The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein [1964]

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“Once there was a tree…. and she loved a little boy. And everyday the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide-and-go-seek. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree…. very much. And the tree was happy.”


Joe’s Rating: 5/5 (“Well, it’s perfect to me.”)


The Giving Tree is as inextricably bound to the modern American’s childhood and early education as moths are to the light, and within its economically written lines are ideas that speak volumes. In this short picture book, Silverstein depicts altruism pervading and prevailing in a world of selfishness, teaching us the intrinsic values and rewards of unconditional generosity and compassion. He does this while evoking images of the halcyon days of childhood juxtaposed by a mortifying portrait of the eventuality of old age and decrepitude. It is a harrowing reminder of the eventual loss of those material things around us as much as it is a tonic for those who have ever given to others continuously only for their generosity to go unacknowledged. For many of us who enjoyed this bittersweet book as children, it is also a source of warm and pleasant feelings of nostalgia.

A young boy grows up spending countless days playing with the Giving Tree, adorning himself with crowns made from her leaves, swinging from her branches like a free-spirited simian, subsisting on her apples, basking in the shade she creates and loving her. As he grows older, the boy unabashedly requests the assistance of the ever-reliable Giving Tree time and time again. He bobs in and out of this tree’s life, returning only when in need of something, which deeply saddens the tree, his old friend who wants to return to the idyllic days of their past. In one sense, the boy is self-centered, but at the same time he is going through the motions of life, acting out of impulse and necessity just like many of us are; he is growing up. The Giving Tree allows her apples to be ripped from her limbs for the sake of the boy’s hedonistic self-indulgence, but at the same time the boy is naturally experiencing a lust for life at this stage in his life, seeking thrill, excitement and adventure. She offers her branches to be chopped off for the boy’s own personal and selfish use, but it is so he can eventually use them for unselfish purposes; he is merely trying to build a house in which he can eventually raise a family. She permits her trunk to be hewn so it can be fashioned into a boat for the boy’s personal exploration and excursion, but the boy is really just looking for an escape from a world he discovers to be filled with despondency. Eventually, all that remains of the Giving Tree is her stump. When the boy grows old, becoming nothing but a shadow of his former self, she offers it to the boy despite it being all that she has left, and it is at this point in the story and his life that he realizes he does not need much. She gives him a place to rest his weary body at the conclusion of the story and his arduous journey of a life, and they are finally happy.

The tale poses to me the following question: in a world of transience that often lacks generosity, sensitivity and an awareness of the extent to which people are willing to bend over backwards for us, one where we prioritize action for personal gain and are all going to die and rot away only to be eventually forgotten, what do we have to offer its inhabitants?

We, like the Giving Tree, are often not immediately recognized (if at all) for the good deeds that we do, making many of us feel worthless—and even repulsive—to those who surround us, but the reality is that we are remembered by those whom we helped and make some shred of material difference to them in various ways; just because our deeds are not always readily noticed by those around us does not necessarily mean that our lives are devoid of success or value.

Determining one’s self-worth seems to boil down to self-efficacy, the feeling that you have the ability to create a desired outcome for yourself. It is an empowering quality to possess in a world where its forces are acting inexorably upon your being, making you feel completely out of control at times. The world often seems to lack a moral compass; sadness often seems to afflict the most generous of people, while happiness often seems to afflict the most selfish of people, but helping others instills within us a sense of control and significance in this hectic and colossal world. Giving to others gives us a feeling of accomplishment; it makes us feel like we are working to rectify the damage done to people and change their lives for the better. Knowing that you were able to make a positive difference in somebody’s life at some point makes you feel helpful; it gives you substance and buoyancy—it makes you feel alive, much like the personified tree who is the namesake of this story.

We are all reservoirs of untapped resources and potential. We all possess something that others do not possess, and we all know things that others do not know. At the end of the day, you have the people who love and care about you, and if those people are all gone, you will always have every skill you have developed up to this point in your life and others with whom to share those skills. What do you have to offer the world: friendship, kindness, compassion, knowledge, a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on, or something else? And how could we ever forget those who have helpednurtured and loved us?

I read this book for the umpteenth time tonight, but this time around, I cried to myself. Then, when all of my tears dried up, I went to my mother, gave her a big hug and a kiss, told her how much I loved her and thanked her for everything she has ever done for me, because as riled up as I get about all of the selfish people in the world and the terrible things that they do, I am—in reality—just as self-centered as anybody else; I often become so engrossed in my own life that I forget about all of the generous things that great people, like my parents, have done for me just so that I could be happy.

