If you get addicted, it’s not my fault.

15 Mar

I suck at science. Ok, that’s not true. I suck at math, which in turn makes it difficult for me to do science-type stuff. But I like science. I just don’t get a lot of the technical how-to-get-shit-done bits. Sometimes I wish I understood it more so I didn’t feel like people have to dumb it down to talk to me about cool science stuff, especially when it’s something I think is really interesting. I hate that feeling. That being-the-reason-that-the-conversation-is-being-reduced-to-the-lowest-common-denominator kind of feeling. But it’s necessary in this case, in this realm. I know that’s a bit of a contradiction, but still. It is what it is.

Which is why I’m a huge Radiolab fan. If you don’t know Radiolab, unearth your NPR love from wherever it’s been hiding and go look that shit up because it’s freaking awesome. And then come back and read the rest of this. I’ll wait here.

Doo doo dooo…(That’s my “waiting patiently” whistle. Didn’t really come across, did it? Gotta work on that one. )

Freaking awesome, right? For those of you not playing along: Radiolab is a badass radio show out of New York (WNYC) hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. (They’ve got a sort of good cop/bad cop, deadpan guy/fall guy dynamic dynamic going on. Superfun.) Did I build it up enough at the beginning for you to know it’s about science? Because it’s about science. But they never say that it’s about science. I mean, you could say it’s about anything, really: philosophy, language, storytelling, the human experience, blah blah blah. But at the bottom of it all, it’s a show about the science that backs all those other things up. Which is odd, but I give them props for not being too niche or pigeonholey. Basically it’s radio theater (or theatre, if you prefer) meets documentary journalism. It sounds weird, I know. Hear me out.

On the show they take an interesting question or concept and look at it from a couple of different angles, not so much through technical bullshit (although there is a little of that just to get the listener up to speed), but through good storytelling. It’s the best possible way to get into the guts of these ideas, especially for laypeople, which I assume most listeners are. Because this stuff is really cool. And I wouldn’t have ever heard about it otherwise. If it were just people talking and oversimplifying it would sound like every other boring documentary out there. But I’m big enough to admit that when I don’t know much about something, making it fun makes it way more interesting. On a similar note, every episode of Radiolab gives me like ten more books to add to my list (which is a monstrous thing of OCD spreadsheet beauty, let me tell you).

Besides the happyfun learning time you get, Radiolab is extremely joyful to the earholes. Jad Abumrad is a musician, so there’s a sort of symphonic, through-composed feel to every episode (he’s also a winner of last year’s MacArthur Genius Grant – major street cred). Like I said, it’s basically radio theater. Little one-act plays, full to brimming with fantastic sound production – cool loopy stuff, great music, voice effects, etc. Supremely listenable. There’s definitely something to be said for relying on both economy of language and auditory artistry to get a point across (“auditory artistry” sounds like a horrible dubstep band, by the way, so if your horrible dubstep band needs a name please feel free to use that one). I think this combo is becoming a lost art in some ways. Besides your standard NPR fare (Prarie Home Companion, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, This American Life) and all those hateful political talk shows, there’s not much going on in the radiosphere these days. I will say as a caveat to that point, though, that there are some cool kind of retro-radio-show-style things happening on some fun podcasts that I’ve discovered lately (i.e., The Thrilling Adventure Hour). So maybe just the delivery mechanism for listeney awesomeness is changing, not the desire to make it.

Still, you’ve got to admit that it’s pretty ballsy to dedicate one’s self to radio at this point in the culture game. Before television ruined us as a nation, we could listen to a good old fashioned story and think up good old fashioned pictures in our good old fashioned brains. And so it was for a thousand thousand years. Now it’s almost gone. We live in a Twitter society, you know? Tiny bits of mental effluvium leak out of us all the time and we’re obsessed with absorbing the brain dribbles of others. Our attention span is about 140 characters. Which is sick and sad, but I feel like it’s an inevitable evil at this point, so just hang on tight to the sides of the handbasket and enjoy the ride to intellectual hell, ok?

