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Archive for October, 2010

[LISTENED TO: October 20, 2010] Readings

This (all too brief) collection of readings by David Foster Wallace includes several excerpts and a few shorter pieces.  I’ve noticed that there seem to be more and more videos (audios) of DFW reading on YouTube.  If I had time I would try to gather all of these videos (or even just try to watch them), but for now, I’ll stick with what’s at the David Foster Wallace Audio Project.

The Consider the Lobster reading is an excerpt from”The View from Mrs. Thompson’s”.  I’d never heard him read this piece before and it is a fascinating look at the events of 9/11/01 from Bloomington, Indiana.  I haven’t read the piece in a few years and it was quite affecting to hear him read it aloud.  The introduction was also interesting because he mentions that this is the quickest piece he has ever written (I wonder how many drafts he was able to do in that short period). (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: October 20, 2010] Dubliners Part II

This collection covers the last five stories from the book.  They are all longer stories, especially the fantastic novella “The Dead,” which runs well over an hour.  The titles included in Part II are:

A Painful Case
Ivy Day in the Committee Room
A Mother
Grace
The Dead

These last five stories look at (continuing the theme from my previous post) middle age and later life.  The protagonists are all older, and as with the first part, they all must deal with harsh realities and even death.

“A Painful Case” is the first story in the book where the title doesn’t directly apply to the protagonist (even  though, of course, it does).  Mr Duffy is a solitary man.  He goes out from time to time but is not really social.  At a concert he meets Mrs Sinico and they form a friendship.  Her husband approves of the friendship because he believes that Mr Duffy is really after their daughter.  The relationship grows stronger and stronger and Mrs Sinico feels closer to him than she does to her husband.  Then, Mrs Sinico make a gesture indicating she’d like a more intimate relationship.  Mr Duffy is immediately turned off by this and vows to himself to see her no more.  This leads to a quote that I assume is not original to Joyce, and yet it is still common today: “Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse.”  The strange thing about this story is that it then jumps ahead four years.  We learn that Mrs Sinico took the dissolution of their friendship very hard indeed.  And naturally, Mr Duffy is made to rethink his life choices.  It’s yet another story of despair. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUPERCHUNK Hello Hawk (1999).

Hello Hawk is another of my favorite Superchunk songs (and it’s vastly different from “Hyper Enough”).  It opens with some really interesting guitar noodling.  And then after a bridge that promises a noisy chorus, the chorus backs down into another gentle section (followed by the loud and heavy post chorus…a neat trick).  This song is also laden with strings (!).  And it’s catchy as heck.

The second song, “Sexy Ankles” sounds (recording style-wise) like early 60s rock and roll.  It’s quite odd for Superchunk, although it rocks nicely at the end.

The final three tracks are acoustic version of songs from the Come Pick Me Up album.  The paradox: as the original songs grow less heavy and rocking, these acoustic versions become less dramatic as interpretations of them.  And yet, since the originals are growing more complex, these acoustic versions sound even better than previous acoustic versions of their older songs.

[READ: October 10, 2010] “Party of One”

Antonya Nelson is another of the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 writers.  I’d never heard of her before seeing this story, but I enjoyed it enough to want to check out more of her stuff.  This is the story of a broken love affair.  And yet it has so many different angles, and so many wonderful observations (and disarming frankness), that it struck me as a wonderfully original and enjoyable story.  Even the way she used the title was clever.

First the breakup.  It is not the main character who is breaking up, but rather her sister.  The main character is meeting her sister’s lover, who is married.   He is getting cold feet and her sister is despondent.  What is wonderfully twisted about the story is that the sister has a had a previous affair with a married man and when that affair ended, she tried to kill herself.  I hate to reveal this tasty piece of information, but it really highlights the interesting angles of this story–the affair was with her the narrator’s husband.  [Woah]. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUPERCHUNK-“watery hands” (1997).

Even though I enjoy the manic energy of early Superchunk, I find myself really enjoying the later, more “sophisticated” songs.

