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Book Review- The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read a review that called Gaiman the Ray Bradbury of this generation. That really struck me. From points artistic and commercial, it's hard to think of a better fitting analogy. Granted, I am old enough that I still think of Gaiman as a Comic Book Guy.

He does really have a magical power in writing fantastical works. I have not done the best job of keeping up with Gaiman's bibliography, though I am closer to the end than the start.

This book was a hit so I don't have anything new to add. Clearly, Gaiman is a master story teller and although this is a pretty simple story, when Gaiman tells it, you hang on every word.

There is a bit of disappointment in that this is a full book price when it falls short of 200 pages (Library borrowing notwithstanding). I can't fault that as Gaiman said it started as a short story and he knew it needed to be a novella.

Even, to a certain extent, I think he went 20 pages overlong.

I will give it four stars which is no slight on Gaiman. It was incredibly readable and a story that will stick with me probably longer and further than most fiction. Perhaps I don't fully appreciate it's beautiful simplicity, but I hesitate on the five star distinction knowing what Gaiman is capable of.

View all my reviews

On the Shelf 181: Old 97s
The Old 97s were one of the prominent bands in the 1990s Americana/alt-country movement. As a fan, I always have felt they should have been bigger. Contemporaries and followers who the band were as good as or better all seemed to have their day in the spotlight: Wilco, Spoon, Drive By Truckers, Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell.

One suspects the band could possibly feel the same way, or perhaps their other factors, but Graveyard Whistling feels geared towards a commercial breakthrough attempt. It is no worry, the bands 90's albums are near perfect, and since 2008, they have hit another span of great music. Five albums in the last decade and you could call each one a must have. (I would also make a strong case for the last three studio albums from Rhett Miller recorded in this same time, which is a quite a chunk of good music in a short time).

Whistling does feel slightly different, in that the band has made such great hits effortlessly. It reflects that too, but it seems to be written in such a way that every song on the album could be a radio single. The most obvious being the Brandi Carlisle duet "Good with God" (which indeed do pretty well in the adult alternative space). One suspects the pairing with new producer Vance Powell is also part of that. His credits include bands that have been very successful in that space- White Stripes, Raconteurs, Elle King, the Revivalists, Chris Stapelton, Sturgill Simpson, and even Buddy Guy and Willie Nelson.

With a hip producer and big name cameos as a start, each song is a big time country rock song. To make the baseball analogy though, when you are swinging for the fences, you may hit home runs, but you may also hit long fly balls that fall a bit short. In an unexpected way, the ambition on this record seems to be its only failing.

Indeed, I am not saying this isn't a great album. It is. It is actually a great album. However, in comparison to the post-reunion records, one could make a strong argument that this one is the least. This may only because the bar was set so high on '08's Blame it on the Gravity and 2014's Most messed Up with its Replacementsisms is hard to deny.

In any case, this is well worthwhile, and if your preference is loud, you may disagree with me and rate it even higher. if you don't know the band, then this also makes a great starting point.

On the Shelf 180: Greg Graffin
Greg Graffin has a solo album, Millport, which based on history is something he does about every ten years. It made me think of Cold as the Clay, his second record, which was released in 2006 (His solo debut was released in 1997).

The funny thing about Clay is that I remember liking it, but it has no real effect on me. I don't remember the songs nor do I feel like pulling it out ever. Facts that even aren't true for Bad Religion's 2013 album True North.

Graffin's solo career is legitimate in that he strays from his usual path, in this case music steeped in Old Time Country and folk. Not necessarily a bad thing as there is a logical path from punk. John Doe, Mike Ness and Tom Morello all used solo careers and side projects and explored country and folk. You can probably think of others who made that leap in logic- Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Hank 3, the Mekons.

Millport is a tough album to evaluate. In theory, he draws from old time country, and he is sincere to the point where he also expands to bluegrass and gospel. Indeed, an "atheist gospel" song in "Time of Need".

The positive is that the things that make Graffin great (if indeed you are a fan) are what make this album great- his melodic voice, a knack for melody and some great lyrics.

Unfortunately the album ultimately fails. While Graffin generally pulls it off, it's only be a fine margin. Instead of feeling like inspired punk, it almost seems like Graffin is doing karaoke. I don't know if it's the production or the band. I hate to fault either. I like Brett Guerewitz and the band is essentially the most recent incarnation of Social Distortion. It just seems too saccharine to me.

