About 20 years ago, I had a coworker that I really liked (at a job that, looking back, I actually sort of liked). One day we were engaged in what I feAbout 20 years ago, I had a coworker that I really liked (at a job that, looking back, I actually sort of liked). One day we were engaged in what I felt was a particularly smart round of repartee, and were holding court in front of some of our regular customers when one of the customers, a teenage girl, asked my coworker if he always spoke in Mallrats quotes. Apparently, his side of the conversation we were having consisted solely of quotes - from a then-not-quite-as-cult-as-now Kevin Smith movie called Mallrats. The betrayal I felt was astounding. I could not believe a person would sublet his wit and opinions to a set of co-opted pop culture references. (I also felt strange to have had it happen around me without my being aware of it.)
About 10 years ago, I had a coworker that I really liked (at a job that, looking back, was good at the end but a total waste of time). And he and I were engaged at what was definitely smart repartee, when he looked at me funny and paused. And then asked me what the last thing I said was "from." It had happened again, with the scenario tweaked this time. But results were the same. Perhaps having some experience with this unpleasant turn, I wasn't betrayed this time around. But I felt conspicuous and awkward. The best way I can explain it is as if he and I had been speaking to each other across different dimensions that seemed to overlap, but didn't. One in which everyone was experiencing a totally individualized, separate reality from everyone else but didn't realize it. Everyone else thought everybody was on the same page, incredibly, either edited out or oblivious to the cues that others were constantly giving off that we weren't.
Which reminds me of another, perhaps better story, "The Prince of Gosplan" by Viktor Pelevin (or "Is That You?" - an episode of Adventure Time). But, that's besides the point.
Ready Player One: A dumb but damn fun book. Combining the best parts of The Hunger Games* with the part in Harry Potter where they're hunting down horcruxes (horcruces?), with liberal doses of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and paranoid, dystopia genre pieces. Will make a great movie. Something for everyone. For me it was the They Might Be Giants reference afforded equal weight against a Star Wars reference. And Ultra Man and Voltron appearing on opposite sides of a space operatic melee of multiversal proportions.
But just as Ready Player One has something to service anyone's specialized geek g-spot, it has many more oversaturated references than anyone can really handle. How many Star Wars references are needed?** Yes, it's fun coming across the Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones references. And knowing the New Order remix well, etc. But you get two or three per page in spots and it gets overwhelming. I initially thought this was going to be the point, from the many, rapid-fire footnotes n the introductory chapter - suggesting a flip-back-and-forth tour de force like Pale Fire or Infinite Jest (albeit significantly lower brow).
And Ready Player One is not good by non-young adult fiction standards; it is not good from a literary standpoint. This is the millennials' greatest gift (and also their handicapping limitation): Their generation tends to produce incredibly gifted scenario writers*** but is manufactured like light consumer goods. Nothing is meant to stand the test of time, nothing is artistic or literary. They/we have Joss Whedon, but too few Woody Allens.
They/we also have too much pessimism. I suppose all dystopian authors are accused of pessimism. (I doubt Kafka and Bulgakov and Dick and Lem were great at parties, themselves.) But, seriously? To think the height of human culture has already come and gone, and that it was the pop culture of the 1980s? Seriously?!
Look, the 80s are one of those arresting decades, much like the 50s or 20s. They maintain a permanent allure and we enjoy synth pop and new appropriations of art deco and juvenile delinquency. But they were not that great to live through. Admittedly, I was a child. But they were not the best of times. Read anything written in that decade. Listen to anything recorded in that decade. It was fear or its opposite number: blind, deliberate oblivion. People in the 80s were desperate to get away from it as soon as possible and acted as such. That's why everything seemed so urgent: People were literally in a hurry to get to the next stage in societal progress.****
I get the hypocrisy in my sitting here, criticizing Ready Player One for its negative tone when I am an insufferably critical person myself (especially in reviews). I only say these things because they have to be said. It would be far easier for me to fill up this window with platitudes about how much I loved Ready Player One or how great Ready Player One is. That's pretty much what the thousands of reviews already do. No. Someone needs to discuss the book's problems and call it what it is: What a Goodreads user I follow used to call "Straight to the Hips Fiction." Dumb but damn fun. It's necessary to criticize Ready Player One because it's so easy to fall in love with it.
