Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Yesterday I read the book and today I saw the movie of The Road. A parable is a story that teaches a moral lesson. Fruits of virtue are reaped when the moral endorsed by the parable is practiced. We know this and we know that the dominant parables throughout history aren't the ones that teach of the glories of cannibalism and rape but instead ones that lead to the simple joys of family life. The Road is a story of the latter kind. A latter day parable. And as such is familiar as it plucks the heart strings of all we hoped for or had as children. The joys of family life. It tells us if we keep trying we will enter back into the fold of the family but it will be bitter sweet to lose those we love. Bitter and sweet. But that the family and society must continue. Otherwise we will just blink out of sight like the million year old light of a million years dead star. And that would be...bad. The haunting image of the shopping cart from The Road lingered with me today in the grocery store. A George Romero-esque anti-consumerist shorthand or just a concise symbol of modern society? Either way, the shopping cart was a cool choice Cormac. (I thought I could get through the whole post without commas but I couldn't...let alone a whole book like McCarthy does!)

Monday, March 29, 2010

No disrespect by Sister Souljah

I've never been really all that certain who Sistah Souljah really was or what she really did. I've never read any of her books, I've never listened to her music. I know she said something during the LA riots which instigated some sort of  racial debate from Bill Clinton, and that I didn't even remember the details of until I looked it up again. Basically she in inconsequential to my life, so for me to read her memoir and be SO touched and SO inspired seems like a rarity.

This Book is an autobiographical look at a few of the more influential relationships that she had in her formative years, starting with her mother. She uses each chapter to better exemplify the love lost in the African American community. While, some of her sociopolitical philosophies I really don't agree with, her ideas made me feel strongly and examine my own experiences. 

 Her views on homosexuality seem completely ignorant to me.

  "....and even though she had chosen lesbianism for herself, she was still not happy. Nor could I be shaken from my belief that homosexuality, while perhaps offering some individuals relief from their pain, was nevertheless a way of avoiding our people's need to build strong , life-giving and enduring family structures, rooted in our original African culture...."   
In my experience, it seems to me that prejudiced attitudes and limited ideas about love is  what's really ripping family structures apart. Her values and morals lie in the bible and the holy Qur'an, both of those texts have historically been used to impose the interpreted morals of a very select group of people on a very large group of people. It's hard for me to feel that someone would limit there morality to the expressed ideas of a book in this day and age.
She also talks about "mixing races" and how she feels it's an ABOMINATION for black to be with white and vice versa. She touched on this quite a few times in this book. For someone like me, who actually comes from "mixed parents" I'm usually appalled at this mode of thinking. I've heard it before, it sounds like "ku klux krap" to me. But to hear it from her point of view made me almost agree with her especially when she talks about the emotional scarring of a mixed child and the lack of having a strong sense of self because you represent two different places. This is something that really hits home for me,  I'm the only person of color in my immediate family. What that means is while I was a child growing and changing into my body I started to realize that my body is different then everyone else that I'm close to. I also was the punch line to peoples racist jokes, and sometimes the victim of more violently motivated racism. This is because I stick out and I grew up in an ignorant white place. AND NOW I spend so much of my time as an adult justifying my worth and actions because I continue to live in a white and ignorant place.  So many times I've heard comments from people I consider my intellectual peers like "well, you're not that brown" or " just because that guy called you a nigger at that show that doesn't mean you need to be upset about it" and various other things. These statements are usually coming from white men who can easily dismiss these things because they've never had to really defend themselves against racism. And thats what I'm CONSTANTLY surrounded by, white men. Why? because I have a "white" family I've been socialized in a "white" place I'm still at the mercy of this "white" mentality. It can be devaluing and confusing when people in your immediate sphere belittle you're experiences with racism because they "see you as a peer" and they don't have those sorts of problems. This is the first time I've acknowledged that I do, to some degree, feel my self esteem would have benefitted being raised in a place where people looked like me and thought like me. But does such a place exist? I don't know ... but how glorious... a land of Nadias! I call it the princess dome. 
I think that separating the book into chapters that represent the people that touched her is so alluring.  You literally get to watch her grow from a scared and confused child into a self- loving woman. Even after all of the damaging relationships with men that she has, she still remains hopeful and still has love inside of her.  She is obviously a strong woman who, despite personal tragedy has made it her goal to better the lives of the people in her community and speak her mind. This is a powerful female role model. This is a brown feminist fairy tale where, the heroine saves the day and she doesn't find prince charming in the end, she finds out that she is a whole person.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Totally Wired by Simon Reynolds

