Five Reasons Why The Silmarillion Should Be Filmed

•August 1, 2012 • 12 Comments

So it turns out that Peter Jackson is further expanding the already expanded two film version of The Hobbit into three films.  It’s somewhat unclear just what this hypothetical third film will entail – one idea floating around is that it’ll use more material from the Lord Of The Rings Appendices to bridge the two series, making The Hobbit basically a prequel trilogy.  Still, it does seem that if Jackson wants to continue working on film adaptations of Tolkien’s work, there is already a vast corpus of writings to build on that does not require making stuff up outside of Tolkien’s writings.

That corpus is, of course, The Silmarillion, the vast collection of stories and legends from the First Age, a mythology upon which the characters of the Lord Of The Rings (set in the Third Age of Middle Earth) look back.

Fig. 1: This somewhat naff painting cannot contain the awesomeness that is The Silmarillion.

Naturally, due to its immense scope and over-elevated tone, many people scoff at the idea of a Silmarillion film series.  They make jokes like it being 12 movies long and filmed entirely in Elvish.  It’s not as widely – or repeatedly – read as the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, so there’s just not the same demand for a film version.  This is unfortunate, because if it were pulled off correctly, it’d make pretty sweet series for the following reasons:

1. The Silmarillion is more episodic that the Lord Of The Rings, and therefore more easily translatable into a series of films.

It seems somewhat spurious to regard the Lord Of The Rings films as three separate movies.  Really, they constitute one cohesive story split into three sections.  You wouldn’t, for example, just pop The Two Towers into your blu-ray; rather you would watch each of the three in order (not necessarily in one sitting).  Narrative-wise, both The Hobbit and the Lord Of The Rings are each one single, self-contained quest (it’s worth noting that both the film and the novel version of The Lord Of The Rings omit any depiction of the other theatres of the War of the Ring).

The Silmarillion, on the other hand, has a basic framing plot – back in the day, Morgoth (Sauron’s boss) stole some valuable gems (the Silmarils) from the Elves, who then rebel against the gods and wage a series of wars against Morgoth to try and recover them – but the Silmarils themselves merely act as a MacGuffin for the various series of events that lead to Elves’ downfall.  Really, this stuff is just a background for the individual stories that make up the text.  As a result, each installment of any Silmarillion series would be a more or less self-contained story that can stand alone while still being part of the overarching narrative.

Also, because of the synoptic nature of the text (well, texts – there are multiple and sometimes contradictory versions of the stories in The Silmarillion), the filmmakers would have much more freedom when it comes to adapting the story.  This freedom would come in handy since the multiple, complex plots would require some compression even for an epic film series.

All in all, I reckon The Silmarillion could be done in 5 or 7 separate films, depending on the amount of plot compression.  Again, because of the stand-alone nature of each film, they could be done by separate directors to save time since a consistent tone would not be necessary for the whole series.

2. It actually has meaningful female characters.

Surely one of the challenges for adapting the Lord Of The Rings to the big screen is that, until Éowyn shows up in Volume II, there are really no female characters of any importance: Galadriel has a key cameo appearance in Lothlorien and Arwen is mentioned in passing, but that’s pretty much it.

Fig. 2: Barely in the original novels.

For the film adaptations, Arwen’s role had to be greatly expanded (Éowyn’s also, to a lesser degree), and Galadriel will presumably end up folded in as the only female character in the forthcoming Hobbit. Still, these three are pretty much the only substantial female characters in what’s supposed to be a world-spanning, epic story.

The Silmarillion, however, has no dearth of strong female characters.  Luthien, Aredhel, Nienor, Morwen, and Galadriel are all central lead characters, not to mention the many other women throughout the various tales.  As such, The Silmarillion is much more gender-balanced and undoes some of the male chauvinism of Tolkien’s later works.

3. It’s much more adult-oriented than the kiddycentric Hobbit.

It’s a good job The Hobbit features a flying, fire-breathing dragon because without Smaug, the films will seem a bit of comedown after the epic Lord Of The Rings trilogy.  Judging from the trailers, it seems they’ve made the originally rather juvenile Hobbit in the same serious tone as the LOTR movies.  That’s one of the reasons why they’ve expanded the book into two (and now three) movies – by showing more behind the scenes stuff that ties the original kids book to its somewhat more adult-oriented sequel.

Now, one of the things that worked so well with Christopher Nolan’s recent Batman trilogy is how he used the comic book characters to explore deeper issues of justice and vengeance.  With The Hobbit, there’s less philosophical meat, as it were, to play with.  The Lord Of The Rings does have the idea of the corrupting effects of power as a central theme (although the films de-emphasize this in favour of focusing on the defence of freedom), but even then it doesn’t seem to have the same intellectual weight as, for example, Nolan’s Batman films.

