Sunday, November 09, 2014

Concerning the Novel, Including My Own

Some thoughts on the novel, a form of writing that somehow perplexes me. I have written (what I call) novels but haven’t really thought of the effort as novel-writing. That is, for me it does not detach itself from any other manner of writing that I do. I don’t wear novelist t-shirts.

Having finished Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, a novel that interests more for its subject matter than its story (tho the story’s good), I found myself sniffing Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandrian Quartet. (I almost said sniffing Justine—the first book in the Quartet—but I don’t know, it didn’t sound right).

I’ve read the Quartet twice, I think. The books tantalized me before I actually read them, and fascinated me once I did. Durrell commits himself to the Quartet both as a writer and as a participant in the stories. He’s clearly writing about specific people he knew, tho I don’t mean that the books document his life in any reliable way. Durrell supplies proof that the books are autobiographical by a prefatory note stating that they aren’t. Not that I care.

I like that Durrell offers back matter, trace glints of his characters. These include random quotes (bon mots) of the various characters, quick descriptions of people and places. Some of it is crap. The so-called character squeezes, short phrases that supposedly describe each character, just sound precious (“Clea Montis: still waters of pain.”). He has a nice, allusive language otherwise.

I get a sense with his characters similar to when a couple you know speaks of friends you don’t know. They speak of Kate and Larry spending a week in Truro and you think of these faceless people and the life they have with your friends. It’s almost a labour to think of Kate and Larry in Truro. They exist only on the basis of your friends’ reference, negatory without. That’s how I think of Durrell’s characters.

The plots of the novels, and the interaction of the characters are interesting enough that one wants to read on, but the characters aren’t especially likeable. Must we love them? Durrell loves them all. That gets in the way. No, we needn’t love the characters. I don’t and won’t.

I have been thinking this stuff because I think I’ve written an anti-novel. That’s no invention of mine. A Nest of Ninnies by John Ashbery and James Schuyler is an anti-novel by my reck. That book has much influenced me.

The characters in Ninnies aren’t especially likeable. They’re not especially anything. The authors remain so much detached from the characters as to be satisfied that the characters speak for themselves (argh, I mean the characters speak for themselves: curse you wobbly language!). Furthermore, there’s really no plot here, no satisfying Point A to Point B, for the characters to salute. They are just these human specks, not overly busy. I’ve written something similar.

I requested readers for my book and sent samples to a number of people. Just to be clear, I asked if anyone was interested and sent the ms to whoever said yes. Je n’impinge pas. I appreciate that interest, and haven’t a gripe. A few have noted the biting humour—as far as I’m concerned, there’s at least one laugh out loud on every page. Otherwise I have received little comment of any sort.

I demanded no comments from anyone. Obviously, the lack of comment is a comment. I surmise that the book did not meet expectations. Not so much expectations of me as a writer, but expectations of what a novel is. I did not satisfy those expectations.

I wasn’t trying to meet those expectations.

To undress my intentions a bit, I wrote the novel with no plot in mind. Seat of the pants, let’s see where these characters go. The genesis of the book was that all the characters were drawn from a J Crew catalogue. That is, those good-looking people in whatever tableau they are posed in, that’s how I saw the characters. In the book, they seem involved in some huge and painstaking mission, but the mission is never described. It sounds like James Bond, with hush hush and imminent danger, but the reader never gets specifics. Pretty much all that the characters do is run around from place to place, drinking cappuccino and hugging each other.

There’s some 30 characters in the book, all involved in the same mission. There is no antagonist, not one who actually appears in the book, tho one is implied. I wondered, as I wrote it, how long I could keep up this nonsense. Two hundred plus pages. It ends with a whimper, albeit an odd one.

Along the way, the overarching narrator—who I see as a character in the story—supplies acerbic, contradictory commentary, without appearing among the “crew”. As far as I’m concerned: genius!

