SOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Everything to Everyone (2003) & Barenaked for the Holidays (2004).
Everything to Everyone. I was pretty down on this album when it first came out. I remember being rather disappointed in it because BNL had, gasp, matured somewhat, and were making more “serious,” less “wacky” songs. To me, the whole CD was somewhat flat. But, after a recent listen (possibly the first time in 4 years) and expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised by the record.
“Celebrity” is a decent start off, although it breaks from their standard set up of rollicking lead off tracks. “Maybe Katie” is a somewhat disappointing track 2 (a track that seems to produce great results for them)…. It seems to be so close to a single, yet it just misses. There is a somewhat zany song “Shopping,” which sets off a run of three or four good songs. It also ends on a pretty high note with, “Have You Seen My Love?” being a slow, but, sensibly, short song, so it doesn’t just drag on.
The noteworthy thing about this album, is what its title alludes to: everything for everyone. It seems like this album has fifteen different styles at work. There’s an Irish jig type song, a crazy rocking song, a soft ballad, a salsa beat. Basically everything is on here. It’s either crassly commercial or (more likely) a funny jab at their complex styles.
The overall sound of the album is definitely more mellow and “mature” than their earlier ones. There’s not a lot of outright silliness involved, and the tunes themselves have certainly calmed down a lot. If you’re not expecting the zany BNL of old, then the album works pretty well. Just don’t have high hopes for “If I Had $1,000,000.”
Barenaked for the Holidays. This has become one of my favorite Christmas/holiday records (and it’s a good time of year to be writing about it.) It ranks up there with Brave Combo’s It’s Christmas, Man, South Park’s Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics, Sufjan Steven’s great boxed set Presents Songs for Christmas, and Brian Wilson’s What I Really Want for Christmas, which has also quickly jumped to the top of my Xmas list.
BNL’s is definitely silly, but it is also somewhat reverential for the time of year. They mix classics with originals (and if Jews don’t adopt “Hanukkah Blessings” as an official Hanukkah song, then they have no taste!).
The recording is a mix of old and new tracks (“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was recorded almost ten years ago.) But a few highlights: “Jingle Bells” starts off in a very solemn way, and then quickly morphs into a spirited romp, complete with the Batman verse (Robin laid an egg…). It is followed by “Green Christmas” a pretty little (new!) holiday ditty they wrote for a compilation a few years ago.
The traditional Christmas songs include “I Saw Three Ships” “O Holy Night” “Auld Lang Syne” each done with their rollicking, yet respectful tone. They also represent Jewish traditions with “Hanukkah, O Hanukkah” and “I Have a Dreidel.” Some silliness comes in with their cover of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (with a humorous Bono shout out) and the elves-on-strike “Elf’s Lament.” But I’m saving my favorite for last: “Deck the Stills.” To the tune of “Deck the Halls,” the lyrics are simply “Crosby, Still, Nash and Young,” over and over, and it fits perfectly! How on earth did they think of that?
[READ: Fall, 2006] Only Revolutions
This is one of the last books I read at my previous job. Goodbye, Portico!
I had read Danielewski’s first book House of Leaves soon after it came out. That book was a total trip. It was fun, it was meta, it was even scary! It concerned a house that continually adjusts its shape (wow, that completely minimizes the story and style of this complicated book–to get a fuller appreciation for the insanity of this book (and its plot), check out the first few paragraphs of this review at Wikipedia).
It also had great textual manipulations within it. Definitely in the vein of Tristram Shandy, and other books that “play” with text. However, underneath, it was a pretty spooky story. If you like experimental fiction, I highly recommend House of Leaves.
Corollary: Danielwski’s sister is the singer Poe. She put out a few albums, and had some minor singles. They seem to reference each others’ work a little bit which is kind of neat. In fact, some research shows that they toured together at the time of House of Leaves, and her album Hello, and that her song “Angry Johnny” references House of Leaves.
But on to Only Revolutions:
I assumed that it was the follow up to House of Leaves, but it turns out he has two other works in between (The Whalestoe Letters (a companion to Leaves) and The Fifty Year Sword). I felt that Danielewski had a tough act to follow with House of Leaves.
In continuing with gimmick-laden books (Leaves had every instance of the word house in written in blue, for example, as well as really crazy pages of spinning text) Only Revolutions is full to the brim of gimmickry. But before the gimmicks, a small amount of “story.” The story, such as it is, concerns Sam and Hailey, two young, seemingly eternal lovers. The story follows them in their adventures throughout much of twentieth century history. I am refraining from using the word “plot” as I’m not sure it is appropriate.
So, back to the gimmicks, or if you like, the “style” of the book. Most glaringly: as you may notice from the cover images above, the book is designed to be read from each of the two characters’ points of view. Meaning, it is physically split in half; the covers are identical, everything is identical…there is no indication of which way you should start the book. If you start from the green cover you get Sam’s story. If you start from the yellow cover, you get Hailey’s story. So, as you start the book, you will be reading the events as described by Sam. However, as you get to the bottom of the page, you will note that the text is upside down (and is Hailey’s point of view.) If you flip the book over and start from THAT side, you will see the same events that Sam described, but told from Hailey’s point of view. The book comes with green and yellow ribbons to use as bookmarks.
Every eight pages constitutes a section, and it is recommended that you flip the book for each section. So, every eight pages, you use your ribbon and flip the book. It is often funny to see how the two characters witness an event; however, you have no sense of whose is accurate.
