NaNoWriMo prep part 6 — whoa, it’s almost here

Kinda snuck up on me! And part of it was being under the weather for the first part of the week.

Happily I’ve got basics of the story in place, but with plenty of vagueness all around as well. Which is intentional — many of my best ideas in this vein have happened as I was writing the entries, rather than following any preset path.

Furthermore, too much hyperplanning is really impossible at this stage of the game — there’s plenty more I could do in terms of social studies of San Francisco in the late 1800s, and such information will have relevance in later drafts of the story. But what’s important right now is the story itself, and that I can work on. I will repeat again, though, that I’m not aiming at a completed manuscript here, but a 50,000 word baseline to work from. I do have the ending in mind, though, and that’s handy — a point to drive towards. Everything else will fall into place.

Meantime, The Barbary Coast continues to be a fascinating read — and a very barbed and not always sympathetic one, from a viewpoint of decades from its publication. There are scattered references comparing the near-anarchy that thrives in the city in the first couple of decades after the Gold Rush, where criminal gangs and vigilance committees took to each other with fire and assault, with guns and nooses, with then contemporary situations in American cities. I had to remember again that the book was written in the early 1930s, deep into the Great Depression, shantytowns in DC and any number of domestic crises and clashes, not to mention the ‘classic’ era of mobsters and criminals — Al Capone, Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde.

So we’ll see where it all goes. I’m somewhat notorious for driving ahead with my efforts in the past — one time it took me something like five days or so to hit 50,000 words — but this one will probably be much more slowly paced. All feedback will be very welcome!


Stylus RIP

Hate to have to type those words, but it’s true — today is the final operational day of Stylus magazine, where as I posted once earlier a number of pieces of mine appeared over time. The writers knew about this decision for some time but happily word didn’t fully break until a few days ago, as was intended.

Being only a very casual contributor to the site, I haven’t felt it was my place to comment much about Stylus wrapping up aside from a mention or two on the main ILM thread about it. But I admit I was pleased to see how many positive comments were made there and elsewhere about Stylus, and I will always remember my dealings with Todd, the site’s founder and driving force, and other staff members very well. It was a pleasure to meet a number of them in person earlier this year at EMP and I hope to see them again there in the future and elsewhere as well.

One of them, the very great and personable Alfred Soto, has a fine final essay up that’s well worth the reading, and includes a brief mention of his and my mutual love/hate relationship with that bizarroworld called the Corner. That paragraph that said mention appears in, however, is worth considering on the whole (as you might guess from the context, he is currently an English lit instructor, in this case in his home state of Florida):

I write about music because it gives me pleasure. Writing, that is; the music part is incidental. I often remind myself that by this point in my professional career I should have been a pair of ragged claws in a Midwestern university’s English department, using “privilege” as a verb and chiding my students for not finishing The Golden Bowl; we would, however, share a laugh at how often Henry James uses “ejaculated” in dialogues. Since most postgraduate writing seems written by people who don’t much like writing, I’ve allowed a distraction to become a habit, in quiet protest. But I keep my distance. I’m certainly not the only critic with colleagues who seem to spend a considerable portion of their days downloading music, which totally mystifies me. It’s a quixotic gesture on their parts whose nobility I’m not prepared to admit. Consumption is not thinking. I think a lot about other things besides music: good Scotches, robust sexual tension between students and me, the predatory spume of The Corner’s contributors (a hobby I share with colleague Ned Raggett). Despite increasing confidence in rockcrit as a craft, I want to vouch for happy dilettantism. For quiet promiscuity. The distance it enforces between me and the object of scrutiny produces my clearest thinking. There’s a sense in which taking music and music listening too seriously causes silt to form in your brain. If you doubt this, spend an hour talking to young rockcrits. Woodrow Wilson, not immune to messianic priggishness, remarked that the worst part of being president is meeting people who insist on telling you what you already know.

Alfred and I had talked briefly on another ILM thread about something else that had come up — my blog had, flatteringly to be sure, been named as one of a few good sites for music discussion on the web. I had to protest, though, since that was never the goal of this blog and never will be — after all, I am trying to ‘ponder it all,’ or at least that which regularly engages my interest, which moves well beyond simply music. Alfred had agreed with my own conclusions and this paragraph explains his stance further; for myself I’d just want to note that the idea of ‘happy dilettantism’ is profoundly appealing to me, on a variety of levels.

