Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Robert at Joe's Pub

A Loyal Boxer-- "John in D.C." -- was in the same room with me at Joe's Pub for Robert's shows last month. I haven't posted in quite some time and when he let me know he was there I felt obligated to share a couple of hazy memories from the show. I bought the tix for both shows the day they were scheduled and made a reservation for the table in front of the stage.

The 7:30 show was alright. Robert described the 9:30 show as one of the best of his career. I must agree. At both shows, the highlight (for me) was the cover of Grant's "Quiet Heart" -- It was such a fitting tribute to a fallen friend. The song sent chills down my spine.

The whole night was a very cozy affair. John took up Robert on is invitation and met the band at a local bar. I however, stumbled home, high on JJ-180 and basking in the glow of a wonderful show. Wondering what Grant was thinking, looking gazing down with his vast intelligence.

Cheers to Go-Betweens/Forster fans (and Loyal Boxers) everywhere! Shoegazers of the world untie!

And John in D.C., why can't you find the vinyl? Is it no longer available?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

PKD and Politics: The Simulacra

In The Simulacra, PKD takes on politics. The setting is the future political entity of The United States of Europe and America (USEA). In this future, the true leader is not the President, but the First Lady. Of course, she's a robot (or as PKD would have it, a simulacra). Every four years, the people of the USEA vote in a new husband for her, who becomes the President.

The Simulacra, once again, displays PKD's preternatural gift for describing the future accurately, especially the effect of television on the powers that be. However, in The Simulacra, the people can literally somewhat control what politicians will do or say by turning the knobs on their television sets. If enough of the people press certain buttons on their TVs then the politician will do what they command. 

The Simulacra is a wonderful metaphor for what is actually going on these days, and a nice prism through which to look at the current political situation.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Cleaners From Venus

Recently loyal Boxer Apedog tuned me into Martin Newell. I was digging his pop manoeuvres and decided to do a little digging. I came across Martin's 80s band, The Cleaners From Venus. These dudes were super rad. They produced all their music themselves on cassette and they would send it out to all their fans; just like my heroes: My Friend George, Oceano Da Cruz and Price Pearlman.

Quite obviously, the coolest thing about The Cleaners is that they chose a totally PKD'd out band name, which is why they get to be our guests today on Dick in a Box. 

Click the title of this post for some fine grade cleaning action.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Younger Than Yesterday

I really regret having to leave A Maze of Death as it is one of my favorites. But all things must pass, or must they? The PKD work that I think is most linked with A Maze of Death in PKD's oeuvre is Counter Clock World, as it too deals with the themes of mortality and theology. I also link it with A Maze of Death because it is one of my favorites in the PKD realm.

I've been reading my beat up 1974 Berkley edition of the book. The pages are falling out, but it held together for one more read. I thought I'd share the back cover blurb with you because it neatly encapsulates the oddball nature of the book.


Now that the Hobart Phase was in effect, Officer Joseph Tinbane wasn't surprised when he heard a voice speaking to him from beneath the ground.

It wasn't that he was going out of his mind. Not at all. It was just one of the 'old-born,' giving notification that it was ready to be dug up.

You see, the year is 1998 and things have changed quite a bit. Time has reversed its flow: the dead come back to life, and people grow younger instead of older."

Neat premise, and PKD pulls it off to grand effect. The book is completely hilarious. When people light up their smokes, they light "butts" and start "blowing smoke into" them. The cig reforms and they put it back into its pack. When people greet each other they say "goodbye" and when they part, they say "hello." And when people get back to the time of birth, they jump back into a host womb. The mother has to carry the regressing baby for nine months and then has to copulate with a man to return the seed to him. The book never really tells us why the Hobart Phase came about, but who cares about that.

One unique feature of the novel is that there is never a moment where the reader questions what is real, and in this way it is quite distinct among PKD's works because it never has that "what the hell is going on" moment. 

Also, in Counter Clock, we find a moment where PKD may have been influenced by pop culture rather than the other way around. The book was written in 1967, the year of the Byrds seminal classic Younger Than Yesterday, which has a cover of Dylan's 1964 classic, "My Back Pages." The Byrds version of "My Back Pages" is bar none my favorite song of all time. I have listened to it my whole life, from the coasts of California to the rooftops of New York City. 

"I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."  

The Byrds were rocking all over California at this time, and I'd wager PKD was influenced by this classic version, just check out the cover of the LP, totally PKD'd out.

You can enter the Hobart Phase yourself by clicking on the title of this post.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Mandolin Player

Maze of Death deals with the vagaries of getting old, and in that sense it's quite appealing to us nostalgic types.

One of my favorite scenes occurs near the beginning of the book where Ben Tallchief contemplates getting old... 

"Forty-two. His age had astounded him for years, and each time he had sat so astounded, trying to figure out what had become of the young, slim man in his twenties, a whole additional year slipped by and had to be recorded, a continually growing sum which he could not reconcile with his self-image. He still saw himself, in his mind's eye, as youthful, and when he caught sight of himself in photographs he usually collapsed. For example, he shaved now with an electric razor, unwilling to gaze at himself in his bathroom mirror."

There is a sadness that is captured in this passage, that I think .knowdice captures in his famous early-2001 photograph, The Mandolin Player. Thanks again .knowdice, for letting us display your work here in the Box.

Anyway, I think I may get an electric razor myself one of these days.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Gleaming The Maze

Here at Dick in a Box we love to examine how PKD has influenced current entertainment. Nowhere is PKD plundering more apparent than in the 1997 Canadian film The Cube, which draws heavily from Maze of Death. 

