Saturday, November 17, 2012

AKA... That Time I Met Noel Gallagher

AKA That Time I Met Noel Gallagher

Yes, I met Noel Gallagher. It was surprisingly easy, not entirely premeditated, and out of all the questions I have ever wanted to ask him, what happened? I asked a silly one that's been stuck in my brain since 2007.

After locating my friend's house where I was staying and going to lunch with said friend, I made my way back into downtown Portland and found the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Three buses sat parked on the street around back, and I thought, Hmm. Interesting. I looked at my phone -- 2 hours or so to kill. Either I'm just ahead of the sound check, or it's just started, I bet. I stood there near one of the venue's back doors for a minute and realized I could hear "Talk Tonight" being played. A few minutes passed. Two local security guards who were watching the buses noticed me.

The woman asked, "Are you waiting for a ride?"

Let's see, what is the level of pathetic-ness to which I am willing to admit? Let's go with... "No, well... I'm waiting for a friend who was supposed to meet me."

"Oh. I was just going to say, you probably don't want to stand under that overhang."

I looked up at the metal grate-style balcony above me. "Oh, does it drip?" It had been raining off and on all day.

"Yeah, and the pigeons seem to aim for people."

"Ah! Okay! Thank you!" I moved closer to the steps where the guards stood, pretended to be interested in my phone, and had to get my umbrella back out again. Yes, I needed to find something to do, but not too far away because I'd been walking all day, and despite this luck of having seen the buses, the man was already inside. Him wandering outside for a smoke break was not guaranteed. No point in standing around, being that person, when there were perfectly good happy hours going on nearby.

I ended up at a place across the street from what appeared to be the security entrance to the venue. There was a catering truck and an equipment truck parked and blocking most of the view, so I was not really paying attention to it. Instead, I called my husband, chatted with the waitress, and drank $3 gin and tonics near the back, by the bar.

(Before anyone accuses me of being a bit too thematic with my drink choice, I did originally ask for gin and ginger ale, but the place brews their own ginger beer instead, and it's not part of the happy hour specials. And "Supersonic" references notwithstanding, gin is my favorite liquor.)

I had finished about half of my second G&T when... well, the best way I can describe what happened is Spidey-Sense. Suddenly, I had this automatic instinct to look out the window and across the street, and I saw a flash of familiar brown-grey hair walk outside. Within seconds, I had sucked down the rest of that (delicious) drink, paid my tab to my understanding and speedy waitress (I tipped well), and I was out the door.

No Noel to be seen. Two girls stood nearby, one of whom wore a Snow Patrol hoodie. "You just missed Noel Gallagher," she said.

"Did I?"

"Yeah, we said hello to him," the other said.

"I love how he talks," the first one said.

"Motherfucker," I muttered.

"He just went around to his bus, I think, but I bet if you stood by the corner there and waited, you'd catch him."

Bless these Snow Patrol fans.

"Thank you," I said. "That is exactly what I'll do."

"He's wearing a black leather jacket," one of them called out as I walked away. I thanked them again, but thought, Ladies, please. I know his jacket. It replaced the one that was lost/stolen in his luggage during the Dig Out Your Soul tour.

(Related note: Over-studied him, who me?)

And so I waited. In the rain, under my shitty black umbrella. I started doing stage manager math: Okay, if they let people in around 7:30, then he will want to be inside around 7:00 so that he's not cutting through the crowd going in the door. It was around 6:40. I waited. I looked at the people approaching, leaned against the building, and re-noticed my poor far-distance vision. The rain stopped again. That person's too tall. That person doesn't have the right walk. Did he walk back in another door?

Waited. Watched the clock. At about five minutes to 7pm, I spotted him. Yes, he wore that known jacket and approached from the farthest away bus with his bodyguard . When he fell into earshot, I said, "Hello, Noel."

All cool and collected, like. As though I wasn't thinking, Jesus, I can't believe it was this easy.

A sly grin crept across his face. "Well, hello there, smiling lady."

!!!!!!!

"Will you sign my CD?" I said, for I arrived prepared, no matter how (un)likely this moment might've been.

"Sure."

