Just Finished Reading…

Underwater Dogs

By Seth Casteel. 130 pages. Little, Brown & Co., 2012.

This book, which lives up to its title by photographically depicting dozens of immersed canines, truly has something for everyone. If you’re a dog lover, you’ll find the expressions of these submerged animals cute and fuzzy. If you’re not a dog lover, you’ll think of them drowning. Some of the images, with bulging eyes or exposed fangs, can be disturbing. Mostly, it’s a creative exercise in showing how fluids distort our perception of things (and I’m not talking about liquor). The book is beautifully produced to catch all the watery hues and hairy snouts, and exceedingly thoughtful in how it ends with portraits of “The Dogs on Land,” all grinny and drooly and looking happy to have dried off.

It’s a Word. It’s a Plan. It’s…

Superman comics #13 opens with the man from krypton literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders (bench pressing 5.972 sextillion metric tons as a science experiment fort his friend Dr. Veritas) and ends with him battling a dragon on the streets of Metropolis and sparring with his cousin Supergirl.

So it’s a little funny that so much attention has been paid to the decidedly non-galactic circumstance of Clark Kent quitting his job. The mild mannered reporter has a run-in with Morgan Edge, owner of the Galaxy Broadcasting conglomerate which publishes the Daily Planet.

Journalists with integrity getting fed up with the desperate dumbing down of newspapers is a fairly common event these days, not exactly on par with a mythological beast on an urban rampage. But Clark Kent’s exit speech, delivered after he’s scolded for searching city housing records for story ideas rather than chasing obvious celebrity stories really does stand alongside his alter ego’s derring- do as another sort of heroism.

It is a stirring speech, one that should be tacked onto the bulletin boards of journalists’ cubicles throughout the world:

You want to have a conversation about the truth, Mr. Edge? The truth is that somewhere along the way, the business of news became the news.

Growing up in Smallville, I believed that journalism was an ideal, as worthy and important as being a cop or fireman—a teacher or a doctor. I was taught to believe you could use words to change the course of rivers—that even the darkest secrets would fall under the harsh light of the sun.

But facts have been replaced by opinions. Information has been replaced by entertainment. Reporters have become stenographers.

I can’t be the only one who is sick at the thought of what passes for news today. I am not the only one who believes in the power of the press—the fact that we need to stand up for the truth. For justice. And yeah—I’m not ashamed to say it—the American Way!

Clark Kent leaving his job at the Daily Planet made the national news. Kent blew up at Morgan Edge (the owner of Galaxy Broadcasting, the corporation which owns the Planet’s print and online editions) when Edge chastised him for fishing for news stories (“researching housing code violations) when he should be out covering the exploits of Superman. Irony!

Why am I mentioning this now, when all the media which found it fit to print reported Kent’s unemployment weeks ago? Well, call me crazy, but I’m a diehard comic book reader, and I wanted to stay tuned for the next issue. Would this anger be sustained? Would Clark Kent’s distress become the central theme of the series.

In a word, no. Superman #14 came, and while his job situation is far from an afterthought, it’s limited to a jumbled conversation with Lois Lane regarding her love life, Clark’s squalid living situation, and a surprise appearance from Supergirl. Then Superman has to go save the world from the intergalactic demon known as H’el, and petty concerns such as the future of American journalism are forgotten.

I had reason to be hopeful, and still do, because Superman has been on an introspective, purpose-finding kick for a while now. In an extraordinary year-long series last year, the Man of Steel chose to walk cross-country rather than leap it in a single bound, on a journey of self-discovery that may have involved alien conspiracies and supervillains but was mostly about sense of self and moral direction. Also last year, Superman renounced his American citizenship. He’s really been asking questions about the state of contemporary society and politics.