Because it is the most “adult” of Tolkien’s works, The Silmarillion could certainly be the basis for a truly great film that balances spectacular visuals (see #5) with interesting ideas (what Prometheus failed to do).  The stories themselves explore ideas of pride, creation, fate, and vengeance.  Not to mention that the whole work is basically the Catholic Tolkien’s Middle-Earthification of the Original Sin myth.  Above all, The Silmarillion features something largely absent from the other two works: the element of tragedy.

4. You will actually get to see Elves kicking ass and taking names.

One thing that kind of annoyed me about the Lord Of The Rings films is the way the Elves were.  A bunch of smug hippies who were accompanied wherever they went by lame, Celtic new-age music.  And then you see Legolas fight and he’s a goddamn ninja.  I’d much rather see more of that than a bunch of long-haired Wiccans mope about being immortal.

Of course, you don’t see the Elves do much in the Lord Of The Rings because supposedly “their part in the history of Middle-Earth is done” (even though they started this ring nonsense in the first place).  In The Silmarillion, however, there’s tonnes of Elves running around being badasses.  That bit in The Two Towers when some Elves inexplicably show up at Helm’s Deep is just a taste of what could be to come in a Silmarillion film series.  There’s even some Elf on Elf violence in there.

Fig. 3: That’s not an Elf (left), that’s an Elf (right).

Also, whereas in the Lord Of The Rings, the Elves are more or less one-dimensional, bland good guys, the Elves of the First Age – when they were the primary characters in the mythos – are much more complex.  We do get a glimpse of this in LOTR when Galadriel is tempted by the ring, but in general, the Elves of the Third Age are more or less wholly good (and kind of aloof).  In The Silmarillion, however, the Elves are much more balanced – capable of guile, intrigue, and, above all, pride.

Indeed, characters like the tormented Maglor, the proud-before-a-fall Thingol, the helpful-to-fault Finrod, and the conflicted Maeglin are much more interesting than any of the characters in the Lord Of The Rings (who all tend to oscillate between wholly good and wholly bad).

5. Everything cool about The Lord Of The Rings is cranked up tenfold in The Silmarillion.

Not only are the Elves cooler, but pretty much everything about The Silmarillion is the Lord Of The Rings jacked up to eleven.

  • Remember the Balrog in the mines of Moria?  How about of a whole bunch of them.  In battle.
  • Shelob, the gigantic horrible spider?  The Silmarillion’s got her mom, the even more gigantic and horrible Ungoliant.  Fights the Balrogs at one point.
  • Rivendell and Lothlorien are pretty, but not as nice as the hidden city of Gondolin, the caves of Nargothrond and Menegroth, and the blessed realm of Valinor.
  • Likewise, Saruman’s industrial nightmare of Isengard is a nice office park compared to the Satanic smokestacks of the Thangorodrim and Angband.
  • Instead of the disembodied eye of Sauron as a principal antagonist, The Silmarillion has the fearsome Morgoth as a proper, full character (Sauron himself runs around causing trouble as Morgoth’s right hand man).
  • And of course, the battles of Helm’s Deep and the Pelennor Fields are but skirmishes compared to the epic clashes of the First Age, which were fought primarily by Elves and Orcs with an assortment of monsters and dragons (and some men), not to mention the armies of Dwarves in their hideous war-masks.

So even though as a book, The Silmarillion may come across as difficult, stuffy, and overwrought, the stories themselves could be brilliantly translated to the screen.  Given that there is already a built-in audience of Tolkien fanatics (though admittedly less so than for The Hobbit or the Lord Of The Rings), and that the epic visual flair of Peter Jackson and/or Guillermo del Toro will surely attract the uninitiated, I can’t see how a film adaptation of The Silmarillion could fail.

Unless they film it in Elvish, of course.

On Left-Handed Guitars

•August 20, 2010 • 4 Comments

A Parable

So, the other day, I was in a music shop checking out the selection of electric guitars.   I usually try to avoid music stores as I find the people that work in such places somewhat objectionable: so beholden to the myriad permutations of equipment and gear, they obsess over petty technical minutia and have no regard for higher aesthetics.

Anyway, while I was perusing the racks of axes, I noticed that a few seemed to be factory defects, what with their necks sticking out the wrong way and the strings being strung in the reverse order.  I enquired with one of the somewhat objectionable sales people whether such an instrument, being an obvious error in manufacture, would carry a hefty discount for any would be purchaser of such a defective item.   In between pedantic descriptions of digital latency and the frequency responses of Chinese made microphones, he informed me that these were in actual fact left-handed guitars intended for left-handed players.

