Category Archives: Let Us Now Praise…

Book A Week 1: The Human Factor by Graham Greene

Simon And Schuster, Book Club Edition, Copyright 1978

Simon And Schuster, Book Club Edition, Copyright 1978

Well, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge. Yes indeed, I just (well, two days ago) finished my first week in a book-a-week challenge, and I have to say: I feel pretty damn good about it. But before I get into the book itself, a word about the impetus behind such seeming insanity.

I must confess, I’ve never been a terribly prolific reader. I’ve always wanted to be a prolific reader, but only in the same way I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who wakes up and goes for a run at 5:30 a.m. as the sun barely begins cresting the horizon. The Theory = a pretty cool way to go about dancing on this Earth. The Practice = hitting my iPhone’s snooze button (icon?) until my dogs all but grab me by the ankles and drag me down the stairs.

Don’t get me wrong—I adore reading. In case you haven’t noticed, I do a bit of writing now and then, and when I’m not writing I am probably engaged in some form of reading. Novels. Long form journalism. Comics. Memoirs. Online essays. The backs of cereal boxes. So yeah, reading itself has never been the problem. Reading a lot in a short amount of time, however…now that’s a dust jacket of a different color.

If I had to guess (and this, friends, is a rather liberal guess) I would say I go through—maybe—10 books a year. And that would be a good year. To be sure, that’s certainly a better number than, say, someone who doesn’t read at all, but it’s not a number of which I am terribly proud. I want to read more not only because I love reading (or because I am acutely aware of the enormity of my dream reading list juxtaposed to the limited number of days each of us is granted upon this frail plane). I also want to read more because I believe it makes us all better people. And it makes me a better writer.

Personally, my brain and spirit just feel, well, different when I’m reading a lot. My observations about life are more keen and more quick to rise from those dread bottomless depths increasingly littered with the ephemera of pop-up ads, inane Facebook posts, and so much (oh so much) clickbait. It’s a cliche for sure, but there is no better brain exercise than frequent reading. And that’s the triple truth, Ruth.

As for the writing part—same. When I’m not reading with some degree of fervency, I’m also not writing (at least not in the way I want to write). The two tasks feed off of each other in some kind of weird, cerebral dance I’m still trying to figure out. Reading makes me want to write, and writing makes me want to read. Dig?

Consider the way Stephen King puts it in his most excellent On Writing (a memoir about, well, writing—seriously, read this book):

The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.

Right on. I completely understood this when I first read it more than ten years ago (!) and it still rings incredibly true today.

And so here I am, staring down the barrel of a challenge that feels at once both overwhelming and exhilarating. On one hand, 52 books is a lot of books. On the other hand, 52 books…IS A LOT OF BOOKS! Isn’t that exciting? I’ll finally read Animal Farm. And 1984. And Rabbit Run. And The Giver. And, like, a whole lot more. Yeah. It’s pretty damn exciting.

Besides, I’ve done the math. If I typically tackle books between 200 and 300 pages, that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 pages a day. Does’t sound too menacing, does it? Sure, this means reading every morning over coffee and breakfast instead of catching up on the next installment of classic Doctor Who (I’m currently up to Episode One of “Death to the Daleks,” for those of you playing along at home), but isn’t that, like, the point?

Well, having already completed one week of this exercise I am fairly confident that I can (and will) do this. As a precaution against falling off the wagon, I’ve also decided to blog about each week’s literary conquest—so keep me accountable interneters! So, now that you know a little about this project, let’s talk a little about Graham Greene’s The Human Factor.

Dust jacket photo of Graham Greene, taken by some chap with the cool ass name Ottawa Karsh.

Dust jacket photo of Graham Greene, taken by some chap with the cool ass name Ottawa Karsh.

There are three reasons I chose this as my first book (none of which are particularly poignant):

1. Greene wrote The Power and the Glory, one of my all-time favorite novels and—for my money—one of the greatest books ever written.

2. I’ve never been entirely comfortable saying “I’m a fan of Graham Greene” knowing that I’ve only got one of his books under my belt.

3. My wife and I recently moved. As a result, all of our novels are still in boxes. This one was at the top of the first box I opened last week. Win win.

