The Sonic Youth veteran and his bandmates in Chelsea Light Moving had been jamming off-air in the KEXP studios. When they stepped outside to get some fresh air, KEXP’s DJ Sharlese followed, offering them some of her chocolate bar. At first, Moore politely declined, but as the candy got eaten away, piece by piece, a poem (John Donne’s “The Ecstasy”) was revealed underneath, printed on the candy wrapper.
“Can I have that?” he asked, and the next thing we knew, he was sprinting back into the studio, taping the tattered wrapper to a mic stand, and belting out his own version of the poem against discordant guitar chords.
The music is great. It works perfectly with the meter of Donne’s poem and, the way Thurston delivers it, it sounds like he could have written it. There’s some great screaming guitars, a very cool discordant chord or two and wailing solo. I really enjoyed that Thurston doesn’t play guitar through much of the song (he leaves that to the other guitarist), he just comes in when some wildness is needed. Awesome.
It’s a great song and hard to believe it was tossed off so easily.
Check it out here.
The lyrics are indeed from Donne’s poem, which begins:
WHERE, like a pillow on a bed,
A pregnant bank swell’d up, to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
Sat we two, one another’s best.
[You can read the rest here].
[READ: April 14, 2013] The Heart of Thomas
I brought this home from work because Sarah loves boarding school books. But this is a manga book, and it is set up to be read right to left. Sarah admitted that she can’t easily get her mind to work that way. Which I understand. So I gave it a go. I found it rough going, but after about 20 pages it became pretty natural.
The Heart of Thomas is an early example of Shōjo manga (少女漫画) which is manga marketed to a female audience roughly between the ages of 10 and 18. The name romanizes the Japanese 少女 (shōjo), literally “little female”. Shōjo manga covers many subjects with a strong focus on human and romantic relationships and emotions. Shōjo manga does not comprise a style or a genre per se, but rather indicates a target demographic. shōnen-ai. The stories were published mostly in magazines targeted at girls–which had a huge audience. And that is where The Heart of Thomas was originally published in 1974.
The Heart of Thomas is a fascinating story—it’s set in a German boys boarding school (written by a Japanese woman!). The story opens with the death of a character named Thomas. He falls off a bridge and the story is predicated upon wondering whether he jumped or he fell. There are a lot of clues that he committed suicide because of his unrequited love for Juli, the prefect of boys at the school. Juli is quite different from the other boys, he has dark hair and Greek features, he is not golden haired and blue eyed like so many of the other boys. This makes him stand out. Indeed, he even stands out in his own home, where he lives with his mother and grandmother. His grandmother is disgusted by his coloring and believes him to have impure genes (yikes!). She even tells him as much! But Juli is a serious student and a hard worker, with no time for nonsense from his grandmother or his classmates. He also has no time for farce.
The farce refers to a game that Thomas and Ante created in which they would both vie for Juli’s love. Thomas pursued this heavily but was never successful. And that may be why he killed himself (if indeed he did).
The story moves forward with the arrival of Erich. Erich looks exactly like Thomas (later we learn that his hair and eye color are different although that doesn’t come across in the black and white drawings). He looks so much like Thomas that everyone stares at him and comments on it (which really pisses of Erich). Juli is even convinced that Erich might be Thomas’ ghost. And the story follows as these two come together and fall apart, being friends and enemies, sometimes within a page or two.
There are a few other major players in this story (which is 515 pages and was serialized for about a year). There’s Oskar, Juli’s roommate and fellow prefect. He has a fascinating backstory in that his mother is dead and his father has gone away and has not been heard from in five years. It also turns out that the headmaster is his biological father (which Oskar suspects but doesn’t know for sure). Speaking of unexpected parental issues, Erich is in love with his mother. He even wears an engagement ring pledging himself to her. She has recently married a man and Erich won’t acknowledge it).
There’s also Bacchus (love the name), a plump upperclassman who invites the kids to tea parties. The tea parties prove to be a pretty big deal—an initiation for underclassmen. Thomas used to go all the time. When the upperclassmen see Erich, they invite him too, because he is so pretty. Juli was invited but never went. Indeed, he refused to set foot in the house. And much later in the story we learn why.
There are a couple of other boys who pop up mostly to cause trouble (I love that there’s a kid with big glasses–easy to tell apart–and a kid with long bangs). Most of the boys in the story are hotheaded and dramatic (lots of fast line and people running at each other). And when the ending comes, there’s again, very dramatic gestures.
In addition to the difficulty of reading right to left, I felt that this book posed some problems in the drawing. Hagio is a great artist, no question, but there must be something in the style (manga in the 70s) that familiar readers would recognize which I simply didn’t. I had no idea how to tell these boys apart (hair is the biggest indicator, which was helpful about half of the time). And boy, was I confused that Juli was a boy (it’s short for Julian) because he wasn’t referred to by gender at all for about twenty pages. And I was even more confused when Thomas was called Fraulein (because he was pretty like a girl). So these boys look like girls and are called girls. And I knew it was set at a boarding school, but it took awhile to get that sorted out. Also, the homosexuality was so explicit without actually being explicit. Again, the audience probably knows this more than I do, but I couldn’t decide if this was just boys messing around or if it was a genuine love (which seemed like it might be forbidden in 1974 Germany or Japan). I didn’t read the forward until about midway through the book which was when I learned that it was set in the 70s–and that explained their clothes.
Little difficulties like that aside, I really enjoyed this story. It was a bit over dramatic at times, and as with many stories of this ilk, so much could have been solved if people actually talked to each other instead of flying off the handle, but that’s what adolescence is all about. And that must be what young Japanese girls like to see. This was a really cool story and very unlike things that I typically read.
For ease of searching, I include: shojo manga.