I have been a dabbler in Dylan over the years. I like his hits, I like some of his albums, but I’ve never been a huge huge fan. So the biggest surprise to me was that Bob Dylan now sounds like Tom Waits. His voice is so crazily gravelly, it’s almost (almost) unrecognizable as Dylan.
That said, on some of the tracks it works very well–like he’s had too much to drink and is enjoying the revelry of these traditional songs. I imagine him as a benevolent uncle trying to get the family to sing along. And sing along they do. He has a group of backing singers who sound like they are straight out of the forties and fifties (on some songs the women sing incredibly high especially compared to Dylan’s growl). I’m not always sure it works, but when it does it’s quite something.
The first three songs are a lot of fun. However, when he gets to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” it really sounds like he has hurt himself. He seems to really strain on some of those notes–note the way he pronounces “herald” (heeerald).
The more secular songs fare better with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” sounding especially Waitsian and being all the better for it. Although I feel that perhaps he made up some lyrics–“presents on the tree?” It’s interesting that in “O Come, All Ye Faithful” he sings the first verse in Latin (I don’t know that I’ve heard any other pop singers do that) and it works quite well.
A less successful song is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in which the music just seems to be too slow for him. His verses end early and it seems like the backing singers are just out in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps the best song is “Must Be Santa.” I love this arrangement (by Brave Combo) and Dylan has a ton of fun with it (and the video is weirdly wonderful too).
“Christmas Blues” is a bit of a downer (as the title might suggest). I’d never heard this song before and Dylan is well suited to it. Dylan’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy” is also very good–he croons gently and his voice sounds really good. I was surprised to hear him do “Christmas Island,” a song I have come to love this year–his version is quite fun as well, with the backing singer doing Aloha-ays.
Finally, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is pitched a wee bit high for him (and the Waits voice is more scary than avuncular here).
So overall it’s a weird collection (to say nothing of the artwork–both the cover and the inside cover), but I think it’s well suited to the day after the festivities.
[READ: December 15, 2013] Five Dials #26
I was shocked to realize who many Five Dials issued I had put off reading (and that this one came out over a year ago!). I knew 26 was a large issue, so I put it off. And then put it off. And then put it off, until Issue 29 came out. (I read 29 before this one, which got me to jump back and tackle this large one).
I have to admit I did not enjoy this one as much as previous Five Dials. The bulk of the issue was taken up with German short stories, and I don’t know if it was the choices of the editors, but (a few) of the stories just didn’t grab me at all. Having said that, there were one or two that I thought were very good. But with this being such a large issue, perhaps it deserved to be spaced out a little better–Weltanschauung fatigue, no doubt.
This issue starts with Letters from Our Glorious readers and other sources.
I feel like this is a new feature for Five Dials (although again, it has been a while). There is applause for the Bears (From Issue #24) and the acknowledgement of Zsuzsi Gartner’s first adoptees of her story ideas (Issue #25 Pt 1). There’s also the amusing story of a guy who got nailed at work for printing the color issue (something I used to do at my old job as well) and a refraining of answering spam.
CRAIG TAYLOR-On Ewen and German
Taylor doesn’t say much in this intro, since the “heavy lifting” is done by Anna Kelly. He does mention Paul Ewen (and his food writing) and the first Five Dials questionnaire (which I assume it is too late (and too far away) for me to submit for that free HH book).
She explains about wanting to know secrets, and how when she was little, learning Pig Latin was a such a huge boon to her secretive life. Then her sister started studying German, and Anna herself was hooked. She says that reading German works in German is like flying. And she wants to share German language writers with us. Of course, we won’t be reading them in German, so there will be no flying.
OUR TOWN (includes a drawing of Beigel Bake in Brick Lane).
WILL WILES (Stratford, E20) Will Wiles tries his luck at the Asper’s Casino in Westfield.