I must say, I wasn’t all that thrilled with the novel at the start. Veering quite noticeably from the spiritual and existential themes and overall ethos of The Power and the Glory, The Human Factor concerns the seemingly pedestrian life of a British secret service agent named Castle (first name Maurice). Turns out he’s got quite an interesting backstory that involves a clandestine love affair with (and eventual marriage to) a South African woman named Sarah and the adoption of her infant son as his own. There’s also a lot of angst going on about apartheid and Communism and a few other dated intricacies that sometimes confused me in their lack of context, but once given a chance, The Human Factor really begins to delight with its literary minimalism and overriding atmosphere of paranoia wedged between the gloomy hum-drum of British life in the late 70s. From the inside dust jacket:

The Human Factor marks Graham Greene’s triumphant return to the ambiguous world of deceit, illusion, treachery, faith and loneliness that is espionage…

I think the key word there is “loneliness.” That’s the emotion I didn’t expect to encounter, but it’s also the emotion that continued to fascinate and move me throughout the course of this curious little novel. Loneliness is an obvious occupational hazard here (not only for Castle, but also for the hand full of secondary characters that litter the story, including the brilliantly realized Colonel Daintry). What’s more, this loneliness is an existential byproduct that seems to be absent of any really redemptive subsequent. In other words, no one in this story is particularly convicted about what he does, yet they all bemoan the dour prospects of their respective fates. Oh sure, there’s some very pale allusions to national duty or some such folderol, but I venture to guess that everyone in this novel (most especially the protagonist) would much rather be sipping whiskey on a country porch somewhere. Yes, everyone here is a spy, but they might as well be working for the DMV.

Upon doing a slight bit of research I came to realize this was precisely Greene’s intention. His objective was “to write a novel of espionage free from the conventional violence, which has not, in spite of James Bond, been a feature of the British Secret Service.” He goes on to say that he “wanted to present the Service unromantically as a way of life, men going daily to their office to earn their pension.”

Objective, consider thyself achieved. This is indeed a spy novel with almost (almost) every ounce of sex, violence and cliched adrenaline stripped away, leaving us instead with men who are supremely unhappy with the choices they’ve made in life wandering through the mists of Britain yearning for escape that will never come. It’s a rather bleak tale that bears some hallmark passages only Greene could compose. Consider this moment between Colonel Daintry (who has just returned from a funeral) and one of his more fusty colleagues:

“I’ve come from a funeral.”

“No one close, I hope?”

“No. Someone from the office.”

“Oh well. A funeral’s always better to my mind than a wedding. I can’t bear weddings. A funeral’s final. A wedding—well, it’s only an unfortunate stage to something else. I’d rather celebrate a divorce—but then that’s often a stage too, to just another wedding. People get into the habit.”

Or even wonderfully simple lines like, “A man in love walks through the world like an anarchist, carrying a time bomb.”

All in all, an intriguing—if, at times, a bit tedious—novel. The end result is a sense of inescapable gloom that only Greene can deliver, even when his subject matter is international espionage instead of whiskey priests and broken vows.

Up Next: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’ Engle

Let Us Now Praise…Conor Oberst and Dawes



To be honest, it’s been a long day of writing, house tending, dog walking, and all around life-izing—and I don’t really have much blog power left in me this evening. But in the spirit of keeping up with the goal of filing a post every day this month I thought I should at least share something. And that something is Conor Oberst and Dawes.

For those who have been following the ‘ol Twenty Pounds pub since its inception, you know that I’ve written extensively about Conor in the past. And he does indeed deserve all (er, most of?) the digital ink that has been spilled in his name over the past decade. But I don’t think I’ve touched on Dawes all too frequently (if at all). Let me do so…now.


I first came to know about this band about five years ago, courtesy of the incomparable Joseph Master. He sent me an Mp3 of “That Western Skyline,” the first track from their debut record North Hills, and I experienced that exceedingly rare moment when you know you’re listening to a band that is still relatively unknown but perched on the precipice of great acclaim. And they have not let me down since.

To date, I’ve seen Dawes perform live at least five times (the first being a Free At Noon concert in West Philly hosted by 88.5 WXPN), and their live presence only further cemented my confidence in their eventual ascension to greatness. Since the band’s righteous debut they have released two additional studio efforts, Nothing Is Wrong in 2011 and Stories Don’t End in 2013, both of which have not disappointed. So when I found out they were going to be touring this summer with Oberst (who is promoting his current solo effort Upside Down Mountaindig the play on words there?) I knew I couldn’t miss a show if it happened through Philadelphia.

