:

1. Paul Robeson’s “The House I Live In,” from Ballad for Americans (kids playing in the ruins near the railroad tracks)

2. Paul Robeson’s “Going Home,” from Live at Carnegie Hall (herding sheep, and also at the closing credits I think)

3. Elmore James’s “I Believe,” from Let’s Cut It

4. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Reasons,” from That’s The Way Of The World (Stan’s daughter singing to a doll)

5. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “Mean Old Frisco Blues,” from That’s All Right Mama (in the liquor store, I think)

6. Scott Joplin’s “Solace,” from The Entertainer (after carrying the engine)

7. Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth,” from The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury, Vol. 6 (slow dancing)

8. Faye Adams’s “Shake A Hand,” from The Herald Recordings (jumping from roof to roof)

9. Little Walter’s “Mean Old World,” from The Essential Little Walter (killing of sheep)

10. Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues,” from The Louis Armstrong Collection, Vol. 4 (off to the racetrack)

11. and a bonus, left off the re-release because the rights couldn’t be cleared, but was originally playing in the last slaughterhouse scene: Dinah Washington’s “Unforgettable,” from Compact Jazz

I left off the third movement from William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony (playing in the first slaughterhouse scene), the section from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4 (playing right after “This Bitter Earth”), and Franz von Suppe’s Poet and Peasant Overture (also playing in the liquor store scene). God I’m obsessed with this movie.

Your New Favorite Song.

In music on May 3, 2007 at 1:35 am

Smog, “Say Valley Maker.”

From the 2005 album A River Ain’t Too Much to Love.

With the grace of a corpse
In a riptide
I let go
And I slide slide slide
With an empty case by my side
An empty case
That’s my crime

And I sing (Say Valley Maker)
To keep from cursing
Yes I sing (Say Valley Maker)
To keep from cursing

River Oh
River End
River Oh
River End
River Go
River Bend

Take me through the sweet valley
Where your heart blooms
Take me through the sweet valley
Where your heart is covered in dew

And when the river dries
Will you bury me in wood
Where the river dries
Will you bury me in stone

Oh I never really realized
Death is what it meant
To make it on my own

Because there is no love
Where there is no obstacle
And there is no love
Where there is no bramble
There is no love
On the hacked away plateau
And there is no love
In the unerring
And there is no love
On the one true path

Oh I cantered out here
Now I’m galloping back

So bury me in wood
And I will splinter
Bury me in stone
And I will quake
Bury me in water
And I will geyser
Bury me in fire
And I’m gonna phoenix

I’m gonna phoenix

Smog’s official site on Drag City.

Buy it from Amazon.

Video Quiz #1.

In music on April 22, 2007 at 10:11 am

Which music videos did these video captures come from? Post your answers in the comments.






(Sorry, users — you’re officially barred from entering!)


In music, Pinoy on April 4, 2007 at 10:51 pm

Just because I felt like it (okay, there are other undisclosed reasons as well) — from the 1994 Circus album, this is “Sembreak,” arguably the greatest Eraserheads song ever:

Dear kim kamustang bakasyon mo
ako heto pa rin nababato
bad trip talaga itong Meralco
bakit brownout pa rin dito
walang silbi sa bahay
kundi bumabad sa telepono
o kaya’y kasama ng barkada
nakatambay sa may kanto

naalala kita pag umuulan SEMBREAK
naalala kita pag giniginaw SEMBREAK
naalala kita pag kakain na SEMBREAK
naalala kita ilang bukas pa ba
bago tayo ay magkita
ako’y naiinip na bawa’t oras binibilang
sabik na masilayan ka-ha-hah

sira pa rin ang bisikleta
may gas wala namang kotse
naghihintay ng ulan
basketball sa banyo
sana ay may pasok na para at least
meron ng baon
cutting classes dating raket
rock and roll buong taon


walang kayakap kundi gitara
nangangati sa kaiisip sa ‘yo
hanggang sa mabutas ‘tong maong ko
tsaka bibili uli ng bago
hanggang dito na lang ang liham ko
salamat sa atensyon mo
tsaka na lang pala ang utang ko
pag nakagkita na lang uli tayo oh wohh


naalala kita SEMBREAK
naalala kita SEMBREAK
naalala kita SEMBREAK

Check it out.

Jonathan Richman, Running Through My Head.

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2007 at 9:53 pm

If I were to walk through the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

Well first I’d go to the room where they keep the Cezannes

But if I had by my side a girl friend

then I could look through the paintings

I could look right through them

because I’d have found something that I understand

I understand a girl friend

that’s a girl


that’s G-I-R-L-F-R-E-N

that’s a girl friend baby,

that’s somethin that I understand

From top to bottom: the Chinese furniture gallery (I don’t think I was supposed to take pictures though, sorry); the Koch Gallery (though it’s the European Old Masters room, and therefore no Cezannes); Thomas Couture’s “A Widow” (1840); Catalonian chapel; Catalonian chapel (2); Kara Walker’s “The Rich Soil Down There” (2002); a Brian Considine side chair from 1979 (I think); the scholar’s room in the Chinese furniture gallery; sorry, can’t remember this one; Joan Miro’s “The First Spark of Day III” (1966); Paul Delvaux’s “The Greeting” (1938), which I actually liked because of a Breton quotation by the painting, where he describes Delvaux as “[turning] the whole universe into a single realm in which one woman, always the same woman, reigns over the great suburbs of the heart;” a Roycroft hanging lantern (1908). Lyrics from The Modern Lovers’ “Girl Friend” (1973), of course.

Random Links.

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2007 at 5:10 pm

Just so you know this blog is actually still alive (apologies to all the comments piling up in the Kenneth Eng threads, which I haven’t gotten to):

1. Matilda Wilbur, 1900-2007.
2. Name-checked by the Poeta.
3. Condo porn.
4. Your Flickr photos, in a museum.
5. My little brother interviews </a Bryanboy! “Soo gay he sweats glitter!”
6. Two April Fools Day music-related humor links, one a little more esoteric than the other: “What you gon’ do with all that junk?” and “Reunited and it feels so good.”

Plus a movie roundup and a Boston-related post, coming up sometime.

The Bewildering Story of Kenneth Eng, Part Two.

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2007 at 2:48 am

Some new developments — the inevitable apology, the inevitable firing, the inevitable TV movie… just kidding. But I’ll take (jk)’s point below (originally posted as a comment in my first Kenneth Eng post) half-seriously.

(jk) wrote:

I just wonder if we might get further toward reducing bigotry if we try to understand where bigoted people, especially very young people like Kenneth Eng, are coming from, and to address those places and feelings of fear and hate in ways that will not be likely to make them feel even more alienated and hateful than they already were.

To this I have no answer, and I’m puzzling not just over what made Eng tick, but what I would have done had I been one of his professors.

Maybe some blogger out there is already hunting down Eng’s high school classmates; until then, all we have to rely on is his essay entitled “Discriminating against Asians at NYU.” But there’s no big flashback scene, no single traumatic event that would explain where this would come from (not that it matters). Eng leads us into his problems in medias res:

…when I was at Stony Brook, I received at least 10 death threats from students who hated my opinions, and was once thrown out of a philosophy class for bringing up racial issues. When I entered Tisch in May 2002, I assumed that the people there would be more intelligent and that I would be more tolerated. Thence, when I took my first film production class, I expressed my negative views on America, religion and African Americans.

No answers there, because his thoughts are clearly already fully formed by his mid- to late-teens. Nor does he do himself any favors here, in much the same way he introduces himself at a J.K. Rowling bulletin board. Let’s see what happens next:

Unfortunately, my assumptions were naive, for NYU’s populace was just as mindless as any other. The class shouted, threatened and loathed me after hearing of my views, often referring to me as “racist fuck” and “terrorist” whilst staring at me as if I were a bestial outcast… In fact, the professor reported me to the dean in an attempt to have me expelled for my beliefs, but did nothing when a white person made sexist comments against women.

We aren’t told what these sexist comments were, but it doesn’t matter at this point. I’m simply amazed at how shocked AsianWeek was — oops, I meant Kenneth Eng! — that his classmates would react so negatively.

Furthermore, since I always speak my mind, I also made negative remarks about students’ films in class critiques in an attempt to help them improve their work. A student punched me in the back of the head just for being honest about his film. Expectedly, my request to call security was ignored, and the professor just laughed at me, saying it was a joke. In response, I punched the white student in the face three times and told him that I was being a comedian.

Nevertheless, I was not going to surrender to the brainwashed majority. Determined, I voiced my convictions loud and clear in my next film course, but this time, I gave the new professor fair warning about them before the class started. Despite my kind gesture, he immediately reported me to the dean just like the other one did.

This paragraph reads exactly like something out of a Shouts and Murmurs piece from The New Yorker, except that it isn’t funny. (Okay, Ian Frazier isn’t very funny either, but you get my drift.) I can only imagine what he told the student. (It was at this point that I started wondering, as well, whether this was all an elaborate hoax. But I don’t think so.)

But here’s the thing: if he had given me “fair warning” about being a racist prior to the beginning of the semester, wouldn’t I have kicked him out of my classroom as well? Could I really see myself sitting him down in my office, patiently explaining why he can’t just say those things out loud, or why they were wrong? No.

And obviously AsianWeek, which was surely given “fair warning” — we’re talking a few minutes of Googling here, people! — didn’t kick him out. And gave him a paycheck to boot.

It starts dawning on the reader at this point that “discrimination against Asians at NYU” is really all about “discrimination against Kenneth Eng, God.” But let’s read on, skipping the part about someone impersonating his voice and getting to Eng’s encounter with David Irving:

I was later asked to speak to the Tisch Chairman David Irving about my conflicts. At first, he seemed like a rational man who could be reasoned with. However, when the conversation shifted to my controversial views, I told him that I thought Hitler was not a coward and that African Americans were receiving unfair aid from the American government at the expense of Asian Americans. He immediately called the dean, furiously wanting to get me expelled.

Congratulations, AsianWeek, for hiring someone who’s actually written, in print, that “Hitler was not a coward!” (The fact that Eng said this to Steven Spielberg’s former brother-in-law is even more ironic.)

Let’s skip Eng’s failing grades (surprise), and move to The Racist Black Girl:

One would think that is as unfair as it gets, but the plot thickens yet. In September 2003, I took a class in which the professor stated clearly: “…don’t use stereotypes”. For the sake of being nice, I was about to comply to this rule just this once, but a week later, a black girl in that class pitched her script, which was loaded with Asian stereotypes. It was so unambiguously racist that a dolt would have been able to notice. Yet – surprise, surprise — none of the whites made a passing comment about it.

Although I believe that she has the right to express her racist opinions just like I have a right to express mine, the class treated her completely differently than they treated me. When I expressed my negative perspectives on blacks, 90% of all the students call me a “racist fuck” and harassed me physically and verbally, but when a black says something insulting against an Asian no one gives a darn. Not even the professor who said, “don’t use stereotypes” made a single comment of it. In fact, when I defended myself against the black student’s remarks, the whites were outraged and the professor threw me out of class, stating “I cannot imagine any way in which [the student] insulted you”. Gee, she would have practically kissed my scrotum if I were black and I was discriminated against, but since I’m just a yellow-skinned Asian guy, I guess I just don’t have the same right to express opinions as the whites and blacks do.

There are several things going on here, one paralleling all the attention AsianWeek is getting (and should be getting). One is that Eng’s previous, equally virulent columns (on whites and Asians) oddly did not get much attention, and it was only after his “Why I Hate Blacks” column that shit starts hitting the fan. (Of course, his last column was way more direct; he starts, after all, with “why we should discriminate against blacks.”)

Unfortunately, at no point does he actually tell us what the African American woman writes; if it were “so unambiguously racist that a dolt would have been able to notice,” then surely he would at least marshal the evidence to gain his readers’ sympathies? Nuh uh.

And finally, Eng snaps:

I certainly wasn’t going to take this lying down. When I entered my last film class, I wanted to give them a taste of their own medicine. Every session, I flooded the conversation with derogatory remarks about every ethnic group conceivable, spewed loads of anti-American remarks and blared out against the weak-mindedness of religious followers. As expected, the professor tried again to censor me, claiming that it was my fault that the class was getting angry.

And at this point, would I have still sat him down patiently and told him to seek counselling? No — the campus police would have been at the door ready to pull him out of my classroom. It’s amazing the guy graduated from NYU at all.

And now we get to the sad and, quite frankly, frightening conclusion:

All the while, the white students clung to each other like cells of a giant superorganism, muttering to each other whenever I said something they were afraid to say, laughing whenever I created art that wasn’t as cliched as theirs. At first, their ignorance was so animalistic that it was disgusting. However, after reflecting upon how most of them only do what society tells them to and live in fear of being despised, I did not hate them anymore. I pitied them. I may not have the “pleasures” of having human companionship like they do, but at least I am not a coward. To this day, I stand by all of my opinions no matter what the consequences.

And one piece of the puzzle fits into place: Kenneth Eng becomes Kenneth Eng, God.

I honestly don’t see how I would have dealt with him differently. But AsianWeek sure did. I’m wondering now whether the newspaper asked him for references and Eng, the creative genius that he is, sent them some.

(Postscript to his essay: Unfortunately, a Google search for “Pamela Love,” who apparently made a documentary about Eng’s case (according to him), comes up with some not-safe-for-work links instead.)

But AsianWeek, one more piece of the puzzle is in your hands: why did you hire this guy?

The Bewildering Story of Kenneth Eng, God.

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2007 at 1:16 am

The puzzling thing about the whole Kenneth Eng controversy — for those of you not keeping score at home, he’s the columnist for the San Francisco-based weekly newspaper AsianWeek who wrote the inflammatory “Why I Hate Blacks” column — is how this guy got hired in the first place. (We are now inevitably treated to the spectacle of various Asian American leaders having to step up to the mic and condemn the shithead individually. But, oh leaders — it’s really AsianWeek you should be going after for giving this guy a bigger venue. And as an afterthought, you could also address the fact that Eng isn’t the only Asian American racist — but that’s not something you want to think about right before you hold the townhall meetings with African American leaders.)

The article itself — pulled from the AsianWeek website, but the Chronicle helpfully provides a scan of it (see below instead) — is appalling. It’s also quite badly written — just the sort of nonsense you see on bulletin boards and not on nationally-circulated newspapers. And it isn’t his first foray into ranting either (see his November 2006 column, “Proof that Whites Inherently Hate Us”, or a later January 2007 column, “Why I Hate Asians”). Clearly not a one-off satirical piece (if it could be called satire). What, then, were AsianWeek‘s editors thinking when they hired someone who called himself “God of the Universe?”

I’m guessing it’s because Eng — correction, “Kenneth Eng, God” — is “the youngest published science fiction novelist in America.” I’m guessing someone found his musings on the Theory of Nothing / The Conceptual Theory of Everything (they’re Parts 2 and 3 and I can’t be bothered to find the first part) and figured they had a philosopher on their hands. Or maybe they found his short (semi-autobiographical?) piece, entitled “Glasses”, from a website called Bewildering Stories:

It had been a day since last Johnny Spectic saw something spectacular. And already he was bored. So bored that he felt like killing himself. You see, it was the end of his college years and he had nothing left to celebrate. The parties were over. The classes were done. Now, all he had to look forward to was getting a job, working for the next 30-odd years and getting a house that he would brood in until dying of dullness. Sigh, what a way to spend your life. Everything that was remotely spectacular was behind him.

Contemplating many deep thoughts, he took a stroll and wandered to a lens store nearby. That reminded him he needed new glasses.

Contemplating many deep thoughts, I can say that he obviously had a career as a columnist at AsianWeek to look forward to.

All the five-star reviews on notwithstanding — almost all written, suspiciously, by people who’ve posted only one review, i.e., Eng’s book — Eng also has a profile on Amazon with the blog entry “Religion Is For The Inferior:”

…most religious people I’ve met tend to be incredibly stupid/poor. They are usually black/hispanic immigrants who do not have the brains or the balls to understand science and thus resort to reading retarded stories about saviors and saints. (Oh, by the way, for those of you who want to scream at how “racist” I am for mentioning negroes and hispanics in such a way, go to someone who gives a sh*t).

Well. You’d think this would have sent off little alarm bells at the AsianWeek offices, but no. Or perhaps they missed his essay entitled “Discrimination Against Asians at NYU” (scroll further down) and didn’t read between the lines enough?

Come on, AsianWeek. I know you folks will wash your hands clean and say that the op-ed columnists don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, et cetera. But to run a column like that and not expect criticism is sleeping at the wheel.

But I think I know why — or more important, how — they hired Eng in the first place.

It’s because Eng is them, and Eng is in them:

“Reincarnation is not limited in time, space and material,” says Eng. “I could essentially be anyone living in the present, past, or future, or any imaginary being drawn from the Omnitemporal Realm. All consciousness is one. I am in everyone, friend or foe.”

Your Mail Has Been Killed.

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2007 at 12:01 am

Here’s the situation: I live in a basement apartment (1354A) right under 1354, where my landlady lives. For the last two years, my mail would always arrive according to schedule, though there were times (more often than I thought) when my mail would arrive at 1354 instead, and the landlady (or, earlier last year, the renters) would bring them down to my apartment.

Sometime in December, my mail started slowing down to a trickle. Some packages went missing. A couple of checks never arrived. I had thought at first that my mail was somehow sitting upstairs at 1354, and that they had gone off on vacation (which they did). One eBay seller wrote back and said that the package had been returned; she resent it to me and it actually arrived.

The thing is, I would have caught it earlier if the mail had stopped completely; the problem was that it was intermittent, and there were times during the week when the mail carrier himself would stick the mail into the slot. I had also lodged a couple of complaints earlier, and then mail would arrive immediately after (leading me to suspect that it had to do with the particular carrier on a particular day). I’d gone to the local post office and asked to see if they had any of my packages; they had none. But all my credit card bills still arrived. My vehicle registration stickers arrived. And I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Was my mail sitting in a similarly-numbered apartment a block over? Was someone stealing the packages?

And so it continued — this constant ebb and flow of appearing and disappearing mail, of issues of The New Yorker or The Wire gone missing and reappearing a couple weeks later, of writing Amazon and asking to have items redelivered.

Last week, the mail finally stopped dead. I went to my local post office demanding an answer, and the woman behind the counter gave me a local number, different from the 1-800 customer service number where I had previously lodged my complaints. So I call the number and get Ronnie, a supervisor, and after I tell him my address, he goes:

Ronnie: Oh. According to our records, that address doesn’t exist.

Me: What do you mean?

Ronnie: It’s not registered at City Hall as an official address. It’s an illegal address.

[Short history here: according to the previous landlord, Jim, the unit was in fact legal and built according to code with all the accompanying permits. It was indeed legal, according to my new landlady, Janice, but the only problem (she had told me this when we were out to dinner earlier last week) was that Jim had failed to file the proper paperwork after the unit was constructed.]

Me: I didn’t know that.

Ronnie: Well, it’s been three months, and we can’t hold your mail any longer.

Me But if I had known you wanted me to do this, I would have done it! I didn’t know you were holding my mail for me!

Ronnie: We wouldn’t have been able to give you your mail in any case. We don’t give mail out to customers.

Me: This is insane! So how was I supposed to get my mail?

Ronnie: Your landlord should have gone to City Hall and registered your address as a legal address.

Me: Well, I wasn’t informed about any of this! And besides, you folks have been delivering mail to me for two years!

Ronnie: That’s right. But we did some investigations and discovered the truth.

Me: [getting really upset now] But it’s not as if I’m hiding the truth from you; I mean, this isn’t my fault! This is insane!

Ronnie: It isn’t the Postal Service’s fault either. We don’t deliver to illegal addresses.

Me: [sigh] Can’t you just put the mail in there anyway? I mean, it’s right underneath the house.

Ronnie: We don’t deliver to illegal addresses.

Me: [trying a different tack] Well — can I go down there and pick up my mail anyway?

Ronnie: [pause] I’m afraid we sent them all back yesterday. It’s been three months.

Me: [panicking] What do you mean?

Ronnie: We can’t hold them here any longer.

Me: You mean you just returned three months’ worth of my mail that was just sitting there in the first place???

Ronnie: That’s right. And from now on, any mail sent to that address will have to be stamped “return to sender.”

Me: [incredulous] So how am I going to get my mail?!?

Ronnie: You can get your landlord to file the registration at City Hall, or you can give them a different address. Hopefully those people who sent you mail will contact you and ask for a different address.

At this point — unwilling to say, “How are these people supposed to contact me? Through the mail??” — I hang up and leave a message for my landlady. Then I call again.

Ronnie: Didn’t I just talk to you earlier?

Me: [trying to be placating] Yes, I wanted to know if you could help me in figuring this out.

Ronnie: [sighs] You should get your landlord to file the registration.

Me: But that might take a couple of months! Can’t I just file a change of address form?

Ronnie: You can’t do that. What’s the original address?

Me: [dumbfounded] It’s 1354A …

Ronnie: That’s right. That address doesn’t exist.

Me: [unable to think straight now] But it’s right here! [I run outside the house, pointing to the door, but Ronnie obviously can't see any of this.]

Ronnie: You can’t file a change of address form to change from a non-existent address to a different one. You can’t change an address that doesn’t exist.

Me [feeling like I'm trapped in Terry Gilliam's Brazil]: I can’t change an address that doesn’t exist. So what am I supposed to do?

Ronnie: Again, talk to your landlord. Or you can contact all the people that send you mail and give them a different address.

Me: [stupefied at the work that would entail] So you can’t just put a sticker with a new address on my mail?

Ronnie: No, because all mail to that address has been killed. [pause] Oh. I just checked on the computer and it looks like your first-class mail is still here.

Me: Oh — I thought you had already sent them back?

Ronnie: No, you were lucky. They’re still here. You can come down here and pick them up. But remember — we do not give out mail to customers. This is a favor — remember this — this is a favor, and I am only doing this once, you hear?

Me: Oh, that’s wonderful, thank you very much! [Though my jaw is clenched hard at this point.]

Ronnie: And remember — as of tomorrow, all mail delivery to that address will be suspended and returned. That address doesn’t exist. Your mail has been killed.

So I drive off to the sorting center and pick up my mail — overdue bills, checks, magazines, CDs, rejection letters, a couple of books (and yes, I gave the poor bookseller a bad rating on, so sorry), Christmas cards, newspapers — 3 months of my life in a box, minus all the catalogs. I’m thinking grimly about all the mail that’s already on their way. And you can probably imagine what I did the rest of the afternoon.

(P.S. to Ruthie, who I’m hoping to finally meet in June: unfortunately our vinyl wasn’t in the box. But I’m confident it’s on its way back to Jeremy deVine, owner of the coolest record label in the world right now, and who will hopefully send them back to me…)

Oh Yes.

