Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fountains of Wayne

Traffic and Weather (2007)

This latest album does not push the brink of music experimentation or strain to recreate the band's 'sound' in the way that many bands seem to feel pressure to with every new release.

The music is the best sort of interesting, and very catchy like good pop music ought to be. The album as a whole pursues a coherency that makes me feel as though I've explored a corner of pop culture by the end of it.

Aptly titled Traffic and Weather (how silly that apt so rarely describes titles of contemporary albums of music), Fountains of Wayne construct numerous snapshots of romance taking place in the context of pop culture. For instance, and almost any randomly selected portion of lyrics would give perfect example:

"Seth Shapiro got his law degree/ he moved to Brooklyn from Schenectady, '93/ got some clients in the food industry/he says it's not the money it's the recipes/ he calls his mom, says he's doing fine/ she's go somebody on the other line/ puts Coldplay on, pours a glass of wine/ And curls up with a book about oranized crime..." Chorus: "When it's late, and it's hot, and a date with the late show is all that you got, don't give out, don't give up, one of these nights you might find someone to love."

I'm tempted to quote other equivalently colorful and quarky sections of lyrics, but it's better if you just buy the album for the rest.

The whole thing is upbeat and revolves around couples getting their luggage at the baggage claim, a man hitting on a DMV secretary, a '92 Suburu, etc.

I loved soaking up the contrast between a littering of pop culture icons, the slightest hint of cynicism that undercurrents our daily routined lives of constantly negotiating with materialism and the fantasy of television, and yet the retention of some amount of hope or ability to keep at least one of our feet in a more spiritual and irrational boat. Romance gives us the glimpse of that spiritual, irrational, and more exciting boat.

If Fountains of Wayne wrote the GRE and you saw "love is to pop culture like..." I suggest you fill in the "traffic is to weather" option. It's hard to talk about the first without having to concern yourself with the second. And yet, so few bands have brought the two into such close proximity without either over sentimentalizing love, or handing the listener only the most generic of pop culture.

In Traffic and Weather you get both at their most vital.

Friday, May 25, 2007

investing in gold

About seven months ago I posted about a company I had just invested in: Vonage. Three months later I sold my stock having lost 20% of it. One month later, Vonage stock had dropped another 40%.

Just like that, through my teary eyes, I watched my credibility as a stock blogging analyst descend into the sort of bear market that stock blogging analysts don't wake up from. As far as I can tell, when they talk about bear markets, they mean hibernation.

If my credibility was a bear, I don't think he's sleeping. And most bears don't recover from becoming bear skin rugs.

It figures that I decided to write about the only one of my stock picks that completely bombed.

Anyway, I've enjoyed thinking and learning about stock investments so much over the past eight months that I'm going to have to write about it again. However, this is not Pocahontas. The dead bear's spirit will not be resurrecting to join the eternally living collective bear spirit. Nor will Elton John be singing the Circle of Life.

This is a reconciliation with reality. If the poor bear is dead, we might as well stretch out on the floor and enjoy the rug.

Even stretch out naked since it's a bear rug and bears are so soft. End of analogy.

As of right now I'm invested in six places: two gold companies, Pepsi, Exxon, a small company that has to do with windmills and hybrid city buses, and a volatile mutual fund that invests in pacific rim markets, mostly Taiwan, China and Japan.

This post is about gold.

Kinross Gold Company (KGC) and Goldcorp (GG):

Both of these companies are in the process of transitioning through acquisitions of other gold companies. That was the main reason I bought KGC in the first place in November. Over the course of four months it gained 28% for me. I almost sold, but after reading some more I decided that it still had a huge amount of room to grow. Since then the stock has dropped almost 20%. And I'm not afraid.

At the same time that I decided to stick with KGC, I added GG. A year back, after GG acquired a company called Glamis Gold(hence the GG symbol with a Goldcorp name), they became one of the biggest gold mining companies in the nation. Investors quickly jumped on the stock and sent it soaring to almost $40. I bought it after it had fallen and then risen back to around $29. I made a big mistake buying it when I did. I should have known better. It then dropped back down another 20% to around $22. At that point I doubled the amount of stock and cut my losses to only 10% of total invested. That's where things stand now.

The reason these stocks have been falling, from what I can tell, is because of the price of gold. Earning growth expectations for the companies have been met or exceded. Last summer, when these stocks were merging, the price of gold was at an all time high of $725 an ounce. That price has been sliding ever since. Hence the immediate buy up of all the stock and then the slow selling off. I don't think the bulk of investors expect the price of gold to go back up high like that for a long time.

There have been very recent reports lately that would suggest otherwise. Multiple gold market analysts have recently said that they see the price of gold rising over the next year, well beyond the record from last summer. One analyst said it could rise as much as 30%. If gold rises that much, I don't need to tell you what kind of miracle that would be for the profits of gold companies... especially for gold companies who have just acquired bigger slices of a gold mining world that isn't expanding as quickly as demand for gold is.

Another huge factor comes from China. Supposedly there's a good chance they'll be trying to convert some of they're huge stores of cash into gold stashes. They have considerably less gold than most countries their size. Cash = more liquid, gold = more stable. At least, I think that's how it goes. And China needs stable.

If giving me huge returns on gold company stock is what it will take to make China stable, I'm willing. But even better than creating stability across 10% of the earth's geographic spread, such a gift would allow me to personally conquer the Japanese, at least the one of them who has a significant lead on me in our stock returns competition. Something just doesn't feel right about being beat by a Japanese roommate on the American stock market.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

some daily language


The minutes and days hung like hose water
droplets from my nose, the divide
was imperceptible between having
to dig out weeds together with a trowl
and us brothers turning on each other
the lawn sprinkler head.

