What’s Blowing My Mind, 2013 Edition (Part 2)

As a veteran of the Gravity’s Rainbow and Against the Day Deathmarches, I wouldn’t say that I’ve suffered at Thomas Pynchon’s hands, necessarily, but I’ve certainly paid my dues. So it is with no small amount of caution that I approach a Pynchon book, and I did not undertake Vineland (1990) lightly. I’ve been pleasantly surprised: This book exhibits all of his features (wild creativity, clever references to culture high and low, and jaw-dropping flights of prose virtuosity) and none of his bugs (extreme difficulty and incomprehensibility).

Which is not to say that Vineland is an easy read, but it is a pleasurable one — I find myself actually looking forward to picking up the book, in contrast to GR and AtD, which sometimes inspired dread. I still need to be careful, though, because like Hunter Thompson and David Foster Wallace, Tommy the Pynch (as I like to call him) has a prose style that gets under your skin. After reading him for awhile you find yourself trying to write like him — producing sentences that go on and on, with all kinds of dependent clauses, and saying to yourself, “Well, why shouldn’t I just cram it all in there… what could possibly be the harm?” and the next thing you know you’ve got yourself out on a ledge in the middle of some torrential hailstorm of words that you don’t know how to stop — and you have to take a deep breath and remind yourself that Pynchon is after all a genius, some say our greatest living writer, and that mere mortals should think twice before attempting this sort of thing.

You see what happens? It’s not pretty. Here’s how a professional does it:


What’s Blowing My Mind, 2013 Edition (Part 1)

It’s been awhile since I wrote one of these (7 years, to be exact); but it’s never too late. As Clark Gable never quite said, “You should have your mind blown, and often, and by someone who knows how.” In the next few entries I’d like to share some things that have been doing it for me lately.

A Tabua de Esmeralda

I have been vaguely aware of Jorge Ben since his super-funky tune “Ponta de Laca Africana (Umbabarauma)” appeared on a Luaka Bop compilation back in 1991, but I never pursued that thread; it was one of those weird cases where a song is so great that you’re hesitant to hear more, sure there’s no way the rest of the artist’s work can live up to that standard. Then a few years back my friend Sergio gave me a DVD loaded with more Brazilian music than the mind can comfortably comprehend; I put a cross-section of it onto my iPod and again some time passed until I noticed that every time a Jorge Ben song came up in the shuffle, it was awesome.

So I started seeking out Jorge Ben albums, starting with his 1969 self-titled release, and each one got better and better, with Ben slowly adding elements of soul, funk, and rock to his foundation in traditional Brazilian music. Recently I arrived at 1974* and A Tabua de Esmeralda, which is a mind-blower for sure — right from the studio chatter that precedes the first track, which sounds mysteriously like a piece of dialogue from my own life circa 2002.