And happen it did. I had the pleasure of seeing both acts perform at Union Transfer (my 100 percent, no joke favorite Philly concert venue of all time) on May 21, and the vibe was unmistakably incendiary. Not only did Dawes come out and rock a 90-minute-plus opening set, but they then returned to the stage less than 30 minutes later to back up Oberst for nearly two juggernaut hours of foot-stomping, hand-clapping musical brilliance. Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith (along with drummer and brother Griffin) leant gorgeous harmonies to Oberst’s originals while also searing into regular guitar solos with the type of piercing nuance practiced by the timeless likes of Mark Knopfler and Robbie Robertson. It was, in short, one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever attended—a fitting tribute to two musical acts that I have respected for many years now.


Dawes backing Oberst. Photo courtesy of yours truly.

Leading up to this summer’s joint tour, Dawes and Oberst released a limited edition Record Store Day seven inch that found each covering the other. The exclusive split featured Dawes covering the Bright Eyes song “Easy/Lucky/Free” and Oberst covering Dawes’ “Million Dollar Bill.” And now, for your listening enjoyment, here are both tracks (and my lord, what they do with each other’s respective work is truly beautiful):

Here’s the original “Easy/Lucky/Free” (and a cool video to boot):

Here’s the Dawes cover:

Here’s the original “Million Dollar Bill”:

And here’s the Oberst cover:

Let Us Now Praise…Robert Ellis


One of the most loathsome tropes employed by music critics is the comparison of a new band or artist to an old band or artist for the sake of lending credence, understanding, or street cred to the many ineffable qualities of uncharted sonic territory. You know, something like, “Dawes is today’s heir apparent to The Band.” No. Dawes is Dawes and The Band is (was) The Band. Sure, all art is reductive on some level, but grasping at these low-hanging-fruit comparisons is just not fair, neither to the new nor the old. In doing so we water down the energy of the contemporary for the sake of nostalgia or simplicity (and yes, I’ve been guilty of doing this myself). That being said, when a February 2014 Esquire blurb did this with singer-songwriter Robert Ellis, I’ll admit, it made me sit up:

“The 25-year-old Texan is Paul Simon trapped in Tom Waits’s head, with George Jones’s voice. He’s what Jim James might sound like if he’d liked Randy Newman more than the Band.”

Ugh. Admittedly, that blurb is one big orgy of regrettable comparisons, but it did the trick and inspired me to give Ellis a digital spin. And I’ve been delighted ever since.

With three full length albums under his belt—The Great Re Arranger (2009), Photographs (2011), and The Lights From The Chemical Plant (2014)—Ellis’s talents as a lyricist and vocalist are undeniable as he aches his way through landscape tales of disillusion, complicated love, and American ennui with a pinched and plaintive whine accented by slide guitars, jangly pianos, and inspiring dynamics. And while I’ll resist the urge to do so myself, it’s easy to see why Esquire saw fit to make the comparisons it did, name dropping the likes of Waits and Newman in its review. Because there’s something slanted about the songs of Robert Ellis, who lures listeners with the charm of his melodies but then takes them by the hand through sinuous back alleys of irony, insight, and sympathetic satire once they’re hooked. Consider, for instance, these lines from “TV Song,” the opener of The Lights From The Chemical Plant:

I am not a failure, I played the hand that I was dealt
But every now and then I do pretend that I am someone else
It takes no imagination, just a flick of the remote
Then I am on vacation in a life someone else wrote

Maybe I’m a millionaire, I travel over the world
I’m handsome and respected, I get all those pretty girls
So calm and mysterious, fighting for the greater good
People love and adore me from New York to Hollywood

Well, this may not be the healthiest, I know
But I’m happiest when I exist through my favorite TV shows

I’m a gun fighter, I’m a bull rider
I’m the captain of some pirate ship at sea
For a couple hours I got super powers
Oh my God, I love watching my TV, oh yeah
Oh my God, I love watching my TV

In the hands of lesser talent, a song like this would be nothing more than a self-righteous hipster’s sneering lament about the trappings of contemporary escapism. I mean, I don’t even own a TV, man. But Ellis treats the characters in his songs with a melancholic kindness that inspires introspection rather than condescension. Give it a listen:

Another highlight is his most recent album’s namesake, “Chemical Plant,” an impressionist tale of young love juxtaposed against industrial skylines.