“’Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.’ And the boy did. And the tree was happy.”

You can view a touching animation of The Giving Tree narrated by Shel Silverstein below:


-J.S.T.

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The Infamous by Mobb Deep [1995; Loud Records]

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You can view my Mobb Deep listening stats here.

My 5 Favorite Tracks:

  1. “Right Back At You”
  2. “Up North Trip”
  3. “Eye For A Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)”
  4. “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)”
  5. “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)”

Joe’s Rating: 5/5 (“Well, it’s perfect to me.”)


“And it’s the motherfuckin’ start of the ending . . . “

It might be my favorite hip-hop album. It might even be my favorite album ever.

I was introduced to Mobb Deep’s The Infamous back in high school. I’ve been listening to it consistently since then. It’s more than just great music though. I like to think that my taste in certain things—like literature, music or film—is part of what makes me an interesting person; I feel that its place as one of my all-time favorite albums helps to define who I am. I’ll never forget the times I spent with my best friends from high school, rapping verses from the album with them, and I certainly haven’t forgotten the time I spent rapping its verses earlier today while driving home.

It’s been 20 years since the release of the album, but it remains as integral as ever to hip-hop and its history.


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A young Prodigy (left) and Havoc (right), long-time friends, years before the release of The Infamous


One of the most astonishing aspects of the album is its maturity. The hip-hop duo out of Queensbridge, New York recorded this album in their late-teens. Given their age at the time of the album’s release, one might suspect it was their first studio album, but it was actually their second. An eerie darkness collides with jazzy samples and the crackle of vinyl to create hard-hitting and spine-chilling beats, over which Prodigy and Havoc relay to us a tough life of being raised on the streets of grimy and industrial New York, being surrounded by and immersed in poverty, drugs, gangs, violence, police corruption, and more.


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Prodigy (bottom left), Havoc (top), Nas (bottom), and Raekwon the Chef (right)


The album contains many famous and well-implemented features from influential New York hip-hop artists. Big Noyd establishes himself as a more than capable emcee with his verses on The Infamous, and he makes multiple appearances on the album, as he’s featured on the tracks “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)”, “Right Back At You”, and “Party Over”. He’s also the focus of “(The Grave Prelude)”, a gloomy prelude to “Cradle to the Grave” where he is found dead by his good friends amongst screams of disbelief and distress. Raekwon the Chef makes two appearances on the album, appearing on “Right Back At You” alongside Big Noyd and fellow Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah, and on the track “Eye for a Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)”, which also features legendary Brooklyn emcee Nas. The great Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest also makes an appearance on the album on the track “Drink Away the Pain (Situations)”.

“I think the whole world’s going insane
I fill my brain with the Henny, and drink away the pain
I think the whole world’s lost its brain
I sip away on the liquor, and drink away the pain . . . “

A funny side story about Q-Tip’s feature on “Drink Away the Pain (Situations)” from a great article posted by Complex Magazine: Q-Tip produced the track, so he was also able to get a vocal feature on it. He’s not a big drinker at all, but here he is featured on this track about alcohol anyway. To the chagrin of Prodigy and Havoc, he starts rapping about Tommy Hilfiger and clothes. Due to the approval of Q-Tip’s verse from others though, in addition to Q-Tip’s firm idea of how he wanted this song done (he was a big budgetary influence on the album), his verse ended up growing on them and they stuck with it.

“It had me stressin’ little somethin’, had my heart rapidly pumping
Niggas started cutting behind the bushes ducking
My ears rung, I punch a clip into the guns
Got grazed in the arm, one slug hit my son
He was bleedin’ from the head, I couldn’t believe it
We was defeated, if it was a case I couldn’t beat it
Felt like cryin’, the temperature’s risin’,
I saw my man helpless, damn near on the verge of dyin’
So to P I passed the iron . . . “

It’s on this album that Prodigy and Havoc show how talented they are at storytelling, painting vivid pictures of the scenes they are describing, and they take a conversational approach to their delivery. A mix of inner-city East Coast slang and uncomplicated yet compelling language makes it seem like you are sitting down with them and they are recounting to you the events that have past which have left an indelible impact on their lives.

