Don't you just love new technologies? From the moment I left my room in Utrecht to the moment I arrived at my parents' home, I listened to two guys discussing the second season of Buffy on my iPod. That's almost two hours. And I loved it. And now I'm sitting typing on my laptop with wireless connection.

Seriously, I think I might get addicted to Podcasts. I don't listen to them much in my room because I'm usually doing three things at once then, and I hate missing things, but on the train, it's perfect. I mean, if I could camouflage my earphones, I might even want to listen to Podcasts in some of my classes.

The thing is...I know I enjoy listening to people discuss movies, shows, music. I enjoy reading about in on blogs too. But more and more people who I ask to read my blog and tell me what they think of it say "well, personal blogs aren't really my thing" or something in that vein.

It takes a lot of confidence to write one of these things, it takes the belief (or delusion) that there are people out there who your views can be valuable to. For now, I see this blog more as an exercise in writing, a testing ground for ideas I might be able to publish in the college newsletter, as a way, also, to note down and remember what interested me at a certain time, what I liked and disiked, a notebook of sorts. But it would be nice to get readers, even if I know that in the sea of blogs out there mine is hard to find if you're not looking for it. As I said, I will keep at it for a month. See how it goes. If I still feel liked writing after those 30 days.

Until then, I'll keep listening to Podcasts and link to them here.

And well, despite some slight frustration...new technologies still rule.




Addendum: This T-shirt is also on my wish list now

November 17th is so fucking far away (excuse the swearing, but it's appropriate in this instance). Which means that until Serenity comes out, I'll just have to watch the 14 Firefly episodes we've been blessed with over and over again. Don't worry, it's not exactly hard work.

See, I believe Firefly is not just the greatest Sci-Fi show ever made, but I also believe it might very well be the very best show, period.

***mild spoilers for the show ahead. So watch it. Seriously. Even if you don't intend to ever read this***

Let's expand on the first thing first. Why do I think that firefly is better than, say, Star Trek, Farscape, or even Star Wars for that matter?

One of the most important things is that Joss Whedon has realised is that in the future, there will still be inequalities. There will still be poor people without access to all that fancy new technology, there will still be thieves and smugglers, and no, there will be no peace among humans.

Secondly, I love that there are no aliens, and not just on the basis that finding aliens within traveleable distance is highly unrealistic, after all, this is science fiction. No, I mostly lvoe it because, let's face it, we simply don't have the imagination to come up with aliens that are more than just humans with strange facial prothetics. Oh sure, Star Wars had its superintelligent dust clouds or whatever it was, but aliens are just the surest way of getting me out of my suspension of disbelief.

Third, a point that might seem small but that reflects how much thought had been out into the "realism" of the science fiction in this show: there is no sound in space. And contrary to what you might expect, explosions don't lsoe any of their impact if you can't hear them. On the contrary, it makes the universe a much colder, more isolated, more dangerous place (as MaryAnn Johanson also remarked in her review of the pilot).

There's more, obviously. There's how medicine and doctors are scarce, and how could they not be? There's the realisation that any organisation that can control the entire universe/galaxy cannot NOT be dictatorial and scary. There's the way that, while everybody speaks English, it's not today's English, but a strange kind of it, filled with archaisms and neologisms, and mixed with Chinese.

So that's why I think Firefly is great Sci-Fi. But I also think it's just plain great. See, it's not only realistic about what the future might actually look like, maybe, but it's also so well-written, funny, smart, with fully fleshed-out characters with flaws and great qualities and that you know thorugh and through but can still surprise you.

Take Mal, the captain. Hero? Well, not quite. Oh, he definitely has a heart of gold, as we see in "the Train Job": when he discovers that what he's stolen was medication for poor people, he returns it too them, knowing it will get him into trouble with a dangerous man. It's in the way he gets Wash through torture in "War Stories" by provoking him.

Still, Mal's survival and that of his crew comes first, and he always makes the rational decision, even if that means killing. Which it sometimes does. And in those moments, he makes the decision instantaneously, shocking us, but also reminding us of why this show is great.

