SOUNDTRACK: THE DEAD MILKMEN-Chaos Rules: Live at the Trocadero (1994).
It wouldn’t be a complete look at the Dead Milkmen without mentioning their one live release.
Chaos Rules is a surprisingly good live set (taken from two separate concerts). They had to leave all of the songs from their Hollywood Records discs off this collection, so this comes across more as a classic concert rather than a comprehensive one.
The band sounds great and the songs sound pretty close to the originals. Not that the originals were hard but it wasn’t always obvious whether the Milkmen were doing what they were doing on purpose. This set suggests that they were.
As any good live band, they play around with their songs, being surprisingly angry about local politics and changing the (by then twenty year old) “Bitchin Camaro” intro to reflect that.
The only reason it would have been nice if they had been allowed to include some of the Hollywood Records songs (they do sneak one in under a different name) would be to see if they played them any differently. Since the early tracks are pretty chaotic, I wonder what would happen to the latter, more mellow songs. Did they stand up under the weight of the nonsense or did they become more ramshackle as well?
I guess I’ll never know. This is not essential by any means, but it is an interesting artifact for the curious and is totally enjoyable for DM fans.
[READ: April 23, 2010] Distant Star
Because Bolaño never does anything typical, this novella is a spin-off of sorts to Nazi Literature in America. The introduction states that “in the final chapter of my novel Nazi Literature in America I recounted, in less than twenty pages and perhaps too schematically, the story of Lieutenant Ramirez Hoffman…which I heard from Arturo B. He was not satisfied with my version…So we took that final chapter and shut ourselves up for a month a half in my house in Blanes, … where we composed the present novel. My role was limited to preparing refreshments, consulting a few books and discussing the rest of numerous paragraphs with Artuto…”
Okay, there is so much wonderful deception in just this introduction to this book it totally cracks me up. (Arturo B has long been a stand in for Bolaño himself). In the original, the narrator is named Bolaño (he is the narrator in jail who eventually helps the detective locate the poet).
For yes, the story is the life of a poet who is also a murderer. And, the story is pretty much the same as the 20 or so pages of Nazi Literature. It is now an extended meditation on this particular poet. All of the events that were present in the short version are here, they are all just fleshed out with Bolaño’s wonderful details and full biographies of other characters.
The big, weird thing though is that almost all of the names have been changed (to protect the guilty?). So even though the poet of this book has the same exact life story as Lieutenant Ramirez Hoffman, he never has that name in Distant Star (and he goes through several pseudonyms). There are twins in the short version who now get new names. Even the poetry teachers have different names. However, the detective who hunts him down at the end has the same name. Weird.
The book works as a critical assessment of the Allende administration (which is why the real Bolaño was imprisoned). But on to the story.
This story is about the poet who was born Carlos Weider. By the time the narrator (who is presumably Arturo B, although in Nazi Literature he was named Bolaño and he is unnamed here so I’ll just call him Arturo B) met him in 1971, he was calling himself Alberto Ruiz-Tagle. Ruiz-Tagle was an up and coming poet who sat in on poetry workshops that Arturo and his friend Bibiano O’Ryan were taking. The stars of the class were Veronica and Angelica Garmendia, twins who wrote fantastic poetry. Arturo and Bibiano has major crushes on the twins (as did everyone else) but naturally Ruiz-Tagle won them (both) over. No one in the class liked Ruiz-Tagle’s poetry; however, their classmate Fat Marta felt that he would be the harbinger of New Chilean Poetry.
When Allende took over Chile, Arturo was taken prisoner. While he was in the jail, one evening an airplane flew overhead. It proceeded to skywrite a poem in Latin (a passage from the Bible). The prison yard was totally transfixed, even if they didn’t know what it said. Arturo eventually discovered that the author was Carlos Weider (who they all much later learn was Ruiz-Tagle).
Because Bolaño is nothing if not tangential, we get a biography of a few other characters as well. Juan Stein, the man who ran the poetry workshop, was considered something of a friend to the students. He was gregarious and charming and they spent much time at his house. After Allende took over, he went into exile and was presumed dead. Although Bibiano later learned that Stein had gone to El Salvador to fight (and his name appears many times in revolutionary circles).
Diego Soto was Stein’s best friend and rival, the other head of the poetry workshops. Unlike Stein he was not well-liked primarily because he dressed well and didn’t hide his intelligence. He was rather solitary and spent a lot of time translating French authors. After his exile, his name resurfaced with as many failures as successes in his literary life (which was now based in Paris). He was invited to Latin America to attend a conference, and his last known whereabouts were the train station where the book he was reading was found, unfinished with a dog-eared page where he had left off.
But back to Weider. He had become a well-regarded pilot, performing his sky-writing poetry but also flying to the Antarctic on a solo mission. On his return, he promised an artistic spectacle like no one had ever seen before. And this spectacle is summarized recounted in Nazi Literature. However, more details are given, and these details are quite horrific and fully explicate the evil that resided in Weider.
Well, the remainder of the story concerns an anonymous Chilean’s quest to find Weider. Detective Romano has been paid handsomely to “find” Weider. Romano tracks down the narrator (who, since he is a poet, he thinks like a poet, and will be very helpful to him) and gives him many literary magazines from around the continent. He asks Arturo to see if he recognizes anything that could have been from Weider.
Of course before we get there we learn about the “barbaric poets.” Begun in 1968, the movement was designed so that poets would lock themselves in a room and “humanize” poetry (which mostly involved the expulsion of bodily fluids). But after reading the magazines (and watching 4 porn movies that Weider was ostensibly involved in) Arturo believes he knows who Weider is now.
This story is s delightfully Bolaño: levels of remove, detailed biographies and dangerous political ambition (all tied in with a story about a poet). This story is less convoluted than some of his others, although it is not entirely straightforward (what with the chapters about other figures and the history of the barbaric writers).
As with the other Bolaño pieces, a familiarity with Chilean history would be very helpful for the full dimensions of this story (and I admit I still don’t have a real grasp of things, although I have this early 70s down pretty well). But even without this knowledge, this story was gripping, fascinating look a the underbelly of Chilean poetry, something that Bolaño was very intense about (the poetry not the underbelly). (Enrique Lihn is mentioned an awful lot).
It’s not necessary to have read Nazi Literature to enjoy this piece, but if you were intrigued by the story of Ramirez Hoffman, you must read this fuller account of his life. If you haven’t read it (or any Bolaño), this is a great place to start. The novella is an excellent representation of Bolaño’s work and it is thoroughly engaging.
Oh, and it goes without saying that Chris Andrews’ translation is fantastic.
For ease of searching I include: Bolano