“Lord forgive me the Hennessy got me not knowing how to act
I’m falling and I can’t turn back . . . “

They are well aware of the ramifications of the destructive lifestyle that they partake in, but they didn’t choose it; they were born into it. They derive some pleasure from drinking and doing drugs, as well as from robbing, extorting, and hurting people who they feel need to experience pain, but they are aware that this pleasure is transitory, short-lived and not conducive to living an absolutely moral life. More importantly, they understand that the pleasure that they get from doing these things can be misguiding and leads many down a path of corruption.

“Years ago when we was younger seemed the hood took us under very deep . . . “

Their lifestyle is a result of their circumstances. When you grow up surrounded by friends and acquaintances who are associated with crime, it’s easy to acquiesce to peer pressure. When people in your neighborhood who are dear to you are getting robbed, assaulted and killed, it’s easy to condone violence—in self-defense or vengeance—and carry weapons on you; it’s even practical.

“‘Cause having cash is highly addictive
Especially when you’re used to having money to live with
I thought, step back, look at my life as a whole
Ain’t no love, it seems the devil done stole my soul . . . “

Being born into this squalor, they turn to a life of crime as a means of getting by and living comfortably. They understand that money is material as well as insubstantial and that the ways in which they acquire it are wrong, but regardless they enjoy getting it; it’s the life to which they have grown accustomed. The reality, given their socioeconomic status, is that they are in desperate need of money, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to ensure their survival in the hostile environment that they live in.

“Survival of the fit, only the strong survive . . . “


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“Sometimes I wish I had three different faces
I’m going to court for three cases in three places
One in Queens, Manhattan, one in Brooklyn
The way things is lookin’ I’mma see central bookings . . .”

But they emphasize that a life of crime does not come without consequence. In addition to the charges that they face, they also experience added stress as the result of the potential of being locked up for a very long time or even murdered.

“Then I pause . . . and ask God why
Did he put me on this Earth just so I could die
I sit back and build on all the things I did wrong
Why I’m still breathing, and all my friends gone . . . “

Life in a neighborhood like the one that the duo grew up in can take a psychological toll on a person. Prodigy and Havoc describe Queensbridge, their home, to us almost as if it’s a battlefield deeply entrenched in a perpetual war. Can one walk down their own block in comfort without having to look over their shoulder? Is everyone in their neighborhood destined to experience extreme pain? Reminiscing on all of the horrible things you’ve done to people to make ends meet can be haunting and lead to self-deprecation. Why must the good suffer while the bad live to see another day?

“Don’t even need a degree to earn a six-digit figure
I get mines slinging on the corner with my niggas
Pulling the trigger when the drama appears
‘Cause a nigga’s worst enemy is fear . . . “

For many people living in impoverished neighborhoods, school is not an option mainly due to some sort of deficiency, including but not limited to: a lack of time, money, motivation, and/or a good role model. For those without good role models, they often turn to their friends for support and guidance, but when those friends are involved with crime, it becomes easy to become involved with it yourself. When constantly faced by the adversity present in neighborhoods like these, one cannot show external fear, which denotes weakness to many. In a violent neighborhood, those who display any sort of weakness will be the first to go. Prodigy and Havoc make that clear to us.

“But wilding ain’t the way to be living
You’re only gonna end up bloody on a floor shivering
Or locked up, caught inside the beast . . . “

But the life of crime will lead you straight into trouble. It’s not the way anybody should have to live.

“Pick up the handle and cock back the potion
Cock the shit back in a calm-like motion
No signs of anger or fear, ’cause you the one in danger
Never share your plans with a stranger . . . “

In the process, they can’t trust anybody that they don’t know. The streets are awash with snitches, undercover cops, and traitors, and as a result, many live in a state of consternation; one wrong move, and you’re in jail or dead.

“Son, they shook
‘Cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks
Scared to death, scared to look, they shook . . . “

They don’t advocate a life of crime, and they certainly don’t encourage others to follow in their footsteps. One thing must be known though: you either live this life, or you don’t. There’s no in-between.

In addition, I’d like to emphasize the superb quality of the production on this album. The samples used for many songs were well-kept secrets until recently. Check out this cool video: this person discovered the piano sample for “Shook Ones Pt. II” a few years ago; it’s Herbie Hancock’s “Jessica”!



“Party’s over, tell the rest of the crew . . . “


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-J.S.T.