Other choices may have worked better. The band's weakest moments could probably be confused for the Doobie Brothers or Tesla.

Of course, the problem is I am guilty of that 2017 affliction -the polarization of extremes- I tend to classify albums as excellent or terrible. This one is just merely good. I like the cover of "Lincoln's Funeral Train" which seems appropriate, but on repeated listens falls into some of the album's tediums. The title track is another one that is pretty solid.

It is enough that is enjoyable, but a hard one to get excited by, meaning I want to recommend it, but I doubt others will experience even this much enthusiasm.

Available for purchase or streaming on Bandcamp

Great moments in Marketing
Been holding on these for when i had time to blog.

The first is a great Yogi Berra quote which I found at the local Pie5. Pie5 is one of the new trends in fast food. It is fast food pizza. You assemble the ingredients and they bake it in five minutes. There's Mod Pizza, Blaze Pizza and others in this category. It's a great idea, perfect for kids, but at Mod and Pie 5, I usually have bad pizza aftertaste burping the rest of the day.

Blaze is pretty dang good, however.

Speaking of good taste, Des Moines has a Hurts Donut, Co.

Which is a brilliant name except when you consider I have been conditioned for four decades that I don't want a "Hurts Donut".

I suppose you know that one, right.

Hurts Donut is super popular in a city which recently and finally got Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme, not to mention local favorites and specialty places like Mahalo's Mini-Donuts. Even the gas stations and grocery store chains have pretty good donuts.

I am not the biggest fan, just because they are cake donuts, which seem like a thing of the past. I suspect Krispy Kreme has helped create that generational divide.

Hurts specialty seems to be those mash ups by adding things to Donuts- such as Froot Loops, Reeses Pieces, pretzels, and an assortment of breakfast cereals and candies, and various other adventures like making donuts with jalapenos or bacon.

Not really my favorite, but I get it. Check out their website.

Rubble rubble Hamburglar
My trip to Dallas gave me a chance to try a few of the contenders for the Burger Wars.

Every region is fiercely proud and Texas is fiercely proud of Whataburger.

In the Burger Wars, the generally recognized champion is Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

I loved 5 Guys from the first taste, and they have expanded quickly, so they are no longer as rare finds as they used to be.  It's hard to say that there is a better fast food hamburger anywhere and the fries are great too.  My only problem is with 5 Guys success, their prices have caught up to the demand.  I don't really want to pay 15 bucks for a hamburger and fries, and not even get a tray to carry it on.

In-N-Out is extremely popular in the Western part of the country and hasn't quite expanded to match 5 Guys in the Midwest.  That said, I did go to In-N-Out while in Dallas, and thought the hamburger was magnificent, though the Fries were only bearable when doused with salt and ketchup.

Conventional wisdom is that these two places have the country's best burgers, but Texans seem to argue WhataBurger is the best.

So I had to go, and I did, alot.  Though mostly out of convenience.  Texans seemed to have an opinion, though mostly to say that they didn't get it.

I didn't really get it either.  As someone else told me, it tastes a lot like a Sonic Burger, which is no offense to Sonic, still pretty dang good.

I did eat there a lot while in Texas since it was close, and though I will rank the burger third, I understand regional pride.

In which case, I am only writing this post because this was in the news while I was down there:

Stolen Whataburger Numbers Seized by Cops

Texans love their Whataburger — and, apparently, the tiny plastic tents that display order numbers at the iconic fast food restaurant.

Police in Cross Roads, a small town in northeast Denton County, recently recovered a “large quantity” of the order numbers that had been stolen from the local Whataburger off U.S. 380.

“We have learned that it has become a game for area teens to be removing the plastic ‘order numbers’ from the restaurant when in attendance,” the Northeast Police Department announced Saturday on Facebook, warning teens they could be cited for theft of property.

The “game” has so gotten popular, the Facebook post said, that the Police Department, at times, has more of the order numbers than Whataburger.

Read more here:
So there you go

Now it's 12 Years On.......
It's a bit like watching VHS tapes but....

#mylivejournal #lj18 #happybirthday

NBA Developmental League: Iowa Energy
It wasn't that long ago that I was lamenting that I might not make it to any Iowa Energy games this year, but I did and now I managed to get a second game in.