I handed him my deluxe edition Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds and started to dig around my bag. "Let me get my Sharpie. I'm all prepared." I laughed at myself, and then I couldn't find the damn thing right away, couldn't remember in which small pocket in my bag I'd left it. So I say under my breath, "Oh, for Christ's sake..." and he laughs a little, not unkindly, and then, finally, I locate it and hand it to him. "Purple. All fancy, like," I said.

Because apparently my reaction to meeting one of my favorite people ever is to make my usual stupid jokes. That is how I roll.

He looked exactly like I thought he would. Same height, just a little bit taller than I am. Same lines by his eyes. All of it. Maybe the gin assisted me, but my nervousness evaporated from the moment he returned my greeting. I'd heard he had a talent for that, putting others at ease. How interesting to experience it firsthand.

"What's your name?" he said.

"Oh!" Because it had not even occurred to me that he might ask. "It's Sara. With no H."

"Oh, like my missus."

YES.

"Yes," I said, much more reasonably and not in all caps. Here came the question. "Does she get annoyed when people try to stick an H on her name?"

"Like you wouldn't believe. Especially when I do it!" He laughed again.

"It is the question all Saras ask of each other when we meet."

He handed me back the CD and Sharpie. "There you go."

Before he could walk away, I asked, "Can I shake your hand?"

"Sure."

We shook. His hand was dry and warm, and because of the cold, mine was thankfully not sweating. "Well, I'm sure I'll enjoy the show," I said. He nodded and carried on walking. When I looked down at my CD, my heart rate began to tick back upwards. ALL CAPS texts were sent. Twitter informed. Somewhere in 1996, 13-year-old me exploded.

Meeting him was both surreal and exactly as I might have imagined. I'd managed to not be an idiot, he remained very polite and not at all impatient. It might sound silly, but after spending sixteen years listening to the music, reading and listening to the interviews, reading interviews with people who have met/worked with him, etc. etc.... Well, I know Noel Gallagher as a Public Figure pretty well. Because of that, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that it went as well as it did. I knew better than to ask for a photo because he doesn't really enjoy taking them. An autograph and a handshake were perfectly reasonable requests. I knew my audience, and he knew his.

It wasn't an interview, but man, it'll certainly do. There's time yet for more, one day.

I'll leave it at that for now, but stay tuned for my thoughts on the gig itself.

What a life, indeed.

Noel Gallagher - Portland, Oregon

(This post now also appears on Persephone Magazine.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Stereotypical Freaks by Howard Shapiro


The Stereotypical Freaks
by Howard Shapiro
Art by Joe Pekar and Ed Brisson

I will admit that, as an adult, I read middle-grade books almost never, and young adult books only slightly more often, but I was curious about Howard Shapiro's graphic novel, The Stereotypical Freaks, because it involved music and I have a soft spot for "Battle of the Bands" storylines. 

Because of my reading biases, I tried to make sure I approached the book from the viewpoint of a young reader and what they might get out of it, rather than interpreting the themes as meant for adults. Shapiro has written a touching story that, while imperfect, will still likely resonate with the pre-/early teenage set.

The Stereotypical Freaks is the story of four high school seniors — Tom, Dan, Marc, and Jacoby — who end up forming a band together, despite their different social circles at school. Tom is "the smart kid," Dan is "the geek," Mark (formerly Marcell) is the star football player, and Jacoby is the quiet Arctic-Canadian exchange student. Tom and Dan are best friends, and Tom and Mark used to play together as kids, before Mark was absorbed into the jock clique. The band comes from Tom's desire to impress Jaelithe, who is dating a stoner guy in another band. When they finally get it together and start practicing, Jacoby eventually reveals some distressing news that gives them a whole new perspective on their quest.

Shapiro divides the story into titled chapters, each with recommended listening. There are a lot of classics like The Who, Rush, and Bruce Springsteen, as well as songs from the '90s — a decade I'm not yet mentally prepared to admit has "classic" status — with songs from Rancid, Urge Overkill and The Replacements. I'm not entirely sure what decade this story is supposed to exist in, but Tom's hair and everyone's clothing suggests something more current. Because of that, I wondered why there were not any new songs listed, though it is entirely possible that the story is set in the late '90s (nu metal is mentioned). Of course, we all knew that kid in school who listened to almost nothing but old stuff, but even those music fans had a few more modern bands that they dug. With Tom being a fan of punk, I would think that his identification with that underground sensibility would have had him stumbling upon all kinds of bands online. I understand the urge to make the story more timeless, but if the book is aimed at younger readers, the playlist comes across a little bit like, "You kids need to acquaint your self with 'real' music." If I'm wrong about the timeline, then I suppose it just needed to be made more clear.

