I always thought File Under: Easy Listening was a very funny title. But it’s possible that people took it too literally as it didn’t sell all that well. And in Mould’s autobiography he says he didn’t have much time to write songs for this disc and he thinks it suffered. Of the three Sugar discs, this is definitely the weakest, although there are some great moments on it.
The disc opens with “Gift” which has some ragged distorted guitars. It’s got some noises and grungy sounding solos showing that FU:EL was a joke. Although, the overall sound is kind of a cleaner version of the angry songs on Beaster. “Company Book” is kind of a pounder, until the voice comes in and you realize…it’s not Mould! It’s got a catchy chorus, but after the kind of underwhelming opener, it’s a strange place for a song that’s also not so dynamic. Especially when it’s followed by “Your Favorite Thing” another great pop song from Mould—not top tier but a really strong second tier (although that bright, simple guitar solo is a real winner). “What You Want It To Be” is a another decent song (the addition of that extra guitar playing the melody line really makes the song shine. “Gee Angel” is also a high point. A catchy song, but which never quite reaches the heights of the previous albums.
“Panama City Hotel” has the same feel as the opening of Beaster: bright acoustic guitars and a similar riff. But it never really goes anywhere, and the 4 minutes seem. The “do do do do’s” that open “Can’t Help You Anymore” are certainly the brightest spot on the album, and a big pop song as well. “Granny Cool” has a nicely abrasive riff although it seems kind of mean spirited. It’s funny that he tucked “Believe What You’re Saying” at the end of the album. It’s a minor song but it sounds so bright on this album after the other songs. It’s really quite pretty.
And the closer, “Explode and Make Up” is one of Mould’s great angry songs. Unlike Beaster, this one has a happy acoustic field—bnright guitars with that raging distorted guitar underneath. It’s a great slow burner of a song and at five minutes it ends a somewhat lackluster album in a great way.
[READ: March 31, 2013] McSweeney’s #20
McSweeney’s #20 is an issue that I have read before. At least I think I have. My recollection is that it was the last one I read before I started writing about them on this blog. I was hesitant to read it soon again, which is why I waited until now. And while I remember the issue itself (with all of the art), I didn’t remember the stories. So who knows if I actually read it six years ago.
Anyhow, this issue comes jam-packed with art. Every fourth page has full-color artwork on it–many of them are quite famous. It makes for a very beautiful book.
In between these artworks are a number of stories–ranging in size from 2 pages to 30-some pages. There are no letters, and the explanatory and copyright information is on the cover of the book–which would be fine, except that it is covered up by a kind of 3-D artwork. I wonder if the whole text is available anywhere?
The book also comes with a separate pamphlet–an excerpt from Chris Adrian’s Children’s Hospital. I intend to read the novel eventually so I didn’t read the excerpt–although maybe if I put off the novel for six years I should just read the excerpt now.
SUSAN STEINBERG-“To Sit, Unmoving”
I had a vague sense of reading this story before. It’s a story about two kids whose father is a rich white man making money in Puerto Rico. As the story opens, their father has just been punched in the face and robbed. The woman he is with, a pretty employee, has taken off, leaving him in the street. The father is an inventor, but has only successfully invented one thing–an air filtration system for masks–which are made cheaply in Puerto Rico. The father goes to Puerto Rico often and now he takes the children with him. But that doesn’t stop him from going on dates. Nor does he worry about getting robbed, so he takes his own sports car and drives where he wants, rather than taking the company limo and being driven to approved locations (of course we see how that turned out). There are some really interesting dynamics between the daughter and the father and between the daughter and her brother (whom people call retarded but who isn’t–he just has his own way of seeing things). The story was constructed as a series of out-of-sequence scenes which gave it a really hazy feel, which I rather liked.
