Archive for December, 2011

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot…

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Those are about the only words I know from the New Year’s anthem, Auld Lang Syne.  Here are some other songs that emphasize the importance of a new year.

Medley from Akron/Family that I’ve celebrated the new year with for consecutive years now:

Listen to first part here- Sun Will Shine (Warmth of the Sunship Version). 2nd part below.

[audio:|titles=11 Last Year]

Their website is great. Check it out: akron/family. More to come on those guys later.

A New Year’s track from The Walkmen that I enjoy:

[audio:|titles=04 In The New Year]

And the closing track from the latest Tom Waits album Bad As Me-


Closing things out with the classic anthem is Jimi-

[audio:|titles=01 Auld Lang Syne]

Thanks for reading, have a great New Year.


DFW Part V

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

I understand that these David Foster Wallace posts have been lengthy, but I’m doing this cliff-noting as a type of personal archiving as well as for those that are unable to get their hands on the actual text.

We have finally come to the conclusion of the essay  A Supposedly Fun Thing That I’ll Never Do Again.

The earlier DFW posts concerning this essay can be found here (III) and here (IV).

Chapter 13

Tibor (his table’s server) advises and recommends, but without the hauteur that’s always made me hate the gastropedantic waiters in classy restaurants. Tibor is omnipresent without being unctuous or oppressive; he is kind and warm and fun.

Many pages later he is hilariously beaten at chess by a nine-year-old girl. He then rebounds by meeting with Winston, the ship’s ping-pong-pro (the 3P,) for a game of ping-pong.

Winston only moonlights as a 3P. His primary duty on the Nadir is serving as Official Cruise Deejay in Deck 8’s Scorpio Disco, where every night he stands behind an incredible array of equipment wearing hornrim sunglasses and working both the CD player and the strobes frantically till well after 0200h., which may account for a sluggish and slightly dazed quality to his A.M. Ping-Pong. He is 26 years old and, like much of Nadir‘s Cruise and Guest Relations staff, is good-looking in the vaguely unreal way soap opera actors and models in Sears catalogues are good-looking. He has big brown Help-Me eyes and a black fade that’s styled into the exact shape of a nineteenth-century blacksmith’s anvil, and he plays Ping-Pong with his thick-skinned paddle’s head down in the chopsticky way of people who’ve received professional instruction.

Outside and aft, the Nadir‘s engines’ throb is loud and always sounds weirdly lopsided. 3P Winston and I have both reached that level of almost Zen-like Ping-Pong mastery where the game kind of plays us- the lunges and pirouettes and smashes and recoveries are automatic outer instantiations of a kind of intuitive harmony between hand and eye and primal Urge to Kill- in a way that leaves our forebrains unoccupied and capable of idle chitchat as we play:

“Wicked hat. I want that hat. Boss hat.”

“Can’t have it.”

“Wicked motherfucking hat. Spiderman be dope.*”

“Sentimental value. Long story behind this hat.”

*DFW footnote: Winston also sometimes seemed to suffer from the verbal delusion that he was an urban black male; I have no idea what the story is on this or what conclusions to draw from it.

Insipidness notwithstanding, I’ve probably exchanged more total words with 3P Winston on this 7NC Luxury Cruise that I have with anybody else. As with good old Tibor, I don’t probe Winston in any serious journalistic way, although in this case it’s not so much because I fear getting the 3P in trouble as because (nothing against good old Winston personally) he’s not exactly the brightest bulb in the ship’s intellectual chandelier, if you get my drift. E.g. Winston’s favorite witticism when deejaying in the Scorpio Disco is to muff or spoonerize some simple expression and then laugh and slap himself in the head and go “Easy for me to say!” According to Mona, he’s also unpopular with the younger crowd at the Scorpio Disco because he always wants to play Top-40is homogenized rap instead of real vintage disco.*

*DFW footnote: The single most confounding thing about the young and hip cruisers on the Nadir is that they seem truly to love the exact cheesy disco that we who were young and hip in the late ’70s loathed and made fun of, boycotting Prom when Donna Summer’s “MacArthur Park” was chosen Official Prom Theme, etc.

