Sunday, October 30, 2016

Some Thoughts on Chess and Artists Who Love Chess

Portrait of Chess Players - Marcel Duchamp (1911)

Recently, a new employee started working at my job, a Turkish guy, and in his introductory email he noted that he plays chess competitively. As someone who's long been fascinated by chess, played sporadically for many years, and desires to improve, I of course sought him out to play some games during lunch breaks and try to learn something from him.

The Turkish chess master has now beaten me 21 straight times.

While I have a great interest for the game, I'm a subpar player prone to boneheaded mistakes. He's a pro who plays in tournaments for financial prizes. Once he told me that his chess teacher can play something like 50 games on different boards simultaneously while blindfolded, and win most of them. He confidently asserts that he can beat me blindfolded. I don't doubt it.

Playing chess, talking chess, and getting my butt whooped in chess has rekindled my passion for the game and I've played at least a game or two each day since. Occasionally I'll watch some chess instructional videos or do tactics puzzles. One day I hung around after work and the Turkish chess master (whose first name, Baris, recalls another Turk from an earlier chapter in my life, the manager of a restaurant I worked at in lower Manhattan---we shared a birthday, yet always clashed) provided me a couple hours worth of lessons. My rating skyrocketed from there and I've been playing much better ever since. For some reason I'd always had trouble staying above the 900 level consistently; since that one lesson I've been around 1300. It's much more fun to play when you don't suck.

*   *   *  

I can't remember exactly when I learned to play chess. Sometime around 11 or 12, I think. My mom claims it was when I was punished one day, forbidden from watching TV or playing video games, so I somehow taught myself how to play chess.

What I do remember is playing chess games at Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan (the very same spot where the Occupy Wall Street movement would later spring up) during lunch breaks when I was 14, working my first summer job in '99 as a messenger in that area, under the shadow of the World Trade Center. There'd be folding tables set up and games going on there a couple days a week. The park players were aggressive, talked plenty of smack, and required anyone who sits down to play to put up money. Serious players only. Many of these dudes were impoverished, homeless, likely just hustling chess games in the park all day for cash. I used to get my ass whooped, often in front of crowds of lunching onlookers (and, this being New York, commentators). Didn't care. I love those Manhattan park chess players. That whole scene, with crowds gathering around active tables of chess games in city parks, feels like a relic. A civil gathering of scores of diverse people to compete and match wits.

After 9/11, Zuccotti was pretty banged up, then used as storage for years before eventually being rebuilt and reopened. By the time the new and improved Zuccotti Park was unveiled I was a senior in college at Pace University nearby, disappointed that I'd soon be done with school, finally done with downtown Manhattan, and wouldn't get to enjoy the fresh new version of Zuccotti which now had marble slab tables with chess boards built into them.

Nevertheless, I don't think they play a whole lot of chess over there. It's a relatively tiny park, occupying essentially one city block. Washington Square Park, by comparison, is huge. That's where the real New York City park chess scene takes place. My sister lives down the street from there now. Last Christmas I was staying at her place, snapped a pic of some chess players in the park one afternoon while walking through.

*   *   *

As with other elements of my life, my chess interest originally sprang from my love of the Wu-Tang Clan, particularly the group's most devoted chess players, RZA, GZA, and Masta Killa. They've talked about the game often, rhymed about it frequently, filmed chess-inspired music videos, the cover of the Liquid Swords LP is a bloody Marvel comic scene of a chess board battle, GZA did a whole chess-themed record with DJ Muggs called Grandmasters. Chess even gets its own chapter/chamber in RZA's Wu-Tang Manual---suffice to say, it's an integral part of the Wu-Tang mythology. So as a dedicated Wu head from Staten Island, I felt as a kid that I must learn the game. The more I got into it, I realized being in the habit of playing chess, thinking about chess moves, enhanced my focus in life and helped with decision-making. It's a mindfulness practice. My mind felt better organized during periods when I was playing chess. Not unlike listening to heavily lyrical hip hop, it's a type of mental exercise. And it's addictive.

RZA has been an outspoken advocate of chess for years and even created a Hip Hop Chess Federation to educate children. Their slogan is: "Fusing logic and the arts to unite minds and hearts."

That fusion of logic and arts that chess embodies is what has fascinated me most about it recently.

So many prominent artists were also chess enthusiasts.

Among these, the most notable must be legendary 20th century artist Marcel Duchamp, who was such a chess junkie that at one point during the height of his career he basically gave up on creating art to pursue playing chess full time. I've written once before about this, he eventually slowed down his obsessive chess playing and returned to the arts, but maintained his interest by becoming a chess journalist and blessing us with some insightful, eloquent commentary on the game.