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2007 at 2:22 am

Sometimes those seven Safeway dumplings / slice of pizza from the Indian restaurant next door / vegetable quesadilla just won’t do:

Trio of Sashimi:
Japanese Fluke, Hearts of Palm, Honey-Lime
Tasmanian Trout, Avocado, Green Apple Ponzu
King Amberjack, Scallion, Mushroom Yuzu

Sonoma County Duck ~ Foie Gras:
Saffron Couscous, Asian Pear, Pistachios
Barley Risotto, Cranberry, Pecan
Quinoa, Huckleberry, Almond

Berry Shortcake ~ Ice Cream:
Raspberry, Devonshire Ice Cream
Blueberry, Creme Fraiche Sherbet
Strawberry, Milk Chocolate Mousse

2005 Segue Cellars Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

Giant Steps Are What You Take.

In music on February 14, 2007 at 11:37 am

So I’m about to break my Concert Rule #1 (no arena/stadium venues) after hearing this bit of news. Holy cow. My very first “favorite band of all time” ever, back circa 1982-83 — at least the very first band that inspired me to go save up my allowance and buy their entire discography. On vinyl even! (Indeed, the very first CD I ever owned* — bought second-hand, still at a piggy bank-breaking price, from an early-adopter friend — was Every Breath You Take: The Singles.)

I remember my dad — who was the big Nat King Cole / Tchaikovsky / Richard Clayderman fan — being quite skeptical of my new obsession. “Paulit-ulit lang ‘yan, ah,” he said, dismissing the repeating “Keep it up” coda of “Walking on the Moon.” I tried in vain to point out how Stewart Copeland was clearly playing different drum patterns, but to no avail: my music had been dissed.

U2, Talking Heads, The Cure (in that order) then followed, in typically youthful hyperbole, as My Favorite Band Of All Time, but The Police was always the first. And now they’re going on tour.

*Side note: I’m thinking now of how kids these days probably have little conception of their first CD, or even the first time they heard a CD. Ah, the days of record cleaning fluid and dipping a Q-Tip in rubbing alcohol to clean the rollers and heads… I still remember the first time I popped the Police CD into the player and almost fell back in shock — perhaps too trebly, especially those early pressings, but sonically, a total revelation; Hugh Padgham’s work on Synchronicity never sounded better.

Stop The Killings Benefit Show.

In this damned war on February 9, 2007 at 10:19 am

See you Bay Area folks here:

Saturday, February 17, 2007
7:30pm @ SOMArts (934 Brannan St., SF, CA 94103)
All Ages – $10 (Proceeds go to KARAPATAN)

Performances by:

Blue Scholars
Kiwi (of Native Guns)
Echo of Bullets
Golda Supernova
Power Struggle
Praxis Rocks
The Movement Show
Kapatid X

Art by:

Speaker Fruits

ACT NOW!!! Sign the online petition.

Did you know that 825+ people have been killed in the Philippines since 2001? Regular people…students, teachers, lawyers, workers, journalists, clergy, human rights workers, etc. Witnesses have pointed to elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in carrying out these killings. Yet not one person has been tried or convicted for any of these deaths. President Arroyo’s government has done nothing to stop to these atrocities.

For us living in the U.S.A. it’s a little sticky. The U.S. government has been providing excessive amounts of military assistance to the Philippine government. Reports from the Library of US Congress state that the total U.S. military assistance to the Philippines rose from $38 million in 2001 to $114 million in 2003 and a projected $164 million in 2005. That’s our tax dollars potentially subsidizing death squads of the Philippine military at the cost of the Filipino people.

Come out to the show to learn a bit more about the issue and find out how you can get involved.

Meme with No Specific Questions.

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2007 at 4:41 pm

I got tagged by Papers for the Border. Dan writes: “What you do: Imagine the question that led to the answer, and then provide your own answer.”

So here goes:

1. The corpulent Ms. Llamas, may she rest in peace, undoing our belts and, as punishment for some now-forgotten offense, making us march in place in front of a laughing and jeering third-grade classroom until our pants fell down to our ankles.
2. Julianne Moore on the sofa, sharing a six-pack of Bud Light, watching late-night TV.
3. PUFFY, “Long Beach Nightmare,” 105 plays.
4. Unmoored.
5. Twelve liters of water in the dehumidifier in two days.
6. “Gonzo” beans and rice.
7. “I am listening to hear where you are.”
8. A fatty slice of ham tucked between two slices of fried carabao cheese and warmed-up pan de sal.
9. The Zierer wave swinger.
10. That Sunday the possessed boy attended church, a week after the pastor’s retelling of his exorcism, and how he gave that ear-piercing cry and started babbling in tongues once the pastor stood up to deliver his sermon.

And 5 people I’m tagging: Happy, Ver, Barb, Catriona and Gladys.


In this damned war on February 5, 2007 at 7:56 pm

At the John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, I noticed something I hadn’t seen at airports before: a separate security check line for first-class and premium passengers. (Although now that I think about it, there was probably one at SFO as well.) As we stood in the obviously slower and longer line, I turned to Izzy and said — in a voice loud enough for whoever was listening to hear, hoping to gain a sympathetic ear — “This seems kind of unfair, Izzy.”

The woman in front of me wheels around and says, “Of course it’s fair. All you have to do is pay double the fare.”

Surprised at her reaction, I said, “But it’s one thing for a private company to do that. But this is a government procedure, so it doesn’t seem very fair to make us wait longer…”

“It’s fair because they paid twice the price,” she answered. “If you want to go in the quick line, you simply pay more.”

“But it seems to discriminate against people who can’t afford to pay the higher price.” My voice started trailing off, realizing this wasn’t working, and that the “D” word — “discriminate” — probably made me sound like, you know, one of those angry “people of color.”

“Oh my god,” she said, rolling her eyes and turning away.

Of course, she was right in the sense that if people are foolish — okay, wealthy — enough to afford the first-class tickets, then they should be welcome to do so. But I don’t think this was what she was arguing. Part of what rankled me was her easy defense of the “natural,” capitalist order of things, but that shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Having separate lines was certainly understandable in the context of a private company, but this was not the case. What was perhaps most annoying was the fact that the intrusion of the public into the private, and vice versa, was so unquestioned — nothing new at all, but simply one more instance of such encroachment. First-class passengers already have separate check-in counters, a departure lounge, cushier seats, what-have-you — what’s one more perk, one supposes the airport officials thought, to reward the rich for a job well done?

Whatever one’s opinion regarding the shifting palette of homeland security threats — and you irregular readers of this blog would know mine — the fact remains that the war on terror, and its grave consequences, already affects Americans unequally. Surely its attendant inconveniences demand to be applied at least a little democratically as well.

And Now, One of the Best Albums I Heard In 2007…

In music on January 23, 2007 at 12:17 am

…although this was released in 2006, is MONO & world’s end girlfriend’s gorgeous Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain, a five-part chamber music suite, as it were, for string quartet and post-rock band. A collaboration between Japanese composer Katsuhiko Maeda and the thunderous Tokyo trio that is MONO, the album is surely going to be one of my favorites of the year (and it’s only January!).

Doubtless a lot of music fans more knowledgeable than I would point to music from a different tradition — say, Shostakovich, Pärt, or Gorecki — as more complex, more profoundly moving. But the difference is that MONO rocks: the moment in “Part Three” when MONO’s Mogwai-influenced wall of guitar comes crashing down on the orchestra is a cathartic sonic event, only made more poignant by the calm resignation of the finale.

It’s hard to describe the widescreen sorrow at the core of this music. It’s something as mundane as the inherent loneliness of automobiles stranded on the freeway at sunset. But the ineffable grandeur it evokes is not just exit music for a film, it’s Exit Music for real: ruined cities, a threnody for the broken earth, the dying sun’s last defiant flare before the beginning of a cold, dead universe. Or as C.K. Williams puts it in his poem “Light,” “…everything ends, / world, after-world, even their memory, steamed away / like the film of uncertain vapor of the last of the luscious rain.”

Stung / For The Masses / This Charming Band, Slim's, SF, 9/22/06.

In music on January 22, 2007 at 8:31 pm

An old blog post that never saw the light of day until now:

So two things happened earlier this evening that may never happen again: 1. I saw J-Lu dance. 2. J-Lu saw me dance. In recent years I’ve expressed my distaste for the activity, and almost got into a useless argument with Smoothie and Big G. Al about the whole thing. J-Lu has asserted many times that she doesn’t dance; clearly she was lying, and so was I. (But see an affirmation of my dislike here.)

The occasion was, of all things, a trio of tribute bands at Slim’s. I had never dipped my toe into the entire tribute-band experience; there seemed something rather cheesy about the whole thing. Which may indeed be the whole point — but I was proven wrong because I ate all the cheese up anyway.

First up was the very good This Charming Band, obviously a Smiths tribute band. The lead singer looked nothing like Morrissey, and didn’t sound exactly like him, but had great stage presence regardless. (Their secret weapon was the guitarist, who simply nailed Johnny Marr’s parts down.) For the Masses was up next — a Depeche Mode tribute band — and was even better: that cold ’80s synth, and a vocalist who not only sounded like Dave Gahan, but whose lack of shame fortunately made him copy Gahan’s moves as well (apparently pretty accurately).

So anyhow, I look to my left during “Just Can’t Get Enough” and sure enough, J-Lu was dancing. (And not just doing the indie rawk shuffle either, which requires no use of the hips.) And she was singing, too, which she apparently doesn’t do either. (Though I wasn’t exactly dancing — just flailing my arms and jumping up and down and spilling my beer on J-Lu.)

Stung was the best band of all — a set that wasn’t just Every Breath You Take: The Singles, but one that dipped into the tracks that lesser fans fast-forwarded through back in the day. And no, they didn’t exactly look like the Police, and neither did the vocalist really sound like Sting (I blame Slim’s acoustics, because he sounds fantastic here, including the break in Sting’s voice after “I loved ya since I knew ya”), but they played incredibly well.

One side effect of all of this was that it made feel rather old — well, okay, I am old: Stung started its set with an excellent “Walking in Your Footsteps,” which reminded me that I was all of 12 when the song came out. But the point was that there I was, with a huge grin on my face, in a small club, surrounded by people yelling out the lyrics to “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” — a song I would otherwise never see or hear performed in such circumstances — and the point of the tribute band became happily, cheesily clear.

The Best Music I Heard All Year, 2006 Edition.

In music on January 19, 2007 at 12:01 am

Again, in alphabetical order:

Current 93, Black Ships Ate The Sky (2006)

David Tibet has recorded two undisputed masterpieces — at least in my opinion, Dogs Blood Rising and All the Pretty Little Horses, though Thunder Perfect Mind and Sleep Has His House are close — and this is his third. Representing, perhaps, the feverish, apocalyptic culmination of over 25 years of death-haunted meditations, Current 93 — here augmented by an all-star cast — weaves a stunning album, what Tibet calls “a Hallucinatory Patripassianist Dream.” (Okay, the fact that my name is listed as one of the album’s “subscribers” on the last page of the booklet is cool too.)

Dengue Fever, Escape from Dragon House (2005)

I’ve written about the coolest band in America many times on my blog, so this should be no surprise. Working off the same template that made their debut album one of my favorites of 2002 — covers of Cambodian rock tracks — Dengue Fever’s second album makes a huge leap to original songs, albeit throwing in psychedelia, spy-movie chase scenes, surf guitar, and Cambodian lyrics into the mix. But you folks really have to catch them live.

Easy Star All-Stars, Radiodread (2006)

In which they follow up their song-by-song reggae cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with an equally impressive reggae version of Radiohead’s OK Computer. It’s nowhere near as immediate as the former — basically because Radiohead just isn’t Pink Floyd — but both Thom Yorke fans and reggae fans should enjoy this in equal measure. The highlight: an impossibly happy version of “Let Down,” sung by Toots & The Maytals.)

Linus’ Blanket, Labor in Vain (2005)

Delicate Korean twee pop, sounding much like a Siesta Records release from the late ’90s but without the archness. Fifteen-minute EPs should be as perfect as this.

Mclusky, Mcluskyism (2006)

There’s a ragged, furious, nasty joy to this compilation by the recently-disbanded (alas) Welsh band Mclusky, appealing to that ragged, furious, nasty part of you that would sing along to refrains like “Our old singer is a sex criminal.” (Hunt down the three-disc set, as it comes with rarities and live versions, including some of the most withering put-downs of a heckler in the audience — “You tape Sex and the City, you fuck?” — I’ve heard on record.)

Spangle call Lilli line, or (2003)

It’s not easy to describe this album: delicate vocals, guitar filigree, electronic crackle, the virtue of repetition and stretched-out instrumentals. Just gorgeous.

Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)

Springsteen hardly does studio recordings of songs he didn’t write — maybe a cover like “Deportee” on a couple of tribute albums here and there, “Jersey Girl” from the live box set, so that doesn’t even count — so this new album was either going to be extra-special or evidence of a creative drought. Thankfully, it’s the former; it’s the most exuberantly angry and joyful music I’ve heard all year. Music to want the wide American earth by.

Up dharma Down, Fragmented (2006)

What I wrote earlier, on my favorite album of 2006, hands down:

It’s only April, and I think I already have one of my favorite albums of the year. Up dharma Down’s Fragmented is an urban soul chronicle from the streets of Manila, both tense and laid back, full of nervous energy one moment and suffused with post-club comedown the next.

I still remember the first time I saw the video for the fantastic first single, “Maybe.” I was idly flipping channels one December night in Los Banos last year when the video came on, and I was transfixed by its evocation of claustrophobia, as the camera followed a near-hysterical woman pacing inside a hotel room, then down a narrow stairwell, tear-smeared mascara on her face.

But it was, of course, the music which kept me glued to the TV: an insistent, propulsive reverbed guitar riff; a skittering, distorted “Amen” break; a bass line turned up way high in the mix; and that voice which stretched “Maybe” into 27 different syllables. (I had to grab paper and pen to scribble down the name of the band; alas, their album wasn’t coming out until a few months later, as the kind women at Odyssey and Tower Records had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.)

The rest of the album doesn’t quite approach the succinct drama of “Maybe,” but it’s quite strong nevertheless, and I suspect more songs will float their way to the top as the year proceeds… I can’t wait to see them live.

Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (2006)

Scattered, undisciplined, almost self-indulgent, uncontained, all over the place: my second-favorite band ever (after the Beatles) returns to the heights of I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. And it has the best album title too.

Plus some more YouTube fun:

- Dengue Fever, “Sni Bong”
- Easy Star All-Stars, “Let Down”
- Mclusky, “She Will Only Bring You Happiness” (though I rather like the Flash animation for “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” more)
- Spangle call Lilli line, “nano”
- Bruce Springsteen, “John Henry”
- Up dharma Down, “Maybe”
- Yo La Tengo, “Mr. Tough” (Live)

The Best Music I Heard All Year, 2006 Edition: The Runners-Up.

In music on January 18, 2007 at 7:49 pm

Regular readers of my now-irregular blog would know that I usually include music from previous years, so not everything will be from last year.

And here we go, in alphabetical order:

The Backyardigans, The Backyardigans (2005)

What I wrote in a previous blog entry:

The real draw of the show of the same name is the music (and the excellent voice acting), which is just superb for a kiddie TV show. They’re incredibly catchy and witty children’s ditties that are the functional equivalent of Broadway showtunes—each song within the show is totally choreographed, with dancing. The songs are thematically coherent for each episode, though they’re not necessarily tailored to the plot; Irish music, for instance, accompanies the Backyardigans on their quest for the perfect cup of tea to Borneo and China (to ask the grumpy emperor for a cup). Across the series, however, the music runs the range from reggae to rockabilly to country to Dixieland to James Brown funk.

Anyhow, I finally got to see the scrolling credits by pausing the DVD (they get reduced to a tiny window when being broadcast), and discovered to my surprise that the list of musicians reads like a Tzadik session roster: Evan Lurie, Doug Weiselman, Greg Cohen, Smokey Hormel, Tony Scherr, Ben Perowsky, Steven Bernstein, Kenny Wollesen… Totally cool. (It’s practically Sex Mob doing the soundtrack!)

Alex Chilton, 1970 (1970)

Early Chilton, coming off of the Box Tops and just before the jangle pop glory of Big Star: ramshackle rock and roll.

Shirley Collins and Davy Graham, Folk Roots, New Routes (1964)

The psychic connections between jazz, blues, ragas, and traditional British folk, explored by a spellbinding singer and guitarist.

Herbert, Scale (2006)

Experimental dance pop of extremely high quality — at least for the first half of the album, anyway.

Junior Kilat, Party Pipol Ur On Dub TV (2005)

Dubbed-out reggae from Cebu City — not touristy Bob Marley stuff either, but cave-like bass and reverb set to sky-cracking levels. Their secret weapon is Budoy Marabiles, the rasta-tammed lead singer who exhorts the audience like a manic street preacher.

Jim Noir, Tower of Love (2006)

I’m scrambling for references here: early ’70s AM radio, early ’70s A&M, mid-’90s Elephant 6. How about that?

Corinne Bailey Rae, Corinne Bailey Rae (2006)

Regina Spektor, Begin To Hope (2006)

Susie Suh, Susie Suh (2005)

It’s an odd coincidence that three female singer-songwriters follow one another here, but there you go. Rae and Spektor could hardly be different from each other — one’s intimate and confessional, the other’s, um, intimate and confessional (I’m getting lazy here) — but both work in very different idioms: Rae in cozy R&B, Spektor in a delightful, but sometimes too clever, combination of Joni Mitchell / Tori Amos / Tin Pan Alley / Russian folk songs.

And here’s what I wrote earlier about Suh:

I’m only really a casual fan of the women-with-acoustic-guitars genre, but there was something compelling about her 2005 self-titled album that made me take notice. There is nothing necessarily groundbreaking about it — nothing you won’t hear on a Lilith Fair compilation, perhaps, with self-confessional lyrics like “Oh I’m missing you / Or maybe I’m missing who I was when I was with you,” and an urban-glossy production — but there is an autumnal chill that runs through Suh’s songs that gives the album an edge. Most important, Suh is gifted with an incredible voice, all husky and soulful, which breaks at perfect moments (hear the chorus of “Light on My Shoulder”).

In concert that amazing voice is, unbelievably, even better, now embellished with a slight rawness that fits the emotional intensity of her lyrics. Indeed, the concert was completely stripped down: with her on guitar and vocals and another guy on drums. (You also get the chance to see how fine a guitar player she is.)

To my initial worry, Suh began the short set with four of my favorite songs on the album (“Won’t You Come Again,” “Your Battlefield,” “Harmony,” and “Lucille,” if I remember correctly). But this anxiety was dispelled with a couple of terrific new songs (“Canopy,” probably about her mother, and “Sweet Love,” which began with lines like “Clap your hands if you love someone in this room,” or words to that effect), and a few well-placed surprise covers (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Since I Fell For You,” “Is This Love”). All together a most excellent experience; I highly recommend catching her in concert if she comes by your town.

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, Under the Covers Vol. 1 (2006)

My only disappointment is that some of the cover versions are somewhat safe and superfluous — do we really another version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue?” — but Sweet and Hoffs revel in harmony-filled power-pop goodness here.

Francois Tetaz, Wolf Creek (2005)

This isn’t exactly your traditional movie soundtrack, as there isn’t a traditional “score;” it’s a series of dreadful (in the good, literal sense) scrapings, bass rumbles, string quartet and prepared piano passages, and samples from Alan Lamb’s wires in the Australian desert.

And some other albums that didn’t quite make the cut, but were excellent anyway:

- The Little Willies, The Little Willies
- OM, Conference of the Birds
- PUFFY, Splurge
- Michael Shelley, Goodbye Cheater
- Various Artists, ’80s Hits Stripped
- Windy and Carl, Antarctica
- John Zorn, Filmworks Vol. XVI: Workingman’s Death

And some YouTube fun (if you had checked my page out earlier you would have seen my attempt at embedding the videos — 12 open shockwave applications sure slows Firefox down though):

- The Backyardigans, “The Backyardigans Theme”
- Junior Kilat, “Original Sigbin”
- Jim Noir, “Eanie Meany”
- Corinne Bailey Rae, “Put Your Records On”
- Regina Spektor, “Fidelity”
- Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, “Rain” (Live)

And some Amazon links:

- The Backyardigans
- Alex Chilton
- Shirley Collins and Davy Graham
- Herbert
- Jim Noir
- Corinne Bailey Rae
- Regina Spektor
- Susie Suh
- Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs
- Francois Tetaz

Om / Pearls and Brass / Grey Daturas / Mammatus, Slim's, San Francisco, 12/1/2006.

In music on January 9, 2007 at 11:58 am

Posted this on a little while back:

My ears are still ringing from what is surely one of the best concerts I’ve been to this year — I knew it would be good, but not so got-damn good as this was.

Some random notes:

First up was Mammatus. I’m at a loss describing this group and their music: heavy-ass riffs, psych guitar noodling. I can’t even begin to write about what they looked like: one guitarist and the drummer looked like they stepped off the back cover of Trout Mask Replica, and the two vocalists were dressed in what looked like, I swear, tablecloths. Or curtains. One of the vocalists — more like the guy whose vocals were permanently on reverb — who I’ll call The Shaman, reminded me of a cross between Brother Theodore and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Except that he actually looked like an organic grocery store employee. Wearing a tablecloth. And waving a knobbly wizard stick, right out of the back cover of Led Zeppelin IV at the audience. Probably the best surprise of the night. (No insult meant by my descriptions, by the way — these guys were fantastic.)

Up next: Grey Daturas, a trio from Australia. My description won’t do their awesome one-song set justice, so I offer key phrases instead: layered feedback, jetliner roar, amplifier worship.

And then came Pearls and Brass, which I’ll describe as “stoner boogie,” anchored by long, sinuous guitar riffs and some amazing shirtless drumming.

And finally, Om. I’ve written about this band previously, so there’s not much more to add, except that that sky-cracking-open moment when Al Cisneros steps on the effects pedal about 9 minutes into “At Giza” happened here too. I’ve since realized that perhaps a more fruitful comparison to Om’s Conference of the Birds isn’t really Sleep’s Jerusalem, but Nurse With Wound’s Soliloquy for Lilith or Coil’s Time Machines; guitar and drum prowess aside, Om in concert is meant to be transportive. You close your eyes in the middle of the maelstrom and you see pyramids and ancient gods frolicking to cosmic ragas.

I think the ringing in my ears has subsided. But my neck will sure as hell hurt tomorrow morning.

Earworms, 2006.

In music on December 20, 2006 at 2:52 pm

Longtime readers of this blog would know that my year-end lists are usually composed of things from the year before — or, indeed, many years before. Some are old (and new) songs I just discovered and burrowed themselves into my consciousness this year, some are old songs I’ve known for a while that finally clicked in this 12-month period.

It’s in no order; the sequence is courtesy of an “anchored smooth shuffle” from MusicIP Mixer. All I picked was the first and last songs. (The whole thing also turned up as party favors for people this year.)

