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.