It’s also not necessary to ask Winston much of anything at all, because he’s an incredible chatterbox when he’s losing. He’s been a student at the U. of South Florida for a rather mysterious seven years, and has taken this year off to “get fucking paid for a change for a while” on the Nadir– Winston says he’s had the chance to do some serious ocean-gazing and soul-searching during his off hours these last few months and has decided to return to U.S.F. in Fall ’95 and start college more or less all over, this time majoring not in Business Administration but in something he claims is called “Multimediated Production.”

“They have a department for that?”

“It’s this interdisciplinary thing. It’s going to be fucking phat, Homes. You know. CD-ROM and shit. Smart chips. Digital film and shit.”

I’m up 18-12. “Sport of the future.”

Winston agrees. “It’s where it’s all going to be at. The Highway. Interactive TV and shit. Virtual Reality.  Interactive Virtual Reality.”

“I can see it now,” I say. The game’s almost over. “The Cruise of the Future. The Home Cruise. The Caribbean Luxury Cruise you don’t have to leave home for. Strap on the old goggles and electrodes and off you go.”

“Word up.”

“No passports. No seasickness. No wind or sunburn or insipid Cruise staff. Total Virtual Motionless Stay-At-Home Simulated Pampering.”


*Footnote: Interfacing with Winston could be kind of depressing in that the urge to make cruel sport of him was always irresistible and he never acted offended or even indicated he knew he was being made sport of, and you went away feeling like you’d just stolen coin from a blind man’s cup or something.

On Cruise Director Scott Peterson-

Scott Peterson is a deeply tan 39-year-old male with tall rigid hair, a constant high-watt smile, an escargot mustache, and a gleaming Rolex- basically the sort of guy who looks entirely at home in sockless white loafers and a mint-green knit shirt from Lacoste.

The very best way to describe Scott Peterson’s demeanor is that it looks like he’s constantly posing for a photograph nobody is taking.


David Foster Wallace tries hard to describe his experiences while withholding judgments. And though judgments are made, he redeems most of these coarse situations by applying the same level of severity on himself as he does others. On top of that, he balances any unpleasant reporting by making it a point to praise those he finds good-hearted and good-natured.

This essay examines so much about us. Culture, world perspectives, existentialism, community, and wealth/luxury/class are all given their due. And when paired with his essay on the 1993 Illinois State Fair (Getting Away From Already Pretty Much Being Away From It All), the observations on American Leisure only become that more three-dimensional.

Yet, the conclusions are fair and constant. Whether on a cruise, at a state fair, the mall, a ballgame, or simply walking the streets, you’ve experienced situations that led Wallace to label us as “the world’s only known species of bovine carnivore.”

Given those assignments and an examination of anyone’s day-to-day life, it’s an observation that is hard to argue against.




Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

[audio:|titles=Richard Hell And The Voidoids_Blank Generation_07_Blank Generation]

They called our music “Punk.” There are certain stylistic traits that are associated with that appellation: loud, crude, raw, angry. With all the movement’s rejection of the values of the giant media purveyors that thrive by cynically exploiting people’s vanity and sentimentality, maybe the thing that separates Punk from previous anti-establishment youth movements is that Punks were a little cynical themselves from the very beginning, or at least wary of understanding even their own self-serving impulses. What they valued most was honesty, but they recognized the complexity of that. The Punk scream was one of frustration as much as it was anger. This is why the real, pure thing tends to burn out and shut down: It doesn’t survive in captivity, which is also why you won’t find it in these five hundred words. You’ve got to do it yourself, you stupid monkey.

—-Conclusion of Richard Hell’s contribution to The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984

[audio:|titles=Richard Hell_Spurts_ The Richard Hell Story_10_Time] [audio:|titles=Richard Hell_Spurts_ The Richard Hell Story_12_Lowest Common Dominator]



Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

This is a continuation of David Foster Wallace’s essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. The first part can be found here.

Earlier on this site, I featured the American artist Duane Hanson’s most famous interpretation of tourists and can be found  here. Here are some other examples of his work that pair well with DFW’s writings on the subject matter.

