The Latest: Dysfunctional 'Family'; 'Smash' turns 20

Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family

Katherine Agranovich

KAA Publishing; 176 pages

Every so often I encounter people who claim to have mystical perceptions — a classmate who insisted that he once lived in a haunted house and saw the devil laugh in his face, for example, or a woman who could read strangers' "aura" by picking up the subliminal color surrounding them. I always feel skeptical in response. But since I haven't seen the world through their eyes and can't prove their stories wrong, I'm inclined to smile and nod.

As a critic, I must cut the same slack to Katherine Agranovich's "Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family," a perplexing memoir about the author's experiences on both sides of the cosmic divide. Agranovich, a Newport Beach hypnotherapist, claims to have the ability to communicate with spirits, along with others in her family. Over the course of these pages, her son receives a vision from the Archangel Michael about his future baby brother, Agranovich and her husband get a consultation from a celestial financial advisor, and her daughter encounters guardian angels who promise her "advice about boys."

Is this implausible? Well, a few years ago, as a business reporter, I got a palm reading from a local psychic who told me I would soon find myself choosing between a residence inland and one near the beach, and that I would likely marry an older woman. Both came true. When we restrict our perceptions to the material world, the joke may be on us.

But here in the material world, I am stuck on "Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family," which is amusing in places, moving in others and frustratingly scattershot all around. What, exactly, does Agranovich intend us to feel about her experiences? Sections of the book read like sincere descriptions of the spiritual life, and the prose achieves a poetic intensity. Other times, it reads as farce — the kind of material that might inspire a sitcom or one-woman show about the absurdities of believing in a higher power.

Some of the best passages here, in fact, are the goofiest. Agranovich has a warm comic touch, and when she encounters a testy Palm Tree Fairy who turns out to be the secret source of her writing, the episode brings a smile. Later, she describes a visit from the angel Metatron — "God's mediator with men" — and sizes him up with maternal instinct: As he describes the origin of the universe, "his eyes fill with the brightest light yet, and I sense a great longing in his voice, as though he's a freshman college kid missing his mom's apple pie."

These moments, though, sit uneasily next to sobering ones. One lengthy chapter about Agranovich's grandparents during the Holocaust feels dropped in from a different book, and the payoff, in which the author's daughter has an out-of-body experience and reaches an epiphany about the reason for Hitler's hatred of Jews, is insultingly glib. (Then again, maybe it fits a volume in which the same character opines that the life of a concentration camp guard "totally sucks." Yes, it totally does.)

On the final page of "Tales," Agranovich poses a question: "Am I floating in the light of my being — or drowning in the darkness of my humanity?" She concludes that she'll get back to the reader about the answer, and that challenge may point the way to a stronger and more cohesive sequel. Palm Tree Fairy, you have your assignment.

—Michael Miller



The Offspring

Epitaph, 14 track LP

1994 was a big year for the music world, and that isn't an exaggeration.

Just to name a few examples, Weezer came out with its highly touted self-titled debut album, Soundgarden continued its upward climb with "Superunknown," and Nirvana released the somber live album "MTV Unplugged in New York" months after the death of frontman Kurt Cobain.

Also part of that list is the Offspring and its third LP, "Smash," which celebrated its 20-year anniversary April 8. To commemorate the critically acclaimed album, the Huntington Beach band announced that it is releasing in August a special anniversary box set that includes remastered vinyl and CD copies of "Smash," a 24-page booklet with never-before-seen photos of the band and other goodies, like pins and guitar picks.

Feeling nostalgic, I queued up the 14-track album on my laptop and listened to it from end to end. I did so three times in one sitting. Boy, they don't make music like that anymore.

"Smash" starts with a 25-second spoken intro in which the narrator tells listeners to grab a glass of wine and relax while listening to the album. Once he's done telling you to kick off your shoes, all the pleasantries end.

Your ears are soon bombarded by the sound of hard-hitting drums and even punchier guitar notes in the track "Nitro (Youth Energy)." Frontman Dexter Holland sings about how the world has changed and how you have to live life like there's no tomorrow. This and many of the other tracks on the album conjure up raw emotions and make you want to vent your feelings in a mosh pit.

Now 20 years old, the opening bass riff to the track "Bad Habit" has to be one of the most recognizable opening riffs in punk music. The context of the song is just as recognizable and relatable to anyone who's ever driven around Southern California.

Lyrics like "When I go driving, I stay in my lane / But getting cut off, it makes me insane" or "Well they say the road's a dangerous place / If you flip me off, I'll get in your face" evokes a typical Monday morning commute, for me at least.

"Bad Habit" is one of four tracks on "Smash" that have seen heavy rotation on our local rock station KROQ. Members of the "Kevin and Bean" morning show have even complained at times that the station is still playing Offspring songs from 1994.

With catchy songs like "Gotta Get Away," Come Out and Play" and "Self Esteem," which is arguably the best song on the LP, it's no surprise that these tracks have remained major staples in punk music.

Who could ever forget the grunge overtones of "Self Esteem" or that mesmerizing, almost seducing, guitar riff in "Come Out and Play?"

In my book, a good album has a shelf life of a few years, but a great album is able to transcend time. "Smash" and many other albums that came out in 1994 were able to do just that.

—Anthony Clark Carpio

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