Maher Shalal Hash Baz – Stone in the River
Nina Simone – He Needs Me
Susie Suh – Won’t You Come Away
Damien Rice – The Blower’s Daughter
Shirley Collins & Davy Graham – Hares on the Mountain
The Ditty Bops – Pale Yellow
The Little Willies – For the Good Times
The Mountain Goats – No Children
Stereolab – Changer
Indigo Girls – Power Of Two
The Mountain Goats – Tallahassee
Jim O’Rourke – Naoru
Piano Magic – Bad Patient
Corinne Bailey Rae – Till It Happens To You
Corinne Bailey Rae – Put Your Records On
Regina Spektor – On the Radio
Rovo – Seer
The Mountain Goats – This Year
Herbert – Birds of a Feather
The Tammys – Egyptian Shumba
Skeeter Davis – Let Me Get Close to You
Stars – Reunion
YUI – Cloudy
Yo La Tengo – Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind
パーランマウム – リンダ リンダ
Nil – Come On Eileen
The New Pornographers – From Blown Speakers
The New Pornographers – The Laws Have Changed
Tommy february6 – MaGic in youR Eyes
McLusky – She Will Only Bring You Happiness
Stars – Ageless Beauty
No Doubt – Simple Kind of Life
Tommy february6 – je t’aime ★ je t’aime
McLusky – Alan Is a Cowboy Killer
Elbow – Buttons and Zips
Weezer – Only in Dreams
Wire – Outdoor Miner
Kings of Leon – The Bucket
Belarus – Here, There and Everywhere
Jim Noir – I Me You I’m Your
The Left Banke – She May Call You Up Tonight
Maria João & Mário Laginha – Pés No Chão
Kode 9 & Daddi G – Sign of the Dub
Hot Chip – Playboy
Brightblack Morning Light – Star Blanket River Child
Fiona Apple – Criminal
Kath Bloom – Come Here
Crowded House – Fall at Your Feet
Bruce Springsteen – O Mary Don’t You Weep
Up Dharma Down – We Give In Sometimes
Up Dharma Down – Maybe
The New Pornographers – Letter From an Occupant
Matthew Sweet And Susanna Hoffs – She May Call You Up Tonight
At the Drive-In – One Armed Scissor
The High Strung – Never Saw It as Union
bird – 髪をほどいて
Todd Rundgren – Couldn’t I Just Tell You
Golden Boy with Miss Kittin – Rippin Kittin
Native Guns – Work It
Kelis – Milkshake
Gnarls Barkley – Crazy
LCD Soundsystem – Daft Punk Is Playing at My House
Primal Scream – Exterminator
Korekyojin – Poet And Peasant
aiko – 赤いランプ
BMX Bandits – This Lonely Guy
BMX Bandits – I Wanna Fall in Love
Jacqueline Taïeb – 7 Heures du Matin
New Radicals – Someday We’ll Know
Boards of Canada – Satellite Anthem Icarus


In puwetry on December 18, 2006 at 11:27 pm

Is it just me, or has spam really become more poetic all of a sudden?

“subjugato,” by Rosangela Rubino

(seems to know anything about. The more I discover about it — the more it)

station twelve in two minutes. We are now in parking orbit.

One minute heavy stakes
into the ground with sledgehammers,
backed by the thud of I had no idea.

What do we want to do? As I said –
   it’s time for a decision. Do we all

In a moment, I equivocated — and stopped dead.
For I had suddenly rolling up my face.
   Collecting there. Dropping

The double image flickered and became one.

blow, then away again.

(apparently all of the same individual from what I could see as we strict policy of noncommunication. However it was photographed when)

Some Random Things.

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2006 at 1:04 pm

Since I hardly have the energy anymore to devote to writing long entries, one more listy blog entry will have to do:

1. I have never had so many students coming in begging for incompletes: medical problems, family problems, laptop theft, eviction, and a lot of general overwhelmedness, you name it. There’s something in the water that’s precipitating all this panic and I don’t know what it is.

2. Which means, as you guessed, that I’m in grading hell — 10 20-page papers, 20 12-page papers, 50 final exams coming in the next week and a half.

3. Some cool news though: my former student Krish is coming to a TV near you.

4. For some reason or other, students actually want to be my teaching assistants next spring. (It’s not paid work, but they get credit units.) This is also good news; must be something in the water too. I can’t make them grade (against union rules), but this means that I can set up those discussion forums / blogs as I did in previous classes.

5. Plus some random musical thoughts that will either make you pause to reflect on your achievements in the last decade or make you slap yourself upside the head and go, “It’s been ten years??”

a) Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister is ten years old.
b) Beck’s Odelay is ten years old.
c) Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” is ten years old.
d) Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die is ten years old.
e) Diana Krall’s All For You is ten years old.
f) Underworld’s “Born Slippy” is ten years old.

And proper debut albums were released ten years ago by this stellar bunch of veterans: Modest Mouse, DJ Shadow, Gillian Welch, PUFFY, Squarepusher, Cat Power, Fountains of Wayne, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. (And as someone reminded me elsewhere, Jay-Z.)

6. Okay, the reason for all these recent ruminations on age and the passing of time is because I’m turning a year older tomorrow and thinking about what I’ve gained and lost.

7. There is a stack of bluebooks on my desk. I’m staring at it willing it to shrink. It’s not working.

8. If I see “definately” and “predominately” (and, I swear, “ludacris,” but just once) one more time… “adequite,” however, my students get right.

9. But a week from today I’ll be on the coolest Xmas break ever (though much of it will be spent revising a manuscript), including Disneyland with Izzy for four days. Yessiree.

Devo / Bow Wow Wow / A Flock Of Seagulls, Bill Graham Civic Center, SF, 10/28/06.

In music on December 10, 2006 at 12:24 pm

Sometimes concerts don’t quite work. I and ten other people had met for dinner at Suppenkuche prior to a promising lineup of bands: When In Rome, Animotion, A Flock Of Seagulls, Bow Wow Wow, and Devo. Devo was perhaps the odd band out, a band whose big hit was somewhat contemporaneous with the other bands, but whose career had more in common with the arch, postpunk, agitprop bands of the previous decade.

The concert was supposed to start at 7, and it did not bode well that by the time we got to the venue a little after 8 pm, two bands had already played. (I had already seen When In Rome and Animotion previously, but still… I wanted to see them again!) The sad part was that the venue was literally only a third full; I suspect that by the time people actually arrived, all the opening bands had come and gone.

We caught A Flock of Seagulls do the last 4 songs of their set (granted, the set may have indeed been four songs long): “The More You Live, The More You Love,” “Space Age Love Song,” “Wishing,” and “I Ran.” They sounded good, but it sure looked like only the lead singer / keyboardist was left from the original lineup. (This touring version included a drummer who would stand on his stool at the end of each song and non-ironically point with a drumstick at the audience.)

Bow Wow Wow, however, was great. Annabella Lwin looked fantastic (a quick calculation on my fingers figured her out to be about a totally hot 40), and so was the band with an excellent short set. Quite a feat for a band whose biggest hit in the U.S. was a cover:

- I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish (yes, the Smiths song!)
- Aphrodisiac
- Go Wild In The Country
- I Want Candy
- C30 C60 C90 Go!

Devo, alas, was something of a disappointment: yes, the band sounded great; yes, it was odd to see them riling up the crowd with bizarre walk-on characters like “Jihad Jerry” and a guy in an Osama bin Laden mask, and yes, it was great to hear my favorite Devo songs (“Gut Feeling” and “Gates of Steel” — you can tell I like the jangly guitar songs better than the synth ones) — but good lord, they looked way too… portly to still be dressed up in their yellow jumpsuits and wearing the red hats.

I wondered whether, in ten years, the same venue would be hosting, say, a big Weezer / Nada Surf / Third Eye Blind tour. In any case, it seemed that nostalgia had played us for fools, kind of. My friend Marco commented that the sparse audience was a clear comment on the survivors of the decade: if you hadn’t gotten sick, or OD’d on coke, then you’d probably be there. But babysitters are expensive in San Francisco, I added.

Later Eloise and Sean and Romeo and I ended up at the Cat Club. Sixth beer in hand, dancing to “The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight” and “Tainted Love,” looking around me at the people dressed up joylessly as Madonna and Slash, I started feeling this clumped-up ball of regret and inexplicable sorrow growing in my stomach, envisioning my metabolism screeching to a halt, imagining the grim reaper of middle age smoking cigarettes by the club exit waiting for everyone to file out. We could have been dancing to Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

Some Updates.

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2006 at 7:40 pm

No, this blog is not dead; I’m just swamped with work and other things besides as some of you probably know. In the last year or so — and here’s a confession of a kind of blog incivility — I’ve only been able to keep up regularly with three or four blogs (you know who you are, blogger party people), but in the last few months I haven’t even been able to read them either!

I’ve been to a couple of great shows recently (in particular, John Zorn and Ikue Mori at the Jazzschool), but haven’t found the time to write about it.

1. The Poeta, whose second book of poems will be tackled by my Asian American Culture classes in the spring, has new poems posted online, at melancholia’s tremulous dreadlocks and at ActionYes.

2. Gura‘s book out in December.

3. Special K and 40 post their Geary Street Project photos.

4. Plus some good news for once: I’m in good company.

10 Songs, 1990-1993.

In music on November 1, 2006 at 12:07 am

For five years I lived in central New York — Ithaca, to be exact — which inaugurated a new phase in my musical listening education: the wonders of American college radio. WICB, beamed out of Ithaca College on the other hill (I was at Cornell), was something of a lifeline. (At Cornell I swear everyone played Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes” 24-7; I think the band actually played at a frat house on campus once a semester.) WICB was chiefly responsible for saving me from lite jazz and afflicting me with a lifelong love for Guided by Voices, Yo La Tengo, Pavement, Superchunk — much of early Matador, actually, surely one of the greatest record-label runs of the last two decades. (The other musical path came via the Nonesuch compilation Late in the 20th Century, but that’s another story.)

Spin Doctors aside, though, the concert scene wasn’t really terrible, considering that Ithaca was almost five hours northwest of NYC and therefore awfully out of the way. I did get to see Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, and Murray Perahia the same year (Cornell could attract more of the classical music superstars); jazz musicians like Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea, and Joe Henderson also came through.

Pop music was another matter, however: Matthew Sweet and 10,000 Maniacs were great, but the other bands (Squeeze, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, The Black Crowes, Spyro Gyra, Aztec Camera) I watched because I had nothing better to do. I think Ithaca College got the more interesting lineups, including the most bizarre touring combo — Blue Oyster Cult / Violent Femmes / Fishbone — I’ve ever watched in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many bikers and scrawny Long Island indie kids in the same room ever.

For every Liz Phair or Dinosaur Jr or Bettie Serveert or Nirvana, however, there were bands like Nuclear Valdez, Too Much Joy, Young Fresh Fellows, Mary’s Danish, Single Gun Theory, Bim Skala Bim, and Urban Dance Squad, all of which produced some killer songs on college radio (and possibly a video or two) but then sank with nary a trace.

This month’s playlist is taken from those five years in Ithaca (actually, just 1990-1993) — all from bands whose albums you can probably find in your local CD store’s clearance bins, or for less than a buck on, if at all. Which is a shame, because these are fantastic songs that should have been massive hits. I don’t really know what else happened to these bands; they have a fan here in San Francisco by way of Ithaca, though.

In chronological order:

1. The Cavedogs, “Tayter Country.” From the 1990 album Joyrides for Shut-Ins.

2. Gear Daddies, “Stupid Boy.” In another world this would have successfully rode the big No Depression wave, but apparently not. From the 1990 album Billy’s Live Bait.

3. Animal Logic, “I Won’t Be Sleeping Anymore.” This had the most impressive pedigree: Stewart Copeland, Stanley Clarke and Deborah Holland. From the 1991 album II.

4. Dots Will Echo, “Sandra.” Produced by Will Ackerman, of all people, and released on a subsidiary of Windham Hill. From their eponymous 1991 album.

5. Sun-60, “Middle of My Life.” Catchy pop number. From their eponymous 1991 album.

6. Trip Shakespeare, “Bachelorette.” Semisonic rose from the ashes of this band; call it commercial vindication. From the 1991 album Lulu.

7. Waterlillies, “Sunshine Like You.” Kind of like a cross between Lush and Cocteau Twins. From the 1991 album Envoluptuousity.

8. Downy Mildew, “An Oncoming Train.” Those guitars are most reminiscent of 10,000 Maniacs, but the lead singer’s voice is something else. From the 1992 album An Oncoming Train.

9. Rise Robots Rise, “All Sewn Up.” I can only imagine that the A&R folks simply didn’t know how to market this band — dark psychedelic R&Bish triphop that sounded like nothing else back then. From their 1992 eponymous album.

10. The Story, “So Much Mine.” That’s Jonatha Brooke singing there. From the 1993 album The Angel in the House.

And once again, folks: please don’t leave the radio playing if you’re away from your desk — it sucks up bandwidth and I would have to take the songs off before the end of the month!

Clifford Geertz, 1926-2006.

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2006 at 8:42 pm

…so far as anthropology is concerned, it is almost more of a problem to get exhausted ideas out of the literature than it is to get productive ones in, and so a great deal more of theoretical discussion than one would prefer is critical rather than constructive, and whole careers have been devoted to hastening the demise of moribund notions. As the field advances one would hope that this sort of intellectual weed control would become a less prominent part of our activities. But, for the moment, it remains true that old theories tend less to die than to go into second editions.

- From “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture.”

An obituary for Clifford Geertz can be read here.

The Geary Street Project.

In Uncategorized on October 29, 2006 at 9:36 am

The plan was simple — meet at the corner of Geary and Market and walk all 6 miles to the ocean and take photographs the whole time. And sample the different kinds of food along the way. And maybe pop into a bar every so often for a pint or two.

This was all inspired (at least I was) by William Vollmann’s fantastic novel The Royal Family — “a love letter to San Francisco on some levels,” Vollman writes. One of the book’s many highlights is a chapter entitled “Geary Street” (“a love song, from the ocean to downtown”), and here’s an excerpt (cribbed from this blog):

The tale of Geary Street is the tale of life itself, which begins, as did the first prehistoric unicellular organisms, at the ocean. In that very first block somewhere in the mists of Forty-Eighth Avenue, which almost touches the low sea-horizon and the wet silver-tan sand of Ocean Beach, Geary Street, here known to meter maids as Geary Boulevard, as indeed it will remain all the way to Van Ness, already foreshadows the business character of its adulthood… Geary Street — Jack-of-all-Trades-Street, we ought to call it. We can bully ourselves into pretending that Geary is something special, but it eschews preciousness; if only lava were to seal it off for five centuries, anthropologists would love it. Shunning Haight Street’s narcissism, Clement Street’s dreaminess, Geary Street expresses pure functionality, like a well-made Indian arrowhead.

Two beers and a huge roast beef sandwich later, we had only just crossed Van Ness at 1 pm and we wusses were faced with the notion that this may be physically impossible. (It was also 70 degrees out with hardly a cloud in the sky.)

Special K and 40 ducked out at Masonic (40 actually needed to pack for a trip); Big Al and I kept walking until the mid-30s in the Avenues once things weren’t as interesting. But there’s no denying the diversity of the neighborhoods we were walking through: Union Square to the Tenderloin to Japantown to the Fillmore to the Russian / Irish / Chinese / Korean sections in the Avenues.

The geotagged map is linked to in the picture above; otherwise the Geary Street Project set can be seen here. (Big Al’s set is here; not sure when Special K and 40 are putting theirs up!) Another photo/walking tour may be scheduled in the near future.

Yo La Tengo, The Fillmore, SF, 10/19 and 10/20, 2006.

In music on October 27, 2006 at 4:13 pm

There’s really quite nothing like the sight of Ira Kaplan during, say, the 11th minute of “I Heard You Looking” — body bent over his guitar, eyes clenched shut, neck snapping hard enough to cause an aneurysm, lifting the guitar over his head to elicit more feedback, but looking like he was paying obeisance to the speakers and the gods of rock in turn. The two Yo La Tengo concerts I attended last week (couldn’t make the third because it was sold out) delivered their brand of rock-and-roll joy in spades: whammy-bar abuse on one hand, lullabies and heartbreak on the other.

The setlist was, of course, drawn from their latest album, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. (They couldn’t say the title on NPR, so Ira thought he should repeat it for the audience, simply because it sounded good.) These remained in place, though in scrambled order, for the second night, although none of the old songs were recycled. (Note, then, to you lucky folks out there who will have them play more than once in your fair cities: go to both dates.)

From the latest album, in no order:

- Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind (this opened the first show)
- The Weakest Part (this opened the second show)
- Mr. Tough (this had the girls dancing)
- The Story of Yo La Tango (this was right before the encore)
- Beanbag Chair
- I Feel Like Going Home (Georgia on vocals and piano — nothing better. But it’s the quiet guitar solo at the end that’s the icing on the cake)
- The Race Is On Again
- Sometimes I Don’t Get You
- I Should Have Known Better
- Watch Out For Me Ronnie (Ira’s a cappella shouting at the beginning is always a treat)
- Song for Mahila (I think)

The old songs, in no order, from both nights:

- Little Eyes
- Artificial Heart
- Stockholm Syndrome
- I Heard You Looking (which segued into TSOYLT on the second night)
- Four-Cornered Drone (I think — this may have been the song played twice with the Chairs of Perception). Or was it Detouring America with Horns?
- The Crying of Lot G (not one of my favorites on And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, but damn, the live version was incredible)
- Big Day Coming (the fast version)
- Decora
- Deeper into Movies (perhaps my favorite YLT song ever; they played it just after I yelled it out)
- We’re An American Band
- and there were more, but I can’t remember. Did we get “Walking Away from You?” “Drug Test,” perhaps?

And the covers, on both nights:

- Gram Parsons’ “A Song for You”
- Sun Ra’s “Somebody’s in Love” (this ended the second show)
- Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby” (this ended the first show)
- The Beach Boys’ “Little Honda” (before segueing into TSOYLT, this turned into something like a 10-minute descent into total metal-machine-music guitar squall)
- a 13th Floor Elevators song?
- Richard Hell’s “The Kid with the Replaceable Head” (folks up on front — about two rows ahead of me — asked for something to commemorate the closing of CBGB’s)
- Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle” (“We’re playing the People’s Choice,” Ira said)

The Human League, Red Devil Lounge, SF, 09/19/06.

In music on September 20, 2006 at 1:11 am

(Pictures from my friend Eloise above, after the scan of the concert ticket.)

Write-up later.

The Japanese New Music Festival, Bottom of the Hill, SF, 9/8.

In music on September 10, 2006 at 3:51 pm

About a year or so ago, The Wire ran an article about humor in music — I don’t remember much about it, but I don’t think they included Acid Mothers Temple and Ruins! I was prepared to have my mind blown, but I didn’t expect to be laughing.

The Japanese New Music Festival is something of a misnomer / inside joke — yes, there are indeed seven bands playing, but they’re all composed of different combinations of the same powerhouse trio: Atsushi Tsuyama, Makoto Kawabata, and Tatsuya Yoshida. What made it even funnier was the recited / sung / chanted introduction prior to each “project:” “Welcome to the Japanese New Music Festival. In San Francisco. This first project is…”

Seikazoku (all three) was up first. In comparison to the acts that followed it, Seikazoku’s blend of prog / hardcore / psych / plainsong seemed oddly normal. Great beginning to the concert.

Akaten (Tsuyama and Yoshida) came next, with contact-mic fun: short pieces for voice, a duet for toothbrush and grated daikon, zipper, crumpled water bottles, and my favorite, Yoshida fiddling with a camera and feeding the sounds through a sampler with lots of dubby reverb, and Tsuyama singing about Nikons and Minoltas. Quite compelling actually. (Here are sample videos, one in a park, and one in concert.)

Next: Zubi Zuva X (all three), a self-described “eccentric poly-rhythmic a cappella ensemble.” Not sure if I’d watch a Zubi Zuva X concert on its own (not that that would happen anyway), but it was loads of fun to hear their coordinated babble (and watch them crack up during their performance). I can’t exactly think of any parallels — a trio of Bobby McFerrins performing a Magma song, perhaps?

Shrinp Wark was next, I think, with Kawabata and Yoshida. I don’t remember much about this, except that it was fairly similar to Seikazoku.

After the 15-minute beer break, Yoshida stepped onto the stage for Ruins Alone. Truly an amazing drummer, Yoshida played (and sang) along with sampled bass. This was probably the highlight of the whole show; imagine taking 30-second excerpts from different Ruins songs, splicing them together into a 20-minute piece, and performing the whole cut-up mess live. Unbelievable.

Next was Zoffy (Tsuyama and Kawabata), described by Kawabata himself as “the most stupid rock duo in the world.” While the first track was one of their trademark acid-folk renditions of (I’m guessing) an Occitan song, the next was a detourned rock cover. This was preceded by a hilarious, mimed critique of drinking and smoking policies in California delivered in a bizarre girly falsetto to “Dear Mr. Schwarzenegger” (“Smoke only outside. Drink only inside. The only thing you can smoke inside is marijuana.”), and the introduction went something like this:

Tsuyama: This next song…

Kawabata: This next song…

Tsuyama: Is a very very famous rock song.

Kawabata: Is a very very famous rock song.

Tsuyama: Very very famous.

Kawabata: Most incredible famous rock song.

Tsuyama: Incredible amazing rock song.

Kawabata: This song is by Deep Purple.

Tsuyama: Very very famous rock song.

Kawabata: Smoke on the Water.

Tsuyama: Smoke on the Water.

Kawabata: Smoke on the Water.

Tsuyama: Played by Captain Beefheart and Bob Dylan.

In which Kawabata played the main riff completely out of tune and Tsuyama proceeded to sing as if he were Van Vliet and Zimmerman himself. Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” (introduced as above and “played Mongolian style”) followed — though the audience was asked to keep it a secret because Jimmy Page’s royalties were expensive — and then Tsuyama sang the song in a Tuvan throat growl, complete with overtones and all.

The next pieces (covers of Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew,” “Agharta,” and “Pangaea”) were rather tiring because of the lame punchline — Tsuyama, in dark glasses, forever putting the trumpet to his lips, but managing to blurt out only a couple of trumpet chirps before the song ends abruptly — but the introductions were classic:

Kawabata: This next song is very very famous song.

Tsuyama: Very very famous.

Kawabata: Revolutionary song.

Tsuyama: By a jazz giant.

Kawabata: Jazz giant.

Tsuyama: Not San Francisco Giants.

Kawabata: Jazz giant.

Tsuyama: Jazz giant. Very very famous song.

Kawabata: Jazz giant.

Tsuyama: Not San Francisco Giants.

(Mind you, I’m not poking fun at their English — which clearly wasn’t limited — because the sheer absurdity was clearly part of being “the most stupid rock duo.”)

And wrapping up the whole festival over a couple of hours later: Acid Mothers Temple SWR. Though only a trio here (though a mighty one indeed), the band soldiered on with their patented psychedelic hard-rock swirl. (Kawabata made up for Cotton Casino’s birdlike vocals by pulling what looked like a screwdriver across his guitar frets.) He also had trouble with the guitar plugs, but managed to fix them in time for a series of sky-splitting Mainliner-type solos to end the concert. Awesome.