Below, we’ll arrive at David Foster Wallace’s descriptions and see if there are any similarities.

From the broader, overall feel of the trip (described in an earlier post), he goes into more specifics, touching on particular passengers and crew. Excerpts pulled from different parts of the section featuring the passengers waiting to board the Nadir-

Chapter 5

Everyone’s clutching his numbered [boarding] card like the cards are identity papers at Checkpoint Charley. There’s an Ellis Island/pre-Auschwitz aspect to the massed and anxious waiting, but I’m uncomfortable trying to extend the analogy. A lot of the people waiting- Caribbeanish clothing notwithstanding- look Jewish to me, and I’m ashamed to catch myself thinking that I can determine Jewishness from people’s appearance.

DFW footnote: For me, public places on the U.S. East Coast are full of these nasty little moments of racist observation and then internal P.C. backlash.

Men after a certain age simply should not wear shorts, I’ve decided; their legs are hairless in a way that’s creepy; the skin seems denuded and practically crying out for hair, particularly on the calves. It’s just about the only body-area where you actually want more hair on older men.

The women all somehow give the impression of being on magazine diets.

And a major percentage of this overheard chitchat consists of passengers explaining to other passengers why they signed up for this 7NC Cruise. It’s like the universal subject of discussion in here, like chitchatting in the dayroom of a mental ward: “So, why are you here?” And the striking constant in all the answers is that not once does somebody say they’re going on this 7NC Luxury Cruise just to go on a 7NC Luxury Cruise. Nor does anybody refer to stuff about travel being broadening or a mad desire to parasail. Nobody even mentions being mesmerized by Celebrity’s fantasy-slash-promise of pampering in uterine stasis- in fact the word “pamper,” so ubiquitous in the Celebrity 7NC brochure, is not once in my hearing uttered. The word that gets used over and over in the explanatory small-talk is: relax. Everybody characterizes the upcoming week as either a long-put-off reward or as a last-ditch effort to salvage sanity and self from some inconceivable crockpot of pressure, or both.

DFW footnote:  I’m pretty sure I know what this syndrome is and how it’s related to the brochure’s seductive promise of total self-indulgence. What’s in play here, I think, is the subtle universal shame that accompanies self-indulgence, the need to explain to just about anybody why the self-indulgence isn’t in fact really self-indulgence. Like: I never go to get a massage just to get a massage, I go because this old sports-related back injury’s killing me and more or less forcing me to get a massage; or like: I never just “want” a cigarette, I always “need” a cigarette.

By the way, I have now empirically verified that I am the only ticketed adult here without some kind of camera equipment.

DFW is assigned a dining table. He remains nice and gentlemanly in describing the majority of his tablemates and “with the conspicuous exception of Mona, I liked my tablemates a lot…”

Mona is eighteen. Her grandparents have been taking her on a Luxury Cruise every spring since she was five. Mona always sleeps through both breakfast and lunch and spends all night at the Scorpio Disco and in the Mayfair Casino playing the slots. She’s 6’2” if she’s an inch. She’s going to Penn State next fall because the agreement was that she’d receive a 4-Wheel-Drive vehicle if she went someplace where there might be snow. She was unabashed in recounting this college-selection criterion. She was an incredibly demanding passenger and diner, but her complaints about slight aesthetic and gustatory imperfections at table lacked Trudy and Esther’s (two older ladies who are also tablemates)  discernment and integrity and came off as simply churlish. Mona was also kind of strange-looking: a body like Brigitte Nielson or some centerfold on steroids, and above it, framed in resplendent and frizzles blond hair, the tiny delicate pale unhappy face of a kind of corrupt doll. Her grandparents, who retired every night right after supper, always made a small ceremony after dessert of handing Mona $100 to “go have some fun” with. The $100 bill was always in one of those ceremonial bank envelopes that has B. Franklin’s face staring out of a porthole-like window in the front, and written on the envelope in red Magic Marker was always “We Love You, Honey.” Mona never once said thank you for the money. She also rolled her eyes at just about everything her grandparents said, a habit that quickly drove me up the wall.