Check out all the full-length episodes and a metric ton of short podcastlets at radiolab.org. You will not regret it.


Story Time!

8 Mar

Alright, kids, I hate to let life get in the way of my blogging responsibilities, but sadly it does happen from time to time. I’m in the middle of moving so I’ve got to keep this short and sweet this week. No deep insights! Very few ridiculous analogies! Plain old ordinary anecdotes! Possibly even typos. It’s so haphazard and exciting. Sorry. Next week I’ll try to be a badass. If I’ve got my shit together by then. Onward and upward. (Cue campfire ghost story voice. Ahem.)

Our story begins in a dim and dreary bookstore in the rainy depths of coastal California. This particular bookstore has pretty damn satisfactory scifi and fantasy sections (Tin Can Mailman in Arcata – I always leave happy and broke, check it out if you’re close and need a bookstore, plugplugplug). And the scifi section faces the front door so everyone who comes in has to walk right by you, right? I was standing there with (I’m not even fucking kidding) Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Piers Anthony, and Frank Herbert in my hand. In those great old 1970’s-looking mass market paperbacks? I love those. I looked like a walking cheapskate scifi 101 class, though, for real.

In walked these two gentlemen who were clearly on a mission to find a particular book. Which should’ve been right where I was standing. But wasn’t. Of course. And it’s a used bookstore and they’re usually kind of busy and they’re by nature a little disorganized so I usually look two or three times and try random leaps of logic to try to look in other places that it just might have possibly ended up through some twist of fate. But these two gentlemen were being extremely thorough, even by those standards. And they were all up in my space, you know? I suppose at some point my comfort bubble got a bit bent because myopic, fucking overly polite me, I stepped back and started squinting at the books from afar so as to give these dudes the prime scifi section real estate, goddamn it. Because clearly they felt that their used bookstore experience was of a higher priority than mine.

One guy gave me the thank you nod (manners props to Dude #1!) and the other guy. Ooh, the other guy. Homeboy looked like Comic Book Guy’s, geekier more UV avoidant cousin (can you make fun of Simpsons characters for being pale? Does that even work? Fuck, I’m brainfried, just let it go). And you know, I don’t give a shit what people look like, I really really don’t. But sometimes you can just spot them from a mile away. Those haughty kind of LARPier-than-thou sorts of guys. They fall within a bell curve. They usually resemble the bell curve, as a point of interest. So this walking fucking stereotype, this caricature of a human being, gave my books the “I’m obviously being nosy about your books but it’s ok because we’re in a bookstore” head-tilt eyeball situation. And giggled. More of a giggle/scoff, really. A gloff, if you will.

At this point I should’ve asked him “What the hell, bro?” And just intimidated the shit out of him with my meaty social prowess and skillful altercation-starting skills. But those things aren’t real, you see, so I was left in this weird state of not knowing what had just happened or how to feel about it. Which is how I feel most of the time when I deal with other humans. Also why I moved to the middle of nowhere to a county that literally has more bears than people. That’s statistics. Look it up.

Because that gloff had the stink of superiority to it. And I don’t know why. I’m bothered by this not knowing (grammar what?). Are these four really important scifi classics not good enough for Dude #2? Because that’s bullshit. Maybe he was just a fantasy geek who scoffs at scifi in general, but then why the rudeness trying to get past me to the scifi books? Or was he laughing because he assumed I hadn’t read them (three of them I had, I just didn’t own my own copies, for the record)? In which case the proper etiquette of nosy bookstoreness would be to say “Hey, those are really good books” not “You mean you’re in your thirties and you haven’t read those yet?” Or maybe (because we need at least one optimistic prospect) he was thrown off by my being a girl in the scifi section at all and couldn’t think of anything to say that was polite so he opted for the idiot gloff instead. Any of these things is possible.

Anyway. I guess it’s just a mystery. Damn, there’s really no good way to end that story. It was a frustrating nerd moment, you know? I’ve let it roll off my back. After I stopped myself from chasing him down the street screaming “Why?! Why?!” Then I let it roll off my back. I’m not particularly good with people. So, if we need to find a moral here: be nice in bookstores, ok?