She says my heart is like an orphan
And your words are like home
I do not deserve such kindness
Keeps me warm down to my arms
We bear some strange familiar likeness
To a man I feel I know

As if to keep each other safe
They spent the night and then embrace

And the lights from the chemical plant
Burn bright in the night like an old kerosene lamp
When all seemed unstable
I could watch how they were there
The lights from the chemical plant

I could go on at great length about the virtues of Robert Ellis, but you gotta hear it for yourself, because it’s well worth the listen. This guy not only understands the sublime and painful nuances of life, but he gets America and what it means to feel the way we feel during this specific time and age. And that’s a rare quality indeed.

Let Us Now Praise…

Music For Coming Down:

David Mead and the Post-World-Series-Election Hangover



Fade In: Interior. Nick’s Roast Beef. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Wednesday Night. 7 p.m.

The clocks have been turned back. Another hour has been saved. Second Street in Old City is dark and desolate and wet with rain. Just one week ago to the day this place was clamorous with the delirium of hundreds in the street weeping and clapping to everyone, to no one in particular. Just one week ago to the day this place was filled with what seemed to be potential for new birth. With beer-stained hearts on fire. With senseless love overflowing. With the careless inspiration only triumph can bring forth. Just one week ago to the day, Second Street was alive.

Just twenty four hours ago, Second Street was alive, brightened by the hope of change in America, of change in the city of Philadelphia, of change in our dusty, cynical hearts. By this time yesterday, Barack Obama was already on the doorstep of victory. By this time yesterday, everyone braced for the eventual collision of history and expectation. By this time yesterday, legions of the lesser angels of our nature seemed poised for destruction. By this time yesterday, Second Street was yet another temple at which we could all worship the deity of possible hope. By this time yesterday, Second Street was alive.

Now, sitting inside Nick’s Roast Beef, Second Street is tired and alone. The bar is virtually empty. No music plays on the speakers. The Phillies already seem a distant memory. Two small televisions hang from a brick wall. One broadcasts a silent, subtitled Charlie Gibson, who guides America through replay after replay of last night’s Presidential victory, parsing every second down to the fabric of the dress Michelle Obama wore on the stage. On the other screen, a prime-time Hollywood program silently displays a montage from a new Broadway musical staring Chazz Palminteri. The disparity of the two images seems at once both obvious and obscure. There is something that connects them, I’m just not sure what that is.

More than anything else, what strikes me is how exhausted I feel—how exhausted the entire city feels—overwhelmed by a month that went by in a blur and culminated in a championship victory for a beloved baseball team and the election of the first African American to President of the United States of America. In the course of just one week, both of these events took place, and there is an overwhelming, atmospheric sense that the peak of joy has been reached, and now we must all come down. We must all swallow the bitter sweet fog of the morning after.

That’s why we’re going to see David Mead at the Tin Angel.

Some friends of mine arrive and we share a few pints over talk about quantum physics and Mr. Rogers; over the previous night’s election and the virtues of ketchup; over getting old and electric cars; over cheesesteak hoagies and the small entertaining bits of our own personal histories only we find important or funny. I know we are children of this time, I’m just not sure what that really means.


When our rambling comes to a close we leave for the show. Two doors down we climb some narrow stairs and order some more pints. First to take the stage at the Tin Angel are The Sways, a Nashville-based husband-and-wife duo comprised of Carey Kotsionis and Adam Landry. Carey’s got her acoustic, Adam’s got his medicine-red electric, and just two lines into their first song I am struck by both the beauty of their harmonies as well as the undeniable pleasure of lines like, “Knowing what to wear doesn’t make you a lady/ Showing up at my door doesn’t make you my baby.”

It would be easy for me to call this duo a marriage between the Innocence Mission and She & Him, so I won’t. Instead, The Sways are a fragile little outfit with the icy edges of their tender sound rimmed in traces of southern attitude and rust. They’ve got California flowers in their hair, but they’ve also got dusty, Memphis boots on their feet. It’s sweet, American swaying, music perfect for the autumn and summer both. They are a pleasure to watch and I would recommend checking them out if they come to town again.

When it comes to the headliner, I am as ignorant as a man can be. Going into the night, I had only ever heard one, maybe two David Mead songs in my life; but the show came by way of a zealous recommendation from my friends T. David and Kristine Young, and since I trust their respective musical tastes so implicitly I figured it was worth the $12 admission fee. And friends, after sitting through an 90 minute set of this man’s music, I can honestly say that I would pay twice as much to see him again.