I know, I couldn’t believe it either.

Fig. 1: An abomination.

I asked the assistant why guitar manufacturers were catering to a bunch of deviants who insist on choosing to use the wrong hand with which to write or use tools.  He said that left-handed people have just as much right to play guitar as those who use the correct hands.   Ridiculous, I said, left-handed people are totally free to play right-handed guitars (so long as they use the proper hands).

Next we’ll be making guitars for people to play with their feet.

Fig. 2: Or, even more perverse, their teeth.

It really burns me up that such people are being afforded special rights over and above that of the normal majority.  I’m not sinistrophobic or anything bigoted like that, I just have a moral problem with left-handedness.

For example, Psalm 118:16 tells us that it is “the right hand” that is “exalted” and “doeth valiantly”, and Matthew 25:46 states clearly that while the righties will go “into life eternal” at the Lord’s side, those on the left (goats) “shall go away into everlasting punishment”.  Check.  Mate.

Left-handedness is a choice, and we shouldn’t be validating aberrant behaviour.  The electric guitar was invented by LES Paul, not LEFT Paul.  Right is right, and we should not be teaching our children that left-handedness is acceptable behaviour.  Indeed, children of left-handed guitarists may get confused about which hand to fret with and which hand to strum with.  Won’t somebody think of the children?

Some of us, at least, still have some sense of morality in this laissez-faire, anything-goes culture.

Left-handedness, like midgetry and blue eyes, is unnatural.  Are there any animals that have left-handedness?  And even if there were, animals also eat their own poo, so we shouldn’t be looking to them for moral guidance.

Moreover, I now feel that my right-handed guitar is totally invalidated by the existence of left-handed guitars which undermine the traditional definition of the guitar that has been the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll for millenia.  A guitar is traditionally defined as a stringed instrument with a neck sticking out the left-side to be fretted by the left hand and, crucially, strummed (or picked) with the right.

It should be noted that some traditional definitions of the guitar allow for two or more necks.  This is acceptable so long as they are still played in the correct manner with the correct hands.

Fig. 3: An Ibanez Hagar model: totally acceptable.

If left-handed people want their own stringed instruments, why do they have to insist on using the word “guitar”?  Why not settle for Civil Citharas Sinistra?  Otherwise I fear that manufacturers who bravely persevere in making guitars according to the traditional, right-handed specifications will inevitably get hauled before some human rights commission on charges of sinistrophobic discrimination simply for staying true their moral values.

The Young Person’s Guide To Canada: Part 2

•July 29, 2010 • 1 Comment

Section I – Meet The Provinces

(cont’d.)

***

Part B – Canada Proper

1: Province of Quebec

Capital: Chicoutimi (Summer); Ft. Lauderdale (Winter)

Imports: Bon Jovi Records, Feldspar, Pepsi.

Exports: Bells, Indie Rock, Molybdenum.

Fun Fact: Due to the province’s strict language laws, all English must be spoken at 40% lower volume than the majority Québécois.

Founded by Jesuits during the Carolingian Renaissance, the Province of Quebec was originally named “New France”.  Despite an initial positive reaction from consumers, “New France” was a marketing failure and the old France formula was reintroduced a couple of months later under the brand “France Classic”.

Some have suggested that the introduction of “New France” was a marketing ploy and that the company intentionally changed the formula hoping that consumers would be upset with the company and demand the original formula to return, which in turn would cause sales to spike.

Nonetheless, New France remained popular in some markets, particularly American Samoa, and remained an independent republic until Pierre Trudeau invaded in 1970.

Fig. 1: Canadian troops occupy Montréal following the overthrow of the FLQ regime.

Quebec is known as one of the world’s leading producers of bells.  Indeed, modern bellfounding was begun when Samuel de Champlain found vast fields of bells growing wild around the shores of Lake Manicouagan (most bells today, however, are made artificially from space age polymers).  Much of the province was covered by vast bell plantations each laid out in the familiar seigneurial system of thin strips of land fanning out from the banks of the St. Lawrence River.

Fig. 2: Where bells come from.

As a result of this famous cash crop, Quebec is informally known as “The Bell Province”.  The famous Great Bell of Dhammazedi was grown just outside of Trois-Rivières in 1484.  It was stolen from Rimouski’s Shwedagon Pagoda in 1608 by the Portuguese adventurer Filipe de Brito (who was in the area hustling cod from gullible Newfies).

Fig. 3: "No, I'm telling you, these nets are legal..."