I hope more outbursts are on the way. And, having seen a lot of good journalists blow up at their bosses, stride out of their offices and never find a decent job in the field again. There just aren’t that many reporting gigs to be had. Clark Kent doesn’t really have a problem filling up his leisure time and making a difference, but I do hope he gets back to writing a lot. Even if it’s just a diary of his many recent self-exploratory odysseys. And I hope Superman finds time between his planet-hopping fisticuffs to keep centered around great issues like communication and media.

One question he might want to explore: If the Daily Planet has descended to celebrity-driven claptrap, isn’t the “Look! Up in the sky!” guy with the red cape somewhat culpable concerning that sensationalistic drive?

Rock Gods #281: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Beam High Baby is a new pun-laden sci-fi stunt act that takes a joke so far it sings. Their inaugural set Saturday as opening act for the non-Blats reunion show at the Bullfinch went well beyond wordplay.

BHB was borne in a bar game. Their set came from an addled-brainstormed list of song titles with the word “high” (or a reasonable homonym thereof) in them. Only the ones where the sense of “high” as it’s usually perceived, say, in the Bullfinch parking lot over by the vans, was MOST unlikely made the cut. For instance, songs where people are just saying a form of hello. Or laughing—Hee, hee, high. Or saying “Hey,” or “Ha!” or “Hoi!”

(We were at the inebritated powwow ourself, and am embarrassed to have contributed the pun which became the band’s name.)

You’d think that the fun in watching such renditions would be over as soon as the joke was detected. But Beam High Baby had an attention span even shorter than that that of its audience. The band filled the set with even more and greater puns, and singer Sass Backley sang them such as they could clearly be heard. There were even musical puns. The two guitarists, Ace Stitch and Army Antell, one-upped each other on high-note solos whilst drummer Burt Beat slammed his Hi-Hat.

Having said “Hi” and hit one, Beam High Baby is not laying low. Even the busiest members of the band have cleared their calendars for a planned Hallowe’en weekend special.

Just Finished Reading…

Read This!: Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores

Coffee House Press


Assuming you can catch the attention of the overworked owner of an understaffed independent American bookstore and wonder vaguely what their favorite books might be, this is what they’d say. I’ve managed bookshops; hard to imagine how one would find the time to craft one of these High-Fidelity-style lists.

These are often a wasted exercise for me. I like the lists which conform to my own hardened tastes and dismiss out of hand the ones from which I might actually learn something. Some of the listmakers are so old-world canonical it’s off-putting (Joseph DeSalvo of Faulkner House Books in New Orleans, touting classics from Virgil to Austen to Robert Penn Warren, doesn’t go further afield than John Kennedy Toole, and comes off as awfully patronizing in the “More About” page which all the contributors get so they can explain a few of their choices. On the other hand, Emily Pullen of Skylight Books has a consciously quirky list that includes children’s books, graphic novels, and Siddharta Mukherjee.

Read Read This! too long, and you’re likely to want to read something else. Which is kind of its point. As an advertisement for independent bookstores, it only goes so far. As an incitement to read more broadly, it’s a great browse.

Songs About Lamps

10. Sally Oldfield, “Song of the Lamp.” Sung with such extraordinary range and sweetness that it could shatter a lamp. Interchangeable with Stevie Nicks’ Blue Lamp (“I had looked everywhere but the only lamp left on in the house

Was a blue light, a blue light”) for winsome wandering and waiting metaphors.

9. “Sushi Lamp Song.” There’s this video game, Shadows of the Damned, in which one of the achievements is to “shoot a  sushi lamp.” The instrumental accompaniment to that accomplishment can be heard here: http://www.xbox360achievements.org/forum/showthread.php?t=336661

8. Lamps figure in countless Christian songs, from Godspell to country and western to the folk classic “Give me oil in my lamp.”

7. Genie of the Lamp, Mac Dre. “I don’t fuck with it if it don’t bear the stamp/
I’m thizzlamic the genie of the lamp.” Not Islamic, mind you, but Thizzlamic.

6. Lady With the Lamp, Country Joe McDonald, featuring Jerry Garcia on guitar. About Florence Nightingale. “She is the soldier’s friend.”

