SOUNDTRACK: CARLA BOZULICH-Evangelista [CST041] (2007).
This record comes from the mighty Constellation label. Don and Ian are super nice guys in Montreal who release some fantastic music. I have been a fan for years, and I have all of their releases. I get them sight unheard, because I know they release good, quality music with great packaging. They came to my attention through Godspeed You Black Emperor, a fantastic instrumental band, and their spinoffs (A Silver Mt. Zion, etc.).
Initially, they released pretty much only bands that had connections to each other (to see who plays on each others’ records, you’d need a spreadsheet about ten pages long). They have since branched out to include some really notable musicians like Vic Chesnutt (!) and Carla Bozulich.
Carla Bozulich was the singer for the great band The Geraldine Fibbers. She has a very strong voice, and sounds not unlike Diamanda Galas, meaning she can hit the high notes, and the powerful notes, and the screechy notes, and tends to be a bit scary from time to time. In the context of the Geraldine Fibbers, it was really an amazing thing to behold.
They were a sort of country-punk band, and they were really tight. Carla’s vocals could scream or soothe depending on her mood. And working together, they were pretty great.
I mention this band because Carla’s solo album is a little too free-form for her own good. She thanks the producers for letting her get out things that have been inside. And I’m sure that was cathartic. However, I find that her voice needs the stabilizing force of a solid backing band. This solo album has very erratic (and very interesting) music, but when combined with her voice, it’s just a little too much chaos. With the Fibbers, the grounding of the backing band and structured songs really made her voice shine. On this one, there’s just so much going on that it’s all a bit of a mess.
The music itself is actually pretty great. It’s very unusual, with strings, and staccato sounds. Her voice also sounds great. After all, it’s been a few years since the Fibbers broke up, so it’s nice that she can still hit the notes. It’s just that the off-kilter music really competes with her off-kilter voice leading to an overall unsatisfying experience.
She has a new one coming out with a full band called Evangelista. I’ve listened through once, and it sounds much more cohesive. I think the solo record was just something to get out of her system.
[READ: March 10, 2008] Bowl of Cherries
McSweeney’s published this book. And the only story behind this book that you may have heard is that the author is old. Really old, not just old for McSweeney’s old, but like nineties old. It’s something of a shame that this was the first (and pretty much only) thing I heard about this book. And yet it is an interesting background in and of itself.
Not to repeat the saga ad infinitum, but in case you don’t know, Millard Kaufman was born in 1917, making him 90 when this book was published. And it’s his first novel! Prior to this book, he had written some screenplays for famous movies, and perhaps more interestingly, he co-created Mr Magoo.
All of this is interesting, but really, what does it have to do with anything? Well, sometimes an author’s life directly impacts what he or she writes. You can see some authors who are clearly right there in their characters; all of their characters! So, let’s compare Bowl of Cherries:
Bowl of Cherries is about a 14 year-old boy in contemporary America who follows the love of his life to Iraq and is about to be executed for treason. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of “write what you know” going on here.
And the amazing thing is that the book is fantastic. I loved every page of it. The book doesn’t open all that auspiciously, as it talks about a small town in Iraq in great, great detail. Uh oh, I thought to myself, a “great detail” book will be a slow read. But the great detail is quite funny, and as the narrator reveals more about his predicament, and his attitude towards his predicament, the story just gets funnier and funnier.
The story rotates back and forth to our hero, Judd Breslau, in his current situation–about to be thrown off a roof onto spikes in Iraq–and in flashbacks to his life in America. Judd is a prodigy, he is going for his PhD at Yale at age fourteen. He is following in his father’s footsteps, getting a degree in English with the intention, probably, of teaching. Judd’s father, a professor, left them inexplicably one day and never came back. The visage of his father haunts him throughout the book. And he longs for his approval, even in absentia, which he had never gotten.
When his father left, Judd’s mom called in a favor to get him matriculated at Yale, while she went off to Denver with the man who publishes her poetry. [In a hilarious later section, Judd’s mom writes to him in the same style that she writes her poetry–in shapes! Stars, funnels, etc.]
Through a series of coincidences (or are they?) Judd meets an Egyptologist, Phillips Chatterton, who is bent on saving/destroying/taking over the world through the use of sound. He has a house full of people playing various instruments who are trying to make objects move. But more confounding than that is Chatterton’s daughter, Valerie. A young lady, a couple of years older than Judd, whom Judd falls madly in love with, despite her complete lack of interest in learning anything in general, her seeming ability to sleep with anyone, and her ever-present boyfriend.
Judd winds up assisting Chattereton with his research, because it means he can stay in Valerie’s house, even though she ultimately moves to New York with the boyfriend who has now become an actor. Before following them to New York, Judd takes a detour to a farm in Colorado to stay with his mom, which is singularly hilarious.
During all of this time, Judd had cautiously befriended Valerie’s boyfriend’s friend, Abdul, the son of the King of Assama, Iraq. Abdul is in America on a scholarship, and he basically seems to hang around in hopes that Valerie will notice him. He’s just biding his time until he can take the throne back home. He follows them to New York and ultimately back to Iraq.
Judd wends his way to New York. A fellow researcher at Chatterton is very interested in the goings on in Assama, because they are able to build their buildings out of a very basic and ever-present material: human excrement. However, the key to their buildings (all of which are made of this material, and all of which withstand excruciating heat and torrential rain) is a secret ingredient that makes the shit stick.
I’m not going to say any more, because the story is just too great to reveal any twists or secrets. Just suffice it to say that the writing is fantastic: the narrator is a precocious 14 year-old English major, and the writing is perfectly in keeping with such a person, wonderful wordplay and everything!
Despite its final location, there isn’t a lot of political humor in the book, althouh there is some, and it’s well done. I honestly can’t say a bad word about this book.
I got this book because it was a McSweeney’s release, but regardless of how you feel about McSweeney’s this book is a great, funny, wild story. I couldn’t recommend it more.