Oh that dastardly breed of man known as the so-called “Singer Songwriter” is everywhere, and usually I do not suffer him kindly. Look, he’s got a lot to live up to, so I think it’s only fair to be so critical. Every college-aged crooner strumming his acoustic guitar in a coffee shop or on a lawn full of pie-eyed ladies is cooing in the shadow of geniuses like Jackson Browne, Ricky Lee Jones, James Taylor, Joni Mittchell, Cat Stevens, or even Ryan Adams. It’s not their fault the genre has been so well mined, it’s just a fact. All of that being said, when David Mead takes to the cozy, dimly-lit stage at the Angel, my skepticism is tempered only by Dave and Kris’s admiration for him.

Now watch as David Mead lifts the glass statue of my vapid cynicism, hurls it across 90 miles of jagged rock, and allows it to shatter into pieces so small and numerous as to be indistinguishable from the air surrounding them. For the entire length of his set, I am as captivated as I have ever been by a performance. Mead is a master songwriter, crafting everything from bittersweet ballads about looking out of windows at girls walking away to traveling songs about rambling to lovers and friends in drivers seats as the landscape of America unfurls its lovely, lonely distances. He even covers “These Days”, giving an apropos nod to the man to whom I believe Mead is the obvious heir apparent.

Moreover, Mead’s stage persona is a delight. Irreverent, erudite, commanding, humorous, and humble. Watching him in the intimate confines of the Tin Angel feels like being part of a sublime secret. I look forward to nights that will surely unfold with Mead’s music lining the walls of my house and of the mornings over coffee and new love wherein his tunes will kiss the moment with the tenderness for which it begs. I’ve got him on right now, in fact, and I can think of no better soundtrack for coming down from the chaotic hand life has dealt me in recent weeks.

Check out this video of him at the Tin Angel in 2004:

Let Us Now Praise…


Editor’s Note: Upon receiving this month’s Esquire magazine, it occurred to me that I had been unconsciously lifting the “Endorsement” tag from this great publication I respect so much. So, while imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, it can also be a harbinger of unoriginality and plagiarism. Therefore, from hence forth, I will be titling all of my endorsements with the tag “Let Us Now Praise…” I know you were all losing sleep over that one. So, on to the praise…


Little Bits of World Series Joy:

John Oates’ Rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”: Maybe it was the pre-game buzz of being on the verge of a possible Phillies championship victory. Maybe it was the post-beer buzz of a few stellar IPAs at National Mechanics Bar in Old City. Or maybe it was just the welling up of a general soft spot I’ve had for Daryl Hall’s better half ever since I interviewed him for South Jersey Magazine last summer. (Did you know he breeds Alpacas in Colorado, or that he was a fairly close acquaintance of the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson?) Regardless, there was an understated quality to Mr. Oates’ “SSB” I found severely likeable. As both an unyielding patriot (hmm…) and amateur student of professional sports, I’ve become quite familiar with this little ditty we call our National Anthem, and in doing so I have realized the most significant sin most crooners commit in singing the song is that they simply overdo it. To be sure, the “Star Spangled Banner” is not an easy tune to render. In fact, I’ve heard many musician friends of mine muse that it is “one of the hardest songs to sing” due to its wide range and awkward phrasing. In short, it’s no “Happy Birthday.” But this doesn’t have to be so problematic if only more would take a cue from Philly’s own J.O. and play it down.

Look, the lyrics don’t require all that much bravado. You’ve already got rockets with red glare, bombs bursting in the flippin’ air, and one hell of a perilous fight. You don’t need a voice competing with that imagery. Moreover, let us not forget the more tender moments of the hymn. A dawn in its earliest light. A twilight in its last moments of gleaming. A flag that is still barely there. Like the overall narrative of our country’s Revolution, “The Star Spangled Banner” is not a call to arms but instead a quiet moment of triumph, a possible hint through the haze and horrors of war that maybe, just maybe, we will prevail after all. It is in this interpretation that we will realize the song’s poetry, and it is in this discovery of our anthem’s inherent humility that we will continue to understand why it is so befitting a nation that should always be mindful of its fragile grip on the righteousness of its foundation. Thank you John.


Joe Buck: At first it was a small, innocent comment made by an acquaintance of mine. “Aw man, I hate Joe Buck.” Um…what? Then it was the dude next to me a Brentons, a semi-dirt rocker bar off 206 South in Shamong. “That asshole doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” He was referring, of course, to Joe. The final straw was a chant that spontaneously erupted at National Mechanics in Old City on Monday night somewhere between the first pitch and the first monsoon. “Fuck Joe Buck! Fuck Joe Buck! Fuck Joe Buck!” I think you know to whom they were referring.