Bell production, however, has dropped since the Quiet Revolution in which Roman Catholicism was officially outlawed across the land and replaced with the new state religion of Raëlism.

The Raëlian Church is headquartered in the fabled city of Montréal, which, so the legends say, lies perched among the clouds atop Mount Royal.  The Olympians who dwell there (along with a large number of indie bands) spend their time meddling in human affairs, drinking ambrosia, and conducting many fascinating, but thoroughly useless, scientific experiments.

Fig. 4: Sherbrooke Street's fashionable "Golden Square Mile".

The steep slopes of Mount Royal defy Euclidean geometry and are unscalable by mortal beings.  Aside from Robert Young Pelton, the only mortal to reach Montréal is Randolph Carter of Providence, Rhode Island who did so via a process of somnambulant teleplaning and heavy opium use.  Unfortunately, the night gaunts sent by Azathoth and the High Priest Not-To-Be-Described did him in before he could return to tell his tale, which suggests the whole thing was a bit of a hoax.

Another city, Surréal, lies beneath the adamantine base of Mount Royal.  It’s population consists of the descendents of people who took refuge from the nuclear war in the city’s metro system.  Over the generations, they built a magnificent technological utopia, but forbade travel to the surface world of Laurania.

The northern two thirds of Quebec is occupied by the Ungava Autonomous Oblast created on February 19, 1925 by separating lands of the ethnic Ungava from the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and Khorezm People’s Soviet Republic.  The vast forests of the region are home to much wildlife, and many American big game hunters come to shoot the caribou, wolverines, and hydroelectric damns that roam the area.

Fig. 5: A damn in its natural habitat.

Aside from the hunting ranches, the Ungava Autonomous Oblast is not considered safe for tourists.  The eastern  part of the region is rife with arms smugglers running guns into the Seal Rebellion in Labrador.  Shootouts between smugglers and Canadian Special Forces are known to occur around the cities of Fort Chimo, Fermont, and Quetta.  The western ports on the Hudson Bay coast have seen the cruise line and shipping industries disrupted by occasional attacks from Manitoba based pirates.

A separatist movement known as Ademon Nykhas has pushed for the independence of the Ungava Autonomous Oblast from Quebec and is responsible for numerous bomb attacks throughout the region.  A 1995 referendum saw secession of the region from Quebec narrowly defeated by 50.58% to 49.42%, although the vote was shrouded in controversy with accusations of ballot stuffing and intimidation.  The leader of Ademon Nykhas at the time, Torez Kulumbegov, caused a stir when he commented, allegedly under the influence of alcohol, that the loss for his side was attributable to “money and the ethnic vote”.

Aside from the indie bands of the mythological city of Montréal, Québecois music is known to alternate exclusively between the polarities of extreme coolness and serious uncoolness.  While the province has produced luminaries such as Leonard Cohen, Malajube, A Silver Mt. Zion, The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra with Tra-la-la Band, and The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra with Tra-la-la Band and Choir, it has also unleashed upon the world such unconscionable horrors as Celine Dion, Simple Plan, and, more domestically, La Chicane.  This peculiar effect, whereby there is no mediocre Québecois music, just awful or awesome, is known as the Jean Leloup / Eric Lapointe Dichotomy.

Fig. 6: Visual representation of the Jean Leloup / Eric Lapointe Dichotomy.

As a whole, the Province of Quebec has an abundance of resources including 90% of the world’s supply of zinc, as well as large reserves of mithril and cellophane.  Its Jesuit based school system is known for its wonderful aesthetics and produces many of the world’s leading industrial designers.

Also, French girls are easy.


The Young Person’s Guide To Canada: Part 1

•July 17, 2010 • 3 Comments

Overview

Canada is a large, globular mass on the top of the North American continent.  Its low population density allows to float on top of the much denser United States of America.  Nonetheless, after the USSR and the United States of Funkadelica, Canada is the third largest country in the world.

Bordering the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Canada lies between Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west.

Its official name is “The Dominion of Canada” due to a sponsorship agreement with The Dominion General Assurance Company.  Prior to this it was known as “The Corel Centre”.

The capital and largest city is The TORONTO, Canada.  The second largest city is also The TORONTO, Canada.   Other major settlements include Montréal, Bytown, and Thunder Bay.  Aside from a few scattered villages strung along the American border, however, most of Canada is an empty void.

Canadians are known for their helpfulness, feats of strength, and ability to regenerate limbs lost to frostbite.  Some famous Canadians include: Garth Hudson, Alexander Graham Bell, Optimus Prime, and Jarkko Ruutu.

