SOUNDTRACK: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra-Kollpas Tradixionales (2010).
Silver Mt. Zion are back! And they are noisy!
This disc continues their fine output of haunting, rambling epics. The opener is a 15 minute slow builder called “There is a Light” and the finale is a 14 minute story called “‘Piphany Rambler.” In between we have a couple of multi-part tracks: “I Built Myself a Metal Bird” and “I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds” which are some of the fastest tracks they’ve recorded. The other “suite” is 3 versions (and spellings) of the title track.
The one consistent thing about Silver Mt . Zion (in whatever version of their name they employ) is that they write incredibly passionate music. It’s often raw and it swells and ebbs with feeling. I especially enjoy the (multiple) climaxes that fill all of the longer songs. And when the band brings in the horns and the strings and the whole group sings along, it’s very affecting.
The one thing that I’m still not totally on board with is Efrim’s voice. On previous releases, I bought it because he sounded very angsty, but I’m starting to think that the tenor of his voice just doesn’t work with the bombast of the music. When the backing singers chime in, the sound is glorious, but I find his voice to be simply the wrong sound. There’s a few parts on the disc where he sings in a lower, softer register, and I found them really moving. I think if he sang all of the parts like that, they would impact the songs more strongly (and maybe even be more understandable).
I realize that the vocals are an essential part to the disc, and I definitely get used to them after a few listens, I just feel like the whole disc (and not just the music) would be amazing if Efrim used that deeper register more.
Nevertheless, the music is really fantastic, and if you buy the LP, you get some great artwork, too.
[READ: May 13, 2010] McSweeney’s 34
After the enormous work of Panorama, (McSweeney’s newspaper (Issue 33)), they’ve returned with a somewhat more modest affair. Two slim books totaling about 400 pages Each is a paperback. The first is a collection of short stories artwork, etc. The second is nonfiction work about Iraq. Both books are bound together in a clear plastic slipcover (with a fun design on it). [UPDATE: I cannot for the life of me out the books back in the cover. They simply will not sit without ripping the plastic. Boo!]
The first collection opens with a Letters column, something that we haven’t seen in years! And, as with the old letters column, the letters are absurd/funny/thoughtful and sometimes just weird.
JOHN HODGMAN writes amusingly and absurdly about red wine. It begins reasonably and just gets insane.
SARAH VOWELL is in Hawaii doing research, and she writes to let us know how trying it is to go away from the noise of New York City, to go to a quiet and peaceful vacationland, only to be kept awake all night by luaus and ukuleles.
JULIE KLAUSNER writes three short letters discussing Q&As on a book tour. Each one gets more outlandish.
SODIENYE KURUBO writes a letter to Mum telling her how successful she will no doubt be when she moves to L.A. He will join her if his visa ever goes through.
JULIO VILLAUEVA CHANG writes about the gray skies in Lima, Peru and how they are a luminous gray–with no hope of sunshine.
ARTHUR BRADFORD writes a way over-the-top discussion of when his Uncle Owen visited for Thanksgiving and desecrated the turkey (and impregnated Jodie Foster). This was quite funny.
ERIC CALDERWOOD writes about the fascinating diversity of population in Madrid.
BRIAN T. EDWARDS discusses the excellence of fasting in Egypt and how a “coffee” fast propels his writing wonderfully.
DAVID SHIELDS writes about writing, copyright and the nature of language: how it is free for anyone to use.
TIM CARVELL suggests that McSweeney’s needs a mascot and then offers three suggestions. He also includes an excerpt from his 500-plus page story: The Playboy Bunny, or Geoffrey the Fancy Rabbit.
ANDREW LELAND is slowly going blind from retinitis pigmentosa.
ARTHUR BRADFORD was recently fired from a website that reviews children’s products (which they get for free) because the site more or less pledges to say positive things about the items (which have no real value but are free) like the Duck Bottle Hugger and Starfish Bathtub Thermometer. Having recently been inundated with these types of things, I enjoyed his letter quite a lot.
After the letters comes the “proper” part of the book.