I think what I have done displays a depth insofar as it’s a dance of meaning in a world where meaning becomes elabourate. but I think at the least the narrator’s wisecracks, underminings, and snide satire suffice as entertainment. I have written the book I wanted to write, or it wrote itself in the way it needed to be written. The question now is: what next? Is the book’s raison d’etre just not enough? Do you need a nice protagonist? You can tell me, I’ll be a good sport.

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Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Just finished Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s a fun, somewhat exhausting read.

I’ve read The Name of the Rose, which I just discovered was Eco’s first novel, a couple of times. It’s the sort of book worth rereading because successive readings will perhaps bring to light things that went over your head previously. Maybe you’re not as dense as I am but you might miss an allusion or two the first time thru. Anyway, Foucault’s Pendulum has a similar vibrant complexity.

Eco combines scholarship with a playful humour. In FC, he gathers together what seems like every arcane organization you’ve ever heard of (Templars, Masons, Rosicrucians, Elders of Zion, and many more), in a crypto-paranoid, apocalyptic plot for world domination/personal enlightenment. Yikes!

Funny, I tried previously to read the book but got bogged down in a lengthy passage giving the history of the Templars and could not finish the book. How could I get bogged down in the history of the Templars? I don’t react well to narratives within narratives. It’s as if (to me) the author becomes distracted with this further narrative, and I’m trying to hold onto the main one. So no long accounts of a character’s dreams for me, thanks. Cheesy device, anyway.

The history of the Templars didn’t bother me this time, nor the history of the various other arcane groups Eco pulls into the story. I won’t try to explain the plot except to say it involves conspiracy of the highest order. All these groups combining in a rush towards some Final Truth. There’s a whimper at the end, I might as well note, not a bang.

The conspiracy angle provokes me. I had to look up what The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was. I’d heard of it, with a negative aura, but needed to look a little closer. Not too close: crazy talk. That shit sickens me.

It’s not like I disbelieve the existence of conspiracies, even grand scale ones. I just have trouble when supposition supplies the main elements. JFK’s murder certainly displays a lot of fuzzy holes in the narrative. I for one do not know what the ef happened, or how it happened to happen. Once again I nod to Keats for the relieving idea that I don’t need to know everything. Or perhaps anything.

Eco’s erudition is of the lightest sort. He clearly knows a thing or two but offers it casually. I’m not interested in Golden Roads to Supreme Knowledge but it fascinates me to think of the lengths people will go and have gone to get on that road.

But anyway. The plot ends up kind of like I expected but that seems a minor thing. The rush of plot tends too often to be the author’s intent, but I think the details and word life that exists between the first capital and last period carry a novel. Oh dear, the Pequod sank? No, there’s more to it than that.

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Powers Gallery, Acton, Ma

We’ve been going to this gallery for some ten years, I guess. It started as a time filler while Erin took classes nearby. Now we make a point.

A day off for both Beth and me, and a rainy one, so we made a visit today. A store front in one of Acton’s many exciting strip malls formerly housed the gallery. Some years back the gallery moved to an old farmhouse across from yet another gurgling Acton strip mall. Obviously the art is what counts, but the ambiance of the old house adds something to the experience.

The gallery favours largely representational work, a good deal of which could be called nature studies. Fine with me. When I first started taking notice of art as a teenager, the so-called Hudson River School drew me in. I’m not saying anyone at the gallery belongs to that school, just that many try to capture the natural surroundings. Not surprisingly, several show local scenes.

Both Beth and I love the work of Teri Malo, of which the gallery offers numerous selections. We own several of her small seascape studies, delicate, moody exercises. Teri’s blue period. She has quite a few large canvases of waves breaking in lavish form that are quite exultant.

More recently, Teri has turned to pond and forest scenes, shifting her palette into the greens, as well as autumnal oranges. One work is especially impressionistic: orange leaves in the water, really stunning. First look might reveal a cacophony of orange and green but then you see the leaves, the water’s sheen, the light reflected. It is a swarming gust of a fall moment by a New England pond.

