I rather enjoyed A Camp’s latest album Colonia. I discovered this session while browsing through NPR’s archives. There’s a pretty lengthy (and amusing) interview with the band and then they play three acoustic songs: “Love Has Left the Room,” “Stronger Than Jesus” and “I Signed the Line.”
Nina’s voice sounds fantstic, and in such a simple acoustic session it’s her voice that really sells the music. But this is another instance where an acoustic, stripped down session reveals the strength of the songs themselves. The album has a lot of production, but when it’s just bare bones guitar and bass, the melodies still hold up. And again, Nina’s voice just soars through these meloides. Anyone who got sick of The Cardigans needs to hear what Nina Persson can do in other settings.
Check it out here.
[READ: October 29, 2010] “The Comfort Zone”
The subtitle gives the foundation of the article: Franzen loved Peanuts when he was growing up. This article was timed to coincide with the release of the awesome Fantagraphics collection of original Peanuts cartoons. I’ve only read the first of these Peanuts books, but it was really eye-opening and quite fascinating to see that such odd thoughts were published on a daily basis on the comic section! And, I hate to sound curmudgeonly (that’s Charlie Brown’s job) but Franzen is right, the original Peanuts cartoons are far more existentially dark and satisfying than the fluffy Snoopy & Woodstock cartoons of the late 70s and 80s.
Anyhow, Franzen loved these early comics (and he makes a wonderful comment about spending a lot of time (probably age-inappropriate time) with talking animals: Snoopy, Narnia, A.A. Milne). But as with all of these longer Franzen articles, it’s about much more than just Charlie Brown. One night when he was a young boy, his older brother Tom had a huge fight with their parents and stormed out. Franzen sets this up in the context of generation gap that was sweeping through the country in the late 60s/early 70s.
And it’s this unsettledness that also explains the popularity of the Peanuts cartoons. Despite all of the differences between generations, everyone agreed that they loved Peanuts (except for Franzen’s parents, evidently–his dad never read the funnies, and his mom only liked a strip called The Girls, which sounds like a prototype of Cathy).
The other angle that this article takes is about losers. Charlie Brown was a loser, there’s no doubt. But Franzen himself was a winner. He was the king of spelling bees in his school. (This relates to Charlie Brown misspelling “maze” as MAYS, a perfect misspell for a sports fan). And when a new kid comes to challenge him he steps up his game…and makes the kid cry.
This, of course, leads to guilt. Charlie Brown one said, “Everything I do makes me feel guilty.” And now Franzen feels guilty about the boy in his class, and about being mean to a frog as a kid and about the wash cloths at the bottom of the closet which don’t get used enough (Sarah and I have jokey guilt about that too) and even about the stuffed animals who don’t get cuddled enough.
As you can see, this article is kind of all over the place but it’s very enjoyable (and he does tie it all together nicely), especially if you have a fondness for Charles Schulz and Peanuts. The article gives a brief bio of Schulz and how Peanuts changed the landscape for comics . Schulz didn’t go to art school and always had an inferiority complex about his masculinity (even though he was very good at sports he was always chosen last for teams). But he also had a good heart and didn’t like drawing caricatures because he was sure people felt bad enough about their large nose or ears that he shouldn’t draw attention to them. Yet, despite that kindness, Shulz could hold a grudge:
“Here was a kid totally dedicated to what he was going to do. And to label then something that was going to be a life’s work with a name like ‘Peanuts’ was really insulting.” To the suggestion that thirty-seven years might have softened the insult, Schulz said, “No, no. I hold a grudge, boy.”
Around 1970, though, he began to drift away from aggressive humor and into melancholy reverie. There came tedious meanderings in Snoopyland with the unhilarious bird Woodstock and the unamusing beagle Spike. Certain leaden devices, such as Marcie’s insistence on calling Peppermint Patty “sir,” were heavily recycled. By the late eighties, the strip had grown so quiet that younger friends of mine seemed baffled by my fandom.
What first made “Peanuts” “Peanuts” was cruelty and failure, and yet every “Peanuts” greeting card and tchotchke and blimp had to feature somebody’s sweet, crumpled smile. (You should go out and buy the new Fantagraphics book just to reward the publisher for putting a scowling Charlie Brown on the cover). Everything about the billion-dollar “Peanuts” industry, which Schulz himself helped create, argued against him as an artist to be taken seriously. Far more than Disney, whose studios were churning out kitsch from the start, Schulz came to seem an icon of art’s corruption by commerce, which sooner or later paints a smiling sales face on everything it touches.