LAWRENCE-MINH BÙI DAVIS-”Like Locked Antlers”
This story is about a young woman who is reporting on the state of Vietnamese immigrants during the flooding of Hurricane Katrina. She writes for an internet-only paper (run by her father) but she has been “lucky” enough to get involved with several other Vietnamese journalists. They treat her okay, but as evening progresses, they all offer he things she doesn’t want (sex, drugs, sex). But she is strong woman and not intimidated by them at all.
She tries very hard to get stories out of the situation, but the people she interviews prove to be difficult at best. This story proved to be very believable, so much so that I assumed it was nonfiction at first. It also presented, to me, a new perspective on the tragedy.
When this story opened, I thought “Oh no, not another post-apocalyptic short story.” But I was delighted to find out that it wasn’t that at all. In fact, the story is set up in three time periods: The present day, where Robert is looking after his grandmother, Esther, while his parents are in China. Esther suffers from epileptic seizures. That leads to the post apocalyptic chapter (time period #2): When Esther has seizures, she flashes to a scene of 11 girls alone in a house, with no one else around, anywhere. These girls are remnants from the third time period of the story: Esther’s childhood. Esther was a young Jewish girl orphaned in Germany in the 1930s. You can see where this third part is going. Esther and her friends at the orphanage are scheduled to be sent out of the country, to an unknown fate.
This story was simply fantastic. Each of the three “Time Periods” was compelling. Even though we know that Esther survived the Holocaust, it’s still harrowing reading. The present day is exhausting for poor Robert, and also for Esther, who is growing more attached to her dream states. And of course, what is going on with these 11 girls? Anthony Doerr wrote one of my favorite short stories in McSweeney’s #32 as well. I definitely have to keep an eye out for more of his stuff. [Well, it turns out he has 4 books out! Shell Collector here I come].
BRIDGET CLERKIN-”Twenty Questions”
This story was wonderful for the way it utterly subverted itself. It starts, slightly vaguely, with a woman watching a man interact with a boy. The boy is reticent, but the man is eagerly trying to get him to talk. About anything. He resorts to twenty questions. And as the questions come to an end, everything you thought was going on is undermined. Fantastic.
DAVID MEANS-”The Actor’s House”
This was a cool story that looked at the lives of three actors through the house that they all lived in (consecutively). It is told from the perspective of people driving past the house who imagine the occupant: first a Hollywood Grand Dame, then a reclusive actor, akin to Marlon Brando, and finally a new starlet who increases security. The wonderfully detached storytelling amazingly invoked not only the occupants of the house but also the residents of the community.
T. CORAGHESSAN BOYLE-”The Wreck of the Beverly B.”
This is an excerpt from Boyle’s new novel. Since I am currently reading Moby Dick, another sea-faring story wasn’t at all to my liking, but I pressed on. I’ve liked most of what I’ve read by Boyle, and I did enjoy much of this story. I had a few problems with the length of certain sections. But I think that’s because they felt long for a short story. But since this is a novel, I think we can expect passages to be much longer, and forgive excess. Having said that, the agony of Beverly (afloat on the Beverly) was perhaps a bit too lengthy. Nevertheless, Boyle sets this story in the 1950s, and he evokes that time period very well. I was very curious about what could possibly happen to Beverly next. I’m not exactly sure what the whole novel would be about (this episode was rather self-contained) but I am intrigued enough to check it out and see.
MONA AWAD-”Your Biggest Fan”
I loved this story. I was so offended by it at first. It seemed so gratuitously mean-spirited. And yet, the end upended everything and made me laugh. In a nutshell, a self-absorbed douche continually gets drunk and cries on the shoulder of “the fat girl,” his biggest fan. It’s wonderfully written.
PETER ORNER-”105 Riparian Lane”
This very short story also looks at a house. In this case, a young man returns to his father’s house where he used to stare at his neighbor. It’s unseemly, but effective.
SEAN CASEY-”Conversations with Girls”
This story was surreal. In it two boys try to converse with women who are eleven or even fourteen feet tall. There’s a swimming pool involved as well. I am unclear if the height of the girls was metaphorical or actual (it seemed literal). Despite not really getting the story, (even the conversation parts were bizarre), I still enjoyed it. The writing was very straightforward , making this weird story a treat.