The following is intended as a guide for interested young persons seeking further information on this strange realm.

***

Section I – Meet The Provinces

Canada is divided in to at least eleven (11) provinces and three (3) territories, each quite unique in its own nondescript way.  As the first part of this Young Person’s Guide To Canada, let us begin with an enumeration of the realm’s several parts.

***

Part A – Atlantic Canada

1: Newfoundland & Labrador

Capital: St. John’s (Legislative); Dildo (Executive)

Imports: Catgut, Primitivists.

Exports: Newfoundlanders.

Fun Fact: Because everybody literally knows everybody in Newfoundland, the province has no Postal Code system.

Originally founded by Basque separatists, Newfoundland entered real history when John Cabot accidentally discovered it on his way to The TORONTO, Canada.  As the result of a clerical error, the barren island in the middle of the North Atlantic (occupied by the descendents of stranded fishermen, Greenlandic refugees, and the native seal population) found its way into the British Empire.  Fed up with the lame accents and obnoxious music, Britain tried to give the place away to Canada.  At first Britain gave the island to Canada as an anniversary gift, which was then swiftly re-gifted by Canada on Britain’s birthday.  Britain then tried to “accidentally” leave Newfoundland behind while attending a fancy dress party at Canada’s place, but the Canadian government reminded the British that they’d left Newfoundland on the table in the front room just as Britain was putting their shoes on.

Unwanted by either side, the Newfoundlanders were left unsupervised and consequently broke into two groups.  Whereas Ralph’s side insisted on the importance of maintaining the signal fire and building shelters, Jack’s group spent all their time hunting the indigenous fauna of the island.  After much heated dispute over who’s got the conch, war broke out between the two factions.  The death of Piggy on page 222 prompted the intervention of the Canadian Military and the annexation of Newfoundland into The Dominion.  At the tribunal afterwards, General Romeo Dallaire, who led the operation, commented that the islanders “should have been able to put up a better show than that.”

Fig. 1: Newfoundland's first premier, Joey Smallwood.

Since entering Canada, Newfoundland has experienced a series of comically unfortunate events.    The fish stocks on which the province depended for its economic and erotic needs also collapsed, prompting the entire population to fan out across Canada to search for the missing codwives (though some reports suggested the cod had instead gone to Portugal). The largely abandoned province now subsists entirely on remittances from expatriates and the spilled cargo of ships that run into icebergs.

To the north of the Island of Newfoundland lies the territory of Labrador, a cold inhospitable place that went to Newfoundland by default as none of the other provinces could be bothered to claim it.  The native seal population is engaged in a long guerilla war against the government rule from the Island and, every year, the province sends teams of club-armed commandos to quell the rebellion.

Fig. 2: Newfoundland commandos restore order to the rebellious region.

Due to their innate foolishness, exacerbated by the effects of massive inbreeding, “Newfies”, as they are sometimes affectionately called, are also the butt of many jokes in Canada – similar to the Irish in Britain and Poles in The United States of America.  Here is an example:

Q:  How many “Newfies” does it take to change a light bulb?

A:  94.  One to change the bulb, two more to write an annoying song about “being’s the b’y that changes the bulb”, and another 91 to move to Ontario and Alberta, get a job, form a fiddle band, find a light bulb, and then send it home, waxing romantic about their backwards homeland the entire goddamn time.

***

2. Prince Edward Island

Capital: Michel Delving

Head of State: Queen Anne of Green Gables

Imports: Ferries, Japanese.

Exports: Pipeweed, Rocket Launchers, Missile Parts, Landmines.

Fun Fact:  Technically, it’s a peninsula.

Not much is known about this secretive and possibly fictional place except that it is inhabited largely by hobbits and that its red roads are the result of frequent mass human sacrifice to the Cult of Green Gables.

Fig. 3: Our government tour guide points out how "the streets will flow with the blood of the non-believers".

The province’s government follows the Juche ideology, which they define as “the independent stance of rejecting dependence on others and of using one’s own powers, believing in one’s own strength and displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance.”  As such, Prince Edward Island shuns contact with the outside world and pursues a policy of isolation from the rest of the world.  Aside from the traditional pipeweed grown in the South Farthing, the only foreign currency earner for the regime is the covert export of black market arms to rebel groups in Africa, Central America, and Labrador.

Fearful of the rogue province floating away and causing mayhem in the North Atlantic shipping lanes, the Federal Government built Confederation Bridge as a tether to keep it attached to the mainland.  The 1992 Charlottetown Accord established a demilitarized zone running along the 38th parallel, but relations between the province and the Dominion remain tense.  Raiding parties from the Island often cross over into New Brunswick to steal their neighbours’ potato harvest.