There are plenty more examples. The way Zoe reacts when she comes to buy Wash and Mal off Niska. The way...but I won't go on here. If you've seen the show, you know what I'm talking about, and if you haven't, you should discover those moments yourself.

The thing is, I can't even pick a favorite character, because they are all so great. Kaylee so naive and innocent and yet so refrenshingly frank about sexuality, Jayne with his gruff, blunt exterior who's happy as a little kid when his mom sends him a hat, Inara who is so well trained in hiding her feelings that she keeps herself from happiness...

So, no favorite character. A favorite episode? I can't pick either, but I do have a top three. In chronological order (by air-date) they are:
- Our Mrs Reynolds. Inara's and Mals'relationship really develops here, and everyone's reaction to Saffron is priceless. We also see here that Wash is probably the sweetest guy in the verse, ever (although it might have something to do with the fact that he is married to a woman "who can kill [him] with her pinky")
- Out of Gas. I like this one especially because we get to see how Mal recruited his crew, and in the cases of Kaylee and Jayne, it's highly amusing. We also get to see how Mal fell in love with Serenity, and it is truly touching.
- Trash. Yes, I do love Saffron. And this is one of the neatest little heists ever pulled. Also, I agree with the Flick Filosopher: we get to see Mal naked. Hey, girls can be shallow too.

Even this selection was hard to make though. Runners up are Shindig, Heart of Gold, War Stories, Objects in Space...well, yeah, pretty much all of them really.

I've still left one thing unmentionned: the dialogue. And rather than try to describer it to you, I'll leave you with some quotes that speak for themselves.


Kaylee: Wash, tell me I'm pretty.
Wash: Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion.
Kaylee: Cause I'm pretty?
Wash: Cause you're pretty.

Inara: What did I tell you about barging into my shuttle?
Mal: That it was manly and impulsive?
Inara: Yes, precisely, only the exact phrase I used was "don't"

Zoe: Captain'll come up with a plan.
Kaylee: Well, that's good... right?
Zoe: Possibly you're not recalling some of his previous plans.

Shepard, isn't the Bible kind of specific about killing?
Book: Very specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzy around the area of kneecaps.

Jayne: You know what the chain of command is? It's the chain I go get and beat you with until you understand who's in ruttin' command here.


Call it an appetizer...

I'm planning on sharing my thoughts on the awesome show Firefly tomorrow, and also probably rant about how terribly far away the movie is in the Netherlands and how Joss Whedon is a God, but in the meantime, I'll just leave you with some links.
Trailer "You wanna run this ship?" "Yes". "Well. You can't!"
The Flick Filosopher
Are you a Browncoat?

And yes, Joss Whedon rules


Jacksonville City Nights

I could just start with my review of Jacksonville City Nights, Ryan Adams' latest album, but I feel that it's important to know a little bit of my history with Ryan, as I like to call him when I'm having endless conversations with him in my mind. To put things in perspective, in a way.

Gold was the first album I owned. I love it right away. It started happy, poppy even(dare I say rocking?), but then got slowly more introspective, with beautiful, breathtaking songs like "La Cienega just smiled" and the masterpiece "Sylvia Plath". Afterwards the songs become more bare, bluesy, stay wonderful.

Of course, after this album, I went back to the previous one, Heartbreaker, and the song "Damn, Sam, I love a woman that rains", a song even more poetic than the title, stole my heart.

As an aside, this is where I can finally explain the name of this blog. I listened to "Damn, Sam" a hundred times, maybe more, but somehow I misremembered a lyric. Instead of "I am as calm as a fruit stand in New York and maybe as strange", I thought the text was "I am as cool as a fruit stand"etc.

I stuck to it, because the lyric spoke to me. I could imagine a fruit stand in New York being cool. It's strange, yes, out of place, but to me the idea of a fruit stand in New York represented being odd and knowing it, eccentric but interesting, a bit sad maybe but poetic.

I'd like to think of this blog as being cool in the same way a fruit stand in New York is cool. I'd even like to think of myself as seeing that, but that's probably too ambitious, too pretentious even.

