When the debut Garbage album came out I was totally hooked. I was initially skeptical of the album–the sneaky release of “Vow” with no hype (but hype), the Butch Vig connection. But I heard it and wow. Then the rest of the album did not disappoint. I listened to this album so much it’s hard for me to even be objective about it. For a time this was my favorite album. My biggest celebrity bummer was when I found out that they were appearing at a Newbury Comics and I went to the wrong one. By the time I got across town to the real location, the line was huge and the clerk cut off the line about four people in front of me. Ugh.
I’m not sure what it was about this album–it’s slick, it’s technically overproduced (three producers who spent countless months tinkering with it) but it doesn’t really sound overproduced. It’s an interesting pastiche of pop, grunge, electronic and goth. It’s a dark album for sure, but it has pop tones all over it. It’s also musically interesting, like the way the disc opens. The opening riff of “Supervixen” is a few notes and then just stops and then resumes. It’s weird and off-putting for the opening of an album and it immediately grabs you.
Then you get the sultry goth-lite of “Queer.” Overtly sexual, dark and sneaky it’s a perfectly naughty radio friendly alt rock song. This was released during a time when women were ruling alt-rock, so it wasn’t singular in any way, but it certainly led the way for more women fronted gothy bands. And so did “Only Happy When it Rains” –the surprise mope rock hit.
“As Heaven is Wide” is a really dark song, understandably not a hit, but really sexy and groovy. “Not My Idea” brings in some of the first non minor key chords–where Manson sings in her sweeter voice until the raucous chorus. “Vow” seems like such an unlikey first single–the stuttering guitar the nonsinging vocals, it really doesn’t showcase Shirley’s voice all that well. But as a middle of the album song it’s nice and hard hitting. “Stupid Girl” was also pretty huge–it’s got some wonderfully raw sounds to keep it from being too treacly (well and the lyrics do too, of course).
“Dog New Tricks” has a lot going on musically underneath Manson’s voice that I still find it really compelling–like the staggered guitars that don’t seem to fit, but do. “My Lover’s Box” (which I always assumed was called “Send Me An Angel”) is another slow sultry number although the guitar riff is way too reminiscent of Aldo Nova’s one hit (“Fantasy). “Fix Me Now” is one final loud, oddly upbeat song, followed by the wonderful gothy closer “Milk” which emphasizes keyboards in a way that the rest of the album doesn’t.
It’s a great debut, an album that I still regard very highly even if I don’t listen to it all that often anymore.
[READ: February 3, 2013] Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Sarah brought this book home and said I would like it. And I was able to read a few pages when she ran into a store and it was very funny so I couldn’t wait to read the whole thing (despite the rather stupid cover). Maria Semple was a writer for Arrested Development among other shows and recently turned her pen to novels (this is her second book).
One of the delights of this book was having literally no idea where it was going. Meaning that by the end of Part Two (there are six parts), I really had no idea where it would end. By the time it ends it all makes sense, but it wasn’t telegraphed, which is pretty cool. This book also ties nicely to Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. In Penumbra, much of the action took place at and around Google. In Bernadette, much of the action takes place in and around Microsoft. Based on these two fictionalizations, it sounds like Google is a more enjoyable place to work as Google gave you free food made to your specifications whereas in Microsoft all they had was free candy machines (and lots of layoffs and jealousy that they can’t use an iPhone).
The story is narrated by Bee, and eighth grader who scores all S’s on her private school report card (S is the highest you can get, since they don’t believe in grades). The note accompanying the report card raves about Bee’s intelligence, generosity and helpfulness around the school). That night at the dinner table, Bee tells her parents what she wants for getting such a great report card (she had always wanted a pony, but has changed her mind): She wants to go to Antarctica on a cruise with the family.
This presents a problem for Bee’s mother Bernadette because she pretty much never leaves the house. Well, she does, but only to drive Bee to school. She has recently started outsourcing her life to a woman in India (for 75 cents an hour). The woman does literally everything for her, including making reservations at a restaurant 1/2 a mile from Bernadette’s house. But Bernadette wasn’t always like this. Indeed, she was once a future star in the architecture field until the tragic event that changed everything for her.
That change inspired a move with her husband, Elgie, to Seattle (a city which she now loathes–in great detail) where he found a job at Microsoft. He thrived there and soon was put in charge of the Samantha 2 project–a program that allows you to interact with all your devices using only your mind (his TED talk is the fourth most viewed ever!).
The novel is set up as a series of emails and other correspondence. But there’s a difference–interspersed throughout the emails is a narrative thread by Bee herself. It’s an odd structure, but the book makes good use and justification for it. It also allows for a wonderful narrative perspective. We get first-person-close narratives of all of these different people–the emails from Bernadette to her Indian helper, the emails to the parents at Bee’s school about upcoming fundraisers and the emails between neighbors regarding Bernadette and her increasingly weird behavior.
Top on this list of annoying neighbors are Audrey and Soo-Lin, whom Bernadette thinks of as the gnats. They are Seattle-born and raised (so Bernadette hates them already), and they are really into the school–and annoyed by parents who don’t participate. Indeed, Audrey is hosting a fundraiser for the school to try to entice even wealthier parents to switch to their school. Audrey also lives down the hill from Bernadette. Bernadette’s blackberry bush is not only an eyesore,but it sends shoots and roots all in to Audrey’s yard. When Audrey asks Bernadette to have them removed (in a less than straightforward manner), Bernadette does–and all chaos breaks loose (hilariously)–setting in motion a crazy set of emails that reveal a lot of underbelly in this community.
Soo-Lin is Audrey’s closest friend. But when she starts working as Elgie’s assistant, her sympathy of Elgie impacts the way she reacts to Audrey’s more and more panicked news. And soon she and Audrey are on the outs too. Soo-Lin is also big into VAV Victims Against Victimhood and has a ton of acronyms for helping people get through their crises.
And most of this happens in the first two parts of the book (so you can see why it’s hard to imagine where it’s going). Things start to coalesce and the title comes into play when Bernadette escapes from an intervention–Bernadette’s antisocial behavior has extended beyond the Indian worker to running over Audrey’s foot in the school parking lot and plotting emergency dental surgery to avoid her family.
What’s funny is that even though Bernadette is the main character and we are of course sympathetic with her, seeing the correspondence about her from Audrey and Soo-Lin, you have to wonder if maybe they have a point too. And as they grow more complicated, it really impacts the story.
The story sounds a bit more over the top than it is–the characters are fully realized and their bizarre behaviors grow out of the situations, especially when you see their lives extrapolated over the years. (And especially if one of them had a nervous breakdown). The story culminates in a fantastic series of scenes–where science and strange locations are brought into play. I enjoyed the whole story quite a lot.
I especially enjoyed the comment that staring off at the horizon for a while releases endorphin and really relaxes you, especially if you spend all day looking at screens and tablets.
My only question (and it’s not really a criticism) is that the story wraps up nicely except (and this is a minor spoiler, but there’s so much I haven’t spoiled that I’m okay with giving out this) that we’re never told what Elgie is planning to do after he leaves Microsoft. I mean, surely the sky’s the limit, but I was just waiting for some kind of deal that he brokered.
Regardless of that, I loved this story and am looking forward to Semple’s first book, which Sarah has already checked out of the library.