Song of the Week, 3/10/2019

As fate would have it it, this song came up on the ol’ bathroom iPod yesterday, the very day that JC turned 77. 52 years after the first VU album, he’s still out there doing his thing — there he is on the Instagram, futzing around in a recording studio. Cale won’t quit as long as he’s vertical, and I for one take comfort in that.

Best Not to Look in There

My reading for the second half of our Morocco trip was Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which seemed like a fairly appropriate pairing. The book is a sort of thinking-man’s Western and parts of Morocco resemble the American Southwest, particularly Arizona and New Mexico. I am less familiar with the even more arid Texas/Mexico region in which Blood Meridian is set, but surely it is not too dissimilar to parts of the Sahara.

McCarthy’s is a much-revered name among modern writers; Harold Bloom, defender of the Western canon, blurbed Blood Meridian as “the major esthetic achievement of any living American writer,” while heavy hitter John Banville said that it “reads like a conflation of the Inferno, the Iliad, and Moby-Dick.”

And yes, the man can write. The following passage on page 20 made me sit up straight in my chair: (more…)

Shukran Very Much

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…)

Song of the Week, 2/16/2019

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 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.

Lincoln in the Sky with Bardo

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.