Intro to Chapter 9

Celebrity’s fiendish brochure does not lie or exaggerate, however, in the luxury department. I now confront the journalistic problem of not being sure how many examples I need to list in order to communicate the atmosphere of sybaritic and nearly insanity-producing pampering on board the m.v. Nadir.

After 8.5 pages of examples of “insanity-producing pampering,” the conclusion to Chapter 9

The feeling’s not all that dissimilar to the experience of being a guest in the home of somebody who does things like sneak in in the A.M. and make your guest bed up for you while you’re in the shower and fold your dirty clothes or even launder them without being asked to, or who empties your ashtray after each cigarette you smoke, etc. For a while, with a host like this, it seems great, and you feel cared about and prized and affirmed and worthwhile, etc. But then after a while you begin to intuit that the host isn’t acting out of regard or affection for you so much as simply going around obeying the imperatives of some personal neurosis having to do with domestic cleanliness and order– which means that, since the ultimate point and object of the cleaning isn’t you but rather cleanliness and order, it’s going to be a relief for her when you leave. Meaning her hygienic pampering of you is actually evidence that she doesn’t want you around. The Nadir doesn’t have the Scotchguarded carpet or plastic-wrapped furniture of a true anal-type host like this, but the psychic aura’s the same, and so’s the projected relief of getting out.

Chapter 12

Looking down from a great height at your countrymen waddling in expensive sandals into poverty-stricken ports is not one of the funner moments of a 7NC Luxury Cruise, however. There is something inescapably bovine about an American tourist in motion as part of a group. A certain placidity about them. Us, rather. In port we automatically become Peregrinator americanus, Die Lumpenamerikaner. The Ugly Ones. For me, boviscopophobia is an even stronger motive than semi-agoraphobia for staying on the ship when we’re in port. It’s in port that I feel most implicated, guilty by perceived association. I’ve barely been out of the U.S.A. before, and never as part of a high-income herd, and in port- even up here above it all on Deck 12, just watching- I’m newly and unpleasantly conscious of being an American, the same way I’m always suddenly conscious of being white every time I’m around a lot of nonwhite people. I cannot help imagining us as we appear to them, the impassive Jamaicans and Mexicans,* or especially to the non-Aryan preterite crew of the Nadir. All week I’ve found myself doing everything I can to distance myself in the crew’s eyes from the bovine herd I’m part of, to somehow unimplicate myself: I eschew cameras and sunglasses and pastel Caribbeanwear; I make a big deal of carrying my own cafeteria tray and am effusive in my thanks for the slightest service. Since so many of my shipmates shout, I make it a point of special pride to speak extra-quietly to crewmen whose English is poor.

*DFW footnote:  And in my head I go around and around about whether my fellow Nadirites suffer the same steep self-disgust. From a height, watching them, I usually imagine that the other passengers are oblivious to the impassively contemptuous gaze of the local merchants, service people, photo-op-with-lizard vendors, etc. I usually imagine that my fellow tourists are too bovinely self-absorbed to even notice how we’re looked at–

A few paragraphs further-

But of course all this ostensibly unimplicating behavior on my part is itself motivated by a self-conscious and somewhat condescending concern about how I appear to others that is (this concern) 100% upscale American. Part of the overall despair of this Luxury Cruise is that no matter what I do I cannot escape my own essential and newly unpleasant Americanness. This despair reaches its peak in port, at the rail, looking down at what I can’t help being one of. Whether up here or down there, I am an American tourist, and am thus ex officio large, fleshy, red, loud, coarse, condescending, self-absorbed, spoiled, appearance-conscious, ashamed, despairing, and greedy:   the world’s only known species of bovine carnivore.

Four paragraphs later-

Speaking of expression carnivores, Carnival Cruises Inc.’s good ships Ecstasy and Tropicale are both anchored all the way across the harbor. In port, Carnival Megaships tend to stay sort of at a distance from other cruise ships, and my sense is that the other ships think this just as well. The Carnival ships have masses of 20ish-looking people hanging off the rails and seem at this distance to throb slightly, like a hi-fi’s woofer. The rumors about Carnival 7NC’s are legion, one such rumor being that their Cruises are kind of like floating meat-market bars and that their ships bob with a conspicuous carnal squeakatasqueakata at night. There’s none of this kind of concupiscent behavior aboard the Nadir, I’m happy to say. By now I’ve become a kind of 7NC snob, and when a Carnival or Princess is mentioned in my presence I feel my face automatically assume Trudy and Esther’s of classy distaste.

