Friday, August 29, 2008

Cross Country Drinking

Typing Monkey publisher S.L. Kreighton would prefer that we never republish content from other media outlets.

But given the bottle of rye he keeps in his desk drawer, and his Monday morning "Whudya drink this weekend?" greetings in the spot where a "good morning" would normally go, he never seems to mind when we post an article about booze.

So enjoy this piece from Time, in which a very brave man and his team of tasters sample one bottle of local wine from each of the 50 United States.

The entries from Florida, Massachusetts and Nebraska are particularly fun.

The Typing Monkey

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Monkey Reads: Classic Rock Radio Murders

Radio Activity
By Bill Fitzhugh
Summer reads don't get much better (or quick) than this paperback potboiler. Radio Activity comes on like tasty junk food disguised as a reasonable meal -- just like a picnic.

Rick Shannon is a radio disc jockey who discovers that the once-legendary on-air personality he's replacing at a small Mississippi classic-rock station may've been murdered. Amateur sleuthing ensues and in the process the author laments the diluting of American identity.

Fitzhugh lovingly defines true classic rock over the course of the novel, via Rick Shannon's unexpected, if unlikely, opportunity to recast the playlist at a second-tier market station.

Thinking people everywhere share the main character's (and Fitzhugh's) anger at corporate radio's pathetic limitations for every genre. So even those unfamiliar with the deep AOR trivia in Activity can delight in Fitzhugh's fantasy of music geeks reprogramming the airwaves.

The radio biz trivia doesn't fight too much with the mystery/noir elements of the story, though dedicated Agatha Christie types would probably fidget. And some Fitzhugh fans complain on Amazon that Activity pales next to the author's earlier works. However, Fitzhugh's joyride with his two of his favorite topics comes across clearly. Perhaps low/no expectations enhanced The Typing Monkey's enjoyment?

Fitzhugh paces the clues and revelations well enough to avoid total predictability, but The Big Sleep this ain't. Like Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, Fitzhugh tries to make rural Mississippi as much a character as the human players. He almost succeeds.

What he does nail is the creeping fear of working in an industry that will eventually kick you to the curb, and the sad resignation that the masses will stand back and watch as regional identities are crushed by the cultural hegemony of corporations that insist they know what we like.

Reference materials: Some Fitzhugh readers align him with Carl Hiaasen. They're probably right, but if you crave more substantial crime fiction, gorge on The Big Sleep and other Raymond Chandler offerings.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

New Monkey Love

Please indulge The Typing Monkey as we take a moment to point out some of the new Websites we've added to the "Monkey Love" section. [Shift your eyes a few degrees to the right and you'll see the list of links The Typing Monkey recommends.]

To the already outstanding stack of favorite destinations on the information superhighway, we've recently added the following:

Science Monster
Downloadable and streaming 16mm sci-fi and monster movies -- giant monsters, robot monsters, The Bowery Boys and yes, zombies. The man behind this site is doing the Lord's work. Just take care to download sparingly. Greed is not a good color for you.

Comic-book covers galore, pulp paperbacks, magazines and even music videos -- like hanging out at your cool friend's house, if your friend had a disturbingly large collection of top-notch reading material.

Arts & Letters Daily
A service of The Chronicle of Higher Education -- because sometimes it's okay to learn stuff.

Computer Perfection
A la-la-lovely new musical quartet and offshoot of the Detroit baroque pop band, Pas/Cal. If that's not enough, understand one of them is actually named Gene Corduroy. Really, it's on his birth certificate.

Virtual Kaleidoscope
Finally, interactive media produces something worthwhile. And if you're feeling extra fancy, has also provided a more complex version of the same toy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We pause now to bring you this important message:

Happy birthday to The Typing Monkey's most favoritest person in the world, The Amazing Mrs. Kendall.

It must be love.

You Don't Have to Read This

A Pre(r)amble On Sports and Music
At first glance, house music and the Summer Olympic Games seem to have little in common. But there are some parallels that aren't too much of stretch.

1. Context
The Typing Monkey has never attended the Olympics (well, except for that awkward jaunt to Moscow in summer 1980 -- so embarrassing) but we can imagine how thrilling it must be to witness firsthand some of the world's greatest athletes in action.

Likewise, house can be genuinely exciting when the listener is there, in person, on a dancefloor, with all the appropriate sensory cues the genre was created for.

2. Expertise
A frequent complaint about house, and electronic dance music in general, involves some iteration of the "I could do that" criticism. Any dork can buy a laptop (or a sequencer, drum machine and synthesizer) and make a 4/4 beat with some bass squiggles. But those who are good at it, and have put in the time and effort to get good, are going to leave lesser musicians at the starting line.

Similarly, most of us can run, but we're not about to get up and make a showing at the 100-yard dash time trials. We sit back and marvel at the people who've found they were built to do amazing physical feats.