As in Maze, The Cube deals with a group of individuals who find themselves in a foreign place (in the film's case, a vast cube filled with trap chambers). In both, the characters have no idea why they are there. The characters in both works are put through an existential test, and murder ensues. As in Maze, The Cube deals with what is real, how people deal with adversity, humankind's murderous impulses, and our capacity for self-delusion.

It's hard to imagine that The Cube's writers were not influenced by this PKD masterpiece. Indeed, on the planet where the colonists find themselves in A Maze of Death, Seth Morley and his companions have continual encounters with a vast building.  Morley describes the building as "[g]ray and large, it reared up at the limit of his vision. A cube, almost." Seems they lifted their concept straight from the book. 

While the characters in The Cube are trapped in a hulking metal building, the Maze of Death characters are trapped on a forbidding planet. Or are they?

This is not to say that the film does not have artistic/entertainment value in its own right. It's actually pretty rad. I just find it amusing that it displays another instance of blatant PKD lifting.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How I Rose From the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You!

Maze of Death deals with a group of 14 people who have been brought to a planet called Delmak-O. They are supposed to colonize it, but things go awry. More on that later though.

The colonists share a religion that PKD made up for the novel. The religion's holy book is called How I Rose From the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You! It's kind of like a 22nd Century Self-Help book that became a religion. It's written by the "great 21st Century Communist Theologian" Egon Spectowsky. One of the ideas attributed to Spectowsky is the ideas that "people are prisoners of [their] own preconceptions and expectations . . . And that one of the conditions of the Curse is to remain mired in the quasi-reality of those proclivities. Without ever seeing reality as it actually is." 

(1) This excerpt of Spectowsky's philosophy is heavily indebted to Gnosticism, and (2) this quote captures the meta-themes of most of PKD's work. This is one of the reasons why Maze of Death is such an interesting read for all true Boxers of the universe.

Finally, I'd like to point out the .knowdice photo on this page. I believe it was taken somewhere in Northern Europe at the turn of the century. I feel like it evokes many of the same feelings as this 1977 Bantam Maze of Death cover. 

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mortality, Theology and a Man Named .knowdice

I was planning on abandoning PKD's more fantastical works for the more mundane pastures of his plain fiction for a while, but I couldn't do it; not with all of my recent references to Maze of Death which is easily one of my top ten favorite PKD novels. Maze of Death deals with mortality and theology on the planet Delmak-O. In it, PKD creates his own religion, kind of like Scientology, but it is (1) much cooler and (2) takes itself way less seriously.

In conjunction with my reading and blogging of Maze, I will be featuring the work of noted Seattle artist/photographer .knowdice. No other artist out there today better captures elements of joie de vivre, mortality and theology in their works. The photo above (The Fist of Rallie) happens to capture the essence of a drunken Dane, another recurring theme here at Dick in a Box.

Most importantly, I think PKD would really dig .knowdice's work. I hope you do too.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Price Pearlman Comes Out (of Retirement!)


Rumor has it that legendary singer/songwriter (and PKD scholar) Price Pearlman has come out of retirement and is writing songs again.

The last we heard of Price live, he played a one off gig in Copenhagen, Denmark in February of 2005, attended by many drunk Danes who have no recollection of the event.

Prior to that he was gigging around Northern Brooklyn in a folk duo with Chava M., called Ex-Roommates.

His last LP, Sunset Knoll, was released to little fanfare a over a year ago, and he hasn't been heard from since.

Stay tuned for more Price Pearlman news!

To Everything There Is a Season

It's Spring again so I've pulled out my favorite Spring LP (as the soundtrack to my Spring cleaning), The Go-Betweens' Liberty Belle and The Black Diamond Express

There's actually a Go-Betweens album for every season. In the Summer, it's always 16 Lover's Lane. In the Fall I'm drawn to Spring Hill Fair, and in the Winter, at least recently, I've truly enjoyed Oceans Apart.

Whatever the season though, a good Go-Betweens record can cure any ill.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Grant McLennan and Precognition

In today's edition of The Sydney Morning Herald, John Birmingham writes about Grant McLennan's final song, "Demon Days." He writes, "[w]hen experienced unknowingly, when listened to without knowledge of what befell McLennan shortly after he penned it, "Demon Days" is a starkly beautiful but spare, somewhat bleak, ballad. When you listen to the song with awareness of McLennan's passing, however, it reveals itself as something altogether different, a precognition of mortality. "The fingers of fate/ stretch out and take us to a night/ but something's not right/ something's gone wrong."

Now I think I heard Robert Forster say somewhere that Grant wrote the lyric up to "the fingers of fate" and then Robert finished the rest up, but either way, the song, its emotion and sense of weight, as well as many of Grant's last songs, certainly reflect precognition on his part.

PKD was well versed in precognition himself. Indeed, a pre-cog shows up in just about every one of his novels. A pre-cog, in the Dickian sense, is one who can see likely versions of the future before they actually occur. The story of Grant's passing, and the "precognition of mortality" you can hear in his final songs, would have made a fine story for PKD to weave. 

I like to think Grant and Philip are hanging out together in the cosmos, bouncing clever ideas off each other, and generally just knowing what's going down.

Friday, April 18, 2008

PKD's Sister & Sonic Youth

PKD not only influenced a generation of film, prime time television, and Saturday Morning Cartoons, he also influenced some pretty sweet music. Most notably Sonic Youth's album Sister, which they named in honor of PKD's twin sister, Jane Charlotte, who died shortly after her birth. The death of his twin sister was a major influence on PKD's outlook on life, and consequently, on his writing.

Other obvious themes in PKD's novels include schizophrenia, dream imagery and science. All of these crop up in Sonic Youth's LP. PKD's influence on Sonic Youth has been well documented; most notably in Alec Foege's Confusion is Next: The Sonic Youth Story. Indeed, prolly my favorite song on Sister is opener "Schizophrenia." The song is like Martian Time Slip set to music...