Even if all the days weren't summer,
the wintertime too illumined us like light
through the blankets we strung up
over chairs and shelves for a giant living
room enclave. We hid away like
Afgan rebels were. Pretending, believing;

now we have had to emerge.

Monday, May 14, 2007

spider man 3 (the bootleg)

Somewhere in Asia, if subtitles are any indication, and not too long ago, in a small, mostly empty theatre, Spider Man 3 took to the big screen.

The art of bootlegging is not in the steady camera work or the front and center selection of a seat, as our particular bootlegger needed no arm-twisting to be convinced. No, the art of bootlegging emerges from the rare glimpse it gives us into the intersection of third world theatres with Hoolywood filmmaking with small technological gagetry with cutting edge concealiatory techniques.

It all gets very complicated and technical from there, but the real professoinals are doing unbelievable work with simple fabrics that can make a small camcorder instanstantly transform into the facade of a bunched up jacket innocently resting in a patrons lap. Think of Frodo's cloak, only you definately can't see through it quite as well as Frodo could see through his. And Frodo's cloak made him look like a rock. This is more like a cloak that looks like a jacket making a camera look like a crumpled or piled up jacket, but with nearly the same illuding effect.

It's pretty hard to see anything through the jacket.

The few patrons all sat in the front row. They were constantly getting up and walking in front of the screen to the bathrooms. They were using the john like they already knew if they missed anything good they could more than likely pick up the bootleg of their silouette and anything they missed the next day for pennies on the dollar.

Spider Man was disappointing enough for me that by the end of the movie I was more than ready for the after-credits security discovery of the bootlegger, the chase scene from the theatre to a get away car, and the suspense of whether or not the bad guy has a chance when the good guys are less like super heroes and more realistically like theatre ticket attendants. I imagined something like the episodes of COPS: Life On The Beat where the drunk guy suddenly turns on the camera man before the COPS can hold him back. Unfortunately, the bootlegger exercised his artistic license and just turned the camera off before anything could heat up.

The movie within the movie (I'm talking about Spider Man 3 itself now, for those of you who haven't read Plato), besides being literally off center and crooked, also had a mediocre script. The storyline surrounding the action scenes seemed much more haphazardly constructed to frame the action in the emotional drama that we expect from an epic. But it's hard to be thoroughly convinced in the conversion of two super-villains within a day's work for Spider Man. I'll grant the web slinging and the super-human strength, but converting villains from evil to Good? I've been to third street in Santa Monica. I've spent plenty of nights trying to convert people, and ordinary moral people, from evil to good. You would think it would be easy. But believe me, it takes more than a little chemistry-altering spider bite for endowment with that gift.

I'm just saying, if the multi-billion dollar film industry of the modern moral compass can't keep a common bootlegger and a good Chirstian kid in Iraq from straying off the straight and narrow, what makes the script writer think that Spiderman can morally transform two super-villians into well-meaning citizens you might expect to be nominated as deacons down at the local Church?

That's about as likely as an after credits chase scene where the bootlegger suddenly sees the light and gives himself up to the ticket attendant in thick glasses. If you're watching a bootlegged DVD and the bootlegger is giving up his bootleg ways, that's when you'll know bootlegging has become just another sell out of what could have been real cinema.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Arcade Fire

This band just put out their second album, "Neon Bible". The hippest people mostly like their music, and they've been toting a cloud of Indy approval to show for it as though they were leading Indy rock to its promised land. Like the Jews, and like countless once hot Indy bands, I'm sure their distand fate will be disbandment and relative marginalization, but in the mean time, we can rock out to "Neon Bible".

Even if it fails to save us as convincingly as the hype might make someone expect, it will still give us more than one occasion to rock our heads back and forth. Or you can just sit and tap one foot if you're my grandmother.

Apparently, struggling or teeter totter Christians are the new cool artists. I haven't looked closely at the album's message, but I get the impression these guys are would class themselves as raised in the Church and now disillusioned by stale or judgemental dogma. I've a heard a couple bands play in this strain lately, Jenny Lewis with her Watson twins, in "Rabbit Fur Coat", is one who comes to mind, regretting some of the inconsistencies of her parents raising her in the Church and then getting a divorced and being so entangled with material possessions like rabbit fur coats, etc. I guess I'd prefer this crowd to be making our mainstream music as opposed to blatantly irreligious music.

I wish these kids making such interesting music could be... older and wiser... and not sing about fairly foundationless opinions that are really emotive responses to a protected American experience of life. For example, all these kids are anti-war. I have no problem with that, except there's never any substance to their objections, just the same old privileged perspective that we shouldn't have to ever be involved in something as messy as a war against a guerrilla insurgency where real live Americans have to die and where it's very difficult to discern the real issues and political motivations of all sides involved.

I get frustrated when the Arcade fire sings "does anyone still actual believe there is such a thing as choice, I don't." and then a moment later, "There's no way to know what anyone might do." This may be a small and mostly insignificant instance, but I think those two statements are contradictory. If that's any indication of the depth or discipline of thought that goes into their messages... well, it's just a sad state for music to be in when there's so much more potential.

Thank you Sufjan Stevens for showing us a sign.

Still, their music pulses and rocks. And when they don't preach, they sometimes use words in magical ways. They sing one song about keeping the car running, and actually, that's pretty much the whole chorus: keep the car running. You'd have to hear it to believe it. I'll never wait for someone in a running care the same again. I listen to that song and I think, yeah, keep the car running, because, maybe, we really do have a promised land to get to.