Archive for the ‘Joseph Heller’ Category

PalmSundayFrontandBackSOUNDTRACK: THE STATLER BROTHERS-“Class of ’57” (1972).

stalerI don’t know much about The Statler Brothers.  They are considered country, although this song is hardly country–it’s more folk with some bluegrass and, the real selling point–great harmonies (especially the bass singer with the big mustache).

The song is a wonderful coming of age song, sad and funny with a list of what happened to everyone in the class of ’57.  Like:

Betty runs a trailer park, Jan sells Tupperware,
Randy’s on an insane ward, Mary’s on welfare.
Charlie took a job with Ford, Joe took Freddie’s wife,
Charlotte took a millionaire, and Freddie took his life.

John is big in cattle, Ray is deep in debt,
Where Mavis finally wound up is anybody’s bet.

But the kicker comes at the chorus:

And the class of ’57 had its dreams,
Oh, we all thought we’d change the world with our great words and deeds.
Or maybe we just thought the world would change to fit our needs,
The class of ’57 had its dreams.

And then at the end:

And the class of ’57 had its dreams,
But living life from day to day is never like it seems.
Things get complicated when you get past eighteen,
But the class of ’57 had its dreams.

Vonnegut quotes the entirety of this song in the book and I’m glad he did, it’s a very moving song and really captures American life.

[READ: May 26, 2013] Palm Sunday

After writing several successful novels, Vonnegut paused to collect his thoughts.  And Palm Sunday begins: “This is a very great book by an American genius.”  It is also a “marvelous new literary form which combines the tidal power of a major novel with the bone-rattling immediacy of front-line journalism.”  After all the self praise, he decides that this collage–a collection of essays and speeches as well as a short story and a play which is all tied together with new pieces (in TV they would call this a clip show)–this new idea of a book should have a new name and he chooses: blivit (during his adolescence, this word was defined as “two pounds of shit in a one-pound bag.”  He proposes that all books combining facts and fiction be called blivits (which would even lead to a new category on the best seller list).  Until then, this great book should go on both lists.

This book is a collection of all manner of speeches and essays, but they are not arranged chronologically.  rather they are given a kind of narrative context.  What’s nice is that the table of contents lists what each of the items in the book is (or more specifically, what each small piece is when gathered under a certain topic).

Chapter 1 is The First Amendment in which he talks about Slaughterhouse Five being burned and how outraged he was by that–especially since the people so anxious to burn it hadn’t even read it (and the only “bad” thing is the word motherfucker).  The first speeches included are “Dear Mr. McCarthy” to the head of the school board where his books were burned and “Un-American Nonsense” an essay for the New York Times about his book being banned in New York State.  The next two are “God’s Law” for an A.C.L.U. fund raiser–it includes his confusion as to why people don’t support the A.C.L.U. which is working for all of our own civil liberties. (more…)

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vonlastintSOUNDTRACKSURFER BLOOD-“Demon Dance” (Live at SXSW, March 27, 2013).

surfer blood

I’ve liked Surfer Blood since I first heard them.  They write catchy, mostly short, poppy songs.  And usually after a few listens, the hooks really grab you.  The strange thing about the band is that the hooks aren’t always readily apparent, which makes their songs sound kind of samey sometimes.

Of course, samey isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.  Surfer Blood is quite distinctive and I tend to enjoy everything they do.  This new song sounds like their other stuff, which is fine.  But the most distinctive thing about the band of probably their singer who sounds like a less-affected Morrissey.

Having also listened to the song from the album I can say that the singer is far harder to understand live, so maybe live is not the best way to hear a new song from them, but for an old favorite, Surfer Blood has a great energy live.

Watch the show here and hear the studio version here.

[READ: March 27, 2013] The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Melville House has published a number of these “Last Interview” books, and as a completist I feel compelled to read them.  I have read criticisms of the series primarily because what the books are are collections of interviews including the last interview that the writer gave.  They don’t have anything new or proprietary.  The last interview just happens to be the last one he gave.   So it seems a little disingenuous, but is not technically wrong.

There’s so far five books in the series, and I figured I’d read at least three (Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace and Roberto Bolaño–the other two turned out to be Jorge Luis Borges–who I would be interested in reading about and Jacques Derrida (!) who I have always loved–I guess this series was tailor made for me).

At any rate, these interviews are from various times and locations in Vonnegut’s career.  There are six in total.  I don’t know if the titles they give here were the titles in the original publications but here’s what’s inside:

  • “Kurt Vonnegut: The Art of Fiction” from The Paris Review, Spring 1977 (by David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, Richard Rhodes)
  • “There Must be More to Love Than Death” from The Nation, August 1980 (by Robert K. Musil)
  • “The Joe & Kurt Show” from Playboy, May 1982 (by Joseph Heller and Carole Mallory)
  • “The Melancholia of Everything Completed” from Stop Smiling, August 2006 (by J.C. Gabel)
  • “God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut” from U.S. Airways Magazine (!!!), June 2007 (by J. Rentilly)
  • “The Last Interview” from In These Times May 9, 2007 (by Heather Augustyn) (more…)

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drawersSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Zaireeka (1997).

zaireekaOkay, get ready.  Zaireeka comes as a 4 CD set.  With a twist.  Each CD is meant to be played simultaneously.  So, you get yourself 4 boomboxes hit play at the same time and enjoy!

Each CD has some aspects of each song.  So, on one disc you may get some vocals, maybe another has some guitars and sound effects.  It all varies per disc.  In fact, on one disc, track 6 is given a warning, perhaps my favorite warning ever on a CD: “This recording also contains frequencies not normally heard on commercial recordings and on rare occasion has caused the listener to become disoriented.”