"My future is static
It's already had it
I could tuck you in
And we could talk about it
I had a dream
And it split the scene
But I got a hunch
It's coming back to me


Anyway, a gander through Martian Time Slip and  Sister are a worthwhile endeavor.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In a Soldier's Stance, I Aimed my Hand at The Mongrel Dogs Who Teach

Before diving into Martian Time Slip I was full of grand illusions that I would be able to analyze it "through the analytical lenses of mental illness, totalitarian governments, and Genocide."  Boy was I wrong. This book is just too damn weird. I think it is definitely one of the most fragmented of Dick's 60s novels, so fragmented that it made me feel schizophrenic at times.

Then it hit me that the book's brilliance lies in the fact that it cannot be analyzed; it lies in the fact that Dick blurs the line between the "schizophrenic" and the sane, by making readers feel mentally deranged, despite the fact that they perceive themselves as mentally fit on most days. PKD shows us that schizophrenia is not black and white, there are levels of it that even the sanest of us can pass in and out of. Anyway, I gave up on the whole analysis approach to this book. It made me long for simple pleasures like Harry Potter.

However, as a former teacher, I was fascinated by PKD's "Public School" on Mars. Here, the students are taught by the requisite "simulacra," robot teachers who are created to be historic figures (see We Can Build You) such as Mark Twain. Do we get a glimpse here of PKD's views on teachers and public education? Protaganist Jack Bohlen feels "repelled by the teaching machines [because] the entire Public School was geared to the task which went contrary to his grain: the school was there not to inform or educate, but to mold, and along severely limited lines. It bent its pupils to it; perpetuation of culture was its goal." This is a very 60s view of education that kind of annoys me in its lack of depth and texture. But, like I said, I'm biased

Anyway, this book was so tripped out it has sent me careening (by necessity) into PKDs Non-Science-Fiction works. So I'll be taking up with a Crap Artist for some more mundane thrills in the coming days.

Monday, April 14, 2008

From Ghost Town

Hygge Alert!

So my vinyl copy of Robert Forster's new LP "The Evangelist" arrived today from Germany from the wonderfully rapid Tuition Records.

For the occasion I went out and purchased a 2005 Agostina Pieri Rosso Di Montalcino. Those wine lovers out there will know what I'm talking about. T'was a special occasion indeed. I lit up some votives, placed on my Koss head phones and listened as if at an altar.

For any naysayer out there, this album is a classic. Over at the Go-Betweens site I hear complaints about "Let Your Light in, Babe" 'cause it sounds too much like other Forster songs. Forget all you have heard! The song is brilliant, especially in the full bodied analog sound. Other analog highlights are "Did She Overtake You" and "It Ain't Easy." 

For all my loyal Boxers out there, please buy this album and support the most brilliant and humane artist among us today. And if you are a vinyl lover like me, you will not be disappointed by Tuition's product. It simply jumps off the needle into your heart.

One comment. Many have complained about the cover art. Again, they have probably imbibed to much JJ-180. It looks amazing. My only complaint would be that the lettering on the vinyl version displays some "pixilation." However, since I don't even really know how to spell that word, I don't think it really matters.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Suicide: Martian Time Slip and Material Issue

In a recent post I was complaining that the LOA should include Clans of the Alphane Moon rather than Now Wait For Last Year in its new PKD volume coming out this summer. I based this contention on the fact that we had enough PKD drug books already, we needed some more of his books that dealt with mental illness. Well, I forgot that the new volume will contain Martian Time Slip, which even more than Clans, deals with schizophrenia and its effects. It also deals, along with his seminal treatise on the subject Maze of Death, with suicide.

My first encounter with suicide came through my favorite band in high school (and still one of my favorites today) Material Issue. I used to go watch these guys at 1st Ave in my younger days and there was not a band in the U.S. that had more pure pop energy. I would dance and sweat and sing along. International Pop Overthrow was one of the first tapes I ever bought, and I'd play it constantly in my first car, a white with brown stripes '84 Nissan Pulsar. Now my car didn't talk, but it loved Material Issue. You may remember their debut for it's semi-hit "Valerie Loves Me." Then came Destination Universe in 1992 and it had some of the sweetest songs I'd ever heard, including one of my favorite teenage love songs of all time, "Everything." Some Hair Metal band covered it a couple of years ago, and I still don't know what I think about that.  Other completely starry eye'd songs from this album that still give me goose bumps are "Don't You Think I Know" and "Next Big Thing." My Senior year was dominated by Freak City Soundtrack. Crazy manic energy. My car and I really dug that one.

However, in June of 1996, Material Issue's lead singer Jim Ellison committed suicide. It was truly a devastating day for me, as I felt like part of my youth went with him.

However, we still have the man's music, and that we can always enjoy. Just me now, as the Pulsar is long gone. Click on the title of this post for my car's favorite Material Issue song.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Miami Vice: PKD's Influence on the 4th Season, and a Lost Roxy Music Gem

Little do people know, PKD had a profound impact on Miami Vice's 4th season. Now this show was already completely rad; amazing music and hip clothes, but the 4th season took things to a whole new level. Most critics argue that this is where the series jumped the shark, however this is completely wrong. This is the season where PKD beamed down from above.

Take for example the episode "The Big Thaw," in which a Rastafarian reggae singer was preserved in a cryogenic sleep chamber; lifted directly from PKD's classic Ubik. Then there was the famous "Missing Hours" episode featuring James Brown as an alien leader trying to abduct Trudy, which drew upon a whole host of PKD themes. Perhaps most influenced by PKD was the episode "Mirror Image," where Crockett got amnesia and began perceiving himself not as a member of the vice squad working undercover, but as his drug dealer alter-ego, becoming a hit-man in the process. This narrative was taken verbatim from A Scanner Darkly, and re-figured for 80s prime-time television. These themes and narratives make season 4 the place to be when it comes to Miami Vice.