There are some changes going on in the NBADL next year. The current NBADL provides an exciting product but isn't analogous to other minor league sports. It has gotten better over the years, and NBA teams do like to have their 1st and 2nd year players spend as much time here and in the NBA as they can. Also, though the 'Jeremy Lin' style megastar story is rare, there are a number of players who have used the league as a step to make respectable NBA careers for themselves, if not stars, then at least as consistent role players.

The biggest change next year might be the name and branding as it becomes the G league. The biggest change here is the partnership with sponsor Gatorade. It's doubtful that just the partnership will shake things up that much, but it may open a few doors. More important to the league is that next year the NBA will increase the roster size from 15 to 17. More players means more needs, and as injuries happen, the easiest place to find people to fill those spots is the NBADL. As important is that the League has adopted two-way contracts. This means more money for some players for one, but also mimics what we see in baseball's minor league system. The early DLeague teams had affiliations with the NBA, but now each DL team will have a geographically close team that it will bond too, Need a player? There will be one place to go and it can happen quickly.

This game was not so exciting. The Energy were well over played by the LA D-Fenders. The Energy did claw back within 4 after being outplayed all games, which doesn't do much to dispel the rumor that the NBADL is a more real sport than other performers who play in the same arena like John Cena or the Harlem Globetrotters.

This team was slightly different than the one I saw a month ago. This incarnation had three NBAers- Jarrell Martin, Wade Baldwin IV and Deyonta Davis and they all saw court time. Martin and Davis again showing that they are on the next level. Despite briefly leaving for an injury, JaKar Sampson looked great even when the rest of the team didn't, leading the team with 27 points.

Butler alumni Kellen Dunham played a major role in this game as compared to last and local star (Northern Iowa) Wes Washpun also put up impressive numbers.

I would be somewhat remiss if I didn't mention the half time show was Steve Max, "The Simon Says Guy". If you didn't think you could make a living playing (sorry, more correctly leading) games of Simon Says, you're wrong.

I suppose half game shows are a niche kind of thing, and generally, the Energy uses that time with groups that use trampolines to do diving basketball dunks.

Max is perfect for the time it takes to keep the crowd entertained, and to be fair, he is really good. He has that Willy Wonka/Gene Wilder vibe like a big optimistic kid in a man's body.

Here he was at a NBA game featured on ESPN Sports Center. Many more videos on Youtube

Comic Review: Iron Fist
Iron Fist (2017-) #1Iron Fist (2017-) #1 by Ed Brisson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been failing at my goal of trying to do as many first issue comic reviews as I can. Partially, due to the time required, but also on a bit of a budget cutback- the neverending flow of adding titles to the reading list and blanching any time I go over $20 aweek at the comic shop.

I couldn't resist this one though. I have really liked what i have read from Brisson and this looks like one of those times where Marvel has got a perfect match of underappreciated character and writer.

I will start out with saying I know bare minimum of the character. I am familiar with him, but can't say I have ever read his titles (despite a history of really good writers at times). I know the last couple of attempts with this character have fallen short, which is likely why they launched with Brisson. I do know that they have generalized the character enough that some will not like it.

Issue 1 certainly feels like it's right from the action movies that dominated the late 80s- sketchy underground locations, seedy characters, big action moves, fight clubs, vague mysticism.

The main criticism i have read is that there isn't much content in issue one. That may be fair, but it's also maybe unfair to expect that. The book needs to start off with a boom, so it's wholly appropriate to get that boom early, and end with a cliffhanger. We will see the character development when it is needed. Also, to be fair, I think Brisson does get deceptively a lot in these few pages. He only gets so much to work with, and it would be very clunky if he tried to overexplain. I haven't read issue 2 (which came out this week) but it would appear there's a lot of story content, and not just fight scenes.

I like Mike Perkins art. It is basic marvel and nothing that particularly seems different than what is expected. But in that, it's wholly appropriate, and I probably would have only commented on it, if it was particularly bad. So from that end, I was fully satisfied. Characters were clear, proper mood set and complimented the story. A nod to Andy Troy's color too.

The cover (like the comic's title) is also kept simple. I wasn't sure what I was getting. Either that Marvel wasn't going to invest too much into this, or that sometimes, basic is better.

At this point, I am excited about the book. I will acknowledge that Brisson is keeping it pretty basic (at this point, the character most think of as Danny Rand is fairly unrecognizable), but I liked everything he has done so far in developing the story, I am happy with the art, the dialogue was appropriate (which is tough to do in this genre) and Brisson's version of Rand will have the depth to carry the story.