What else? Well, each character has a timeline associated with him/her. The timeline runs in the margins of each page, next to the “narrative.” This is the only way to decide who you want to read first, either the early one or the later one. So, Sam’s story starts at Nov 22, 1863 and runs to Nov 22, 1963; Hailey’s story starts with Nov 22, 1963 and runs to Jan 19, 2063. (everything after the publication date is blank, and the central date (Nov 23. 1963) is the assassination of JFK.) Each timeline contains pivotal events that happened around the date listed (some political, some sports, frequently about death and violence (the word GO) is employed as a euphemism for died/murdered/killed etc. The timelines were clearly well researched.
Oh, and as in Leaves, text color comes into play. In Hailey’s story, all occurrences of the letter O or the numeral 0 are printed in gold-colored ink. In Sam’s story, those characters are printed with green ink. These 0’s are meant to represent the eye color of the other person (hence the colors of the covers…phew).
So, stylistically, this book is really amazing to look at, and to play around with. There are fantastic minutiae seen here, and clearly Danielewski spent a great deal of time in the design of this book. Each page of the story has exactly 180 words. Each page number rotates slightly so if you flip through the pages they seem to be spinning. The texts gets smaller as you go through the story. It is visually stunning. And the Wikipedia entry will give you even more details, should you want them.
Okay, so that’s most of the gimmickry our of the way. But, how does the book hold up? Well, frankly, it was rather disappointing. I mean, I accept that books can be a challenge to read, and pretty often, I actually enjoy the challenge, but only if the story lives up to the work. And this book is definitely a challenge! The whole flipping over was annoying, if not too difficult, but, then add the marginal timelines to the layout of the page! It took several dozen pages before a routine of reading could be established. Plus, it was impossible to tell how the timelines fit into the story, because, both narrators talked about the same events, which happened at the same time, even though each timeline was decades apart.
But what about the “story.” Well, it is the story of these two lovers and their exploits through the years. Promotional materials suggest that they are eternal lovers, staying together forever, and “allways sixteen” [sic] through the various eras (hence the timeline). The “sic” brings me to the next weird part of the book. Sam and Hailey’s accounts are written in some kind of free verse poetry style of writing, rampant with intentional misspellings and obscure word choices.
And, even though I said that their stories don’t match the timeline, and that the events of the story are covered at the same time, they are affected by time. On a pedestrian level, as the book progresses, for instance their getaway cars are different in the same retelling). At another point either Sam or Hailey is black, instigating something of a race riot, yet at other times he/she is not. Ultimately, they seem to be personifications of eternal love.
Some episodes are more successful than other, the events where they are working in a diner seem to take up a lot of the book, and are really the only things that stick out for me, perhaps because it was the most concrete of the many activities they engage in.
But ultimately, the book seems to be so much of an exercise of style over substance. And, while I do certainly appreciate the style, substance would have helped an awful lot. As it is, it comes across as a formless, stream of consciousness of the last 150 years of American history. But neither character is particularly compelling, and neither are the events described (which seem to perpetually be: settle down, find work, commit a crime, flee, find time for some lovin’, repeat).
I recall really counting pages until the end for this one (which was exceedingly difficult when you have to flip the book upside down and when the text gets smaller, and it seems like you’re nearly done, but how do you count half-pages?
What’s interesting is if you read the Wikipedia review of the book, there are 3 paragraphs devoted to plot and over a dozen devoted to Dust Jacket and Binding. It certainly shows where the emphasis on the book is. I really wanted to enjoy this book, it was weird, it was avant garde, it was totally meta, and yet I really didn’t. It was a lot of work with very little reward.
I hate to sound so killjoyish about this book, and I’d love to hear of anyone who really enjoyed it, but I have to say, I slogged through it just to finish it, and I don’t feel any the better for it.
I hate to belabor the point, but Publishers’ Weekly gave it a starred review and yet the review talks mostly about the design, and yes the design is fantastic, and it’s clear that he put a ton of thought into it, but that’s no real justification for the star. So I quote it entirely:
Starred Review. A pastiche of Joyce and Beckett, with heapings of Derrida’s Glas and Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 thrown in for good measure, Danielewski’s follow-up to House of Leaves is a similarly dizzying tour of the modernist and postmodernist heights—and a similarly impressive tour de force. It comprises two monologues, one by Sam and one by Hailey, both “Allmighty sixteen and freeeeee,” each narrating the same road trip, or set of neo-globo-revolutionary events—or a revolution’s end: “Everyone loves the Dream but I kill it.” Figuring out what’s happening is a big part of reading the book. The verse-riffs narrations, endlessly alliterative and punning (like Joyce) and playfully, bleakly existential (like Beckett), begin at opposite ends of the book, upside down from one another, with each page divided and shared. Each gets 180 words per page, but in type that gets smaller as they get closer to their ends (Glas was more haphazard), so they each gets exactly half a page only at the midway point of the book: page 180—or half of a revolution of 360 degrees. A time line of world events, from November 22, 1863 (“the abolition of slavery”), to January 19, 2063 (blank, like everything from January 18, 2006, on), runs down the side of every page. The page numbers, when riffled flip-book style, revolve. The book’s design is a marvel, and as a feat of Pynchonesque puzzlebookdom, it’s magnificent. The book’s difficulty, though, carries a self-consciousness that Joyce & Co. decidedly lack, and the jury will be out on whether the tricks are of the for-art’s-sake variety or more like a terrific video game. (Sept. 5)
There’s also a really trippy website here, too. Wow, I wrote an awful lot about a book I didn’t really like!