[Update: Never tried embedding something before, so let's see how this works. Here's Ruins Alone:

And if you do a search for “KevinBrownsvideos” on YouTube, you get 10-minute excerpts or so from each “project.”]

Dengue Fever, 12 Galaxies, SF, 8/31/06.

In music on September 1, 2006 at 1:28 am

Note to self: When Chhom Nimol herself, the lead singer of the coolest band in America (Dengue Fever, of course), personally turns the mic towards you so you can sing along to the chorus of Ros Serey Sethea’s “I’m Only Sixteen,” you better know the lyrics. I, the only Asian-looking person front and center, couldn’t speak a word of Khmer, so I could only muster an embarrassed shake of the head. I turned her down twice.

What can I say — yet another fantastic (if truncated*) set from Dengue Fever in an oddly half-empty club. It was, at least, a great opportunity to see them up close (with my friend Jesse). Not as much clowning around as before, and no audience members dancing on stage this time, but still a great show. (Marc & The Casuals opened — caught the last few songs, with Bacharach and what sounded like the Breakestra — along with The Devilettes.)

*For the encore they went straight to “Ethanopium” and “I’m Only Sixteen” instead.

At Random.

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2006 at 7:52 pm

Some links:

1. I think I want this T-shirt:

2. This is just… wrong. (Make sure you check out the stupefyingly brilliant interactive demo.)

3. This is wrong too, but on an entirely different level. It’s cool to see so many Asians on this season’s Survivor, but I didn’t expect CBS to do this, illustrating that race is indeed, the new porn. But their idea of replicating the Hawaiian plantation system (yes, I know, it’s in a different part of the world) is simply bizarre. But I don’t own a TV, so I’m sitting this one out.

4. Raul Gonzales engages in some wishful thinking. Thanks to Gitz for the link.

5. The coolest band in America (Dengue Fever of course) will be at 12 Galaxies. Of course I’ll be there.

6. About Bebot: A Collective Review.

Open Letter on Bebot.

In Pinoy on August 22, 2006 at 9:04 am

To, Patricio Ginelsa/KidHeroes, and Xylophone Films:

We, the undersigned, would like to register our deep disappointment at the portrayal of Filipinas and other women in the new music videos for the Black Eyed Peas song, “Bebot.” We want to make it clear that we appreciate your efforts to bring Filipina/o Americans into the mainstream and applaud your support of the Little Manila of Stockton. However, as Filipina/o and Filipina/o American artists, academics, and community activists, we are utterly dismayed by the portrayal of hypersexualized Filipina “hoochie-mama” dancers, specifically in the Generation 2 version, the type of representation of women so unfortunately prevalent in today’s hip-hop and rap music videos. The depiction of the 1930s “dime dancers” was also cast in an unproblematized light, as these women seem to exist solely for the sexual pleasure of the manongs.

In general, we value’s willingness to be so openly and richly Filipino, especially when there are other Filipina/o Americans in positions of visibility who do not do the same, and we appreciate the work that he has done with the folks at Xylophone Films; we like their previous video for “The Apl Song,” and we even like the fact that the Generation 1 version of Bebot attempts to provide a “history lesson” about some Filipino men in the 1930s. However, the Generation 2 version truly misses the mark on accurate Filipina/o representation, for the following reasons:

1. The video uses three very limited stereotypes of Filipina women: the virgin, the whore, and the shrill mother. We find a double standard in the depiction of the virgin and whore figures, both of which are highly sexualized. Amidst the crowd of midriff-baring, skinny, light-skinned, peroxided Pinays — some practically falling out of their halter tops — there is the little sister played by Jasmine Trias, from whom big brother Apl is constantly fending off Pinoy “playas.” The overprotectiveness is strange considering his idealization of the bebot or “hot chick.” The mother character was also particularly troublesome, but for very different reasons. She seems to play a dehumanized figure, the perpetual foreigner with her exaggerated accent, but on top of that, she is robbed of her femininity in her embarrassingly indelicate treatment of her son and his friends. She is not like a tough or strong mother, but almost like a coarse asexual mother, and it is telling that she is the only female character in the video with a full figure.

2. We feel that these problematic female representations might have to do with the use of the word “Bebot.” We are of course not advocating that Apl change the title of his song, yet we are confused about why a song that has to do with pride in his ethnic/national identity would be titled “Bebot,” a word that suggests male ownership of the sexualized woman — the “hot chick.” What does Filipino pride have to do with bebots? The song seems to be about immigrant experience yet the chorus says “ikaw ang aking bebot” (you are my hot chick). It is actually very disturbing that ones ethnic/national identity is determined by ones ownership of women. This system not only turns women into mere symbols but it also excludes women from feeling the same kind of ethnic/national identity. It does not bring down just Filipinas; it brings down all women.

3. Given the unfortunate connection made in this video between Filipino pride and the sexualized female body both lyrically and visually, we cant help but conclude that the video was created strictly for a heterosexual mans pleasure. This straight, masculinist perspective is the link that we find between the Generation 1 and Generation 2 videos. The fact that the Pinoy men are surrounded by “hot chicks” both then and now makes this link plain. Yet such a portrayal not only obscures the “real” message about the Little Manila Foundation; it also reduces Pinoy mens hopes, dreams, and motivations to a single-minded pursuit of sex.

We do understand that Filipino America faces a persistent problem of invisibility in this country. Moreover, as the song is all in Tagalog (a fact that we love, by the way), you face an uphill battle in getting the song and music video(s) into mainstream circulation. However, remedying the invisibility of Filipina/os inthe United States should not come at the cost of the dignity and self-respect of at least half the population of Filipino America. Before deciding to write this letter, we felt an incredible amount of ambivalence about speaking out on this issue because, on the one hand, we recognized that this song and video are a milestone for Filipina/os in mainstream media and American pop culture, but on the other hand, we were deeply disturbed by the images of women the video propagates.

In the end we decided that we could not remain silent while seeing image after image of Pinays portrayed as hypersexual beings or as shrill, dehumanized, asexual mother-figures who embarrass their children with their overblown accents and coarseness. The Filipino American community is made up of women with Filipino pride as well, yet there is little room in these videos for us to share this voice and this commitment; instead, the message we get is that we are expected to stand aside and allow ourselves to be exploited for our sexuality while the men go about making their nationalist statements.

While this may sound quite harsh, we believe it is necessary to point out that such depictions make it seem as if you are selling out Filipina women for the sake of gaining mainstream popularity within the United States. Given the already horrific representations of Filipinas all over the world as willing prostitutes, exotic dancers, or domestic servants who are available for sex with their employers, the representation of Pinays in these particular videos can only feed into such stereotypes. We also find it puzzling, given your apparent commitment to preserving the history and dignity of Filipina/os in the United States, because we assume that you also consider such stereotypes offensive toFilipino men as well as women.

Again, we want to reiterate our appreciation for the positive aspects of these videos — the history lesson of the 1936 version, the commitment to community, and the effort to foster a larger awareness of Filipino America in the mainstream — but we ask for your honest attempt to offer more full-spectrum representations of both Filipino men and Filipina women, now and in the future. We would not be writing this letter to you if we did not believe you could make it happen.


Lucy Burns
Assistant Professor
Asian American Studies / World Arts and Cultures, UCLA

Fritzie De Mata
Independent scholar

Diana Halog
UC Berkeley

Luisa A. Igloria
Associate Professor
Creative Writing Program & Department of English
Old Dominion University

Veronica Montes

Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Assistant Professor, English
State University of New York–Fredonia

Gladys Nubla
Doctoral student
English, UC Berkeley

Barbara Jane Reyes
Poet and author

Joanne L. Rondilla
Doctoral candidate
Ethnic Studies, UC Berkeley

Rolando B. Tolentino
Visiting Fellow, National University of Singapore
Associate Professor, University of the Philippines Film Institute

Benito Vergara
Assistant Professor
Asian American Studies / Anthropology
San Francisco State University


In music on August 19, 2006 at 12:57 pm

1. bebot bebot bebot bebot bebot.

2. Jean Vengua. Chapbook. Enough said.

3. Dan Coffey in MiPOesias.

4. David Tibet, in his latest mailout, writes: “This is the news I like to read.” So do I.

5. Plus two new tracks on the to the right, from two big contenders for album of the year: Up Dharma Down’s “We Give In Sometimes,” from Fragmented (previously written up here) and Easy Star All-Stars’ “Paranoid Android,” from Radiodread — where the fellows responsible for Dub Side of the Moon (written up here too) do OK Computer. (Sorry for the poor quality of the files, as I was trying to save bandwidth.)

Om / Asunder, Bottom of the Hill, SF, 7/29/06.

In music on July 30, 2006 at 8:34 pm

Some time early during Om’s set, Al Cisneros stepped on an effects pedal for his bass, and the sky cracked open, showering slabs of cosmic concrete from the vaults of space on the headbanging masses below, momentarily revealing the yawning black hole of consciousness with blind mutant creatures gibbering in the Ur-language. Om’s recipe for its resinated rock is simple: take the thickest, mud-encrusted Sabbath bass riff imaginable; pair it with relentless, exhausting drumming from Chris Hakius; repeat the serpentine riff for 20-odd minutes (make it about 60, for the length of the set); deliver the fractured poetry of your vision-afflicted lyrics in a bizarre chanting monotone (think of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine,” only less tunefully); and channel the entire steaming sonic sludge through a wall of Green amps set up so loud to make your teeth chatter. On record, Om is intense, but necessarily muted; heard live, the Om experience — the annoying distraction of couples making out and the constant flicker of lighters as flame is touched to weed notwithstanding — is absolute, both within you and without you.

The opening band, Asunder, was worrisome at first: despite the fantastic gut-quivering bass rumble that preceded the musicians, the ultra-slow drum beat and chanting for the first couple of minutes just wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But then the pace picked up, the deathgrowl vocals (from the drummer) began, the downtuned guitar chords crashed in, and what you had was doom metal, distilled to a simple purity.

Animotion / When In Rome, Red Devil Lounge, SF, 7/21/06.

In music on July 27, 2006 at 10:37 pm

So I’m a little jealous that my brother Bulletproof Vest met and chatted with David Sedaris. David Sedaris!

However, I did get to meet some celebs of my own over the weekend; I’ll skip the best for last.

The risk one runs when watching a one-hit wonder band — in this case, When In Rome — is that you spend the entire set waiting for that song to be played, and of course it comes at the very end. (Yes, “Heaven Knows” wasn’t a terrible song, and “Wide Wide Sea” could have been a follow-up single, but still…) That was, of course, “The Promise” (one of the hands-down best singles of the late ’80s), but it doesn’t bode well when your last song — a cover of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” — gets the quarter-full club more excited than it had been for the previous seven songs.

Animotion, however, was a different story (why they played first I’m not sure), as they had a long string of great songs: “I Engineer” (which I was yelling for), “Let Him Go” (a fantastic version of which opened the set), “I Want You,” and of course, “Obsession” (surely one of the era’s defining moments, period). The band simply rocked, despite a misbehaving Mac; by the end of the concert, I (and the band) was grinning from ear to ear, particularly after creative use of the big pole almost in the middle of the stage.

And then I met two of the band members! (Full disclosure: I wouldn’t have been able to meet Bill Wadhams if it weren’t for the mindblowing fact that the V-Monster‘s SO is his brother.) Plus Astrid Plane came and signed stuff at our table upstairs!

Pictures of the concert are at my Flickr “concerts” set.

Higher Power.

In sine on July 22, 2006 at 1:36 pm

From Manohla Dargis’s review of M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water, in the New York Times:

Apparently those who live in the water now roam the earth trying to make us listen, though initially it’s rather foggy as to what precisely we are supposed to hear — the crash of the waves, the songs of the sirens, the voice of God — until we realize that of course we’re meant to cup our ear to an even higher power: Mr. Shyamalan.

I still want to see the film — I always subscribe to the motto that I’d probably enjoy a film I’ve been wanting to see despite colossally bad reviews — but Ms. Dargis! I wrote it first! =)

Dengue Fever, The Independent, SF, 7/15/06.

In music on July 16, 2006 at 12:50 pm

Why I can’t seem to successfully drag anyone with me to see the coolest band in America in concert I can’t understand. Either people are about to pass out, or watching Pearl Jam instead, or, as J-Lu once said after seeing an excerpt of the “Sni Bong” video, “That made my ears bleed.”

Anyhow, Dengue Fever was fantastic, with a set that began with — er, one of the slower songs — and ended with “I’m Sixteen” in the encore (complete with an extended sax solo from David Ralicke in the coda that was just perfect). In between, they played “Sni Bong,” “Lost in Laos,” “Flowers,” “Tip My Canoe,” “Hold My Hips” (this might have been when they pulled up audience members onto stage to dance), an awesome “One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula,” “A Go Go,” “Doo Wop” (both of which they should really record in the studio at some point), and what sounded like three other new songs (though they may have been covers, I don’t know).

The band was in excellent form: one song had a show-stopping a cappella introduction by Chhom Nimol — a reminder, as if it was necessary, of her classical training. Senon Williams and Zac Holtzman were totally goofing around all night — jumping in unison, falling on the ground, messing with Ethan Holtzman’s Farfisa solos. (I should also mention that Dengue Fever not only sound cool, they also look great on stage.)

Openers Elephone and Scrabbel were well worth seeing too — lots of downloadable mp3s from the latter’s website.

No Irony Here.

In music on July 15, 2006 at 7:51 pm

Back in my grad student days when we used to have house parties at 103 Spring Lane, Madonna was always on the dance mix tapes — that’s right, tapes — that my housemate Big J would make. (We had generally sedate parties back then; one of the few times the cops came to bust us was when the Comp Lit folks came with their own mix tape — a party no-no, if you ask me — and cranked up Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” really loud.) Madonna remained a party staple even after the house changed from its early halcyon life as a predominantly interdisciplinary Southeast Asianist pad (two historians, an anthropologist (that’s me), and the lone Comp Lit person) to a full-blown German Studies house. (At that point I was the only holdout, my German limited to the kind spoken in Jim Abrahams and David Zucker’s Top Secret!)

During one of our dance parties, “Into the Groove” came on. People rushed to the floor (mostly the Government people — they always crashed parties). My German Studies housemate, not necessarily in between vogueing moves, came up to me while we were dancing. “The great thing about Madonna,” he confided, “is that you can dance to her with a sense of irony.” I laughed, told him that I genuinely enjoyed the song, and repeated it to my anthropologist classmate at my side, who was quite offended at the suggestion. “I love Madonna!” she said.

“Even the Erotica album?” I asked skeptically.

“I love the Erotica album!” she said, in between vogueing moves now that “Vogue” had come on.

Thinking about it now, I’m interpreting my housemate’s words about dancing to Madonna with a sense of irony to be a particularly early-’90s statement — back when Seinfeld and Letterman were at the height of their ironic powers — about cultural production in the ’80s. But back then I crudely concluded that our exchange represented the difference between anthropology and comparative literature: praxis versus theory, gratification versus deferment, a joyful participation in sweaty physicality versus a constipated detachment.

Anyhow, I digress — all this was merely an unconnected excuse to present the most insane site, clothes and haircuts and production values in varying degrees of quality:
1500 videos from the ’80s (looks like they’re actually hosted on YouTube), where I threw my productivity down the toilet for an hour and gleefully watched the Eurogliders and Climie Fisher and Fiction Factory and Cyndi Lauper and the vine-swinging in Haircut 100′s “Love Plus One” and that fake telephone that John Waite smashes in “Missing You” and the Vegemite sandwich from Men At Work’s “Down Under” back to back. And without the slightest smidgen of irony.


In Uncategorized on July 2, 2006 at 11:11 am

This week I’ve been fiddling with some betas — Microsoft Office 12, for release in 2007, was unleashed recently, and it’s surprisingly, amazingly, stable. Word, for one, has been rock-solid so far, with a more intuitive tabbed interface (no more of those horrible movable bars), faster loading, live previews in case you want to change formatting, and so on. Outlook is even better, though shortcut keys to implement GTD (which is what I did in Thunderbird) would be quite helpful. (The best thing about Word, though — the ability to publish straight to pdf — will apparently be dropped in the final release, but there are various workarounds, including printer driver downloads, on the net.) OneNote is the best improvement of all, finally letting you create different notebooks.

There are a few bugs, of course: something happens to mapi32.dll which makes Outlook 2003 — and by extension, my Palm Desktop — unusable, unless you want to use Outlook 2007 from now on. The workaround was to uninstall Office 2003 completely, and also to download the latest version of Chapura‘s PocketMirror.

The other bug — granted, I have very few requirements for my documents and email, so I don’t have to deal with graphics and tables and so forth — has to do with Office 12′s insistence that I download their Windows Desktop Search software. (Google Desktop works excellently for me already.) The problem is that the applications remind me of this everytime I load them up, which is quite annoying. But otherwise I’m upgrading to the basic suite once it comes out.

The other beta I’ve been playing with is‘s beta site, right now for subscribers only.

I love the way the artist images show up next to your playlists now; the charts (not pictured above) also give you the option of easily looking at rolling charts (3 months / 6 months / 1 year).

The Pillows, Slim's, SF, 6/28/06.

In music on July 1, 2006 at 11:57 am

After being elbowed, pushed, trampled, and subjected to clammy sweat, armpit odor, and bad breath, I can still happily say that the experience of seeing The Pillows — plus about two hours of waiting outside the venue with my friends J-Lu and Rinna (we were about sixth in line) — was well worth it. The band tore through most of the FLCL soundtrack: “Beautiful Morning With You,” “Little Busters,” “Ride on Shooting Star,” “Crazy Sunshine” (the first song of the encore), “I Think I Can” early in the set, “Sleepy Head” (this may have opened the set), “Funny Bunny,” and a fantastic jump-up-and-down-like-crazy “Hybrid Rainbow” just before the encore, with the crowd screaming the chorus at the top of their lungs. Plus a Nirvana cover (“Breed”) — nothing like a surprise cover snuck into the middle of a set.

And other random thoughts:

1. That might be my last all-ages show in a while though; too many kids shoving, plus I found myself pushed from the second row to the sixth or so.

2. And dammit, bring some breath mints, folks!

3. Note to self: do not sing along loudly to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Cities in Dust,” especially when it seems that only you and the opening band (Secret Secret) are singing it.

4. The signatures on my FLCL booklet are from the meet-and-greet — all ten minutes of it, really — at Kinokuniya Bookstore earlier that afternoon. Whee!

Some Covers.

In music, Pinoy on June 21, 2006 at 12:02 am

Some of you folks may have noticed the new feature on the right-hand side; the theme for this month (or so) are covers:

1. First up: probably the song of the year, Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and three covers of varying quality from folks like Nelly Furtado and Ray LaMontagne. My money’s on The Kooks‘ version, but as Bulletproof Vest would say wisely, though, “The original is still the best.”

2. It’s impossible to improve on perfection — namely, the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” — but this cover by some band from Swindon called Belarus takes some interesting liberties with the melody. (Yes, the idea of Coldplay-does-the-Beatles sounds horrid on paper, but really, give a listen to the track first.) The high point of Mojo Magazine’s latest freebie, a song-by-song cover album of Revolver, on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. (Though there’s a cover of “Eleanor Rigby” by The Handsome Family that’s darn good too.)

3. Sometimes there are songs that pop out of nowhere and you go, Where has this song been all my life? In this case, it’s The Left Banke’s “She May Call You Up Tonight,” covered expertly by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs. Their album of nothing but covers, Under the Covers Vol. 1, seems way too respectful and somewhat redundant (do we really need another cover of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue?”), but one can’t complain about the overall summery vibe of the fantastic harmonizing throughout the album. Unlike other cover/tribute albums that make you run to your CD collection and pull out the originals, this one works quite well.

4. I should explain this a bit: every year, Yo La Tengo, my favorite American band other than the now-defunct Guided by Voices, plays a benefit concert for the radio station WFMU — the schtick being, YLT plays whatever song the call-in pledger wants to hear, live, with no rehearsals. Their slaughter of Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” is from their latest album, Yo La Tengo Is Murdering The Classics, and they mostly deliver on their promise.

5. I’m a total sucker for the way M.Y.M.P. strips everything down to guitar and luscious vocals, and their sweet take on the Eraserheads’ “Huwag Mo Nang Itanong” — the highlight of the otherwise disappointing tribute album, UltraElectroMagneticJam: The Music of the Eraserheads — is just as good as the original.

It’s disappointing because it’s a compilation filled with bands that are essentially the E-Heads’ offspring, and so most of the album basically sounds like one big karaoke fest. The lead singers’ vocals aren’t particularly distinctive either — unlike, say, Sweet and Hoffs above — since I honestly can’t tell the difference between Orange and Lemons, Cueshe or Sponge Cola. (The exception was Imago’s “Spoliarium,” which made me appreciate the original even more.) The trick to a good cover version, I think, is to make the song temporarily your own, as do South Border (“With a Smile” gets the r&b treatment) and the Radioactive Sago Project (a spazzed-out “Alkohol”). But not the others, unfortunately: Isha blows a great opening to “Torpedo” by returning to the same E-Heads arrangement; the otherwise very good Barbie Almalbis attempts to sing in Tagalog and fails (I think that’s what happened on “Overdrive,” but I’m not sure); and everyone else, including, most disappointingly, Rico J. Puno, churns out different variations of blandness.


In Pinoy, sine on June 20, 2006 at 1:49 pm

In Ian Ganazon and Neill dela Llana’s terrific thriller, Cavite, the Filipino American filmmakers take the tired cliches of the genre and craft an exceptional film. The plot isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, from Cellular to Red Eye (the only one I’ve seen of the four) to Nick of Time to Phone Booth: a man receives a call on a cellphone from a kidnapper, telling him that his mother and sister has been kidnapped and that he has to follow all the kidnapper’s demands or they die. The result is a surprisingly politically complex and gripping suspense movie, made even more interesting for its being set in the Philippines.

What Cavite will also be remembered for is the astonishing constraints under which the film was made: an overall budget of less than $7,000, cameras resold on eBay to pay for editing (which was done completely on a home computer), a practically two-man cast and crew. (Two weeks before they were to fly to the Philippines, they still couldn’t find a lead actress who wanted to accompany them, so they rewrote the script so that Ganazon could play the protagonist, with dela Llana holding the camera the whole time.)

Formally, the film is a marvel in its economy — actor, disembodied voice, circling camera — and the narrative is structured in the classic three-act fashion. Cavite is also clearly more than just a jittery travelogue. As the taunting kidnapper orders Adam to walk through twisted alleyways, crowded markets, squatter camps, and rivers choking with festering garbage, it is clear that he (and the audience) is receiving a political education as well.