“Watery Hands” continues this more “sweet” sound that Superchunk has been exploring.  It also includes a cool break that offers a little bass solo as well as even more keyboards (so it seems that the keyboard experiment pleased them).

Meanwhile, the final song, the “watery wurlitzer mix” of water hands is a goofy track, probably the first throwaway track on a Superchunk EP.  And yet, having said that it’s a catchy and silly little ditty, heavy on the wurlitzer and oddball keyboard sounds, which all but eliminates the original, except for faint traces of guitar that pop up here and there.

The middle track “With Bells On” is a decent mid-tempo song.  Nothing terribly exciting but even unexciting Superchunk is usually pretty good.

[READ: October 9, 2010] “The Saviors”

William T. Vollmann was the next writer in the New Yorker’s 1999 20 Under 40 collection.

I have heard a lot about Vollmann.  And I have read a few articles by him.  But I’m sort of daunted by his output.  And this is the first piece of his fiction of that I’ve read.

I don’t know if this is representative of his work, although from what I understand it kind of is.  This is historical fiction loaded down with details (some details which I have to assume he’s made up).  This story compares the lives of Fanya Kaplan and Nadezhda Konstantinova Krupskaya.  (As with so many Russian based stories, those names are hard to keep straight as the story goes along).

In the first paragraph we learn that Fanya Kaplan tried to assassinate Lenin on August 30, 1918.  She was captured and later executed on September 3.  In the second paragraph, we learn that Nadezhda Konstantinova Krupskaya was Lenin’s wife. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PETER, BJORN & JOHN-Living Thing (2009).

After the raging (relative) success of Writer’s Block, with their crazily catchy whistling song, “Young Folks”, PB&J could have gone in any direction.

And I was quite surprised when the opening song of this follow up (actually, there’s an instrumental disc in between) opened with single note and drum sounds and virtually a capella vocals.  But unlike a typical a capella song, the thudding notes were kind of dissonant and unpleasant.  And there wasn’t much more to the song than that.

Even the second song starts out starkly.  A single piano note plays a simple riff.  The verse kicks in with some simple electronic drums (and again minimal accompaniment).  And this sparseness is the main musical theme on the disc.

And I have to say it took almost a half a dozen listen before I really enjoyed what they were doing.  They are eschewing the pop structure that won them popularity and they’re shifting their melodies to the vocal lines rather than the instruments (I guess).  It’s a risky proposition, but it pays off.

Take “Nothing to Worry About.”   It opens with what sounds like a distorted children’s choir singing the chorus at full volume.  But then it settles down into, again, a simple drum and vocals song with just a hint of instrumentation.  (Did they get all their music out on the instrumental?  I don’t know I’ve not heard it).  Even the title track is sparse guitar noises and clicked drums.  But, man, is it catchy (it reminds me in a weird way of Paul Simon).

And then, continuing my contention that the best and catchiest songs always have curses in them, “Lay It Down” with the chorus, “Hey, shut the fuck up boy, you’re starting to piss me off” will stick in your head for days.

The end of the disc (the last three songs) are considerably mellower.  They’re less catchy, but they use the starkness very well.

Initially I really didn’t like this album.  It had none of the immediacy of the previous disc.  But I found myself really enjoying it.  I wouldn’t want all of their albums to sound like this, but it was an enjoyable twist on a good formula.

[READ: October 7, 2010] Garden State

I mentioned the other day that I just found out about this book when looking up information about Rick Moody.  I was so excited to read a book set in Haledon (two towns from where I grew up) that I checked it out and begin it immediately (it’s only 200 pages, so that helped too).  But I have to say I was really disappointed with the book (even if it did win the Editor’s Book Award).

My first gripe is about the supposed setting in New Jersey.  I have no problem with fictionalizing an area.  Writers do it all the time.  But Moody fictionalizes the area in two ways to suit his thesis, and as a lover of New Jersey and a former resident of the region, I found the lack of reality to be very upsetting.