This was an interesting look at a casino from the point of view of someone who doesn’t really want to gamble and is new to casinos. I recall my first time in a casino, although I did not go by myself (which would indeed be intimidating). I liked that he felt he should dress up to go (as if). He was pleased by the prices of the food and even seems to do alright in not spending more than he brought (although I feel that a £20 allowance won’t get you very much fun). I felt that he real sense of casino zombie destitution did not come across very well in this essay–or maybe they just haven’t reached that stage in Westfield yet.
SOPHIE ELMHIRST (The Strand, WC2) Sophie Elmhirst takes the road less travelled.
This amusing article looks at shortcuts and who knows them better. Her mother always said you should follow a cab–they know the fastest routes around town. So she talks to a cabbie who tells her a shortcut that almost doesn’t even contain a real road. She is very disappointed however in Secret London Walks because most of the paths that they take are meant to be interesting, not short.
DEMETRI MARTIN-Palindromes for Specific occasions
These Palindromes come from Martin’s book. They include some funny ones and that preposterously long one
PAUL MALISZEWSKI-finds answers to the big questions
In which “Our Washington Correspondent” talks to his three-year old about death. I must say that I feel these questions are too sophisticated for a three-year old, but otherwise, the essay is sweet and touching and something that most parents have had to deal with.
FIVE DIALS BUREAUCRACY: Your Reading Life
A rather funny survey.
JAN BRANDT (translated by Katy Derbyshire)-All Chic and Elegance Are Over
This essay looks at whether Berlin is the best city in Germany or not. Going through history (starting with Rosa Luxembourg in 1898) Brendt talks about those who have hated Berlin. After WWII, Berlin began its ascension into cultural coolness. Of course the recent decline of Germany has brought more Berlin bashers to the fore.
PETER STAMM (translated by Michael Hofmann)-“The Hurt”
I have enjoyed Stamm’s fiction quite a lot over the years. Although I have to say I didn’t really respond to this one that well. In this story, a man pines for Lucia. She was two years younger than him. They’d met when he just finished school. They spent that summer together, but when he went to University, he wrote to her but she ignored him. And so it goes for most of his life–him trying to get her to look his way–which she seems to do only after kissing another man. He continues to try to win her but she grows more distant and more cruel. Perhaps I misunderstand the duration of the story, but it seems like it goes on like this for years, which is frankly just too long. If this had been a summer, then I could absolutely see it, but it seemed like he was more of a sucker than anything.
PEDRO LENZ (translated by Donal McLaughlin)-Curriculum Vitae & Consolation
ULRIKE ALMUT SANDIG (translated by Anthea Bell)-“Flamingos”
I loved this story. It was very dark and grew darker as it went along. It is about a boy who is carrying the cross at a funeral. It is his first time carrying the cross and he is relying on the advice from his friend to get him through it. I really enjoyed this a lot.
ULRICH BLUMENBACH (translated by Ross Benjamin) The Expansion of Literary Language
This essay is about Blumenbach’s work translating David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. This was his first big translation and he talks about the challenges of translating a text that is so full of vernacular and nested sentences. She talks about Uwe Tellkamp’s novel Der Turm [The Tower] as being similarly complicated (note to fans of IJ), but how IJ sent him to so many reference books to find the proper way to translate it. But he says that the difficulties paled in comparison to the pleasures of translating it–she calls him the Han Solo of literature. I can’t imagine being so absorbed in the world of IJ–seemingly even more so than DFW was himself.
SIMON URBAN (translated by Katy Derbyshire)-“Promised Land”
I found this story to be a little confusing, which means I probably should have just started over to get the two characters straight. But it seemed to be a kind of story within a story and so I found it hard to distinguish between Moll and Vassiler. I think the fact that it went on several pages longer than I thought it would led to my decision to not re-read it.
MARION POSCHMANN (translated by Iain Galbraith) Self -Portrait as a White Lady
JUDITH SCHALANSKY (translated by Shaun Whiteside)-“Ecosystems”
I found this story to be very very exhausting. Inge Lohmark is a teacher, and she is disdainful of her students and her fellow teachers. And really, that’s the extent of the story. It goes on and on (and on) about Inge’s distaste for, in particular, Mrs Schwanneke, who coddles her students). I did enjoy the graphic of the student seating chart. And seeing that this is an except from a novel and not a short story makes me feel a little more open to it. But I grew tired of this pretty quickly.