Totally Wired was published last year, but I just got around to reading it now. As the front cover says, this is the "essential companion" to Reynold's previous book on post-punk, Rip It Up and Start Again, with "Post-Punk Interviews and Overviews." The best way to experience this book is to read it in segments. Pick a few interviews, skim the rest. Then when you have some time, really sink into it and read it from beginning to end. There is a logical sequence to the chapters, and so it helps to read them in order. But it's also great to read chapters randomly. There are interviews in the beginning and then some extra chapters with writings from Reynolds that weren't in Rip It Up and Start Again or are re-workings. Totally Wired works well by itself or as an extension of Rip It Up.

Having been a big NME fan in the late 1970s/early 1980s (I read it religiously every week), a lot of these interviews reminded me how much music - and music writing - back then was focused on trying to move music forward in new directions. The music mattered... and so did the ideas. There are often moments in music history when this happens. In this case, the explosion of creativity and innovation that leapt forth from the sparks of underground rock music, glam, free jazz, dub reggae, funk, electronic music, and punk in the 1970s pushed music into the future.

The peak post-punk years as Reynolds sees it were 1978-1984, and I'd agree. I definitely recall a huge transformation around 1978-79, when punk was morphing into something more experimental and atonal. The music still maintained the emphasis that punk had on short, basic songs that dealt with society or politics or everyday life, but the format of basic rock n roll or pop was subverted in different ways. As in Rip It Up, Reynolds makes the connections among proto-punk and no wave bands in the U.S. and post-punk bands in the U.K. But what's really interesting about Totally Wired is that it becomes clearer how there were commonalities among what various people were listening to or reading. It goes to show that there's a certain zeitgeist, with people in different places affected by similar things until it all coalesces in some way at a certain point in time. Or maybe that's the mythology Reynolds wants us to believe.

The interviewees include: Ari Up (Slits, New Age Steppers), Jah Wobble (PIL), Alan Vega (Suicide), Gerald Casale & Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), David Thomas (Pere Ubu), Tony Wilson (Factory Records), Bill Drummond (Big in Japan, Zoo Records), Mark Stewart (Pop Group), Dennis Bovell (producer), Andy Gill (Gang of Four), David Byrne (Talking Heads), James Chance (Contortions, James White and the Blacks), Lydia Lunch (Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Beirut Slump, 8-Eyed Spy), Steve Severin (Siouxsie and the Banshees), Nikki Sudden (Swell Maps), John Peel, Alison Statton (Young Marble Giants), Green Gartside (Scritti Politti), Gina Birch (Raincoats), Martin Bramah (Fall, Blue Orchids), Linder Sterling (Ludus), Steven Morris (Joy Division, New Order), Richard Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire), Alan Rankine (Associates), Paul Haig (Josef K), Phil Oakey (Human League), Martin Rushent (producer), Edwyn Collins & Steven Daly (Orange Juice), Paul Morley (NME), Trevor Horn (producer).

Read this book, and let it inspire you as it did me. Despite whatever you may feel about Reynold's writing, he does a great job of capturing the essence of what made post-punk music (and the music associated with it, such as art punk, industrial, synth pop) so liberating and meaningful. The fact that so much of this music is still influential or relevant to people today is proof of its lasting impact, beyond retro nostalgia. Sometimes we have to look back in order to move forward.

