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October 23, 2008 11:40 AM

Is it possible there's anyone still unaware of the Twilight Phenomenon? Y'know, that in which legions of screaming fans (mostly female and of all ages) go batshit crazy for Stephenie Meyer's overwritten supernatural romance about a girl who's totally hot but doesn't know it who falls for the hottest guy EVAR — and finds out he's a vampire? Maybe there is. I'm skeptical. I'm also, clearly, not a big fan, though I will freely admit that I tore through the first book and only afterward felt a little dirty about it. Watching the internet fandom explode when the series' fourth book, Breaking Dawn, came out this summer did make for hours of fun, though. As would reading the mountains of fanfiction, if I could bring myself to do so. (I don't really begrudge anyone their fandom ... I just hope they move on to better books when they're done with it. Also, this stuff is just too easy to mock.)

But now, in a mere month, we'll be given Twilight, the movie. And, somewhat perversely, I'm looking forward to it — and not just because it stars the very pretty Cedric Diggory Robert Pattinson, though that doesn't hurt (nor do his bemused comments about the screaming fandom. Oh, RPattz! How charmingly naive you are!). It just looks so ... indulgent? Goofy? Modestly epic? I'm not quite sure. It comes to us from Catherine Hardwicke, who made the praised-by-many, hated-by-me Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown and The Nativity Story, which, hey, it's OK if that's not ringing any bells, because almost no one saw it.

So ANYWAY (tm Klosterman), what put all this in my head was the email that arrived today bearing the tracklisting for (and a link to a stream of) the Twilight soundtrack. Which, well, huh. This is a little wacky. My first impressions are as follows. And when I say first, I mean I'm typing while I listen. Here goes...

1. Muse - "Supermassive Black Hole"
Muse used to sound like fake Radiohead. This, though, has that sort of quasi-industrial feel that's required when your vampires aren't historical. Also, it sounds like it was left over from the soundtrack to The Crow. Hello, falsetto vocals, slightly ominous tone, dance-friendly rhythms? Yeah, I see where we're going with this.

2. Paramore- "Decode"
OK, my pop punk side likes this; at first, it's like the singer from Pretty Girls Make Graves fronting a band on Vagrant. But it's got that reverb-laden Evanescence thing that tries to cover for fairly standard songwriting, and I can't get behind that. Swooning, my-life-is-ending teen angst. Which can be a good thing, but this is too generic in its swoopy faux-gothiness.

3. The Black Ghosts- "Full Moon"
Despite its title, this song is clearly going to play during a scene in the daylight, as it's almost ... cheerful. Acoustic guitars, annoyingly funky bass line, odd strings. OK. It's fine. It's the song no one will remember when they leave, but it's fine.

4. Linkin Park- "Leave Out All the Rest"
Totally nondescript third? fourth?-generation emo (don't get me started on the history of this damn word) that has all the weight of the pop bands that were popular when I was in high school. I'm being mean, but I'm not kidding; this sounds totally manufactured, like Linkin Park is just the singer and a bunch of studio wizards created the music.

5. Mute Math- "Spotlight (Twilight Mix)"
Slightly frenzied, guitar-based pop that reminds me of one or another of those mid-’90s British guitar bands, though I can't pin down which. But with a really sensitive singer. This isn't terrible, but I'm not going to run out and search out the record.

6. Perry Farrell- "Go All the Way (Into The Twilight)"
The first of two truly odd selections. Perry Farrell? And Twilight? It'd be totally awesome if this inspired some 14-year-olds to fall in love with Jane's Addiction, but I'm not holding my breath. But — what — the ...? I take that all back. There's no way anyone is going to draw a line from this dance-beat trifle to "Been Caught Stealing." I'm honestly too boggled to think of anything else to say. Whiny vocals, Farrell alternating with a female singer who sort of talk-sings ... you can almost see the strobe lights on the dance floor.

7. Collective Soul- "Tremble for My Beloved"
And the second odd selection. I can't see the words "Collective Soul" without remembering that video for "Shine" — wasn't that the one with the trees? Regardless, Collective Soul falls into the same place in my head where Candlebox lives: rock bands that never needed to get that famous. Alas. Anyway, this sounds like a certain kind of ’90s college rock updated for the naughty aughties with different guitar effects. Everything on this soundtrack is so slick it's getting hard to pick one song out from the others. But if you asked my 20-year-old self about this — and didn't tell her who it was — she'd probably like it. And that's admitting a lot.

8. Paramore- "I Caught Myself"
Starts well enough, with a pretty guitar bit and the sort of rolling rhythm that tells you this might swell into a crowd-pleasing arena rock song. I like this singer well enough; they need to just let her sing and stop glossing the vocals up, but she has a tiny, believable bit of fury in her voice. It's a little too much, too produced, too easy to imagine it stripped of all sincerity and canned into a pop diva tune. This soundtrack is full of aching hearts and impassioned vocals, but most of them have been polished to a painfully bright gloss. Everything's so damn radio-friendly.

9. Blue Foundation- "Eyes On Fire"
This spare, slightly spacy song from a group of Danes is the most interesting thing to turn up here yet. It requires a little bit of patience; the fragile-voiced singer waits just long enough between some of her phrases that you start anticipating the next line. Eventually, the band starts to fill in the empty space that makes the song intriguing, and it goes a bit more familiar, but it does break the soundtrack's mold; there are no generically distorted guitars to muddy up the feeling of solitude the song conjures up. It's a little Cure-y, especially during a certain part when the drummer goes a little crazy (tell me you don't think Disintegration when that happens!), and a little ... well, a little ’80s, but not in the ways usually thought of.

10. Rob Pattinson- "Never Think"
I read somewhere that while Twilight was filming around Portland, RPattz would occasionally play at bars and such. And I'm still a little mad that no one ever told me where to find him. But whatever. This is a pretty, earnest, acoustic guitar ditty that you'd hear some unassuming fellow on the stage at Sam Bond's break into. Everyone would go quiet, waiting for the vocals to start. And then ... then you'd wonder why the English boy was singing with a sort of mumble-twang. He sounds so shy! It's a sweet, simple, quiet Americana-folk-bedroom-singer-songwriter sort of song, but this kid (he's 22) sings with an unpolished sort of honesty; he sounds nothing like a movie star. And I like that.

11. Iron and Wine- "Flightless Bird, American Mouth"
On this soundtrack, one of these things is not like the other. Sure, the ’90s college rock was odd enough, but Sam Beam turning up — and showing up RPattz by being listed right after him — is possibly even odder. As expected, this song (from The Shepherd's Dog) is heart-tuggingly gorgeous, a musicbox beauty of acoustic guitar and accordion and falsetto that shifts into something a bit more sturdy partway through ... and then the stream craps out on me, which figures. But its very inclusion gives me a little bit more liking for the film's music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas, who clearly knows how to use an often overwrought, sometimes believably emotional song (so sue me; I love Snow Patrol) to great effect; she works on Grey's Anatomy, among other shows.

12. Carter Burwell- "Bella’s Lullaby"
You can't hate on Burwell, who's done scores for, well, everybody. And "Bella's Lullaby," which reportedly is a theme that runs throughout the film, is just as it should be: a pretty piano melody (which Edward plays for her at some point) that, at varying points, is stripped down and simple or wrapped up strings that provide drama and depth.

The Twilight soundtrack comes out Nov. 4; the movie will be in theaters Nov. 21. I know you can't wait.

EDIT: It seems that other EW, Entertainment Weekly, already had this idea. Their version has more pictures, though. For what that's worth.

October 11, 2008 01:52 PM

With laughably incoherent interviews and a finding Sarah Palin abused her power against a state trooper, many Republicans are regretting John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President. But not Oregon Senator Gordon Smith. Here he is in an Oct. 9 debate:

October 7, 2008 01:27 PM

Looks like high price executives are putting the trillion dollar taxpayer bailout of Wall Street to good use. The New York Times reported today:

"A week after the insurance giant, the American International Group, received an $85 billion federal bailout, executives at its life insurance subsidiary, AIG General, held a weeklong retreat at the exclusive St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif. Expenses for the week, lawmakers were told, totaled $442,000, including $200,000 for hotel rooms, $150,000 for food and $23,000 in spa charges.

