OK Computer is one of the best records of the 90s. Every time I listen to it I hear something new and interesting. So, why on earth would anyone want to cover the whole thing? And how could you possibly do justice to this multi-layered masterpiece?
I can’t answer the first question, but the second question is more or less answered by this tribute which was orchestrated by Stereogum.
The answer is by stripping down the music to its bare essentials. When I first listened to the songs I was really puzzled by how you could take a such a complex album and make Doveman’s version of “Airbag,” which is sort of drums and pianos. Or gosh, where would you even begin to tackle “Paranoid Android?” Well Slaraffenland create a bizarre symphonic version that excises many things–in fact half of the lyrics are missing–and yet keeps elements that touch on the original. But it’s an interesting version of the song and shows a bizarre sense of creativity. And that is more or less what this tribute does–it makes new versions of these songs.
Mobius Band make a kind of Police-sounding version of “Subterranean Homesick Alien.” Again, it radically changes the song, making it a fast and driving song (although I don’t care for the repeated “Uptights” and “Outsides” during the verses).
Vampire Weekend, one of the few bands that I actually knew in this collection (and whom I really like) do a very interesting, stripped down version of “Exit Music, for a Film. The “film” they make is a haunted one, with eerie keyboards. Again, it is clearly that song, but it sounds very different (and quite different from what Vampire Weekend usually sound like).
“Let Down” (by David Bazan’s Black Cloud) and “Karma Police” (by John Vanderslice) work on a similar principle: more vocals and less music. The music is very stripped down, but the vocals harmonize interestingly. Perhaps the only track that is more interesting than the original is “Fitter Happier” by Samson Delonga. The original is a processed computer voice, but this version is a real person, intoning the directives in a fun, impassioned way. There’s also good sound effects.
Cold War Kids take the riotous “Electioneering” and simplify it, with drums and vocals only to start. It’s hard to listen to this song without the utter noise of the original. “Climbing Up the Walls” is one of the more manic songs on this collection, with some interesting vocals from The Twilight Sad.
There are two versions of “No Surprises” in this collection. Interestingly, they are both by women-fronted bands, and both treat the song as a very delicate ballad. Both versions are rather successful. Marissa Nadler’s version (the one included in sequence) is a little slower and more yearning, while Northern State’s version (which is listed as a B-Side) is a little fuller and I think better for it. My Brightest Diamond cover “Lucky.” They do an interesting orchestral version–very spooky.
Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble (a side project of Chris Funk from The Decemberists) do a very weird electronic version of the song (with almost no lyrics). It’s very processed and rather creepy (and the accompanying notes make it even more intriguing when you know what’s he doing).
The final B-side is “Polyethylene (Part 1 & 2),” It’s a track from the Airbag single and it’s done by Chris Walla. I don’t know this song very well (since it’s not on OK Computer), but it’s a weird one, that’s for sure. This version is probably the most traditional sounding song of this collection: full guitars, normal sounding drums and only a slightly clipped singing voice (I don’t know what Walla normally sounds like).
So, In many ways this is a successful tribute album. Nobody tries to duplicate the original and really no one tries to out-do it either. These are all new versions taking aspects of the songs and running with them. Obviously, I like the original better, but these are interesting covers.
[READ: November 5, 2011] McSweeney’s #8
I had been reading all of the McSweeney’s issue starting from the beginning, but I had to take a breather. I just resumed (and I have about ten left to go before I’ve read all of them). This issue feels, retroactively like the final issue before McSweeney’s changed–one is tempted to say it has something to do with September 11th, but again, this is all retroactive speculation. Of course, the introduction states that most of the work on this Issue was done between April and June of 2001, so even though the publication date is 2002, it does stand as a pre 9/11 document.
But this issue is a wild creation–full of hoaxes and fakery and discussions of hoaxes and fakery but also with some seriousness thrown in–which makes for a fairly confusing issue and one that is rife with a kind of insider humor.
But there’s also a lot of non-fiction and interviews. (The Believer’s first issue came out in March 2003, so it seems like maybe this was the last time they wanted to really inundate their books with anything other than fiction (Issue #9 has some non-fiction, but it’s by fiction writers).
This issue was also guest edited by Paul Maliszewski. He offers a brief(ish) note to open the book, talking about his editing process and selection and about his black polydactyl cat. Then he mentions finding a coupon in the phonebook for a painting class which advertised “Learn to Paint Like the Old Masters” and he wonders which Old Masters people ask to be able to paint like–and there’s a fun little internal monologue about that.