The film, however, provides little historical or economic context for the poverty that Adam witnesses, and it is presented as almost being “endemic” to the area. A later scene where the kidnapper gives him a history lesson on the gross injustices experienced by Muslim Filipinos isn’t exactly germane to what Adam sees in Cavite. (We get a possible glimpse of this in two clever digressions from the taut narrative: the camera breaks away momentarily to follow a boy buying a McDonald’s meal for his grandmother, but one of these scenes ingeniously happens at a point when filming may have been impossible.) But we begin to understand, at least, the process of radicalization for the Muslim kidnapper, as we find out halfway through the film that he is a member of the Abu Sayyaf (I’m not spoiling anything here, as this is telegraphed in the opening credits).

Cavite could also be read as quite intelligently following the stereotypical plot as seen in your average Pilipino Cultural Night — confused Filipino American in search of self, “returns” to the Philippines, and discovers one’s self. What further animates this thriller, and elevates it from the genre, is the interweaving of the theme of cultural discovery. (Indeed, the movie could be seen as a suspense-thriller twist on the ethnic-identity film genre, and not the other way around.) Filipino American youth — perhaps like the filmmakers themselves — would no doubt find familiar tropes here, tweaked and heightened: the dizzying confusion, the humidity, the shock of the misery of the Third World, the bewilderment of a half-understood foreign/native language, the balut offered up as a kind of culinary litmus test. The filmmakers make perfect use of the staring bystanders; Adam’s incongruity as he trudges through Cavite City is perhaps only a little less jarring than the presence of the two filmmakers themselves.

In the end, it is significant that the action takes place in the province of Cavite, where Emilio Aguinaldo first proclaimed the independence of the Philippine Republic from Spain. The Muslims of the Philippines, however, failed to receive, and continue to do so, the benefits and rights of any form of independence, and the events in Mindanao of the last three decades certainly bear witness to this.

(What makes the film rather politically problematic, on a couple of different levels, is the decision the protagonist makes, and the way the kidnapper is portrayed. Arguably, however, the filmmakers shroud this in moral ambiguity, depending on how one interprets the opening shot. But unfortunately, any further discussion would spoil the film for you folks, so perhaps any spoilers should be mentioned — and explicitly designated so! — in the comments, if any of you readers have seen the film…)

End Make D Parflays Dance.

In Pinoy, sine on June 15, 2006 at 11:51 pm

Courtesy of Boyong and the V-Monster (looks like Bryanboy beat me to the link again), comes the funniest thing I’ve seen all month: brand-new Pinoy internet celebrity Alyssa Alano, with her incomparable version of Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” (or rather, “Keys Me”). And hats off to the genius who supplied the brutally funny videoke subtitles. (You may need the real lyrics to figure out what she’s singing.)

Watch her YouTube video here; thank me later.

p.s. On a slightly more serious note: Ian Gamazon and Neill dela Llana’s Cavite is one hell of a terrific film, and if you’re living in the SF Bay Area or San Diego, please do make plans to see it. I’ll be posting a longer entry later, but take my word for it: it’s very good. (Yes, we can talk about the politically problematic parts later.)

Dennis Lim’s review for the Voice is here.

Cavite, Opening This Friday.

In Pinoy, sine on June 13, 2006 at 7:06 pm


A film by Ian Gamazon and Neill dela Llana opens June 16, 2006 in the Bay Area

A Filipino-American suspense thriller

Landmark’s Lumiere Theatre – 1572 California St., San Francisco, (415) 352-0821

Showtimes (valid 6/16-22): shows Fri-Sun at 2:30 5:00 7:30 9:45; Mon-Thu at 5:00 7:30 9:45

On Fri 6/16 discussion after the 7:30pm show
moderated by Benito M. Vergara, Jr.,
of SF State University Asian American Studies

Advance ticket purchase at:

Tickets are $9.75 for general admission and $7.75 seniors and children

Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas – 2230 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, (510) 464-5980

Showtimes (valid 6/16-22): shows daily at 1:30 3:30 5:30 7:30 9:30

Advance ticket purchase at:

Tickets are $9.50 for general admission, $7.50 seniors and children

Official film site:

Message from CAVITE filmmakers:

Dear Friends,

How often is it that a movie is released in theaters where Filipino-Americans can watch a representation of their generation up onscreen? Not often enough. Cavite opens May 26 in New York and Los Angeles and three weeks later in San Diego and San Francisco, with dates in Seattle to follow. It’s easy for us to ask all of you to come and support so we can continue our careers as filmmakers. But what we ask is so much more than that.

Cavite has been called “a landmark in diaspora cinema” and it could not be more true. It represents a journey back to our homeland that not only we, as a generation of Filipino-Americans, but audiences outside our culture have responded to as well. And it’s that idea of Cavite traveling beyond the lines of the Fil-Am boundaries that we should celebrate on this occasion. Now we have a chance to show people of all cultures and races a slice of the Filipino-American experience told in a manner that anyone, no matter what your heritage, can appreciate.

And it’s in that thought that we urge you and your friends to come see Cavite. It will thrill and it will educate, it will present a side of a spectacular world rarely seen in cinema today. But most of all, if people see this movie on the weekend of its release — and let’s not kid ourselves, attendance will be key — it will allow all of us as filmmakers or storytellers to make more films that our generation, and future generations can be proud of.

In conclusion, what we ask for is a celebration — a celebration of a movie born out of a desire to represent who we are and what we can do. So let’s rejoice, go see the movie, tell anyone that will listen, and not wait another minute to watch a representation of Filipino-American filmmaking up onscreen.


Ian Gamazon/ Neill dela Llana

co-directors, CAVITE

The San Francisco Chronicle calls the Filipino-American suspense story an “exploration of identity…what it means to be a Filipino, an American and a Muslim.” Read the full article on:

“CAVITE ingeniously turns a Hollywood action movie premise into a report on the Philippines and the social and religious divisions that continue to roil the country. Directors Gamazon and Dela Llana get into locations not seen in the West since Lino Brocka’s provocative, politicized films of the 70’s and 80’s….Among the most striking American independent movies of the year.” –The New York Times

“CAVITE is a brilliantly resourceful film with sensational camerawork…A landmark in diaspora cinema.” –The Village Voice

“An intimate political thriller that’s fresh and compelling to the end.” –Los Angeles Times

“CAVITE is a breathless, jugular thriller” –LA Weekly

“A must see!” –Justin Wu, Asianweek


Someone to Watch Award, Independent Spirit Awards 2006

SXSW (South by Southwest), Special Jury Prize 2005

SFIAAFF (San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) Special Jury Award 2005

Golden Maille Award, Best Picture, Hawaii International Film Festival 2005

Maverick Award, Woodstock Film Festival 2005

Jacket Photograph By.

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2006 at 2:12 pm

Today at Borders I finally held this book in my hands — the cover of which is this same photograph right here.

Wow. I have an actual “Jacket photograph by” credit. Is that cool or what?

That Discussion on Skin Whiteners.

In Pinoy on June 9, 2006 at 10:29 pm

In an attempt to jumpstart a discussion I started but never got to participate in, I’m reposting the responses to a former post. I am not entirely sure that pursuing the origins of ideas regarding the aesthetic valuation of skin color in the Philippines would lead to a definitive answer; as in the present, the “explanation” would surely have to be a combination of both class and the globalized spread of Western ideals of beauty. But I am also intrigued by Iggy’s answer, also below, that raises a particularly Asian aesthetic. (The long line of beauty queens profiled in Doris Nuyda’s The Beauty Book, so sadly out of print, begins mostly with moneyed Spanish mestizas — more an indication, really, of the high regard in which beauty pageants were originally placed — and it is not until you get to the late ’60s or so that skin color becomes darker.)

Here are the earlier responses:

Ed writes:

I’m Filipino and I’m aware of this practice, as many women on my family subscribe to it. I personally think it’s silly.

But I guess the first question to tackle would be whether the “light skin” ideal is an imitation of the Western/Caucasoid image, or is it a separate status indicator?

Light skin used to be a coveted social emblem back around during American colonial times too, as evidenced by how Ben Franklin powdered himself silly. Apparently it symbolized wealth, for the same reasons as mentioned in that linked IHT article – rich people didn’t have to work in the sun.

But now there’s a reversal of that ideal; the current craze among the West is to get that killer tan. So it’s said that a tanned skin represents a “well-traveled” person, who can afford to sail the Bahamas barebacked.

There’s an entry in wikipedia:

And so to reiterate the question, is Asian people’s valuation of light skin a reflection of their desire to imitate the Westerner’s phenotype, or is it simply as the article puts it, that it is a status/wealth symbol?

O.P. writes, in response to the initial entry:

This is disturbing. Yet we do know that light skin colour is also associated with high status in Thailand, which does not have a colonial past, and therefore no colonial mentality to blame for this phenomenon.

My own experience as a Filipina has been the opposite of the Eskinol thing. I’m relatively dark compared to some of my cousins, who appear to have inherited more of the Germanic genes of a shared ancestor (our maternal grandfather). They had light brown hair, almost blond to a Pinoy’s eyes, and of course lighter skin than most Filipinos. My poor cousins tried in vain to tan so they could “look normal,” but despite tons of Coppertone tanning oil, even baby oil, they would only burn and turn reddish and I hope they don’t have to deal with melanoma one day. One female cousin started dying her hair black once she started college in Cebu.

On the whole, despite some teasing from classmates about how “dark” I was (from being at the beach all summer), I grew up thinking that brown was beautiful, and thinking that my cousins who looked the most “native” were the most beautiful. Still do. So, I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder.

And Ed responds at length to O.P.:

Hmmm, yea, that’s a real good point. As confirmed by wikipedia, Thailand was never colonized, and so suggests that the social effect isn’t so strongly correlated with colonization:

The Thailand case works against the effect of -direct- colonization, as Thailand is a subscriber of the ‘whitening practice’, but was never colonized under a European country (although that doesn’t exclude interaction through trade).

But the original question’s dichotomy is still in play. That is, selection for ‘whiteness’ stems from either:
1. global valuation of the Caucosoid phenotype, or
2.that ‘skin hue’ is a mere indicator of wealth.

Although, the Thailand argument excludes rule of colonization as a root cause for the ‘international valuation’ effect (#1). But I would also posit that adopting the values of another culture doesn’t have to follow from colonization.

If #1 is the case, is that a product of history? Pardon a second dichotomy, but is it because of:
1a. a wipespread dissemination of Western values of beauty or is it that
1b. the European phenotype is the universal ideal for beauty?

I know not a lot of people would be willing to accept #1b, but it is still a viable explanation. I myself have reservations to this.

And in order to accept #1a, proof of concept demands that there be some reasons for introducing yet another factor in the effect. So I would propose that history has a hand in it, colonization and industrialization being its vehicle. Again, I don’t think value adoption had to follow from direct rule (as in the case of Thailand), and so even Thai people can value the Causian image from mere association with adjacent colonized countries, for example.

As for industrialization, MTV bears to mind. Therefore western values disperse even more efficiently, as developing countries are consumed by vogue western fashions and images through the tv.


That’s interesting, o.p., what you relate about the opposite valuation of the Malay beauty. I didn’t have that experience when I was living in the PI 14 years ago, nor is it collectively true here in the US among Filipino-Americans.

After all, many Filipina-Americans (Filipino-Americans even) dye their hair blonde, as well as buy those whitening soaps/creams (not the males, to my observation). And as I recall, in the Philippines there were a lot of derrogatory terms reserved for denigrating the Malay image: Pango, Ita, Itim, Pandak, etc. True, there is variation among the Malay/Filipino phenotype (due to normal distribution and genetic intermixing with other countries), but these rough ‘characteristics’ are nonetheless unique to the regional genepool of Southeast Asia, and therefore define it.

I wanted to add as a reply to o.p.’s post,

I believe it’s true that beauty is in the eye of the individual. But I also believe that beauty is also defined by cultural standards, a collective beholder, if you will.

And so when 4 out of every 10 people in a culture actively take part in a fashion (ie skin whitening), it says to me that there is a definite group of people that agree to a certain criteria of beauty. And when that criteria is contrary to what the ancestral phenotype is, it becomes somewhat of a curiosity as to why?

And Rebecca responds to the initial entry:

Does this “beauty” standard really not affect Filipino men?

My husband started a job two years ago where he is out in the sun every day, turning his pale brown complexion very, very dark. His mother’s first reaction was to make fun of him for it (and she still does). I’m not fluent but what I did understand was pejorative at best. She even pulled his shirt up to see what color he was born.

He has since refused to wear shorts or short sleeved shirts to work for fear of telling tan lines. And he’s been honest about it being almost purely out of vanity.

And here’s O.P. again:

Relating the story of my personal experience regarding valuing the more “normal” Filipino skin hue, I tried to convey the view from the “other” side of that divide.

I agree that lighter skin IS a status symbol back home, and I did not do well against that standard, mainly because my mom envied our ability to tan and therefore encouraged us to be in the sun and slathered lots of tanning oil so we could be nice and brown like our dad (who is very dark). As a teenager I tried to even out my acne-prone skin using a whitener and was lectured to within an inch of my life for it.

However, those that have MUCH lighter skin (i.e., looking more like white people than like light-skinned Filipinos) don’t necessarily fare better and have insecurities of their own, as they are also judged (or judge themselves) against the native standard.

One of my school friends — whose parents were Canadian and pure Spanish, and therefore she was really a white girl born and raised in Manila — was teased mercilessly by my other classmates as an “Amerikanang Hilaw.” If white makes right in terms of beauty standards, one would think she could have been the most popular sought-after girl in the whole school. But she was put down for being unattractive and “too” white, and became the poster-girl for low self-esteem.

As for me, I grew up thinking I was too dark, because my mom liked to see us with deep tans, maybe so we would look more like my father (who is very dark). I felt fine around my relatives, because they didn’t seem to care, but around other Filipinos it was a different story. I had been called negra a few times even.

It wasn’t until I arrived in the US that I heard anyone compliment me on my nice colour. And it wasn’t until later, spending lots of time indoors in winter climates and libraries and at a desk, that I lost my tan and found out I am actually rather light-skinned. It was weird at first — even some of my relatives who hadn’t seen me in years thought I had gotten some kind of cosmetic procedure, because I had always been very dark as a child.

As for looking at it from an academic perspective… I remember reading an article about fairness of skin and what that means for attractiveness in Japan — don’t remember what journal it was in. But the gist of it was that there is a particular kind of lightness of skin that is considered attractive — the mere fact of “whiteness” is not it, because Western women are not considered attractive.

From what I recall of accounts of the first Spanish voyages to the Philippines, they noted how the higher-status Visayan women were lighter skinned than the rest, shielding their faces from the sun or something. I’ve also seen first-hand in some Lumad communities how the women who shield their faces from the sun and achieve a nice, even glowing complexion (as opposed to sun-ravaged), which not surprisingly is a mark of beauty.

So, it’s not just a simple dichotomy or the belated application of Western standards. Globalization is not necessary to blame.

Iggy joins the discussion from a different angle:

In my personal experience, I guess what Asians strive for is the kind of fairness that is more “Asian” and familiar rather than “Caucasian” – think the skin color of Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese. I remember back in high school where there was a French guy and a Jewish girl who went to my school and were mercilessly teased for being too pale. It’s funny, because the people doing the teasing were the same ones who praised a Chinoy girl for her milky, even skin. I guess “real” Caucasian fairness – complete with the blonde eyelashes and pinkish undereye circles – is almost too ‘alien’ for an Asian to aspire to. I don’t know, just adding my two cents.

And Ed responds to everyone:


Yes, I do believe that Filipino men are affected by the beauty standard. I mentioned that hair bleaching (blonde) is a popular practice here in the States among Filipino-American boys, at least here where I lived thorughout high school. But the linked article’s focus (on wily’s blog) was on female consumption of skin lightening products, and so my response was also focused on that demographic accordingly.

O.P. & Iggy,

Yes! I found an article called ‘Cultivating Japanese whiteness’ by Mikiko Ashikari (University of Cambridge) published in the Journal of Material Cutlure asserting that ‘Japanese whiteness’ is actually idealized from Japanese whiteness – which is of a different hue from ‘Caucasian whiteness’. I think this is close to what you’re talking about, Iggy. She says that the Japanese white skin is actually a means by which the Japanese now identify and racialize themselves; contrary to idealizing the Western image. If anyone is having a hard time finding it and wants a copy, feel free to email me, and I’ll email you one.

But this still leaves the question, for what reason do Filipinos (Thais, Malaysians, etc.) use whitening products? It cant be that they identify with it (like the Japanese), because the simple fact is that ‘whiteness’ is not part of their genetic heritage.

O.P., I acknowledge your case when you say that the opposite phenomenon occurs, as in your anecdote with your Western school friends. That wikipedia article mentions the ganguro of Japan, which serves as a parallel example:

But again, a sizable Southeast Asian majority use skin whiteners to imitate an image that isn’t granted to them by genetics. You said that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, so the interesting question that comes up is: why does the Filipino behold ‘whiteness’ as beautiful, when the majority of our ethnic composition is Malay, a dark-skinned people?

For the Japanese it is a way for them to express their Japanese ethnicity. But for us, isn’t it being anti-Filipino?

Pronounced Zhee-zhek.

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2006 at 8:27 am

For Dan, who wanted to see what a post like this might look like:

Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek Zizek

And Many Thanks.

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2006 at 12:35 am

To my colleagues and, most especially, the students, for the chalkings, the petitions, the webpages, the armbands, the flyers, the placards, the chants, the rally, and all your words, by which I have been truly lifted. Thank you.

A Big No Thanks.

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2006 at 1:08 am

To my landlord, who was unreachable for three nights while Izzy and I lived with an actual, smellable gas leak from the pipes in the garage next to my illegal in-law apartment. This is currently the tenth consecutive day, slowly sliding into the eleventh, that I have been without gas or hot water, and apparently PG&E hasn’t called him back, or the plumber hasn’t called him back, or the other plumber can’t make it on a particular day, or yet another plumber with the special equipment couldn’t finish the job in a day, and my call to the landlord earlier this evening was unanswered…

Add to this the fact that he is selling the building, and I have had to suffer the indignity of four open home showings, and random strangers wandering in from the street walking through my living room while Izzy tries to watch TV. The worst was the other night, when a family of like, eight, were tramping through my bedroom at 8:30 at night while I was trying to grade.

I am a little worried about the fact that the upstairs unit is vacant and the other upper unit will be vacant in 30 days, which will mean that I’ll be the only tenant left in the entire house. I do know how owner move-in evictions work in San Francisco, but I do not have the money or time or energy to move right now (which I’m sure he would like, since it’s easier to sell the place empty).

The Wages of Eskinol.

In Pinoy on May 2, 2006 at 8:22 pm

File under: beauty, class, colonialism.

In a survey carried out in June 2004 by Synovate, 61 percent of respondents in Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan said they felt they looked younger with a fair complexion. Half of Filipino women, 45 percent of Hong Kong women and 41 percent of Malaysian women said they were currently using a skin-whitening product.


Getting to Empty.

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2006 at 12:25 am

523 e-mail messages. 45 minutes.

Thank you, David Allen. Thank you, Merlin Mann.

(Last night I reclaimed about 14 square feet of my floor from clutter, discovered I had a desk underneath all my piles of stuff, organized the said stuff in over a dozen different (labeled) folders, filled up two grocery shopping bags worth of papers to be recycled, and one garbage bag full of trash. I couldn’t believe it.)

The Backyardigans.

In music on April 23, 2006 at 10:13 am

Speaking of more great music this year so far: Izzy is currently obsessed with the Nick Jr. TV show The Backyardigans. It’s easy to see why; the show is utterly charming, even for a jaded viewer like me. Five animal friends (a moose, a penguin, a hippo, a kangaroo, and one undefined creature named Uniqua) have adventures in their backyards which morph, Calvin-and-Hobbes-style, into jungles, Egyptian pyramids, medieval castles and so on. The CGI animation is somewhat soulless, but it’s pretty and it works.

The real draw is the music (and the excellent voice acting), which is just superb for a kiddie TV show. They’re incredibly catchy and witty children’s ditties that are the functional equivalent of Broadway showtunes—each song within the show is totally choreographed, with dancing. The songs are thematically coherent for each episode, though they’re not necessarily tailored to the plot; Irish music, for instance, accompanies the Backyardigans on their quest for the perfect cup of tea to Borneo and China (to ask the grumpy emperor for a cup). Across the series, however, the music runs the range from reggae to rockabilly to country to Dixieland to James Brown funk.

Anyhow, I finally got to see the scrolling credits by pausing the DVD (they get reduced to a tiny window when being broadcast), and discovered to my surprise that the list of musicians reads like a Tzadik session roster: Evan Lurie, Doug Weiselman, Greg Cohen, Smokey Hormel, Tony Scherr, Ben Perowsky, Steven Bernstein, Kenny Wollesen… Totally cool. (It’s practically Sex Mob doing the soundtrack!)

Best of all, Izzy gets up out of her chair to dance every time the songs come on! (She already kind of knows the choreography to “Please and Thank You.”)

Up Dharma Down.

In music on April 21, 2006 at 11:48 pm

It’s only April, and I think I already have one of my favorite albums of the year. Up Dharma Down‘s Fragmented is an urban soul chronicle from the streets of Manila, both tense and laid back, full of nervous energy one moment and suffused with post-club comedown the next.

I still remember the first time I saw the video for the fantastic first single, “Maybe.” I was idly flipping channels one December night in Los Banos last year when the video came on, and I was transfixed by its evocation of claustrophobia, as the camera followed a near-hysterical woman pacing inside a hotel room, then down a narrow stairwell, tear-smeared mascara on her face.

But it was, of course, the music which kept me glued to the TV: an insistent, propulsive reverbed guitar riff; a skittering, distorted “Amen” break; a bass line turned up way high in the mix; and that voice which stretched “Maybe” into 27 different syllables. (I had to grab paper and pen to scribble down the name of the band; alas, their album wasn’t coming out until a few months later, as the kind women at Odyssey and Tower Records had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.)

The rest of the album doesn’t quite approach the succinct drama of “Maybe,” but it’s quite strong nevertheless, and I suspect more songs will float their way to the top as the year proceeds… I can’t wait to see them live.

I've Since Started Using Skype, But This Is Pretty Bizarre.

In Pinoy on April 20, 2006 at 7:48 pm

Purchased at the Russian-owned convenience store next to my place in San Francisco:



In Pinoy on April 19, 2006 at 12:00 am

I figure this is just about the earliest reference I could possibly find, way earlier than either Marlon Brando or Steve Martin — here’s William Stewart, a Republican Senator from Nevada, in a speech in June 1900 attacking the anti-imperialists as the Filipino American War raged on (quoted in Kristin Hoganson’s Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars):

We would suggest to the enthusiastic objectors who compare the guerrilla warrior of Luzon to the immortal Washington, that their language would be more accurate if they would compare [General Emilio] Aguinaldo to Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Old Cochise, or some other celebrated Indian warrior whose exploits in the recent past surpass in gallantry the wily little Filipino.

It's Not Me.

