SOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-EVOL (1986).
Ah, EVOL. Here’s where Sonic Youth became Sonic Youth. Who knows how much Steve Shelley had to do with it, but he shows up and the band becomes amazing. The cover art is pretty darn scary and yet the music inside is amazingly beautiful. While by no means a commercial album, the album is chock full of melody.
And yes, I believe it is mandatory to type the title in all capitals.
“Tom Violence” opens it up with a fantastic chord progression and words that are sung almost delicately. And “Shadow of a Doubt” is amazing! Guitar harmonics drift around while Kim whispers about a dream. An astonishing leap from their past records! “Star Power” seems like their attempt to right a catchy hit. It would certainly never be one, but it’s pretty close.
“In the Kingdom #19″ is a lengthy spoken piece by Lee Renaldo. My friends Lar, Aurora and myself saw Lee play a show with Mike Watt in the city on Bloomsday. We have a special affinity for Lee’s songs. I’m going to try to remember to point out all of his vocal turns on SY discs, but on those first few, it’s nigh on impossible.
“Green Light” seems like it could have been a Velvet Underground song. “Death to Our Friends” is a pretty instrumental, while “Secret Girls” morphs from a noisy abstract soundscape to a delicate piano backed poem read by Kim.
I tend to think that SY’s early stuff was all noise and bombast, and yet only three albums in and they produce a masterpiece like this.
Known as “Expressway to Yr Skull,” the originally titled “Madonna Sean and Me” shows just how much SY knew about catchy tunes. And maybe that’s the key to longevity, having a catchy tune somewhere underneath whatever layers of nonsense you throw on top (and SY throws the best nonsense I know). Admittedly, “Expressway” kind of devolves into a few minutes too many of fading notes. The disc ends with “Bubblegum” a surprisingly rock and roll song. I especially like Kim’s “hit it girls” comment.
EVOL marks the beginning of a staggeringly fantastic collection of discs.
[READ: July 16 2009] A Man Without a Country
I hadn’t been planning to read any of Vonnegut’s book out of sequence (except for the collected stories which I figured I’d read in their own sequence). But when I went to join my local library’s Adult Summer Reading Program (in mid-July, how punctual!), I received a coupon for a free book from their free book shelf. Largely they were books that I didn’t want. And just as I was about to give up, I saw this small Vonnegut book poking its spine out from the rest.
I grabbed it and brought it home.
When I was leafing through it, I was amazed to see that it was really short. Like really really short. 145 pages, about 12 articles. And at the end of each article is a page with some of Vonnegut’s own art. It turns out to be a collection of articles he had published in In These Times, a magazine I have mentioned that I used to subscribe to–but not during Vonnegut’s tenure there. In fact I didn’t even know he was there).
And so we get twelve articles bemoaning the state of our country and the world (circa 2004) and generally being comically negative. Although really, at heart he is encouraging everyone, like the Trafalmadorians in Slaughterhouse Five to remember the positive aspects of life. For he fears that we seldom notice that we are happy. And so on a pleasant day sitting under a tree and drinking lemonade his Uncle Alex would just exclaim, “If this isn’t nice,m I don’t know what is.” And he urges us to please notice when we are happy and to exclaim or murmur or even just think, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
Mostly this book is full of observations about the George Bush II regime, but there’s also comments about himself and his life, and even a little section on the writing of Slaughterhouse Five.
He talks about growing up, about being a Socialist and a Humanist (and how it is NOT a dirty word… if only he’d been around during this Presidential campaign. His “lesson in creative writing” is very funny. He shows some charts of the good and ill fortune of the characters in great fiction (with a hilarious chart for Kafka). I also really enjoyed the article about him being a Luddite (he relates the tale of actually walking to the store to buy an envelope and then walking to the Post Office, and how much he just enjoys being out and about. His quote: “We are here on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”
His rage at Bush/Cheney et al is most evident in the section about “PPs” or “psychopathic personalities…smart personable people who have no consciences.” And the problem with them is that they always have to feel decisive. “Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don’t give a fuck what happens next.”
He also gives major kudos to libraries!
While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, their powerful political connections or great wealth, who all over this country have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.
As with the Kate Clinton book, reading articles that were originally published months apart in one fell swoop can be repetitive. For yes, even KV tends to re-use similar jokes from time to time. And yet, overall the book is enjoyable, funny, maddening and thought-provoking.
One could choose to start reading Vonnegut’s works with this book, but really it’s more for anyone who has read and enjoyed at least one of his books. The nonfiction is a but more strident than his fiction, but he never loses his sense of humor, and there’s a good joke or three in every piece.
Not a bad collection for his last book published during his lifetime.