However, I value Miami Vice the most for its music. The best use of music was in season 2, when the show used Roxy Music's hidden gem "Lover." This is my favorite Roxy Music song EVER. Sadly, it was hidden away as a b-side to "Same Old Scene" and many people are not aware of its existence. A great tragedy. However, it was resurrected by Miami Vice and placed on the 2nd season's completely sweet soundtrack, where it felt right at home. Check it out by clicking on the title of this post and let me know if you agree.

Friday, April 4, 2008

AI -- Artificial Intelligence/American Idol

You're prolly thinking, "what the f*ck, is this an American Idol blog?" It's not. However, I do have to recap the Dolly Parton show that was highly anticipated by many Boxers out there. As we expected, the performances were a load of crap for the most part. I think I was most disappointed by Brook White's take on "Jolene" which had me covering my eyes and moaning. I really wanted her to go home this week. Shucks.

Most of the other performances were pretty bad, although I was kind of down with David Archuleta's "Smokey Mountain Memories."

The Wednesday show itself, as a narrative, was straight out of a PKD novel; totally schizophrenic. With Ryan Seacrest's utterly banal April Fool's Day joke at the outset about Simon appearing on Moment of Truth, to the Clark Brothers performance (totally wacky and stupid), even down to Dolly's  performance, which I thought was way too over the top in terms of arrangement given her voice. I would have preferred her and a guitar and maybe some dude with a banjo. Or maybe a duet with Bo Bice.

Speaking of schizophrenia, we're moving on to Martian Time Slip. I'm reading and analyzing it through the analytical lenses of mental illness, totalitarian governments, and Genocide. it's gonna be a trip so stay tuned.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Struggle Itself is Enough to Fill a Man's Heart

In anticipation of the 2nd Library of America (LOA) PKD volume, I've been reading the books that will be included. I've made my way through  Flow My Tears, Scanner Darkly, Dr. Bloodmoney, and just today finished up Now Wait For Last Year (stay tuned for Martian Time Slip). I've said it before and I'll say it again that I would have preferred The Penultimate Truth or maybe even Clans of The Alphane Moon been included rather than Last Year.

I don't argue this to denigrate Last Year as I think it is certainly one of PKD's greatest achievements. I just see it as a little too derivative of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Ubik, both of which were contained in the first LOA volume. As in those fine novels, we have a drug (JJ-180) that transports the user through time. You go either forward, or backward, or side-ways, always to some parallel universe. I kind of think of these three, as well as Flow My Tears, as PKD's most Alice in Wonderland-ish novels. This is why I think Clans may have been a better choice, because it more thoroughly explores PKD's ideas on mental illness. At this point, at least in terms of LOA, we certainly have been exposed to enough of PKD's ideas about drugs.

However, Now Wait For Last Year does have special pertinence for our times in that it depicts a world in a constant war. But then, most of PKD novels do that. However, the novel also has great value as an early example of PKD exploring what Freud called the death drive, or "an urge inherent in all organic life to restore an earlier state of things"-- fancy words for suicide. In this way some of the final chapters of the book serve as a precursor to one of PKD's darkest novels; A Maze of Death, which also deals heavily with the human death instinct.

As in most PKD novels, Last Year deals with some deep existential questions, and as usual, the automobiles provide the answers. In my favorite scene, protagonist Eric Sweetscent is talking to the taxi-cab he's riding in...

"'If you were me, and your wife were sick, desperately so, with no hope of recovery, would you leave her? Or would you stay with her, even if you had travelled into the future and knew for an absolute certainty that the damage to her brain could never be reversed? And staying with her would mean--'

'I can see what you mean, sir," the cab broke in. "It would mean no other life for you beyond caring for her.'

'That's right,' Eric said.

'I'd stay with her,' the cab decided.


'Because,' the cab said, 'life is composed of reality configurations so constituted. To abandon her would be to say, I can't endure reality as such. I have to have uniquely special easier conditions.'

'I think I agree,' Eric said after a time. 'I think I will stay with her.'

'God bless you, sir,' the cab said. 'I can see that you are a good man.'"

This little excerpt allows me to bring some Albert Camus into the mix for the first time. This passage is reminiscent of his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, which explores humankind's search for meaning in the absurd. Camus illustrates this through the situation of Sisyphus, from Greek myth, who repeatedly and eternally pushed a rock up a mountain, whereupon it would roll back down so he would start all over again pushing it back up. Camus' lesson was that "[t]he struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." This is a theme that plays out in almost all of PKD's novels; his characters find some sort of happiness (or will to live), ultimately, in the absurdity of existence, in their struggles to understand reality; in PKD's case, multiple realities.

Whether it's included in some compilation or not, Now Wait For Last Year is a classic existentialist novel at heart, and therein lies its unique and ultimate value.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Radio Free Europe: Chromatics are Coming!

This one goes out to all of my European Boxers. America's greatest band is heading to your continent; and you shouldn't miss the occasion. No band is currently making music as infused with the warm sounds of sleek machines as this one. 

Here's their itinerary, be there...

April 17th -- Berlin, DE
April 18th -- Electronic Music Festival, Poznan Poland
April 19th -- Warm/Lasermagnetic Cafe, London
April 23rd -- Barfly, Brighton
April 25th -- Brussels
June 6th -- Aix En Provence
June 7th -- Paris

PKD is looking down from Albemuth and smiling when he hears these tunes. So will you. Want some Radio Free Chromatics?! Click on the title of this post.

