It's my weekly column! Crapshoot! Your life just got so much worse!
Discussed this week: Heron (the band), Video game maps, war comics, and (only briefly, I swear) the iPhone 4.
I'm obsessed by this song. I want to curl up and live in this song. It was on a Nuggets compilation somewhere that wound up playing in the office, probably six months ago. I keep coming back to it. The disc, Heron's self-titled 1970 album, looks like it's out of print. It's like $90 on Amazon. I'm not sure about the vinyl, but I'd imagine that's hard to come by, too. What does exist is this 2-disc compilation re-issuing everything the band recorded for the Dawn label. And I can't vouch for all of it (the self-titled disc is a bit of a mixed-bag, though the vocal harmonies are rad throughout). The main thing you should focus on here is this song.
Show we should have written up this weekend, but didn't: My old homies from the way-back college days in Eugene, Pelletgun, are playing the White Eagle on Saturday night. The band is really, really good and inspired by Built to Spill (so, if you wanted to go see BTS tonight and Pellet Gun tomorrow night, your whole weekend would take on this weird, Idaho vibe). It's probably less than five bucks to see 'em, and White Eagle is a nice joint.
I was just thinking about how, in the 8 and 16-bit era, one of my favorite things about a game was seeing its entire map—either in an instruction booklet or Nintendo Power or whatever—plotted out all extra large. So I found a few (these make great wallpapers for your computer) of my favorites online. There's a guy named Rick N. Burns who has been making some NES ones at a site called nesmaps. I've pulled from him and elsewhere (vgmaps.com was another good one). Enjoy.
I just read War is Boring, from war correspondent David Axe and Portland cartoonist Matt Bors, before and after breakfast today. It's a super-quick read, especially for a book that spans a few years and continents. You should take your time if you get your hands on it, though—I want to recommend it not so much for the narrative, which I'll get into in a second, but for Bors excellent illustrations (you can get a taste here and here). Bors captures both the serious (car bombs, street-fights) and the ridiculous (trade shows, a fever-dream with armed raccoons) with clean lines and a really lively style. His art is cartoony without being too...cartoony—the characters and settings are reduced to their essences without losing sight of this crazy in-comic physics that Bors' line presents so well. It's a joy to look at, and you really can't wait to see what the next page looks like. Some of that credit, of course, goes to Axe, who must have been responsible for a shit-ton of source material and collaboration on the panels.
So that's the upside. The downside is that despite its 124 pages, War Is Boring speeds by in an instant without much real-world contextualizing or character-building. Axe, straight-faced and over everything before it happens, presents himself as kind of an unlikeable dude. That characterization seems intentional on some levels: He cops to a certain callousness that comes from jumping into war zones the way most of his peers hop from party to party. But unlike the war comic genre's godfather, Joe Sacco, Axe doesn't allow any empathy to seep into his relentless and depressing internal monologue (which finds him saying things like "They always want me to meet their daughters" and "I face the darkness, I run towards it."). We know Axe feels sympathy for the folks trapped in Afghanistan and East Timor, because he tells us he's sympathetic. But rarely does he delve any deeper than that: No character's story is fleshed out or investigated here aside from Axe's (including his girlfriend, who, despite being a major character, is given no life at all outside Bors' brilliant art), and one doesn't even walk away from the book knowing the author. Instead, we're thrown into his life—subject to his bitching, his political rants and, occasionally, his thoughts on the nature of existence—then we're thrown right back out again.
It may be downright mean to compare Axe to Sacco. And I wouldn't criticize anyone for their emotional take on surviving war zones, as I've never spent time in one. But the conclusion that Bors draws from his experiences—that "the world is shit" and it will always be—seems an odd and bitter gift to give to the world in book form, true or not. ("The more different people I meet, the less I believe in their humanity," Axe writes even more cryptically in his outro.) And I know from talking at some length with Sacco and other war reporters that Bors' lesson isn't the only one that can be learned from entering war zones.
For those who've kept close tabs on Axe's war reportage, this book might make an invaluable behind-the-scenes docuement; a companion piece that fills in the blanks between the stories he's filed from around the globe. But taken on its own, it's a 125-page existential crisis set against drab and deadly backdrops. So what I learned from this book—aside from the fact that I need to keep tabs on Bors—is that war correspondents are just as self-obsessed and self-loathing as the rest of us. That sentiment, in a way, fits Axe into a rich tradition of depressed and depressing comic creators. I'm just not sure it's the lesson I was supposed to come away with.
I got my iPhone 4. It works fine, thank you, but I'll take a free bumper case. And I know you don't give a shit about iPhones, or the petty problems of those people who use them. Here's my only point: Why, as everything about cell phones gets better, does the vibration function only get worse? I fucking hate the whole concept of ringtones, and that never used to be a problem. My first cell phone, in like 2003, vibrated so hard in my pocket that I almost jizzed in my pants. It was like getting a handjob! I needed a cool-down period before I could talk to whoever was on the other end! And now? I can't even feel the thing shaking in my pocket, despite the fact that my jeans have gotten tighter since college.
This must be rectified! Recall the iPhone! Make it shake harder!