This post is being written in Casablanca, Morocco, which so far is nothing like you see in the movies. It is a weird combination of breezy beach town and bustling modern city on the go. Yesterday’s itinerary included a visit to the local FedEx, where the workers were super helpful and friendly, which is very Morocco, and then the credit card machine was broken – which is also very Morocco. But all was sorted out and the package is, hopefully, winging its way back to the U.S. even now.
But my subject here today is not travelogue, it is literature. My reading for the first part of the trip was Robert Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, which – despite being written three years after Stranger in a Strange Land – is one of Heinlein’s light entertainments, not one of his philosophical blockbusters. But it is still slyly subversive, not least because it is written from the perspective of an 18-year-old girl (8 in Mars years), over the stenuous objections of Heinlein’s publishers. A female protagonist was unheard of in science fiction in 1953, a good 26 years before Alien. (more…)
So I just saw this video for the first time in… hmm… 35 years? Hard to believe it’s been that long since the golden age of MTV, but that’s what the math says.
I never forgot this song, which is a four-minute blast of relentless forward momentum that always gets me hyped. But I had forgotten about the video, which is a perfect visual analog: The camera never stops moving, the people never stop running. Ah, all that youthful energy…. Watching it makes me feel 17 again for a minute. Or four.
Of course after seeing this back in the day, I had to run out and buy the album, which was not that good. It had one other catchy track and the rest was filler. After that Belfegore disappeared into the crevices of history, never to be seen again.
But they had four glorious minutes, which is enough.
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.
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 wants to talk trash about the 90s will have me to contend with — you know where to find me.
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. (more…)