SOUNDTRACK: RICHARD THOMPSON-Sweet Talker (1992), Mirror Blue (1994), You? Me? Us? (1996).
Even though I’ve been raving about the “bootlegs” from RT’s collection, I’m not reviewing them here, because what’s the point. I’ll just rave. Go to his site, pick some songs you like on a disc, and get it. Simple. Although if you really like his guitar workouts then I totally recommend More Guitar, great solos on this one! The funny thing about RT’s work and the man himself is that he is a very funny, genial guy both in concert and in person, and yet his songs are (mostly) so bitter and angry (and yet also catchy). It is simply hard to believe that on one record you could have “Beeswing” and “Mascara Tears” (Mirror Blue, below). What an exceptional writer.
Sweet Talker. I found this used. It’s a mostly instrumental soundtrack to a film no one (including me) has seen. There are a couple of “real” songs on it, but mostly this is notable for the origin of “Persuasion” a tremendous instrumental song that RT has reintroduced in recent times with lyrics. I think as a duet with Tim Finn. I’ve also heard it as a duet with his son Teddy, and it is truly a great song. This album can easily be overlooked though (even though, blah blah blah the songs are solid and well played, they are mostly just designed as background music).
Mirror Blue. Allmusic.com is pretty harsh (as harsh as they get with RT that is) about the production of this record. I didn’t notice anything bad about it on this listen (they claim it is very keyboardy and washed out, but I didn’t hear it). The one thing I did notice though is how the first song on this record is not a hit (almost every other one has a song that leads off and you go YEAH!) and, oddly it sounds an awful lot like a Neil Young song (“Cinnamon Girl,” anyone?) But after that the album really picks up and anything resembling being derivative is gone. In fact: “I Can’t Wake Up to Save My Life,” “MGB-GT,” “Easy There Steady Now,” all superb. Allmusic also says that “Mascara Tears” is just a mean song, but I disagree. Plus, I’m still singing the chorus several days later!
You? Me? Us? As I mentioned before, this is the first RT album I ever bought. Weird place to start I guess. It is designed as a double CD with a Voltage Enhanced and a Nude disc. As you can tell the one disc is electric rockers, the other is acoustic (somewhat solo). My only gripe with the record is that usually the balance of soft and hard songs really compliments the record nicely. So, with this one, you don’t really have that. I also realized that since I was more of a rocker when I bought this, I listed to the Voltage disc a lot more than the Nude side. And why not? “Razor Dance,” which appears on both, and is strong in both incarnations, is really just sublime in the Voltage version. Such rage and such a great choppy electric guitar. This song really sold me on RT. Some other great tracks are “Dark Hand Over My Heart,” “Put It There Pal” (most of the lines of this song are always running through my head), and “The Ghost of You Walks.” A beautiful ballad is “She Cut Off Her Long Silken Hair.” I don’t have as much to say about the Nude side, even though I did listen to it twice today and it was all pretty familiar and good. I guess I think they did two versions of “Razor Dance” and “Hide It Away” and figured they’d make it two discs instead of one long one. Which is fine. I would have liked the two discs intermingled is all.
[READ: June 30, 2007 ] McSweeney’s #17.
This has got to be the strangest McSweeney’s package ever. It comes to you in a big clear bag “Made to Look Like It Came in Your Mailbox.” All of the items are addressed to “Maria Vasquez 4416 N 16th St Arlington, VA 22207.” I won’t even speculate on who this is or if she is real. And, included in the bag are: Unfamiliar (A Twice Monthly Magazine of Different Fiction); Pantalaine (a catalog of “Plural Clothing”); A letter to Ms Vasquez from the Law Firm of Ribbon Thacker Talbot & Roy which contains several pages of photos of red cars and fish (literally. That’s it.); Another letter set up as a chain letter/spam item which includes a great short story: Peter Ferry: “The Accident”; Tyrolian Harvest Catalog; ENVELOPE of art prints; a citizen’s insertable swiftness manifest, which is essentially a cardboard page you stick in your suitcase with check boxes to indicate of all of the nefarious things you did (or could have) put inside; and last, an issue of YETI Researcher.