The first minor, and I have to say really weird thing is that despite the real towns included (Haledon, Paterson, Paramus) he makes up towns nearby–Fleece, Tyre– and he makes up a river–The Dern River.  He also plays around with the names of the highways that run through the state, constantly referring to the non-existent Garden State Thruway.  Now, again, there’s no problem with making things up, but nobody in the story ever goes to Fleece or Tyre, the Dern River doesn’t come into play aside from being a river that people refer to (it’s not a renamed Passaic river, because that’s included in the story, too).  So, why make up random town names?  Why say that you drive from Haledon to the edge of Paterson near Boonton, when that is not geographically correct (or relevant to the story)?  It just seems like he didn’t have access to a map. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: October 19, 2010] David Foster Wallace Eulogies

There are some really nice eulogies done for when DFW died.  The official (written) memorial service eulogies (from Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith, George Saunders and others) are available here (from an outstanding online journal called Five Dials).  They’re all beautiful (I was amused that the second longest one comes from DFW’s editor!).

The audio eulogies are available at The David Foster Wallace Audio Project.  They include two very long full length ceremonies and several news (NPR mostly) reports.  And there’s a lengthy interview with David’s sister, Amy, which is by far the most moving one.

The first of the lengthy pieces is the ceremony from Amherst.  It consists of colleagues, friends and students all telling stories about DFW.  And their collective memories join together to create a great portrait of the man; things that you’d never know about him (except you kind of would) from reading his work.  The thing that really struck me from this memorial was just how many friends he had.  This seems like an insult but it isn’t meant to be; rather, the impression I had was that he was quite a solitary man, holing up with his dogs and his pens.  But the stories and love from his friends during his college years especially are really quite nice to hear, and showcase a side of him that he left out of his work (except, of course, really he didn’t). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUPERCHUNK-Laughter Guns EP (1996).

The first track “A Small Definition” is a surprisingly slow track from them.  Even when the band kicks in about midway through, it’s still a fairly mellow sound  And yet it is not a light track by any means.  (A nice squalling guitar solo certainly helps.)  But in case you thought the band had mellowed, track two “Her Royal Fisticuffs” brings back their punky bratty sound.

The third track, “The Mine Has Been Returned…” brings in a new sound altogether.  It opens with a heavy heavy destorted bass riff (instead of the usual guitars).  But the real surprise comes with the very distorted organ sound that throws the bass into sharp relief

The final song, “Hero,” is part surf rock part detective song, and continues the interesting departures that Superchunk explore on this disc.

And then there’s the bonus track.  It’s a radio broadcast from WXYC a radio station in Chapel Hill.  The track is a 42 minute deconstruction of “Hyper Enough.”  It’s a few guys (and radio callers) dissecting the song in incredible detail.  (hey listen to one verse about 20 times).   The track starts about 20 minutes into the show, and they have just gotten past the first verse).  At about 10 minutes into the track, the discussion turns into a fascinating look at deconstruction and the primacy of the author.  There’s a caller’s snide comment that the band is all on crack and they should stop wasting their time–which of course, leads to a discussion of how drugs might impact the lyrics of the songs.  It’s a crazy track and a crazy radio show.  And shows how much fun college students can have when they really enjoy something.  I listened to it when it came out, but haven’t listened to it again until this week.   And I enjoyed it just as much this time. Perhaps I’ll try again in another 15 years.  Oh, and until iTunes, I never knew the song was called, “Cool-Ass Mutherfuckin’ Bonus Track.”

[READ: October 1, 2010] “The Local Production of Cinderella”

Allegra Goodman was the next writer in the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 issue.

The opening paragraph of this story confused me greatly.  I wasn’t sure exactly what the author was trying to say.  I re-read it three times, and then it finally clicked.  And after that, the story flowed very nicely.   The story is set in Hawaii in 1978.  Two women, Roselva and Helen, have worked at the Hawaii Dept of Human Services at adjoining desks for years.

Roselva is Chinese-Hawaiian, very religious and a real believer in her job.  Helen is of German descent and was born in Maine.  She wanted out of human services. (more…)

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