In addition, the former A.I.G. executive who led the London-based
division whose implosion is largely blamed for the insurance giant’s
downfall, Joseph J. Cassano, continues to receive $1 million a month
from the company, on top of the $280 million he received in the last
eight years."

Taxpayers are outraged. Some Congressmen appear outraged. But after hearings showed evidence of similar abuse by Enron, nothing changed.

October 2, 2008 02:56 PM

sprawl

When Jon Ruiz was hired away from an assistant city manager job in Fresno to serve as Eugene's new city manager this year, he defended Fresno's reputation for urban sprawl.

The San Francisco Chronicle profiled the sprawling, "corrupt," "depressing" city at the millennium as "a cautionary tale of planning gone wrong and development gone wild."

But Ruiz said the sprawl reputation had changed. "I think that's been reversed in the last couple years." He said Fresno is now focusing on denser development and alternative transportation to fight bad air pollution. He said he doesn't think developers still run the town.

Not so reported a Fresno Bee investigation this week:

"A 2002 master development plan for Fresno has failed to make good on promises to curb urban sprawl, public records and interviews show."

Here's some more snippets from the Bee:

"'They're turning agricultural districts into low-density housing, which by most people's definition is sprawl,' said Rob Wassmer, a public-policy professor at California State University, Sacramento. Wassmer has written extensively about sprawl in the West, including a report that found Fresno was one of nine California metro areas with the biggest increases in sprawl in the 1990s.

His assessment of Fresno's record in the last six years: "It doesn't look like there's been a concentrated effort to stop sprawl."

"Despite the promises of 2002, 'It looks like business as usual,' said Hal Tokmakian, a former Fresno County planning director and professor emeritus of planning at California State University, Fresno."

"Others contend that sprawl is a sign that Fresno's traditionally cozy relationship with developers has not changed."

"Fresno completed the development plan the same year federal authorities were wrapping up cases from Operation Rezone, which ensnared former City Council members for accepting bribes for land-use decisions. Since then, critics contend, legal money from developers -- service fees and campaign contributions -- has continued to tilt the system in their favor."

"The area covers 50 square miles, potentially expanding the city by 45% to accommodate an anticipated 60% increase in population by 2025,Yovino said.

"By contrast, Sacramento expects to vote on a development plan this year that would keep all but 1% of future growth in its existing city, said Jim McDonald, a senior planner in Sacramento. As part of a nationally recognized effort to curb sprawl, cities in the Sacramento region have agreed to limit suburban growth."

In the coming year, the city of Eugene plans to take up developers' calls to expand the local urban growth boundary to more sprawl

October 2, 2008 05:06 PM

In the pivotal, tight race in Oregon for U.S. Senate, Democrat Jeff Merkley has gone after Republican Gordon Smith for voting for George Bush's Wall Street bailout.

Here's a new Merkeley ad:

October 2, 2008 03:36 PM

Vermont progressive Senator Bernie Sanders echoed local Congressman Peter Defazio's opposition to the Wall Street bailout.

Here's his video:

October 1, 2008 11:23 AM

The U.S. Senate is considering passage today of a Wall Street bailout modified to include tax breaks for the wealthy.

The measure includes a provision to reduce the "alternative minimum tax," a tax originally designed to make sure millionaires couldn't deduct away all their taxes.

Citizens for Tax Justice, a leading non-partisan fair taxation think tank, analyzed the impact of a similar AMT elimination proposal in 2006. Here's what they found:

"The 62 percent of all taxpayers earning less than $50,000 would get virtually
nothing—an average tax reduction of $3.

The best off one percent of taxpayers, those making more than $400,000,
would get almost a quarter of the tax reductions—an average of $8,385 each.

The 1/10th of one percent of taxpayers making more than $2 million would get
tax cuts averaging $22,862 each.

The total tax reduction for the 127,000 taxpayers making in excess of $2 million
would be 13 times as large as the total tax reduction for the 85 million
taxpayers earning $50,000 or less."