"I have come to the conclusion that while all artists are not chess players,   
all chess players are artists." - Duchamp

Here's a video of Duchamp discussing chess, which he likens to an addictive drug, while standing in front of the Chess Players piece I shared above.

And here is a famous photograph of Marcel Duchamp playing chess against a nude Eve Babitz [oh and NSFW? but it's art goddammit!].

Behind them lies Duchamp's masterpiece, the extraordinary glass pane entitled The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even. (You can read the full story behind that photo in this detailed Vanity Fair piece.)

The combination of chess and lust invoked by the image reminds me of a memorable scene in an old Seinfeld episode. Jerry is dating a woman who disgusts and irritates him but she's irresistibly attractive physically, likening his conundrum to a chess game between his brain and his penis.

*   *   *

As I mentioned, RZA has long been a proselytizer of chess and there's a slew of random RZA chess videos around the internet to prove it. He plays against a New York Times chess editor, he plays against a young grandmaster, he freestyles in a cypher after a chess tournament, lectures at a chess symposium, there's even footage of a live concert that begins with RZA and Yoko Ono playing chess on stage:

You can imagine what a thrill it was for me when I explained to the Turkish chess master coworker that my chess interest stems from the influence of The RZA and Wu-Tang and he responded that he'd actually played a couple games against RZA once when The Abbott had visited his chess club in Los Angeles years back. He showed me a pic. So the guy I've been playing chess with has actually played against the artist who sparked my interest in the game in the first place. I find that incredible.

*   *   *

During this recent period where my interest in chess has fired up again, I've simultaneously developed a new interest in the life and work of author Vladimir Nabokov. I'd been stumbling upon Nabokov biographies in bookstores, thumbing through them and learning more about him, developing a fascination for this esteemed and controversial scribe. Picked up a thick collection of his short stories and have found them to be about as pleasurable to read as any stories I've ever encountered. They're exquisite.

Nabokov was an interesting dude, extremely prolific, a writer so productive he puts most others to shame. He wrote tons of short stories, dozens of novels, books of poetry, books of literary criticism, and somehow was also a respected lepidopterist who published scientific articles on the study of butterflies. He did all this while trying to survive on income from, variously, working as a tennis instructor, boxing instructor, language teacher, and eventually literature professor at Cornell. With all that going on, he was also an ardent chess enthusiast.

He wrote a chess novel called The Defense and spent ample time composing chess problems about which he wrote: "The strain on the mind is formidable; the element of time drops out of one's consciousness." He felt that chess problems "demand from the composer the same virtues that characterize all worthwhile art: originality, invention, conciseness, harmony, complexity and splendid insincerity."

Nabokov had a very involved, collaborative relationship with his wife, Vera. He read every story and novel to her as he was writing them, then she'd type them all out for him. She was also an avid chess player and they played each other every day. There are some charming photos of the Nabokovs playing chess together like this one.

The Nabokovs enjoying a game of chess.

*   *   *

The filmmaker who adapted Nabokov's most famous novel Lolita to the screen, Stanley Kubrick, was also an avid chess player. While growing up in New York City, Kubrick honed his game partaking in the chess battles of Washington Square Park and was part of a chess club nearby. In the Wu-Tang Manual, RZA comments on Kubrick's habit of always keeping a chessboard on set during the shooting of all his films, challenging any and all takers. The game appears in many of his films and he was even a member of the United States Chess Federation. A short piece in The New York Review of Books entitled "Playing Chess with Kubrick" details physicist Jeremy Bernstein's experience of befriending Kubrick and getting beat in chess over and over again.

Since Nabokov wrote the screenplay for Kubrick's Lolita film, I wonder if the two geniuses ever actually sat down for a chess game... I can't find any documentation of it, but surely they must have. What a fascinating battle of the minds that would've been.

To conclude, here is an awesome video essay on "What Chess Taught Kubrick About Filmmaking" that goes into much further detail about Kubrick's love of chess and how it factors into his films:

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Bill Murray Providing Color Commentary for an Entire Cubs Game in '87

Funniest thing I've seen in a while.

39 minutes of Bill Murray broadcasting a 1987 afternoon Cubs-Expos ballgame alongside Steve Stone. Murray midway between Ghostbusters Part I and II at this point in his career. Unrelentingly hilarious here.

Game is preceded by Bill Murray's commentary of Bill Murray's misadventures taking rips during batting practice.

Wish every baseball game could be like this.