The introduction then goes on to list the 100 stores that are the best places to find McSweeney’s. There are many stores that I have heard of (I wonder what percentage still exist). Sadly none were in New Jersey.
This issue also features lots of little cartoons from Marcel Dzama, of Canada.
As you can see from the list of contributors , this is a pretty massive issue. It comes in at 334 slightly oversized (and I think smaller than usual type) hardcover pages. So this is not a quick read. And although many of the pieces are actually rather short, there are many others which push twenty pages. There’s also two pieces with multiple authors and again, this issue really seems to scream of a sort of insular group (several people have multiple entries) of friends publishing a book.
LETTERS: As with previous letters to McSweeney’s, these letters are not letters so much as short funny bits (or mostly funny bits).
KARYN COUGHLIN-Explains the miracle of the multiplying Junior Mints (when she was a little girl).
STEVE TIMM-The history of St Uncumber or, Wilgefortis (who was removed from official saintdom in 1969).
MARK HONEY-A trip to Brazil to get away from it all.
RANDALL WILLIAMS-The pros and cons of editing professional portraits.
AMIE BARRODALE-Two perfect capers! Soaking someone in week-old urine and, better yet, pranking the goodie-goodie student and the hard ass teacher at the same time! In a hotel room!
GARY PIKE-A correspondence between Gary and the editors about his inventions–most of which were made as a child before he realized that you could use things like batteries to power objects.
JAMES WAGNER-A weird dream about a baby and white paste. And a story about hunting down a mysterious noisemaker.
LYNNE TILLMAN-Prints a letter to her ex-friend Oliver Teller. It’s a nice dressing down of Ollie.
COLLEEN WERTHMANN-Experiences of being in a coming of age film as a teenager.
KEVIN GUILFOILE-A series of letters between Kevin and the Editors about Gary’s idea of posting stories on telephone poles to let people accidentally read them. It’s an interesting concept and the Q&A is extensive.
EDNA MAYFAIR-A letter from Normal, Illinois about a man whose head is no longer supported by his neck.
J. ROBERT LENNON-The weird sensation of thinking that the person beside you is someone you know–when you know that person is several rows in front of you.
And then on to the main pieces
ALEKSANDER HEMON-”The Kauders Case”
This is a piece of fiction told in several parts. It is set in Sarajevo in 1985. The narrator meets Isadora in the literature department. They are scrupulously different from everyone else, up to the point of having a Nazi themed birthday party (which lands them all in deep trouble). The story ends with the narrator questioning his own reality as the story about the Nazi birthday party gets written and re-written and becomes less and less real.
This was a short piece, a series of seemingly unrelated shorter pieces that play around with language.
MICHEL DESOMMELIER-”The Original of Laura: A First Look at Nabokov’s Last Book”
As I was reading this I kept thinking that I don’t know enough about this Nabokov book to know if this is a fraud or what. And that was before I realized how many stories in here were fraudulent. Well, the next piece answers that question. Anyhow, this is an examination of the new Nabokov novel through a few sample pages stolen by Nabokov’s nurse (who took the dictation of his storytelling). Several excerpts are presented along with commentary by Desommelier. I assumed that the story was fake because the nurse is named Eggerickx (how silly of a name is that?).
JEFF EDMUNDS-”After Laura”
So, it was all a fake. Although Eggerickx is not a fake name! Edmunds was the proprietor of a Nabokov listserv (remmeber those?). He published the above piece on the listserv before The Original of Laura was published and was apparently inundated with mail, the most important of which came from Sergei Nabokov, Vladimir’s son and principal editor of The Original of Laura. Edmunds was in big trouble, but was also quite pleased with himself for fooling everyone!
JANET BLAND, RIKKI DUCORNET, ERIC P. ELSHTAIN, AMY ENGLAND, CARLA HOWL, CHRISTINE HUME, CATHERINE KASPAR, CYNTHIA KUHN, CHRISTY ANN ROWE, DAVID RAY VANCE-”Ubar: A Reference”
In continuing with the fraudulent nature of this issue, we get this, a reference about Ubar. All of the above author contributed a paragraph or two or three about Ubar (or Ubar Major as the land is known). And basically they all make up something about this fictional place, from food, to customs, the exploding beetle, the shrieking yucca and even the rocks. (Okay, so Wikipedia tells me that Ubar is actually the name of a lost city in the Middle East). I feel like a crucial part of this joke is left out. Namely–why did they do this? It is one of those McSweeney’s pieces that is so serious about something that is so silly that I don’t quite get it.