KEVIN MOFFETT-“Statement of Purpose”
Okay, so I recalled this one as well, somewhat. Ben and Adria met at a manatee tank. Ben imagined being able to ride a manatee. Adria was there swimming with the manatees as well, and Ben asked her, point blank, what she would say if he asked if he could ride her. She said okay. Adria was not the prettiest of her friends–her teeth were crooked, for one thing, and her hair was kind of mousey, but Ben really fell for her–her teeth especially (perhaps he loved underdogs). They started dating and it made Adria feel better about herself. So much so that she decided to get braces (a kind of twisted Gift of the Magi story, all of a sudden). But there’s much more to it than that, including why he hasn’t actually ridden her yet–which she is strangely looking forward to). The story ends with gifts for both of them and an awkward revelation of Adria’s new braces. I really liked this one.
BEN JAHN-“City Water”
I thought I remembered this story, but the detail I remembered about it–the man carving a city seal in a barn–was a small detail and I recalled it being a very big deal. As it t urns out the seal is of interest to the characters, but we hardly see the artist making it. Rather, the owner of the barn where the artist is working goes off to visit his friend Bill Scobie. Bill’s wife Marlene is home and she calls him “homewrecker.” But not for the reasons you might think. Instead, the narrator crashed the truck that was carrying their pre-fab home. I didn’t really get what was going on with the men in this story.
TONY D’SOUZA-“The Man Who Married a Tree”
This is the one story that I recall reading before, probably because it is so strange. Indeed, a man marries a tree. Which is weird, but it’s also weird for the way it is constructed. Well, not weird, exactly, more like unexpected. It opens and in narrated by The Townsmen who tell us about the man. It seems to set the tone of the story but then section two comes from the point of view of the Postman. And he tells us about going to the man’s house after he died and delivering mail to the man’s sister. Then we hear from the hardware store owner who appreciated that the man built his own house but wished he’d bought more supplies. The Sheriff talks about the time the man was drunk and had to be put in the lock up for the night (after The Spinster reported him). Even the Forest Surveyor gets a say because he almost tacked a sign on the man’s wife (a white birch). Then the creek and the mountains and some of the animals all have their say. It was a fascinating look at a strange man and how this crazy behavior really didn’t seem so crazy in the grand scheme of things
J. ERIN SWEENEY-“Terminal”
This brief story looked at a terminal boy who was in love with an actress. The actress visited him in the hospital. It was interesting but not all that memorable.
SARAH RAYMONT-“God and the Coconuts”
God tells a woman that she can do whatever she wants on an island paradise that he gives her. Anything that is, except take coconuts from a purple tree. So she has a huge party and invites all kinds of people and warns them about the purple tree. But when it’s dark she accidentally takes coconuts from the tree because she couldn’t tell it was the purple tree. She knows she did wrong but then she gives God a hard time about having such nitpicky rules. I rather liked this one.
JACK PENDARVIS-“The Big Dud”
I don’t like Pendarvis’ work in The Believer, but I did enjoy this story. It takes the surreal style that Pendarvis uses in his Believer columns and turns it to good use in this fictional account. It begins with Dudley talking to the receptionist at the paper (we later learn that he is looking for assignments for the paper but he has ever been given one). He is charming the woman by talking about his eczema and how it spread to his eyelid. Dud is an intellectual (the only one in Alabama) and he reads The New Yorker but he’s bitter that they would never publish any of his brilliant stories if he ever sent them in because he is from Alabama.
Eventually Dud goes on a stakeout with Three, the boss of the paper. Three is supposed to track a man who is believed to be having an affair. They take Dud’s piece of shit car and tail the man (in hilariously incompetent fashion) until they find him taking photos of a glowing howl (owl). It’s a very weird story which defies logic, but which I found very funny.
This was a strange story that was all speculation. Or more to the point, a prediction about what would happen (in staggering detail) about the future of the man and his country and his army. I got a little lost in the details, and I admit I didn’t really care all that much about it by the end.
