Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Sky Changes – Gilbert Sorrentino (1966)

The Sky Changes, the first published novel by Gilbert Sorrentino, is the story of a family driving west across the U.S., as the unnamed husband admits to himself that the marriage is over.  There’s a plan to end the trip by spending time in Mexico, to patch things together, but this seems hopelessly impossible, and instead the split happens in San Francisco after a desultory Christmas spent with friends.  The novel is structured as short glimpses in space and time, each section labeled with the location, occasionally moving forward in chronology or backward to Brooklyn where they started.  Written in the early sixties, this is the anti-‘On The Road’ – where the wide open highways and small towns can’t provide much solace, and you’re lucky if the car doesn’t break down or run out of gas.

Ramona Falls @ Doug Fir, 29-Aug-2009

Saw the 7th show ever by Ramona Falls, the Brent Knopf-led offshoot project from Menomena, last night at the Doug Fir. Quite good!  Some similarities to Menomena sounds, but to me at least that’s not a bad thing at all.  The band has a record out, called Intuit, with cover art by local Theo Ellsworth (whose work I saw at the Portland comics fest earlier this year).  They played all 11 songs at the show, and had nothing left for an encore.

Also on the bill were the Brothers Young (led by three literally young brothers who do some nice harmonies) and Dirty Mittens (a quirky take on R&B), so a stylistically diverse show, but each set worked on its own.

Joseph McElroy's 'Ancient History' (1971)

A little while back I picked up a first edition of Joseph McElroy‘s 1971 novel, Ancient History: A Paraphase, his third book.  For whatever reason I had it my mind that the title was really Ancient History: A Paraphrase, but a few days back I was looking at the cover and finally saw the true title.  But funny enough, I found that others have made the same mistake.  The bio below is from a paperback reprint of his first novel, Smuggler’s Bible.

Ancient History is a strange book, to be sure.  Told by a man who sneaks into the apartment of a man who has apparently committed suicide earlier that evening, the narrator has some interesting mathematical theories about parabolas, and seems to be relating stories of his past to in some way ‘graph’ them.  I’m sure there are other tricks going on in terms of the names of the characters – the main ones all start with the letters A, B, C or D (kind of like labels on points on a geometric diagram).  McElroy makes you work for it, in a way like Gaddis; this book has essentially just one ‘chapter break’ over its 307 pages.

When I’m sufficiently rested from this one, I’ll try his second novel, Hind’s Kidnap.

'High Noon' iconography

‘High Noon’ from 1952 made it to the top of my Netflix queue the other day, so I finally saw this western featuring Gary Cooper as a Marshall who takes on four bad guys single-handedly.  Three of the nasty fellows linger at the isolated train station, waiting for the fourth, Frank Miller, to arrive on the noon train.  Lee Van Cleef, above, is one of the baddies.

Watching some of these scenes made it so clear that Sergio Leone had studied this film carefully.  That’s Grace Kelly below at the station.  It’s great to see Van Cleef in both worlds!


A couple events dominate the Portland arts and music scene in September.  This year the TBA Festival is getting a Labor Day Start, and has various events and gallery shows scheduled for Sept 3-13.  TBA = Time Based Art, which seems to mean art that is not static, like a painting or sculpture, but instead performances, videos, dance, etc.  I hope to make it to a few things this time around (there’s a little book they publish with all the events, it’s a little overwhelming!).

Then from Sept 16-20 is the Music Fest North West (MFNW), with rock shows at many venues around town.  Last year I caught a bunch of fun shows, and I need to look over the schedule this year.

You get what you expect?

Interesting article from Wired’s Steve Silberman on the apparently increasing placebo effect.  He concludes:

Ironically, Big Pharma’s attempt to dominate the central nervous system has ended up revealing how powerful the brain really is. The placebo response doesn’t care if the catalyst for healing is a triumph of pharmacology, a compassionate therapist, or a syringe of salt water. All it requires is a reasonable expectation of getting better. That’s potent medicine.

So think positive!

Digging mid-1960s Wayne Shorter!

Not that these Wayne Shorter albums are in any way obscure, but I’ve been listening to them intently for the last couple weeks.  Some of these CDs I have had previously, but had just not fully appreciated until now.  Wayne Shorter was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet during the mid to late sixties, and he also put out a number of CDs under his name, often with Herbie Hancock.  A number of the tunes were recorded under both groupings.  “Adam’s Apple” above is from 1966, while “Juju” and “Speak No Evil” were recorded in 1964.

I find the music not too hot, but not overly ‘cool’ either – it strikes a great blend that is somewhat meditative and mysterious.  From this same period, also be sure to hear ‘E.S.P.’ and ‘Miles Smiles’ from the Miles Davis Quintet.

What I'm reading…

I picked up Thomas Pynchon’s new ‘Inherent Vice’ on the day it came out, and finished it last night.

My short review: Pynchon meets “The Big Lebowski”.  If you like both of those things, you’ll probably like the book OK.  Pynchon seems to have gained a slight amount of sympathy for the police, as I read it, compared to Vineland for example.  The expected offering of songs, bad dope jokes, funny names, a 1970 vibe of Manson paranoia, and writing that only Mr P. can produce.

Now I’m into Dave Eggers’ new work of journalism called ‘Zeitoun’ – the story of a family’s travails during Hurricane Katrina, centered on the Syrian construction entrepreneur who gives the book its name.  I’m at the point in the book, as Led Zeppelin puts it, “when the levee breaks.”

Update on Zeitoun: finished the book, which I recommend.  The story of an injustice, perhaps not a major one, but one that we can probably all empathize with.  Here we see the personal impact of a ‘rescue’ system that seems more interested in locking people up than with helping people out.  And we see how quickly one can feel completely isolated in today’s world of usually instant communications.  For more info check out the Zeitoun Foundation.

Sunday Parkways in SE Portland!

I got up early this morning to volunteer for the Sunday Parkways event held today in the Southeast section of Portland.  I was at the helm at the T intersection above, where I got my little traffic circle set up, and things got a whole lot busier a bit later.  Above looks east toward Mt Tabor along Lincoln, with 41st off to the left.

Lots of folks came out as the sky cleared and the day got beautiful.  Below a small group performed in front of Sunnyside School.

Over at Col. Summers Park there were many vendors along with a band.

My favorite bike of the day – the fish bike!

See more coverage of the event over at

Bridge Pedal 2009

One day a year Portland lets the bicycles take over the bridges in town, including those that are part of the interstate system.  It’s called the Bridge Pedal, and thousands of riders of all ages get up early on a Sunday morning and hit the roads.  I did the 8-bridge option, which covered about 24 miles and took about 2.5 hours at a fairly leisurely but steady pace.

Highlights were the views from the Marquam bridge, the Fremont Bridge (above), and the St John’s bridge (below).  Check out for more coverage of the event.