June 10-12, 2015

The other day I finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s new one, The Water Knife. It’s excellent, a noir set in the blazing desert heat of Las Vegas & Phoenix a decade or three into our future, when Southwestern drought is a permanent condition, and city-states & corporate actors are at low-grade guerilla war with each other over water, and the right to use it.

This is Bacigalupi’s first “adult” novel since his debut, The Windup Girl. While I liked some of his YA stuff quite a bit, I’m thrilled to see him writing for adult audiences again. In tone (and some of its content), this reminds me a bit of Richard K Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels, which is a very good thing.

Given that it was 80 degrees when I went downstairs at 9:00 a.m. to get the paper, and we’re looking at a high of 97 today, now is the perfect time to read this one. Oh yeah, and what was the A-1 above-the-fold headline on that paper I went to get? California Cuts Farmers’ Share of Scant Water

One running gag in the book is that most of the major players have first-edition copies of Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert, but none of them seem to have actually absorbed its message. I don’t think I had ever heard of it; it’s a wonderfully well-written chronicle of the greening of the American Southwest via massive irrigation projects, and how the whole system is doomed to collapse. It was published in the mid-80s. Its predictions are playing out, one after another, in California this summer.

Wednesday night we went to see Alabama Shakes & Courtney Barnett at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. Like everything else in Cary, it’s embedded in a suburban office park. But it’s actually quite lovely – lots of trees, a big lake, nice pavilions.

It’s still a big outdoor amphitheatre, though. $7 PBRs, asshole security personnel everywhere you look, and shitloads of utterly clueless showgoers who insist on taking lousy smartphone photos every five minutes throughout the set.

Seriously: There were long moments during Alabama Shakes’ set where my entire field of vision consisted of a solid half-dozen smartphone screens. 

Courtney Barnett has garnered all kinds of excited accolades this year for her talking Aussie-accented indie-rock blues shtick. It’s fun. Americans love an Australian accent. I can’t imagine that I’ll want to pull out that record a year from now & listen to it, but she puts on a good show.

Alabama Shakes, on the other hand, put on a GREAT show. They’re touring as a nine-piece, including three backup singers, but the focus is still 100% Brittany Howard, who is infinitely more ferocious live than she even is on record. Such an amazing voice & personality. 

I had multiple [younger radio-station] friends give me shit about going to this show. I’m still not clear on why. Obviously they’re a popular band – or popular enough to play Koka Booth instead of the Cradle. (And they got popular FAST – they played a ton of small shows in their native Alabama, but by the time they made it to the Triangle, in 2013, they were already playing Koka Booth.)

But they’re still a bunch of scraggly dudes from small-town Alabama, fronted by a 26-year-old black woman who grew up on Bowie & Zeppelin, plays a turquoise SG and sings like one of the great soul shouters. They’re not some kind of prepackaged mainstream over-polished hit machine.

I dunno. Are they too “Southern Rock” for the kids? Or do we really still have a problem whereby any hint of mainstream popularity automatically taints an artist? No, don’t answer that, I know.

Last night I poked around & realized that Metacritic has a whole set of lists, including Best Recent Additions to Amazon Instant Video. Score! 

This only goes partway towards explaining why we wound up watching North Dallas Forty. What a fucked-up weird movie. I had never seen it, though I suppose I had been vaguely aware of it & had had it on a mental list to eventually watch.

In case you’re unfamiliar, it’s based on a semi-fictional novel, loosely based on the mid-70s Dallas Cowboys, and was one of the first works to really focus on the physical toll that football takes on the bodies of the players. Nick Nolte plays the classic talented wide receiver with a bad attitude, but neither he nor the game are romanticized in the least. It’s all scars, concussions, messed-up joints, and painkiller cocktails washed down with breakfast beers.

Nick Nolte is brilliant. I basically can’t stand football – and this movie did nothing to change that, nor did it try – so I had a hard time getting in touch with his character’s seemingly genuine need to feel the momentary high of making a perfect catch. But his acting is superb.

It was shot in 1979, so the clothes are insane, and everyone smokes all the time. Or nearly all the time – they all grudgingly stub out their cigarettes shortly before leaving the locker room to run out onto the field.

All in all, it was thoroughly fascinating.

June 10-12, 2015