SOUNDTRACK: SWANS-Omniscience (1992).
When I was in college, I really liked the Swans. They were noisy as all get out, and were at the forefront of an industrial style that has since become mainstream. But at the time they were pretty scary.
I particularly liked Children of God, a great album split between noisy M. Gira songs and pretty, soft Jarboe songs. Shortly after this record they released a very soft record called The Burning World with a totally mellow cover of “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
I had sort of stopped listening to them sometime after college, and then my friend Lar got into them and found out that I had a bunch of their older, then out-of-print, records, so we started sharing them. I got back into them and was able to fill out my collection of Swans works, all except Omniscience. He made me a copy of it and I liked it, and I just found a used one for myself.
Omniscience is a live record which came towards the end of their career. And the amazing thing is how beautiful the record is, for the most part. There are still some noisy, bass-heavy parts, but Swans had changed so drastically from the noisy band of yore that Omniscience is practically atmospheric in feel. There are some interesting samples of dialogue that are simply weird and arbitrary, but they do set a mood for the show. But compared to say, Public Castration is a Good Idea, it’s soothing.
[READ: October 15, 2007] “Mr. Bones.”
This is the second story by Theroux that I have read. (The first one was in the New Yorker a few months ago, and is being released in a new collection of his shortly). I’d heard the name of Theroux over and over, but wasn’t really familiar with his work. The other story was set in India, as I’m led to believe much of his stuff is. So, this one came as quite a surprise.
The story centers around a boy and the way his family reacts as his father undergoes a transformation. His father is a browbeaten shoe salesman, whose wife dominates the household. He has no real sense of recreation aside from singing in the church choir. As their family is expected to grow, the wife sends the husband out to do research on new houses. But the husband sees one he likes and puts the down payment down immediately (their whole life savings) without consulting his wife.
She pointedly disapproves of the new house, and the father takes all the abuse in stride, slowly fixing everything that she complains about. He is quietly accommodating to all of her requests until one day he comes home with the music for an upcoming event: a minstrel show (the story is set when doing a minstrel show would not have been shocking). He slowly begins to morph into his proposed alter ego: Mr Bones.
Mr Bones is the exact opposite of father: he’s an abusive, joke-telling, songster. Mr. Bones overtakes the father’s old personality, driving his wife crazy and scaring the rest of the family with his abusive sense of humor. Mr Bones even sneaks into the narrator’s room at night in blackface. The story culminates with the minstrel show, a show which embarrasses the family, but seems to delight the audience.
I found the story fast paced and unpredictable. You can read it online here:
I’m probably going to be looking for more stories by him in the future, and will very likely read the collection of stories that contains the one I mentioned earlier.