3. Accessibility
Even non-sports fans can find something of interest at the Olympics. And there's that whole "uniting diverse cultures" aspect to the competition that remind us that a global superpower can lose to a third world nation when we're equalized by our basic human abilities.

In the same way, electronic dance music is a sort of international unifier. Though it has the advantage of being enabled by technology, it's difficult to site another style of music that's been so quickly picked up by so many cultures.

What does all of this lead into? Nothing more than the following review of a two-disc house compilation. (Click the link, or scroll down a smidge.)

... In Order to Understand This:

Great Summer Games Stuff: A Tribute to Human Rights
(Great Stuff)
Listening to Great Summer Games Stuff is like watching the Olympics on television. If you're a house-music glutton, this compilation mainlines the ceaseless kick drum for the duration of two globe-spanning discs. A more casual listener, like the average Olympics viewer, passively pays attention but perks up when something remarkable happens.

Disc one's first gold medal comes from Turkey's Butch. The track screws with expectations by slowing the beat down and dropping it out entirely, usually by pitch-bending the samples of locale-appropriate woodwinds as if they're melting.

A silver medal goes to Germany's Swen Weber for pushing a brisk hi-hat scuffle to the forefront and countering a buzzing bassline with some sort of marching-band anthem the fades in and out like a passing parade.

Disc two offers more to grab our interest, with an almost-ambient opener from Japan's Tokyo Black Star. [Who is actually French native Alex Prat -- ed.]

Greek techno DJ/procuder Mihalis Safras gets top honors for his contribution that combines a minimal, watery rhythm with a weird guitar break that shouldn't fit, but does -- even when it takes over and drapes cinematic shadow over the proceedings.

Romania's OK Corral do right too, with a playful 8-bit number. They get bonus points for claiming to be from Bucharest, circa the year 2259.

England, New Zealand and Australia all bring the big, dumb fun, with a blaring rave/big beat throwback from Atomic Hooligan, a glorious mess by Greg Churchill, and a track by Tommy Trash that ignores genre divisions the way a good pop construction should.

The connection to both the Olympics and human rights feels tenuous, but if any of The Typing Monkey's theory (see above) holds water, maybe a DJ really can save a life. It's no less believable than the fact that every few years we ignore continuing global strife in order to play a bunch of games.

Reference materials: Click on the artist links in the review, and see if you find something to suit your fancy. Or snoop around the Great Summer Games Stuff tack list for yourself.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Wash Me

Though the Pagan calendar indicates that autumn begins on August 6, just about every spot in the northern hemisphere can count on at least four to six more weeks of warm weather. Eight weeks if the gods think we deserve it.

And even though gas prices will soon convert North America into a horrifying wasteland with a barter-based economy ruled by ruthless thugs sporting Mohawks and leather harnesses, chances are your car needs a good washing.

Really, you don't want to make one last weekend cruise down to the beach in a vehicle encrusted with sap, bird turds and highway dust, do you?

The point is, when breaking out the bucket, mitt and hose -- or driving down to the local coin-op wash & go -- there's a certain soundtrack required. You have two choices, and The Typing Monkey recommends both: Sweet's Desolation Boulevard and Van Halen's self-titled debut.

Much has been written about both records. However, a trusted Monkey associate summed up the appeal of both choices as prime auto sanitation accompaniment with this elegant notion: "Play these and your car will practically wax itself."

You'll want the American version of Desolation, as that release not only opens with "Ballroom Blitz" but divides the songs equally. All the Nicky Chinn- and Mike Chapman-penned tunes are on side one, and the band-penned tunes on side two.

Sweet may be English, but their candy-coated machismo was destined for blue collar American pastimes. A night of drag races, demolition derby and funny car time trials requires "Fox on the Run" over the cruddy PA system at your local racetrack.

You're likely to hear Van Halen's "Runnin' With the Devil" there too. And though the release dates of Van Halen and Desolation are separated by four years (1978 and '74, respectively), the two albums temper silly rock & roll hedonism with self-awareness -- as if both bands had one foot on Led Zeppelin and the other on Queen.

David Lee Roth admits that there's nobody waiting for him at home when he returns from er, running with the Devil. And Andy Scott's ever-rising guitar solo that closes "Sweet F.A." ends with an explosion. Take that, Peter "James" Bond!

Both quartets boasted flashy lead vocals*, fantastic guitar leads, no-nonsense bass playing, drums that flirt with big band rhythms and massive harmonies that you might not notice but would miss terribly if absent.

Right. Back to this car-washing thing. The Typing Monkey will pretend you already own these records, and that even if your "car" is a Turkey Monster Bike with metal-flake vinyl on the banana seat, you now have something to do with yourself some Saturday morning in the near future.

*The Typing Monkey has nothing against Sammy Hagar or Gary Cherone, but when Diamond Dave left after 1984, we followed him.