Friday, March 28, 2008

We Can Build You!

A loyal Boxer knowingly sent me this photo the other day. I say knowingly because PKD was really into old Abe Lincoln; most notably in his book We Can Build You.

I've always been fascinated by We Can Build You because it basically functions as a prequel to PKD's masterpiece Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Basically We Can Build You depicts some of the first androids that were made by the Rosen Corporation, before it started manufacturing them for off-world colonization. These first androids were not based on societal needs, rather they were built for entertainment purposes. And PKD found nothing more decidedly fascinating than Abraham Lincoln. So, along with Edwin Stanton, Lincoln is the first android built. The book, as well non-fiction historical sources, postulates that Lincoln suffered from schizophrenia. Hence, in We Can Build You the android-Lincoln is gripped by an extreme melancholy that is quite haunting. Some of the android-Lincoln's monologues are the warmest and most humane of the novel, much more so that the living, flesh and blood humans' discourse. This is a common thread in PKD's books, robots that are more "human" than humans.

Everyone's a critic, and so am I. So I'll be blunt and say that We Can Build You may not be one of PKD's most entertaining novels. But it is definitely one of his most philosophical, and a very good one to read prior to Androids if you are truly committed to PKD's vision.

Also,  it has something for all you history channel buffs out there who can't get enough of Abraham Lincoln. I recommend trying to get a hold of the 1983 Daw version which has one of my favorite PKD covers, depicting the Lincoln simulacrum in a very Atari-style that was popular at the time; and Bob Pepper did it of course.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

All I Want!

I'd like to thank Boxer mike for turning me on to the joys of Cloudcuckooland. I never gave this one its due. But tonight I sat down, put on the LP,  cracked open a tall Sapporo, and was treated to pure joy. 

"All I Want" is such a classic album opener, a perfect pop song (I love it when the piano chimes in after the chorus). These songs, like those on Sense, are so well constructed. The melodies are quite similar in places. Sense definitely draws upon many of the same melodic themes that are evinced in "Pure." However where these two albums can be distinguished is in the production. Sense is much more lush, which is saying a lot because Cloudcuckooland is as textured as they come. 

While Sense will always have the pole position in my heart, Cloudcuckooland is no joke, pure and simple. Every song on here just jumps off the vinyl. I've read elsewhere that it would have made the perfect soundtrack for a John Hughes film, and that is right on. 

On a personal note, after a couple of listens (and a couple of Sapporo's) my favorite track on Cloudcuckooland is "The Nearly Man" which would have fit snugly on Pretty in Pink. 

Check the album out.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Forever Changes: The Bob Pepper Debate

A lot has been made of the PKD cover art work, especially that of Bob Pepper. My loyal Boxers out there have been imploring me to weigh in on the debate over the finest Bob Pepper cover art for PKD. While I love all of the Daw covers Mr. Pepper did in 1983 (especially for A Scanner Darkly and We Can Build You), my favorite cover of Pepper's and maybe in all of PKD-land, is his 1969 cover for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This may be Pepper's most underrated cover, possibly because his name is nowhere to be found on the art work. However, there is no mistaking this as his work, as a simple comparison with his seminal album cover artwork for Love's 1967 masterpiece, Forever Changes, will show.

The two works are very reminiscent of each other; one depicts all the faces of Love as if they were one being, the other depicts a human/android as if it were one being. Additionally, both have a psychedelic color palette; it being a tripped out time after all. Simply groovy.

Bob Pepper's art for both these works is amazing; making this a case where one can definitely judge the book/music by its cover.

A word of caution; I once tried to read Androids to the sounds of Forever Changes, and while I love the album, the music didn't really coexist well with the mood of the book and I got a tad nauseous. 

Or maybe that was a Substance D flashback? Hmmm...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sense, A Small Slice of Heaven, and a Dog Named Blue

Growing up in Minneapolis, I would haunt the local record stores. One day, I was in Down in The Valley, over by Crosstown and as I was flipping through the CDs, I heard the most angelic, pop anthems playing over the store's speakers. I asked the dude behind the counter what this wonderful music was and he told me it was the Lightning Seed's Sense.
I bought the record and it has stayed with me the rest of my life. When I lost my dog Blue as a sophomore in high school, I cried and cried, listening to "A Small Slice of Heaven," 'cause that's what Blue was to me for the short time I had her.

When I was around 21 I went down to Marin County where I met my older half-brother for the first time. Guess what cassette he had in his car? Sense. We bonded over that. You've got to realize that most people've never heard the record. I've got this feeling you either love it, or you hate it. It's definitely an acquired taste.  But to my ears, it is perfect pop music. I've never really gotten into their other LPs, but this one is a true, under-appreciated classic.
I'm always overjoyed when I'm looking through someone's music collection and I come across Sense. It's like you've found a musical brother, a small slice of heaven, a memory of blue. Try it sometime, and maybe you'll understand too. If you'd like to try a slice of Sense, simply click on the title of this post.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Anthropology 101: American Idol vs. Dolly Parton

From an anthropological perspective, American Idol is my favorite show. While the singers display little to no creativity, and the judges usually don't communicate that much, it is truly riveting. To see these mundane personalities put in front of 30 million viewers every week is a dose of existentialism on the boob tube.

Hence, I was truly please when I learned last week that one of my favorite artists, Dolly Parton, will be one of the guest mentors on an upcoming show. All the contestants will have to perform one of her songs. While I dread some of their renditions, the show will display her truly outstanding and genuine song-writing talent to many who have yet to be blessed.

Here's a list of the ten remaining contestants, and the Dolly songs I would choose for each one. 