I mean, I like the recommended listening, but I'm almost thirty years old. Rancid's ...And Out Come the Wolves is a great album that any punk fan should have, but a teenage music fan is bound to have more than one band that "nobody" has heard of in their collection. Also — and this is a minor quibble, but it crossed my mind — if the band covers "Baba O'Riley," they need a keyboard player. I mean, Tom and Dan would have to be a pretty impressive guitar players to adequately adapt the song without one and still have it be any good. Maybe they are supposed to be, I don't know, but I think the song loses a lot without that additional instrumentation.

Another issue I had is that the characters, Tom especially, have a tendency to over-explain themselves and speak in a way that didn't feel natural. At one point, while talking to Jacoby about Jaelithe, Tom says:

I just over thought things. What if she said no? How would I be perceived in school? What would people think if they found out that I had even asked her out? How'd they look at her if she said yes?

It just doesn't seem like something a teenage boy would say out loud, in that way, outside the protective shell of a bedroom. I am more understanding of the internal monologue being very analytical and dramatic, as that's both typical of Tom's age and more traditional in the comic/graphic novel format. I guess my complaint is that the importance of different themes is overly spelled out, when maybe we should trust a younger reader to make that leap for themselves.

Still, like I said, I'm not the intended audience. Shapiro has still written characters that non-adult readers can identify with in some way, and Freaks reinforces the message that, no matter how together someone may seem, we all feel misunderstood at times and we all have our problems. It's meant to be a feel-good story with a hefty dose of perspective. I don't know if older teenagers would get much out of it for that reason — as Dan shows, high school seniors are well on their way to being cynics — but for the under-15 set? Sure. My eight-year-old daughter immediately picked up the book when it arrived in the mail and asked if she could read it when I was done with it. I said yes. Though I'm not highly concerned about it, other parents might be pleased to know that there's no swearing in Freaks. (Even if there was a bit, my daughter is currently the type to mentally go, "Inappropriate!" and quickly keep on with the story, which I guess makes my life easier.) As long as your kid has the ability to read a longer book and is interested, then this a good graphic novel to pass along. Though the novel revolves around four boys, I still think girls can appreciate it as well. The story is bittersweet and one sees the ending coming, but it is handled in a touching and sincere way.


Full Disclosure: The book was sent to me by the author. I thank him for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.

The book will be released tomorrow, November 14, and is a Goodreads giveaway until the 16th.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Internal News: 11-11-12

It's been awhile since we've done one of these, hasn't it? For one thing, I was in Portland for most of a week at the end of October... AKA... That Time I Met Noel Gallagher. (Yes, you'll be hearing more about that soon.) So let us catch up on what I've written when I wasn't posting here.

At P-Mag:

Book Review: Lips Like Sugar: Women's Erotic Fantasies edited by Violet Blue

Notes From Elsewhere: Word Riot Edition:
  • 11-3-12: Interviews with Jonathan Lethem and Cheryl Strayed, how to save waterlogged books, how to dye paper, and more.
  • 11-11-12:  An interview with Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket, a book called Die You Doughnut Bastards, Ms. Polly Jean Harvey, etc. etc.


That's all for now. Time for me to get back to my glacial NaNo pace.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Collective by Don Lee


The Collective
by Don Lee

With a story about artists, writers and generally intelligent people working together to advance their cultural environment, I think I wanted to like The Collective more than I did. Instead, I found myself wanting to hear more from one character and his full-on adult years, rather than the college kid posturing.

Eric Cho attends Macalester College as a creative writing student, and he soon befriends the brash and contrary Joshua Yoon, a fellow writer who is quick to dismiss others and feels a strong responsibility to write about contemporary Asian culture. They live in the same dorm together and soon start spending time with Jessica Tsai, a visual artist who isn't so interested in reciprocating Eric's massive feelings for her. They have many conversations about truth and authenticity, and as they move past school, they find they still want to work together. Through Joshua, they form the 3AC — The Asian American Artists Collective — and are soon hosting meetings at Joshua's Cambridge, Massachusetts house, which he inherited from his white adoptive parents. Joshua has many conflicting feelings about being adopted and therefore how "authentically" Korean he is, but most of the time, he makes others act on the defensive.