Johnny really IS a homicidal maniac…

1 Mar

I got a nerd bug up my ass and bought a bunch of comics the other day. I reread Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. It’s still awesome. I had the individual comics once upon a time, but I’m not sure what ever happened to them. One of those growing up and moving all your stuff out of your parents’ house things, probably. Kind of sad, really. The trade paperback version is basically the same, with one extra Happy Noodle Boy. Also, I feel like the subliminal messages are different, but I have no way to prove that. It might just mean that they’re not as easy to read since I’m not stoned all the time anymore. But whatever. I realized, too, that Johnny looks like me in high school. Stupid 90’s. Urgh. Fucking mortifying, that. Moving on.

It’s trippy comic book art at its finest. Vasquez has a really great, super simple, pen-and-ink-meets-woodcut kind of style. The characters are somewhat bobble-headed and the perspective is skewed or off-kilter most of the time. All done in black and white, which makes the blood splattery bits even more striking. There are a lot of fun, subtle details in the background of each panel, too. Little treats for the very close observer. It does date itself with all the goth jokes, but having been there I think it holds up pretty well (nostalgia counts for a lot there, for some reason). And all the girls have undercuts. Remember undercuts? What the hell was that about?

Living up to his name, Johnny’s fucking twisted. He’s such a psycho. Page after page of the most creative, interesting ways to kill people. It’s hilarious. I love it. For the same reason I love zombie and slasher flicks, I guess. There’s something really purgative and awesome about watching people do abhorrent stuff that we’ve thought about but would never do. It’s just an outlet. A pressure valve. It appeals to our baser instincts. JTHM is the oh-so-very deliciously gory result of that idea. I honestly don’t know if the intention is satire or pure shock value. Could legitimately be both. I’m ok with that. I love me some hyperbole. I’m also (on a seemingly unrelated note) a rabid Tarantino fan, so I don’t mind a bit of violence if it’s done with some finesse, you know? Some style, some class. Yeah, the book is awful damn bloody, but there’s a point to it. Or, at least, one could read into it and find a point, were one so inclined.

Cue the violence in the media conversation: apparently it impacts the weak minds of our stupid children, making them into murder robots because they can’t think for themselves and we can’t, obviously, as busy adults, be bothered to parent them (but they turn around and cut school funding – whaa?). Then these heathen brats who are somehow trained killers lose their shit and lash out and kill a bunch of people who have wronged them in a gruesome cloud of vengeance! And it’s all society’s fault. Can we just grow up a little bit here, talk about this like adults? Seeing gore on a screen or a page doesn’t mean that you should think it’s ok and go out and do it. Here’s my theory. We tend to forget what we absorb pretty quickly in our soundbite (soundbyte?) culture, right? So if you watch a lot of horror movies or read a lot of gory books (especially comics), you become desensitized. It all  becomes cartoonish, almost. You end up thinking in more realistic terms when it comes to your own actions and reactions. You know, if your brain is healthy and all. This is just me talking out of my ass about anger management, though. Shrinks would probably disagree with me. They have, actually. But I stand by my statement. I also love that wacky heavy metal, so maybe don’t take my word on this stuff. (Disclaimer: Horror movies are not therapy. Ass covered.)

But why is it always just violence that gets all the blame? Other things don’t seem to come up as often in our “bad influences in the media” discussions. Theft, fraud, lying, cheating, drug use. Or sex. Jesus, don’t even get me started on sex in the media. That’s not a blog, it’s a goddamn dissertation. Maybe the real problem is that we don’t intellectualize or rationalize violence. Too visceral. Our culture has to account for the lowest common denominator and assume that monkey-see-monkey-do will be a pretty typical reaction. Which is fucking pathetic, but I won’t say it’s invalid.

Bottom line, if you don’t mind a lot of blood in black and white, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is fan-freakin’-tastic in a sick, snarky way. I highly recommend. Get thee to a comic shop.