***

3. Nova Scotia

Capital: Halifax (current); Cuzco (former)

Imports: Munitions Boats.

Exports: Automobile Commercials, Marijuana.

Fun Fact: Because of the elaborate sets involved, Nova Scotia cost a then record $175 million to make.

As evidenced by its Latin name, Nova Scotia was originally founded by Roman refugees from the sunken continent of Atlantis.  The Roman colony eventually became a northeastern outpost of the Inca Empire who, legend has it, used Oak Island as their back-up treasury during the Spanish Invasion.  Indeed, the nearby town of Lunenberg derives it’s name from the Quechua term for “elaborate hoax”.

Known as “Canada’s Ocean Playground”, the province has more waterslides per capita than most major Western nations.  Furthermore, Nova Scotians are known for their impressive diving abilities and can hold their breath for up to three hours.  With no point of the province more than a foot above sea level and being right next the high tides of the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotians have evolved these abilities over the years as a result of their land being submerged for much of the year.

Fig. 4: A Nova Scotian commutes to work.

Indeed, knowing her fate, Nova Scotia sent out ships to all corners of the Earth.  On board were The Twelve: the poet, the physician, the farmer, the scientist, the magician and the other so-called Gods of our legends, though Gods they were.

Fig 5: After which, Billy Batts received a beating from Tommy and Jimmy.

This aquatic realm is also the base of operations for the Canadian navy conducting punitive operations against invasive Portuguese fishing fleets.

***

4. New Brunswick

Capital: New Brunswick City

Imports: People on their way to one of the other Maritime Provinces.

Exports: Irving Gas Stations, People on their way to one of the other Maritime Provinces.

Fun Fact:  There are no fun facts about New Brunswick.

Impressively dull even by Canadian standards, what is now New Brunswick was once known for its vast herds of gigantic land lobsters.  The province was originally inhabited by the Acadians, a peaceful people who shepherded the herds and made sure to use all the parts of the lobsters.

Fig. 6: A peaceful, bread-eating people, they can talk, but cannot swear.

Eventually, like all good things, it was invaded by the British who massacred the lobsters (often only to take their tails) and drove their shrivelled remnants to the sea.   These smaller, marine-based lobsters are highly venerated by the remaining Acadians (those who hadn’t gone down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras) and, as such, are subject to fady meaning that they are not to be hunted nor consumed, but rather sent inland in exchange for knock-off designer jeans and colour televisions.

During the British Invasion, Acadian Elders took the last living gigantic land lobster and put it into a state of suspended animation to reawaken whenever the British engaged in undue persecution of the Acadian minority.  Though now only awakened by the persistent potato raids from P.E.I., the Lobster still stands guard today at Shediac.

Fig. 7: You were created by the magicians; return to your dust.

Eleazar of Worms has preserved the formula for suspending the Lobster.  The details of the enterprise require twenty-three columns in folio and demand that the maker know “the alphabets of the two hundred twenty-one gates” that must be repeated over each of the Lobster’s organs.  On its forehead one must tattoo the word “EMET” which means “truth.”  In order to destroy the creature, one would efface the first letter, leaving the word “MET”, which means “death”.

The other notable feature in New Brunswick is the electro-magnetic anomaly at Lutes Mountain, popularly known as “Magnetic Hill”.   The mountain itself is actually a crashed meteorite, possibly of Cybertronian origin.  So powerful are the magnetite ores in the anomaly, that any motor vehicles in the area are inexorably pulled up the mountain.  Scientific surveys have confirmed that the mountain has the pulling power of 7.5 Geoff Capes.

Fig. 8: The summit of "Magnetic Hill".

The local inhabitants like to lure tourists to “Magentic Hill”, a geophysical anomaly that traps cars and pulls people to the summit where they become imprisoned by the powerful electro-magnetic field and Omega Supreme‘s arm claw.  Once the tourists are thus immobilized, the locals gather round to laugh at their new prisoners and hurl clods of dirt at them.

An interesting (but not particularly fun) fact is that “Magnetic Hill” is the only known thing that can prevent people from leaving New Brunswick.

On Darondo

•June 11, 2010 • 2 Comments

“Didn’t I”

I can’t get enough of this track.  There’s plenty of things to love about it: the gorgeous string-led melody; the fantastic, underused I-vii-vi chord progression; the ridiculously  sweet chord change at 1:58, etc.  However, what really makes this obscure slice of seventies soul so utterly transcendent is the vocal performance.