LAWRENCE WESCHLER-”Convergences: Tina Barney Portraits”
This is a piece that is in Weschler’s book Everything That Rises, this one concerns the Tina Barney Portraits of a girl and her father. It’s one of my favorite pieces of his.
BEN MARCUS-”The Name Machine”
This is another one of those lengthy pieces that is written to be very serious but is utter nonsense–again, very confusing and not terribly funny. Basically, it’s about the narrator’s sister who gets a new name every day and takes on the characteristics of the names. The end of the essay gives several sample names with their attendant characteristics–all of which are offensive to certain names. My first thought was that Marcus wanted to rag on ex girlfriends by writing nasty things about their names.
BRIAN EVENSON–C. STELZMANN-”Moran’s Mexico: A Refutation”
This was a successful nonsense piece. It has several layers of deception (like Nabokov). C. Stelzmann is the son of A. Stelzmann. A. Stelzmann wrote the travel guide Mexico in 1927. In 1998, Moran translated Mexico but totally changed the book. The first fourteen pages are correct but then Moran goes off and make it a book of fiction. And C. Stelzmann is determined to set the record straight. It’s all crazy because the translated version is absolutely nothing like the original–not even loosely a translation. But what makes this whole scene even funnier is that this “essay” was translated by Brain Evenson who points out egregious errors from C. Stelzmann including the note from the publisher of Moran’s Mexico which says he has no interest in Stelzmann’s original because Moran’s is so much better. Webs within webs. Crazy but very funny.
RACHEL COHEN-”The Fernando Pessoa Society”
This is a biographical sketch of Fernando Pessoa and his heteronyms. (Yet another hoax, although this is non fiction about a man who created hoaxes). I’d never heard of him, and this is a fascinating look at the many people he invented to create poetry. He single-handedly created the Portuguese poetry empire. You can see details of him and his work at the Wikipedia site. This is the kind of piece that would later be published in The Believer. It was a little long, but it was well done.
JOSHUAH BEARMAN-”Unnatural History: An Interview with Jacques Gauthier, About the Things We Find in the Ground”
Gauthier is a paleontologist. This is an interesting interview with him about the state of fossils and archaeology and how many frauds are sold on the market today. It also looks at the big fraud of the Archaeoraptor.
PAUL LAFARGE-”Mrs. Ferris”
This is a funny piece of fiction about a man trying to create a monument for America not unlike the Eiffel Tower. He comes up with several ideas, all of which are shot down by his friend in an amusing manner. There is some amusing anti-French sentiment in the story mostly because the narrator befriends a Frenchman who is not who he seems.
GILBERT SORRENTINO-”Five Exhibits from Painting the Moon”
This is a crazy selection of fake art reviews. This seems to be yet another instance of making things up as if they were real. Did this trend go away in 2002? Or has it just been co-opted by Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Hodgman?
GABE HUDSON-”Cross-dresser: The Written Testimony of Captain Jeffrey Dugan, 418th Squadron”
This is a fascinating piece of fiction. It begins very slowly with, as the title suggests, the story of a military man who had been captured. But as the story progresses, we learn more and more details, which are stranger and stranger. By the end, there is body swapping and the possibility that the cross dressing is actually “understandable.” It’s a weird piece that I didn’t like in the beginning but which became very enjoyable by the ned.
JILL MARQUIS-”Problem Set No. 1″
This reminded me of Myla Goldberg’s-”Comprehension Test” from Incarnations of Burned Children (2003–so Marquis’ came first). This is a series of increasingly odd stories that you, the reader, are asked to do something mathematical with. You know, like a test.
RICK MOODY-”Inerrancy: An Interview with Dewey L. Johnson, IV”
Moody explains that after he and a coauthor wrote Joyful Noise, interpretations of the Bible, he was harangued by the above named Dewey Johnson, a Bible literalist who wanted to know where he got the gall to interpret the Bible. Moody was intrigued by this man who was intelligent and thoughtful but whose faith was entirely at odds with his own. He wanted to interview him for a magazine, but after handing in the interview, the magazine decided not to publish it. So instead, it’s published here. It’s a fascinating interview with Johnson being very hostile at first and Moody trying to get him to answer honest, searching questions (about himself and his faith). Moody seems to come close to crossing a line once in a while, but it seems overall that he was doing it in good faith. It’s an interesting interview.