TOM BARBASH-”Letters from the Academy”
Having just read Infinite Jest, I couldn’t help but read this story about tennis in light of that book. Thankfully they are very different in structure and content. The story is written as a series of letters to a student’s father. The student is doing very well in tennis, and the letter-writer has taken a very keen interest in the boy’s future prospects. The boy rises through the ranks and even impresses Pete Sampras. But when the letter-writer gets a little too involved, all things goes to hell and the story turn into a comic delight.
DANIEL HANDLER-”Does This Look Familiar?”
I love the Lemony Snicket books, but I haven’t read all that much by his alter ego, Handler. This story was my least favorite in the book. I couldn’t get into it. I couldn’t really follow it. I just wasn’t really sure what was going on. Pity.
ANNIE HOLMES AND PETER ORNER-”Tafi”
This nonfiction piece is an interview with Tafi, a man imprisoned and tortured in Zimbabwe for standing up against Robert Mugabe, and for supporting the opposition. It is surprisingly upbeat given how badly Tafi was treated. He believes he can still do good in the world, so he retains a positive outlook. It’s really shocking (the brutality, not the positivity), to hear one person’s story, when you’re used to hearing about impersonal slaughter.
In this section, twenty authors, actors and artists drew a self-portrait. Some are very good. Some are rough sketches. Soon McSweeney’s will publish a full book of these sketches, which I’m pretty excited about.
The artists include: JONATHAN AMES, RASHIDA JONES, MIKE LEIGH, MICHAEL MARTONE, MICHEL GONDRY, SARAH SILVERMAN, STEPHEN ELLIOTT, ARSINÉE KHANJIAN, SEYMOUR CHWAST, JACK PENDARVIS, JOEY LAUREN ADAMS, GREIL MARCUS, JON LANGFORD, DAVY ROTHBART, RAMIN BAHRANI, BEN MARCUS, NICOLE HOLOFCENER, JONATHAN LETHEM and LISA BROWN.
The other book in this collection is by NICK McDONELL and is called The End of Major Combat Operations. (It’s available individually as well).
McDonell is a reporter who was embedded in Iraq for a few months in 2009. He was a reporter for Time. In one section he mentions that something that he wrote was published in Time, but this is all original.
The book contains a series of 50 some sections. They range from a couple of lines to three or four pages. Each section gives a snapshot of his experience in Iraq. It is a fascinating look at what life is (more or less) like during this war for soldiers, reporters and locals.
The soldiers were trained for shooting and killing people, and yet this mission is peacekeeping: walking around and trying to keep order. And yet no matter how much they try to keep the peace, the situation is pretty much impossible: in the few days that McDonell was with them he saw two young boys killed by insurgents targeting the soldiers. He also sees the weird sense of down time that pervades the military bases. They hear gunfire, but unless they hear that it is getting worse, they don’t investigate: even the quick response team is often not quick enough.
He also gets to visit a muktar, a village leader, with a soldier who is compelled to meet him and “become friends.” The muktar is able to provide some information about insurgent activity, but there’s very little that the soldier can do. The most moving story in the book was of a local terp. Terps are interpreters, Iraqi citizens who work with the U.S. military. Terps are fearful of reprisal from insurgents, so they use aliases and take roundabout ways around town. One particular terp, who was well liked by everyone he worked with, was injured during an explosion and lost a leg. Because he was not a soldier, he did not get the same medical treatment as the soldiers. He was told that he could possibly have a functioning leg if he made it to the U.S. But, despite several letters of appreciation from top military figures, he cannot get passage to the U.S. It’s a heartbreaking story.
The final chapter gives an overview of this and other wars. It’s a thoughtful section, hoping for peace in a world beset by war.
This is not the kind of book I would normally read, so thank you, McSweeney’s, for bringing it to me. Most of the stories you hear out of Iraq (if you hear them at all) are general information: number of deaths, number of explosions. You don’t often hear individual stories. Of course, everyone has a story and most of them are interesting. We won’t hear them all, but this book presents a few. And it brings the war home.