Four paragraphs describing the ship, Dreamward, that has pulled alongside the Nadir. DFW explains what if the neighboring ship was in every way better than his current ship?

This saturnine line of thinking proceeds as the clouds overhead start to coalesce and the sky takes on its regular clothy P.M. weight. I am suffering here from a delusion, and I know it’s a delusion, this envy of another ship, and still it’s painful. It’s also representative of a psychological syndrome that I notice has gotten steadily worse as the Cruise wears on, a mental list of dissatisfactions and grievances that started picayune but has quickly become nearly despair-grade. I know that the syndrome’s cause is not simply the contempt bred of a week’s familiarity with the poor old Nadir, and that the source of all the dissatisfactions isn’t the Nadir at all but rather plain old humanly conscious me, or, more precisely, that ur-American part of me that craves and responds to pampering and passive pleasure: the Dissatisfied Infant part of me, the part that always and indiscriminately WANTS. Hence this syndrome by which, for example, just four days ago I experienced such embarrassment over the perceived self-indulgence of ordering even more gratis food from Cabin Service that I littered the bed with fake evidence of hard work and missed meals, whereas by last night I find myself looking at my watch in real annoyance after fifteen minutes and wondering where the fuck is that Cabin Service guy with the tray already.

Developmental Days

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

In Greg Kot’s Wilco: Learning How to Die, he articulates what so many people can’t seem to do in regards to “alt-country.”

To a new generation of listeners, Uncle Tupelo (Jeff Tweedy’s first major band) may as well have been pioneers; their blend of folk, country, mountain soul, punk, and Crazy Horse-style classic rock had little to do with the arena-ready alternative rock of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Stone Temple Pilots– Rather than dimming their appeal, however, the sense that Tupelo had emerged from a deep American tradition only enhanced their status as “serious” artists within a core group of committed fans, writers, and record labels.

Farrar and Tweedy were among the latest wave of rock ‘n’ roll kids inspired by hard-core country’s enduring virtues: a stripped-down instrumental attack, devastatingly direct lyricism, whiskey-and-cigarette-fueled emotion– Compared with the music coming out of 1990s Nashville in the guise of suburban cowboys and cowgirls such as Garth Brooks and Shania Twain who mimicked the mainstream rock and pop of the 1970s, the bands and record labels lumped into the alt-country bin sounded like the second coming of Hank Sr. and White Lightning-era George Jones.

Tupelo was far from radio-format country or rock.

These “hardcore country virtues” of “devastatingly direct lyricism” and “whiskey-and-cigarette-fueled emotion” resonate in the music I listen to today. Most notably Clay Nightingale, The Tumbleweeds, Micah P Hinson, as well as Okkervil River’s debut album Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See.

Though much of what I listen to shares elements with the above description, my introduction to this sound was in a reverse chronology because I  started with Wilco’s “progressive/modern” albums  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and  A  Ghost is Born  in the fall of 2004. Following the gradual takeover those albums did to me, I backtracked through their discography and eventually landed on Uncle Tupelo’s work.

If you have been keeping Tupelo at bay (like I know some have), I’ve picked out some stand out tracks that might pull you into their work.

No Depression  (1990)
One of the many songs about loss, isolation, and reliance on a bottle-  Flatness

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_No Depression_10_Flatness]

Whiskey Bottle  lyrics.
[audio:|titles=04 Whiskey Bottle]

This trouble Farrar describes as “seeing one too many dollar sign smiles” and “people chasing money and money getting away” makes you understand why he’d prefer a bottle and his guitar.

Still Feel Gone  (1991)
Again, the reiteration of how cheap other people can make life feel-  Nothing

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_Still Feel Gone_04_Nothing]

Still Be Around  lyrics.