I did love this book. And I hated to see it end. And I look forward to the movie and will see it opening weekend, most likely. You should read this book, too. But you should be forewarned not to expect it to be much from a literary standpoint. Just strap in for dumb fun and enjoy the ride.
*Though it pains me to say such a thing, there was something alluring about The Hunger Games, but luckily there was Battle Royale for that. **The answer, whatever it may be, is definitely not in the dozens, as this book has. ***There is no term for "show-runner" in earlier installments of the language. It entered the public vocabulary recently, to explain how serendipitous story arcs in base entertainment are maintained across extreme amounts of time (see: Breaking Bad, Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, etc.). ****It's a work in progress....more
I do not dispute the assertion made somewhere early in Hit Hard that Aerosmith is "America's number one rock and roll band." They are far from being AI do not dispute the assertion made somewhere early in Hit Hard that Aerosmith is "America's number one rock and roll band." They are far from being America's best band, did not produce anything important, nor did they have any integrity to speak of. However, they were constant. Aerosmith provided power anthems and jock jams for multiple generations - on the strength of material that was perennially new (one generation had "Dream On," another "Angel," and another "Cryin'" (and so on, I expect)). While the other big names in classic rock existed only in the form of old hits from yesteryear, on constant heavy rotation on oldies stations for thirty solid years (see: Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Lynyrd Skynyrd), Aerosmith was tangible: They were on (contemporary) FM radio, on MTV, on the covers of magazines, had t-shirts at the mall... Hell, you could go see them on tour or on Saturday Night Live. And it was always new* music - not some nostalgic recap of 70s glory days. And they played consistently priapic, bone-headed blues rock. Everyone - from the most jaded punk rocker or hipster to the lamest conservative baby boomer - has a soft spot for good old fashioned, bone-headed blues rock with a ghoulish-yet-flamboyant frontman and a gaggle of ugly dudes in clown clothes playing a bunch of fucking guitar solos. It's when we let our defenses down for a brief moment and settle into some primordial resting state. Or something.
I've never thought much about Aerosmith though, despite the fact they are one of my most precious guilty pleasures. The constancy that defines them makes them also somewhat invisible - at least as far as people go. I was aware of Joey Kramer, though. He and Tom Hamilton (the tall, pleasant looking bass player) seemed nice. Like the Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork to Steven Tyler's and Joe Perry's Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones. I was pretty interested, from the get-go, in what this unassuming, cheerful-looking man would have to say about his life in a vapid, libidinous, arena rock circus show. I know why it was hard for Mike and Peter to be Monkees (it wasn't living in the shadow of Davy and Mickey - Peter and Mike were marginally creative people and just hip enough to detest the stink of what that manufactured "band" said about the state of art in America). What must one of the "nice ones" in this cultural travesty have to say? Come on, you've got to be interested too.
It turns out: not much. I'm not certain Joey Kramer even goes on record as saying he likes Aerosmith's music (though he must). I'm not sure Joey Kramer actually knows how to explain what he likes about music. This isn't a bad thing. For a lot of people (see: a lot of Aerosmith fans), music isn't something to be enthusiastic about or exult in. For them, music is just something that's always around, like scenery. And while it's to be appreciated, it is not necessarily worth close investigation. I think Joey Kramer is probably one of those people. Again, it isn't a bad thing. It's one of humanity's common permutations. I say all this because Joey Kramer - like me - probably hasn't done a lot of active thinking about Aerosmith himself. I feel like he just kind of went along with it and had fun. After all, it scored him tons of drugs and sexual gratification and he owns multiple Italian sports cars.
So this book isn't really about Aerosmith. After I got past that little expectational setback, I found I really didn't mind letting Joey Kramer unpack all his psychological baggage on me. (That's what this book is actually about: Joey Kramer's psychological baggage. Joey had a mean dad and a terrible mother. He was a poor student and fucked around a LOT. Not cool fuck around, though. Like, playing in cover bands and getting hepatitis because you're a fuckup who lives in squalor fuck around. He was in a series of abusive relationships. And he had to learn about them in order to resolve them. And now he's discovered inner peace and wants to tell you about it.)**
I mean, why not hear Joey Kramer out? He's the nice one, for God's sake! You've spent your whole post-pubscent life listening to Aerosmith. You can repay the man this small courtesy. No, the book is not what you thought it would be about - and it's badly (well, maybe not badly - more like very modestly and simply) written. But you can take two or three evenings out of your busy life to hear Joey Kramer out. That's all I'm saying.