ANTHEA BELL-A Translator’s View
This is the first of three essays about W.G. Sebald. I knew I had recognized Anthea Bell’s name from somewhere, and it came from her translation of Sebald’s Austerlitz (which I didn’t love as much as I feel I ought to have). I am fascinated by translators so this was an interesting article for me. And, indeed it makes me want to read Sebald’s earlier books, even though after finishing the first I didn’t think I ever would.
AMANDA HOPKINSON-A History of memory or a memory of history?
This second essay about Sebald is a personal account of Hopkinson’s meetings with him.
PAUL GREENLEAF-Five Frames A Correspondence
This shows a series of five photos taken years apart in the same exact location. I love this kind of thing.
UWE SCHÜTTE-Teaching by Example
The third essay about Seabld. Schütte had Sebald as an adviser in school. She says that he often differed radically with the conventional wisdom about an author. He worked hard on his book as well, but she says he was always very funny. And she thinks he would have been appalled at the adoration his books have received,
RAOUL SCHROTT (translated by Iain Galbraith)-Physical Optics XI & Figures V
two poems with unconventional punctuation.
JULI ZEH (translated by Sally-Ann Spencer) To Hell with Authenticity (on fiction and reality)
A look at authenticity which I found a little too meta- to be enjoyable.
MARJANA GAPONENKO (translated by Arabella Spencer)-“The Language of Ravens”
Like the exhausting story of the teacher and the exhausting story of the lost girlfriend, I found this exhausting story about old man Lewadski to seem to really fixate on something and not let go. As with those other stories, I did enjoy some of it, particularly the language of the Ravens, but I lost interest in the overall story.
THOMAS PLETZINGER (translated by Ross Benjamin)-Gentlemen, We Are Living on the Edge
An essay about the Alba Berlin basketball team. They have been traveling for almost a year and Pletzinger was with them for many months. Then Pletzinger speaks of his own career as a wannabe basketball player in Germany. It’s an interesting look at a fan of a sport who doesn’t really follow any specific teams.
TILMAN RAMMSTEDT (translated by Katy Derbyshire) Invitation
This was an endless list of reasons why they should have a party. Never has party planning seemed so exhausting and devoid of fun. There is definitely humor here, but it just goes on too long.
THE BACK SECTION
PAUL EWEN-The Food and Drink Column-Eating’s Cheating
Ewe was invited to the Abergavenny Food Festival where he feels like a fraud because his book was not really about food. Indeed, it was about pubs, but fictionalized version of the food at pubs. In fact he doesn’t even really like eating very much. Watch him squirm as he tries to pass as a foodie.
And Finally…Five Minutes to Midnight A series on the ends of days by LARENCE HOWARTH
Howarth ends his day by describing a woman deciding whether or not to go to sleep or to stay up and watch the movie that is still on. She knows if she watches the whole thing she’ll be up until 1:30, but so what. Oh but a commercial has come in, she should just go to bed.
There’s some photos from the making of the issue and then Bonus Fiction
CLEMENS J. SETZ (translated by Ross Benjamin) “The Ferris Wheel”
This story starts with a weird premise and then more or less ignores the weirdness of the premise to focus on the character. Monika lives in a Ferris wheel. Each o the cars has been turned into an apartment and it slowly revolves–sometimes she has a great view at the top, sometimes she is near the bottom, and the garbage dump. You can leave the place when your apartment gets to the bottom or take the central elevator What a weird idea. But overall the Ferris wheel becomes a metaphor for loneliness and inaccessibility. When Monika has a visitor (the repairman), it seems to break the wall of her apartment, but how will she react once her defenses have been exposed? I really enjoyed this story a lot.
Illustrations in the issue were by Sophia Martineck
And so, while there were a few stories I didn’t like–that repetitiveness was a drag, there were, as always, some great things to be had here. I’m glad to be back into the Five Dials swing of things.