Go Cubbies!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why I Hopped Onto the Chicago Cubbies' Bandwagon

To the general baseball enthusiast or fans of teams outside of Illinois, the Chicago Cubs have been pretty harmless for a while. They haven't won anything in pretty much forever and when they've come close to winning anything recently they've tended to trip over their own feet. Besides the notorious Steve Bartman game in 2003, they've also had some pretty hapless and forgettable postseason departures in '07 (swept in first round), '08 (swept in first round), and most recently 2015 against my New York Mets (swept in second round). As everyone knows, they haven't won a championship since 1908. Haven't even been to the World Series since 1945. With a reputation and tradition for being lovable losers that's as rich as any organization in professional sports, it's been hard for anyone to really dislike the Cubs. I certainly've never had anything against them.

This year things were different. A lot different. After a few seasons of intensive rebuilding at the hands of Theo Epstein & Friends, the fully matured Chicago Cubs of 2016 were the best team in Major League Baseball and nobody else was even close. The Cubs won 103 games in a year when nobody else won more than 95. They allowed the fewest runs in baseball by a wide margin thanks to some shutdown arms and the best fielding ballclub in the game. And their lineup boasts two of baseball's best hitters (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo) surrounded by a versatile and talented cast of young sluggers and a few seasoned vets sprinkled in. Helming this imposing group is the man widely considered the smartest and most open-minded manager in the sport, Joe Maddon.

Going into their Division Series with the San Francisco Giants, I found myself actually rooting for the Giants. The Cubs just appeared to be too good, too much of a dominant powerhouse for me to root for them. They've also got some players I just can't stand like John Lackey and Miguel Montero. Flame-throwing relief dragon Aroldis Chapman, for as entertaining as he is to watch, also ain't the most likable character. And the Giants, while coming off a defeat of my beloved Mets, entered the series as the clear underdogs, an 87-win team with glaring flaws up against a 103-win behemoth with no discernible weakness. So I was rooting for the underdog.

At some point during the Division Series, my outlook changed, as I had a pretty incredible encounter with someone who is truly a part of Cubs lore.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Long, Occasionally Unendurable, Ultimately Redeeming Epic Novel That Was the 2016 Mets Season

Bartolo Colon aka Big Sexy sizes up his first ever big fly. (Getty images)

What stung most about the New York Mets' defeat in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals in 2015 was knowing how hard it was to get that far in the first place. That year the Mets hung around the fringes of contention for four months before the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes (and some injured players returning) catapulted them into the playoffs where they successfully battled their way through a gauntlet of the game's most formidable pitchers, finding themselves in a very winnable World Series which they would eventually cough up. Despite a roster loaded with burgeoning young talent, it is reasonable to fear this team may never again make it all the way through to the end of the postseason obstacle course.

Despite losing the World Series, I'll always maintain that just making it that far and winning the National League pennant was plenty enough. It was as successful a campaign as I could've reasonably hoped for considering where expectations were for most of the year.

2016 was a little different. Expectations were sky high when the season began. The Mets had a fully stocked roster in every respect. They'd addressed their weaknesses in the middle infield and most importantly had an embarrassment of riches in their starting rotation. The collection of starting pitchers, 1-through-5, looked like the best staff in the league, easily. On top of that, the hard-throwing righty Zack Wheeler would be returning from injury, joining the team sometime in the summer, likely pushing 43-year-old Bartolo Colon into the bullpen.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

On the Tragic Loss of Baseball's Beloved and Joyful Young Star Jose Fernandez

A week ago I awoke on Sunday morning and, like everyone else in the baseball universe, discovered the horrifying news that Jose Fernandez, one of the most talented and universally beloved players in the sport, had died tragically in a boating accident. He was barely 24 years old.

The next two days were filled with a feeling of grief so heavy that I struggled to figure out why I was so deeply affected by this. I did not know this person. He wasn't even a player on my favorite team. He was just a kid I watched on TV once in a while who was really damn good at baseball. Whether you're even a baseball fan or not, though, this is just a terribly heartbreaking event. After trying to rationalize to myself the deep pain I felt, I simply concluded that, like everyone else who'd experienced the unfettered joy that was Jose Fernandez, my heart was broken.

A week later, I'm still having trouble comprehending that we must now refer to Jose Fernandez in the past tense, that we'll never see him again. He'd just turned 24 years old. Limitless potential. A baby on the way. A young, powerful, boisterously spirited athletic superstar coming into his own as an adult, ascending to the upper echelon of his profession and primed to stay there, suddenly stopped. His life summarized and finished, concluded, the book of his life suddenly run out of words.

