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.")

Some Things I Wrote in 2015 on Music

Interview: Bronze Nazareth Talks About Feeding the Listener on Thought for Food Volume 3
Following the tragic death of his older brother, the legendary poet-producer Kevlaar 7, Detroit artist Bronze Nazareth honored his brother's memory in powerful fashion in 2015. The most prolific producer in Detroit's bustling hip hop scene, Wu-Tang-related Wisemen leader Bronze was responsible for four albums during the year. He continues to be a sort of Rza of the 2010s, producing one album after another for the individual members of his Wisemen crew, besides sculpting the soundscapes of albums for the likes of Killarmy's Dom P, emcee extraordinaire Canibus, and many others. Making his big bro proud, 2015 was The Year of Bronze, indeed. The prelude to this impressive output came at the end of 2014 when he released his solo effort Thought for Food Volume 3. In the spring, I published an interview with the man nicknamed Jesus Feet that digs into this solo project, discussing especially the unique style of writing evident in the Bronzeman's lyrics.

Album Review: A sneak peek at the new Canibus & Bronze Nazareth record Time Flys, Life Dies...Phoenix Rise
One of the major highlights of a fantastic 2015 was my experience at SXSW when I was treated to an exclusive listening session for the then soon-to-be-released collaborative album from Bronze and Canibus. This is an initial (p)review of the album which features some of Bronze's best production work ever. (Bronze mentioned once that this was Kevlaar 7's favorite work of his.)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Review of Wu-Tang Clan's A Better Tomorrow
A thorough analysis of the ups and downs on the last Wu-Tang album, a 20th anniversary project that largely flopped. More than anything else, this provides a detailed snapshot of where each Wu general stands in their career---for some their skills have sadly deteriorated, for others they're at the top of their game, two decades in.

Other Music I Listened to in 2015
As mentioned above, it was The Year of Bronze and so the four Bronze Nazareth-produced albums were all in heavy rotation throughout 2015. That included the Canibus collaboration Time Flys, Life Dies...Phoenix Rise as well as the two new releases from Bronze's Wisemen crew, Illah Dayz's The Illahstrator and Salute's Diggstown, and the well-received collab project with Dom Pachino of Killarmy entitled War Poetry.

The album that most struck me this year though may have been the latest release from hip hop mystic and supreme weirdo Killah Priest entitled Planet of the Gods. Taking the occult mixture of Kabbalah and UFOs he introduced in 2014's Psychic World of Walter Reed to extreme heights, Priest on Planet of the Gods (a full-length collaboration with Dutch production group Godz Wrath) lays out a matrix of mindboggling rhymes, often dropping one piece of odd imagery after another. Here's one of my favorite sequences, from "Alien Stars":

...Now my fossils are found in the cosmos
Link with the bones that they found in Morocco
Link with the mic that they found in the Congos
It was guarded by people wearing the ponchos
The burial plot surrounded by broncos
standing on hind legs, behind them was a cave
The anthropologists stood amazed
"This is divine soil, the paranormal"
The primordial that came through a time portal
to rhyme for you, you can't trace my race
from a different time and space
I was never designed from an ape
Was never a primate
I'm from a place called the Mind States, wait!
My first nation was called the Imagination
In time it became Determination
To put Substance in the perception of Whatness
Spit spiral threads, created a cosmic spider web
That catch wonders, in all planes and dimensions of matter
Countless of information and data
Balance of mental sensations were gathered

And, lastly, this year I discovered the music of Dirty Art Club, a duo specializing in dusty basement loops. I quickly became addicted to tracks like these:

While creating the aforementioned "Yawn Under Inquest" recording, I was also immersed in the music that inspired the feeling we were trying to create on there. Mainly the work of Sun Ra, Moondog, and Stars of the Lid. Also, as always and forever, Madlib aka the Beat Konducta got plenty of spins.

Also worth mentioning here: In November, I was able to step out of my apartment, walk down the block and see first the GZA/Genius deliver a lecture and raps about the cosmos (following an introductory talk by a NASA scientist) then later a handful of the Wu-Tang Clan's finest ambassadors perform a live concert (Ghostface, Raekwon, Method Man, Cappadonna were absent) as part of Fun Fun Fun Fest before walking a block up the street back to my house. A few weeks later, I got to see a GZA/Genius solo concert at a smaller venue in San Antonio, so small that I found myself standing in the front row for much of the show:

Some Things I Wrote in 2015 on Sports

An Ode to Everything Great About the Pennant-Winning Mets
Even before the fairy tale ride to the pennant, this was a Mets team I enjoyed rooting for more than any team in a long time. When they completed the run to the World Series (and let's just leave out what happened there for now), I was compelled to write a large piece in celebration of this fun team, highlighting everything about them that was entertaining and made 2015 special.

Reviewing a Recent Baseball Book Reading Binge
Every year around spring I tend to take a break from whatever's going on at the moment and just dive headlong into reading everything I can about baseball. This past year was no different as I binged through seven baseball books in a row before I'd gotten my fix. This piece includes capsule reviews for five of those books.

Also worth mentioning here: I participated in four fantasy football leagues this year and won the championship in three of those leagues. That gives me 5 fantasy football crowns in the last 3 years. Also played in two fantasy baseball leagues and made it to the finals in both of them, though I lost both.