[audio:|titles=09 Still Be Around]

After hearing tracks like Still Be Around  and Whiskey Bottle, it’s easy to see how the critics from the early 1990s believed that Farrar was the richer, deeper songwriter. But the first murmurings of Tweedy’s talent even coming close to Farrar surfaced after much praise from the single Gun.

[audio:|titles=08 Gun]

March 16-20, 1992  (1992)
March  provided covers of old traditionals like the Tweedy’s take on I Wish My Baby Was Born-

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_March 16-20_ 1992_09_I Wish My Baby Was Born]

and Farrar’s rendition of  Moonshiner (below) as well as originals.

[audio:|titles=14 Moonshiner]

When the rock labels were hoping that Uncle Tupelo would keep following the evolution of tracks like Gun and hopefully produce something that could contend on the alternative radio markets alongside Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Uncle Tupelo decided to, as manager Tony Margherita was quoted as saying in Kot’s book, say a “big ‘fuck you’ to the rock scene, and we knew it would cost us.” And Farrar went on to say “This should insulate us from that industry bullshit, people looking for the next Nirvana.”

I particularly like these quotes (and the decision to make March) because how many times have you discussed whether or not an artist owns  their music and controls  their artistic direction and such? To a small degree, Tweedy has made some minor concessions to labels/industry, but Farrar on the other hand has NEVER wavered. This album is a great example of talented, yet broke, artists disregarding industry trends and maintaining a steadfast commitment to making honest, truthful work.

A few originals from March:  Tweedy’s Black Eye

[audio:|titles=13 Black Eye]

and Farrar’s political Criminalslyrics.

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_March 16-20_ 1992_04_Criminals]

March  was followed up by Tweedy and Farrar’s final collaboration and is considered to be their most complete album, Anodyne (1993).  The album features the differing perspectives and foreshadows what is to come.
Farrar’s Slatelyrics.

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_Anodyne_01_Slate]

and Tweedy’s call for togetherness in The  Long Cut.

[audio:|titles=18 The Long Cut]

Farrar’s attitude continues with the title track as well as Fifteen Keys lyrics.
Anodyne  lyrics.
[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_Anodyne_09_Fifteen Keys]

While Tweedy attempts to poke humor at the once serious tones of condemnation in We’ve Been Had.
[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_Anodyne_08_We’ve Been Had]

After a childhood together and over 8 years playing music in tandem, Farrar stated he could no longer work with Tweedy. When Margherita tried to talk Farrar down about breaking up citing artistic potential and commercial success, Kot writes:

For Farrar none of that mattered. “Commercial success wasn’t the reason that we started the band,” he says, “so that wasn’t any reason to keep it going forward. That’s the wrong reason to start a band, and the wrong reason to continue a band. It had run its course.”

So they broke up with Farrar creating Son Volt and Tweedy rounding the remainding Tupelo members and forging ahead with Wilco.

Also  Wilco: Learning How to Die  includes over 50 pages hating on the entertainment industry featuring text such as “Corporate consolidation had narrowed the pipeline to radio to the point where any hint of individuality had all but been expunged from the airwaves” as well as-

A band’s worth was determined no longer by its artistic reach, its potential to create music of lasting significance, but how rapidly it could find a huge audience. It didn’t matter whether that audience was seduced by a designer fashion line, an acting role in a Hollywood movie, a tie-in with a video game, or, perchance, a compact disc as long as the corporate shareholders got their quarterly dose of good news.

I’ll finish this post with Tupelo covering The Soft Boys’ I Wanna Destroy You.

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_Still Feel Gone_15_I Wanna Destroy You]

It was interesting to have Yankee Hotel Foxtrot  and A Ghost Is Born  be  my first experiences of Tweedy’s songwriting only to become more familiar with  earlier Wilco albums like Being There  and eventually coming to know Tweedy’s foundation with Uncle Tupelo. It’s not an uncommon feeling to wish you could have seen the beginnings of a great band/artist, which is why it is important to stay connected and support the artists you enjoy, especially  when they are still “small-time.”

Next we’ll look at the evolution of Tweedy as well as others who may have followed in similar steps.


Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Travelling is one thing; tourism is a completely different. We are sold on the idea that American tourists are something like this:

But we’re all familiar with what tourists actually look like. In 1988, the sculptor Duane Hanson brought to life a more realistic vision in his piece with the self-explanatory title Tourists II:

A quick image search, or a jog through your own life experiences, will provide you with which depiction is more accurate.

What follows are excerpts from David Foster Wallace’s 97 paged perspective on tourism.

In the early Spring of 1995,  Harper’s  offered  DFW an assignment covering a seven-night Caribbean cruise aboard the m.v. Zenith  (which is owned by Celebrity Cruises Inc. and he cheekily decides to call the Nadir).

The essay was first published in Harper’s as “Shipping Out,” then became the title essay of the book A  Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.

First of three series of excerpts from  A Supposed Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again:

The meat from the introductory chapter-

I have learned that there are actually intensities of blue beyond very, very bright blue. I have eaten more and classier food than I’ve ever eaten, and eaten this food during a week when I’ve also learned the difference between “rolling” in heavy seas and “pitching” in heavy seas. I have heard a professional comedian tell folks, without irony, “But seriously.” I have seen fuchsia pantsuits and menstrual-pink sportcoats and maroon-and-purple warm-ups and white loafers worn without socks. I have seen professional blackjack dealers so lovely they make you want to run over to their table and spend every last nickel you’ve got playing blackjack. I have heard upscale adult U.S. citizens ask the Guest Relations Desk whether snorkeling necessitates getting wet, whether the skeetshooting will be held outside, whether the crew sleeps on board, and what time the Midnight Buffet is.

Conclusion of Chatper 2

The fact that contemporary adult Americans also tend to associate the word “pamper” with a certain other consumer product is not an accident, I don’t think, and the connotation is not lost on the mass-market Megalines and their advertisers. And there’s good reason for them to iterate the word, and stress it.

Chapter 3, the ocean as a metaphor of death, decay, void.
A few weeks before DFW boarded his ship, an adolescent male committed suicide on a Megaship and everyone chalked it up to a “romance gone bad.”

I think part of it was something else, something there’s no way a real news story could cover.

There is something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that’s unbearably sad. Like most unbearably sad things, it seems incredibly elusive and complex in its causes and simple in its effect:   on board the Nadir– especially at night, when all the ship’s structured fun and reassurances and gaiety-noise ceased- I felt despair. The word’s overused and banalified now, despair, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. For me, it denotes a simple admixture- a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death. It’s maybe close to what people call dread or angst. But it’s not these things, quite. It’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I’m small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.

DFW elaborates how he has ALWAYS associated the ocean with death. Fictional passages about being lost at sea terrified him and he knows shark-fatality facts by heart.

I don’t think it’s an accident that 7NC (Seven Night Caribbean) Luxury Cruises appeal mostly to older people. I don’t mean decrepitly old, but I mean like age- 50+ people, for whom their own mortality is something more than an abstraction. Most of the exposed bodies to be seen all over the daytime Nadir were in various stages of disintegration. And the ocean itself (which I found to be salty as hell, like sore-throat-soothing-gargle-grade salty, its spray so corrosive that one temple-hinge of my glasses is probably going to have to be replaced) turns out to be basically one enormous engine of decay. Seawater corrodes vessels with amazing speed- rusts them, exfoliates paint, strips varnish, dulls shine, coats ships’ hulls with barnacles and kelp-clumps and a vague ubiquitous nautical snot that seems like death incarnate. We saw some real horrors in port, local boats that looked dipped in a mixture of acid and shit, scabbed with rust and goo, ravaged by what they float in.

A few paragraphs later.

Here’s the thing. A vacation is a respite from unpleasantness, and since the consciousness of death and decay are unpleasant, it may seem weird that Americans’ ultimate fantasy vacation involves being plunked down in an enormous primordial engine of death and decay.

And sine DFW’s articles are prone to internalize something as trivial as looking over the ship’s planned activities–

I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable- if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.


This first series of excerpts did focus on big picture issues, rather than how constantly being around tourists and professionals in the tourism industry affected Wallace, but that is soon to come.

Read  Rickstate’s  first DFW post  here. Second DFW post  here.