And if you do a search for Zaireeka you will read the gamut of opinions about the disc and its ridiculousness or its social coolness.  So I won’t go into that.  I will say that one fine day many years ago I tried the experiment.  I got 4 radios and synched up all the songs and it worked and it was a lot of fun.  I also listened to the set in many different ways:  Discs 1-4 individually.  Discs 1& 2, discs 1&3, discs 1& 4, discs 2& 3, discs 2&4, discs 3&4 and then discs 1,2 & 3, discs 1, 2 & 4, discs 1, 3 & 4,  and discs 2, 3 & 4.  Phew.  (I had a lot more free time on my hands back then).  And since then, I haven’t really listened to the discs at all.  Because, well, how often do you get a chance to listen to 4 discs at once?

So, online I found a stereo mixdown version of the disc.  I know purists argue that that is simply not the way to listen to the disc, and they have a point….  Many of the effects are certainly lost, and since part of the point of the experiment is that the tracks are going to wobble and go out of synch, the mixdown does ruin the effect.  However, if you actually want to hear the songs as songs, not as experiments, the stereo mixdown mix is the way to go (at least until they release the disc in a 5.0 DVD version (which evidently they might…maybe?  in 2000, or maybe 2007, or who knows.))

But what about the songs?  It’s hard to say that the songs are typical Flaming Lips songs, because that’s not really very meaningful.  (Lips songs being off the wall at the best of times).  However, the songs are designed to allow the different discs to go out of synch somewhat, creating echoes or even stranger sounds.  As such, they are rather meandering pieces, somewhat lengthy, without a lot of heavy beats (that said, there are sections with very loud chaotic drums, they just don’t have other parts to synch up to).  But this experiment allows the songwriting to shine through in th emost minute details.  And it pays off on their next album in big time.

A track by track rundown goes:

“Okay I’ll Admit That I Really Don’t Understand” opens with a big drum splash and a fantastic bassline. Intermittent piano chords let you know that this song  isn’t going to be typical.  Fun effects and a swelling chorus add to the ambience.  It’s a short song, but it sets the tone for the rest of the disc.

“Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)” starts off in a chaotic jumble, but once it settles down it has yet has another fantastic bassline  to start.  The middle choral part is really beautiful, although that scream section is pretty jarring/creepy.

As the title, “Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair” suggests, it’s a sad song about a depressed pilot.  The effects include a plane taking off.  The song is propelled by a heartbeat-like drum, and the echoing voices suit the experiment very well.  There’s a “sane” vocal track and an “insane” vocal track.

“A Machine in India” is 10 minutes long.  It’s got a long meandering middle section, but the slow keyboard melody remains constant.  It’s also the first real occurrence of Wayne’s apparent obsession with vaginas (see Christmas on Mars).  It begins sweetly as a nice acoustic song but it explores many sonic areas (according to theliner notes, Wayne and his wife were discussing her menstrual cycle, and that was the jumping off point of this song).

“The Train Runs over the Camel but Is Derailed by the Gnat” begins with a fascinating cacophony of drums and ends in a very sweet “na na na” chorus.  In between you get yet another splendid trippy pop song.

“How Will We Know? (Futuristic Crashendos)” contains a shockingly high pitched sound (as warned) and yet the main body of the song is another of Wayne’s folky and very catchy melodies.

“March of the Rotten Vegetables” is probably my favorite track on the disc, despite the fact that it’s an instrumental.  It starts with some really interesting squeaky sounds and a cool guitar riff.  It morphs into yet another bombastic drum “solo” over a nice piano melody.  The liner notes indicates there are bats involved, but I’m not quite sure I hear it.

“The Big Ol’ Bug Is the New Baby Now” is a spoken word piece in which Wayne relates a story about how his dogs treat a stuffed toy like a baby, until they get a “Big Ol’ Bug” which becomes, as you may guess, the new baby.  Each disc has different ambient effects.  As the song ends, a swelling chorus sings the title until the loudly barking dogs bring an end to the song and the experiment as a whole.

As I mentioned, the stereo mixdown version is one way to enjoy the music.  But I must say that even listening one disc at at time can be fun (although really, that comes down to much more of an experimental music experience than anything else).  The social aspect of the performance certainly appeals, but I’m pretty antisocial and can’t imagine that I’d ever do it.

If you like the Lips at all but have been afraid of this CD because of how ridiculous it is, it’s probably worth the outlay of funds to buy the set or download a track or two.  It’s a fun disc that rewards patience, and, really, the songs are all very good.  You could also look for the stereo mixdown, but really, you’d only be getting half the story.

[READ: February 3, 3009] Drawers & Booths

Full disclosure: Ara 13 asked if I’d like to read his book and write about it. I looked up the book on Amazon, and it sounded cool, so I agreed.

Drawers & Booths is a work of metafiction.  A simple definition of metafiction, in case you don’t know, is: “a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction;  metafiction does not let the reader forget that he or she is reading a fictional work” (for the full Wikipedia explanation click here.)

SPOILER ALERT:  Generally I try not to give anything away when I review a book.  Some things are unavoidable of course, but any major plot twists or surprises I try to leave for the reader to discover by him or herself.  However, because this book is metafictional, and there are twists, surprises, and massive plot alterations throughout the book, the only way I can review it at all is to give some of these things away.  I don’t think I ruin anything for anyone, but tread lightly if you want nothing revealed. (more…)

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