Mostly delivered in a falsetto, Darondo’s high serpentine rasp occasionally drops down into his regular, froggy register, a change so drastic and yet also seamless that when I first heard this track I thought it was one of the backing singers coming up momentarily in the mix.

It’s like the falsetto is representative of the spurned lover demonstrating weakness and frailty, but it can’t conceal the latent virility that periodically emerges every so often, as if to suggest that the purported remonstrance  is but the act of a lothario.  Notice that at the end of the song, the longest stretch of non-falsetto is the line where Darondo suggests the cure that will make his lover no longer want to leave him: “Sit down, and let me kissing your lovely lips”.  In other words, the sorrow and remorse of the singer is but a display, a deception in the service of seduction.  The falsetto is a pretended castration to penetrate the harem, as it were.  The fact that Darondo himself may have been a pimp back in the day (some say) suggests a sinister overtone to the whole affair.

Fig. 1: Still seriously cool.

But what’s best about this is that as a performance, it’s utterly convincing.  The vocal delivery is completely heartbreaking – of especial note is the line “I tried my best just to be a ma-annh)” where the final word is distended, pulled down an octave in an act of de-emasculation at the self-interpellation as “man”.  In the first two verses, the register drops seem accidental (from the protagonist’s point of view, obviously they are authorially intended); momentary flashes where the sorrowful mask drops (perhaps to sneak a better look at the undoubtedly fine lady being addressed).

By the third verse, where offers to kiss lovely lips are being bandied about, the tone shifts; the forlorn lover begging forgiveness is replaced by a more dominant voice: he asserts, “There’s something wrong with you … You look bad.”  It’s as if to break her down so she feels dependent on him, an approach perhaps born out of frustration that the sugary, puppy-dog-eyes, “I need you” approach of the first half of the song had hitherto had no effect.

And so, the vocal part now alternates more evenly between the falsetto and the “normal” voice.  The ploy has worked, the pleading of “Didn’t I do it right, now?”, was actually a rhetorical question, and the casanova breaks character more often in eager anticipation of the consummated desire.  Just sit down…

Fig. 2: A Smooth Operator

But all this takes away from just how brilliant this track is.  Indeed, William “Darondo” Pulliam only cut six 45 sides before disappearing for two and a half decades, and it’s interesting — in a sad way — to think of what he could have done.

However, perhaps what enables “Didn’t I” to be so good is that it is truely amateur music: just a side project amongst many other enterprises (dude drove a Rolls-Royce with the license plate “DARONDO”).  He says in a recent interview: “It was mostly me, just having a good time with a real good hobby.”

Apparently he’s a rather colourful man of mystery; the Wikipædia tells us:

Darondo recorded three singles and played four shows in the ’70s, and then stopped and drove home in his Rolls Royce after he opened for James Brown.  Later he traveled the world collecting interesting artifacts, became the king of Bay Area cable with three shows per day, and worked as a physical therapist coaxing patients to walk again.

Now, as a further example of the laudatory archival work done by beat-diggers, Darondo has experienced a minor cult resurgence in recent years due entirely to the sheer inconceivable beauty and brilliance of this one record.  His classic tracks have been reissued, and he’s apparently contemplating returning to music.

Or, at least that’s what his label’s website said two years ago.

On The Humourous Aspects Of Avian Pedestrianism

•May 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Funny Subtitle of Article

Fig. 1: There is a reason for this.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side.

The above is a terminally unfunny joke.  It is largely so because it is has to be the most overtold, generic joke in the (English speaking) world.  So much so, that if you were to provide a dictionarian example of a joke for someone unaware of the concept of a joke, you might cite it as an example.  The first thing to come to mind, perhaps.

What’s interesting, however, is that if it were not for its sheer ubiquity, the chicken crossing the road would be quite a clever, subversive meta-joke.  Allow to me demonstrate, and thus sap all humour out of the already exhausted joke.

As we all know, humour is generally derived from some form of recognized contradiction.  Dramatic irony, wherein we know something a character doesn’t know, operates on the more sophisticated side of the scale, as opposed to, say, sarcasm.  Slapstick, which may be considered “low” humour, is based on the incongruity of exaggerated, implausible graphic violence and its effects.  A pratfall that results in a broken bone is not really funny, but an exploded cartoon coyote is, so long as he has a goofy look on his face.

Fig. 2: He'll be alright.

In the chicken joke, the contradiction lies in the answer’s deflating of the question’s expectations of some hilarious reason why the chicken crossed the road.  Instead of an “unexpected” punchline (all punchlines are expected to be unexpected), we get the obvious, self-evident explanation that he wanted to get the other side.  The humour largely lies in that it’s not a funny joke at all, and therefore the contradiction is with the concept of humour itself (or at least its conventions).  It is a parody of a joke: a satirization of funniness.