(To give credit where credit is due, the version I have is: JTHM: the Director’s Cut by Jhonen Vasquez, Slave Labor Graphics, 1997, ISBN 9780943151168)

Me Getting All Worked Up About Scifi Again

23 Feb

Long ago and far away I wanted to go to graduate school. There are surprisingly few things that one can do with a non-terminal English/Literature degree, so most of  us end up as retail shlubs, possibly in horrible corporate bookstores because it‘s something nominally connected to our field and we think it’ll make us happy but then it doesn’t even though we get a bomb-ass discount and then we have epic breakdowns and move to California to be farmers and live off the grid. Sorry. That’s just my whole life story. Anyway.

At first I wanted to be a librarian, but libraries are dying (no offense, librarian friends, you do good work, I just didn’t want to end up a hybrid between an IT person and a museum curator). And you have to be really quiet in a library so I wouldn’t be able to talk about books all day anyway. Which made me think maybe I could teach. I’m not particularly good with little kids and teenagers are demons so I’d have to teach college. And colleges are rife with bureaucracy and self-righteous young people. They wouldn’t let me talk about the books I want to talk about all day either, probably. Them and their galdurn curricula.

So I decided not to go to grad school. Because clearly all I want to do is talk about books all day. I just want to own a bookstore. Is that too much to ask?  And I don’t have to go to grad school to do that. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s the worst possible time to try to start a small business. Worse still to hang all one’s hopes and dreams of possibly achieving a glimmer of happiness on owning a store in an industry that’s on its way out. But still. You gotta have goals. Amazon and e-books have killed off all the big chain stores (except that one, you know, the Evil Green-signed one) so used bookstores will probably have a small boom before society kills them off completely. Right around the time Americans forget what books are and stop reading anything. Maybe I can still have a shot. Don’t step on my dreams, man! (Quick side note: if you bought an e-book reader because you thought it would be greener than buying paper books, look seriously into the fucked up electronics production industry vs just buying used books. If we have to use a buzzword, I’d rather “repurpose” old books than contribute to the pollution caused by making new microchips and batteries. Just give it a thought.)

What was I saying? Grad school. If I did go, I’d want to major in science fiction. Wait, hear me out. I’ve yet to find a program that exists, besides those schools where you can build your own major. There aren’t many of those with anything past a bachelor’s. (But if you know of a super obscure one that I might have missed, let me know.) Because scifi is important. Not in a curing-cancer-and-ending-poverty kind of way, obviously. If entertainment had that kind of power, America would still rule the world. (Sorry kids, but the tech nerds in Asia own our asses because we’re lazy and watch too much reality tv. Ooh, harsh.) No, in an anthropological, sociological kind of way, science fiction has shaped our culture. We have ion drive engines because of Star Trek. Our space program was started and run by people who read pulp scifi novels at the height of their cheesy popularity in the 1940’s and 50’s. You can’t tell me with a straight face that people who work in laser labs don’t ask themselves, at least once, if Greedo shot first. Because it’s really interesting stuff. That’s the definition of scifi, isn’t it? Technically? “Really interesting stuff”? I could look it up in the dictionary, but I’m pretty sure that’s verbatim. Urm.

Why, then, is scifi so frowned upon? Maybe not “frowned upon.” Thought less of? I got a BA in literature and the only scifi books I had to read, out of hundreds, were War of the Worlds and Brave New World, and those only because they’re political satire. Not that that distinction counts them out of being scifi, per se, but if Huxley could see the world after Prozac he’d go into a soma coma, is all I’m saying. Also, Wells was an anti-Semite, if that’s worth anything to anyone. We could use scifi, especially literature, to our advantage, if it wasn’t looked at as stupid fluff by most people. You know, like the way I look at romance novels. Snob.