One last thing before I stop talking about the name, I am aware that fruit stand is written like that, with two words, and not as one like in the title of my blog. It's actually petty revenge. In the Netherlands, words should be written as one word as often as possible, but the influence of English on the language made sure that people don't do this any more. So I figured, if Dutch can be written apart, English can be written together.

It does look uneducated though. I might change it later. But for now, I'm sticking to my guns.

I liked Demolition a lot too, despite the lack of coherence (it is a collection of loose tracks, so it's kind of natural it seems like a random collection). I especially liked Dear Chicago, with the lines:

She picked me up on Friday.
Asked me if she reminded me of you.
I just laughed and lit a cigarette,
said, "That's impossible to do."
Then, two albums came out at once, and obviously, like the fangirl I am, I bought them both. And both reminded me of why I like Ryan Adams so much: he is so consistently good, and at the same time so versatile.

One of the albums was Rock N Roll. And rocking it was. The story i've read is that the record company wasn't too enthusiastic about Love is Hell, and Ryan made this album in a week or two to spite them. Or something. Anyhow, it shows how gifted a songwriter he is. There's a song that sounds like U2, one that sounds like the Strokes (called "This is it")... Some reviewers complained that he had lost his own voice, that the songs were derivative, but I like to see it more as a style exercise, very much an arrogant "look what I can do!", but with such great results, who can complain? There are soms gems on this album like on the others. "Rock N Roll", ironically, is the calmest, saddest even, tired but beautiful. And "Wish you were here" is one of the most singable Ryan Adams songs.

And Love is Hell, well, I don't think there's any album I've played more often. I was originally planning to be smart and to wait for the release of the combined Love is Hell 1 & 2, but I heard the "Wonderwall" cover on part 1 and I just had to have it, right away. It truly is an amazing cover, not just giving the song a new interpretation, a new feeling, but reposessing the song. If after reading this you decide to download just one song, that Wonderwall cover is what I'd recommend. It's not the only great song on the two Love is Hell, though, oh no. Nearly every song is perfect here, many of them so bare and atmospheric they suck you in and refuse to let you go. "I see monsters", "Political Scientist", "the Shadowlands", "My Blue Manhattan", actually, there really isn't any song I'd like to exclude, excepting maybe one of the bonus tracks, which is overly distorted.

Love is Hell, is, basically, Ryan Adams gone experimental. The Cd(s) have been compared to Radiohead, but I personally believe it is better than anything Radiohead's ever done. So you understand that I was a bit disappointed with Cold Roses.

Oh, it's not that I didn't like the songs, didn't enjoy them, didn't think they were better than 99.9% of the music around...but the music didn't really touch me, to use a corny phrase. They didn't do anything to me, left me, honestly, a bit cold. And most importantly, the CD didn't see, to offer anything new, anything innovative.

I have to admit, the CD grew on me. Some songs started to stand out, after a while, even if at first all songs sounded like more of the same. "Now that you're gone", especially, but also "Meadowlake Street", "Mockingbird" and "Friends". And well, Ryan Adams in his less creative songs still writes songs that anyone else can be jealous of.

And now, there it is. Ryan's second of three albums coming out this year. "Jacksonville City Nights". And after listening to the first five, six, I really started to wonder if Ryan and I were in trouble.

Let me emphasize that the problem is not the quality of the songs. It's a musically accomplished album, with some lyrics that are pure poetry. It's just the genre. I have a couple of Whiskeytown albums on my iPod and I listen to them from time to time, but country music really isn't my thing, and this CD is, well, twangy.

It could be said I'm being unfair. After all, one of the things I like and admire most about Ryan Adams is his versatility, and now it seems like I'm blaming him for trying something just because it's in a genre I don't like. And although I could argue that country music was what he started with, and that this makes this a turn back rather than progression, it's a valid criticism.

I just really don't get into country.

I'd already decided I'd just wait to see if the third album was good, and forget this one existed. But then I heard Silver Bullets.