Another Malo painting, called “Homage”, shows a rock—more accurately boulder—formation at the edge of a pond. Good New England rock left there by some galloping glacier as seen from a viewpoint on the water of the pond (or perhaps on the other shore). Green trees in the background reflect in the water in the foreground. The rocks show granite grace and I could look at this painting for hours.

Quite a few still lifes can be seen at the gallery, most notably (for me, at least), those of Marshall Henrichs. I learned about still life in elementary school, back when they also asked me to do what I understood to be south portraits. Okay, I was nine years old and I didn’t get it, bunch of bottles and fruit. I think I’ve got the concept now.

In fact, I know I have. The sense of form, of light, and even of meditative time all conjunct in these tableaux of ordinary objects. My special friend among Henrichs’ work is called “Glass Notes”. It shows a display of eleven bottles, vases, and pitchers—including, I think, a distinctive Hendrich’s gin bottle—on a table with a white tablecloth. Gathering the sensibility of the light, the forms, and just the music of seeing something that is there just to be there: it is a wonderfully enthralling experience. That’s why the dalliance intrigues us, looking at art. We see an image found in a moment of no distraction, for the artist and then for us.

That’s not the same as photographing. Malo’s “Homage”, hangs above an old fireplace visible from the entrance. It carries a luminous photographic nature, but it is not merely a representation or copy. It allows the painted colour to halt the trammeling blindness of our daily eye. Thus too Henrichs’ still lifes. That’s just the reason to look.

Another artist whose work I enjoy seeing is Matt Brown. He does Japanese wood prints, like I know what that specifically means. I can say this much: firmly delineated places of colour matched with an utter delicacy of form and touch. Many of his prints bespeak New Hampshire’s nest of mountains, even including Franconia Notch, just outside of which occurred my halcyon school daze. These are all small prints, less than a foot, mostly, in any dimension, but endless in their depth. Really taken by these.

I could go on, but I didn’t take notes, that’s too distracting. If you don’t think my words work, you can check out the gallery’s website. Go to the website (www.powersgallery.com/) and click on the Artists link. A lot more than I can give word to. It was a good day of looking.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Majesty of Wegmans

The much-anticipated opening of Wegmans locally occurred recently. Beth and I made a quick inspection the other day, after mucking about in a nearby furniture store. Supermarket, The Event. We were there to witness Furniture Store, The Event when Ikea made its Massachusetts appearance years back (trimly written about here). Now this gloria mundi. All star shopping, the hope of the future.

Super the place seems to be. Set in a busy business district where little and large tech companies vie for best stupid company name, with the Burlington Mall not far away, it is a magnetic north for shoppers. You go down this drive to this castle-like structure, it even has a clock tower. The street had accommodating parking spaces so we parked there. A parking garage sits next to the store itself.  It’s a city, or more accurately, a citadel.

A store employee stood by the entrance, perhaps as greeter. She didn’t greet us but I think someone was speaking to her. Probably trying to get the coordinates for the dairy section. The place is vast. I believe I heard it was 50,000 square feet, which is to say 12 acres, or football fields. I dunno if that means the entire property or just the building: it don’t make no never mind. Big.

Produce greeted us first. Looked okay, and the prices were good. You pretty much have to expect a wax sheen on apples nowadays. I think it was mostly the usual stuff, no 50 shades of tomatoes. Still, I’ve seen worse, like at most supermarkets (looking at you Market Basket and Stop & Shop).

Really, I felt overwhelmed by the size of the place. The size and location of the store precludes dashing in for a pint of cream. A large café I think they called it sits to the left of the main entrance. I believe you can get meals, not just a bagel and coffee. We did not enter, but I think nearby techies might pop in there for lunch.

We wandered around but did not really gain the lay of the land. I never saw meat or dairy, for instance. I had been told that Wegmans does a lot of cross-merchandizing, but I only saw a couple of wines by the cheese section. Oh yes, Wegmans sells wines.