But as a book person, let me tell you, having a genius IQ counts for exactly shit in this country if you can’t do math. (I was good up until tenth grade chemistry. Then I started feeling dumb. At this point if I can balance my checkbook I call it a win.) Mathy-sciency people rule the world, whether we acknowledge it or not. Every redneck mouthbreather in the world has a smartphone in their pocket, right? All those little things add up. So booknerds are kind of left behind, stranded in our useless piles of archaic paper history. I can’t say “Oh, well, Aristotle tells us that society can be saved with grammar” and be taken seriously. But one astrophysicist brings up Asimov and it’s all “Fuck yeah! Robot revolution!” Because science matters. More than that, science is cool. Science got us to where we are. Science will save us from ourselves. But what are we, really, but our words? We have no history without documentation of one sort or another. They even say “before written history.” The history of science is a kind of historical record of the ways in which we view the world. There are some old ideas that we now look at as quaint, but at the time those people were working just as hard and were just as strong in their convictions as any surgeon or engineer or chemist doing cutting-edge stuff today. Quarks may be just as bogus as the flat-earth model, but it’s the ideas that keep us going. Where reality and imagination meet, you get some really important, innovative ideas. The world, culture, society – it’s all based on “what if?” That’s science. That’s literature. That’s art and music and technology. That’s being human, right?

And science fiction is the artistic representation of that. It’s the place where those groups can come together, that liminal space that’s open to anyone. Where ideas are born. There’s beauty and terror there. Nightmares and dreams in equal parts. Maybe we’re deluding ourselves. Maybe science fiction makes us think we’re better than we are. Maybe someday an After Common Era scientist will find a copy of The Matrix and say “Awww, how precious. They thought they could win.” But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Too much hope is better than not enough. Science fiction gives us hope (man, I tried really hard to work around that sentence, but I couldn’t find a way to do it). There’s a lot of fear and destruction to be had, as well, but that’s just human nature. We’re scared little mammals, at heart. I think the awesome thing about scifi is that we, as a human race, can look ahead together at what we could accomplish. Maybe that’s just me being sappy because I’m a fangirl, but that’s ok. I’ll take it. An intellectual sap, me. I’ll just be over here reading Contact for the fifth time, wishing I could do calculus in my head.

Wormhole Deliciousness

16 Feb

I know I’ll lose a lot of credibility for saying this (ok, let’s be real – I didn’t have any fucking credibility to start with) but man, do I love me some Stargate. It’s one of those things you know you shouldn’t love but you just…can’t…help it. Like that one-hit-wonder song that you turn way up when it comes on and sing at the top of your lungs. But only if no one else is in the car. Guilty pleasures. And I’m a total fangirl about it. I’ve got every season and every spinoff and all the movies on DVD. I’ve watched all the special features and every episode with the commentary on. I know every character’s whole fucking life story, every alien race, every planet, every contradiction, every hanging lantern (look up that writery term, non-English majors, mwahahaha). I’m probably more of a geek about Stargate than I am about anything else. Except books, but that doesn’t count. Booklove is an overarching, penetrating-every-aspect-of-who-I-am kind of obsession. Scifi fandom is way more focused. It’s the difference between breathing air and loving a particular smell. I’ve really got to stop talking in analogies. Or just find better analogies.

Anyway, Stargate’s underrated. It’s cheesy. Like, really cheesy. But not hammy, like Farscape. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like Babylon 5. Admittedly, I like both of those as well. The thing about Stargate is that you get really sucked in by the characters. Each episode is different, more or less, because the story arc follows the people, not the people chasing the story arc (like X-files, say, or Lost). It’s a scifi show running almost entirely on a soap opera dynamic. Which can create massive amounts of cheese, but works really well. In a crack-addict kind of way.

I’ve caught a lot of shit for my Stargate fandom. From geeks and nongeeks alike. Nongeeks (civilians, I call them, which is terribly exclusive and offensive but whatever)  make fun of me for my fangirl gushiness. About all this stuff, not just Stargate. Other scifi fans make fun just because it’s Stargate and not something else. And that, to me, is what’s most interesting. How can someone wearing a Starfleet uniform find any leg to stand on to make fun of me or Stargate? Seriously? (Not that there’s anything wrong with cosplay, don’t send me hatemail.)