J. ROBERT LENNON-”Darts ‘N’ Laurels”
This was a brief, amusing piece that showed cheers (laurels) and jeers (darts) from a local paper. Some of them were quite funny and I enjoyed how the first two actually began as one thing but sort of morphed into the opposite.
JONATHAN AMES-”The Nista Affair”
This is described as an essay but it’s impossible to know if this really happened or not (I assume not, because it makes Ames look very gullable–but I know very little about him so i don’t know if this is even remotely true to his life). Basically, as he summarizes, after he graduated from college he had a novella accepted at a publishing house. They gave him money to turn it into a novel. At around the same time. he was also invited by a Swedish magazine called Nista, to interview for the possibility of attending a conference in Sweden about young American writers. Several months later, he found out that he had a 15 month old son and that two chapters of his novel were stolen. Then he went on an alcoholic binge and wound up in a psych hospital. While it wasn’t an intriguing mystery (it was obvious who was responsible the whole time) it was certainly an engaging story. I loved how the duplicities piled upon each other and how the intrigue deepened and deepened and I wondered how it would get resolved.
STEVE TOMASULA-”The Atlas of Man”
I waited till last to read this because it was quite long. And as it turned doubt it was quite dull as well. It is about a man who is involved in photographing 50,000 nude people to create a kind of directory of body shapes. The sort of joke of the piece is that he is around nude bodies all day but he and his female colleague are so up tight (this is 1957) that they can’t even speak to each other. There are some funny moments and some genuinely enjoyable parts, but this felt way to long. I mean, it was slow and stilted in tone (which befits it being written about the 1950s) but man, if he had cut this in half, I wouldn’t have minded.
I really didn’t like this piece at all. The proposal is to build tunnels for the dogs in Manhattan (no reason is given). The “Qualifications” section is a lengthy, unwieldly bit of folderol about the author’s granduncle creating a caisson at the bottom of the sea. I found it interminable.
PARICK BORELLI, KARYN COUGHLIN, BEN DRYER, DAN GOLDSTEIN, JOHN HODGMAN, MIKE JERMONISKI, ERIK P. KRAFT, WHITENY MELTON, EUGENE MITMAN, CEDAR PRUITT, BRIAN SPINKS, BILL WASIK, JOHN WILLIAMS-”Volume 13: M”
As with “Ubar: A Reference,” this was a series of true (but silly and sometimes not) definitions created for words that start with the letter M. It was more enjoyable than Ubar, but just as “why?-inducing.” It is similar to McSweeney’s book The Future Dictionary, but that had a “point” and this is just silly. Entries include Machine Gun, Maine, Makeshift Honky, Mars (which I am guessing was written by Hodgman), Megaton, Megatron, Moby, Moesha and Mount Rushmore.
KEVIN SHAY-”Searched the Web for ‘Conrad Applebank’”
A nonsensical series of search engine entries for Conrad Applebank. Mildly amusing.
SANDOW BIRK-”This War Never Happened: An Interview with Sandow Birk”
This was a wonderful and fascinating interview with an artist whom I have never heard of. Sandow Birk created (among other works) a series of paintings about the The Great War of the Californias. He painted them in the style of historical paintings (like from the Civil War) about a fictional war that he created. The paintings (included) are fascinating and the whole idea is wonderful. Also, his take on history is very astute and something I never thought of before: Americans obsess over history because in the grand scheme of things we really don’t have any. There are 500-year-old houses in Europe that people ignore, and our country is not even half that old, but look at how we embrace our own history.
SEAN WILSEY-”The Egg”
I did a little research to confirm that this story is fiction (with this issue I can barely tell) but I’m pretty sure it is. So this is about the creation of Faberge Eggs, specifically about the brothers Carl and Agathon and their feud as to who would be the mastermind behind the eggs. The fantastical nature of the story involves Carl creating a waterproof swan and watching Agathon create the eggs while he scares him from the confines of the swan. (Alright so it didn’t seem likely that the story was real, but you never know what people will do when the Czar calls on you).
MONIQUE DUFOUR-”The Education of Uncle Josh”
This is a fascinating look at an early cinematic short from the turn of the 20th century called “Uncle Josh.” Uncle Josh goes to the cinema and believes it all to be real, interacting with the screen until he winds up ripping it down when he is in a fight with an actor on screen. This essay looks at the state of moviegoing both in America and Europe. I really enjoyed it.
STEPHAN CHAPMAN-”Three Obscure Animators”
With so much of this issue taken with fakery, it’s impossible to know if these animators are real or not. I tend to think they are real. Dammit, they’re not.