Oregon's Democratic Senator Ron Wyden was listed as a supporter of the AMT tax cut for the wealthy in 2005.

According to an analysis of a similar AMT proposal by CTJ, 90 percent of the tax cut will go to the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans.

The AMT cut could appeal to conservative Republicans, but it could also increase bailout opposition among Democrats.

“With all the financial problems facing our nation, it’s bizarre that some Senators think our most pressing need is to pass still more tax cuts for the wealthy,” said Robert S.
McIntyre, director of CTJ in 2005.

September 30, 2008 05:39 PM

Local Congressman Peter DeFazio is a national leader of the progressive revolt on Capitol Hill against the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

He explained why on the House floor:

September 25, 2008 11:24 AM

As promised, here's Jason Blair's Q&A with Tift Merritt.

A lot has been written about your voice. When were you first aware of your own voice?
The first time I remember being aware of my own voice was when I had my first apartment. I would sing all the time and play music in the middle of the night and my neighbors would bang on the wall, telling me to be quiet. And I thought, I didn’t realize I was singing that loud…

I tend to think of myself as an okay musician and a pretty good singer, but mostly it’s about [writing] the song. There’s a good discipline that comes with that: I don’t feel like I’m any sort of virtuoso. I don’t like to do acrobatics or anything fancy. I like it keep it pure and plain to serve the song. I like the kind of training and attention that makes me pay to my voice, rather than trying to get away with all sorts of fancy stuff that I probably couldn’t do anyway.

Read the rest of the interview here.

When we last saw you (during the 2005 Tambourine tour), you seemed happy, even asking the crowd to recommend a yoga center.
I did hot yoga! It kicked my ass. It was awesome.

Soon after that, you felt the need to make a break. You moved to Paris. What prompted that?
What happened was really an accident. I’ve always been a Francophile, and I love the French language. It’s so musical. I’d studied French and been to Paris, briefly, a long time ago. I’d finished my touring of Tambourine in Europe and I thought, “How indicative is it of my life that I would come to Europe and not see anything? This record is done. I don’t have to be anywhere. I’m a grown woman. I’m going to take myself to France.”

At that time I was living on the coast of North Carolina. My best friend lived next door, and I had this piano there. I kind of wanted to go home to see my piano, because when you’re on tour you don’t always have a piano close at hand. At least, the kind of touring I do. I thought if I could find an apartment with a piano in it, then I wouldn’t be lacking for anything. I Googled “Paris apartment piano.” I was drinking some wine at the time. I was laughing, but sure enough I found a whole bunch of apartments. So I rented one.

I open the door and there’s this lovely journalist who says, “I’m going to be back next week. Let’s go have beers!” I guess it was just a handful of days into the trip that I knew I wasn’t going to leave on the plane I had booked. I called home and I said, “This is where I’m supposed to be right now.” It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

The essay you’ve written for Another Country is disarmingly personal. It hints at – but doesn’t really reveal – what might have made moving to Paris so important. Do you talk much about that period?
I would say the major symptom was fatigue from touring, the impact that touring had on my life. It wasn’t just that my laundry was dirty. It was that I was always…I had never quite toured that way. As well as Tambourine did, it wasn’t a commercial success. I hadn’t seen my friends. I didn’t really know what home was anymore. A lot of subtle things were out of focus. It added up to a really big loneliness.

Tambourine felt like a move away from alt-country towards an edgier sound, one blending rock and blues and soul. Then Tambourine won a Grammy for Country Album of the Year, and the country community reeled you in. Is Another Country a response to that?
I’m sure it was. There’s no way that it wasn’t. But it’s such a personal record that would never belittle it by saying it’s about the music industry. It’s about the feelings that I went through in that period of time where you realize that this is your life, and what you thought it would be like and the realities of it — whether you’re the postman or you live in an Econoline van — you have to reconcile those things.

Lyrically, Another Country is deeply personal. It’s also arguably your best writing to date. Were you consciously trying to write with feeling and intimacy?
It was a really unselfconscious record. I didn’t really understand what I was doing. I was really just writing for myself, so it’s so nice that it did take this step forward. I wasn’t doing anything but writing for myself. There was no audience involved. I was going through something, and trying to figure it out for myself.