In work terms, it certainly explains both my relationship with my ‘regular’ job (as I’ve explained to people yet again elsewhere today, I’ve no real interest in becoming a fully accredited librarian with the MLS degree) and with my writing. Identified with the All Music Guide as I inevitably am, it’s not my sole outlet, and neither is it a place where I am a regular editor or anything similar (for a start I’d have to live closer to Ann Arbor!). Similarly working with a variety of other writing outlets, local and distant, allows me to be that happy dilettante, digesting, considering and of course pondering.

This strikes me as being healthy all around. It can be argued that I run the risk of being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, but I prefer to see it as part of that embrace of multiplicity of life that has grown incredibly important over time — that I’m not reduced to a simple one word sentence. To turn back to the subject at hand, working for Stylus was a treat because it allowed me to showcase both my sharper side via Scraping the Barrel and to occasionally ruminate on pieces of more profound interest to me.

So I will conclude with links to my own two favorite pieces that were published — an in-depth discussion of Bark Psychosis’s Hex and an entry in a series of pieces on that most omnipresent of words in this decade’s music criticism, ‘rockism.’ Both strike me, in rereading them, as products of happy dilettantism made manifest, and to my surprise both hold up pretty well still — keeping in mind I’m mostly very annoyed with my work the minute I see it published. A good sign, and that’s as much a credit to the place it appeared in as anything else.

It was a pleasure to be a part of it. Have a great farewell bash, folks!

[EDIT: Nearly all the ‘year-end’ pieces that are acting as concluding essays are mighty fine but I do want to single out Mike Powell’s as well — the right attitude, the right tone, I think.]

Posted in Life, Music. 4 Comments »

There’s a new sheriff in town…or will be

Michael Carona is still, at the present time, Orange County’s sheriff. This probably isn’t going to last, though:

Carona broke the law by failing to disclose that he had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts for himself, his wife and his former “longtime mistress,” according to a federal indictment unsealed this morning.

The women, Debbie Carona and Deborah Hoffman, were described as co-conspirators and were also indicted.

The gifts — primarily from former Orange County Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl — included cash payments of as much as $112,000, a boat, a trip to Lake Tahoe and ringside tickets to the Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad title fight at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, the indictment says.

The alleged conspiracy stretched from the months before Carona’s election in 1998 until August, when he is accused of attempting to “corruptly persuade” Haidl, in a tape-recorded conversation, to withhold testimony from the grand jury. Haidl has also been indicted.

None of this could have happened to nicer people. Seeing Haidl in this fix is especially delicious since his son figured in a disgusting rape case around here some years back — and, quite happily, was convicted and sent to jail. The chances that both Haidls are going to be serving in the same prison at the same time and all are doubtless pretty slim, but I admit it’s a great image.

But Carona, well, where to begin. Rather handily, though, there is a good spot — R. Scott Moxley at the OC Weekly, who handled the Haidl coverage I just linked to, has been digging deep on Carona for a long while now, and put together his own greatest hits collection of articles after the news broke. Well worth your time.

Stuff like this doesn’t thrill me, I have to admit. Don’t get me wrong, I am plenty thrilled by a lot of it, whether it’s the fact that all the dodging and weaving on Carona’s part all this time hasn’t helped him escape indictment — and getting named along with his wife *and* mistress must really have led to some fun dinner table talk tonight in his household — or just in seeing another typical OC blowhard get his. The folks over at the Crystal Cathedral are probably pretty happy that there’s no YouTube footage up (at least, up yet) of him talking about family values there.

But still, it doesn’t thrill me because, after one, one should hope for better. This isn’t a naive ‘however could a *policeman* be a crook’ wish or the like, merely an acknowledgment that even in a place like Orange County, and with plenty to suspect about those in power or have access to it, assuming a baseline of criminality by default bespeaks a total lack of faith in those engaged in local government at that level. I’d rather not live my life always thinking that, though certainly I think there’s every reason to assume a duty on the part of an informed citizenship to be aware of what abuses can and do occur, and to react against them. It may seem a hard balance, but it is not an impossible one to assume.

In any event, this is just an indictment so far, though the details of that indictment are pretty damning and already some local politicians are saying he should resign. Carona’s putting up some bravado for now:

“I’m staying because I love the job and I do a good job,” Carona said. “Most importantly, I have committed no criminal acts.”

Somehow, the recent travails of Michael Vick and Marion Jones come to mind.

[UPDATE: Gustavo Arellano has added to the OC Weekly coverage with a bit about other charming folks in the past who have held the office of sheriff. This, I admit, makes me rethink part of my post — maybe you just have to be a doof to be elected sheriff in the first place. Not a problem per se, I just wish the ballots were clearer on the point.]