However, the very beginning of the book flashes forward to the future, to when Joshua was thirty-eight.

He was running on a stretch of Waterborne where drivers are slingshot out of a curve and accelerate. He heard a car coming, and, rather than keep to the edge of the road, he drifted a few feet onto it.

Did he really mean to do it, to be hit by someone and killed? Could he have been so callous, willing to burden an anonymous driver, through no fault of his own, with a lifetime of trauma?

To this day, I am not sure. I go over and over it, and I still don't know. Maybe Joshua, my old friend, wanted to feel the whoosh and rev of the car as it went by, the inches between death and continuance, how arbitrary the sway can be between the two. Maybe he had yawed drunkenly into the car's path without volition or meditation. Yet the impulse had probably come across Joshua before, more than once, running on that road, to step in front of a speeding car, ending everything right then and there. Whatever the case, there was a witness, a driver approaching from the other direction, who claimed she saw Joshua veer abruptly and unmistakably into the path of the car.

The complexities of Joshua's character are very interesting to me, but The Collective is narrated by Eric instead. I would have even enjoyed narration by Jessica instead, the artist who eventually suffers from carpal tunnel and issues of identity in addition to race, but instead, we get Eric — pining away, wondering away, waiting for someone else to boost him up and give him permission to succeed. In college, he wants a girlfriend because he feels left out. He wants to be a writer, but has trouble actually writing much of anything. He endlessly seeks Joshua and Jessica's validation, though to be fair, Joshua is the sort of commanding personality that might send even more confident people looking for his approval, if for no other reason than to avoid being hassled by him.

The story and the 3AC's mission is a compelling one, but for me, Eric was too passive of a character for me to much care about. He seems to know a lot about everyone else, yet is still perplexed by their behavior. His first girlfriend post-college doesn't drink, and so now all of the sudden he doesn't drink, out of "support." He latches onto her hard, and doesn't quite understand why she feels smothered by it. He also seems to be attracted to people, friendship-wise or romantically, who are notoriously difficult. People walk all over him.

In college, Joshua and I had each made a vow to publish our first books before we hit thirty. We were twenty-eight now. It was still a distinct possibility for him, tapping away up there in the attic. For me, the chances were dubious. I wasn't writing at the moment, just occasionally tinkering with revisions of old stories. The fact was, I hadn't written anything new since grad school. I blamed adjunct teaching and Palaver for waylaying me, but they were poor excuses. There were no excuses, Joshua always said. If you want to write, you write. You find the time. You make the time.

I spent most of my time with Jessica.

(On a side note, let's just have a hearty laugh at two friends both managing to publish their first books before thirty. Oh, we all want to be the young geniuses that make some sort of Hot Writers Under 35 List, but in the back of our heads, we must know to prepare for the long haul.)

I suppose the argument could be made that The Collective is a story about how we can never completely know another person, and that even our closest friends are capable of surprising us. I just wanted to hear about it from someone else. If we could see the inner workings of Joshua, rather than speculate, and juxtapose those thoughts with his outward behavior, I might have enjoyed the novel more.

The thing is, the characters' college-era insecurity follows them into adulthood. They're jealous of others' successes, try to puff themselves up, even if they've made no advancements, and no advancement is always the fault of others. In that way, Joshua is right — The only way you're going to get anything done is by doing it. Otherwise, shut the fuck up.

Joshua's problem though, among many, is that despite his work ethic, he doesn't shut up. And yet, it's hard to believe anything that he says. Moments of honesty and sincerity creep through, and that's especially when I wanted to know what was going on inside his head, why he acted the way he did, rather than hear Eric lament again. So much lamenting. You are twenty-eight years old. Be an adult already.

I understand that creative people are often not the most stable — myself being one of them — and while I sympathized with these characters' causes, I just couldn't quite connect with them. I'm certainly not sorry I read The Collective, but especially now going back through it, I wish the story could have been framed in a more effective way. Like Eric, it has potential, but I wanted better.

Full Disclosure: W.W. Norton sent this book to me as a review copy. I thank them for the gesture and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.