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October 10, 2006

Note Books - Mac McCaughan

Mac McCaughan is a busy man. He is touring with his band, Portastatic, in support of the album, Be Still Please, released today. He is rehearsing with his other band, Superchunk, which will play the Daily Show's tenth anniversary benefit show with the Mountain Goats and Clem Snide. Somehow, he also finds time to run his record label, Merge, and even blog. He recently shared some of his recent reading with Largehearted Boy.

In his own words, here is Mac McCaughan's Note Books entry:

well, touring for the new Portastatic record hasn't begun yet and everyone knows the best place to get reading done (until they put the second season of "Lost" on DVD anyway) is in the van!

so at home i struggle even to keep up with the New Yorker, but here are some of my favorite recent articles in the New Yorker, though they're not necessarily from recent issues since they pile up!:

"Blank Monday" by William Finnegan issue dated 8/21/06 -- i've tried to learn to surf the last couple summers, it's a fun and masochistic and exhausting pursuit that leaves me sore even today, 6 weeks removed from my last trip to the beach. i grew up a block from the beach in Ft Lauderdale until i was 12 years old, never had the desire to surf, here i am 27 years later flailing about in the whitewater but whatever. this article is about a character named Grubby Clarke who revolutionized the way surfboards were made in the 60's and 70's and essentially had a monopoly on making the "blanks" or foam cores of surfboards. On Dec. 5 of last year he abruptly shut his doors, ordered employees to smash molds, and sent out an enigmatic and bitter fax to his accounts announcing he was done. Surfboard prices tripled immediately in many places and it created a panic in the sport...the current stuff and the history of surfing stuff is all really fascinating.

"The Lost Year" by Dan Baum issue dated 8/21/06 -- i tried to avoid the inevitable "KATRINA: NEW ORLEANS STILL f*ckED ONE YEAR LATER" cable news fake sympathy parade, and did for the most part, though i taped Spike Lee's doc to watch later and was amused by the phony guy who showed up at the White House to give bush a blow job on the front lawn in his FEMA trailer...anyway this article is devastating and surveys the damage (both original storm damage and remaining) in a way i hadn't read before...mind-blowing, both the natural disaster itself and the way it's been dealt with (or not dealt with) by local & national agencies.

any Comment column by Hendrik Hertzberg -- (the 2/13/06 coverage of Bush's SOTU speech is a great example) there's something bittersweet about reading powerful and concise analysis of the current administration's ignorance, arrogance, and generally destructive behavior when it's so sharp and right on as it usually is in Hertzberg's comments -- you feel empowered for having read the truth, but simultaneously let down because the truth can't seem to derail this train.

"In the Waiting Room" by David Sedaris issue dated 9/18/06 -- ex-NC resident Sedaris never fails to make me laugh out loud, repeatedly. plus we've all heard him speak at this point and can imagine the text spoken in his dry delivery which makes it even funnier. this one is about the joys and dangers of only knowing a little bit of a foreign language. makes me think of the situations one can get in on tour in a far off land (like Canada) with just a bit of French at one's disposal, though of course even the most mundane situations in Sedaris' hands become more hysterical than the most outsize gaffe i could ever relate.

"Command Performance - The Reign of Helen Mirren" by John Lahr issue dated 10/2/06 -- i have loved Helen Mirren since i saw Peter Greenaway's "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" (maybe even since i saw the poster before i went in) and i'm not sure if this article is saying "she's really down to earth" because she rents small cars and her hair is still wet from her shower as she and her husband head down to the track to bet on horses or if it's saying she's an amazing actress who not only plays The Queen in a new movie but considers herself to be a queen, or maybe all of the above, but i'd probably enjoy reading an article about what she had for breakfast, so i only wish this was longer. gotta go get Prime Suspect on DVD before i go on tour...

"Junior" by Jane Mayer issue dated 9/11/06 -- another article i thoroughly enjoyed but wished there was more of it. one reason there couldn't be is because it's about a former Al Qaeda operative turned witness for the US gov't who's a womanizing pain in the ass of a former jihadist who didn't ever care that much about the jihad part but did care about stealing a bunch of Bin Laden's money...so he provides invaluable information and the FBI and they take care of him and his family, moving him around and keeping his identity a secret as he tries their nerves. i can't wait til they make this into a buddy pic with Danny DeVito as the harried FBI agent and Sasha Baron Cohen as the irrepressible "Junior".

one of the characters in the Jane Mayer article is former FBI agent Dan Coleman, and he also figures prominently in one of the real, honest-to-gosh full-length books i've read in the last few months, Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine about how shady f*cking characters like Dick Cheney hijacked US foreign policy following 9/11 (the doctrine of the title, also known as "The Cheney Doctrine" refers to Cheney's secret directive that if there's a 1% chance that, say, Iraq has a weapon of mass destruction, then we have to ACT as though it's a 100% true certainty!), about how we torture crazy people and then act on their crazy ravings, about people who have the insane job of trying to predict what lunatics around the world are planning next.

staying in foreign policy world, i've just started Kenneth Knaus's Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival which is testing my ability to remember the names of mid-century Tibetan politicians, obscure Indian diplomats and OSS officers as i read late at night, but i'm convinced that once i get on tour it'll become a regular page-turner.

and speaking of page-turners, Dylan's Chronicles Vol 1 is exactly that, i couldn't put it down til i'd read every last bizarre recollection of early 60's Village folk scenesters and obtuse explanations of the numerology systems that allowed him to start making good music again in the 90's. it's SO GOOD and the chapter on making Oh Mercy, much of which concerns Dylan and ladyfriend going to get lunch on a motorcycle, made me go back to that record... there are some great songs on there, "Ring Them Bells" being one of my favorites. i might read it again in fact...

other than this, i've been skipping around through John Hodgman's Areas of My Expertise and the huge catalogue of the DADA exhibition at MOMA ...


see also:

Portastatic
Superchunk
Merge
Portastatic blog

Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)
Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

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