“Population: 1,” A Punk History of the Late, Great USA

"If you don't remember the 80s, just imagine listening to Duran Duran's 'Hungry Like the Wolf' playing on a boom box that at any moment could explode, killing you and everyone you know."Population: 1 opens with basically a music video, in which a snaggle-toothed chanteuse wonders why nobody loves her, and then dies on a riverbank. She's glorious--just enough menace, just enough shriek--but what actually is going on here? We cut to an underground bunker where a scrawny degenerate is watching … [Read more...]

“Indie Music’s Christ-Haunted Women”: I’m at AmCon

with some answers to a question I asked here recently: I listen to a lot of what you could call “Christ-haunted” music. Your Mountain Goats, your Weakerthans. Not music made by believers necessarily (although sometimes, unexpectedly, yes), but music made by people who can’t quite escape the stories of Scripture and the language of Christian faith. Cain, resurrection, David, sorrow for sin; a desperate rosary or a hospital vespers. You could add to this list stuff I don’t personally quite grok, b … [Read more...]

The Martyred Crowd: “Cathedral of the August Heat, A Novel of Haiti”

This is a short, feverish, seamy, painful book from 1987 about a revolutionary upsurge among the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere. It's written by a dissident journalist exiled by the Duvaliers. It's Communist in rhetoric, and there are moments toward the end when the rhetoric and also the optimism feel really flimsy. But most of the book is given over to tales of life at the bottom: sultry dreamscapes and violent nightmares, phantasmagoric beauty and brutal suffering, … [Read more...]

Didn’t Know It Was a Devil Town: I Finally Watch “Friday Night Lights”

For years people told me I had to watch Friday Night Lights. And they all said the same four things: "Coach and Tami Taylor have the best marriage on television. I love how Dillon is its own character, and the show honors those who stay in their nowhere hometown instead of going Somewhere to be somebody. Ugh, skip season two, some dude kills a dude and it's just a soapy mess. Oh and you don't have to care about football, seriously, it's not a show about football."Some of this is true! Here … [Read more...]

“Pro Wrestling (With Angels)”: I review the new Mountain Goats album

at AmCon: CDs of “Beat the Champ,” the new album from indie folk/rock band the Mountain Goats, come with a small white sticker proclaiming: THIS RIGHT HERE IS AN ALBUM ABOUT PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING. I guess they had to get the ironic disclaimer out of the way: Yes, this is a weird thing to do, roll with it please. If you do roll with it you will find an utterly unironic tribute to the wrestling heroes of singer/songwriter John Darnielle’s childhood—and one of his band’s best albums. more … [Read more...]

Toller Cranston Skates for Mexico: A Fever Dream

One reason I loved the Mountain Goats' new album Beat the Champ so much is that it speaks about a kid projecting his own emotional turmoil onto the storytelling sport of pro wrestling, in a way which deeply resonated with my experience projecting my own emotional turmoil onto the storytelling sport of figure skating. If I made my own sports concept album it would be Toller Cranston Skates for Mexico, and it would be about, mostly, the Lillehammer Olympics, which allowed skaters who had left … [Read more...]

From Pierre Clitandre, “Cathedral of the August Heat: A Novel of Haiti”

Then the ragged crowd pressed forward, in spite of the threat of the guns. They were ordered back. The tide of men came forward, silently, heavily, big hands by their knees. The gun shots rang out again. The men kept on coming. Heavily. Stepping over bodies soaked in blood. A third time the guns fired. At that moment out of the crowd, amid the dead bodies of men, pregnant women, the dust, blood, sun and gunfire, came the beautiful long-haired brown girl, dazzling in her white dress. With arms … [Read more...]