15 July 2014

Readercon XXV

Sorry with the Roman numerals. Still have Chicago XXXVI on the brain. (Shut up!)

So Readercon 25 happened!  And for once, I'm not going to wait months to blog about it.  Just gonna dump it all out of my head in one burst.  (It's actually part of a bigger plan to not overthink my blog posts so I put out more of them.)

Anywho....

1
Last year, I complained about the hotel renovations and how they hampered people from just running into each other and chatting.  But I didn't realize how much I missed that until this year when I really got it all back!  And so my con was filled with old friends, people I met again for the first time (yes, you read that right), and new people I'd never met before!

1a
I liked the lobby/restaurant renovation with the expanded seating that ensured I never had to wait to get a table for breakfast.  The jacked-up prices of the appetizer menu?  Not so much.  I could almost live with what they charged for calamari, but the $12 cheeseburger was not a $12 cheeseburger.  Plus, how does any bar in the Boston area stop serving Smithwick's?  I'll say this for the service, though: my experience is that it wasn't one scintilla worse than previous years.

2
The program highlight for me was the workshop "From Page to Stage: Adapting Your Work for an Audience" by C.S.E. Cooney, Amal El-Mohtar, and Caitlyn Paxson. As wonderful as Readercon programming has been over the five years I've attended, there are a select few things that have stuck with me--this is the newest.  After some exercises, we were invited to read a paragraph or so of something we brought.  I brought the story I'd already recorded for Lakeside Circus, "Life After Wartime".  I wish I'd waited until after this workshop.  I surprised myself with how differently I read! It's been suggested that I record it again, but I don't want to be one of those people who goes back and retcons their own work. You know the type.

3
But the con highlight for me was getting a few minutes alone at a table with Mary Rickert and Ellen Datlow, who gave me advice as to the shelf life of mentioning my old McSweeney's Internet Tendency piece. (Apparently, the answer is forever... and that I should lead with it!). Close second: Dancing in a circle of the best and brightest in today's award-winning fantasy and sci-fi literature as a bad DJ spun '80s tunes (from the '90s).

4
The lack of physical space of my home, not to mention my reading backlog, forces me to make choices about what books I get at cons. This year's purchases/gifts/swag...


So who's gonna be at WFC next year?  At Readercon next year?  At WFC 2015 (which is going to be near-ish to me)?

10 July 2014

Quickie Review: NOW: CHICAGO XXXVI

Now: Chicago XXXVI is probably as cohesive as you can expect an album recorded piecemeal on the road in hotel rooms and backstage green rooms can be. It's a musical experiment with interesting results. Ultimately, it's the kind of album that happens when you let the members of the band be themselves, instead of playing assigned roles. Cool things happen when you don't force Jason Scheff to sing like Peter Cetera, or Lou Pardini like Bill Champlin. Or when Keith Howland and Tris Imboden don't have to play like Terry Kath and Danny Seraphine.


They've actually tried the "be yourself" approach in fits and starts over the decades since the original lineup suffered the loss of guitarist Terry Kath. In that way, this record reminds me a lot of Hot Streets and Chicago 13--and no, that's not a slam!! Sure, if you bought those albums in the late '70s expecting Terry Kath, then Donnie Dacus was inevitably going to disappoint you. But if you listened with your nostalgia-brain instead of your ears, you wouldn't have heard the (okay fine, the admittedly few) hidden gems in those albums.  Hey, I get it. I wanted to shout, "Blasphemer!" the first time I heard "Look Away" done without Bill Champlin, but I learned to live with it, but I didn't want to quickly came around.

You can read the historical context of those two albums elsewhere. Suffice it to say that, better or worse, those albums were where Chicago was in the "Now" 1978 and 1979. A new guitarist and a different producer with different musical backgrounds and styles that had to be absorbed by the band. Problem was, they conflated their "Now" with whatever they hoped might keep them relevant and on the radio--which weren't necessarily the same thing. But who could blame them?

The difference with Now: Chicago XXXVI is that it doesn't feel like Chicago is cramming everyone's style into a mold using a screwdriver and a plumber's helper. Of course, it helps that the individual band members (along with Hank Linderman) were "supervising producers" for different tracks--guys with, collectively (especially with the two most recent additions Lou Pardini and Walfredo Reyes, Jr.), at least as much experience in the recording industry now as Phil Ramone had in '78 and '79. But this time, the album clearly embraces everyone in the band, and you can hear the difference. It end product really sounds like work from the sort of "musical collective" Chicago always touted themselves as being.

Instead of simultaneously trying to please the jazz-rock/oldies crowd while playing disco-, synth-, or country-pop, or whatever the hell "the kids" are into this decade, you're going to hear musicians show you decades of writing and playing chops. And so you'll recognize some of the old Chicago horn vocabulary, but you'll hear new phrasings, too. You'll be reminded of those old segues in non-4/4 time signatures and maybe a bit of a multi-part suite, but no 14-minute jazz/rock jams (although I'd buy a whole Chicago album of just that). You'll hear a ballad, but no "You're the Inspiration" knock-offs. You'll hear different musical styles blended together, from hard rock to bossa, and a couple of spots with a tasteful hint of dubstep. Because a lot has gone on in music between 1969 and 2014, and they know all about it.

What you definitely won't hear is the ghost of Terry Kath or the ghosts of "...the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, and Today".  You will hear guys who lived and learned their way through all of that, musically, and they're going to tell you all about it.

You know, I almost wish they put the live version of their classic "Introduction" (a bonus download track) at the front of the album. It would've been as appropriate a setup for this album as it was for Chicago Transit Authority.  Because I was definitely put through the changes. Might've cared more for some than others, but the more I listen, the more I don't feel this is an album of old guys out to show you young tone-deaf idiots with your Garage Band app how it's really done. Or, if that is the intention, that's just not my takeaway. The songs do strike me different. I do feel moved.

Okay, so maybe this review wasn't so quick. Sorry.  Might as well go song by song at this point...



09 July 2014

Today: New Pub at LAKESIDE CIRCUS. Tomorrow: Readercon!

A flash piece o' mine called "Life After Wartime" dropped today over at Lakeside Circus!

"Bu-bu-but... I like my stories read to me out loud," you say.  That's cool, because you can have that, too!

And, if you want to tell me to my face what you think about this story, I'll be at Readercon tomorrow night through Sunday.  Let's hang out!