SOUNDTRACK: GUIDED BY VOICES-Universal Truths and Cycles (2002).
I like Guided By Voices more in theory than in actuality. In theory, Robert Pollard is a songwriting maniac who has released hundreds of songs that are all snappy, catchy and brilliant. In practice, Robert Pollard is a songwriting maniac who has released hundreds of songs that he puts out whether they are finished or not. A vast quantity of GBV output is about a minute long. And for the most part the songs feel like fragments, rather than real songs. Nevertheless, I find that just about everything he writes is catchy and quite good, it’s just that so much of it is so forgettable.
Despite that, they have several songs that are fantastic. I could easily make a greatest hits record of GBV songs that I think are fabulous, and it would probably have 20 songs on it. The only problem is Pollard has released probably a thousand songs, so that’s not such great average.
I received this copy of Universal Truths and Cycles as a promotional copy many years ago. I had really enjoyed Do the Collapse, and so I grabbed this CD, and much like my assessment above, I find that there’s nothing I really dislike about the album although at 4:59, almost three times longer than a typical GBV song, “Storm Vibrations” tends to drag, but overall there’s not that much that’s memorable. Of course, “Everywhere with Helicopters” is fantastic and “Christian Animation Torch Characters” is also pretty wonderful. I could pick maybe 3 of the 19 songs here to go on my hits collection, but overall, the album is typical GBV, a little weird, but very catchy.
[READ: October 2, 2007] McSweeney’s #24.
I just flew through this latest issue of McSweeney’s. It was a real treat to read. The packaging was another one of their fun covers. It is designed in two parts, with a gatefold type of sleeve that reveals a full nighttime scene if you open it all the way. These guys have so much fun with their design, I’m surprised they’re not noted more for that.
Anyhow, the contents: the one side is a selection of six short stories, they all seem to feature guns, and they’re not afraid to use them. The other side is a symposium of reasonably famous authors writing tributes about Donald Barthelme, and two short stories by Barthelme himself. It also comes with an excerpt from Millard Kaufman’s Bowl of Cherries, which I have not yet read, but if it’s good I will get the book and review it later.
Part One, the stories:
I once tried to note how many movies I could go to see that did not feature a gun anywhere. It’s harder than you’d think; even comedies have them! I don’t even think of myself as a gun-friendly-entertainment kind of guy. I don’t really like mysteries, and I don’t really like action films, except for Jackie Chan chopsocky films, and there’s usually no gun in those, and of course, classic action films are always classic. But I am usually gun free in the books I read. Then came this issue:
CHRISTOPHER R. HOWARD–“How to Make Millions in the Oil Market”
This is one of the first stories I have read about the current Iraq war. It concerns a man who joins a group of former soldiers who remain in Iraq as private militia, making a lot more money–a LOT more money. On his return home he finds that his former life is no longer possible. Pretty violent, but not terribly insightful, other than that war sucks.
[UPDATE 11/14: I didn’t realize that there were actually guns-for-hire companies doing the kind of work described in this story…imagine my surprise when the headlines were full of them merely a few days after I read this!]
JOE MENO–“Stockholm, 1973”
A bit of research confirms that this is a fictional account of the origin of “Stockholm syndrome.” I didn’t know that ahead of time, and hope I don’t poison your reading now that you know it. The story was a good look at a failed attempt at a bank robbery. The man, Jan, a loser by nature, takes four hostages but has no intention of hurting them. He eventually calls his friend to help him figure out what to do, and they hole up in the bank vault for a couple of days. What I liked about the story was that it basically stated from the outset that Jan would fail, and I was fascinated to see how long the story would last and still hold interest knowing that it would all go downhill.