In Uncategorized on April 18, 2006 at 12:21 am

For some reason I’ve been receiving links to this article, sent to me by friends who invariably write, “This reminds me of you.” (I don’t have to click on the URL anymore. I recognize it already.) It’s actually a rather terrible article, which consists mostly of an enumeration of various brand names, a poor attempt at a neologism, and a profile of what sounds like the most terribly self-absorbed young white New Yorkers.

But let me make something clear:

People! It’s not me.

I own exactly one pair of sneakers — actually, they’re running shoes I haven’t used in a while, so they don’t count. (Though I’d have to say that there are these S. Carters which look really nice.)

I do not own any designer jeans. Every now and then I pop into Ross and mutter to myself, No wonder these jeans are at Ross.

Unlike many of my other colleagues, I actually wear suits to work.

I do not have any hedge funds, or any money to put in one, whatever the hell a hedge fund is.

I do not know how to skateboard, or snowboard, nor do I have the desire to ever be on one, or, quite frankly, to hang out with thirtyish-year olds who do. Some of you already know how I feel about sports (unless it’s Izzy playing): I can’t think of anything more boring.


In Pinoy on April 11, 2006 at 8:27 pm

A lesson learned: Never, ever deliver a conference paper when you’ve only had four hours of sleep in the last 48 hours. I was supposed to deliver the paper below:

In this paper, I explore performance and improvisation among Filipino overseas musicians. In 2003, over 58,000 Filipinos were scattered worldwide in nightclubs and hotel lounges; however, the majority of people who migrate as Overseas Performing Artists (OPAs) travel to work in Japan. OPA is, in this instance, a euphemistic, bureaucratic category that denotes the sex trade, and comprises the crucial distinction between Filipinos working in Japan and those elsewhere working as more professional musicians.

Despite such differences, I argue that the practices of performance and improvisation, both as musical activities and as metaphors for everyday migrant life, link both kinds of OPAs. In my interviews, OPA returnees constantly spoke of a spontaneous and naturally Filipino ability to imitate. This imitative performance, however, did not allow for musical improvisation; they were limited to learning and mimicking particular idioms from a globally shared musical repertoire.

Such practices, I argue, parallel the relationship between state and individual. One can see performance and improvisation as strategies utilized to compete with restrictive migration policies, to evade state surveillance, or, more ordinarily, to resist drunken customers. As an economic strategy, migration also exemplifies a kind of adaptability, also directly related to improvisation or imitation.

My paper is also a critique of government policies that enable, if not facilitate, the exploitation of migrant labor. Simultaneously, through emphasis of migrant practices, I treat OPAs as rational and creative actors, incessantly performing and improvising, even if constrained by the regulations of the state and the demands of capital.

Et cetera, et cetera, until I realized that it had ballooned into an unmanageable 30 pages when it was still only really halfway done and I had to boil it down to about 7 pages for the presentation. So I painfully hacked off the entire “improvisation” section, threw out all the lovely ethnographic detail and whatnot, including a “thick description” of a performance of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head,” and came up with 6 pages. All of this surgery done the night before I was to teach three classes and hop on a redeye from SF. Not good. (Thankfully a MARTA ride from the airport to Buckhead was only $1.75.)

So I gave my talk — my fellow panelists’ papers on Filipino Americans in post-war Filipino cinema, the Black-Eyed Peas’ “The Apl Song” video, and Jessica Hagedorn’s Dream Jungle (plus a big helping of Baudrillard) were far more interesting than mine — and had to run off with Izzy to the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, which was only really okay. (It was too late to get tickets to the aquarium.) Izzy really liked the Rube Goldberg-like contraption which, among other things, made it possible for you to drop wet balls onto unsuspecting people’s noggins. Nothing like wet balls. (Okay — the first person to tell me which John Irving novel that comes from wins… well, nothing.) I missed everything else on Saturday, since I spent most of the day zonked with Izzy, but that was fine.

None of the pictures you see here were posted with anyone’s permission, but I’ll be happy to take them offline.

The 40-plus folks who ended up congregating in front of the hotel were then organized and split by Rick, who we see conducting the orchestra here:

The heat lamps reminded him of the tropics — or, in a reference to Allan’s forthcoming book, American Tropics. (We heard the phrase “American tropics” used a lot throughout the conference, just like the phrase “basketball court” — but youngsters may be reading this, so I won’t explain it.)

About half of the crowd. Martin’s in a silly mood:

Half went to a Hawaiian fusion food restaurant, which was the wise choice. “I didn’t go all the way to Atlanta to eat Hawaiian food,” said Theo, who ended up going with us to the jaw-droppingly expensive Brazilian restaurant where you could eat (as Theo said later), “the entire cast of The Lion King on skewers.”


I can’t find my photo of Gladys’ neater plate (she was sitting next to me).

I can’t remember the exact context for this picture, but here it is, preserved for posterity:

Later, at the hotel lobby, the sated Filipinos, fueled by beer, vodka tonics and Brazilian cremes de menthe, regrouped — Kiko, Lucy, Rick, Liz, Theo, Robyn, Linda floating in and out (her book just came out), and I can’t remember who else right now — where discussion ensued: somewhat lurid talk with Tony (his co-edited book just came out too), the Manila music scene, rather tame AAS gossip, and Rex Navarrete. (Someone explained their discomfort at his humor, saying that he was essentially making fun of the working-class generation of her immigrant parents. This is not an incorrect observation, and his more recent enthusiastic reception in Manila by the well-heeled suggests, I think, a decidedly classist tinge to all the laughter at the declassed middle class and lower-middle class Filipinos who followed the doctors and engineers to American shores.)

Anyhow, the next day we had our Filipino caucus, where we discussed our Plans to Take Over The World. But outside the meeting room, I figured we had a bit of a way to go:

Belle and Sebastian / The New Pornographers, Design Concourse, SF, 3/21/06.

In music on April 1, 2006 at 4:35 pm

The Belle and Sebastian set kind of peaked early for me; the first song was just perfect — Stuart Murdoch, acoustic guitar, and “Stars of Track and Field.” I could have gone home at that point. But instead I was treated to almost two hours of twee. Murdoch and Stevie Jackson’s almost cringingly unselfconscious dancing were, in retrospect, perfect for all the lovable geekery on display. You almost wanted to give them a hug.

Here’s the setlist, swiped from someone’s hard work at a fan forum:

Stars of Track and Field
Another Sunny Day
If You’re Feeling Sinister
Funny Little Frog
Sukie in the Graveyard (about a woman who went to the SF Art Institute? Or so Stuart said)
Song for Sunshine
Electronic Renaissance (“That sounded quite ’80s, didn’t you think?”)
The Fox in the Snow (a little too intimate a song for such a large and ugly venue)
She’s Losing It
Piazza, New York Catcher (the SF crowd ate this one up, what with all the City references)
Your Cover’s Blown
We Are the Sleepyheads
Jonathan David (plus they pulled up some lucky woman to do an “interpretive dance” for this one)
Dog on Wheels
I’m A Cuckoo (with lots of blinding spotlights)
White Collar Boy (this was great live)
Judy and the Dream of Horses
Simple Things
The Boy with the Arab Strap

I would have loved to hear “Woman’s Realm” or “”The State I’m In” or Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying” (you can see I’m something of an old-school B&S fan here), but I can’t complain.

But let’s rewind about two and a half hours earlier to the opening act The New Pornographers, who were simply fantastic. (This was when I was still a third of the way in, but moved back to see my friends L&J at the soundboard when people inexplicably started pushing.) I think in the general scheme of musical things I enjoy them more; I’m a powerpop fiend at heart. I think the New Pornographers are Bejarless and Caseless this tour, which means, unfortunately, no songs with vocals stretched to the breaking point like the awesome “Letter from an Occupant.” Kathryn Calder handled the singing well, though, particularly on “The Laws Have Changed.”

The set began with “Use It,” and even this early on the crowd was already pogoing. A few songs from each of their three albums (plus “Graceland” from the Matador comp) made it into the set, including (yay!) “From Blown Speakers” and “The Slow Descent into Alcoholism,” ending their too-short portion of the concert with “Sing Me Spanish Techno.”

(A fairly similar version of the concerts, from a Washington, D.C. date, can be downloaded from NPR.)

A Peek.

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2006 at 10:12 am

Breaking blog silence — I’ve just been incredibly busy — with a list of the blog entries coming up, whenever I get to them:

- the coolest band in all of Japan right now , TsuShiMaMiRe (J-Lu will have to disagree, but more about that later; suffice it to say that I gave in to my deepest fanboy impulses)
- another OPM album roundup (including words on the coolest band in all of the Philippines right now, Junior Kilat, and the disappointing Ultraelectromagneticjam)
- book-making (where the V-Monster and I think of ways to justify taking a class)
- the coolest band in all of Canada right now, The New Pornographers
- and how I wish I could say that Belle and Sebastian were the coolest band in all of Scotland right now, but that honor goes to Teenage Fanclub
- all about ATL (but Gladys already beat me to the punch)
- Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s wonderful Cafe Lumiere
- Nobuhiro Yamashita’s joyous Linda Linda Linda
- and tonight, barring sickness, traffic, bad weather, etc., I get to become a fanboy again by hearing Luisa Igloria read her poetry

But I have an ever-growing stack of papers and exams to grade, another conference in a week, taxes to do…

The Sippy Cups, Cafe du Nord, SF, 3/12/2006.

In music on March 13, 2006 at 12:01 am

Great Moment in Rock and Roll #4,382:

The Sippy Cups are a band who has forged a career from astutely figuring out the cosmic link between hippie surrealism and kiddie songs. But it’s not just Pink Floyd’s “Bike” (“Syd must be riding his bike around Cambridge as we speak,” dryly commented the lead singer, Sippy Paul) or “Space Oddity” or “She’s A Rainbow” that gets the Sippy Cups treatment; “Bennie and the Jets,” “Low Rider” and “Drive My Car” (even Elmo has a version of that one) all get trotted out on stage, with a few lyrics tweaked here and there, to the delight of parents and kids alike. (As proof of a similar mindset, the American version of the British-French film The Magic Roundabout, retitled Doogal on these shores, expunged the Kylie Minogue theme song and replaced it with Pilot’s “Magic” and the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.”)

But I digress: the Great Moment in Rock and Roll #4,382 occurs about halfway through the set. The crowd of four to six year-olds up front and center — hydrated by the juice boxes from the bar (Dad had his pint of Sierra Nevada), overstimulated by the lights and colorful costumes, entranced by Sippy Doug’s juggling clown off to one side, perhaps a little sweaty and exhausted after trying to catch the big soap bubbles floating in the air — are all geared up and excited. One of the singers, Sippy Alison, asks the audience if they want “a Velvet Underground sing-along” (this is “Who Loves The Sun”) or “to jump around to the Ramones.” There are various yells from the audience, and the singer says, “Sounds like you want the Ramones.”

The drums kick in, that primitivist, elemental rhythm at 176 beats per minute. Sippy Paul crouches near the front of the stage: “I’m going to give you some vowels here, and you have to repeat them after me, okay? A! O!”

The kids shout, “A! O!” (The adults are grinning, because they know what will happen next, “Hey! Ho!” or not.)

Sippy Paul: “A! O! Let’s go!”

The kids: “A! O! Let’s go! A! O! Let’s go! A! O! Let’s go!”

And then Sippy Paul yells into the mic: “Now jump around!”

The kids go absolutely nuts. The band launches into “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and it’s as if someone pulled an electric switch and zapped the crowd. I don’t think there isn’t a single kindergartener on the floor in front of me that isn’t jumping around like little Tasmanian devils, flailing with total lack of restraint. Over by the moshpit at the front of the stage I see my daughter Izzy’s pigtails flying. The sheer energy of the moment is exhilarating, as if the kids all understood, on some deeper level, the thrill of collective abandon, of the primal joy of rock and roll made harder, louder, faster. The kids are alright indeed.

Dengue Fever, 12 Galaxies, SF, 3/11/06.

In music on March 12, 2006 at 9:30 am

Somehow I managed to wriggle myself into the fifth row of Dengue Fever’s concert last night. This was after I a) had abandoned friends up in the mezzanine, who had thought it was going to be too cramped, and b) was abandoned by other friends (including Special K) who were simply too wasted to make it through a set that didn’t begin until midnight. (This was the result of Laszlo plus that bar next door, where Barbara Boxer apparently gave a speech a few minutes before we arrived.)

So it’s official: Dengue Fever is the coolest band in America. They got the “hit” out of the way first (“Ethanopium,” a cover from the Ethiopiques series, which made it onto the Broken Flowers soundtrack), then proceeded to unspool a setlist from their two excellent albums (including “Lost in Laos,” a rockin’ “Sni Bong,” “We Were Gonna,” “Flowers,” “Escape from Dragon House,” “Made of Steam,” “Shave Your Beard,” and Ros Serey Sothea’s “I’m Sixteen” for the encore). It would be pointless to argue that the band’s charm didn’t primarily come from Chhom Nimol’s impressive vocal range (and stage presence), but that would be to discount the limber Farfisa, sax and surf guitar-fueled groove laid down by the band. Their album from last year, Escape from Dragon House, is an amazing, heady, utterly unique swirl of music whose cultural influences are deliciously difficult to parse. In concert, Dengue Fever transforms that mix into a clear imperative: you have to dance.

"People Power Fatigue."

In Pinoy on March 8, 2006 at 11:25 pm

There is no better illustration, I think, of how GMA’s KarlRovean tactic — of equating any sort of dissent with “destabilization” — has been parroted by both (alas) members of the media and the academe, than by the constant repetition of the catchphrase “people power fatigue.” I read it as glib pseudo-sociological shorthand that both legitimates and reproduces acquiescence to GMA’s vision of “order.” Such “fatigue” is clearly contradicted by the mass demonstrations held both in Manila and in the provinces, both now and during the Hello Garci scandal (to name just two instances). The phrase — an easy journalistic entree into understanding Those Wacky Filipinos — (un)wittingly pathologizes opposition as being harmful to the body of the nation; it is “gulo,” after all, and “gulo” apparently must be quelled through preemptive strikes.

Perhaps GMA herself said it best in her radio announcement proclaiming the “lifting” of 1071, when she thanked the Filipino people “who understand that the best way to a bright future is through hard work, not taking to the streets.”

(Actually, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has an even better quote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

“I think it has some sobering effect,” Gonzalez said when asked whether PP 1017 had been effective when applied to the media.

“Even the most critical media had started to reexamine their policies,” he said, adding that PP 1017, like all laws, had the effect of “sowing fear” among the people.)

Meanwhile, here’s something backchanneled to me, and I’ll let the unnamed person have the last word anyway:

as far as i am concerned, my wish is to see every demonstrator on EDSA arrested for destabilizing the Philippine economy. they have no viable replacement for GMA and they are making the philippines an undesirable place for any sort of investment. what alternative do the demonstrators have in mind? another “free election?” none of the street actions have, in any way, shape, or form brought a solution to the increasing gap between those who have and those who don’t.

randy a martyr? good lord, after his support for Erap? while i am not an admirer of GMA, neither am i a fan of a loose coalition of FVR, Erap and FPJ sycophants, Marcos loyalists, Utrecht puppets, and glib neo-leftists. and that aquino widow should use her time putting some sense into her talentless daughter’s brain before she wastes her energies on EDSA.

also, instead of focusing on that entire Garci incident, maybe those demonstrators should begin by locking up every member of the Marcos family and administration and making them accountable for what the Philippines has become today.

The SFIAAFF / J-Town.

In sine on March 6, 2006 at 5:35 pm

So here are the films I’ll be watching (or think you folks should check out) at the SF International Asian American Film Festival, given my limited time in SF (I have to be in Atlanta for a conference):

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Cafe Lumiere (2004).

My friend Jack’s Mom said, “Isn’t that that Taiwanese filmmaker who made that really really slow movie?” and proceeded to describe Tsai Ming-Liang’s What Time Is It There? No, I said, that’s another really really slow Taiwanese filmmaker. (I don’t mind slow, honest.) It’s going to be awesome, though; I’ll be watching Tokyo Story again for this one.

Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Linda Linda Linda (2005).

Read that synopsis! How could you not want to watch it? (I’ll be pulling out my Blue Hearts CDs for that one!)

Richard Wong’s Colma: The Musical (2005).

And my apologies to H.P. Mendoza, writer, musician and actor who has publicly shamed me, ha ha, for forsaking Colma: The Musical for the Belle and Sebastian / New Pornographers concert that same night, though he apparently skipped his mom’s funeral for a Ben Folds Five concert. I honestly hope it was worth hearing “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” live. And my apologies in advance to L.A. Renigen, whom I think I’ve never met or been in contact with, but whose cousin is currently a student in my class and has asked me whether I’m watching her cousin’s movie. I’m sorry, I said with a wince, realizing that this was at least the second time I had to explain myself after a colleague hassled me about not watching the film especially since I actually work on Daly City. But… but… Belle and Sebastian!

Jeff Adachi’s The Slanted Screen (2005).

The director, Jeff Adachi, came by the office last week with a stack of flyers to promote the film. It sure sounded great (he came by the same week I had just shown Deborah Gee’s 1988 documentary Slaying the Dragon for the 431st time, not that that’s a bad thing). (I also did a double-take, because I recognized his name and face but figured there was no way he was that same Jeff Adachi I was thinking of. He was.)

Speaking of people wandering into my office, Aaron Kitashima (who is one of our majors, who did indeed wander into my office, and, who I just realized, is the grandson of Sox Kitashima!) has been circulating an online petition on the sale of properties in San Francisco’s Japantown, which is currently nearing 15,000 signatures. More signatures will help; more information through an SF Bay Guardian article, here.

Stereolab, The Fillmore, SF, 3/4/06.

In music on March 5, 2006 at 3:00 am

The best reason to see Stereolab in concert is that they rock live. This was not what I expected from the band who overall has deviated little from the two-chord, vintage-organ, pop wonders they’ve churned out; when I last saw them on the Dots and Loops tour, their live sound is more aggressive, with the drums higher up in the mix. The emphasis was more on the groove; most people could have very easily danced, except that they chose to hold their beers and dance the indie-concert shuffle.

Last night’s excellent concert was no exception, with a setlist mostly taken from the new Fab Four Suture album. (Although not my favorite track from the collection, “Kyberneticka Babicka Pt. 1!”) The “groop’s” playing was remarkably tight, with Laetitia Sadier receiving much appreciation from the audience. (Projected on the back screen were film loops reminiscent of Brakhage and Harry Smith.) The band started off with “Miss Modular,” threw in a surprise “Pack Yr Romantic Mind,” finished the set with “Cybele’s Reverie,” and then played perhaps my favorite Stereolab track (other than “Pinball”), “Outer Bongolia,” which descended into a whirlpool of squelchy, droney noise. (Mary Hansen’s vocals were sadly missed; in my head I kept filling in the background harmonies.)

(Unfortunately I missed almost of Hot Chip’s set; I really wanted to hear “Playboy.” Hot Chip was even goofier and unfunkier in person.)

Robert Pollard, The Independent, SF, 2/25/06.

In music on February 26, 2006 at 10:55 am

Random notes:

1. This will sound blasphemous, but Uncle Bob was not in the greatest form last night. An hour into the concert, Pollard was already slurring his speech, staggering around on stage (and later, would forget the lyrics to “Don’t Stop Now” at the encore) — a result, perhaps, of the many Bud Lights and swigs of tequila (and a puff on a joint from an audience member). This didn’t keep him from the flying kicks though.

2. Though the band certainly was in fantastic form: tighter, louder, more aggressive — and as Pollard himself kept repeating throughout, “more professional.” (After all, Tommy Keene was playing lead guitar and keyboards, and Jon Wurster from Superchunk was behind the drums.)

3. I was also, unbelievably, falling asleep! (This may be a combination of 5 hours’ sleep plus various other things I won’t name.) This was in contrast, I think, to the 1-2-3 punch of Guided By Voices concerts of old, where the hits kept on coming; the set (which was over 2 hours) more or less meandered through From a Compound Eye. (The album itself is worth checking out, but the sheer quantity of songs has made it difficult to remember most of them; the excellent live versions of the 5-minute epic “Conqueror of the Moon” and “U.S. Mustard Company” made me want to listen to the originals again.)

4. The High Strung was excellent: melodic power-pop nuggets in longer twisty musical suite wrappers. (Sorry, I can’t think of another way to say it.) Plus a hilarious story about Arby’s-related diarrhea.

5. “We’re not playing ‘Echos Myron.’ No ‘Echos Myron.’ Fuck ‘Echos Myron’ fans. That’s right, boo me.”

6. “Did I say Liz Phair was an attractive woman?”

7. After long solos on (I think) “The Kingdom Within:” “That was our ‘jam.’ We did it because we’re in San Francisco.”

8. And so we finally got to the encore (“This is the GBV set,” Pollard said) which comprised, in no order: “Sad If I Lost It,” “Girls of Wild Strawberries,” “Get Under It” (I think), “Game of Pricks,” “My Kind of Soldier,” “The Brides Have Hit Glass” (a surprise), “Choking Tara,” “Little Lines,” “My Valuable Hunting Knife” and (best of all) “Gold Star for Robot Boy.”

9. The funniest part was one of the new T-shirts on sale, with a really cool Terry Gilliam-style image on the front. And on the back: “Gang of Four – $45 / The Pixies – $60 / Robert Pollard – priceless.”


In Pinoy on February 24, 2006 at 1:09 pm


To all community allies and supporters of the Filipino people:

From Baghdad to the Philippines…State of National Emergency and Daylight Curfews only means that people’s international resistance is growing around the world against repressive governments and U.S. military intervention and occupation. Join actions in the U.S today condemning Philippine president Gloria Arroyos’ Proclamation 1017–another desperate step to cling onto power through using increased political repression and state terror against the people.


BAYAN-USA Urgent Actions in the U.S. today!

Oust GMA Rally and march to Philippine Consulate
4 pm Assemble Powell and Market in downtown San Francisco
March up Powell to Consulate on Sutter

Join Filipino New Yorkers in condemning the fascist Arroyo regime!
5 pm – Friday February 24, 2006
Philippine Consulate in NY

Condemn State of Emergency and Oust GMA
12 pm Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan USA Chapter declares overall failure and disgrace of the Arroyo government as the Real State of National Emergency which cannot stop third People Power ouster!

From across the ocean and within the borders of the U.S., BAYAN-USA proudly stands with with thousands of Filpinos in the streets of Ayala and EDSA yesterday on the 20th Anniversary of the first People Power ouster of Dictator Ferdinand Marcos. We condemn in fullest terms Gloria Arroyo’s Proclomation 1017 of a National State of Emergency which is short of declaring martial law and the first step towards authorizing warrantless arrests, media takeover, dispersal of people’s assemblies and systematic suppression of the Filipino people’s right to participate in collective actions that go against Arroyo’s wish to stay in power.