Look everyone, stop hating on Joe. What, exactly, is the problem? I know some of you think he wanted the Phils to lose against the Dodgers in the NLCS. I know some of you think he wants us to lose now. And I know some of you think he’s just too polished and expensive-suited to be endearing to the rough-edged, sweat-panted Philadelphia sports fan sensibility. Well, get over it. I don’t really give a toss about these (quite absurd) speculations because guess what? Buck is one hell of a good sportscaster. As the son of Hall of Fame sportscaster Jack Buck, Joe has been covering baseball since 1991 when he was a play-by-play man for the then-Louisville Redbirds, a minor league affiliate of the Cardinals. He’s the thinking man’s caster, a guy who knows that sometimes what isn’t said can be just as powerful as what is. He lets the best moments just happen; and by the way, he could probably run baseball knowledge circles around those daft Philadelphia critics shouting their displeasure down Passyunk Avenue.

At Least It Wasn’t An Earthquake: Sure, it’s a weird World Series. Sure, it sucked to get rained out on Monday night. But guess what, it could have been the ’89 series, wherein play was put on hold for 10 days due to the Loma Prieta earthquake. Now that would really suck.

Watching Sports In A Bar: Typically, I shun the sports-in-bar experience. The drink are overpriced, the fans potentially obnoxious, and the food cold and mediocre. Nine times out of ten, I’ll take the couch. But I’ve watched every game of this thrilling series in some sort of watering hole, from the opening game at the Manayunk Tavern with my best pal Red Dog to the (potentially final) game tonight at National Mechanics. And I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t have it any other way. When the series is complete, I intend on composing a retrospect here of my total experience (which came to me in a feverish, collage flash of imagery last night as I was falling asleep), so I will save many of the detail until then. The bottom line is this: You will meet more characters and feel more raw energy in watching an important sporting showdown in a bar than you will at Burning Man. I’m hoping to be in the eye of the storm tonight…

Watching Sports At Home: Because there are always a few drunk assholes ready to wreck the experience.

This Guy’s Face:


Oh god...please!

Oh god...please!



I found this on the New York Times’ Web, and I think it speak for itself. Isn’t there a little of him in us all?


The Endorsement: Lady Chatterley On The Radio


Tonight I bring you the beauty of contemporary juxtaposition, a dual endorsement that marries perfectly the old and the new. First, the old…

“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically…”

I recently finished reading “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence and cannot let another moment go by without encouraging anyone who has not yet read this novel to do so. Immediately. Written by Lawrence in 1928, the book was not published in Britain until 1960 due to the swirling controversy surrounding both the language and themes expressed in its pages. The plot is simple enough: An aristocratic, intellectual (Constantine Chatterley) finds herself in a passionless (loveless?) marriage several years after her husband returns from World War I paralyzed from the waist down. In her quiet quest for wholeness, Lady Chatterley becomes involved with one of her wealthy husband’s groundskeepers and spends the rest of the novel wrestling with the principles of devotion to her husband as weighed against the pull of organic, uninhibited passion.

As I read it, I continually had to remind myself that this novel was written in 1928 and not last year, not only because it so liberally tosses about words like “fuck,” “orgasm,” “ass”, and (oh, shudder!) “cunt”, but also because its sociopolitical themes are so incredibly contemporary. It’s unfortunate so much discussion surrounding this book concerns its more salacious moments (and believe, there are plenty), because on the whole, the novel is about so much more. It is one of the most humanistic stories I have ever read because the primary question it asks over and again is this: What makes us whole? In it you will find contemplations on sex disguised as love and love disguised as sex; socialism vs. capitalism; property and wealth as religion; the virtues and damnations of solitude; and so much more.

I picked up my copy for 50 cents at a local used book sale, and while you may be tempted to think the fusty nature of its cover makes it hopelessly dated, fear not. You are in for quite a radical treat.

And now, the new…

If you have not yet picked up a copy of TV on the Radio’s newest release “Dear Science,” do so. Now. When I first started hearing about this band four years ago, I was admittedly cynical about its supposed brilliance. The ceaseless, ubiquitous implication that everyone should be listening to these guys started feeling like a mother wagging her finger because her son will not eat his peas. I almost didn’t want to like them in spite of their acclaim, but once I realized this was an absurd feeling to have I opened myself up to their influence and have not looked back since.

