Tryin’ to Battle Superman

On the Bowie front, there are a few items to cover before we move on to …hours. For one, I either didn’t know or had forgotten that for a while in the late Nineties his live sets included a version of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.” Gail Ann Dorsey did the lead vocals and DB contributed harmonies and saxophone.


On a musical level this is a mixed bag; the drum’n’bass framework is a bold choice, but not what I’d call a good one. Still, the song as a whole works better than it seems like it should, and I remain awed by the chutzpah it took to trot out a nine-minute version of a weird (if popular) art number from the early Eighties for what looks like a festival crowd.


The Count of Monte Cristo

Not the edition I read, but a good rendering of the Count,
who is larger than life but a tad unhinged.

20 years ago I saw the movie version of this starring Jim “Jesus” Cavaziel… in fact I believe I saw it twice, as I really liked it. In what seems to be a pattern, the movie caused the book to be added to a list somewhere, which some years later caused it to be bought, and some more years after that finally read.

I found The Count of Monte Cristo to be perfect summer reading: Suspenseful enough to keep the pages turning, but literary enough that an English major need feel no shame being seen with it. The Count is a compelling if weird protagonist — he seems to enjoy torturing his friends as much as his enemies, and more than once keeps someone he’s theoretically trying to help teetering on the edge of suicide for no very good reason.

It’s hard to tell in translation, of course, but it seemed to me that Dumas’s prose is pretty mediocre. He’s all about the plot, which in a way makes him very American. But then parts of the book are extremely French:


The World of Yesterday

Stefan Zweig

The Neverending Bowie Thread will return with …hours, probably the album I’ve listened to the least (except for the dismal 80s records, whose existence I’ve tried to forget altogether, mostly successfully). In the meantime, I want to write a little about what I’ve been reading, for the simple reason that it’s the only way I remember any of it.

I’ve been on a Stefan Zweig kick for a while now. After learning that The Grand Budapest Hotel was inspired by Zweig’s work, I ordered a beautiful hardcover edition of his collected short stories, which sat around the house for a few years looking pretty and intimidatingly thick. When I finally dug into it, I was fairly blown away. Zweig’s world is far away in time and space, yet his characters are immediately recognizable and sympathetic. There is something fundamentally — for lack of a better word — human about it that transcends such petty limitations.

Most recently I tackled his memoir The World of Yesterday. To be honest I probably enjoyed it least of anything of his I’ve read, but it is not really meant to be enjoyed; it is a requiem for the lost world of pre-WWII Europe, written shortly before Zweig and his wife committed suicide in 1942. Beach reading it isn’t, but the craft is impeccable, the sentiments lofty, and the tragedy palpable.

Looking back I see that I flagged two passages, both of which are in the realm of advice for writers. The first is aimed more at those writing history or biography, and thus perhaps of limited use, but quite pithy: