Kanye West: “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”

Truman Capote once said, “I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m a homosexual. I’m a genius.”

And that’s sort of how I feel about Kanye West. He’s a colossal narcissist, even by the very forgiving standards of the music business. He talks too much and drinks too much, and as a result sometimes interrupts awards ceremonies to say who he thinks should have won (although, to be fair, who amongst us hasn’t wanted to do that at one time or another?). And don’t get me started on the diamond teeth.

But when it comes to his work, the man does have a gift. “Genius” might be too strong a word for it, but he has managed to intertwine himself with the zeitgeist in a way that demands some kind of respect, however warped through the prism of his fame and insanity. I mean, this was the man who told the world that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” He’s got to love himself for that.

Submitted for your consideration

The first thing I read this morning was that Elizabeth Taylor had died at the age of 79, having lived a long, full, and very eventful life.

Fast-forward to a little later in the day: I headed down to the cafe for some lunch and decided to bring with me my current reading project, a volume of three works by J.G. Ballard. The circumstances that led to my acquiring this particular book were somewhat convoluted: A year or so ago I read a chapter in a book called Psychedelic Decadence about Ballard, in whom I had a longstanding but little-explored interest. A web search led me to an anthology containing what seemed to be three of his more important titles, The Crystal World, Crash, and Concrete Island, but it was out of print and unavailable. A couple months ago it turned up on Amazon and I pounced on it, coincidentally a couple days before it also turned up at the local used book store. After that it sat on my shelf awaiting the end of the Infinite Jest Deathmarch.

Anyway, long story short, I finished The Crystal World yesterday, so today I sat down and started Crash, and this is what I read:

Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. During our friendship he had rehearsed his death in many crashes, but this was his only true accident. Driven on a collision course towards the limousine of the film actress, his car jumped the rails of the London Airport flyover and plunged through the roof of a bus filled with airline passengers. The crushed bodies of package tourists, like a haemorrhage of the sun, still lay across the vinyl seats when I pushed my way through the police engineers an hour later. Holding the arm of her chauffeur, the film actress Elizabeth Taylor, with whom Vaughan had dreamed of dying for so many months, stood alone under the revolving ambulance lights. As I knelt over Vaughan’s body she placed a gloved hand to her throat.

Tricky: “Mixed Race”

Tricky’s first album, Maxinquaye, was a stone(d) classic – a journey through a whole new soundscape, alternatively spacy and aggressive, melodic and percussive. His second, Pre-Millennium Tension, was very good; his third, pretty good; and his fourth just OK. The trend was pretty clear, so I haven’t paid much attention since then.

But something I read or heard, I can’t remember what, convinced me to check out his 2008 release Knowle West Boy, and I was pleasantly surprised – nay, shocked – at how good it was. Tricky seemed to have rediscovered his sense of fun, of the possibilities of music. The follow-up, Mixed Race, is even better.

Shriekback: “Life in the Loading Bay”

One day in 1986 I was in Cymbaline Records in Santa Cruz and decided to check the section for Shriekback, one of my three favorite bands at the time (and maybe now). I didn’t expect to find anything I didn’t already own, so imagine my surprise at finding there a brand-new, long-playing vinyl record album called Big Night Music. It was mine a few minutes later and spinning on my turntable not long after that, bringing me considerable pleasure.

This sort of thing doesn’t happen much anymore; the internet makes it hard to be surprised that way. But a couple of months ago in a moment of boredom I happened to check Shriekback’s web site, and discovered that they had released a new album called Life in the Loading Bay on which original singer and guitarist Carl Marsh had rejoined the band. Several albums have been released under the Shriekback name over the last decade or so, but they were basically solo projects of the only remaining original member, Barry Andrews. The first of these, Naked Apes and Pond Life, was intermittently brilliant, but subsequent releases were increasingly lifeless and hermetic in that way of all too many solo projects.

The exception was Having a Moment, the 2005 mini-album that reunited all the members, including Andrews, Marsh, drummer Martyn Barker, and Mighty Titan of Bass Dave Allen. Together they picked up right where they’d left off 20 years before, and for a minute there it was 1985 again. In case you’ve forgotten, 1985 was a very good year.

LCD Soundsystem: “This Is Happening”

I was a little late to this particular party. For years I assumed any band that called itself “LCD Soundsystem” would make some kind of crappy techno that I would have no interest in. But I kept hearing about them and by the time I finally decided they were worth checking out, mastermind James Murphy was on The Colbert Report saying that this was their last ever TV appearance. A farewell concert is scheduled for April 2 at Madison Square Garden, and while the temporary retirement has become a fairly standard music biz tactic, Murphy seems sincerely tired of the rock’n’roll treadmill. So there’s a decent chance he means it.

He spells out his feelings about the Long Plastic Hallway pretty clearly on “You Wanted a Hit”:

You wanted a hit
But maybe we don’t do hits
I try and try
It ends up feeling kind of wrong…