Few supermarkets in the state sell beer or wine. I’m not sure why the exceptions but I believe soon they all will, or will be able to. Kinda jumping ahead, but Wegmans has a large and bargain-priced selection of wine, beer, and liquor. Obviously they have tremendous buying power. Many prices were rock bottom, but there were many instances, at least in wine, that the usual case discounts that stores offer could meet or beat Wegmans’ price. The selection seemed both thorough and random. Lots of established names and all the wine-growing regions, but it seemed like a machine made the choices.

Earlier, I wandered down a different aisle than Beth then had a hard time finding her. The store absorbs people. You become part of the machine. I suppose that sounds like a creative construction. At Costco, there’s a general counter-clockwise directive, with clear side excursions. Wegmans offers a clear outer rim experience but you may need to drop a trail of cookie crumbs if you dare to seek paper towels. We found the liquor at one end, then decided to seek the bread selection. It was a straight journey but was it 50 yards, 100 yards? I’m good for it, but if you are guided by inspiration rather than master plan, you might tend to choose to forget about it.

Lack of samples surprised me. Something was offered at produce, but that just attracted store employees. Someone with a trayful offered us a cold mocha. Samples seem like a necessity to me. Wegmans has troops enough to handle that.

Cashiers stand at ready at the entrance to their lane when not occupied. Nice touch, it feels hospitable. The Whole Foods that we bow to has devolved to a lot of young people flirting with each other. Somehow, Whole Foods has lost its snap.

Wegmans is not a grim silo like Walmart, where neither customers nor employees look happy in their predicament. Wegmans feels like a utopian city, with everyone integrated into its directive. The store manager, whatever that entity might be, cannot possibly know many of the employees. Assistant managers, subalterns, proxies, god I don’t know. Running smoothly so far as I can tell.

I was glad to see no talkspeak slogans like what now graces the walls of Whole Foods. They may be coming or are kept interiour; a machine this large needs a coordinated push. It also requires the customers to make a similar push. You have to accept that under this one roof lies all possibility. That’s a bit of a swallow. Still, I’ve seen worse, i.e. Walmart. And let’s don’t forget the reputed charms of Amazon. Our need for comforting resource may lead us to further integrations. I mean, Wegmans looks fine but the store feels like you are in its stomach. I guess I am not ready for that.

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Monday, November 03, 2014

Rock On Pt 3, MC5 and How Stuff is Other Stuff

A group appeared back when I cared about the emanation of such things—late 60s—to wit, MC5, formerly or aka Motor City Five. Rolling Stone cover-storied them as the best thing since mustard, before they had released an album. Rolling Stone promoting an act? Hard to imagine.

John Sinclair served as mentor and manager for the group. He also founded the White Panthers. The White Panthers, by report, were dedicated to furthering the goals of the Black Panthers. Sinclair famously (at the time) was arrested for possession of marijuana and given a sentence of five years, which eventually, post public outrage, boiled down to two. Obviously, a lot of things going on here.

While in school, I read, if not got, a lot of the literature of the what would it be called, the Black Movement. I was sympathetic if not politically astute. I think of the scenes in Ellison’s Invisible Man, when the political firebrands seem more like bullies (“the Iron Hand crush’d the tyrants Head / and became a tyrant in  his stead”—Blake, of course, quoted from memory). So the political matter of MC5 was just stuff for me. I was wary, even if they did use naughty words.

The hype was more stuff. I’d heard their signature song, “Kick Out the Jams”, but nothing else. For a group with persuasion in their garden, that’s not much. Lester Bangs’ brief and dismissive mention of them made me look to YouTube, where all everything reposes. I found a live version of “Kick Out the Jams”. You can accomplish the same trick.