“Dear Science” is one of the most solid and enjoyable records I have come across in the last year. This band blends emotive lyrics and melodies with crunchy, post-industrial electronic soundscapes so seamless as to make it sublime. Have a listen for yourself and tell me what you think. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to the age in which we live, “Dear Science” is a great place to start.

\”Halfway Home\” by TV on the Radio


The Endorsement: Okkervil River

The most troubling aspect of being such a voracious fan of music is that I often fill my life with so many various (and varied) artists that becoming obsessed with one in particular is a rare occurrence. And I miss this. I miss my early teen years of listening to Led Zeppelin II so many times that the CD laser burned holes in the plastic. I miss going to the record store with only one goal in mind: collect every last album ever recorded by The Beatles. I miss trying to memorize every line to every Bob Dylan song I heard, if for no other reason than to be able to recite them at will whenever I thought it would impress a girl. I miss my obsessions.

But every once in a while the bug will bite, and I’ll feel that insatiable, crackhead desire to listen to a particular artist over and over again without cease. Iron and Wine did this to me. Wilco did this to me. My Morning Jacket did this to me. And I think Okkervil River is doing this to me right now. Walking the line between sleepy, deep-woods reflection and rollicking Americana rock, Okkervil—an Austin, TX outfit led by frontman Will Sheff—has captured my heart and mind, and I think it will be a good long while before the love affair ends. The lyrics are simultaneously introspective and self-deprecating, sad and full of joy, sweet and bitter. It’s everything I could ask for in a band and I’m happy to share a piece of them here with you.

The Endorsement: WXPN’s Jim McGuinn and’s Lauren Valley—The Thinking Man’s Traffic Report


Here’s the situation: Most radio drive-time traffic reports are about as interesting to listen to as bedroom-

88.5 XPN's Jim McGuinn, sans Lauren Valley

Jim McGuinn

set assembly instructions are interesting to read. And here’s the question: Why aren’t more of them as good as the ones done by Lauren Valley on 88.5 WXPN between the hours of five and seven o’clock? I think the answer has something to do with Jim McGuinn.


With some exceptions, I usually leave my office at South Jersey Magazine in Marlton sometime around 5:30 in the evening. When I do, the first place I turn on the radio dial is XPN; not only because I love the music the station plays, but because (believe it or not) I look forward to hearing the drive-time traffic updates given by’s Lauren Valley. On her own, XPN’s resident guide to all things highway and byway is a pleasure to hear. The soft, alto timbre of Valley’s intonations fits perfectly with the station’s hushed, high-brow aesthetic, and her reports always walk that sublime line of authority and sympathy to which all traffic reporters should aspire. She never seems to take the task too seriously (I mean come on, it is only traffic after all) but at the same time she also knows when to lend her narratives a touch of the dramatic, a dash of the commiserative; for there is nothing worse than sitting in slit-your-wrists, shotgun-to-the-mouth bumper-to-bumper congestion and hearing a traffic reporter relay the situation as though he or she could care less. When the roads are that bad, the only person from whom you can usually gain both sympathy and comfort is the traffic reporter, and you want this person to at least pretend to share in your misery. You want her, in other words, to give a shit, and Valley is a master in this department (if a word such as master can realistically be applied to someone delivering the hour’s commuter breakdown).

But Valley’s persona and delivery are only half of what makes the early evening’s commute such a breeze to handle. The other half of the equation is Jim McGuinn.

When it’s time to break for traffic, McGuinn—a first-rate record spinner in his own right—doesn’t just hand over the mic to Valley and forget about it. No. He introduces her like another song, setting the stage for her reports while freeing the on-air vibe for the infusion of her animated personality. I am continually amazed by how seamlessly entertaining I find the interaction between them to be. Usually, McGuinn will invite Valley to comment on the previous thirty minutes’ playlist or top news story, and whether he’s curious to know what she thought about a rare Monkeys vinyl he just spun or an assessment he made as to why the White Stripes can be considered the premier rock outfit of the last five years, Valley always takes the bait and runs with it. Earlier this summer (and I can’t remember why), McGuinn was talking about the art of haiku, and when Valley came on she said, “Well, Jim, I actually prepared a little haiku for you this afternoon,” the recitation of which will go down as one of the most endearing radio memories I have. Or consider that just last week I heard the two of them riff for several minutes on a bomb scare in South Philly that turned out to be nothing more than unopened boxes of hotdogs. Valley could barely contain her laughter through the broadcast, and thus I was smiling all the way home.