It's a gorgeous song. Vintage Ryan Adams, with a little bit of a country inflection, but fitting here, and not too obvious. And with the renewed confidence I got from that song, some other after it didn't seem too bad. "September" for example, has great lyrics. "Withering Heights" is also good. And the closing song, "Don't fail me now", is great.

I'm still not sold on the album. It's definitely my least favorite Ryan Adams so far. But still, two really good and two reasonably good Ryan Adams songs are something to be happy about.

And the third album? Please Ryan. Don't fail me now.


No Direction Home

"It was not necessary for him to be a definite person"

I just saw the first part of Martin Scorsese's "No Direction home", his documentary about Bob Dylan. It lasted almost two hours. I had to pee after twenty minutes, but I couldn't bring myself to stop watching, not even for a minute.

It's just that fascinating.

Somehow, you can feel that the guy who directed this is used to narrative. Oh, there's no voice-over, and the structure is anything but linear - unlike the traditional biopic - and yet, still, there's a story here. Oh yes, we hear of Dylan's start and evolution as a musician, filled with wonderful archive footage and even more wonderful music, not just by him but by so many of the people who inspired him, sang at the same time as him, or simply were part of the same movement he came out of. But in between, we see footage of a later performance (or several performances, I'm not sure) in Britain where Dylan is booed, called a traitor, told to go off stage, and many of the people interviewed on the spot talk of betrayal, of infidelity in a way. It's a great way of building curiosity about how Dylan went from folk hero to outcast, and it makes us think about how things we see might give hints of what's to come, but it also shows that Scorsese's taken a very clear beginning and ending for his story. And has a very clear idea about how to get from start to finish, refusing the linear approach.

I know I seem to be talking about music and movies a lot. It's a subject that's been making me think lately though. For example, this documentary, you could say it's mostly about what people sing and about what people say, about sound then. Still, it would have been an entirely different experience. Many documentaries get criticized for being just talking heads, and many documentary makers seem to think the solution can be found in flashy cuts and animations.

Not Scorsese though. He cuts away to silent images of bare trees in mist. To beautiful pictures of ordinary people, black and white masterpieces. And he chooses just those images that suggest something just a little more complicated underneath.

There have been complaints that Dylan and his "people" had too much say in how the movie turned out. That crucial people he might or might not have stolen from have been left out. That overall, this is just another cryptic tribute to the master.

I'm not sure. Yes, Dylan is portrayed rather positively, as an opportunist, a borrower, a conceited asshole sometimes, perhaps, but above everything as a chameleon and a genius. An inspirator. But then again, can there really be a documentary about Dylan that denies that he's an elusive kind of virtuoso?

One thing the documentary really emphasized is something I didn't really know of before: music really was a malleable, cannibalized thing back then, or well, more than it is now. Bob Dylan himself started out singing other people's songs, and the movie quickly offered shots of a dozen albums that all featured "Blowin' in the wind". There is also an image of a pop chart with Blowin' in the wind...Sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. I have to admit I'm not an expert on sixties music, but I've never heard of them. The only version of the song I knew until now was the one sung by Dylan himself.

The idea we get from the doc - and I say it this carefully because I really have no way of checking the accuracy of this - is that songs were pretty much fair game. There's talk of a version of House of the rising sun being passed on, more or less voluntarily, from one of the people interviewed (I'm bad at names...) to Dylan, who put it on his first album, to the Animals, whose version is now not only famous but, I think, for many people the one version they know, even if they are aware that it is actually a much older traditional song.

Funny detail: Bob Dylan is also seen in this singing "Man of Constant Sorrow". Yes, the song from "O' brother where art thou".

The other thing that really struck me is the fact that he was twenty when all this started. Twenty when he started writing songs, started performing, started to mold a dozen different styles together, refining them to what would become the sound of a generation.

I'm twenty.

Oh well. I've never really thought i'd have a life story worthy of a Scorsese doc anyway.

