Quick Review: Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown

It’s good, and I like it, and I think I’ll like it more the more I listen to it. It continues in the same vein of American Idiot, i.e., loosely linked concept album with lots of anthemic moments, so if you like the one you’ll like the other.

That said, I’ve seen reviews that say it tops American Idiot, and I don’t think that’s even close to being true. Even if 21CB has more of thematic through-line than AI (which it does) and the songwriting is close to par with that album (and it is), the fact is AI is substantially more significant, both for the band — it was the album where a fading set of yesterday’s heroes said “fuck it,” went for broke and watched it pay off big — and for its time, in which its snarly WTF? attitude perfectly encapsulated a generation’s growing disgust for Bush’s America. Lots of musicians were pissed off about Bush in 2004, to be sure. But Green Day was the one that hit the sentiment right out of the park and went multi-platinum with it as a consequence. Right place, right time, right band, right album. Nice when it happens. It doesn’t happen for everyone.

So as good as 21CB is, at the end of the day Green Day’s going to be remembered for two albums: Dookie, which is the album that got them their career, and American Idiot, which got them their career back, and will probably (for what it’s worth) get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day. As long as we’re clear on this, we’re all good.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Sarah Prineas

“What if you could do magic by blowing things up?” This is the question author Sarah Prineas is asking in her The Magic Thief series, of which the second, Lost, has just hit the stores. My answer: Man, if I could do magic by blowing things up, I’d be the happiest wizard ever. But there’s more to it, of course, as Prineas explains below.


The Magic Thief: Lost is the second book in a series, and follows The Magic Thief, which was published in June 2008 by HarperCollins Children’s.  It’s a book for ages 10 and up, and it really does read ‘up.’  Or so I’m told.  The main story arc of the books is that a gutterboy thief named Conn becomes the apprentice of a cranky wizard named Nevery.  Conn is incredibly pragmatic, and sets about solving the mystery of why the magic of the city of Wellmet, where they live, is dying.  Because the magic is under attack, Conn discovers—which, in turn, leads him to bigger adventures than he ever could have expected.  The biggish ideas of Lost include pyrotechnics, swordfighting, adventure, traveling on bad roads, friendship, enemyship, peril, heartache, hairsbreadth escapes, cliffhangers (not at the end), sly references to dragons, and not nearly enough biscuits and bacon.

Right, I know.  These aren’t Big Ideas.

When I begin writing a novel, I have no clue how it is going to play out.  My positive spin on this is that it’s “writing as discovery.”  I write not in order to elucidate big ideas, but in service to story, and to finding out what happens next.  I do explore some ideas in the book.  Like: What happens if you’ve lost everything you ever wanted?  And: What if magic weren’t something to be used by wizards but a living entity with its own goals—not necessarily benign ones?  And finally: What if you could do magic by blowing things up?

But mainly it’s about the discovery and the adventure and the fun.

I’m serious about the pyrotechnics, by the way.  There’s even a recipe for black powder in the book.  There’s also a recipe for chicken pot pie with a biscuit crust.  The main character was a street kid before he became a wizard.  He’s a little obsessed on the subject of food.  It’s an important element in the series.

Scalzi says in the description for the Big Idea project that “ideas are easy, writing is hard.”  It’s actually the opposite for me.  Sure, writing is a lot of work, but for me it’s joyful, incredibly rewarding work.  I really don’t think in terms of big ideas, but in terms of character, and how plot arises from character.  One of the big things I learned from writing this book, my second, is that writing as discovery—writing into the void—was something I could do.  I learned to be confident that even if I didn’t know what was going to happen next, if I kept writing the story would articulate itself to me.  And if it didn’t, well, I could always blow something up.

The tagline for the book (which Greg van Eekhout came up with) is “Never Mix Fire with Magic!” but it could just as easily be “When in doubt, blow something up!”

It takes me about five months to write a book.  Not steady on, 500 words a day, but in fits and starts, with plenty of “pre-writing” (i.e., blogs and emails).  I’ll get an idea for the next bit and fling it down on the page in a couple of days that produce 4000 words, and then I’ll spend a week or two recursively tweaking it, writing a new sentence here and there, getting ready for the next leap forward.

Book publishing is so weird because of the lag time between when books are written and when they’re published.  The second book is just out, but I’m just about finished with the last Conn and Nevery book.  When I write ‘the end’ I’m going to have a very hard time saying goodbye to these characters and their story.  They’ve so bravely gone into every void I’ve thrown them into, just to discover what will happen next.


The Magic Thief: Lost Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Visit the Web site for the Magic Thief series. Read the first chapter of the first book (pdf link). Visit Sarah Prineas’ LiveJournal.


The Society for Creative Drinking

Here’s an article which suggests that more than one in ten caucasians are potentially able to convert alcohol into creativity — i.e., that it affects their brain in a way in which “ethanol behave[s] more like an opioid drug, such as morphine, with a stronger than normal effect on mood and behavior.” This statistic that will no doubt delight a number of artists and writers I know, not that they actually need an excuse to drink, mind you. So what do you know: In rare cases, alcohol might actually make you more interesting. Still doesn’t make you more handsome, however.

I’ll not be testing this theory, personally. I may or may not be in the minority for whom alcohol stirs creativity, but family and genetic history strongly suggests I’m in the minority for whom alcohol primarily stirs a desire for a whole lot more alcohol, possibly to the exclusion of eating and bathing. This is not a good thing, and was a primary reason I decided not to drink alcohol when I was younger. I’ve apparently done all right without it so far. Nor do I suggest creative folks take up drinking to see if it helps with the writing; learning how to outline might be more useful, and will keep you from getting into bar fights and/or waking up next to someone ill-advised and/or wrapping the front of your car around a fire hydrant. I’m just trying to be helpful to you.

Fortunately for me, I have my Coke Zero. Sweet, sweet Coke Zero. Jolting the creative centers of my brain with 34.5 mg of caffeine in every single can. It’s like love, in alkaloid form.

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