Lincoln in the Sky with Bardo

Posted in Read it in books on February 15th, 2019 by bill

Congratulate me, I finished two books this week: George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo and Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. And though they are very different books, written by very different people in very different places at very different times, I found some commonality.

For one thing, [spoiler alert, spoiler alert] main characters in both die of typhoid. In the event, this was during the week the wife and I were taking pills to prevent that very thing from happening to during our trip to Morocco (which is why I was reading The Sheltering Sky in the first place). In fact mortality is a main theme of both books, though Saunders manages to be somewhat uplifting in the process, while Bowles is pretty grim — in a refined literary way, of course.

And I’d love to share more of my penetrating analysis, but departure time is at hand. Check two off the list, anyway.

Party Like It’s 1994

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 14th, 2019 by bill

A tweet from Matador Records today alerted me to the fact that Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was released on this day in 1994, making it 25 years old.

At the time, this was an album that took me by surprise. I was one of the few in my peer group who hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid on Pavement’s first album, Slanted and Enchanted. In historic perspective Slanted is a great record — I stand corrected on that one — but still I approached Crooked Rain with some skepticism.

It didn’t last long. Crooked Rain is a masterpiece right from its opening seconds, in which a loose, shambling agglomeration of guitar and drum noises starts, stops, starts again, and eventually resolves itself into a towering, monumentally catchy riff. From there it’s off to the races:

And I don’t necessarily want to get into a whole thing about Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain today — it’s one of my all-time favorites, and I don’t have time to do it justice. (You can read good, lengthy takes here and here.) But it’s just the leading edge of a wave of stuff that will be turning 25 this year, including Pulp Fiction, Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and a whole bunch of great albums:

  • Laurie Anderson: Bright Red/Tightrope
  • The Beastie Boys: Ill Communication
  • Beck: Mellow Gold
  • Frank Black: Teenager of the Year
  • Cake: Motorcade of Generosity
  • Gang Starr: Hard to Earn
  • The Jesus & Mary Chain: Stoned and Dethroned
  • Love and Rockets: Hot Trip to Heaven
  • G. Love and Special Sauce: G. Love and Special Sauce
  • Portishead: Dummy
  • The Roots: Do You Want More?!!!??!
  • The Silver Jews: Starlite Walker
  • Soundgarden: Superunknown
  • Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Orange
  • That Petrol Emotion: Fireproof
  • They Might Be Giants: John Henry
  • Uncle Tupelo: Anodyne
  • Ween: Chocolate and Cheese

Holy hell, that’s a lot of great music for one year, and all over the map too. Anyone who want to talk trash about the 90s will have me to contend with — you know where to find me.

 

Song of the Week, 2/9/2019

Posted in Song of the week on February 9th, 2019 by bill

Today’s song of the week comes in six parts, the first of which dates to 1969, when a Belgian pop-rock group called the Wallace Collection recorded a song called “Daydream” (not to be confused with the contemporaneous Lovin’ Spoonful hit of the same name):

According to Ye Olde Wikipedia,

The song was a hit in mainland Europe, though popularity didn’t make it to English speaking countries, despite its use of English lyrics.

Apparently some of the melody was lifted from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which would take this history all the way back to 1876. But Philistine that I am, I will leave the classical stuff to those with longer attention spans. Read more »

The Pile

Posted in Read it in books on February 4th, 2019 by bill

Recently I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: took an inventory of all the books I’ve acquired but haven’t read. It’s not a pretty picture. The total comes to 60-some titles and thousands upon thousands of pages. But at least now I have an idea of the scope of the problem, and can begin to take steps to address it.

The first one, of course, is to stop the inflow. To that end I am pledging publicly to acquire no more books for the duration of calendar year 2019, except for Chris O’Leary’s giant Bowie book Ashes to Ashes, which I already have on preorder.

The immediate goal is to finish all of the several books I am in the middle of before leaving for Morocco in mid-February. Then after returning home at the beginning of March I’ll start to deal with The Pile.

So why am I telling you this? Partly because writing about something is a way to make it real. And partly because I hope to write some about what I’m reading, as that seems to be the only way I really remember anything anymore. You are excused in advance for not being interested (though I am always looking for fellow-travelers, so do be in touch if anything strikes a chord).

But for now, back to Lincoln in the Bardo.

Song of the Week, 1/27/2017

Posted in Song of the week on January 27th, 2019 by bill

dmc

What DeMarcus Cousins listens to before he gets dressed for the game:

Words of the Day, 1/21/2019

Posted in A few words from Lao Tzu (or someone like him) on January 21st, 2019 by bill

For today, and yesterday, and tomorrow, and always.

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

–M.L. King

Song of the Week, 1/13/2019

Posted in Song of the week on January 13th, 2019 by bill

Timely, no?

Caterpillars

Posted in Whatever Else on November 28th, 2018 by bill

We are all caterpillars and it is our misfortune that, in defiance of nature, we cling with all our strength to our condition, to our caterpillar appetites, caterpillar passions, caterpillar metaphysics, and caterpillar societies. Only in our outward physical appearance do we bear to the observer who suffers from psychic shortsightedness any resemblance whatsoever to adults; the rest of us remain stubbornly larval. Well, I have very good reasons for believing (indeed if I didn’t there’d be nothing for it but to go off and dangle from the end of a rope) that man can reach the adult stage, that a few of us already have, and that those few have not kept the knack to themselves.

–René Daumal, A Night of Serious Drinking

Song of the Week, 11/24/2018

Posted in Audio transmissions on November 24th, 2018 by bill

Lately I’ve taken to naming an Artist of the Quarter, where I assign myself to dive deeply into one artist’s catalog over the course of three months. The first was Pink Floyd, and the second is The Fall.

To my mind the early Fall is hit and miss, with bold experiments in barbed pop sitting side-by-side with perplexing nonmusic. But they hit a real groove in the mid-80s, around the time Mark E. Smith’s wife Brix joined the band. The mid-to-late 80s Fall were tight as a belt on Thanksgiving, stunningly prolific, and perfectly balanced between accessibility and provocation.

The first Fall album I bought, 1988’s The Frenz Experiment, is still my favorite. All the songs are great, but something about this one stands out; only The Fall would match a riff clearly and shamelessly lifted from a Spinal Tap song (“Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight”) with a disturbing story about an East German athlete and his unfortunate brother, who “patriotically volunteer[s] to be sent on a labor beautification course of the countryside northwest of Dresden.”

 

Song of the Week, 11/4/2018

Posted in Song of the week on November 4th, 2018 by bill

Sing it, John.