This brief set was recorded at KEX hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland (how on earth KEXP in Seattle was there I don’t know). This set was performed before the release of their debut EP, although “Dirty Paws” which they play was not on that EP. ”Little Talks” their (reasonably) huge hit them was on the EP and is on their full length album–it’s a great duet (and reminds me a bit of Stars).
There’s an amusing fail in the horn solo on “Lake House,” which is kind of surprising, but not terribly tragic or anything. The band sounds great, especially in front of a home country crowd (I love hearing them say “Takk” at the end of the songs). There’s five songs in all, and by the final one, they feel sound like they’re really enjoying themselves.
[READ: September 1, 2012] Wampeters, Foma & Granfaloons
This collection contains essays reviews and speeches. So it’s non-fiction. Except that, ever the contrarian, Vonnegut includes one fiction piece–a short play. The title of this book comes from three words from his novel Cat’s Cradle: ”a wampeter is an object around which the lives of many otherwise unrelated people may revolve. The Holy Grail would be a case in point. Foma are harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls. An example: ‘Prosperity is just around the corner.’ A granfallooon is a proud and meaningless association of human beings.”
That all comes from the preface. The preface also says that there are people who have collected everything he has ever written (even stuff he has forgotten about) but he will not let most of that see the light of day. Here he has whittled down the least embarrassing stuff for publication. He also explains that at some point (supported by reading this) he decided to stop giving speeches; to stop “talking” and to concentrate on writing. So he did.
The final straw for this was a comment from the President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Vonnegut had prepared a speech. The president reread it and hated it, but the president told Vonnegut that nobody would actually listen to the words: “People are seldom interested in the actual content of a speech. They simply want to learn from your tone and gestures and expressions whether or not you are an honest man.”
While Vonnegut’s essays are powerful and effective, it’s the Preface that really tells it straightg.”Not nearly as many Biafrans were butchered by the Nigerians at the end of the war as I had thought would be. At a minimum those damaged children at the exact middle of the universe will be more honorable than Richard M Nixon. [Nixon] is the first president to hate the American people and all they stand for.”
Get ready for a happy collection.
- Science Fiction
Vonnegut has often been asked how he liked being lumped in with science fiction authors. His answer in this essay is that he thinks most sci-fi isn’t very good, but it’s a great genre to write in because there are so many places to publish stories–most of them don’t care if you’re good, they just want content. But he agrees that there is some excellent stuff out there if you look for it.
- Brief Encounters on the Inland Waterway
Vonnegut sails down from Cape Cod to Florida on the Kennedy’s fifty-one foot motor yacht. No Kennedys are on board, as it typical of yacht owners–they rarely use them. So Vonnegut gets to experience sailing down the eat coast waterways with the captain, meeting interesting people along the way.
- Hello, Star Vega
This is a review of the Carl Sagan and I.S. Shklovskii book Intelligent LIfe in the Universe. He rather likes it.
- Teaching the Unteachable
The foolishness of writers workshops.
- Yes, We Have no Nirvanas
Vonnegut’s wife and daughter were swept up by the transcendental mediation movement and Maharishi Mahsesh Yogi. Vonnegut has no patience for it. None whatsoever.
This is the only short story in the book (although it is set up as a play). And it is very sci-fi. A woman is kept alive by machines–completely and utterly–by a scientist named Frankenstein (not subtle, I suppose). A “regular” G.P. is invited to see the technology and is suitably appalled. It’s a very engaging story. This story actually lead me to think about the nature of sci-fi vs other stories. This story has a very specific moral and point of view, more so than many other “literary” stories. Does the fact of the technology somehow make it less “important” than a non sci-fi story? I can’t think of how you’d deal with this subject matter in a non-sci-fi story.
- “There’s a Maniac Loose Out There”
This is an article about a mass murderer on Cape Cod. His name is Antone C. Costa and it turned out that Vonnegut’s daughter was peripherally friends with the boy. This was a case that gripped America for a few months. So why is it forgotten? Because the Manson murders happened right after this. He looks at how the media talks about hippies and the young. Wikipedia mentions this case–evidently he was found guilty and hanged himself 4 years in prison.
- Excelsior! We’re Going to the Moon! Excelsior!
Vonnegut goes to see a space rocket launch. But he is surprisingly against the quest for the moon He makes a good argument that we went moved too quickly–that we moved so fast simply because Kennedy wanted to, whether we were fully ready or whether there was anything rally worth finding. Since there is nothing on the moon–and every one knows it, it wasn’t really that exciting to go explore, and the glow faded pretty quickly. Even kids grew kind of bored by it eventually, since there was nothing interesting there..
- Address to the American Physical Society (1969)
Vonnegut’s brother is a physicist (Kurt is very proud of him), and he says that physicists used to be able to be naive about what hey built but now that the military turns everything into weapons they can’t afford to be naive anymore.