Let It Be by The Replacements [1984; Twin/Tone Records]

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One of the best album covers ever.


You can view my The Replacements listening stats here.

My 5 Favorite Tracks:

1. “I Will Dare”
2. “Unsatisfied”
3. “Androgynous”
4. “Sixteen Blue”
5. “Seen Your Video”


Joe’s Rating: 4.5/5 (Fantastic/excellent)


There’s a great story that I read online about Chris Mars, who was the drummer for The Replacements at the time of the release of Let It Be. He was once arrested for playing a game of chicken with an unmarked police car.

To those who may not know, chicken is when you drive into oncoming traffic on the opposite side of the road. The first car to veer off of the road is the chicken and loses. Horn honking is heavily encouraged but not required. It’s a very dangerous and reckless game, to say the least.

That’s what this album reminds me of: games of chicken on the interstate, crushed cans of Budweiser, empty fifths of Jack Daniels, cigarette butts, ripped denim, vomit and mud-stained Chuck Taylors, trashed apartments, late nights and early mornings causing havoc with your best friends, debauchery, goofy smiles: free-spirited and unregulated fun.


TheReplacements


But the release of Let It Be actually marks the beginning of rule abiding for a band who previously did nothing but try to break the rules. The band from Minneapolis got their start as a hardcore punk rock outfit, and Let It Be is the first album where they deviated from this genre into the broader scope of post-punk and alternative rock. Heavy-handed and carefree riffs and rhythms transformed into more thoughtfully arranged pieces. To limit the depth of The Replacements’ music to what I listed in the paragraph above would actually be quite insulting; there’s much more to it than that. Much of the album’s lyrical content involves the days of one’s awkward adolescence: budding sexuality, dysphoria, rejection, insecurity, trying to find our place in the world.


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The heterogeneity of the album is one of the things about it that I appreciate the most; Let It Be is where The Replacements put their penchant for eclectic music-making on display. One can certainly hear traces of hardcore punk still present in songs like “Favorite Thing” and “We’re Comin’ Out”. “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” reminds me of the heavy riffs, hard drums, and charismatic vocals of one of D.C.’s quintessential hardcore punk groups, Bad Brains. On the other hand, songs like “I Will Dare”, “Sixteen Blue”, “Unsatisfied”, and “Seen Your Video” stray further away from the hardcore sounds of the songs just mentioned, but the album’s disparate tracks are all tied together by Paul Westerberg’s gritty vocals.

I believe that the song that departs the most from the hardcore punk sound is “Androgynous”, a relatively slower and calmer song about the social constructs of gender, laden with loopy piano playing in the background. Its characters, given the archetypal names of Dick and Jane, consciously go against the grain of the gender roles of our society because it is what they choose to do, and they are perfectly content in doing so.

Let It Be has been hailed by many reputable critics as one of the best albums of the 1980s and as one of the best rock albums of all-time. At a very digestible 33 minutes, why not just give it one listen? You may fall in love with the band’s sound and style just as I did.


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-J.S.T.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon [2003]

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“My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,507.”


Joe’s Rating: 5/5 (“Well, it’s perfect to me.”)


I was never very good at math.

My major only requires that I take one math course. I chose pre-calculus algebra, a course that I had already taken in high school, and I nearly failed.

Prior to reading this book, I could not even remember what defined a prime number. How the heck does one even determine which numbers are prime? I would not have been able to tell you (I told you already, I’m REALLY crummy at math).

However, Christopher Boone, the main character of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, concisely explained the concept to me better than any of my former math teachers or professors have before, using the useful grids below:

“First you write down all the positive whole numbers in the world.”

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“Then you take away all the numbers that are multiples of 2. Then you take away all the numbers that are multiples of 3. Then you take away all the numbers that are multiple of 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and so on.

The numbers that are left are prime numbers.”

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Christopher goes on to explain that while the rule for determining prime numbers is simple, no one has been able to create a simple formula for determining whether or not an extremely large number is a prime number. Then he explains the pertinence of prime numbers to his life:

“Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.”

One can surmise from the text that Christopher is a mathematically gifted boy with autism (although author Mark Haddon later stated upon the publishing of his debut novel that he did not intend to attribute any specific disorder to Christopher’s character). But in a world where many people fail to recognize autism as a behavioral disorder and thus view those with autism as being intellectually inferior, Christopher’s brilliance in explaining the concept of prime numbers made me realize just how convoluted our own thought processes can be.

