Friday, October 10, 2003

A Pointless Freakout for Your Enjoyment

I get a little freaked out at times, thinking about how tenuous and arbitrary everything is.

Consider: Earlier this summer, I was driving around Minneapolis on a really warm, beautiful evening. I had the windows down and Springsteen's Born in the USA on the stereo, and I watched the sun go down behind the downtown skyline and thought that the moment felt so perfect, so natural, that I had to be feeling some connection to the very essence of what it means to be human. We were born to drive around in mid-sized Midwestern cities and listen to populist rock.

Then it occurred to me that, um, no, what I was doing was actually a huge aberration in terms of human history. Think about it- we've been around as a species for millions of years. We've been on this continent (in one group or another) for tens of thousands. But if I went back even a hundred years, the vast majority of what felt so natural right then would have been looked at as pretty freakish- sure they would have had cars (albeit pretty different from mine) and a Minneapolis skyline (ditto), but I imagine Mr. Springsteen would have horrified a 1903 audience. Go back another 100 years and pretty much everything about the situation would have been beyond outlandish.

Everything around us feels completely natural and normal, but the truth is that we've only been able to live like this for the tiniest sliver of human existence. And I don't mean to make it sound like I think we're bad or evil or living in abomination, just that we should be aware of just how unique this is. It even changes my perspective on pollution a little- I hate it that we're shitting so messily in our own bed, so to speak; but man, we've really changed the terms of human life on this planet, at least for those of us lucky enough to live in a reasonably stable and prosperous area.

I also get freaked out at how many of the "common sense" ideas that we take for granted are just recently-concocted and fairly arbitrary concepts. For example: I take it on faith that reading is good for you, and that it's inherently better than watching TV. But literacy as a concept has been around, what, five or six thousand years? That sounds fairly impressive at first, but it's still pissing in the bucket when you stack it up against millions of years of existence. And for the vast majority of those five or six thousand years, reading was confined to a very small subset of society. Taken in the context of all the people who've ever lived, I'm kind of a freak for waking up on Sunday mornings and sitting on the sun porch with some coffee, a couple of cats, and a book.

I'm not even sure where I'm going with this. Nowhere, I guess. But I'm still freaked out.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

This Should Create Some Sort of Feedback Loop

Hunter Thompson on Rush Limbaugh. Whoa.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

The Cutout Bins and Memory Lane

There's a very cool article over at Pitchfork talking about the glut of 90s-era CDs to be found in used record bins. It's pretty funny and fairly accurate, too.

I feel pretty vindicated, because there's a lot of stuff in there that I remember people loving while I was in college that just sounded like total crap to me (Possum Dixon, I'm looking at you; and howdy there, Frente)… it's good to see that yep, it was all overhyped, and I'm not the only one who looks back and feels a sort of cultural hangover at the thought of some of that wretched garbage. And I also agree with their assessment that some common bargain-bin CDs (Sugar's Beaster and File Under Easy Listening, the Breeders' Last Splash) are actually pretty good albums.

I'm not sure what to make of their red-flag treatment of R.E.M.'s Monster; yes, it's nowhere near as good as the stuff they made in their prime. And yes, I can't even make it through the album without skipping half of the songs. But it's not a total failure- I'd say it's a little better than Automatic for the People (at least Monster has a spine)and far, far better than anything they've done since. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" rocks the house.

The resulting Metafilter thread is an interesting mix of insight and bile.

Monday, October 06, 2003

The Worst Hotel in the Midwest

Well, probably not, but we found a pretty bad one.

A couple of friends of ours got married in Duluth last weekend, and we decided we'd sort of give ourselves a treat by staying in the Duluth Radisson (I say "sort of" because come on, let's not kid ourselves, it's not like there's a lot of luxury in Duluth).

But, well, if you ever wind up traveling to Duluth, you're not treating yourself to anything special if you spring for the downtown Radisson. Christ, that was a lousy hotel. The room smelled like hot dust; I assume this was because the heat had just been turned on, but I don't know. The walls appeared to be made of cardboard, so we could hear conversations on all sides of us- and when someone used the ice machine down the hall, we heard it. The building is a cylinder, meaning that the rooms were roughly pie-shaped, which meant that the doors of all of the rooms were right next to each other; whenever someone opened one of the adjoining doors, it sounded like they were coming into our room. The bathroom sink had a big crack in it, looking like something in a trailer park. And topping it all off, they messed up the reservation, giving us a room with two little beds. We had to sleep Lucy and Ricky-Style.

Well worth the $200.


On the bright side, the Pizza Luce in Duluth is quite nice, with lots of vegan options and old-timey steel guitar being played live in front of you as you eat breakfast.