I was just in France and having this really creative time. I wasn’t like, “Oh, it’s time to write a record.” It was absolutely guile-less. I wasn’t sure what came next. I tried to make room for not knowing what came next.

Do you feel like you’ve evolved as a writer?
I’m always so scared to say things like that because you can take a step backward as much as you can take a step forward. I think what I would say is that I had this amazing experience as a writer, and having that experience changed my point of view in terms of how I think I should be looking at things.

You host a monthly radio program called "The Spark," so I’m very aware I’m interviewing an interviewer.
Oh no! I’m not a journalist! (Lauging.) My brother was a journalist, and he and I had some pretty strict conversations about how I’m not a journalist. I’m not pretending to be a journalist. I’m just a student of students.

On "The Spark" you interview novelists and poets and photographers. What inspired you to do that?
It’s funny because it started in Paris. I was crossing paths very quickly with a lot of interesting people, but there wasn’t much time to get to know them, and I certainly wasn’t going to be so presumptuous as to corner them with questions about their life. I was in a museum and I turned a corner and I found myself in front of this painting that just pummeled me. It was a Cy Twombly painting called Achilles Mourns the Death of Patrolcus. It’s this very essential, primitive abstract. It’s the essence of emotion. You would never know it was a Trojan War scene at all.

Cy Twombly lives in Italy. He’s obsessed with Greek and Roman history but his work is very abstract and minimalist. I don’t why, but this painting killed me. And I was like, “That’s what I’m trying to do.” I became kind of obsessed with this guy [Twombly], and I kept trying to find things out about him, but I couldn’t find very much. I couldn’t find what his favorite food was. I couldn’t find out how his wife got the paint out of his shirt, or what time of day he liked to work. I wanted some kind of human connection.
I thought, This is so weird. This man is not just genius sprung forth from the earth. He’s a human being and he’s had ups and downs in his life. A young painter needs to be able to find something human about this man. And I thought, “I want to ask him to coffee.” And somebody said to me, “Well Tift, why don’t you do it?” Then I realized I didn’t just want to ask him to coffee; I wanted to ask him to coffee, record the conversation, ask him all the hard questions about how he lived his life, and refer back to the answers later.

And thus "The Spark" was born. (Laughing.) I’m fascinated by the process of being an artist throughout a lifetime. It’s not about a record cycle. It’s not about one movie, and one movie being successful. It’s something a lot deeper and farther away from the spotlight. I don’t know that there are enough people, for me, talking about that. So I want to go and learn for myself. Maybe I can help some other young artist along the way.

You have a college degree from a highly regarded school (UNC – Chapel Hill). What were you like in college?
I actually have Biology with lab to complete before that degree! In college, I was myself but more extreme. I lived all by myself on a farm with my dog and a piano. I met Zeke (drummer) when I was in college. We started our band and started sending out our 7-inch to anybody who would book us a gig. “Artist or die.” That was that first moment when every single band in America had a CD, and we were like, “Yeah, we’re going to make a 7-inch.” We’re going to be the only band in America that doesn’t have a CD.

Where did the name Tift come from?
It’s a family name. You know, in the South we name each other after each other for centuries. Actually, all the other Tifts are men. It’s my middle name. It’s everyone’s middle name.

Could you tell us an influence, musically or otherwise, that we might be surprised to know about?
Eudora Welty is a huge influence. Her sentences are so amazing. Writing is so much of an influence on me. I think about writing a song with economy of words — rhythm and melody are no small things — but that’s how I think about it.

And Robert Frank’s photograps, those photographs that tell a story in one punch. It’s endless but it’s so simple. I love to look at photography when I’m writing.

On "The Spark," you spoke with Nick Hornby about the “mental energy” it takes to read even positive reviews. Do you read your own reviews?
(Mock frustration.) I’m so bored by myself! I don’t want to know anything else about myself. I think it’s so horrible to see your life story in three to four sentences when you’re 33 years old. You shouldn’t do it. I’m still creating myself. There’s no bio summary to be read. You need more freedom than that.