- Good Missiles, Good Manners, Good Night
Vonnegut went to school with the woman who is now the wife of the Secretary of Defense. He imagines what kind of a night it would be to have diner with her and try to stay polite about her husband
- Why They Read Hesse
Vonnegut investigates why kids today (then) are so into Herman Hesse (especially Steppenwolf) He’s rather dismissive of Hesse’s works, but says there is a certain amount of homesickness in them that he thinks kids can relate to.
- Oversexed in Indianapolis
This is a review of Going All the Way by Dan Wakefield. Vonnegut likes this novel about having nothing to do but have sex in Indianapolis (he says it is richer than Portnoy’s Complaint). And it’s funny too.
- The Mysterious Madame Blavatsky
I think I may have heard of Madame B. She was believed to be a proponent of a mysticism that gripped America (she was Russian, but became a US citizen). But Vonnegut explains that she was not a believer in mysticism until she got here. When people (and Vonnegut gives examples) tried to show her about the possibility of spiritualism , she was swayed (even Vonnegut doesn’t understand how the one guy did it. This was a weird article that seemed a little unfocused, as I’m not sure where he ultimately came down the idea
- Biafra: A People Betrayed
Vonnegut went to Biafra during the war (what the hell was he doing there). The only thing i knew about Biafra was Jello, but this was a horrifying story a bout the country that struggled for independence and suffered terribly for it.
- Address to Graduating Class at Bennington College, 1970
Everybody thought that Vonnegut wrote the “Wear Sunscreen” address. When you read this you can see that there’s no way he would have written something as sweet as that. Although he does encourage skylarking, his final point is:
I suggest you work for a socialist form of government. Free Enterprise is much too hard on the old and the sick and the shy and the poor and the stupid, and on people nobody likes. They just can’t cut the mustard under Free Enterprise. They lack that certain something that Nelson Rockefeller, for instance, so abundantly has.
So let’s divide up the wealth more fairly than we have divided it up so far. Let’s make sure that everybody has enough to wear, and a decent place to live and medical help when he needs it. Let’s stop spending money on weapons which don’t work anyway, thank God, and spend money on each other. It isn’t moonbeams to talk of modest plenty for all.
- Torture and Blubber
Vonnegut regrets that we tortured anyone in Vietnam: “I am sorry we tried torture. I am sorry we tried anything. I hope we never try torture again. It doesn’t work.”
- Address to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1971
This is the speech that the President of the Institute didn’t like. This speech didn’t have t be serious (which Vonnegut acknowledges at the end) but he makes it serous and about chemicals.
- Reflections on My Own Death
This moment and every moment lasts forever.
- In a Manner That Must Shame God Himself
Imagining he is a visitor from another planet in 1972 he says of humans: “These are ferocious creatures who imagines that they are gentle” Yet another quotable moment: “The two real parties in America are the Winner ans the Losers [even] when Republicans battle Democrats, this much is certain: Winners will win” (186).
The most pitiless Darwinists are attracted to the Republican party, which regularly purges itself of suspected bleeding hearts. It is in the process of isolating and ejecting Representative Paul N. McCloskey for instance who has openly raged and even wept about the killing and maiming of Vietnamese.
But you must know in your heart what every Winner knows: that one must behave heartlessly toward Losers, if one hopes to survive. I guarantee you that it was the monolithic belief that underlay the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach Florida, in 1972. All the rest was hokum.
About Losers, Vonnegut explains Nixon’s repulsion to them:
Because his Family was poor during the Great Depression and it was a humiliation to them to be lumped with other poor people. The President now demonstrates that he can;t stand anything about poor people with whom he was so unjustly associated so long ago (195).
- Thinking Unthinkable, Speaking Unspeakable
Prohibition was called The Noble Experiment, perhaps Vietnam is The Noble Experiment II since it is a similarly narrow-minded adventure in virtue
- Address at Rededication oh Wheaton College Library, 1973
This is a rather dark speech about the reopening of a library, naturally.
- Invite Rita Rait to America!
Rait is an excellent translator of English to Russian and she should be allowed to come to America (but she isn’t).
- Address to P.E.N. Conference in Stockholm, 1973
Writers and journalists are often fired for their beliefs but novelist can say what they want and will not get in trouble. Because fiction writers are harmless. (That’s the public part of his speech). For the private part written just for the writers in th room, he says: While fiction writers didn’t alter the course of the war they may have poisoned the minds of million of American young people against it. Keep up the good work.
- A Political Disease
This is a review of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing : On the Campaign Trail ’72, which he rather likes. He thinks Thompson is a great writer, but he seems a little worried about him.
- Playboy Interview
In the preface Vonnegut explains that he was allowed to touch up and fix this interview before it went into publication, which is quite nice I’d say. Playboy asks him some pretty great questions and Vonnegut’s answers are similarly great. It covers a lot of what is in the book already but this time in Vonnegut doesn’t have a specific audience for these words so he gets to speak off the cuff (after editing). It’s 50 pages long. I wonder how much Playboy actually printed.
So this proved to be a very good collection of essays. I admit I find his longer ones to be a bit too long, but overall, it’s a very interesting look at our country in the early 70s.