Haddon’s novel is presented to the reader as a book that Christopher was required to write for his wise and patient paraprofessional educator, Siobhan, as a sort of exercise that would allow him to articulate his thoughts and feelings (by the way, he chooses to number the chapters of his book using prime numbers instead of cardinal numbers). Using Christopher’s book, Haddon is able to produce a masterful representation of Christopher’s point-of-view and thought processes within the novel, an aspect of the novel I found more compelling than the language itself.

Christopher is a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and he draws inspiration for his book from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. He is writing a mystery novel; the mystery that Christopher is attempting to solve revolves around the murder of his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, but he ends up inadvertently solving a mystery of greater importance upon ascertaining the identity of Wellington’s killer. Christopher uncovers a very well-kept secret and learns about the fractious relationship between his parents, infidelity within his family, and more. In solving this mystery, Christopher is able to come closer to understanding himself, as well as his mother’s volatile personality, his father’s pent-up anguish and their collective, intense love for their son.

Christopher pays extremely close attention to every detail of his surroundings and retains this information as he has a photographic memory, but when he is in a place that he has never been before, he becomes overwhelmed by unfamiliarity and enters a fit of extreme bedlam, as his brain becomes exasperated by his sensory interaction with all of the foreign stimuli in this new setting. These sections of the novel can be just as disorienting for the reader as they are for Christopher, as different sights and sounds intermingle and get lost in a wash of confusion and the words on signs combine and become incomprehensible.

He detests the colors yellow and brown for various reasons. He cannot stand being touched, even by doctors, police officers, or by his own parents. He is also unable to tell lies, for the following reason:

“A lie is when you say something happened which didn’t happen. But there is only ever one thing which happened at a particular time and a particular place. And there are an infinite number of things which didn’t happen at that time and that place. And if I think about something which didn’t happen I start thinking about all the other things which didn’t happen.”

In addition to his fastidious nature, Christopher thinks on a very literal level, and this inhibits him from understanding body language and facial expressions; he is incapable of comprehending emotion. He is also unable to understand metaphors and thinks of them as lies, and as a result, he only uses similes in writing his book, unless he is referencing a metaphor to attest to its stupidity.

“I think [a metaphor] should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards. And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about.”

Going back to how well Haddon represents Christopher’s point-of-view within the novel, we are able to jump right into the mind of Christopher and understand his own thought processes. Christopher’s mind is constantly working at a tremendous speed. He is a savant—I’d prefer to call him a genius—and can perform intellectual feats that are baffling to the average mind, but his own overly complicated thought processes help to normalize Christopher in the eyes of the reader. He is not much different from us because even geniuses struggle to understand certain things; no one is perfect and everyone is just trying to understand more about the world that they live in. The struggles that Christopher undergoes allow us to sympathize with his character, and despite his “impairment,” his character is totally credible! I’d like to believe that Christopher is more intelligent than you or I could ever hope to be.


-J.S.T.


Weezer [The Blue Album] (1994; DGC Records)

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The album cover is pretty great. Man, has fashion come a long way in 21 years, or what? Oh, and music too.


You can view my Weezer listening stats here.

My 5 Favorite Tracks:

  1. “Only in Dreams”
  2. “Say It Ain’t So”
  3. “No One Else”
  4. “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here”
  5. “Undone – The Sweater Song”

Joe’s Rating: 5/5 (“Well, it’s perfect to me.”)


I never, ever would have expected to like a Weezer album this much.

Weezer, also referred to as “The Blue Album”, is the band’s self-titled debut album (they have a couple of other color-related, self-titled albums), and it is on a completely different level than their other releases. Although their sophomore album, Pinkerton, is another strong release by the band out of Los Angeles, songs I’ve heard from later albums, such as “Beverly Hills”, are mind-blowingly boring beyond repair.

This album is the antithesis to the notion that Weezer is a lame band, a claim that I’ve heard authentic music-lovers from different circles make. Rivers Cuomo, with his nasally but charged vocals, chronicles romances gone wrong, the superficiality of those around him, and namely, the misadventures of a bunch of guys in their early-20’s who are down on their luck.