More materially, the punchline is an unsatisfactory, confounding answer which merely begs the question of why did the chicken want to get to the other side.  This begging, however, simply points out that the initial question was wrongly asked, that it failed to differentiate between a vague contextual cause – the crossing of the road was but part of some need to get somewhere – and the reasoning behind why the chicken chose to do so — the larger context.   The question elides the distinction between intent and action, and so the answer corrects this by pointing out their tautological, cause-effect relationship.

Moreover, this begging the question suggests that all actions are ultimately inextricable from the endless chain of causal factors that led up to their actioning.  Further, each action is itself a causal factor in further actions, each also causal factors.  And so on, recursively.

Fig. 3: James Burke knows what I'm talking about.

Ultimately by the repeated deferment of begging the question, the asker is left endlessly asking “Why?” like a small child who refuses to eat to its french fries and keeps asking unanswerable questions about life.

It should also be pointed out that part of the humour also derives from the very implication of intentionality of a chicken.  Why did the chicken cross the road?  Why do chickens do any of the chickenshit they do?  Because they’re chickens and they have no fucking clue what they’re doing! Hell, some of them keep on doing what they do without requiring an attached head.  But of course one would expect, from the very fact that the question was being asked to set-up a punchline, that the chicken would have some specific, no doubt anthropomorphic, reason for crossing the road.

Even if that were the case, as we cannot get inside whatever mind a chicken may have, this reason remains forever undisclosed to us as implicitly pointed out by the unhelpful answer in the punchline.  The joke therefore turns upon the epistemological vagaries that occur in the omniscient third person point of view (such as this joke uses).  It points out that the narrative that the joke aims to construct — the narrative of the chicken crossing the road — is an impossibility.  There is no story, just the singular event of a chicken crossing the road.  Anything other than that is outside the joke.  Il n’y a pas de hors-jeste.

However, the joke also contains an implicit, grim pun which does allude to one possible narrative that could be set up, one which actually makes a pretty good punchline.  The Other Side the chicken gets to could be an afterlife, presumably arrived at upon contact with a motorized vehicle of some kind.  But then too, the idea of chickens going to Heaven or Hell seems kind of silly.

On The Problem Of Writing

•May 14, 2010 • 1 Comment

“A” Is For Pyramid, Said Hegel

The problem with writing is that to write is to produce some thing from thought.  I think something; I should write it down.  Like, I reckon that’s pretty insightful observation about lo-fidelity music I’ve got there, I’d better record it so it doesn’t get lost.

And so, writing is an obligation on thought, a labour and a labouring of thought.  The writer extricates writing from thought like a mineral (which Chuck D will no doubt find and call “a beat”) to be orthographically shaped into a commodity, some thing tangible that can then be exchanged.  The otherwise idle pursuit of contemplation becomes work, and this always runs the risk of becoming tiresome.

See, I’ve already got disinterested in expressing this idea I had; the original sensation has gotten lost as I’ve typed the above paragraphs (and, I write in revision, I wasn’t sure here if this was all gonna coalesce and that perhaps I should just go get something to eat).

And that’s just it: thought is a free flow, like a playful dog that doesn’t always stay when and where you want it to and opts instead to run after a squirrel or car.  Perhaps it finds conversation with friends and intoxicants more suitable for its expression.  Sure, that’ll work in the Agora when you have a scrupulous minutes-taker like Plato around, but now, if an idea’s worth expressing, it’s worth recording for posterity and broadcast (on tape delay, though — there is no live writing).  Gotta whip that playful dog into submission.

And so, you must set to work, with your head and with your hands (why on earth did Dictaphones not catch on?) and make something so’s we can put it out there.  It’s no coincidence that our daily lives — and the industrial processes that produce them — are and have been for millennia driven by mechanisms for the production of writing: the alphabet and the law, moveable type and the assembly line, the Internet and, uh, the Internet.

But penultimately, even in its Bronze Age form, what writing does (and writings do) is render thought into a commodity.  Whether it’s an inscribed tablet or a stream of electrons in a tube, it is now a thing, which, by the transitive property of capitalism, can slip into a good.  And even if the goods are never for sale, work must still be done just to produce them.  Always a task at hand to be completed, and you’d better get at it, son.

It’s as if to write is to not bear the thought of losing thought, letting it fade away.  So we toil with ink and with bytes at erecting memorials for our contemplations.  A trace, or tag, saying, “Hey man, this idea was here”.

Finally, the writing above assumes “thought” and “language” to be basically synonymous.