Even though he pitched for the Miami Marlins, one of the main rivals of my beloved New York Mets, there isn't a pitcher in baseball I enjoyed watching more than Jose Fernandez. A stout 6-2 and 240, he was a beast on the mound, with a smooth delivery chucking 97 mph fastballs or veering curveballs with as much movement as anyone I've ever seen. There really was nobody better. Since shocking the baseball world in 2013 by jumping into the major leagues straight from single-A ball at the tender age of 19, Fernandez was as dominant a pitcher as anyone in the game, right up there with perennial Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. In 2016, Fernandez struck out 253 batters in his 29 starts. In his league only Max Scherzer had more and he threw 4 more starts than Jose.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Albright, Tchelitchew, and The Geography of the Imagination

Research for Part 2 of my book brought me to the above. Observe the dark, Fruity Pebbles-flavored phantasmagoria that is Ivan Albright's rendition of The Temptation of Saint Anthony from 1946.

I encountered this through my study of Salvador Dali's version of the Saint Anthony story (the focus of my book). A contest in 1946 brought together a dozen of the period's greatest painters to render the Temptation of Saint Anthony. Dali, despite creating one of his most iconic works, finished in fourth. Max Ernst won, deservedly so. Albright had previously won a similar contest, getting his Picture of Dorian Gray into a film rendition of Wilde's novel.

Albright finished an impressive second in the contest. His version is astounding to me. That look on Saint Anthony's face, once you make it out through the enveloping phantasms, is so perfect. Albright's work often seems to be beautifully, horrifically gross. In Saint Anthony, the gross is turned down, and the beautiful ramped up by a vibrant color selection.

The awestruck response I had to this painting led me to look into Albright's work where I found another painting I've been rapturously gaping at recently, Poor Room.

Ivan Le Lorraine Albright (February 20, 1897 – November 18, 1983) was an American magic realist painter and artist, most renowned for his self-portraits, character studies, and still lifes. His dark, mysterious works include some of the most meticulously executed paintings ever made, often requiring years to complete. (wiki)
Albright's work rewards a microscopic focus and is macroscopically pleasing to the eye. That corroded frame in Poor Room draws me right in. His technique and execution is phenomenal. And the dude was from Illinois, of all places.

Despite possessing no national pride to speak of, I'm always pleased to encounter great modern American minds and creators I've never known of before, like author and essayist William Gass, also of the midwest, whose work I've been very intrigued with lately. Gass writes savory essays on art, among so many other things, and loves Joyce and Finnegans Wake. Another American essayist of utmost prose-crafting ability, Guy Davenport, has been inspiring and educating me lately via his treasure trove, The Geography of the Imagination. Therein he synthesizes arts and artists through a collection of 40 essays. (He also waxes in praise of Joyce and Finnegans Wake frequently.)

Davenport has an especial affinity for Pavel Tchelitchew, a Russian-born painter who was a contemporary of Albright (and Dali et al) in the first half of the 20th century. Davenport has an essay on Tchelitchew, more specifically a glowing review of a newly published biographical study of the artist entitled The Divine Comedy of Pavel Tchelitchew: A Biography (1967), and otherwise sprinkles Tchelitchew into his writings often.

Throughout Geography of the Imagination, Davenport frequently lavishes praise and appreciative analysis on an enormous painting called Cache-Cache or Hide-and-Seek (1942). I'd seen this image once before many years ago but lately have been deeply absorbed in it. There is a magic to this painting. I can stare it for hours and hours. I regret somehow missing out on it during my last trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

This enormous painting is a pictorial equivalent of the method of Finnegans Wake. All of its images are puns which resolve into yet other punning images. First of all, it is a giant oak tree against which a girl presses herself: she is the it in a game of hide-and-seek. The hiders are concealed in the tree itself, so many children, who are arranged like the cycle of seasons, winter children, summer children.  
These children, seen a few paces back, become landscapes, and eventually two folded arms, as the tree itself resolves into a foot and hand; and, further back, the face of a Russian demon, mustached and squint-eyed. Further back, the whole picture resolves into a drop of water---Leeuwenhoek's drop of water under the microscope in which he discovered a new world of little animals; the drop of crystal dew on a leaf at morning which acts like Borges' aleph or Blake's grain of sand or any Liebnizean monad mirroring the whole world around it; Niels Bohr's drop of water the surface of which led him to explain the structure of the atom. 
This is a very modern picture, then, a kind of metaphysical poem about our non-Euclidean, indeterminate world. But at its center there is the one opaque detail in the painting: the girl in a pinafore hiding her face against the tree.- Davenport, The Geography of the Imagination, p. 24 

Later on, in weaving a web of interrelated artists (as he does so well all over this book), Davenport tells of a visit William Carlos Williams paid to Tchelitchew's studio in 1942 where the painter was at work on another gigantic epic painting, Phenomena.