Brooke White --"Dumb Blonde"
Carly Smithson--"Everything is Beautiful (In Its Own Way)"
Chikezie--"My Blue Tears"
David Archuleta--"Islands in the Stream"
David Cook--"I Wasted My Tears"
Jason Castro--"The Seeker"
Kristy Lee Cook--"Jolene"
Michael Johns--"Here I Am"
Ramiele Malubay--"Bargain Store"
Syesha Mercado--"Just Because I'm a Woman"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Weird Science

PKD was writing about Uplift when David Brin was still in diapers.

However, while Brin was writing about universe where humans purposefully "uplifted" animals like Dolphins and Chimpanzees, PKD's animals were "uplifted" through humankind's follys. And the animals were not quite as glamorous.  Dr. Bloodmoney depicts dogs that can talk because of genetic mutations brought about by radiation from nuclear fall-out. Clans of the Alphane Moon also contains intelligent rats, made that way by a polluted world. 

While I love Brin's work, I think PKD's pessimistic vision of our (mis)use of science is the more accurate. Any intelligent animals this world is going to "uplift" will prolly be the result of our mistakes, rather than by plan. 

And once again, PKD gives rise to another 80's cartoon.

Weird science, PKD warns us beware! This is the real genius at work.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

This Was Supposed to be Our Future, It Is...

Clans of the Alphane Moon (or the State of Our Nation, 2008).

Psychiatrist Dr. Mary Rittersdorf gives the android Dan Mageboom her prognosis for the various clans that rule the former hospital moon...

"The Paranoids--actually the paranoiac schizophrenics --would function as the statesman class; they'd be in charge of developing political ideology and social programs--they'd have the overall worldview. The simple schizophrenics. . ." She pondered. "They'd correspond to the poet class, although some of them would be religious visionaries--as would be some of the Heebs. The Heebs, however, would be inclined to produce ascetic saints, whereas the schizophrenics would produce dogmatists. Those with polymorphic schizophrenia simplex would be the creative members of the society, producing the new ideas. . . {Those with} obsessive-compulsive neurosis. . . would be the clerks and office holders of the society, the ritualistic functionaries, with no original ideas. Their conservatism would balance the radical quality of the polymorphic schizophrenics and give the society stability."

Mageboom said, "So one would think the whole affair would work." He gestured. "How would it differ from our society on Terra?"

For a time she considered the question; it was a good one.

"No answer?" Mageboom said.

"I have an answer. Leadership in this society would naturally fall to the paranoids, they'd be superior individuals in terms of initiative, intelligence, and just plain innate ability. Of course they'd have trouble keeping the manics from staging a coup. . . there'd always be tension between the two classes. But you see, with the paranoids establishing the ideology, the dominant emotional theme would be hate. Actually hate going in two directions; the leadership would hate everyone outside its enclave and also would take for granted that everyone hated it in return. Therefore their entire so-called foreign policy would be to establish mechanisms  by which this supposed hatred directed at them could be fought. And this would involve the entire society in an illusory struggle, a battle against foes that didn't exist for a victory over nothing."

A valiant attempt by Dr. Rittersdorf to respond to Mageboom, but I don't think she really does a good job of distinguishing the politics of the Alphane moon from those here on Earth, especially here in the U.S. Her description of the "so-called foreign policy" of the Alphane's sounds a lot like the one currently employed by the powers that be.

On top of being a prescient look at political culture, Clans of the Alphane Moon also really captures some of PKD's meta-themes nicely. Characters and society involved in illusory struggles against foes that may or may not exist. 

Clans is one of PKD's underrated classics. Hit up your local library and find out for yourself if you haven't yet had the chance.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More Robert

Head on over to Yep-Roc's website where they're streaming the whole of Robert Forster's new LP The Evangelist. IMHO the LP is his best solo record, better even that Calling From A Country Phone for those of you who were wondering.

The songs bring to mind many different eras of the Go-Betweens. "Pandanus" reminds me of Spring Hill Fair. "It Ain't Easy" sounds like it could have fit snugly on Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express. "If It Rains" kind of reminds me of Tallulah-era Robert songs. And "Did She Overtake You" has a 16 Lovers Lane feeling to it, and it's prolly one of the sweetest tracks on this set.

However, the best songs here remind me of nothing else, and transcend anything Mr. Forster has done. I've talked about how moving "Demon Days" is, and it truly is worth the price of admission alone. The final track, "From Ghost Town" is Robert's moving farewell to Grant, and it sounds like no other song he has ever written to my ears. A truly beautiful track, a sweet goodbye, and a fitting end to the LP.

Buy this record when you get the chance. There is not much music out there as moving, or sincere.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Robert Forster, Ubik to my Ears

Robert Forster's new album will be coming out here in the U.S.  April 29th on Yep-Roc. It's his first solo album since Warm Nights, and the first new music we have heard from him since the death of his long-time collaborator, Grant McLennan.

Three of the songs on the upcoming LP were some of the last written by Grant before he died. Robert completed the songs and put them on his new album. Kind of like a good can of Ubik that brings us back to Grant.

One of these last songs, Demon Days, is particularly poignant and haunting. In the same vein as some of the classics of his later period such as Boundary Rider and Finding You, one can actually hear Grant again in this song. It is truly moving. 

If you'd like to hear it, just click on Robert Forster, Ubik to my Ears (or the title of this post).

On a side note, the photo above could be Grant and Robert dressed up as Deckard and Rachel for Halloween. Robert captured Rachel's make-up perfectly!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pares, Manses and Heebs!

So I've taken up dwelling with the Clans of The Alphane Moon for a night of chips, dips and dorks!  Clans takes place on a moon that housed a psychiatric hospital populated by people who got messed up because they couldn't handle colonizing the galaxy. However, the moon and hospital were abandoned, and the patients have set up a little society of their own. Imagine New York's Roosevelt Island and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest set in the near future.