There are tons of great YouTube clips of these bands. Since the book is named after a Fall song, here's one of my favorite Fall songs to get you started: "Rebellious Jukebox" from their 1st LP Live at the Witch Trials..."I'm searching for the now"...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Meaningful Life

Steve Dore lent me A Meaningful Life. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last time, he’s turned me onto something incredible.

In this case imagine a story that combines the misanthropic satire of Evelyn Waugh the rapid-fire humor of Woody Allen’s prose and a touch of French existential literature.

What you get is the story of Lowell Lake a totally banal married middle class schlub who comes to the realization that his job, his marriage and his life are totally meaningless. What’s his solution? Why, gentrify. Meaning buy an old mansion in Brooklyn (The book was written in 1971. Could we still imagine a modern version? I’m thinking of you Olympia Downtown Association) once owned by some ‘important figure,’ kick out all the people living in it, and bask in self-important reflected glow of owning and restoring a house someone ‘important’ once lived in. In other words, it’s no solution. But its fair to say the for the author, L.J. Davis, this is the whole point. And in the case of people like Lowell his satire is spot on.

Without giving away more plots details, the book also gives an entirely hilarious biography of Lake has plenty of amusing interactions between Lake, his parents, his wife, his in-laws (like I said Woody Allen) and others. It also has one of the finest endings I’ve read. Not quite Sentimental Education or The Stranger but pretty, pretty good.

Winter Music Round up

For some reason 4 out of the last 5 books I read had to do with musicians. I didn’t plan it this way. But that’s how it turned out.

The first two I read because of circumstance. I was in Portland and I was due to take the train back to Olympia for New Years Eve with nothing to read. While chasing Vinnie around the Buyolympia warehouse during a game of ‘monkey harvester’ (explained by Vinnie as follows: I’m the monkey, you try to get me ‘cuz you’re the monkey harvester.) I spotted a copy of The Go-Betweens by David Nichols. I bought it for the train.

A few days later in Olympia, I spotted a copy of the Neil Young biography, Shakey, in Adam and Jen’s guest room. I had heard a lot about, so I asked Adam about. He said it was good and he could have it.

Although I don’t really believe in biographies-- Adorno is right when he says that the "the peculiarity of the self is a monopoly commodity determined by society that it is falsely represented as natural," to which we could add in terms of rock bio's and romanticized the fuck out of-- I suspended my disbelief long enough to find both books interesting, probably because they were about artists I like. So I'd recommend them if your also a fan. (If your not I'd be interested to hear why you are reading them.) In terms of approach, focus, length etc, however, the two books couldn’t be different.

romanticizes Neil Young and tells the warts and all story of his life and his music. The author seems to be a rather obsessive fan (which may explain why a lot of the book is about Young’s reluctance to interview him. Can’t say I blame him.) and the lurid, destructive and amusing details are painstakingly detailed. If you want countless stories about Young being a jerk to his fellow musicians, (or his fellow musicians being jerks like stills, Crosby etc.) the lowdown on what drugs were used for each of his records, interviews with Young's parents, extensive but unrevealing interviews with Young, or if you’re a really big fan who wants to read nearly 750 pages about Neil Young, then this books for you. If not, I can spare you the time and tell you the many amusing anecdotes about Young’s eccentric behavior.

In contrast to Shakey, The Go-Betweens is positively restrained. The book provides a straightforward account of the band and how the members made up the band, only hinting at lurid behavior, drug habits etc. He’s also a good writer with interesting opinions and who goes through the entire story of the Go-Betweens in about 250 pages. (Although in some ways this seems too short.) Unlike Shakey the book also emphasizes the contexts the individual members of the band came from, the scene the band emerged in and how their travels, producers, labels etc. influenced the band. In other words, unlike the figure of Neil Young, who admittedly seems to be a compelling sorta of weirdo, but who is treated like some type of wacko superman, the Go-Betweens are treated like interesting people who wrote some great songs.

The other two books about musicians I read were Bob Dylan and Patti Smith’s memoirs. Tobi already wrote an incredible review of the Smith book, so read that. If you still want my opinion afterward ask me in the comment section. The Dylan book was also amazing but I still have to think about it.