Books Read in 2015

1. Baseball Prospectus 2015
2. Up, Up, & Away by Jonah Keri
3. Can't Anybody Here Play This Game? by Jimmy Breslin (on the Mets inaugural Stengel-managed '62 season)
4. Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2015
5. The 34-Ton Bat by Steve Rushin
6. Big Hair and Plastic Grass by Dan Epstein
7. Benchwarmer by Josh Wilker
(These were all written about in the piece linked to above)

8. The Persistence of Memory: A Biography of Dali by Meredith Etherington-Smith
9. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
10. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
11. Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
12. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
13. Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 (helped me win 3 fantasy football crowns in 2015)
14. Art & Physics by Leonard Shlain (this book blew me away--Shlain is my hero. My favorite read of 2015 and the late Dr. Shlain is my favorite newly discovered writer of the year)
15. Stranger Than We Can Imagine: An Alternative History of the 20th Century by John Higgs (excellent book, will have a full review soon)

Honorable Mention: Acquired and frequently thumbed through the hefty tome Hamlet's Mill by Giorgio De Santillana and Hertha Von Dechend but will probably never complete it. It's one of those books to be nibbled at in small chunks for a lifetime.

Films Seen in 2015

My girlfriend and I made an effort this year to take advantage of our walking-distance proximity to two movie theaters. We ended up going to the movies nearly every other week in 2015. That meant plenty of time spent watching bloated blockbusters but there were a few gems in there, too. Here's a list of the movies I saw, in no particular order.

1. Avengers: Age of Ultron
2. Jurassic World
3. Kingsman: The Secret Service (featuring the most violent scene I've ever witnessed in a film)
4. Mad Max: Fury Road (my favorite film of the year)
5. Jupiter Ascending
6. Woman in Gold (surprisingly great)
7. Love & Mercy (solid)
8. The Gift (fantastic movie, very underrated)
9. Black Mass (just your run-of-the-mill mob flick, nothing special)
10. The Walk (a horrible attempt to fictionalize one of the finest documentaries every made, Man on Wire)
11. The Martian (nice mix of humor and sci-fi)
12. Spectre
13. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (meh)
14. Spotlight (excellent)
15. Amy (beautiful and sad)
16. Inside Out (brilliant and funny)
17. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
18. While We're Young
19. The End of the Tour
20. Straight Outta Compton
21. Ant-Man
22. Steve Jobs (impressive filmmaking)
23. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (already saw it 3 times in 3 different states---Texas, New Jersey, Virginia---and seeing it a 4th time tomorrow)

Journeys Taken/Travels Experienced in 2015

(Featuring one photo from each trip)

In March, I had the privilege of spending a week at the coastal Florida home of my girlfriend's parents. It was a perfect trip, occurring in the interval between the last day at my old job and the first day of my new one, and featuring such memorable experiences as a pancake breakfast on the beach, a Yankees-Astros spring training game in Tampa (getting a sneak peek at Astros' shortstop Carlos Correa prior to his incredible Rookie of the Year season), and a trip to the museum that possesses what I believe is the finest collection of Salvador Dali's work in the entire world, in St. Petersburg of all places. Here's a cool Dali sketch of burning giraffes lugging a giant sea urchin:

The month of May found me back in Florida at Disney World with a bunch of family for a fun, very exhausting, eventful week. Here's my bro and his two kids:

In July, my girlfriend and I made our way up to Colorado for a week of adventure centering around a friend's wedding. It also happened to be my 30th birthday. We hiked mountains, hung out by secluded large serene lakes, explored the street art of Denver, ate great food, and my lady even shot some hoops wearing a dress and my sports coat. She must've shot over 60%, displaying a stroke that would gain Steph Curry's approval:

In September, with my parents in town from New York we all went down to Houston for the weekend to see an Astros game (they beat the Oakland A's in a thrilling comeback) and explore the city a bit. Experienced some of Houston's wealth of art museums while also getting a glimpse of the city's impressive street art scene. Here's one of my favorite pieces from the latter:

And finally, the Christmas holiday brought me back to the homeland of New York City for a very eventful week where I spent time in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island. The final day of the trip was a perfect way to close out 2015---December 30th was spent exploring lower Manhattan, buying a few books at The Strand, then meeting my mom and sister at the MOMA for a quick stroll through its classics (saw masterworks from Jackson Pollock, Picasso, Monet, Cezanne, Duchamp, Klimt, Dali, and more) right before the museum closed for the night. Then took the ferry back home to Staten Island for a pizza dinner with the fam.

As we float away from another completed year, here's a glimpse from the Staten Island Ferry drifting away from the glistening fog-blanketed metropolis of Manhattan on a cold night:


  1. I've been to the Dali museum in Florida, too. My only gripe was that it wasn't bigger. Totally envious you've been to MOMA — I want to see it myself.

    You must like the new "Star Wars" movie more than I did.

  2. Hey PQ: I was happy with the way the Pynchon collaboration came out too. the OG got a ton of hits 'cuz of you.

    I read Still Life With Woodpecker in 2015 too: did you know that novel got the FBI to TR's house, when they were on the trail of the Unabomber?

  3. @Tom: I was also surprised the Dali museum was a little small. The building looks huge from outside. Nevertheless I love that place, the collection is incredible and I think it is actually superior to the Dali museum in Figueres, Spain (I went there in 2014). There was a cool exhibit on Dali's obsession with Leonardo da Vinci when I was there.

    The MOMA is a special place and I feel lucky I got to see it (briefly) during my recent trip. Many of the most famous works of modern art in the world are housed in there. I managed to glance at most of them during a 20-minute rush before closing time.

    Loved Star Wars. Was lukewarm about it on first viewing but it got better each time I saw it.

    @Michael: Glad to hear that! The collaboration was lots of fun.

    Didn't know that factoid about TR/Woodpecker. Not entirely surprised given the character's details on explosives and our paranoid police state.