It’s consoling to know that there are a group of losers out there that are as awesome as Weezer, who experienced and expressed many of the same sentiments that I myself have encountered as a 20-year old affected by a belated teenage angst. It’s been 21 years since this album was released, but its ideas are long-lasting: people can be total schmucks sometimes. I feel like it must have been this way since the beginning of humanity, from the hominid days to the hunter-gatherer days and beyond, where ethnocentrism and self-interest allowed tribes of people to thrive and develop into the vast societies that exist today.

I mention this because the dialogue portions of “Undone – The Sweater Song” are one of the parts of the album that stick with me the most:

[Matt:] Hey bra, how we doin’ man?
[Karl:] All right.
[Matt:] It’s been a while man, life’s so rad!
This band’s my favorite man, don’t ya love ’em?
[Karl:] Yeah.
[Matt:] Aw man, you want a beer?
[Karl:] All right.
[Matt:] Aw man, this is the best. I’m so glad we’re all back together and stuff.
This is great, man.
[Karl:] Yeah.
[Matt:] Hey, did you know about the party after the show?
[Karl:] Yeah.
[Matt:] Aw man, it’s gonna be the best, I’m so stoked! Take it easy bra’.

Matt puts on a façade, displaying a shallow interest in Karl’s life. It is suggested that Karl is aware of Matt’s front, and Matt is obviously only interested in getting drunk with his supposed buddy before the after-party of the concert they are attending. Matt is a very selfish guy. It doesn’t seem like Karl ever cared about Matt that much to begin with either. And then, later:

[Mykel:] Hey, what’s up?
[Karl:] Not much.
[Mykel:] Did you hear about the party?
[Karl:] Yeah.
[Mykel:] Um, I think I’m gonna go but, um, my friends don’t really wanna go. Could I get a ride?

Mykel, a female acquaintance of Karl’s, is also selfishly interested in the party and its allure, and is willing to take advantage of Karl and use him as a last resort to get there.

In this song’s terse dialogue, written by Rivers Cuomo who also wrote most of the songs on the album, he is able to poignantly attack those unbearably uninteresting, narrow-minded people who we are all afflicted by. People can be total schmucks sometimes. Some will go to great lengths to get what they want.

“Undone – The Sweater Song”, in its somnambulant and dialogic qualities, really reminds me of Iggy Pop’s “Dum Dum Boys” from his 1977 album The Idiot. I find the two songs to be connected in an interesting way. The dialogue from “Dum Dum Boys” depicts Iggy Pop talking to an old friend about the former members of their posse, negatively afflicted by a life of pleasure-seeking and partying, whereas the dialogue from “Undone – The Sweater Song” details Karl (possibly a persona of Rivers Cuomo) talking to old friends who are caught up in the delusive exuberance of partying. I don’t know whether or not this connection is an intentional one on Cuomo’s part, but Cuomo and Iggy Pop seem to be expressing a similar idea in a different way; we derive ephemeral pleasure from the night-life, but in the end it consumes us and negatively affects us in regards to our physical health, personality, and how we interact with people.

Weezer closes The Blue Album with the emotionally charged epic, “Only in Dreams”. The track progresses, from lonely bass, to wailing guitar, to crashing cymbals, and ends again with that simple solo bass riff. The lyrics are touching too; many of us dream of those things that we will never actually possess, and often times, those things are not material, like jewelry or cars, but more substantial, like people, with hearts and brains and souls that are capable of complex thought and emotion, of caring, of loving. And we love them too for possessing these qualities that are so amazing that they are almost dream-like, giving the song an ethereality that I absolutely love.

“Only in dreams
We see what it means
Reach out our hands
Hold on to hers
But when we wake
It’s all been erased
And so it seems
Only in dreams”


-J.S.T.


Compare and Contrast: Trainspotting

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Don’t know how I feel about the review on the book cover… even for the sake of exaggeration, that is quite an unruly statement to make, no?


Joe’s rating of film and novel5/5 (“Well, they’re perfect to me.”)


“We go fir a pish in the auld Central Station at the Fit ay the Walk, now a barren, desolate hangar, which is soon tae be demolished and replaced by a supermarket and swimming centre. Somehow, that makes us sad, even though ah wis eywis too young tae mind ay trains ever being there.

-Some size ay a station this wis. Git a train tae anywhair fae here, at one time, or so they sais, ah sais, watchin ma steaming pish splash oantae the cauld stane.

-If it still hud fuckin trains, ah’d be oan one oot ay this fuckin dive, Begbie said. It wis uncharacteristic for him tae talk aboot Leith in that way. He tended tae romanticise the place.”