5. “Lamplight,” David Essex. Flip side of the original “Rock On,” and one of the songs which rather unfairly got Essex tagged as a Dr. John rip-off.

4. “Lamp,” Bump of Chicken. The first single from the Japanese rock band, it later appeared on their second album The Living Dead.

3. “Leaning By the Lamppost,” composed by Noel Gay. It’s been heard in a George Formby movie, a Herman’s Hermits album and the Broadway musical Me and My Girl. And it sounds exactly the same every time—a chipper comic relationship song. Not that you could turn it into a ballad or torch song too easily.

2. Lava Lamp, Duran Duran. “I’d love to turn you on.” Seriously. From the Pop Trash album.

  1. She’s got a flex comin’ out of her head

Stands in the corner, or she sits by the bed

She’s got a bulb in her mouth and switch in her legs

That’s why the lady is a lamp.

— The Consultants, one of the funniest British comedy troupes of the past decade. BBC Radio 4 Extra rebroadcast this episode last week and I must have rewound and listened to it a few dozen times. So funny it inspired me to create a list of Songs About Lamps.

What I’m Doing Dec. 3

I’ve been asked to start a new monthly storytelling series at Cafe Nine. The first one is tonight at 8 p.m.

Entitled “Get to the Point!,” it’s held on the first Monday of every month at Cafe Nine St., New Haven.

I’ve got a varied and unpredictable group of tellers, orators, yarn-spinners, writers and text-reliant musicians for the first one, including:

For Get to the Point’s inaugural volume, I’ve enlisted:

• Ina Chadwick, a seasoned storyteller who’s produced events at clubs and theaters around Fairfield County.

• Poet and writer Franz Douskey

• Michael “Live Mike” Cooper, telling a story rather than fronting a band

• Chris Randall—photographer, director of New Haven Land Trust and community-builder

• Steve Scarpa of New Haven Theater Company

• The band Jellyshirts, covering a Velvet Underground story-song classic.

• others

There’s no cover charge for this. Please join us and listen up. If you want to take part in future events (or even this one—I’m all about surprises), contact me at chris@scribblers.us

What I am doing December 1

Every year I call up a bunch of local musicians—some of whom I know well, some of whom I just admire from afar—and ask them if they will play for free in the lounge of a church parish house downtown to raise funds for a nursery school which my kids used to attend. It’s an odd offer, but in nine years nobody has yet turned it down.

The book fair is today. I’m telling everybody about it in every outlet I have access to, since some of the newspapers I sent press releases to didn’t list it.

Hopefully you can come. It’s a special event, and a particularly exhausting yet exhilarating one for some of us.

Family Fun Fair at United Community Nursery School

Annual Holiday Book Fair & Family Festival



Saturday, December 1

10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

United Community Nursery School

323 Temple Street

(corner of Temple and Wall streets, downtown, a couple of buildings behind the New Haven Public Library).

Admission: $4 person for ages 2 and up, includes all entertainments and kids’ activities.


• Scholastic Book Fair

• A full-length Roxi Fox Puppet Show performed by Betty Baisden

• Silent Auction, with museum memberships, handmade gift items and more

• Lunches and baked goods for sale

• Lots of Kids Activities—crafts, games, facepainting

• Nursery School Open House


10:30 a.m.: Wayfarers (folk songs)
11 a.m.: Gary Mezzi & Tom Smith (original roots rock songs for kids)
11:30 a.m.: Jesse Balkcom (7-year-old classical guitarist)
Noon: Betty Baisden’s Roxi Fox puppet show.
12:45 p.m.: Henry Sidle (13-year-old busker, doing rock classics on acoustic guitar)
1:15 p.m.: Elm City Mayhem (family-friendly rap group featuring UCNS teacher Lance Ligon)
1:45 p.m. (may be sooner if ECM is short): Todd Stoops (keyboardist for the bands Raq and Kung Fu)
2:15 p.m.: Chris Arnott on ukulele (if needed)