SETLIST: Sigur Ros @ MSG 3/25/2013
Ernest Cline's 2012 debut novel Ready Player One is an ode to the '80s and as someone who knows people who grew up in the '80s, I thoroughly enjoyed the weird combination of futuristic plotting mixed with nostalgia for the time in which fictional virtual reality gamemaker James Halliday (and the author) grew up. The basic story is this -- the year is 2044 and the world is pretty much a wasteland. We've run out of oil as a planet and we're overpopulated and only the very rich can afford anything resembling the life we lead today. The rest of the country live in desperate straits off the government's meager dole (because there are not nearly enough jobs for everyone) in mega trailer parks near formerly midsized cities where the trailers are stacked on top of each other up to a dozen levels high. This was actually a feature in the plot of Cory Doctorow's novel from a few years ago Makers, and Doctorow is given a reverent reference in this story so I wonder if it was a cribbed idea, but it's a bleak future is what I'm saying. The only relief, and most of the world's only interest, is an Internet "game" called OASIS, which is like Worlds of Warcraft or SIMS on steroids, a fully immersive virtual reality world in which your avatar enjoys all the things that he can't in the real world -- like movies and TV shows and parties and sex -- well, at least if you can afford to travel around the OASIS, which costs OASIS dollars and most of those dollars can't be earned until you power up your avatar levels through missions, which takes U.S. dollars to pay for initially. And that brings us to Wade, a just turned 18-year-old high school kid in Oklahoma City living in a trailer with his aunt and about a dozen others, who has basically lived the past 5 years in the OASIS searching for the "Easter Egg" that Halliday left behind after his death -- the first person to find this Egg will get his full multi-billion-dollar inheritence and also have the ultimate control of the OASIS. Sadly, Wade is dead broke and can't leave the "planet" where his (virtual) high school resides so he can't go on missions searching for the Egg. Luckily, though, he has no life, so he spends all his time researching the life and loves of James Halliday -- which include such vintage '80s things like WarGames and Ferris Bueller and Family Ties and Silver Spoons and Atari -- tons of Atari games and references -- and even the first computer I ever owned, a TRS-80, which we lovingly called the Trash-80. Damn I'm old. Anyway, that's the basic plot of the story and it's dense, filled with not only these references but also a wealth of information on this virtual world, told in Wade's point of view, and it's really quite fascinating. I'm not exactly a video game person -- the last game I played with any regularity was Madden on my PlayStation 2 -- and I never got into any fake virtual world or massively multiplayer game, but it was still utterly fascinating how well the author creates this world and how easily you begin to identify with both Wade and his avatar Parzival (long story). And the story of how he becomes the first to have any kind of breakthrough in the 5-year-old quest by the entire world for Halliday's will of riches.
I think the back cover calls the novel "Willy Wonka meets the Matrix" and I guess there's a little Wonka in it and a lot of the Matrix, but there's so much more. I mean, hell, there's an actual virtual scene from WarGames -- one of the first movies I ever remember truly loving -- which was beyond cool to recognize. If you're not from the '80s, you might not appreciate or even understand half the references, particularly to all the old video games we used to play (Adventure, anyone?) Or if you've never played a video game you're probably not going to love it either. But if either of those things peak your interest (and again, I haven't been a big video game nerd for like 2 decades), you'll love this novel. It's very well written for what it is and it's a really easy read -- I flew through it. There is some really serious action and drama and great battle scenes throughout, a love story that surprisingly works, and even bits of comedy that leaven an otherwise fairly serious quest for real, and virtual, survival. I do recommend highly. Especially since it's already been optioned by a movie company. The budget on this one is going to have to be huge...
Joyce Manor are a punk band from Torrance, CA, who have released 2 albums in their short history, 2011's self-titled debut and 2012's Of All the Things I Will Soon Grow Tired. Both albums are filled with 2-minute-and-under blasts of punk, veering into hardcore and sometimes into pop, as the tracks are littered with hooks and generally about the banalities of life ("Constant Headache", "Leather Jacket", "Comfortable Clothes"). And they are awesome. I saw Joyce Manor live in Asbury Park, NJ, a few weeks ago -- their first time in NJ ever, they said -- when the young foursome were opening for Desaparecidos. Many in the crowd had heard of them before and maybe even came to the show just to see them, as a mosh pit formed for the opening act and people were singing along. I was pretty taken with the stage presence and energy of the band (and the crowd), even as I didn't know the songs. I've seen them twice since then opening for Desaparecidos and by the final time, I was a definite fan. I downloaded both their albums and kind of went crazy for them, for their inspired brand of throwback punk and the energetic phrasing and full-on hooks, particularly in standout songs "Derailed", "Beach Community" and the aforementioned "Constant Headache." I think their debut album is decidedly superior to their follow-up but in the concerts they played several "new" tracks that seemed pretty great so I can't wait to hear more from them. Anyway, if you're like me and always searching for new music from new bands that can inspire you, check out the boys from Joyce Manor. They fucking bring it. Mosh pit and all.
Conor Oberst's hardcore band Desaparecidos concluded a brief tour of the Eastern US with a 2-night sojourn at Webster Hall in Manhattan and I got to see both shows. I'd also seen the band in Asbury Park's famed Stone Pony a couple weeks earlier but unfortunately missed them in Philadelphia when I somehow lost the tickets between the car and the venue somewhere on the trash-filled streets of that filthy town and instead drowned my sorrows in many many beers and way too late a night with my friend. But that speedbump aside, I did get to see Conor and his mates play three times the last two weeks when I thought I'd never ever get the chance to see them live -- since they hadn't released a single between 2002 and last August and hadn't toured since 2003. Hell, they weren't so much of a band as a one-off punk side project by Bright Eyes' Oberst, but that one-off album -- "Read Music - Speak Spanish" -- was so deliciously beautiful that I have been wanting to see them live ever since and I'm finally sated. Again, sorry it's been so long since I've posted but I've been traveling nonstop for work and going to class and having a crazy busy life that only allowed me free time enough to see Conor and his band and be wonderfully happy again.
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.