At the bottom of it, there are two ways to see this phenomenon:

1) People are viciously protective of the things they love and will defend them as better than other things that other people love. It’s an interesting point of modern human nature and can’t be avoided, so why analyze it? Or,

2) there really is some invisible underpinning of scifi hierarchy. Maybe some things really do mean more to geekdom than others. This could be totally made up, and I’d have to leave my abandoned little corner of the world and venture out into civilization to examine it further. If anyone wants to buy me Comic-Con tickets, I’m totally down for a research trip.

But think about it. When you think “scifi geek” what comes immediately to mind? Star Wars and Star Trek, right? There’s a big beef between these groups of fans, which I plan to dissect another time. Coming soon to a blog near you. Point is, everything else kind of falls below and between these two megaliths of nerdism. But why, damn it, why? There’s structure here. I just can’t quite figure it out. For the record, I love Star Trek and Star Wars equally. But they’re very different. And they’re related. It’s like loving your creepy identical twin sisters the same way even though one’s a goth and one’s a jock. (True story.)

I feel like the things we love in the scifi universe (multiverse?) are more like a spectrum and less like a Venn diagram. Or should be, anyway. Maybe a color wheel. Something less dividey, is what I’m saying. None of them is, intrinsically, any more or less silly than another. We think they are, but they’re not. If we’re talking about production value or acting, some things are definitely “better,” but only in technical terms. Some shows have more money or better marketing or a worse time slot or they’ve been rendered absurd just by virtue of time having passed. But that doesn’t change the content or the intent. It doesn’t change the love of the fans. Scifi is all about suspension of disbelief. If I can buy that a Federation of planets would send out multiple ships to peacefully explore the far reaches of the universe, why would I then turn around and not believe that a telekinetic dictator would want to rule a galaxy far, far away with a Nazi-like iron fist? I wouldn’t. I don’t. Equally ridiculous and fun. So don’t tell me that it’s out of the question for a bunch of American Air Force officers, a clueless linguist/archaeologist, and a rogue alien soldier to go through an ancient wormhole device every week for ten years and explore new planets, under presidential order via a big fat government conspiracy. It could  totally happen.


Also, just as a fangirl side note, if you did want to start watching Stargate, for whatever reason, a few points:

– Watch the original movie first. The show picks up right where it leaves off.

– The first season and a half or so is the cheesiest. But it gets way better, and their budget gets bigger. Plus you need those episodes to get a few key story points.

– There are some contradictions in the rules. Ignore them. All the characters do.

– Don’t get attached. Everyone dies at least once.

– Let me know what you think. We can gush together. Or not. Whatever.

A Fashion Post? Yeah, I’m shocked, too.

9 Feb

I shrank my cardigan. It’s very upsetting. You thought I was kidding about that cardigan thing, didn’t you? No, it’s true. I have several. But my go-to cardigan is a grey lamb’s wool grandpa-looking one that I wear just about every day. Very Kurt Cobain. Holes in all the right places. Warm enough that I don’t have to wear a jacket, but light enough that I can wear it when the sun’s out in California. The perfect cardigan. And I shrank it in the dryer. Shrank? Shrunk? I don’t know. Motherfucker’s too small now, is what I’m saying. Due to laundry ineptitude.

So I started shopping online for a new one. Which kind of goes against my nature anyway. I don’t think I’ve bought any clothes new from a store for years. I would rather get them at a thrift store or a yard sale or something. I prefer to not buy new things if there’s something perfectly serviceable still out there. And it’s cheaper. Also, I have this weird thing about fabric. There are certain ones I can’t really stand to touch. Gives me the willies. It’s an OCD thing, I think. Shopping online? My idea of torture. I live in the middle of nowhere, though, so I’m stuck either shopping online or driving two hours to civilization.

Point is, just for funnies I typed in “geeky cardigan.” And oh holy Asimov, how many cardigans came up? So many. Then I typed in “nerdy cardigan.” Not as many, but these were cooler. How terribly odd. Weirder still, there were lots of websites coming up with titles like “Dress for that geeky look,” “Sexy nerds,” “How to do geek chic right,” “How to be a nerdy girl.” So I went on a little quest. Because that’s what I do.