I don’t like that boxed in feeling, so I guess my current policy is to be an okay businesswoman — don’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand — but [with] a healthy ignorance to your own biography.

What’s your favorite cocktail?
I do like a mojito. If a have two martinis, I pass out. I get really fun, then I’m angry, then I fall asleep!

You’re from North Carolina by way of Texas, but you recently moved to New York (Fall 2007). What are your impressions of New York?
I love New York City. I love that it’s where all the artists are. I don’t feel weird there. It’s such a relief.

What are you listening to right now?
I love the Fleet Foxes. I just think they’re brilliant. I saw them live and they were mind-blowingly good. They’re so fun and composed at the same time. It’s pastoral and modern at the same time. It’s just neat that it isn’t about the front man. I love that there’s a thing going on right now where you get a lot of people together and it’s not about the front man. There’s hope for us yet.

Did I see you on David Letterman recently, backing up Emmylou Harris?
You did! I love her so much. Not only is she an amazing musician, she’s the nicest person you can find. She was really sweet. At Letterman, she told everybody including David Letterman, “This is Tift and she’s going to be here next week and you better be nice to her.” It was just so sweet. I never would have imagined that.

September 17, 2008 04:56 PM

... if I could figure out how to type out the melody of "The Final Countdown," I would. But I can't, so I'll spare you. ANYWAY, you have approximately seven hours left in which to vote for the Best of Eugene. And we want your ballots. Yes, yours — and yours, and yours, and that guy over there's.

Remember, kids, if you don't vote, you don't get to complain about the direction our country's heading. Er, I mean, the businesses which take home the magical sparkly winners' certificates.

(Also remember that if you vote 18,746 times in a row, I will very possibly think unfriendly thoughts at you forever, or at least until next year.)

Hearts,
Your Resident Bitchy Ballot Mistress

September 17, 2008 12:34 PM

John McCain said the mistake in Vietnam was that the U.S. didn't go all out, invading and bombing north Vietnam. Historians say that could have lead to massive casualties and war with China's huge army.

A fellow Vietnam POW said McCain's an unstable hot head:

McCain has also said (joked?) he wants to bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran:

McCain's VP choice Sarah Palin, an old heartbeat from the Presidency, implied the U.S. should go to war with Russia over tiny South Ossetia:

All of this has lead many to fear a McCain/Palin armageddon. But so far Obama has shied away from calls for tough ads on the issue. Here's the famous one that worked for Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War:

September 12, 2008 11:41 PM

Photo by Todd Cooper

Whoever booked 31Knots to play the EC, I owe you a beer. Seriously. I'll pay up and everything. Because that was awesome. Tons of songs from Talk Like Blood, the singer layering a different outfit over the one he was initially wearing to play the last three songs, their total indifference to the spotty crowd (which grew as the show went on), the way that for once the parts being played electronically didn't seem like a cop-out (maybe because everyone in the band was so good on their own) ... yeah. I've been waiting for three or four years to see them, and it all lived up to my internal hype. And was fantastically entertaining, too.

If you weren't there, you missed out. Even though yes, as some folks were yelling, they did need to turn up the bass. And that's not a complaint I make often.

September 11, 2008 04:42 PM

I think I have a crush on Craig Ferguson now.

(For what he says, folks. Though that accent sure doesn't hurt...)

September 9, 2008 01:54 PM

Goodness. First it's the Oregon Book Awards, then it's the Booker Prize. Shortlists for both arrived today; in the words of Bookslut, "Tonight, fans of world literature symbolically lock Salman Rushdie back in a closet and inwardly dread the prospect of working through 5,000 pages of something called 'The Northern Clemency'."

Booker Shortlist
Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger
Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture
Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant, The Clothes on Their Backs
Philip Hensher, The Northern Clemency
Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole

Oregon Book Awards Finalists make for a long list; see the whole thing here. But special congrats to the locals: Ehud Havazelet (Corvallis), a fiction finalist for Bearing the Body; Lauren Kessler, a creative nonfiction finalist for Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's; and Cynthia Rylant, a double finalist in children's literature for Alligator Boy and Puppies and Piggies.