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.