From “Trainspotting at Leith Central Station”


The novel Trainspotting (1993) and its 1996 film adaptation certainly have their differences.

Lines are said by different characters, parts are combined, or omitted, or imagined in a different way, or changed significantly. I could meticulously go into every little boring similarity and difference if I wanted to; overall though, those differences are much less important as both prose and film stand strong on their own as different works based on the same characters in the same settings under the same circumstances. Plus, in general, the film does a good job of staying true to the book. More important than, specifically, the accuracy of the film in portraying the events of the novel are the language and dialects used in both works, the different ways that the novel and film structure this narrative, and how the manipulation of certain characters and stories in the film affects its relationship with the novel.

Upon watching the film Trainspotting, one of my all-time favorites, I was unable crack a good guess at the meaning of the film’s title, but upon recently reading the novel, published before the release of the film, I was able to come up with the following interpretation of the title based on the passage quoted above: the characters of Trainspotting all struggle from various problems, each of them, often lamenting the past, is attempting to find an escape from these problems, and some of them are waiting in an abandoned station for a train that will never arrive; their escape will never come.

I was fortunate enough to have a glossary of Scottish slang in the back of my edition of Trainspotting, enabling me to decipher the Edinburgh dialect unfamiliar to me in passages like the one above. Irvine Welsh writes in a style that gives his novel an authentic, Scottish feel to it, but more importantly, it gives the misanthropic and nihilistic diatribes of its main characters a unique flavor and zest. The film implements less of this Scottish dialect but still enough to make everything feel real. If you are not into vulgarity, this is not the novel or film for you.

Trainspotting is not your typical novel. Welsh structures his novel in a fragmented and disjointed manner, which could reasonably be categorized as a picaresque, or a collection of episodic yet interrelated stories starring the low-to-middle class Mark Renton (played by Ewan McGregor in the film version) and his mates as they live together in Leith, Edinburgh, using their cunning to exploit those around them, especially the welfare system in Scotland by seizing “giros” (government unemployment benefit checks), allowing them to make their livings without actually working. Through the first-person narration of the novel’s main characters interspersed with third-person omniscient narration, one is able to jump right into the profound and even convoluted thought processes that are encapsulated by the work.

The structure of Welsh’s novel is very different from the structure of Danny Boyle’s film adaptation of Trainspotting, which follows a linear plot sequence. Boyle recreates Welsh’s story, manipulating scenes from the novel by combining events, settings, characters and their respective traits while omitting others, helping the film’s plot to function in a way where the viewer feels that there is a distinct beginning and end to it. The visual and auditory sensation of film allows for additional clever dialogue and wordplay not featured in the novel. Boyle also gives his adaptation of the work its own distinctness and style by adding his own twist to certain scenes. The video switching scene, in addition to a few other scenes, were not featured in the novel and were created for the sake of the continuity of the film, much to its advantage; many film critics hail it as one of the best films of the 1990’s. Boyle adds Renton swimming to great depths past dangerous mines in an emetic and fecal yet lucid and placid ocean of toilet water in order to retrieve his accidentally excreted opium suppositories during “The Worst Toilet in Scotland” scene. Renton’s heroin withdrawal scene is adapted very uniquely and tastefully in Boyle’s version of Trainspotting; Welsh’s free form, stream-of-consciousness lines from the novel are reimagined by Boyle as an onslaught of distorting and disturbing images accompanied by heavy electronic music.

Mark struggles with a heavy heroin addiction that is as much chemical as it is psychological, turning to drugs as a vehicle for his escape from a life of boredom and worries. In addition to getting away from his unpleasant feelings however, Mark also struggles to escape from the negative influence of his long-time friends, who all also seem to suffer from some sort of addiction or vice. Renton, Spud, Sick Boy, and Tommy all suffer from their heroin addictions, but the comparatively clean Begbie suffers from an inclination toward violence, Rab “Second Prize” McLaughlin (not in the film), who is a Manchester United footballer turned drunk, suffers from severe alcoholism, and Sick Boy is nefariously lustful, objectifying women, seducing them, and pimping them out.