This painting is iconographically a Temptation of St. Anthony, with monsters of all sorts, monsters which, as Dr. Williams, a pediatrician, observed to the painter, are all
teratologically exact. - Davenport, p. 49 

Monday, July 11, 2016

New Audio Interview: PQ Interviewed by Media Ecologist Gerry Fialka

Street art in Spain by PichiAvo.

Part of the MESS (Media Ecology Soul Sessions) Interview Series

Some of the topics covered: 
James Joyce, Wu-Tang, Baseball, Marshall McLuhan, Frank Zappa, Reality vs Perception

Listen to this alongside some chill instrumentals like these for full effect: 

Gerry Fialka is a friend of mine from Venice, CA who has hosted the Venice Finnegans Wake & Marshall McLuhan Reading Group for nearly 20 years. From his website's bio:

"film curator, writer, lecturer, and paramedia ecologist has conducted interactive workshops from UCLA to MIT, from the Ann Arbor Film Festival to Culver City High School. Fialka gave two major lectures at The 2001 North America James Joyce Conference at UC Berkeley. His public interview series MESS (Media Ecology Soul Sessions), with the likes of Mike Kelley, Alexis Smith, Abraham Polonsky, Mary Woronov, Paul Krassner, Ann Magnuson, Heather Woodbury, Norman Klein, Chris Kraus, P. Adams Sitney, Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, Kristine McKenna, Ann Magnuson, John Sinclair, Grace Lee Boggs, Firesign Theatre's Phil Proctor, Van Dyke Parks, Orson Bean among many others, began in 1997 and continues at different LA venues including Beyond Baroque and the Canal Club. Fialka's interviews have been published in books by Mike Kelley and Sylvere Lotringer. His William Pope.L interview was published in ARTILLERY magazine."

Sunday, July 10, 2016


Was blasting this song on full volume driving through Times Square with my friend Spit during last visit to Shaolin a few weeks ago. 

Happened to be going on a driving adventure one Tuesday night from Staten Isle to heart of Manhattan with the fresh excitement of a brand new piece of music from my favorite artists, the Cross brothers, Kevlaar 7 speaking from beyond the grave in his posthumous finale solo album A Beautiful Soul produced and arranged by his mourning brother and beat maestro Bronze Nazareth.

A Beautiful Soul speaks directly to what's going on today (the same subjects of oppression and racism and police brutality Kev has talked about since his debut EP Who Got the Camera? in 2011) while cementing the statue of a master poet---"after my death lifts a statue/ in the holiest city/ I scold the worship committee"---in a beautiful, honest, deep and extremely dope sounding piece of hip hop mastery. 

I walk Pongua falls with monks comparing, 
Life to waterfalls, we must've ignored it all

Ignorance is killing us quicker than English erasing Natives
Self hate is the greatest ultimatum

Series of serious flashes expose another Brother's end

Tears stream down, like God spilled his cup
Cuz you spilled a shot that entered his chest like an air duct
Lungs collapse, like his mom on the news that struck

Is we blind? or oblivious?
Non-chivalrous to a civilness?
No difference, blanketed images
I've traveled across Bogota bridges
Built my way past 
KwaZulu henchmen
The linchpin
is the axis of the earth 
Birth survival like a cactus
Vital to the H2O balance
Bearing talons and talent by the gallons
We all be walled in a palace
Kings and Queens 
speaking the same language
Bangin this beat with malice
Til we ashes


There is also now a deluxe bundle package featuring the new album A Beautiful Soul, alongside a mix of some of Kevlaar's best work, and a brand new 7-track instrumental EP from Bronze Nazareth called Instrumental Mourning that features some of the deepest, most personal work I've ever heard from Bronze. You can purchase that bundle here

Monday, July 4, 2016

Reviewing a Baseball Reading Odyssey: Some Thoughts on Ten Baseball Books Consumed This Year

My baseball literature cup runneth over.

Every year with the return of baseball, I indulge in a period of fairly intensive baseball reading. This year it got a little out of control. My excitement about the game combined with an insatiable reading habit and a batch of new (or newly acquired) books leading to a gluttonous binge that began in late January stretching into the summer with ten books polished off and a few more lingering. Somehow, after absorbing so much information about baseball through this stack of books (in between watching baseball games and reading baseball articles), my appreciation for the game stands as heightened as ever.

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on this year's baseball reading binge.