I was recently riding with my friend Brian as he drove north up Route 73, swerving and dodging and bobbing and weaving his blue PT Cruiser through the tight pack of crowded cars all hurrying in the same heedless direction. At one point he turned to me and said, “Ya know, I think driving is when people’s true personalities really come out. I mean, think about it. What other activity is both so purely social and yet so purely anonymous?” He was right. In driving, we are all free to interact with one another as we have always wanted to deep within the recesses of our inhibited, socialized souls. Since this is the case, shouldn’t we expect the myth makers responsible for reporting the workings of our crazy dance of tires to at least resemble actual human beings? Shouldn’t we demand at least this much?

So the next time you find yourself on the road between five and seven o’clock in the evening, tune in to XPN. Sure, the tunes will help pass the time; but the traffic reports just may save your soul.

The Endorsement: Darker My Love


I always seem to have a strange relationship with opening bands. Most of them make me feel either (a) completely disinterested (as was the case with the droning, unenthusiastic neo-country, Cowboy Junkies wannabes that opened for She & Him at the Troc in July) or (b) as though I am cheating on the musical love I paid to come see (as was the case last weekend when the California outfit Darker My Love opened for The Dandy Warhols at the TLA).

Because of the pre-show buzz and rollick that always seems to infect me whenever I go to a concert, I usually greet opening bands with a great response. If the band I am here to see loves these performers enough to take them on tour, I think, well then there must be something to dig. And usually I am correct to be so forgiving. Two years ago, Razorlight opened for Muse at the Wachovia center, and I left that show with a greater interest in and excitement for Razorlight than I did the headliners. When my sister and I went to see Rufus Wainwright at the Mann Center last summer, it was Neko Case’s brilliant opening performance that captured her soul. And last weekend, Darker My Love’s 45 minute set is what has stayed with me these past seven days.

To be sure, The Dandys were sub-par. Their performance was marred by a disproportionate ratio of their better post-pop ditties to those fuzzy, expansive shoe-gazer numbers they inexplicably love so much and that never seem to go anywhere; along with the sleepy, too-cool-for-school antics of a somewhat disinterested Courtney Taylor-Taylor who, amongst his many front-man sins poked fun at South Street several times (“It’s like a fucking mall out there. What’s that all about?”). Regardless, even had the main attraction delivered a stellar show, I still would have left with a newfound excitement for Darker My Love.

During their performance, my sister leaned in and said to me, “This band is everything Oasis still wishes they could be.” And while that may be overstating it a tad, she was right. The five-piece band delivered the kind of hard-driving, California psychedelia with Brit-pop twists for which American radio is in sore need right now. (See: “Summer Is Here”, a single that could have gotten phenomenal play during this past season of heat had it ever been given a chance.) The on-stage imagery—floating amebas, cellular blobs, and trippy swirls of god-knows-what projected on a large screen behind them—served to accent the influences even more, while the juxtaposition of front men Tim Presley (vocal and guitar) and Rob Barbato (vocal and bass) illustrated the wonderful aesthetic dichotomy present in some of America’s most exciting bands. Stage-left, Presley wore tight slacks and a shirt buttoned all the way to the neck, rocking a nostalgic British mop-top reminiscent of Roger Daltry circa 1965. All the while, Barbato’s lumberjack beard and layers of flannel grounded the visual experience in a cozy Northern Oregon woodsiness. They were a pleasure to hear and see.

It’s silly to talk about the salvation of rock and roll these days, because rock and roll for rock and roll’s sake is nothing worth fighting for. The evolution of pop music is as ceaseless and inevitable as the rotation of the Earth, a fact for which I am glad. I’m tired of making the case—and even more tired of hearing it made to me—that there are certain bands out there (are you listening Kings of Leon?) who subscribe to some sort of rock and roll purism that’s supposed to somehow be more nobel and righteous than the records produced by those who have no interest in recreating a sound Credence Clearwater Revival already mined 35 years ago. For example, as perhaps the greatest band of the last decade, Radiohead has not shown any need to partake in this silly nostalgia, instead choosing to let rock music evolve; to usher in a new way of making music that is both visceral and progressive at the same time.

Darker My Love seems to understand this principal (less in the way Radiohead does and more in the way, say, The Hold Steady does) and in doing so they may actually save rock and roll. Oh shit. Did I just say that? All of this is to say: give them a listen.