Unfamiliar is where the heart of the McSweeney’s package comes from. (This is something of a pun if you see the photos included in the book). There are pieces by:
SARAH MANGUSO-“But the Order of Lives is Apparent”
A thoughtful prose poem which circles around death and the narrator’s almost famous uncle.
KENNETH KOCH-”The Soviet Room”
A darkly comic story about a house which contained a Soviet Room where you could discuss Communism without fear of persecution, and the impact that this room had on the narrator’s family.
JUDY BUDNITZ-”Women and Men”
A strange look at a relationship between two people named Men and Women. It plays with gender stereotypes both with the names as well as with the details.
A slight and subversive piece about what would happen if our current president were to grow a handlebar moustache. Details of what impact it would have on America when he unveils it on Oprah! Very funny.
STEPHEN ELLIOTT & LAUREN MCCUBBIN-”Eye First Against the Wall Under Fire”
This is a graphic (ie. comic-book-style) piece about “human shields” who volunteer to go to Iraq to prevent bombings (believing that human lives would be spared). It’s a dark, borderline absurdist look at the war, which makes sense given the current state of the war.
KATIE WUDEL-”A Lack of Mountains”
A snippet of a story about stealing a blind woman. I suppose deep ideas are at work here, but I missed them.
KIRBY OLSEN-”Memoirs of an Alaskan Intern”
A very short piece about post traumatic stress and living in Alaska. Its brevity enhances its humor.
AVITAL GAD-CYKMAN-”Bits of Quality Time”
I was more confused than anything else by this piece. Each paragraph has a different heading with the implication that it is from a different character’s point of view. However, it was hard to keep the characters straight, and since none of them were particularly likable, I didn’t feel the need to.
REBECCA CURTIS-”The Sno-Cone Cart”
A sad story about a retarded woman and her bad relationship with her sister and niece. Somewhat affecting, but really so sad that you just feel bad for the main character.
GABE HUDSON-”The Draftburger”
A dystopian (and who doesn’t love dystopia!) and humorous look at a future America where people are drafted through Draftburgers which seem to come from the sky and single you out in a crowd. This is one of my favorite short stories in a long time. Everything about it was good or great. The main character is in a poetry tract at school, so his prose in the story is overblown and borderline obnoxious, just like a good aspiring poet. There’s some great jabs at governmental nonsense, as well as decent insight into military training. And, it’s all pretty funny (for the most part). I’ll be looking for more work by him.
JOHN HASKELL-”Marguerite’s Cat”
A prose poem, I think. I don’t really care for prose poems.
PANTALAINE-this is one of those weird jokes that goes so far you think it may actually be real. Absurdist clothing for multiple wearers (including photos!). That’s right, pants with three legs for two people to wear at the same time, as well as much, much more. And yet it is so thoroughly executed you almost want to buy something–certainly the toboggan hat for three!
PETER FERRY-“The Accident”
This was a great story. It was especially weird to be reading it in this format (as a typewritten two sided loose paged–almost “draft”.) It somehow felt more intimate when presented in this way. The story concerns a teacher teaching story writing to his class, whose examples begin to mirror his life in full detail. A very compelling read.
TYROLIAN HARVEST-Another joke catalog that goes so far it seems real. This is a hilarious parody of foodstuffs catalogs with warm and cozy descriptions of all of their baskets. I like how each basket finds a slightly different way to say “sausage, ham and breadsticks.”
ENVELOPE-I am unclear, where the postcard says that this may be a regularly occurring subscription item, if it was ever intended to be so [see http://www.mcsweeneys.net/envelope/]. Regardless, the pictures are cool, and are indeed suitable for framing.
YETI Researcher-Continuing with the WTF? nature of this issue, is this issue of Yeti Researcher. It appears to be a thoughtfully researched journal about Cryptic Hominid Investigation. It even includes ads for real companies (like MEADE telescopes). And yet the whole thing is preposterous. Some of the articles about found bigfeet may even get you believing that there are some out there.
Overall a crazy collection of items. This issue was sanely followed with #18 which was a small paperback with delightful stories in it. Stay tuned.