The Filipino peoople know that the real State of National Emergency started when GMA took office from the ousted Joseph Estrada in 2001. This latest crisis development reveals more than she can hide about her crisis-ridden and crumbling adminstration. GMA’s desperate measures come after a preventable mudslide which killed more than 1500 in Leyte last week. She is responsible for Human Rights Violations worse than the declared years of Martial Law under Marcos. She has orchestrated a full blown economic crisis burying the country in billions of dollars of foreign debt. Worst of all, she continues to cling to power, holding on to a presidency discredited with election fraud while escaping democratic impeachment.

Since she assumed the presidency, BAYAN-USA has participated in international actions called by the growing People Power 3 movement in the Philippines. Yesterday’s People Power anniversary and OUST actions are the result of escalating outrage from under poverty level wages, joblessness, homelessness, high gas prices, the burden of value added taxes on basic commodities and the failure to bring justice for the gang rape of a Filipina woman by U.S Marines. There is nothing spontaneous or surprising from the people’s louder voices of dissent which represent a courageous anti-fascist stand. We recognize the most powerful way to honor the People Power Anniversary is to continue the struggle against fascism in the brutal form of the Bush loyal GMA regime.

There will be no denying People Power 3! Calibrated Preemptive Response (CPR), state sponsored terrorism and political killings in the Philippines, undeclared martial law and even arms and training by U.S. troops in the Philippines will never quell the people’s resistance and will for national liberation and democracy and a just and lasting peace. We call on the U.S and governments around the world to withdraw support to the Arroyo government which proved to be best in stealing, lying and cheating rather than governing the nation towards genuine progress and democracy.


For more information, contact Kawal Ulanday at 510-914-4461.


Plus, a comparison of Macapagal-Arroyo’s and Marcos’s proclamations, 34 years apart.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez discusses the government’s principle of “declare martial law state of emergency, show the evidence later:”

“We will offer that at the proper time,” Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said when asked what proof Malacanang had to back Ms Arroyo’s allegation of an unholy alliance among her political opponents, soldiers and the communist New People’s Army.

Calibrated action

“This is no time for proving,” Gonzalez added. “Go to the Supreme Court. Question this and we will offer the proof.”

“What am I to prove to you? You are not the court,” he said in reply to an Inquirer question.

“Warrantless arrests.” “Illegal assembly.” “Inciting sedition.” And from Macapagal-Arroyo’s proclamation: “WHEREAS, the claims of these elements have been recklessly magnified by certain segments of the national media…” — is this assertion what prompted this? Smells like 1972 to me.

Some Random Notes.

In Uncategorized on February 19, 2006 at 10:53 am

1. Nothing more chilling than the words “No survivors had been found.”

2. In the mail the other day: So how many teacher-bloggers out there can say they’ve held a book — an award-winning book, at that — written by one of their former students? Oh yes. That’ll be me.

3. How much it costs to bring entertainers to your school. Built To Spill (and Lisa Loeb) are relative bargains at $5-7.5K, Rilo Kiley is predictably more expensive at $15K, and then you move up to the big leagues (Kanye West at $150K, Dave Chappelle at a whopping $250K). But Smashmouth charges $65K? Third Eye Blind goes for $50-75K? David Spade is a full $50K more expensive than David Cross?

4. Also in the mail the other day: a Rival Crock Pot slow cooker. I can’t wait to use it.

5. And one of my favorite films of all time is finally out on DVD.

6. Speaking of films, tickets for the 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival will be going on sale tomorrow. Alas, I’m going to be in Atlanta for most of the filmfest (so will a whole bunch of my department colleagues), and so I’ll be missing some great-looking ones, like Samuel Fuller’s The Crimson Kimono, which will also feature Arthur Dong interviewing James Shigeta, and Richard Wong’s Colma: The Musical (confession: I’m seeing Belle & Sebastian and The New Pornographers that night). But I do have my eyes set on Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Cafe Lumiere (finally!) and Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Linda Linda Linda.

7. Plus videos for a bunch of my favorite songs of last year:

- Kitchie Nadal’s “Wag Na Wag Mong Sasabihin”
- HALCALI’S “Strawberry Chips” (be sure to check out the videos for “Baby Blue” and “Giri Giri Safuraida” as well — they’re priceless)
- Sleater-Kinney’s “Jumpers”
- Teenage Fanclub’s “Ain’t That Enough”
- The Pillows’ “Hybrid Rainbow”
- Rilo Kiley’s “Portions for Foxes”
- Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”
- Ryan Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up”
- The Polyphonic Spree’s “Light and Day”

- and one of my favorite bands ever, the Eraserheads, with their video for “Para Sa Masa,” directed by my porn-lovin’ cousin.

You Want More Pointless Lists?

In music on February 18, 2006 at 3:01 pm

Favorite Release from Every Year Since 1970:

1970: The Beatles, Let It Be
1971: Pink Floyd, Meddle
1972: Stevie Wonder, Talking Book
1973: Paul Giovanni, The Wicker Man
1974: Tom Waits, The Heart of Saturday Night
1975: Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run
1976: Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life
1977: Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True
1978: The Police, Outlandos d’Amour
1979: The Clash, London Calling
1980: The English Beat, I Just Can’t Stop It
1981: The Police, Ghost in the Machine
1982: Roxy Music, Avalon
1983: U2, War
1984: The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow
1985: The Cure, The Head on the Door
1986: Anita Baker, Rapture
1987: 10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe
1988: Pixies, Surfer Rosa
1989: Pixies, Doolittle
1990: Yo La Tengo, Fakebook
1991: Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend
1992: My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
1994: Guided by Voices, Bee Thousand
1995: Eraserheads, Cutterpillow
1996: Guided by Voices, Under the Bushes under the Stars
1997: Teenage Fanclub, Songs from Northern Britain
1998: Puffy, JET CD
1999: Tom Waits, Mule Variations
2000: Guided by Voices, Hold on Hope
2001: Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)
2002: Puffy, Nice.
2003: Dengue Fever, Dengue Fever
2004: Kanye West, The College Dropout
2005: Robert Pollard, Zoom


1987 was hard, what with “The Joshua Tree,” “Sign o’ the Times,” Alex Chilton’s “High Priest,” “Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me” and “Franks Wild Years” being released that year as well.

1989 also saw “3 Feet High and Rising” and “Cosmic Thing.”

1992: an easy choice, but “Slanted and Enchanted,” Bettie Serveert’s “Palomine,” Guided By Voices’ “Propeller” and Luna’s “Lunapark” came out that year too. What a year.

1993: narrowly beating out “Rid of Me,” “Frosting on the Beater” and Yo La Tengo’s “Painful.” Another amazing year.

1994: same year as “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” and “Fumbling towards Ecstasy.”

1995: same year as “Alien Lanes” and “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?”

1997: easy pick again, but it meant “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One,” “Ok Computer” and “Mag Earwhig” had to fall by the wayside.

I usually listen to music way after the critics have picked them on top 10 lists and so on, so 2005 will probably change.

I should also add that these albums aren’t necessarily my favorites from their respective artists; “The Unforgettable Fire” (U2) and “Reggatta de Blanc” (The Police) are my favorites, but both were released during years crowded with talent.

Also, interestingly, only 14 of the 35 albums above were listened to by me the same year they came out. Obviously I wasn’t listening to Pink Floyd when I was a year old, but the majority of the list are belated discoveries. Exactly three were purchased the day they were released (Waits, West and Pollard).

Letter by Letter.

In music on February 17, 2006 at 1:33 pm

(I’m giving myself exactly ten minutes to do this, then it’s back to work.)

Favorite songs, with titles beginning with each letter of the alphabet:

A – “Alapaap,” Eraserheads
B – “Barnaby, Hardly Working,” Yo La Tengo
C – “Crazy for You,” Madonna
D – “Desperado,” The Langley Schools Music Project
E – “Echos Myron,” Guided By Voices
F – “Fourth of July,” Galaxie 500
G – “Girlfriend,” Matthew Sweet
H – “Here Comes The Sun,” The Beatles
I – “In My Life,” The Beatles
J – “Jockey Full of Bourbon,” Tom Waits
K – “Kid Charlemagne,” Steely Dan
M – “More Than This,” Roxy Music
N – “Never Let Me Down Again,” Depeche Mode
O – “Ooo Baby Baby,” Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
P – “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” The Smiths
Q – “Queen of Cans and Jars,” Guided By Voices
R – “Regret,” New Order
S – “September Gurls,” Big Star
T – “Thunder Road,” Bruce Springsteen
U – “Under the Surface,” Bettie Serveert
V – “Valentine’s Day,” Bruce Springsteen
W – “Wonderwall,” Oasis
X – “XXX,” Helium
Y – “You’re The Best Thing,” Style Council
Z – “Ziphim,” Masada


Willie Nelson, The Fillmore, SF, 1/26/06.

In music on February 15, 2006 at 11:20 pm

The musical world just became a little odder, now that Pansy Division and Willie Nelson are separated by only one degree. Nelson has recorded Ned Sublette’s 1981 song “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other)” — released on iTunes on Valentine’s Day too — apparently as something of a tribute to his tour manager, who came out to Nelson a couple of years ago. (Pansy Division was supposedly the first to cover the song.) The lyrics are funny, but not in a nudge-nudge-wink-wink sort of way (though queer theory folks out there would probably wince a bit); the music itself is played dead sober. (Yes, it looks like he’s jumping on the Brokeback bandwagon, but there’s apparently a song of his on the soundtrack already.)

I wish Willie Nelson had played the song in concert sometime last month at the Fillmore, but no matter. To be in the presence of a real-life, honest-to-goodness Musical Legend (or, as this blogger puts it, “Willie Fucking Nelson!”) was enough; to be reminded of how good a guitar player Nelson is was icing on the cake. And a fantastic songwriter as well: one tends to forget that he actually wrote Patsy Cline’s Greatest Song Ever, perhaps in keeping with the big introductory spiel he received at the beginning of the concert as “the Walt Whitman of our time.” (Hmm — Whitman.) His longtime band, of course, knew the songs inside and out, as road-tested as a band could possibly be, even if they were all blinking through the billowing clouds of weed smoke at the venue.

The highlights of the concert — well, they were all highlights, really — were a kickass “Whiskey River” (at the opening of the set, naturally), a triumphant “City of New Orleans,” and a rollicking version of “The Harder They Come” (“about the Bush administration,” my friend J said). But you can’t go wrong with a set that included “Blue Skies,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Pancho and Lefty,” “Always on My Mind” and “Crazy.”

From Izzy.

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2006 at 7:11 am

Happy Valenstime’s Day!

In Praise of

In music on February 11, 2006 at 6:21 pm

I am absolutely loving I’ve added a “weekly chart” graphic to the bottom right of this webpage, which is precisely what has done for me (for free!) since April 2004: keep track of the 68,800 songs I’ve played (as of today) on my computer. My page tells me, for instance, that Guided By Voices is my top artist (no surprise, with 2,319 plays), and that PUFFY’s “Long Beach Nightmare” is my most-played song (99 times in almost two years). (Though Izzy is actually the one who listens to PUFFY somewhat obsessively, which makes Teenage Fanclub’s “Ain’t That Enough” the highest non-PUFFY song on the list.)

One of the coolest features is radio, which plays songs listened to by your “musical neighbours” — in this case, music that’s already weighted according to your own musical interests. It seems to work a lot better than Pandora‘s somewhat arcane “musical genome” system, as if I listened to, say, Tom Waits for his “repetitive melodic phrasing” and “major key tonality.” Songs kind of function the same way: My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow” gave me Elastica’s “Car Song,” Stereolab’s “Brittle,” and “Falling Back” by California Oranges, which sounded nothing like the previous songs. Pandora wins the interface battle, however, since it uses Flash and plays in your browser., however, gives you more control: you can download plugins for pretty much every major music software program out there, but the player is again a separate download.

And if you’re a subscriber, one of your bonus features is a personal radio — one that plays a random selection of any of the 68,000-odd songs I’ve ever played (provided they’re on’s streaming server). A listen to my own radio was quite satisfying, if a rather schizophrenic one — Augustus Pablo, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Duran Duran, HYDE, Oingo Boingo, Os Mutantes, Warren Miller, Dillinger, Icehouse and PJ Harvey were the first 10 tracks. But one could play, for instance, Largehearted Boy‘s radio, and hear Neko Case, Elf Power, the Continental Co-Ets, Portastatic and Windsor for the Derby, in that order, and get something more stylistically coherent. (J-Lu’s radio yielded Utada Hikaru, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Eraserheads (!), Glay, and L’Arc~en~Ciel; Smoothie’s radio played the Alkaline Trio, HORSE the Band, Interpol, Nine Inch Nails, and the Juliana Theory.)

The “Similar Artists Radio” works pretty successfully too: the “Puffy” radio appropriately plays both sugary-sweet J-pop and J-punk from the Benten label. Typing in “John Zorn” — someone whose work is all over the map — queues up Otomo Yoshihide, Marc Ribot, the Fantomas Melvins Big Band, Ground Zero and Praxis. (Something wrong there, I think, as it represents only a certain aspect of Zorn’s work, but typing in “Masada” got me closer to what I wanted — Wadada Leo Smith, more Ribot, etc.) In an attempt to stump the player, I typed in “Eraserheads,” and it told me that there was not enough content to play this station — though the results happily displayed Siakol, Bamboo, Mayonnaise, and Parokya ni Edgar, among others.

The process isn’t perfect. There are various server outages, which is probably to be expected, given all the data processing going on; the tags are also mostly dependent on the individual playing the music, so improperly-tagged music usually shows up on the site. But it’s a fantastic site nonetheless, and I encourage you folks who use iTunes, or Winamp (or whatever else you use to play music on your computer — I don’t own a stereo, so my computer is it), to download the plugin and get hooked.

Susie Suh, Cafe du Nord, SF, 2/5/05.

In music on February 10, 2006 at 9:30 pm

It’s been a spectacularly shitty week, but at least it began on an extremely high note. Almost on impulse I bought tickets to see Susie Suh perform live at the Cafe du Nord last week, and I was quite impressed. (So was J-Lu, I think, who was kind of dragged to go almost at the last moment.)

I’m only really a casual fan of the women-with-acoustic-guitars genre, but there was something compelling about her 2005 self-titled album that made me take notice. There is nothing necessarily groundbreaking about it — nothing you won’t hear on a Lilith Fair compilation, perhaps, with self-confessional lyrics like “Oh I’m missing you / Or maybe I’m missing who I was when I was with you,” and an urban-glossy production — but there is an autumnal chilll that runs through Suh’s songs that gives the album an edge. Most important, Suh is gifted with an incredible voice, all husky and soulful, which breaks at perfect moments (hear the chorus of “Light on My Shoulder”).

In concert that amazing voice is, unbelievably, even better, now embellished with a slight rawness that fits the emotional intensity of her lyrics. Indeed, the concert was completely stripped down: with her on guitar and vocals and another guy on drums. (You also get the chance to see how fine a guitar player she is.)

To my initial worry, Suh began the short set with four of my favorite songs on the album (“Won’t You Come Again,” “Your Battlefield,” “Harmony,” and “Lucille,” if I remember correctly). But this anxiety was dispelled with a couple of terrific new songs (“Canopy,” probably about her mother, and “Sweet Love,” which began with lines like “Clap your hands if you love someone in this room,” or words to that effect), and a few well-placed surprise covers (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Since I Fell For You,” “Is This Love”). All together a most excellent experience; I highly recommend catching her in concert if she comes by your town.

(As always seems to be the case, I ran into a couple of former students at the concert as well; today Amy and I were pondering the lack of enthusiasm in the crowd, particularly the center. Maybe because it was on Superbowl Sunday night, and there was work the next day…)

Forty Years Ago.

In this damned war on February 1, 2006 at 10:51 am

For tonight, as so many nights before, young Americans struggle and young Americans die in a distant land.

Tonight, as so many nights before, the American Nation is asked to sacrifice the blood of its children and the fruits of its labor for the love of its freedom.

How many times-in my lifetime and in yours-have the American people gathered, as they do now, to hear their President tell them of conflict and tell them of danger?

Each time they have answered. They have answered with all the effort that the security and the freedom of this Nation required.

And they do again tonight in Vietnam.

As the assault mounted, our choice gradually became clear. We could leave, abandoning South Vietnam to its attackers and to certain conquest, or we could stay and fight beside the people of South Vietnam.

We stayed.

And we will stay until aggression has stopped.

– President Lyndon B. Johnson, in his State of the Union Address, January 1966

However, as David Levering Lewis writes (in his New Yorker review of Taylor Branch’s At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68):

Still, [Johnson] confided to one of his generals that he felt “a good deal of ice cracking” under his feet.

Lists of 3.

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2006 at 11:24 pm

So first of all, I owe a tag list to Ktrion, but it’s hard coming up with seven! (I think I owe J-Lu a really long list as well from a few months back.)

So this one‘s from Luna:

Three books I can read over and over:
Well, Izzy’s books, obviously. I don’t think I’ve ever really read anything more than once in my adult life, though I seem to remember reading John Irving’s The World According to Garp twice. And Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

Three places I’ve lived:
- next to a hundred year-old cursed mango tree that was the site of various supernatural manifestations, including balls of fire and a woman in a white robe
- midway up a hill on Buffalo St., one of the steepest streets in Ithaca
- two minutes away from Ocean Beach and Lands’ End

Three TV shows I love:
- Fawlty Towers
- Homicide: Life on the Street
- The Sopranos

Three highly regarded and recommended TV shows that I’ve never watched a single minute of:
- All in the Family
- The West Wing
- Sex and the City

Three places I’ve vacationed:
- a former monastery on the cliff overlooking Amalfi
- a mosquito-infested rocky beach on Puerto Galera
- the Maharajah of Mysore’s former summer palace

Three of my favorite dishes:
See this post.

Three sites I visit daily:
Well, almost daily:
- The New York Times
- The Philippine Daily Inquirer

Three places I would rather be right now:
- Los Banos
- in a villa in Tuscany
- sitting on a sofa, watching TV, eating chips, and drinking beer, with Cate Blanchett

Three bloggers I am tagging:
- the Poeta
- Ktrion
- the V-Monster
(and a fourth: HypoCoffee)

I Am Tiger Woods.

In Uncategorized on January 20, 2006 at 10:06 pm

While I’m a little worried about what happens to the two photographs I uploaded, MyHeritage is a quick laugh, because — well, you can read the lists below for yourself. The free demo software supposedly analyzes your facial features and tells you which celebrities you resemble most:

…the algorithms used by MyHeritage Face Recognition are likely to find relatives of people in your photo, due to the genetic-based facial similarities that exist between relatives. You can use this to form connections between people whom you never even knew were related.

So, in order of facial similarity, these are the people who apparently look like me:

John Williams
Tori Amos
Tiger Woods
Victor Hugo
Liam Neeson
Bill Murray
B.F. Skinner
Peter Kropotkin

A second clearer photo got me this list:

Beyonce Knowles
Sylvia Plath
Wernher von Braun
Jim Carrey
Daniel Radcliffe
Nana Mouskouri
Billy Corgan

Now, if they were dinner guests, that would be another story…

My 1989 Honda Civic, 1995-2006: A Photo Essay.

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2006 at 9:06 pm

Last seen alive three weeks ago; towed this morning; hosted on Flickr. (Don’t view it with the slideshow; you’ll miss the explanatory captions.)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

In sine on January 18, 2006 at 1:25 am

Peter Jackson’s King Kong is grand entertainment in the swashbuckling Saturday matinee B-movie style (not that I saw any of those growing up). It’s also a film that perhaps more explicitly foregrounds the colonial, with knowing nods to Conrad and the historical cinematic / anthropological apparatus. (A poster for Cooper and Schoedsack’s 1927 film Chang appears prominently in the background in an early scene.)

The premise is familiar to everyone: Jack Black plays Werner Herzog, who orders people around to lug his equipment deeper into the jungle — oh wait. Jackson skillfully grounds the film during the Great Depression, with quickly sketched, if sanitized, scenes of hunger and unemployment. It’s a nice contrast to the well-heeled denizens of New York who get swatted around in Times Square near the end of the film. Black and his crew (including the gorgeous Naomi Watts, wonderfully effective in an early scene where she channels her wide-eyed Mulholland Drive performance, plus Adrien Brody as a shanghaied Clifford Odets) head off somewhere in the direction of Indonesia, and end up in a jungly Mordor instead.

It’s not a perfect movie, certainly. It’s too long, for starters, and whatever emotional depth fostered while the cast is still on the ship (showing how everyone falls in love with Watts, basically) is squandered by the long illogical screaming rollercoaster ride in the center. (Illogical because hardly anyone gets injured after being flung, bitten, strangled, swallowed, crushed, machinegunned, dropped, slid, stampeded — you name it. Once you’re wounded, you’re pretty much dead.) At least Jackson is clearly enjoying himself, as in the scenes where Gollum’s head is swallowed by a giant pink leech (J-Lu had her hands over her eyes for that one), or when Kong plays with a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s broken jaw. (Now that I think about it: it’s actually a glimmer of the old Peter Jackson, of Bad Taste and Dead Alive, that we see here.)

In any case the film is a smart illustration, already surely argued elsewhere, of how King Kong was American national psychosexual anxiety writ large, the embodiment of the brute native inhabiting the wild, uncolonized interior. (In fact, we get two gleefully egregious depictions of ooga-booga natives: the first, kissing cousins of the Urok-hai; the second, a hilarious mishmash of just about every Savage in the popular repertoire.) In Jackson’s film the narrative thrust (pardon the pun) is in two parallel directions: the cinematic capture of the unexplored frontier, and the fear — or more precisely, the thrill — of miscegenation.

Of course we know what happens: ape meets girl, girl meets ape, they fall in love, and things end badly. After an unexpectedly touching scene in Central Park (if you’re not rooting for the couple at this point, there’s something wrong with you), Kong and Watts end up climbing the Empire State Building. (It’s significant that Jackson uses a smaller scale in the film; here, Kong is still dwarfed by the New York skyline.) Perilously perched on the phallus of Western capitalism, Kong suffers the consequence of his hubris and impossible love; he must be brought down, aided, in this case, by American military might. For a few tantalizing seconds, we see the devastated blonde hesitate at the precipice — but is rescued by her “real” love. Order has returned.

OPM Roundup, Part One.

In Pinoy on January 15, 2006 at 11:00 pm

Last May it seemed that the two songs that were absolutely inescapable — blaring from jeepney speakers, playing in the background of TV noon time shows or in record stores — were Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” (good) and Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” (terrible). This time around, there were two other songs as well: Orange and Lemons’ “Pinoy Ako [I Am Pinoy],” a fist-pumping, proud-to-be-Filipino pop song that, by all accounts, has served as an unofficial Philippine national anthem. Which is rather ironic (Tagalog readers will relish the lyrics), considering that a) the track was reportedly plagiarized from a song by the Care, circa the early ’80s (check here for details), and b) the song was the theme to the hit TV show Pinoy Big Brother, which, as you can guess, is a Filipino adaptation of the British original. (If you use Firefox you can open the pages above on separate tabs and play the streaming files at the same time.)