ROBERT NEDELKOFF-”Her Seventeenth Summer”
This is a nonfiction piece (I assume–yes) about fakery and that makes it okay. Essentially, the unexpected popularity of Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan (nom de plume of Francoise Quoirez) inspired an American publisher to ask Warren Miller to create his own version of this kind of young girl’s saga. So they invited the author of The Sleep of Reason to write as a young girl. And he wrote the novel Love Me Little (by Amanda Vail). People began to figure out it was not written by a woman, but not until it was long past being hugely successful and that doesn’t seem to have hurt sales any. It’s a fascinating look at the publishing world and I will be pissed if this was fiction.
LAWRENCE WESCHLER-”Convergences: Cuneiform Chicago, Logue’s Homer/Breytenbach’s Cell”
I vaguely recalled this one from Weschler’s book. It looks at Cunieform tablets and a maximum security prison with a few lines for windows. Weschler is very successful at this sort of thing and it’s always fun to see.
J. MANUEL GONZALEZ-”Juan Refugio Rocha: A Meritorious Life”
I assume this is also a fictious biography. This is about a zookeeper and animal trainer who is mauled by gorillas but still tried to communicate with them.
DARIN STRAUSS-”Omnipresent and Uncertain”
Strauss wrote a novel called Chang and Eng about the Siamese Twins from the Guinness Book of World Records. He based it on their lives but he made everything up. But the (multitudinous) descendants of Chang and Eng (they had 21 children!) had been very upset by him and his book. So they invited him to their annual family picnic. They size him up and give them a piece of their mind. It’ s a great read.
JOEY SKAGGS-”Hoaxes Without End”
Skaggs has created wonderful media hoaxes over the years. And this interview with him talks about many of them and his reasons for doing them. His most recent one, The Final Curtain was his most elaborate and it fooled everyone from The Boston Herald to NPR. And yes, even though he revealed it as a hoax, the website is still up.
CHRIS COLIN-”These Things Never Happen Overnight”
A series of responses to a woman from the Assistant Co-Director of the West Oakland Transit Village Study. The answers are more and more absurd but lack oomph without the questions.
CURTIS WHITE-”Marche Funebre”
This is a strange piece about the recurring instance of Frederick Chopin’s bed being taken out of his house and burned (presumably because he had consumption). These burnings follow him at four stages of his life, including during his involvement with George Sand (I did not know that they were involved). But it’s a strange idea and only moderately successful (I imagine Monty Python taking this idea and making a hilarious sketch out of it).
MICHAEL MARTONE-”The Blue Guide to Indiana”
Martone has written several entries about famous buildings in Indianapolis. There is a consistent joke throughout that all the buildings were created or inspired by Indianapolis-born architect Michael Graves. The conceit is funny, I just don’t think the execution is all that funny.
MICHAEL MARTONE-”Four Factual Anecdotes on Fiction”
One: a man tells a fictional account of a story that the grandfather has told him many times. When he tells his fictional story back to his grandfather, the grandfather takes it as true. Two: this is about religion. In Part A, we read about the Gideon Bible, which was not as successful as Part B, about staging a performance on a campus and how the performance takes on a life of its own–he never knows if what he’s seeing is what he created or not. Three: This is about the circus and fake horses in costume. It has a wonderful surprise at the end. I rather enjoyed that one. Four: This one references the previous story and how one reader in particular was disappointed that the buildings were fake.
Notes on Contributors
This is the usual biographical sketches of the authors, with most people getting a paragraph or two. Although Michael Martone’s runs over a page and is quite funny (funnier than his stories) and is mostly about how his mother helps him write everything.
This has been my least favorite of all of the McSweeney’s. I don’t think it has anything to with Masilewski, whose work I usually enjoy (although if he is guest editor maybe it does).
I grew weary of all the fakery in this issue. Maybe if I had read it when it came out and I was still amused by this kind of fakery it would have been more fun, but honestly it just felt like too much. The mix of fiction and nonfiction and the whole “is it real” attitude was just way too much especially in such a large book.
There were a few things that I liked in it but honestly it feels like with the advent of the The Believer, their real non-fiction found a new home, which freed up McSweeney’s for more fiction. (I’m really looking forward to #9).
I think overall I am being a bit too hard on this issue but it really felt like it was endless. I like a good joke and I like fake stuff–the Joey Skaggs bit is wonderful and I’m a huge fan of Negativland, but so much of this stuff just seemed, dare I say it as a perjorative…pointless?