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On the Shelf 179: Cloud Nothings
The Cloud Nothings are one of my favorite bands of recent years, and they are out with album #4 Life Without Sound.

The band has mined what many would call the great 80s American hardcore scene and its immediate 90s successors- Husker Du, Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr, Wipers, Sonic Youth, Jawbreaker, and Jawbox to name a few. 2012's Attack on Memory was a strong statement, though the harshest critics could argue that even there, as well as 2014's follow up Here and Nowhere Else, they are still a bit short of some of their idols.

Life Without Sound may not help that. Teaming up with producer John Goodmanson, this is a pretty clean alt-rock radio friendly album in line with his work with Death Cab for Cutie, the Posies and Harvey Danger (I dont know if I have ever seen a more scattered portfolio than Goodmanson- Team Dresch, Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Sepultura, Unwound, Blondie, Hanson, Train, Wu Tang Clan)

That is good and bad. The album is pretty great, and I am going to still put up a fight that this is one of the best bands on the planet right now; still I can't argue that it ever makes a statement that is on par with the best of their best influences. That's hardly a criticism, there are only a few Neverminds,Flip Your Wigs or Daydream Nations a generation.

It doesn't ever sound like a rip-off either, just a nod. The few times that they do venture out of the clean rock singles sound on this record, they are often headed to Mission of Burma territory, which is a good thing. Besides the only reason that we're having those comparisons with the all-time greats is that they are getting closer and closer to reaching that territory.

Texas is the Reason...
I didn't think I was going to make it, but I did get a free hour so i did make it to Dealey Plaza while I was in Dallas.

I had been told this, but the truth is it is much smaller than it appears in our minds eye, since we have watched so much footage of it, and it is an almost unreal occurrence.

The truth is it is a city block, and a 7 story building is really just a seven story building.

The road is marked with two xs of where the shots occurred. I did not see this, but a friend who went said she saw teen girls rushing out between red lights and taking selfies, which sounds distasteful, but I am not terribly surprised.

They do not let you take pictures from the six floor nor can you stand in the 'spot', but the Book Depository is open and is a museum. You can look outside the sixth floor window and you can take pictures from the seventh floor. Of course, the reason why you cant take pictures from the actual spot Oswald was, is because 'OMG, that shot would be impossible!1!!1!!'.

There are a few hucksters and shysters, informal tour guides who want to make a buck, and at least conspiracy author with a table set up. Though, not enough riffraff that you can't avoid.

There is the grassy knoll, which would most likely not be noticed. I feel like I even know less what a knoll is now, and grassy is pretty subjective. There is a fence that is there, and has been rebuilt, which is where a second gunman would have escaped.

I have read recently in Carlson's Dead Presidents book that Dallas has an uncomfortable history of the assassination, but has finally seemed to make some sense of peace of it. It makes sense as the museum is a celebration of Kennedy, and everything reflects his positive legacy. The conspiracy gets some mention in the museum, but it's minimal and unavoidable, really. The gift shop largely dedicated to JFK with only a few books about Oswald, and none I saw of the 'kooky conspiracy' variety.

I read an Oswald biography in junior high and it was a riveting story to me. It's no big thing to say that you are interested in the assisnation, but I remember being deeply affected by the Oswald bio, which seemed so unreal to me.

Which leads to the obvious questions. The JFK conspiracies aren't as hot as they were 20 years ago. We have moved on to other things (9/11) and as files get unclassified, and people from the era age and pass away without deathbed confessions, I think America is getting back to believing the Warren Commission.

In which case, the shot looks tough given the weapon, but not impossible. To me, that seems completely plausible. More so than the angle of the Grassy Knoll which would also necessitate fleeing the scene. Given the chance to prepare and set up, and a slow moving vehicle, it's not unrealistic to me. Plus, we have also heard a car backfire, so audio can play tricks on the mind.

The sixth floor is a museum, and though most of the artifacts are elsewhere in the type of National Museums one finds in DC, there are some interesting pieces. There's Oswald's wedding ring, the Zapruder camera, a China set which was planned for JFKs use while in Dallas, and the jacket of Jim Leavelle he was wearing in that iconic photo of Ruby shooting Oswald (Leavelle is the most striking character of that photo besides the primary two).

The gun isn't there, but a similar model is on display.

It was well worth while just to see given the attention to this historical event, and was well worth it as a history buff. The road is still used as a main thoroughfare which is also kind of weird.


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