Apparently, nerds are very in right now (makes me cringe to say that, cringe cringe). The key things to dressing trendily geek are: glasses, canvas shoes, cardigans, and plaid. Which, for the record, is exactly what I wear every day. There are also a lot of cross-body bags, scarves, Urkel-waisted skirts, long shorts (fashion loves a good oxymoron), heels with knee socks, and high collars. It seems to be a weird hybrid of boho and sexy librarian. If you can pull off bookish and arty at the same time, you’re golden. As a point of interest, though, I would’ve called most of these people hipsters. To their faces. Did I miss a memo? Are geeks/nerds the same thing as hipsters? To the outside observer? Do you have to be in one group or the other to recognize your own? Like wolf packs. Or AA.

Maybe that’s geographical vernacular again. To me the mark of a true hipster is simply emanating disdain. But to be fair, I do have two distinct breeds of hipster in mind. The urban hipster is that of the skinny jeans and fedora and that weird Arabian neck scarf thing. The other variety is one I’ve encountered mostly in Asheville (North Carolina, whence I recently emigrated) and may not exist anywhere else. These people wear trucker caps and drink PBR (but only tall boys) and listen to obscure bluegrass. They’re sometimes extensively pierced and usually a little grubby. Out here in Cali there’s a similar group, lovingly called crusties. But the difference is that these people actually have jobs that literally involve dirt, so there’s a legitimate reason for them to look like punks who worked on a farm all day. Back in the Ville they’re just street kids. Or people who want to look like street kids. Because being homeless is cool. And tall boys are only a dollar in the Ville.

I’m really overexaggerating my hipster fear. I don’t care what people wear. The cross-pollination is pretty interesting, though. They dress like nerds and rednecks because those groups aren’t cool. But nerds are getting cooler. So maybe hipsters are losing their stranglehold on the pulse of what’s obscurely cooler than cool. What a weirdly vicious cycle that is. Maybe future hipsters will wear really nice suits ironically.

So anyway, I’m flabbergasted by this nerd fashion thing. Can I say that? Flabbergasted? Gobstopped, perhaps? Because let me tell you straight up: I am not stylish. I’m the tomboy library lurker who only cares about clothes because evolution robbed me of my body fur and it’s required by law that I not be naked. Not that I’d want to be naked, either. I just don’t care what I wear. Being comfy is more important to me than giving a shit what anybody thinks about my style. I wear glasses because I have to. I wear my Converse sneakers because they go with everything and they don’t wear out for five or six years. I wear jeans because, well, all I own are jeans. And corduroy. I genuinely like plaid. And I have an inordinate number of snarky t-shirts. Also a few kind of nerdy shirts (Kermit the frog, Serenity, vintage Smashing Pumpkins merch shirt from the Mellon Collie tour). But I’m looking at all these fashion models strutting their stuff in outfits I own. Like, verbatim. Admittedly, most of them are men. Which is a whole new can of self-esteem worms we can deal with later, I guess.

Another thing at play here that’s worth mentioning is the retro loop. A lot of these people are dressed like it’s the 80’s and I doubt many of them were even there. They don’t know the true awfulness of the 80’s. It wasn’t all neon stripes and side ponytails and Cyndi Lauper, whippersnappers. And it weirds me out to see people dressing up pretty in the shit that I was forced to wear when I was a little nerdy kid. But I’ll take it, I guess. We’re adults now, grups in our thirties (name that Star Trek episode reference for bonus five geek points), and I think we’ve earned the right to be cool, whatever that stupid word means. Even if it’s just for a minute.

And don’t give me shit about that shrank/shrunk thing. Of course I know which is correct. I needed a funny line for that paragraph. Cut me some comedy slack.

Nerd music (and a bad haiku)

2 Feb

I was trying to write a blog about nerdy music. It was really hard.

That was almost a haiku. Let’s try again.


I was trying to

write a blog about nerdy

music. It was hard.


That was the worst haiku ever.