The thing is, of course, that I got acquainted with Bob Dylan long after his glory days. Long after his metamorphosing. For a long time, all I knew of him was his Best Of, and to me, Blowin' in the rain and Like a Rolling Stone fit right together. Oh, my dad told me that Dylan "went all Christian for a while", and that the quality of his music was kind of variable, but my dad, being born in 51, kind of came to Bob Dylan late too, and his favorite album - I think - is "Blonde on Blonde" from 66, the year Scorsese chose to let his documentary end.

Bob Dylan, of course, relishes being an enigma. There's one quote in the film from Joan Baez who remembers Dylan amusing himself, thinking of all the people who will analyze his lyrics, lyrics he admits to not understanding completely himself. I usually dislike pretentious obscureness, but I can imagine the feeling. And Dylan's words are so fun to interpret, which is why, soon, I'll add "Cronicles, Vol. 1" to my Sinterklaas list on the right.

The funny thing is, Dylan influences or not, in the current interview he always seems...dodgy somehow. He acts the wizened man, admits to probably having been wrong, but somehow, he gives off the impression that he's just trying to con us once more. Scorsese gets in his face during this interview, everything's in close-up, every twitch recorded, and rather than this giving an impression of honesty and openness, it makes the man even more impenetrable. Like Scorsese wants to let us realize that whatever images he shows us, we're going to have to make up our own minds anyway.

One last thing about the chamelionness many of the interviewed people emphasize. Yes, he switched from country to folk to more electronic music, but from the distance of say thirty-five years, the changes lose their magnitude, and the anger people expressed felt hysterical.

Then again, I follow every single change in direction Ryan Adams makes with the greatest interest, and they aren't even change in message or content, just in musical style. He got himself a backing band too, and I'm not sure I'm all that enthusiastic about that. But that'sa topic for another day, for another rambling entry about Ryan Adams, his new CD, the why of my name...

The second part of No Direction Home airs on BBC2 tomorrow, 10 pm Dutch time (9pm in Britain). I'll be sure to go to the bathroom beforehand this time.


P.S. Now that I see what Scorsese can do with a documentary...if anyone knows where I can get his "il mio viaggio in Italia" (or his doc on American movies that inspired him) in the Netherlands, let me know.


Books with Soundtracks

Remember me talking about soundtracks, motivated by Elizabethtown? Well, here's Cameron Crowe himself with his take on soundtracks.

The latest novel I read was "The Fortress of Solitude", and in fact, reading it had primed me to think about soundtracks even before I saw the music trailer for Elizabethtown. The book is about a (white) boy growing up in Brooklyn in the seventies and eighties, and is populated by (mostly funk) music. In the latter half especially, when the main character is grown up and (ta-daa!) a writer of liner notes, dozens of songs and albums are mentionned, play a crucial role...and many of them I didn't know, or only knew them by name. I imagine knowing the songs and musicians really would have added something to the reading experience, but now, the mentions felt a bit pointless, frustrating even.

As an aside, the book is great nonetheless. Jonathan Lethem gets a bit too lyrical sometimes (people shaped "like question marks", if I recall correctly, stuff like that), but he has a great sense of how pop culture affects people, about how we define ourselves by our tastes, and most of all about how it feels not to belong.

The big advantage of movies is you can actually hear the music. Maybe not get all the conmnotations and history attached to certain songs, but the mood at least is clear. Books are much more difficult to attach a soundtrack too.

Take High Fidelity, for example. The songs in that book were, overall, slightly more familiar, but still, many references were entirely lost on me. In the movie version, only a small portion of the mentioned songs actually got played, but we "got" the main character, and how his taste in music trapped him, somehow, much better. Nick Hornby is as good at writing about music as he is at writing about books (both "31 songs" and "the Polysyllabic spree" I highly recommend), but without a thorough knowledge of the pop songs he writes about, many mentions are lost on the non-specialist reader.

I do think music can enhance books. Some tunes playing in your head can really evoke an atmosphere, and as in movies, music a character listens to gives an immediate insight into his or her personality. But overall, I think music in books is much more problematic, and much, much more difficult, than music in movies.

I won't beg for comments here, but if you do have thoughts on the subject, or a good book-with-soundtrack to recommend...I won't stop you. Promised.