The clip begins with the lead singer exhorting: “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers”. It’s a nice phrase, albeit obviously controversial. That second noun truly was the centre of their controversial sphere. I think they had to change that to “brothers and sisters”, with considerably less impact. The world was like that, the whippersnappers. The song sounds political but the lyrics really are just testosterone sex. You can shape it more politically but you might hurt yourself trying. No prob there, it is rock and roll.

Musically, sonically, it’s full bore charge ahead. One can fairly call their music proto-punk, proto heavy metal, proto anything so long as you call it proto. A tight, steady rhythm section pushes the two guitars ahead. Those wee, little Marshall amps—sine qua non back then—added to the assault. The singer, Rob Tyner, looks kind of awkward with his rock star movements but he seems sturdy enough in all phases of rock wailing. He took his last name, sez Wikipedia, from Coltrane’s pianist. Not the only oddity reported.

Wayne Kramer, the more lead guitarist, looks baby-faced and mischievous. At one point he turns his back to the crowd and wiggles his butt as the music roars on. Right after, he and Sonic Smith, the other guitarist (the one with the awesome name), lay down on their backs while continuing to play. A little later, the two bow their guitars back and forth to each other. In another vid, same concert, they do the same movements in sync. Feels like too much forethought. Somewhere or other Kramer plays the guitar behind his back. Shades of Hendrix, or Buddy Guy.

The crowd’s into it. A bounding beach ball blesses the event. A guy gets on stage and dances for a bit until a roadie rather politely pushes him off.

I guess my tastes were moving elsewhere, because I heard little more about MC5 after Rolling Stone’s completely guileless anointment. The group lasted a few years, but at least they live forever in recorded bliss.

I don’t know why I am taken by these guys. Despite the hype, they aren’t so politically motivated as say Rage Against the Machine (who do a version of “Kick Out the Jams”). I’m leery of the escapade anyway, dire warnings from entertainers. You can tell us anything you want, but it has got to have the beat to knock our socks off. MC5 apparently played an 8 hour concert (somewhere) at the 68 Democratic Convention, which was a fun gathering of happy people. Few other scheduled performers made it to the stage. So there’s that.

Digging up old music that I didn’t really listen to is, like, I dunno. I would not want to face the head winds of MC5’s Marshall amps but it was an angry time needing serious thud. Blue Cheer came as advertised, the loudest group ever. It’s not hype if it’s all true. For all their patchy showmanship, MC5 are straightforward with their threat level. I have hardly listened to punk music, it sort of happened when I wasn’t looking, but the idea sounds corny, staged anger. If MC5 want to ride their Big Man Pony, I’ll accept the stockpile of noise. Noise is exuberance, as at least our children know.

The bass line here, I think, is that there’s no history left to happen. MC5 were just a collection of people who managed, or thought they managed, to kick the jams in an outward direction. Hippie peace & love made homeless marmalade. That war then didn’t stop, and these wars now aint stopping either. At least naughty words no longer bother us.


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Friday, October 31, 2014

Rock On Pt 2, Led Zep

I attested in my previous post that Led Zeppelin was not top tier for me, not in the day. I liked them but never purchased their music. Like with the Jeff Beck Group, whose appearance on the scene drew excitement around the same time, the guitar god was almost overmuched by a vocalist I didn’t like.

The excitement was real for me when these two groups appeared because I liked The Yardbirds so much. They must be the first rock group in which guitar gods were central. I have no idea how much Clapton appeared in Yardbird recordings. Their heyday was with Beck as lead, till Page eventually pushed him out. Page tried to create the New Yardbirds, with ex-Yardbird members. Legal wrangles and whatever, he finally settled on the famous lineup, and thus LZ. All right.

Beck’s group interested me more at the time. I hated Rod Stewart, almost all the bluesy songs suck on that first lp. However, songs like “I Aint Superstious”, with some extraordinary use of wah wah, and some other cuts, made up for the vocals. And there was “Beck’s Bolero”. This was the cream. Unmentioned in the liner notes, the players with Beck on this cut were Page, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins as ever, and Keith Moon. There might have been thought to turn this lineup into something more, but I don’t see Beck and Page co-existing creatively for long.