Wow, I’m really easily distracted these days. Um, anyway. So I was thinking about nerdy music. And I ran into an unanticipated logistical problem. What’s the difference between the music that nerds listen to, music that is played by nerds, and music that is inherently, intrinsically nerdy? It’s tough.

For the most part, the nerds I hang out with (you know who you are) have really great taste in music. But that’s totally biased, isn’t it? Because I listen to the same stuff. This is not a legitimate control group. We’re metalheads from the grunge era. With a penchant for ska an d classic rock. On the other hand, I love Beethoven and The Smiths in equal measure. There are all these bands that, for no good reason, I lump together in my head as being nerdy. Stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel and The Decemberists. And if I’m being honest, most of the people I know who like them are actually hipsters (sorry, guys). There’s no way to judge the nerdiness of music by the people who love it. It’s just not possible.

Then there are a bunch of 90’s bands that stick out as having nerdy musicians. They Might Be Giants, Weezer. They came around at the beginning of geek chic, or maybe they were the beginning of geek chic. These glasses I wear? Pure Rivers Cuomo. Weird Al comes immediately to mind. But is his music nerdy? Not all of it. Or is he just a tremendous nerd? Definitely. But you’ve got to be kind of a genius to do what Weird Al does, frankly. And a lot of the music he spoofs is mainstream and not nerdy at all. But there’s an air of nerdiness about him and his music that’s kind of undeniable, you know? Dude plays the accordion, for fuck’s sake. It’s one of those “you know it when you see it” situations.

There are all kinds of weird crossover conundrums (conundra?), as well. There’s that one line about ringwraiths in The Battle of Evermore. Ok, I’m kidding about that last one. Not really. But sort of. See? This is really hard.

So then I got to the hard bit of trying to figure out if there actually is anything that stands on its own as nerdy music. Lyrically speaking. I figured I would just begin at the beginning and, being true to my generation, ask the interwebs. And let me tell you, our technological overlords were super helpful. Things I found, in no particular order of ridiculousness:

Nerdcore – hip hop with scifi/comic book/pop culture themes – way more awesome if you listen to it for the lyrics and don’t try to judge it by mainstream hip hop standards

Geeksta rap – like nerdcore, but more about serious science, chemistry, math, computers

Filk – scifi/fantasy fan folk (that is hard to say out loud…really, go ahead, try it) – lots of balladic, medievalish, LARPer stuff, think lutes and lyres and songs about Hobbits

Nintendocore – heavy metal plus video game sound effects – sounds like Russian techno, but good in a thrashy kind of way

Wizard rock – Harry Potter metal. Oh, yes. But only Harry Potter. No other wizards allowed.

Chap hop (my personal favorite, just because of the silliness of it all) – Steampunk rap. Seriously. No, no, let it sink in for a second. I said: Steampunk. Rap. And really, what more can you say?

These are just some teensy snippets from my first eighttenfourteen hours with Google and Youtube. I encourage you to look it up because, man oh man, there is a lot of stuff out there. To a certain degree, which of these you actually like depends on your particular flavor of nerd. But come on: a song about Marvel vs. DC? A song about Neville Longbottom being the real chosen one? A whole album about Firefly? I can dig it. My Spotify runneth over. I’ve been glued to my computer for like two weeks, just eating this stuff up. And some of it’s really great and some of it’s really awful and some of it’s just so fucking weird I listen to it over and over just to see if I’ll eventually understand it. I will say this: I’ve got a whole new and exciting list of references I didn’t understand. Score. New blog topics.

Here’s the bottom line. I’m so happy about this stuff, good or bad, because these people are just singing and making music about what they love. And fuck the mainstream for trying to delineate what is cool or nerdy or whatever. Fuck the mainstream for saying what will or won’t work on the radio, or make money, or find a fanbase. If the musicians are passionate and the fans are passionate, they’ll seek each other out. That’s all that matters, really. Sincerity. Honesty. Earnestness. They’re what music should be about.

Also, while we’re on the subject, I’m learning to play the Tetris theme on the ukulele. I’ll let you know how it goes.