It is in this sense that the novel presents the characters in a different light. You gain less insight into the problems of the other characters and more into Renton’s in the film, around whom the story revolves, but the novel allows you to enter into the minds of Renton’s friends—who are also suffering from problems of their own—by ways of first-person narration, giving them more depth. Renton, in the novel, is also given more depth as a character who turns to heroin as a result of emotional hardship due to the inclusion of characters not present in the film, such as his abusive older brother Billy and his catatonic younger brother. In the film, you learn nothing about Renton’s incestuous feelings toward his cousin Nina nor his conflicting feelings toward his sexuality. You also learn less about Renton’s sympathy, or lack thereof, toward other living beings, as scenes from the novel such as the animal abuse scene are excluded from the film, portraying him as possessing more morality in the film than he did in the novel. Upon reading the novel, I actually sympathized less with Renton than I did with Spud, who is depicted in the novel and in the film as having a higher level of morality than the rest of their friends.

Tommy is also a very different character in the novel than he is in the film. Whereas in the film he is presented as a figure of moral superiority, or more specifically, as someone distinct from his friend group who never did drugs before he eventually succumbed to HIV after presumably sharing needles, in the novel he enjoys doing speed. As a result, in the novel, he blends in more with his friends as a decadent figure, while in the film, his character comes to represent innocence and morality. His eventual downfall at the hands of heroin abuse and HIV in both versions is very harrowing, as it demonstrates the drug’s power to transform ordinary people and even the most astute and virtuous into a mindless zombie. The film version of Tommy seems to possess qualities of the character Davie Mitchell from the novel (not included in the film), who seems to lead the straightest life of all of Trainspotting’s main characters.

The film also does not cover the racism in the UK or the cons of Scottish nationalism that are depicted in the book either, secondary yet important issues pertinent to Trainspotting and the society in which it takes place.

In both versions of Trainspotting, a lot of great music is mentioned. Rents is a huge Bowie fan. Tommy loves Iggy Pop. The film features a great soundtrack too. One of the lines I’ll probably remember most from the novel is in the first chapter of Trainspotting called “The Skag Boys”, where Renton, from a junkie’s perspective, had nothing good to say about John Cale’s cacophonic viola sequence in The Velvet Underground song “Heroin” from The Velvet Underground & Nico, of which I am a big fan; though, it is great to see that one of my favorite characters of all time shares a lot of common interests and opinions with me, making him all the more relatable and worthwhile to me.



-J.S.T.


R.I.P. The Jacka (1977-2015)

the_jacka_zumbi

Reader/friend,

A few days ago, the Bay Area lost one of its most beloved rappers.

His name was Dominic Newton. He was known better as The Jacka, and he was sadly killed in an East Oakland shooting on February 2nd, 2015.

I feel pretty weird about the whole thing, to be honest. It’s not like I ever knew him personally, but I’d like to say I knew his music pretty well.

I have a vivid memory of my brother and I talking about how ridiculous it would sound if we had heard The Jacka rapping a cappella, but his relatively high-pitched voice and slurred speech is one of the qualities of Jack that made him one of my favorite Bay Area rappers, along with his rough lyrics and tough delivery.

He is one of the cornerstones of Bay Area hip-hop. Often, you hear his name amongst the likes of Mac Dre, Too $hort, Andre Nickatina, E-40, and other pioneering Bay Area hip-hop artists. One of Oakland’s most prominent rappers and one of the Bay Area’s most admired, he was one of few who helped to keep Bay Area hip-hop relevant in the 2000’s.

A friend of mine had met The Jacka before at a show. At a later show, The Jacka recognized him from the previous show, and subsequently brought him over to Husalah, another Bay Area rapper, to take pictures with him. I never met him, but based on this hearsay, it seemed like he was a person who really cared for others, his fans included.

I’ll never forget the days of my adolescence, walking down the streets of San Francisco listening to his album Tear Gas as well as his collaboration with Andre Nickatina, My Middle Name Is Crime. I’ll never forget skating with my friends with the song “Aspen” blasting in my earbuds. I’ll never forget how his music made me, a kid lacking confidence, feel like one of the toughest people alive. He was a part of my childhood, and I have so many memories with this man’s music.

Ultimately, this is a tragic loss for the Bay Area and its hip-hop culture. Sadly, The Jacka is just another example of a good life brought to an early conclusion as a result of senseless violence. We need to bring the violence to an end and quit looking for ways to justify this violence; it’s not worth it. It is sad to hear about so much death on a regular basis. Rest in peace.


-J.S.T.