This is Mogwai’s first live album and it really captures the band in all of its intense glory. This is a good year for a Mogwai live recording because they play some of their newer song which are a bit more melodic (and sometime have words) but they also revisit their older songs–which still sound intense. It’s a great overview of their career so far and it’s a great testament to how different their music sounds over the course of so many years–even though they still sound like Mogwai
We get two songs from Their (then) latest The Hawk is Howling –”I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead” and “I Love You I’m Going to Blow up Your School.” Two songs from Mr Beast ”Friend of the Night” and the stunning set closer “Glasgow Mega Snake.” Two from Happy Music ”Hunted by a Freak” and “I Know You Are But What am I.” Two from Rock Action ”You Dont Know Jesus” and “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong.” From Come On Die Young we get “Cody” and from their debut, two classics: “Like Herod” (which is amazing live) and “Mogwai Fear Satan” (also amazing)–each one over 10 minutes long and full of the emotional release that we’ve come to expect from Mogwai.
This is a great place to start if you want to hear what Mogwai is all about.
[READ: June 4, 2012] Jailbird
First off I want to say how neat it is that I took this book out of the library and that it’s from 1979. Thirty-three years old! Books are cool.
Anyhow, I have a stack of dozens of books I want to read, and yet somehow Vonnegut said, no, read me now. In addition to Vonnegut books being relatively short, they are also very quick to read. I read this in a couple of days, which is very satisfying.
My old boss at the library told me that she thought Vonnegut more or less stopped writing good books after Breakfast of Champions. I disagree, but that has certainly colored the way I look at his later books before I read them–which one had she read that turned her off? I kind of suspect it was this one.
In some ways this is a minor novel. It’s fairly brief (240 pages, although there’s 30 page Prologue which I gather is from Vonnegut himself (you never know, he has so many layers going on)). He explains some of the details that are in the book and several other interesting preface-type things. I enjoyed the bit about the fan who wrote to Vonnegut and (Vonnegut claims) summed up all of his works in just seven words: “Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail.” And that is the basic plot of this book.
The protagonist is Walter F. Starbuck. Although the real forces behind the book are the RAMJAC Corporation, Sacco and Vanzetti, Watergate and prison. In fact, as I think about trying to summarize the book, it grows increasingly difficult, because while the story is kind of straightforward (although told in flashbacks), the forces behind it ebb and flow in different cycles.
As the book opens Starbuck is in prison. He was arrested for being in the wrong place during Watergate. He worked for Richard Nixon as the special advisor on youth affairs, so naturally he was stuffed in a basement office and ignored. When the Watergate thieves stored a million dollars in his office, he was the prime suspect and was arrested.
The rest of the book more or less flashes back through Starbuck’s life. Like how he got to be a part of Nixon team in the first place. He had testified before the House un-American Committee and basically got a decent man arrested for being a Communist (of course, he points out, during the Depression EVERYONE was a communist, how could you not be?). That young man was his friend Leland Clewes (Clewes ran off with one of the first women that Starbuck loved, and while Starbuck was pissed, this wasn’t a vendetta). Clewes was a rising star in the Democratic Party, potentially the next presidential candidate. So when the Nixon administration got wind of this potential scandal they quickly took advantage of it–crushing Clewes under the mantle of Communism and effectively giving Nixon the win. And securing Starbuck a job (however stupid).
Of course, the story flashes back further to explain Starbuck’s personal history (and his name). Starbuck’s family name is Stankowicz. His family immigrated to America and got jobs as servants for the McCone family–plutocrat industrialists who created Cuyahoga Bridge and Iron (now a part of the RAMJAC Corportaion) which was instrumental in breaking a strike early on in American history which in turn caused the Cuyahoga massacre (which in turn, the McCone family watched happen from the belltower of their factory). Walter was born as eventually became the protegé of Alexander Hamilton McCone, a stuttering aristocrat who took Frank under his wing (changed that dreadful name to Starbuck and created an entire backstory as to how they were affiliated–it’s quite extensive). They played chess together and ultimately McCone paid for everything in Starbuck’s life, including a free ride to Harvard (note to Pynchon fans, there are more than one little coincidence like this that ties this book to Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) which I have to assume can’t be coincidental). It’s through McCone (and his money) that Starbuck takes Sarah to an expensive restaurant and gives the violinist a $20 tip by mistake–which Sarah thinks is a grotesque display of wealth and stops the date right there.
Harvard gets a boatload of abuse in this book. Every Important Person in the book is a Harvard man, and they are all scoundrels and dreadful people. I’ve never seen so much abuse heaped on an academic institution in a novel.
But this book is also a bout love. Starbuck has loved exactly four women in his life. His mother, Sarah Wyatt, Katherine O’Looney, and Ruth–his eventual wife. Although his mother doesn’t figure largely in the book, the other three women feature very heavily. And in surprisingly fundamental ways.
During the story Starbuck proves to be a recidivist, returning jail on a number of occasions, not all of them entirely his fault (like the stolen clarinets). But he also manages to make a fortune and to reconnect with the women he loved (and harmed). And to prove just how important courtesy can be.
In addition to the basic plot, there’s also a lot about Sacco and Vanzetti–three chapters about their trial and how he (presumably Vonnegut) is shocked that such an important miscarriage of justice has basically been forgotten by everyone. He also brings Kilgore Trout back. In this book Trout is the pseudonym of a man in prison for treason–Dr. Robert Fender, a great science fiction writer. I loved his story in which God has a group of actuaries at the gates of Heaven who detail all the ways in which the dead failed to make a ton of money (from not investing their paycheck in Coke to not realizing their house was on a huge nickel deposit–Einstein is one of the people who is criticized when he gets to the Pearly Gates, for not making more money on his genius). It’s wonderful.
The book starts off kind of dark–Vonnegut is nothing if not a misanthropist. And I felt a little wearied by the first couple of chapters, but once he started fleshing out the story, bringing in his wit (while still criticising everything) it made the story very enjoyable–funny and clever, with wonderful connections, but still offering blistering criticisms to a lot of American institutions. Interestingly, even though he is critical of religion, the heart of the story is the Sermon on the Mount.
Vonnegut has always been at the forefront of race relations, (I enjoyed that one of the black men in the book was named Cleveland Lewes, a nice play on a white character name), and there are many interracial marriages. Although he (or at least Starbuck) is violently appalled by homosexuality–wonder if Vonnegut ever came around on that front.
Back to Pynchon, what else is the connection between these books? Well, Starbuck’s division of RAMJAC was “snapped up by I.G Farben” (235).
Vonnegut somehow manages to be very critical and pretty harsh and yet also funny. But the most important thing is the way he maages to make this story work so well–the way he ties these ideas together into a coherent story (indeed, I think the story itself (the basic plotline and character arc) may be one of his best), is pretty amazing. I clarified that about the story because the book isn’t his best, it get s a little preachy and maybe a little too dark here and there (that beginning is rough), but the way he played around with Starbuck’s history is really wonderful.
Incidentally, RAMJAC owns about 19 percent of the country, including All in the Family, Ringling Brothers, Sesame Street and Colonel Sanders (among much else obviously). Sometimes misanthropy can be fun!