The Manics (Manses Clan) are warlike, and like to build innovative weapons; also an apt description of the Republican Party. The Paranoids (Pares Clan) are the leaders, and are scared of everything; kind of like politicians in general. The Schizophrenics (or Skitzes) are the artists and philosophers, like PKD himself.

Clans has some of PKD's most far-out supporting cast (with colorful names to match), like the alien Lord Running Clam and lawyer Nat Wilder.

This book is literally crazy, and the 1972 Ace version has one of my favorite PKD covers. Depicting the requisite PKD android (or Simulacra) in the book, Dan Mageboom. I have no idea who did the cover, but it is really cool. This publication, like may of the early 70's Ace books also has advertisements in it (like a magazine would today). This one has an ad for True Cigarettes. "Regular or menthol, doesn't it all add up to True?" Bunny Hentman smokes 'em, why don't you?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Game Players of Titan, Marriage and Knight Rider

The Game Players of Titan, like most PKD novels, is a total trip. It's set in a future Earth, where most people have been wiped out by  massive war. Earth is ruled by some aliens, called Vugs, from Titan who have set up a "game" which they say will help repopulate Earth. The game, Bluff, is like Monopoly. Property owners compete with each other. The stakes are not only their property (whole cities such as Berkeley), but their wives as well (protagonist Pete Garden claims to have been married 16 times). PKD exposes the trophy wife syndrome to the full here.

Now, Philip K. Dick was a guy who knew a lot about the institution of marriage. He was married something like 5 times. So in this way, Titan seems to be one of his more auto-biographical works. While the plot is totally twisted and the "game" a far-out idea, this book is basically an amalgamation of Desperate Housewives and Knight Rider. PKD ruminating on suburban couples and talking cars. As in most PKD novels, the machines seem more human and have more humor than the humans. Some of the funniest lines in the book are spoken by Joe Schilling's car in this exchange...

"This is Joe Schilling. Come and get me."
"Come and get your fat-assed self," the car said.

Again, another example of PKD eerily prefiguring 80's prime-time television!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Vast Active Living Cosmic American Music

I figured I better start getting some non-PKD related material in here soon. I was finally moved by the angelic voice of Dolly Parton. You won't find a better Dolly LP than Coat of Many Colors (although I do love Jolene). Nor is there a finer example of what Gram Parsons described as "Cosmic American Music." Indeed, the purest strain of Cosmic American Music you'll find this side of The Flying Burrito Brothers is Dolly's "Here I Am" on side two of the LP. This is Aretha, Dusty, and Loretta all rolled up in a blast of pure Country Soul. 
You'll often find me singing "Here I Am" in the shower at the top of my lungs.

Like PKD's Valis (of recent Lost fame), but for the music world. An amalgamation of Country, Southern Soul and Rock and Roll. This LP makes me want to praise the Vast Active Living Intelligence System up above!

PKD, the Police State, and the Poll Tax

It's 2008. The election year. And PKD and Flow My Tears are more pertinent than ever. The novel, which is included in the next Library of America volume, deals with a near future America after a second Civil War. The country is ruled by a police state. If you're caught without your ID, you'll be sent to a concentration camp, or worse. Indeed, vast portions of the U.S. population are behind bars.

Interestingly, I often feel a disoriented state of reality when I read PKD novels so I was(n't) surprised when I was reading the paper last Sunday and noticed an article that stated one out of every 99 Americans is behind bars. Had I too, like Jason Taverner, entered some dystopic future? Or was this some bizarre flashback brought about by Substance D abuse back in High School? No, it was "real." I have the newspaper clipping in front of me now.

However, these kinds of reality shifts keep confronting me as I read Flow My Tears. Just recently, the Supreme Court recently heard a case in which Indiana's voter ID laws are being challenged as an unconstitutional infringement on the right of the poor to vote. No picture ID, no vote. Given the make-up of the Court, the law will be upheld, and we will have poll taxes once again. Back to the future.

The moral of the story folks, is make sure you have your ID handy.

Things are getting kind of weird around here, so I think I'm gonna roll the dice with The Game Players of Titan. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Jason Taverner, American Idol

If I were to cast a movie adaption of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, certainly Ryan Seacrest would play Jason Taverner. I guess he would have to be artificially aged a little bit. But I don't think anyone could argue with the fact that Seacrest captures all the qualities of a "six". Additionally, his air of being the center of the universe would be essential to capturing Taverner's psyche. Indeed, like Taverner, Seacrest is on T.V. every Tuesday in front of 30 Million adoring fans.

Simon Cowell would make the perfect Felix Buckman. He thinks he knows everything, can outsmart everyone, and would love to deem himself a "seven". Plus he's got that military hairstyle, so we wouldn't have too spend to much on hair and make-up

Paula Abdul will have to play Alys Buckman, Felix's sister/lover. She's far-out, trippy, and obviously knacker'd most of the time, just like Alys. Her interest in dangerous recreational drugs will give her a wealth of material to draw upon to play Alys.  This would be another perfect case of life imitating art.

I guess Randy Jackson could play Officer McNulty or Maime. He seems kind of like an enforcer sometimes. However, given the social-political climate in the novel, Randy may have to be cast as the guy in the parking lot that Felix hugs in his moment of crisis. While it's not the most glamorous part, it is a crucial scene, and Jackson exudes the kind of empathy that is required by the part.

Finally, I think I'll have David Archuleta play Barney Buckman, son of Felix and Alys.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Flow My Oliviero Berni

Howdy. Many of you are clamoring to know my favorite cover for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. So here you go. It's Oliviero Berni's 1981 Daw cover. Of all of them, U.S. or UK, this one best captures Jason Taverner's Alice in Wonderland type journey, and basic all around cool-ness. Also, it clues us in that the book is a total head-trip. 