Baseball Prospectus 2016

A recent trip home to the isle of Staten in New York where my full baseball library resides reminded me that I've been picking up the Baseball Prospectus annuals since 2003. During that time I've become a fairly obsessive and very particular reader of these gigantic info-dense texts, always closely scrutinizing their quality and making comparisons to the book's glory days. Like every other organization, the BP conglomerate of writers has experienced plenty of transition over the last 15 years so the book has inevitably evolved. There was a distinct fallow period leading to the abominable 2013 edition that had diehard readers like myself flipping out. Since then, a new crew of overseers has guided this unique annual book back to prominence.

This latest edition of the BP annual is one of their finest books ever. I love just about everything about it down to the physical presentation and quality of the paper. What we diehard readers tend to look for in this book is a perfect blend of intelligent insight and witty levity. When executed correctly, this combo can propel a reader straight through the 600-page behemoth and that's exactly what happened for me this year. The book arrived earlier than usual in late January and I was through the entire thing in a few weeks. The great thing about the BP annual is that, even after you've read it all, it becomes an essential reference book for the next six months.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bloomsday '16 Recap

Mural of Joyce's everyman Leopold Bloom at Blooms Hotel Temple Bar in Dublin.

This year for Bloomsday I had the privilege of participating in an event at Austin's finest independent bookstore Malvern Books on 29th Street and Guadalupe. There was homemade genuine Irish food made by Irish people, a cluster of fellow humans who have read and loved Ulysses, some yapping by yours truly about the intricacies in James Joyce's most famous book, and passages introduced and read aloud by a half dozen different people including the store's owner Joe hilariously rendering the bizarre opening of the Oxen of the Sun episode. (Video below.)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Scenes from a Winter Day in Manhattan

Some shots of New York scenes, most prominently some of my favorite art from MOMA, taken during my last trip there during Christmas 2015, as I clean up my phone in preparation for my upcoming return to NYC in a few days.

I love weird trees.

New Kevlaar 7 single "Glorious Chemist" (produced by Bronze Nazareth)

First single off the upcoming album A Beautiful Soul from the late Kevlaar 7, fully produced by his brother Bronze Nazareth.

"I hear fury on mandolins/ Can I live?"

Full album to be released on Kevlaar's birthday, May 27th.

This is the story told by a raw, hardened, remarkable voice, wailing away with pain. Part of the morbid appeal of 'A Beautiful Soul' is that Kevlaar 7 sounds like he’s aware his time is short. It’s deeply unsettling, listening to someone who would transition in the midst of recording. This unearths the true tragedy: Unlike his first solo albums and his work with The Wisemen, on A Beautiful Soul, for the first time, Kevlaar was teaming with Bronze Nazareth on production, and performing material that he, and no one else, wanted to record. He never sounded so free.

RIP to the Legend K7.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

MLB 2016 Predictions

MLB teams are as tightly clustered as ever. (art by Chenglor55)

Predicting baseball has become harder than ever. This is a good thing. It's more fun to watch it all unfold when you have no idea which team might suddenly start firing on all cylinders and plow through everyone.

Trying to predict what the final results will be in six months from now, with so many variables in between, is also a fool's errand. But we do it because it's fun to talk about, read about, and write about baseball.

What I've gathered here are more like expectations than predictions. A key part of this, though, is that after doing so many of these over the years, it is not just an expectation but a certainty that some of these predictions will be very, very wrong. There will be injuries, there will be sudden performance dropoffs, there will be midseason trades that transform mediocre teams into contenders, there will be breakout stars and broken legs and torn UCLs. There will be lots of unforeseen events between now and October.

But this is how we like to talk about baseball when the season starts. We make predictions.

As usual, I'm starting off with Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system, noting the PECOTA win projection for each team and then choosing an over/under on that number. I will also rank the teams in each division and pick two Wild Card teams in each league.

First, a quick word on the difference in expectations between the two leagues.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Album Review(s): THE YEAR OF BRONZE

"Still standing, unweathered Bronze monolith"
- Lord Jessiah

Here in Austin, Texas the SXSW festival kicks off this weekend. It was almost exactly a year ago that I got to meet up with my old friend M-Eighty in the heart of the SXSW madness to hang out (along with Tash from the Alkaholiks providing comic relief) in order to receive an exclusive listening session of the then-soon-to-be-released album from Canibus & Bronze Nazareth, Time Flys, Life Dies...Phoenix Rise (written about here last year).

That album would end up being the opening salvo in an impressive series of Bronze-produced full-length releases that dropped in the ensuing months. Further solidifying his status as a 21st century successor to RZA, Bronze the heavy instrumentalist out of Detroit crafted four different LPs in 2015, each with its own consistent, cohesive sound, essence and theme while even placing the spotlight on individual members of his group to the give them some shine. Aside from the Canibus LP and a collaboration with Killarmy legend Dom Pachino, in 2015 Bronze produced each of the debut solo albums for members of his Wisemen crew Illah Dayz and Salute.