...Okay, that might not have been the most rousing recommendation. And it is, after all, very badly (no, modestly) written. And it isn't any more interesting than hearing your overweight, born-again Christian cousin tell his story about what changed his life. But let's say you've already got the book. Or see it for a dollar somewhere. Go ahead and read it. What'll it hurt? Again, don't you sort of owe the drummer from Aerosmith a few hours of your time?
* Note I do not say "original" or "innovative" or even "topical." I say "new." **Oops, I spoiled it....more
This is surprisingly more coherent than you'd think.
The science is undoubtedly questionable (even if one adjusts for the decade it was written (the 1This is surprisingly more coherent than you'd think.
The science is undoubtedly questionable (even if one adjusts for the decade it was written (the 1980s)), but the author obfuscates heroically. The pseudo-science/mumbo jumbo he proffers as his basis for belief in magic withstands the casual scrutiny of a non-scientist, at least. I know it's wrong, but I can't tell you why. And that's the mark of good work in this field.
On a personal note, I was disappointed that the author discounts the reliability of Rosecrucian texts. Burying the decapitated head of a suicide - along with some black beans and then arranging for a peasant girl to shell the beans - is more practical for me than practicing focusing my attention on a blank wall, while imagining a cloud 30 times. I guess I should have expected that nothing in this life comes easy....more
The author's singular obsession with mushrooms probably threw up a barrier he couldn't get over to discussSomeone get Earl Lee some mushrooms. Please!
The author's singular obsession with mushrooms probably threw up a barrier he couldn't get over to discuss the stated purpose of the book: sacred foods and the cults of the dead. I have the utmost confidence in the subject itself. There's no doubt psychoactive/psychedelic plants play a part in religious practices. Picture a shaman in your mind: You probably imagine religious rites involving peyote, alcohol, or something smoky in a sweat lodge. And you can reimagine the shaman in different parts of the world easily enough. Central America, India, Africa. Considering the ancient and classical (and even medieval) Mediterranean world was as primitive at one time as the pre-Columbian American Indians, it would be arrogant on our part to think classical Egyptians, Greeks, Semites, and early Christians didn't go through the same phase.
The Catholic Church's medieval obsession with holy relics says SOMETHING about how earlier Christians held (at least some of) the dead in supernatural awe. It isn't even an outrageous assumption that bodily relics could constitute some form of "sacred food" (as in the example of water used to wash the corpse of a saint being used to dilute wine at a certain convent).
However, the insinuation that EVERYTHING - like, IN THE WORLD, MAN - is a thinly veiled reference to psychedelic mushrooms stretches credibility past it's breaking point. I do not doubt certain conditions led to the growth of ergot, mold, and fungus on human bodies or that someone discovering the same might pop it in his mouth to test it out ( humans do these things). But I cannot believe the practices of human burial around the eastern rim of the Mediterranean were based on creating this environment and cultivating hallucinogens. I also question how widespread the practice of spiking alcohol with decaying human remains may have been - I seriously doubt it was as everyday and mainstream as the author suggests. Again, I'm not saying these things didn't happen; I just doubt they happened at the rate suggested by the author.
And finally, Lee sees mushrooms in everything. He sees them in cave art and coinage and even Thor's hammer. Mushroom-headed people in 30,000 year old cave paintings make sense only if you allow for deer and buffalo apparently made out of taffy (a better explanation is the stylistical sensibilities of Stone Age art). The stylized Mjölnir worn as a pendant does look a little like an upside-down mushroom - but it also looks like an upside-down hammer... or an anchor (or the swinging blade from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" or the inverted shape of Boba Fett's visor). (My theory? The Mjölnir pendant actually represents Mjölnir, even if crudely.) Why did the author neglect to tie in the Smurf village and the back cover of Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes? They depict mushrooms; surely they're in on the arcane knowledge of the cult.
Sheesh. Bad scholarship, faulty logic. This is a subject that could benefit from academic study but the author instead gives us something like Chariots of the Gods....more