At this point it seems unfair to criticize them for taking their name from an XTC album; my favorite Filipino band took its name from a David Lynch film, after all.

The second song also has Filipino connections: the Black-Eyed Peas’ “My Humps,” just about one of the most annoying songs ever. I know it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but still. It’s further proof, unfortunately, of a truth becoming ever clearer, which I hesitate, ever so slightly, to declare publicly, but will do anyway: the Black-Eyed Peas suck.

Anyhow, here is a little roundup of albums I was able to pick up and listen to (either bought or borrowed from my sister):

Barbie Almalbis, The Singles

In the world of one-hit (or one-album) wonders that is the Philippine music market, Barbie Almalbis is already something of a veteran. This compilation includes her work with the Hungry Young Poets as well as with Barbie’s Cradle, and it’s as good a snapshot of sharp ’90s Filipino indiepop as you will get.

Isha, Time and Again

While the clear commercial hook here are the sincere piano-jazz cover versions of ’80s hits — Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” a clumsy version of the Go-Go’s “Head over Heels,” and a lovely reading of my second-favorite Madonna song, “Cherish” — the standouts, interestingly, are the arrangements of some overplayed standards. “I’ll Be Seeing You” is appropriately mournful; “Our Love Is Here To Stay” is turned into a pop torch ballad; “Round Midnight” is a jittery, caffeinated affair, belying the calmness of her vocals. The other half of the album — which makes it rather oddly sequenced — is filled with her own compositions which to my ear sound like “Silent All These Years”-era Tori Amos. Not a plus in my book, but I should listen to them more; songs that reference Milan Kundera can’t hurt. (I still think she should have recorded under her full name, Pearlsha Abubakar.)

Isha, Katakataka

This, however, is the real gem — a delightful and slightly sultry four-song EP of original songs in Tagalog about the things that matter most: love, longing, and the summer breeze.

Juana, Misbehavior

This quartet (two women, two men) plays smart, no-frills power pop; in an ideal world, the first track (“Connected”) would be a Philippine middle-class teen angst anthem, upbeat but full of the burden of unfulfilled expectations. “Reyna ng Quezon City” is even better, kind of like a wiser Tagalog version of J. Lo’s “Waiting for Tonight.”

Rivermaya, Greatest Hits 2005

I’m probably remembering things wrong, but wasn’t there a time when Rivermaya didn’t sound like (or look like) Coldplay? Half the songs on this anthology have those faux-inspirational, hold-your-head-up-high lyrics that U2 should have abandoned twenty years ago; the other half sounds like bad Radiohead — you know, kind of like Coldplay. In a word: insufferable.

The Tilt-Down Men, Together with The Tilt-Down Men

The Tilt-Down Men occupied that space between the British Invasion and AM-radio soft pop; as such, you get the almost requisite covers of songs by the Beatles, the Hollies, the Lettermen and the Bee Gees. The packaging, unfortunately, is quite sparse, and I would have loved to know whether this exemplified what the mainstream “combos” of the late-’60s played. Either way, it’s an early chapter in the fascinating careers of the Sottos; future scholars of the political and cultural dimensions of the Sotto dynasty should take note.

My Friend R.

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2006 at 9:12 pm

I was in fifth grade when I met my friend R. I’m not sure if we ever really hung out, or played the way fifth-grade kids do. He sat somewhere a few seats behind me. I do remember one of my classmates calling him (in English) an ape, which may have had to do with the way he somewhat lumbered around. I can’t imagine R. liking that very much.

It was perhaps in my third year of high school that R. became my friend. He was rather gentlemanly, and a funny if obsessive storyteller, with a good critical eye, as far as kids went, concerning the TV episodes and cartoons he watched. We talked about movies, about The Return of the Jedi, about girls we had crushes on. He had an infectious, neighing laugh, which I heard pretty often over the phone. He was, in short, a seemingly well-adjusted teenager, except for one crucial thing.

Every high school class has its punching bag, the person or group of people who was shat upon mercilessly by everyone. Whether or not you are in the heart of the First World, or in a provincial high school in a small town 90 minutes south of Manila, this miserable person exists. That person was inarguably and indubitably R.

Well, let me rephrase that. It wasn’t exactly “everyone,” but rather, a group of bullies who made life miserable for a sorry few: the nerds, the geeks, the effeminates. (As one of the geeky ones, and the youngest guy in the entire class, I endured countless slaps upside the head, being rubbed with the equivalent of poison oak, and a couple of tosses into a swimming pool and a steel drum full of stagnant, mosquito-infested water, but that was nothing compared to what R. had to go through.)

Individually the bullies weren’t so terrible; collectively, their brand of rambunctiousness (not counting all the people smacked down the chain of command) should have had them locked up: shoplifting bags full of highlighters (which were redistributed during class time, but I wasn’t cool enough to deserve one); chucking a brick into the biology teacher’s aquarium; breaking into the poor agriculture teacher’s office and pissing all over his desk and chair. They were truly a piece of work, these guys; most of them have thankfully mellowed out and have become good fathers. (I should add that at least three of them have turned into surprisingly affable, responsible, and — perhaps most important in the context of this story — genuinely regretful people.)

But back to R. Unfortunately, it only requires a little knowledge of the twisted dynamics of early teenage cruelty to know that R. was more or less earmarked for destruction. He was, for starters, a little on the husky side. He sweated profusely; sometimes he stank. (Sample remark from one of the bullies: “Putang ina, maligo ka ngang baboy ka, ang baho mo! [Son of a bitch, take a bath, you pig, you stink!]“) He was also a lot paler than most of the kids, which made the unsightly rashes and hives on his arms stand out more. Unlike the stereotype of other bullied children, R. did not make up for it with a sharp tongue or spectacular grades; I remember him barely passing his classes. (I suspect he may have had some sort of learning disability — he would tell me about having trouble reading — which couldn’t have endeared him to the teachers at the time.) To make matters worse, his fits of rage were visually spectacular displays of impotence: once the bullies got him going, my friend R. would turn red, with tears and snot smeared on his face, and proceed to launch into a series of inarticulate grunts and howls.

Such a status at the bottom of the hill was not exactly inherent (or, obviously, objective), but the hierarchy of taunts was established fairly early on. His social mobility was fixed, with nowhere to go. Towards the end, once the name-calling had settled into a more stable and finely-honed act of inflicting pain, his weight didn’t matter anymore.

Male circumcision in the Philippines, as it is in many other cultures, is considered a rite of passage. The main difference is that it’s taken fairly seriously as the initial entry into a state of manhood, which means that the operation is performed — if not by the local herbolario with a razor blade who spits chewed guava leaves onto the wound to form a poultice, then at least the local doctor’s clinic — just before the boys hit puberty. (In a neat act of gender inversion, the deskinned boys would wear a skirt for the next few days while their penises healed; skirts were, after all, looser and more comfortable than jeans.)

I’m sure you can tell what would happen next. The story went around that R. was still uncircumcised, and taunts of “supot!” were hurled openly at him — shouted from across the street, yelled from passing jeepneys, scrawled on his notebooks, spread in a whisper campaign to all the girls. (The Tagalog “supot,” with emphasis on the second syllable, means “uncircumcised;” “supot” with the stress on the first syllable means a paper or plastic bag.) It was the perfect insult: no homophobic male teenager would demand proof, much more want to see it, and no self-respecting kid would offer such evidence publicly.

To this day I wonder whether, in high school, I was his only friend. We talked on the phone, maybe for hours at a time, almost every week. And this is what shames me today: I never made this friendship public. I don’t remember ever really standing up for him; sometimes I’d gleefully join in the chants of “supot” from the back of the class. The one time I saw him throw his backpack to the ground, put his fists up, and challenge his antagonist ended badly; he was floored instantly, and pathetically, with one punch. He was left sitting on the ground, with his nose bleeding. I think I may have walked away.

Perhaps my lowest point was joining a “rescue brigade” to which my services were harnessed. For our so-called “Acquaintance Parties,” I and a group of other guys happily volunteered to cut in every time R. would ask a girl to slow-dance. I can’t imagine what it would have been like: to be turned down repeatedly, by girl after girl, until the vastness of the second-year high school conspiracy against his sorry ass was finally fully revealed to him, in all its noxious glory.

Life at home wasn’t any better. From what I was able to piece together from my long conversations with him, R. came from what was almost quaintly called, in those days, as a “broken home.” R. had never seen his father; he had moved out in a fury after his wife cheated on him repeatedly. (His mother had left and was working in a Manila department store.) R. was essentially raised by his grandfather, who was similarly estranged from his wife (though she was living in a separate house in the same compound). He didn’t think much of his younger sister, who he thought had taken his mother’s side because she was living with her in Manila.

I don’t remember his grandfather very clearly, though my folks had had him and R. over for lunch one Saturday at some point. What I seem to remember was that he seemed to have stepped out of some TV advertisement for brandy: the somewhat sleazy older man with coiffed hair, fitted shirt over middle-age spread. Perhaps a gold necklace around his neck. It did not help that his grandfather spent most days sitting in their car parked outside the high school, ready to whisk R. home right after class, ostensibly to protect my friend from the bullies. “Super Lolo to the rescue!” found its way very easily to the list of insults for R. (In fact, if I remember correctly, R.’s grandfather initially didn’t want him chatting on the phone with me, or anyone, for that matter.)

One thing was for sure: he loved his dad, the father that existed only in a faded picture which I only now remember he showed me once. One day he was sporting a new binder or notebook, I forget which — given his bad luck, it probably ended up getting stomped or stuffed down a toilet — and he proudly showed me the Christmas wrapping paper, which he had kept it in the binder for safekeeping. Written on it were words like “I’m proud of you, son! Merry Christmas! Love, Dad;” the gift wrap was heavily creased, as if it had been re-read and re-folded constantly. One other thing was definite: he loved his grandfather, who seemed equally devoted to him.

His dad’s gift made him happy. Most of the time he was not. That laugh of his became rarer and rarer. The beginning of each school day was also the beginning of a constant cycle of taunts and elaborate pranks. Hell was Monday to Friday, a daily journey through a series of predictable torments.

Day after day: The whispers or yells of “supot” behind his back. The contents of his bag, pilfered. His clothes at gym time, thrown into the trash. The food, the garbage, the spit that would end up in his hair or on the back of his shirt. His new backpack, thrown into the urinal. His books, secretly scrawled with insults. He was the guy who ended up somehow getting tied to his chair, the guy whose bag got stuffed with a dead reptile, the guy who got thrown into the swimming pool with all his clothes on, the guy who at first was simian, then porcine, then finally reduced to his foreskin. Even the quiet, mild-mannered boys made fun of him. Even some of the girls.

And night after night: he would call me, and confide in elaborate, loving detail how, John Rambo-style, he would execute his tormentors. The kinds of guns he would buy. The way he would enter the lobby of the high school and proceed up the stairs, past the principal’s office, and turn to the right, and hit the third-year wing. The order of their deaths. And then his fantasy would blow over, and he’d start talking about our high school professors again. But sometimes his anger would be directed toward his mother, who he would calmly (and constantly) call a puta. She was the one, he said, who ruined her marriage; she was the one, he said, who broke up their family.

(I honestly don’t know how I reacted when he would tell me these things. Was I afraid? Did I egg him on? Did I join him in his fantasies? Did I find it boring? As I type this, I realize I can’t remember. I’ve already repressed it.)

I do remember this, though: one day, after a long shouting match with the guy who was Number One on his hit list, my friend R. angrily told him he would actually pay him not to tease him again. Amidst his tears, he then pulled out his wallet and gave Number One a twenty-peso bill. Incredulous, Number One stared at the money, pocketed it, then, with a smile on his face, called R. a faggot, his palm outstretched. (Later we heard that R. ended up giving Number One his entire weekly allowance for at least two weeks.)

One day early in the first semester of 1986, in our fourth year — ah, I can’t remember the details anymore. A bunch of us were standing outside by the flagpole in front of school, and my friend R. had been worked into another one of his rages. Someone from behind me had picked up a rock and lobbed it at R.’s head. It hit him. There he was, blood streaming from his temple and mixing with the tears in his eyes, snot running from his nose. He turned and went across the street, sobbing as he ran, where he flagged down a jeepney. I never saw him again.

I talked to him a few times afterwards, maybe a week later: his grandfather was finally pulling him out, he was thinking of cooling off for a little bit, maybe getting his high school degree somewhere else, apply to college one day. He was still angry, but talk of returning to our school to kill Numbers One to Eight had disappeared. Then I went to college. I never heard from him again. Neither, it seems, did any of my classmates. He had gotten married, he had kids, he finished college, he was running their family’s business, he was as big as a house — all secondhand rumors, all unsubstantiated. No one had seen him. No one even knew if he was still alive. And I completely understand why he wouldn’t want to get in touch with any of us; we were young and stupid, which is still no excuse.

About two years later, after hearing the details from a friend, my mother sat me down and told me R.’s story.

It was apparently common knowledge in our small town, at least among people of a certain generation, and now among my classmates as well, that my friend R. and his sister were the product of an incestuous union between his “grandfather” and his own daughter, R.’s mom. Repeatedly abused, she gave birth to both R. and his sister in turn; disgraced by her pregnancies, she was fired from her job as an elementary school teacher and fled to Manila.

This was the reason why she took R.’s sister with her, for fear that she would be next; this was the reason why the “grandfather” was so protective of R., so that no one could tell him the secret; this was the reason why his grandmother was estranged from her husband. In short, the mother he detested and repeatedly called a whore was perhaps the saddest victim of all; the “grandfather” he adored was a vicious, lying monster; and the “father” he loved — the man who never forgot him on his birthday or on Christmas, the man whose blurred photograph he treasured — was the product of an elaborate, horrible lie.

I was stunned. I was angry. I wanted to strangle that vile insect of a “grandfather” myself. And I was afraid — and was secretly thrilled — of what would happen if — or when — R. found out.

And I wept: I wept for my friend R., for his fucked-up life, for his poor mother. I ask no forgiveness for the casual, oblivious cruelty of my friends and classmates who simply stood by. The people on his hit list have to make their penance some other way. And some friend I’ve turned out to be: a friend in secret, who, like a coward, could not acknowledge this friendship, and now, by telling this story, I’ve betrayed him further.

It’s almost been twenty years to the day since I last saw him. Sometimes I wish his grandfather was long dead; sometimes I wish they had somehow worked things out; sometimes I hope he and his mother have made peace, and that he understands why she did the things she did; sometimes I hope he has a family of his own — or something, anything — to mean that he could start over. Most of the time I hope he’s still laughing that laugh of his.


In Uncategorized on January 9, 2006 at 7:05 pm

I wonder, with just the slightest bit of worry, whether insights into my personality can be gleaned from the fact that Bree Van De Kamp is my favorite Desperate Housewife.


In Uncategorized on January 8, 2006 at 7:08 pm

My mom’s a “villager” — she doesn’t actually call herself that, but it’s what Lemax Christmas Village nuts call themselves, apparently. I’m not even sure how she got started on it, but a few years, hours of eBay trawling (on my and Bulletproof Vest’s part), a few tons of styrofoam, and many balikbayan boxes later, the result can be seen here.

I don’t have a tripod, so my photographs aren’t that great, though I have to say the blur sometimes works. (My brother and his friend Cathy are better at it, so I’m hoping they upload theirs at some point.) But on my Flickr set you don’t get that many details, including the styrofoam tunnel (complete with icicles), and the few dozen other buildings. However, you do get an accidentally blurry shot of the mayor coming down the steps of City Hall shot from, say, a helicopter; it reminded me somehow of a Gerhard Richter painting, so that’s why I chose it as the graphic above.


In Uncategorized on January 5, 2006 at 12:51 am

Even a relatively “politically incorrect” feller like me doesn’t think this is very funny — check out Vanessa Au’s recent blog entry about some T-shirts at Spencer Gifts (possibly at a mall near you).

In any case, I can’t imagine the species of loser that would actually wear a hat like this. (I’d upload the photo here, but 28.8k dialup is a drag.)

My Cousin, the Pornographer.

In Pinoy, sine on January 4, 2006 at 4:08 am

The photograph, taken by cell phone, shows my cousin Rico’s head, diagonally entering the frame from one side. He is his usual baby-faced, slightly chubby self, his hair tousled as always, his face serious but betraying the slightest hint of a grin. (He was always a bit of a goof anyhow; a few minutes before he was gleefully lifting up his T-shirt to show his large gut and the bandages from his recent gallbladder operation.)

Behind Rico is a green pool. In it are about eight naked, wet, and glistening women in an almost unrecognizable tangle of limbs. None of them are looking at the camera, for they are concentrating on each other. One woman has her head buried between another woman’s naked breasts.

“This is my work,” Rico said.

The photograph, he explains at our family’s Christmas party, was taken on the set of Sex Guru 2. “We made Sex Guru 2 because, well, there was Sex Guru 1,” he said. Sex Guru 1 apparently had the honor of being the #1 best-selling DVD at Tower Records for a while, and so a sequel came naturally.

My cousin Rico is a pornographer. This is not what he has always wanted to do for a living, but, he hastens to add, it’s his bread and butter.

I had more or less grown up with Rico — we are about the same age — probably doing much of the same things: watching robot cartoons, playing tag or hide and seek. Our paths diverged in college; later, he would arrive at our Christmas parties later than everyone else, talking about wrapping up a shoot. A major in theater arts — with an emphasis in set design, if I remember correctly — Rico moved from one job to another: a stint dressing store windows, organizing singing groups to be sent off to perform in Brunei, and now, directing TV commercials and episodes for seven shows for GMA TV, including the popular Extra Challenge, a combination of The Amazing Race and Fear Factor. An advertisement for Red Horse Beer he directed ended with a woman pouring beer on a guy’s pants; this won him an advertising award and the wrath, as he put it, of “troops from GABRIELA,” the Filipino feminist group. (The ad agency wanted the beer poured on the guy’s knee; he insisted it had to be on the crotch, and he won that little battle.)

But if there was anything that would inspire any ire (or admiration, in certain quarters), it would probably be his body of work with the revolving stable of model-slash-actresses popularly known as the Viva Hot Babes. The films Rico directs, he says, are like “Sports Illustrated swimsuit videos — only more hardcore.” I myself have only seen two samples of Rico’s work. The earliest one I saw was a video shot as background for videoke songs, playing at a high school reunion a couple of years ago — and so it was relatively tame, though the women cavorting on the beach were clearly naked underneath their wet clothes.

I asked him if his films had any particular style, whether or not one could tell that they were “Rico Gutierrez films.” “Not at all,” he responded quickly. “No lighting, no story” — the videos are mostly vignettes strung loosely together — “and the camera work is mostly close-up or not.

“It really is just a job,” Rico said. “I go to the set, we shoot, I go home. It’s not very exciting,” he added. (He also described, in slightly more graphic terms, the fact that he found the whole business of filming rather unerotic.)

“The thing is, when I’m there, I’m a different person,” Rico said. “I’m not like this,” he explained to everyone at the table. “I can get pretty lewd, but that’s the nature of the job.” He turned to one side and addressed an imaginary actress in Tagalog: “No, damn it — grab her pussy! Yes! Thaaaat’s it! Now, everyone, we’ll do the orgy scene! Okay, cut!” My God-fearing cousins blanched. I was taken aback as well. “But you know, we’re all professional,” he added. (Whenever his longtime girlfriend would accompany him on a shoot, he said, the actresses knew how to behave.) He suddenly looks around the party. “Hey, where did my kid go?”

His eight-year old son was, in fact, running around outside in the front yard with the rest of the clan’s youngsters. Later he came in, all sweaty from his exertions; Rico mussed his hair with one hand and sent him off again.

(I wasn’t kidding, by the way, about “God-fearing.” The father’s side of my family is fairly religious, with cousins who are actually working full-time in the “ministry;” saying grace before the big Christmas lunch is taken pretty seriously (my dad has been leading it for the last few years now), followed by singing performances and one of my cousins leading the kids on a rather painful “Happy Birthday Jesus” sing-along. Rico’s choice of profession doesn’t exactly make him a black sheep — in every Filipino clan there are infidelities and shotgun weddings and substance abuse and various “improprieties” (at least in the predominantly Catholic Philippines) — but his mom (my Auntie Baby) tells him seriously (in English) that “he will burn in hell.”

“I wanted to tell her that I use the money to buy her medicine,” Rico said with a laugh, “but it isn’t true.”)

Pornography in the Philippines isn’t exactly like pornography in the United States; it’s technically illegal in this country, so “you can’t have insertion of the penis, or insertion, period, or blowjobs,” he said. I can only imagine that it’s the equivalent of late-night movies on Cinemax — though I own neither cable nor a TV, so, uh, I can only imagine.

Sex Guru, for instance (which I only saw the other day), is actually a rather tame affair, enough for me to wonder whether I picked up the wrong title. Hosted by the fabulously stacked Asia Agcaoili, Sex Guru is an hour-long instructional video on — I’m not quoting from memory, but I’m sure she must have said this at some point — “the fine art of sensual massage,” with lots of close-up shots of slick fingers and rose petals and a soundtrack making ample use of the Casio “choir” and “electric drums” midi presets. Still, Agcaoili is an engaging host, particularly in the most explicit scene when she licks and swallows plastic objects of different sizes. (One of Sex Guru‘s most interesting elements is its democratic attention to sexuality: there’s an almost equal attention to beefcake, including long sequences featuring two men lovingly rubbing each other’s chiseled asses in a shower. There really is something here for everyone, even if the video presupposes the straight male gaze.) In the end, the film is a loving tribute to oiled brown skin.

Rico has a funny way of touching your leg with his fingers when he wants you to pay attention to a particular point he’s about to make, and while relating this next story, he was all a-finger. The first scene in Sex Guru 2, apparently, was a demonstration of “Tantric massage,” and he had wanted to show a penis being masturbated. There was, of course, no way he could get this past the censors, because, as he said, “we would get a technical. So we bought this strap-on dildo and made the two women give it a massage,” he related. “No technical!” he added happily.

Another sequence, perhaps in a different movie, had Patricia Javier masturbating. “When that happened,” he said, “I went over to the camera and de-focused it.”

My brother Bulletproof Vest asked, “Couldn’t you have done that in post-production? I mean, save it for a Director’s Cut?”

Rico shook his head quickly and said, “No, no Director’s Cuts. We don’t film anything illegal or anything that’s not in their contracts.” (Maui Taylor, for instance, apparently does not do full frontal nudity.) In fact, a representative from the Department of Health has to be present at the shoot, making sure that everything is, well, sanitary. “I may be filthy, but I’m not a pig, ” Rico said.

I asked him what film from his oeuvre he would choose as his favorite, or as one to recommend to a Rico beginner. “You mean, the most intelligent, or the hottest, or the lewdest?” he asked. “The most intelligent?” He paused. “I haven’t made that yet.”

The film he is happiest with right now, he kept telling me, is this three-minute short called “Haplos” [Caress] he made for an in-house contest for Sunsilk shampoo. The film is short and sweet, with only the barest bit of reference to the product it’s selling; itR