ANTHONY SCHNEIDER-“Houses for Fishes”
This story was barely two pages and I found it very unsatisfying. There were many great ideas about the breakup of a relationship, but the story wasn’t all that powerful. I did like the imagery (like imagining that the words she is speaking are coming from a character on TV).
This may have been my favorite story in any McSweeney’s ever. I laughed out loud twice during the story, which is a pretty good thing since the story isn’t a comedy by any means. Indeed, the story is about murder. Murder in Utah where the narrator goes to college (he’s the only one there from east of the Mississippi). The boy who was murdered went to their college. And this freaks out the narrator, understandably. But he’s more freaked out that he has been in this college for so long and hasn’t even had a date yet–doesn’t even really have any friends. Except for one–Sebastian, a poet just like the narrator. Although Sebastian is confident and cocky and, worst of all, a productive poet.
The thing that made me laugh out loud was the birthday card he received which read: If a constellation were named after you it would be phallic and largely insignificant. There is another great line later about pennies. And, in the beginning of the story, their teacher tries to get the class to write stories based on improbable first lines. The example given is hilarious.
But the story takes some weird turns, like when Sebastian, who sidelines as a local wrestler, asks the narrator to fill in for him one night. A night in which crazy things happen. I didn’t love the ending–which felt insubstantial–but I loved everything else about the story and want to read more from White.
Mate could mean so many different things as a title. I was surprised to find that it meant cellmate. In this story the narrator is a scrawny white Jew who is in jail. His cellmate, Dennis, is a white power Nazi (who doesn’t know that the narrator is Jewish). Dennis protects the narrator and keeps him safe. The dangers of the prison come when Jango, an even scrawnier white guy, is brought in and the inmates anticipate a party. The bulk of the story is about the narrator and Dennis and how they construct chess boards and pieces out of toilet paper and how they manage to have a reasonably interesting conversation–all the while that horrible things are happening to Jango. I don’t know if there was a point to the story exactly but it was certainly an indictment of the penal system.
SAM MILLER-“The King’s Book”
I didn’t love this story which was about a man in prison writing his great love novel to a woman who may or may not care about him. The man thinks he is a king although the guard tells him otherwise. I couldn’t tell if we were supposed to believe what he said, although the imagery was pretty cool.
In this story three roommates are all involved (at some point) with a man named Sam. As the story opens, Margo has just broken up with him. This upsets the narrator and their other roommate Dahlia, because they want to go to the Reenactors Club–a secret club where Sam and his friends meet. At one time the club members actually did famous reenactments, but now mostly they reenact their college days (while they are still in college). The narrator tries to get Dahlia to hook up with Sam so that they can learn more about this club. Which does indeed happen. And we get to see lots of details about the Club.
There is also a cool flashback to when the girls met–which I thought was great. As the story closes the women seem unaffected by Sam, but the final image was a very cool one.
And lest I forget, the artists contributing to this issue are: Franz Ackermann, Mamma Andersson, Kevin Christy, Anna Conway, Holly Coulis, Amy Cutler, Jules de Balincourt, Chris Duncan, Echo Eggebrecht, Niklas Eneblom, Jeff Gauntt, Angelina Gualdoni, Ernst Haeckel, Wendy Heldmann, Jason Holley, Håvard Homstvedt, Susan Logoreci, Ashley Macomber, Jacob Magraw-Mickelson, Jodie Mohr, Laura Owens, Clare Rojas, Henri Rousseau, Rachel Salomon, Andrew Schoultz, Keith Andrew Shore, Rachell Sumpter, Fred Tomaselli, Kuniyoshi Utagawa
This was one of my favorite McSweeney’s. The fiction was wonderful and the art was beautiful. And with this I have read nearly all of the McSweeney’s issues. At this point I have but three left. #10, #38 and the most recent one (#42). It feels good to be so close to the end. So why did I stop reading them? Writing these posts takes a long time! It’s much quicker to write about one short story than about 12. But I’ll get there soon.