That's four albums in a twelve month span (five if you count Bronze's solo project from November 2014, Thought for Food Volume 3). It was truly The Year of Bronze.

This prolific output also occurred in the aftermath of Bronze losing his brother and close collaborator Kevlaar 7 who departed the physical due to complications from a blood disorder in December 2014. Listening to the albums that make up The Year of Bronze, one continually gets a sense that it was all a dedication to Kevlaar. (#DoingItForKev) Many of The Year's best songs are ones Bronze spent ample time mixing and mastering his brother's verses and microphone presence on. Posthumously released Kevlaar verses and beats (every single one of them dope) played an important part in The Year of Bronze, as we will see.

Even after releasing four albums of undeniably towering quality throughout the year, Bronze continued to get a raw deal from the hip hop press. Aside from some discussion of the Canibus project (and reviews by the prolific writer Sunez Allah), the hip hop media as a whole mostly ignored The Year of Bronze. In contrast, Bronze's colleague Cilvaringz received consistent press throughout the year for the gimmick of producing a Wu-Tang album that the world will likely never hear. The Cilvaringz vs. Bronze Nazareth debate for best producer is a close one, but while Cilvaringz in his career has made one album, a few features, and an overhyped record that will likely never escape the clutches of our world's Lex Luthor, Bronze served the people four full-length albums in 2015 alone.

The super producer with the overflowing resumé is also a fierce lyricist whose abstract angled bars consistently reveal the architect brain behind the beats he's built a reputation for. While The Year of Bronze was a showcase of the latest efforts from hip hop's premier beat maker, throughout the albums he orchestrated, Bronze also got to step into the booth and shred it up with his rhymes a few times.

What follows is a walkthrough of The Year of Bronze, highlighting its best moments while especially taking note of the role played by the late Kevlaar 7 throughout.

Friday, February 5, 2016

5 Strange Facts from Stranger Than We Can Imagine: An Alternative History of the 20th Century by John Higgs

To compose a history book about a period so filled with cultural, political, and scientific paradigm shifts as the 20th century would be a Herculean task for any writer. John Higgs, who previously wrote a highly praised book on The KLF and a wonderful biography of Timothy Leary, has tackled the tumultuous 20th Century in his newest book, Stranger Than We Can Imagine: An Alternative History of the 20th Century, and succeeded wildly.

Higgs writes with an enviable lucidity, encapsulating the key themes that shaped mankind in the 1900s through concise chapters composed of fascinating stories about significant topics of the century like Relativity, War, Science Fiction, Sex, Postmodernism, etc all weaved together neatly into a coherent argument. The prose is so clear and the stories so intriguing that this history book reads like an entertaining page-turner. I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to reading it again.

It seemed to sneak its way into every conversation I had around the time I was reading it. I learned so much from it. Befitting the title (a paraphrasing of geneticist J.B.S. Haldane's statement on the universe being "not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose") there is a wealth of strange facts littered throughout this book.

Here are 5 of the strangest facts I encountered in my reading of Stranger Than We Can Imagine.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"Know You"

Staring at this piece, "Know You" by Vincent Abadie Hafez, gives me immense pleasure.

I've just recently discovered Hafez' work and am absolutely captivated by it. The textures and patterns remind me of a futuristic, psychedelic Book of Kells. Or the alphabetic equivalent of a nebula cloud of millions of stars being born. A roiling incubator of letters.

I've had a burgeoning interest in street art and graffiti since meeting my street art-loving girlfriend a couple years ago but this calligraffiti type style, perhaps more than any other street art I've seen, gives me immense gratification.

I could stare at these pieces all day.


Something so fractal about them.

Certainly very Matrix-like, but also suggestive of language, alphabets as living organisms attempting to blend together into sentient creatures.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Some Things I Did in 2015

Looking back on 2015, it was a pivotal year in my life. I moved on from a job where I was unhappy to a new job where I'm happier than ever. My first car finally fell apart after 12 years of lugging me and my crap around from one part of the country to another leading to my acquiring a brand new car. I turned 30 years old, officially bringing an end to the promise of my 20s. I closely followed and rooted for the New York Mets on a thrilling ride to their first pennant in 15 years. Wrote a few pieces I think are pretty solid. Started writing my first book, finished the first part of it. And, most significantly, I participated in and completed an enjoyable, challenging, collaborative creative project whose finished product I'm very proud of.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the significant things I wrote, read, watched, or listened to in 2015.