I remember going hopefully to the Boston Tea Party with my brothers to see Zep on their first Boston appearance. Hah! Crowds and crowds. Oh well. Never saw Beck.

I honestly didn’t quite get Zep. The radio and record players of the time weren’t necessarily of the best for sound quality. I never noticed then how good John Paul Jones is on bass. Start with that churn in “Whole Lotta Love”, but look anywhere. The combination of Bonham’s heavy hand and Page’s erratic skills on lead made me think Bonzo was off the beat. I mean his beat was so heavy it seemed to have an extra tick, meanwhile Page splayed notes. I now realize that Bonham is a metronome with interesting counts and a clever bass. Sometimes overly ambitious in his fills, and let’s just forget about long drum solos, however. Please. I survived two Ginger Baker solos when I saw Cream, but just barely.

Clapton and Beck are inarguably excellent soloists. Page’s genius lay in the layered textures of his guitar parts, and the fascinating sounds he captures and delivers.

Robert Plant’s vocals still irritate me much of the time. It was not till I heard one of his side projects, in which he sings classic 50s songs, that I realized that he had range. His patented squeal, much imitated, grates on me. Not to the extent that Rod Stewart’s gruff voice turns me off. I’m not much for vocalists anyway, certainly not when they are spotlighting themselves. John Lennon singing “Twist and Shout” is where I want to be.

The last few years I have worked where a classic rock station plays. I’m comfortable with it, even if David Bowie or Bruce Springsteen get heavy airplay. LZ gets the heaviest. Their output is so varied tho not to say always successful. I mean the grind of “The Immigrant Song” seems to have no release, and Plant shifts between hoky scream and muttering. “Kashmir” is almost impressive but its lugubrious march seems endless to me. I don’t know why it enjoys such popularity but whadda I know?

In school, this stuff, knowing this music, was important. I wanted to talk about the music. A classmate saw Zeppelin at the Boston Garden (not a place I ever wanted to see music), and all he could say was that it was awesome. Poets reporting on poetry readings nowadays say the same thing, for god’s sake. The highpoint for my classmate was that John Bonham performed his drum solo with his hands. My friend and I wanted to hear more of his epiphanies from the concert, because this guy was really excited, but the best he could do was exalt that Bonham eschewed sticks for a while.

I think art criticism often settles on that sort of bunk. Somewhere in Harold Bloom’s writing, he repeatedly uses the term Dantesque, as in Dantesque inferno. He’s telescoping a lot of adventure into that word, without much impact. Pretty much his trademark, you ask me.

With music, especially rock music, maybe just dancing there, drumming along, whooping, that’s enough. What’s captured is some beguiling sight of some paradise. It may not even be a happy paradise, not a real escape from this mortal coil, but it reveals, perhaps, a breathing place with an exercising memory.

That said, I always wanted to talk about a concert afterwards, to put the bits I could away in some storage of life. It’s an incomplete alchemy, like Coleridge’s Xanadu dream, but it is something.

A Zep song that only recently came to my ears is “When the Levee Breaks”. A real, and obviously Delta, blues. White blues, an extant term at least in the day, most often consisted of amps to 11 and 20 minutes till done. Cream’s version of “Crossroads” seems to me to parlay an exception. I think during the vocal, that Clapton’s guitar plays fair tribute to what Johnson did. The supersonic solos (which include the recently late Jack Bruce’s bass frolic) simply articulate a different era. They got electric instruments now, and big places to fill.

“Levee” does the same thing. It begins with a ferociously heavy drum that I understand was recorded at the bottom of a stairwell with Bonzo instructed not to spare the drums. The harmonica, Plant I assume, sounds valid, he’s not pretending to be better than time. Page pulls out the slide guitar and, without sounding showy, brings out an ecstatic depth with the sound. Plant sings like it could really be true, no fake orgasms.