Additionally, I just really dig the the depiction of Taverner's threads. This is probably because Berni is an old Italian hipster/artist with an impeccable taste for the finest duds out there. After a lifetime of creating some of the most fantastic cover art for the literati, I'm sure Berni had a special affinity for Taverner, and hence was able to create this, his masterpiece.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Penultimate Truth, Baudrillard and The Transformers (more than meets the eye!)

"Dick engaged the mutant logic of late capitalism and the technological simulacrum before Baudrillard knew a megabyte from a baguette" -- Erik Davis

Nowhere is the above quote more apt than in The Penultimate Truth, which seems to prefigure our current state of political affairs, Baudrillard philosphies such as The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, and the Hasbro action figures The Transformers.

The Penultimate Truth is set on an Earth in which most of the population lives underground ("Tankers") because of a continuous war they are led to believe is taking place above ground. However, this war is not actually taking place. The Tankers are just led to believe this, so that the political elite ("Yance-men") can live above ground on vast parks, called "demenses." They have this land all to themselves without such overpopulation irritations such as traffic, babies crying on the plane, and demand for shows like America's Next Top Model.

The Tankers manufacture robots, who they think are being used in the war effort, but are actually servants for the Yance-men. The situation depicted in The Penultimate Truth has echoes in our current state of affairs, reflected in the perpetual "The War on Terror," among other things.

However, the idea of a fictional war, carried out as images on T.V. screens also found expression in the work of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, most notably in The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Here, Baudrillard argued that The Gulf War was not a war in the traditional sense (ground battle), but one conducted from news, maps and images.  Basically, Baudrillard argues that what is "real" these days is just images (or simulacra) of what is real. Basically people think anything they see on T.V. is real. This is certainly true for the Tankers in The Penultimate Truth, who stay underground for 13 years because they believe in some fictional war shown to them on T.V.

On a side note, and as an illustration of the different symbolic levels of PKD's work, my favorite scene in The Penultimate Truth is when the robotic assassin murders Lindblom and then transforms into a television-set so as not to be caught. Here we have an expression of the T.V.'s ability to suck the life out of all that is good, and a precursor to the Transformers action figures I played with back in the '80's. Did PKD ever get credit for that?

Finally, I know many of you have expressed concern about where I will take my PKD jones next. To allay your fears and provide a roadmap, I think we will now move onto Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said


Sunday, February 24, 2008


I prefer reading PKD to the sound of music. Scanner Darkly, for example, was read to side two of Brian Eno's Before and After Science. I tried to read it to the first side as well, but it just wasn't working. I think the second side captures the anguish of the book.

As for other book/music pairings, I read The Penultimate Truth to side two of Kraftwerk's Die Mensch Maschine. Something about these sounds really fits with the image of Joseph Adams flying his Flapple across an empty America on his way to work.

And Dr. Bloodmoney always has Depeche Mode's Songs of Faith and Devotion (the whole LP) as its soundtrack. No record out there better captures a post-apocalyptic sound.

Finally, I thought OMD's Dazzle Ships was a good sound for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This captures the warm sound of machines that you'll find in the book.

Friday, February 22, 2008

PKD: Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s (Library of America)

This July Library of America will release its second volume of PKD. The volume will include such classics as Martian Time Slip, Dr. Bloodmoney, Now Wait for Last Year, and A Scanner Darkly.

I'm very pleased that Dr. Bloodmoney was included as it is one of my favorite PKD novels. I think this one has a strong sense of lightness, optimism, and humor that sometimes gets overlooked when people think of PKD. You'd never know that the book is such a light-hearted affair (for PKD) given the first Ace cover. One of my favorites. Little Bill floating in the sky. Is this before or after he was in the Owl?

It also contains one of my favorite novel endings, with the vermin device hopelessly chasing after the evolved Bulldogs. I always laugh when I think of this scene. Any idea if this one will ever be made into a movie?

As regards to the other choices, I agree with Mr. Gumm that The Penultimate Truth could (should for me) have been included rather than (or in addition to!) Now Wait For Last Year. I think The Penultimate Truth speaks to so much more that's going on in our day and age than Now Wait For Last Year. I view it as a lens through which we can look at the "War on Terror," or maybe the "War on Terror" is a lens through which we can read Penultimate Truth. I intend to flesh that argument out, as well as others regarding the Penultimate Truth's continuing relevance, in future posts.

However, you can't really go wrong with any of these picks. Especially A Scanner Darkly, which I find continually haunting.

Philip K. Dick, Curtis Mayfield & The Matrix

I've been reading The Penultimate Truth by Philip. K. Dick and I was struck by a number of things.

First of all, the book's influence on the film The Matrix seems profound. Of course, I have read that PKD was an influence on the film before, but surprisingly, not one mention of PKD is found on the Wikipedia article about the film. What's up with that!!? Clearly the Tom Mix is the literary precursor of the Nebuchadnezzar. And the whole plot of the Matrix, with machines living off the generated power of enslaved humans is taken directly from the Penultimate Truth. Except that in the movie, the Yance-men are replaced with robots. But given PKD's M.O. one could argue that the Yance-men are robots. Indeed, Yancy is just a simulacrum through which the above-ground elite feed their lies to the people underground. I'm sure this has been noted before in blogland, and if so, someone point me in the direction.

On a side note, for Penultimate Truth lovers out there, check out Curtis Mayfield's classic "Underground" from his album Roots. Here you'll find PKD's influence on Chicago Soul. I have no proof that Curtis Mayfield ever read PKD, but if I were to create the soundtrack for a Penultimate Truth film, it would open with "Underground."