The loneliness of the rural hometown.

November 26, 2008

muncie-sanborns1From a young age, I knew I didn’t want to spend my life in Muncie, Indiana. Reared on cable TV, I was hungry to see firsthand the worlds that gleamed at me through the box in the living room. Not to speak ill of Muncie, but it lacked the heart-quickening electricity of places where people spoke different languages, cut deals in the streets, rode trains underground and ate rice and raw fish rolled in seaweed.

The older I grew, the more I yearned to leave. Some of my reasons were superficial. For one, I simply couldn’t abide telling old friends who were moving on to Chicago, Seattle and New York City that I had settled down in Muncie.

So I left. But a series of events, some of them unfortunate, landed me in Muncie again during a significant stretch of my mid-20s. And this time, I not only wanted, but needed out — for a very visceral reason: I was lonely.

Being a college-educated, single 26-year-old in Muncie, Ind. is like being an endangered species. And this NY Mag article suggests that living there during that time could have been bad for my physical and mental health.

The article’s author — a long-time New York resident — uses data and scholastic opinions to back up her argument that, contrary to popular belief, New Yorkers aren’t lonelier than Joe Six-Pack and Jane Wine-Box. She argues that rather than atomizing people, New York and other large urban communities draw people together. She says that community virtues are stronger in New York City than in, oh, say, Wasilla, Alaska. And she says that this may make New Yorkers both happier and physically healthier than, oh, say, people living in Muncie, Indiana.

I’ll be returning to Muncie tomorrow for Thanksgiving. And when I do, the gray, ineffable mist of loneliness will descend upon me. It always does. I always assumed it was because the place is literally a ghost town of memories for me. But maybe that melancholy is radiated out toward me by Muncie itself. If cities are less lonely than their small-town counterparts — and if major metro areas rather than Middletown, USA are the “ultimate expression of our humanity” — maybe that is the source of my Muncie-borne malaise.

This is not to suggest that Muncie is incapable of fostering meaningful, authentic, fulfilling relationships. If you’re a member of a large, healthy, tightly-knit family, or if you are active in a large community through church or or an educational institution, then you probably can live a perfectly healthy, happy life in a place like Muncie. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy any of those luxuries. And believe me, it got lonely.

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The unintentional marketing brilliance of Axl Rose.

November 24, 2008

Chinese Democracy is ubiquitous. It’s here. And here. And here. It seems like it’s everywhere except here.

Axl Rose — that old Hoosier hayseed turned hair metal icon with Howard Hughes-like quirks — has taught us a very interesting rock ‘n’ roll marketing lesson. That lesson: If you’re an aging rock ‘n’ roll artist who once had the respect of your peers but in recent years had turned into a bit of a punchline, and you have the time and resources to obsessively revise and rework an album while pushing back release dates repeatedly for 15 years, well, you probably should do it.

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Other former members of Guns ‘N’ Roses have been releasing music regularly for the past 15 years. Yet when was the last time Slash was breathlessly discussed on National Public Radio? Has Izzy Stradlin’s name even been mentioned in the presence of more than 12 people since 1999? Does anyone even know what Duff McKagan looks like any more? Yeah, there’s Velvet Revolver, but the only people who care about them are diehard metalheads reliving the good old days. The only former G ‘N’ R member who gets any coverage in the contemporary media is Steven Adler, and that’s because he’s a sad old junkie.

And yet here’s Axl Rose in all of his wax-figure glory, getting more press in this past week than our crumbling national economy. (Which is getting too scary to even think about, so I guess we should thank Mr. Rose for the distraction.)

Is Chinese Democracy any good? No. Oh, Chuck Klosterman says it is, and while I enjoy Klosterman’s writing, I certainly don’t share his taste for bloated, puerile, overproduced metal. And Stephen Thompson gave it a lukewarm review on NPR this morning, but that’s because lukewarm is the only temperature NPR knows. Chinese Democracy sounds exactly the way you would expect it to sound: Overcooked, unintelligent, laughably self-serious and, after a minute, mind-numbingly boring. And yet people are talking, talking, talking about it as if it is full of mystery and intrigue. The real mystery, though, is why such a stupid little album incurs so much rancor from what you have to assume are perfectly intelligent government officials for a big, powerful country. That’s mysterious.

Anyway, Chinese Democracy: So bad it’ll make your eyes hurt. But an excellent (if not exactly tenable in most cases) marketing ploy.


The rock stops here.

November 19, 2008

As a verb, “rock” has always been suspect at best. Anyone who sincerely says, “I like to rock” or “Man, The Decemberists rocked Schuba’s last night” is on really shaky ground. But since the forefathers of rock ‘n’ roll fought for our right to rock, I will tolerate the use of the word in that context to my death — no matter how lame or ill-advised. However, I refuse to suffer the use of the word “rock” as a verb to mean “sport” any longer. I’m referring to usages like this:

“I might have to rock a sweater vest at my sister’s wedding.”

“Look at my dog. He’s rocking a spiked collar.”

“You are totally rocking a I-woke-up-five-minutes-before-work look.”

In this context, “rock” is usually used to describe an audacious decision. One wouldn’t say, for instance, that he’s rocking blue jeans — unless he was wearing them in a situation where one wouldn’t normally wear blue jeans. And people sometimes use it sarcastically to describe an unfortunate circumstance: “I was totally rocking a Sears catalog look.” But the truly unfortunate circumstance is this lexicographical development. I think I speak for most right-minded people when I say let’s get the rock out of here.


Be like Friedrich.

November 18, 2008

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At this web site devoted to aphorisms, you can sign up to receive one in your e-mail inbox daily, browse through a bunch of user-submitted ones (like the one above) and submit your own.


Word up.

November 17, 2008

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This funky little app might help NaNoWriMo participants finish their novels.


Who needs MTV when you have Microsoft Office?

November 14, 2008

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This reminds me why I love the Internet. Nobody would have created something this bizarre and interesting for an aging, one-note classic rock band back when TV was the only popular visual media. Here’s the Youtube teaser :


The Hoffstume

November 14, 2008

hoffstume_08hoffstume_06 When I read “The Stranger” at age 17 it  confirmed my suspicions that everything didn’t happen for a reason. Things don’t even out in the end. Karma is bullshit. Morality is a matter of choice. Chance conquers all.

While this discovery felt momentous at first, I was soon disappointed to find that a great number of hack artists were inspired by the very same epiphany. Nothing is more boring, more jejune, more insufferable, than a crappy artist whose work aspires to be “absurd,” “surreal,” “avant garde,” etc.

Brandon Bird is an exception to the rule. For evidence, look at this. And this.

Without humor or pathos, absurdity is boring, don’t you think?hoffstume_031