At one time, “Stairway” was a revelation. What’s really the revelation, and it took me long to realize: “Stairway” just reworks “Matty Groves by Fairport Convention. The build up, the near apotheosis, the redeeming solo. “Stairway” scores second on all counts. Funny, tho, there was interaction between the two groups. Fairport’s second bassist, Dave Pegg, played in a group with I think Plant. Sandy Denny, who sang “Matty Groves” joined Plant on “Battle of Evermore”. With “Stairway”, what sounded at first so majestic now sounds fey. But who says music lasts?

You hear music, or witness any art, and it is there. You think your valid thoughts, peg it, and it remains. You may deny what remains in you but I think it still works on and in you. It is true enough that Page is a sloppy soloist, but one can unearth something larger than that. The need to think about these things executes a sort of pirouette that can take time to settle within you. That pirouette itself may be the articulation. In that is art’s being. I guess.


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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rock On, Pt 1

Been reading Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste, an anthology by the late rock critic Lester Bangs (edited by John Morthland). A previous anthology edited by Greil Marcus exists, but I haven’t read that. The book brings two things to me: that Bangs is an electric writer, and that I would like to write about the rock music that surrounded me thru the years. The Pt 1, above, suggests that I may make a series of this. I mean, like, I might maybe take Led Zeppelin for a subject for discourse, e’en tho they weren’t top tier in my interests. Of course, they were Led Zep: Ride the pony!

So anyway.

I guess Rolling Stone invented rock criticism. Previously, we let Alan Freed and Dick Clark make the decisions. I remember the early issues, when Rolling Stone was a mere scrappy rag. Tiny pieces by Richard Brautigan used to be used as column filler and there was a serious Whoa! dynamic as to reacting to the let’s call it new scene of what’s happening. Era usually means error, since nothing’s so cut-and-dried, but those hippie dippie sixties had a lot of foment. Of course the Rolling Stone Corporation (Corpulation) quickly turned to soso, and crunchy little mags like Creem soon had to take up a sense of revolutionary gauntlet. Bangs wrote much for Creem. Yours truly sent something to Creem (in all innocence) and Bangs himself as editor wrote back encouragingly with his no. He suggested that I study the spew, as he called it, of Richard Meltzer, who I think I already knew. Bangs himself was a spewist, too. I’ve already called him an electric writer.

So, the thing is, who needs a rock critic? I read this stuff partly to hear about new stuff. I had to trust the writer so this actually ends up a secondary concern. There was also reassurance if a critic liked what I liked. Perhaps my favourite album as a teenager was Happy Trails by Quicksilver Messenger Service. It featured a sped up version of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” with these most darting, silvery guitar sounds. The song releases into a long solo by the other guitarist (Gary Duncan), then chunky bass solo, and some yelling and chant before a slicing return to John Cippolina’s high-treble guitar, end side one. Side two goes slow “Mona” (Bo Diddley) with Cippolina making wah wah/tremolo murk go virtuous. The rest is two long instrumentals, the second being a druggy evocation of what’s his name on Calvary, then the closing song to the Roy Roger’s Show: “Happy trails to you till we meet again.” Greil Marcus agreed that this all was awesome, to my relief. It still works for me.

So okay he was right then but otherwise, I didn’t really get convinced by, say, critics impelling the depth of Paul Simon’s lyrics. I mean to the degree that I would want exegesis, or dedicate a thesis to “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, or whatever was current at that grand age. The criticism was all a hum unless someone like Bangs let loose with a language of interest. If you haven’t heard the music, the performer, what are the words going to do? Bangs wrote of groups I never heard or heard of—as I entered my 20s I listened more to British folk music—yet his passion and concern produces energy. Still.

That shift to folk music had a touch at least to do with how following groups was muchly a lost cause. The Beatles wore out to the point that their break up was old news when it finally happened. And then Wings and whatever football Lennon couldn’t quite handle. Quicksilver for some reason took on Dino Valente—he wrote the 60s anthem “Get Together” (I believe he sold his rights for bail money). Valente added negative nothing to the group and I gave up on them. Groups changed personnel, David Crosby might show up, drugs burned. Not all the long strange trips were interesting.