Some Things I Wrote in 2015 on Literature/History:

Gravity's Rainbow (Japanese cover)
A consideration of author Thomas Pynchon and his most famous novel, the intrigue of which enthralled me throughout the winter of 2014-2015. This piece was one half of a collaborative project with fellow blogger The OG from The Overweening Generalist focusing on the topic of Pynchon and Gravity's Rainbow. Part "Guide to Pynchon" part examination of Timothy Leary's love for the 20th century author's most famous novel, this was my favorite piece to write this year and the one I'm most proud of.

My trip back to the homeland of Staten Island, NY during the 2014 holidays inspired this discussion of a few hidden gems in SI's history. Chief among these:
In the early decades of the 20th century, there were plans to commemorate the island's rich history and recognize America's original inhabitants with a giant national monument featuring a Native American giving the peace sign, overlooking the entrance into New York Harbor. This monument was to rival the Statue of Liberty. The National Native American Memorial would have been the Colossus of Staten Island, greeting ships as they enter into New York from the Atlantic. Except it never happened.
I finally got to write something about the sole extant recording of James Joyce reading from Ulysses in this short piece. More importantly, I actually got up in front of people and delivered an introductory talk on the book and did some readings from Ulysses for a pretty well attended and fun Bloomsday event at Malvern Books here in Austin last June.

FinWake ATX visits the Ransom Center
The Finnegans Wake Reading Group of Austin that I organize had the special privilege to visit the treasure trove archives of the Harry Ransom Center this past summer for an exclusive showing of some of their most prized Joyce-related objects. It was an exciting educational experience. I wrote about some of the items we saw here.

A brief meditation on the fascinating word "anastomosis," its many meanings and applications and its central importance in the message of Finnegans Wake. 

"dotter of his eyes": The Mystery of Lucia Joyce and Finnegans Wake
Examining the controversial history of Joyce's daughter Lucia and her purported influence and involvement in the creation of Finnegans Wake.

What is Finnegans Wake? A Simulacrum of the Globe (Part 1)
Taking a glimpse at the vision presented, quite convincingly, by one Joyce scholar who argues that Joyce constructed Finnegans Wake to mimic the form of our globe. This idea includes a new insight into the placement of the dozens and dozens of world languages included in the text. (Also: wait til you read Part 2, coming soon...)

Also worth mentioning here: Back in March I officially began composing what will be my first book, a monograph about Salvador Dali and James Joyce. The first part (there are three parts planned) was completed about a month ago and I'm excited with how it came out. My goal is to finish off the rest of it in 2016.

Most Significant Accomplishment of 2015:
3-Hour Musical Audiobook Adaptation of Finnegans Wake III.3 "Yawn Under Inquest" by (Peter) Quadrino (Jake) Reading (Evan) James
[recorded at Casa de Feelgood, Jan-March 2015]

I'll be lucky to ever accomplish anything remotely close to this scale again. As part of the bold experimental project to create a musical audiobook adaptation of Finnegans Wake, a group effort of people from around the world arranged by Derek Pyle called Waywords and Meansigns, I collaborated with two friends to record the 15th chapter, "reading alawd, with two ecolites" (FW 490), which amounted to a three-hour audiobook chapter with a wide array of music and effects mixed into the background. This project took three months to complete and was an extremely challenging yet thrilling enterprise, unlike anything I've ever done before or may ever do again. I've always hated the sound of my own voice, yet I find this shockingly fun and absorbing to listen to. The final product is extremely well done, a true audio experience, and I owe an immense debt of gratitude to my brilliant trio of co-creators Jake Reading, Evan James, and Melba Martinez for their efforts.

-You can hear the project by listening to Track 15 HERE.
-Read my story on the experience of creating this recording here.
-Check out an interview I did (along with the great Dutch psychonaut Steve Fly Pratt) discussing the project for Here's a snippet:
PQ: The recording process (which took almost 3 months) confirmed a few things I'd experienced when I read the book a few years ago. For one, immersion in the text brings about a proliferation of synchronicities. It's as if the text responds to the environment. All of our names popped up in some form (there was a whole page of PQs), the text occasionally echoed something we'd talked about that night, and when we tested certain songs alongside the reading there were often extraordinary harmonies and resonances in timing and tone. The experience certainly confirmed the text's inherent musical rhythms, it really comes to life when read aloud. And last but not least, it's often said Finnegans Wake is a book for the ear but it's also a book for the mouth. You'll never utter anything like it.
(On the synchronicity tip as well: the uncanny combo of surnames in its trio of creators, "Quadrino Reading James.")