JONATHAN AMES-“Bored to Death”
This story is a hard boiled mystery. Top to bottom. I don’t usually read detective-type stories, but I really enjoyed this one, and while I probably won’t start reading other detective stories because of it, I do see the appeal. This one was interesting because it was told from the first person, something I don’t see too often anymore, and, it seemed to be written as an essay, with the character having the same name as the protagonist. Also, the narrator is not a detective, but a writer who gets caught up in the case of a missing person. I stayed up late to finish it, which is certainly a pro for the story, although I was rather surprised by the ending. I’m trying to imagine how he’s going to explain his yucky injuries to friends and relations. I’ll keep an eye out for more by this fellow.
AARON GWYN-“Look at Me”
This story was very visceral, about a man’s reaction to a psychopathic individual busting into a diner and killing everyone in sight. As I said, it was thrilling and fast paced, but ultimately it felt like a story you would write in high school. It was a very detailed rampage, with great knowledge of weaponry. I imagine a high school senior who is really into guns writing this story as a way to get revenge on school bullies.
PHILLIPE SOUPAULT-“Death of Nick Carter”
This story did not feature a gun. It is a translation of an older story. It’s told in 4 parts, about a “famous” detective who was killed in unusual circumstances, involving inmates at an asylum. It was a little too scattered in plotting for me to really enjoy it, so it didn’t do all that much for me. However, it was very descriptive and painted a vivid picture of the asylum and the football field.
ERIC HANSON–“The Last Adventure of the Blue Phantom”
This was a long story about a superhero (and yes there was a gun here too). The Blue Phantom calls on a small boy to be his apprentice (the boy’s name is Robin but that’s unsuitable for anyone’s sidekick but Batman’s…hee!…so his name is changed). The boy is sent on a couple of scary missions all with the goal of recovering a valuable relic. The story flashes back to a previous expedition of the Blue Phantom in the jungle and how he came to discover his real identity. And yet the whole story seems to be a parable of a broken relationship and a lost childhood. It was somewhat hallucinogenic, and a little disturbing, but overall it was really good.
Part Two, Donald Barthelme:
I enjoy a lot of post-modern things. I studied philosophy in college and was a fan of Derrida and the deconstructionists. I like a lot of the theater of the absurd, and really enjoy Samuel Beckett and Flann O’ Brien. And yet somehow I had never read Donald Barthelme. This issue’s symposium on Barthelme really opened my eyes to him. Now obviously these are fans of the man, so they are going to say nice things about him. But the general sense you get is that he was a fun man who liked to make jokes and write funny stories. I’m certainly not going to review the comments about him, because that would be pointless, but the general sense I took away from reading this testimonials was that I had to read some Barthelme stories. So I have put 60 Stories on hold at the library. In the meantime, two stories are included here.
There is just something about reading an older story that really changes the way you get used to reading. I read a lot of current fiction, so the language and style is very modern. It was weird to read these stories and read such “formal” writing. It makes the stories seem more significant I suppose.
DONALD BARTHELME-“The Bed”
You can tell that this story is older, as it is written in a more formal, classical style, even if it is unusual in nature. The story is about a man and his ex-wife, Honoria. Honoria states that he promised to get her a bed for her new apartment. No background to this story is given, except that he promised to buy her a bed. The story contains letters to each other, and is rather silly. An awful lot is packed into the 6 or 7 pages.
DONALD BARTHELME-writing as David Reiner: “Pages from the Annual Report”
This read so much like a Kids in the Hall skit! I could see the Kids in their business offices saying this absurd dialog. And then when the maid came in and hijinx ensued, I could practically see Scott Thompson as the maid. At any rate, this story is pretty odd, and as it is the first Barthelme I’ve read I don’t know how to compare it to anything else. It features two businessmen in an office where evidently they do nothing all day; just wait for more paperwork to pile up so they can ignore it. The ending felt like a scene out of Waiting for Godot if it were filmed in the landscape of Brazil. Rather than hanging themselves, they decide to initial the paperwork and forward it to someone else. It has a fairly scathing critique of modern corporate culture, and was quite funny. It’d be even funnier with Bruce McCullough and Mark McKinney, though!