You find your own way to what you like. Luckily I never bought Bruce Springsteen, which would mean a lot of buying. The Rolling Stones were always a three good songs per recording, then let the rhythm section carry Mick. I mean, you can wait for something to turn up, each new event, or just not worry it. Yes, I missed some stuff and whatever. It’s not that serious a thing. It’s just striking how these important whatevers float back into view. Bangs smacks Lennon, Dylan, Reed for their various fades. Seems shocking somehow, but it’s all right now. They were all something, and not something. Not to overplay but Bangs writing in the middle of something that looks like everything and nothing survives better than the patents pending of the superstars. And he died young. I hope none of this sounds nostalgic, nor potential parts 2-987, either. It’s all part of an inescapable something that you have too,


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Saturday, October 11, 2014

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

I finished this book last week, a thriller for armchair adventurers. I guess I can claim that soubriquet, but I read such like for more than the sensation of my hair standing on end. The book concerns an attempt to sail to the North Pole, back in the yeasty end of the 19th century.

I shan’t speak overmuch about the book. Suffice that the narrative rollicks, and that depth and scholarship show clearly. What gets me is the craziness of the undertaking.

The publisher of the New York Herald subsidized the expedition. He is the one who subsidized Stanley’s search for Dr Livingston (who was not exactly lost and didn’t exactly need saving). The Stanley expedition was a publishing coup—it stirred the public—and the polar one struck a public chord as well.

The polar expedition, led by Captain De Long, held the central idea that the polar sea was warm. Leading scientists and cartographers felt sure that an open sea existed in the polar region. One theorized that a Pacific current similar to the Gulf Stream drove warm water thru the ice to make a passageway to the North, and kept the ocean there in a liquid state.

I don’t know, speaking definitively, if this idea is hypothesis or theory. Hypothesis (if I understand the term rightly) is an idea to be tested; theory has faced tests and has yet to be disproved. Scientists actually had some reason to believe that the Arctic Sea could be warm. For instance, the warm northerly-tending current does exist. None of the whalers and others who have found their way to the region ever found hint of such a situation, tho. That whalers never found a warm sea does not mean one didn’t exist. It ought to, however, have tempered the theories.

The USS Jeanette, then, pretty quickly seizes up in ice, the ship remains stuck for two years, until finally crushed and sunk. The expedition slogged across 1000 miles of ice before reaching Siberia. Many died. Like I said, a hair raising story.

I know hindsight gives me strength, but it is hard to believe that so much was risked on the advice of so little knowledge. I guess that defines the human condition. Out of ignorance we sometimes find the light switch.

Poe, interestingly, in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, writes of a warm southern polar region where dark-skinned natives help fulfill a scurvy vision of a master race. Poe had a brilliant mind but here his swipes never quite hit the light switch. The hardest challenge is to listen to yourself.

Poe of course took many crazy undertakings. Imagining the tale-telling heart or the pit with the pendulum with such unsettling closeness shows a daring many of us can’t match. Likewise Lovecraft. One can lose one’s way, by which I mean, one loses the generative understanding. That is, if you can imagine a bleak and lacking race—frankly if you can imagine race at all (scientifically speaking, the term is a whole lot less settled than most people understand)—then perhaps you look for the light switch in the wrong place.

Theories should be placed within the coven of proof. Another book read recently, Into the Silence by Wade Davis, recounts the experiences of those who made the first attempts to climb Mount Everest. Most of them survived, somehow, the intensely stupid and foolish commands of the opposing armies during World War I. Commanding officers nowhere near the front were designing elegant plans that murdered millions and millions and millions. Was that just the olden days? Let’s talk climate change, let’s talk fracking, let’s talk…

So anyway, castles made of sand.

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