Archive for the ‘Roberto Bolaño’ Category

cooksSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-The Story of the Ghost (1998).

storyghostThe Story of the Ghost is one of the first Phish albums that I was aware of when it came out.  I remember buying it and liking it, especially the first few songs.  This is not surprising as the first few songs are much more electric and funky.  By the end of the album there’s a lot of mid tempo songs that feel like they’re somewhat incomplete—good ideas but the songs feel…unfinished?

“Ghost” has a funky guitar and drum section, it’s a song I’ve liked from the day I bought the disc.  But the real hit was “Birds of a Feather,” which has an amazingly catchy chorus.  This version (as opposed to the live one) is weird in that Trey is kind of whispering the vocals, but the guitar is ferocious.

“Meat” is a weird skittery song that sounds cavernous here.  The weird processed vocals are certainly something that keeps this song like more of an oddity.  “Guyute” sounds an awful lot like early Phish—like it has come from Gamehendge, it’s a nice return to old form.  It’s a great song with a really lengthy instrumental section.  This features one of Trey’s great extended pretty solos.

“Fikus” is a strange little song (2 minutes), with lots of percussion and a quiet bass line.  “Shafty” has got  some cool wah wah guitars, and is also only 2 minutes long, but it shows that there is a bunch of funk on the disc.  “Limb by Limb” is a fun if simple song that seems sparse until the chorus kicks in.  “Frankie Says” is a kind of circular song that is interesting but doesn’t really go anywhere.  “Water in the Sky” is a short piece but it is full of ideas—percussion, slide guitar, and nice harmonies.  “Roggae” is a fun little song with some fugue like vocals.

“Wading in the Velvet Sea’ is a very pretty song with very nice harmonies.  “The Moma Dance” is a funky wah wah guitared track which really comes to life live, although I like the way they reprise “Ghost” at the end.  The final track is called “End of Session,” it’s a very mellow little number (also less than 2 minutes) with organ and gentle guitars.  There’s a small verse of harmonies as the albums drifts off.

This album is one of the band’s less popular recordings, but i think it’s quite good.

[READ: October 30, 2013] Lives of Notorious Cooks

Brendan Connell is back with a book which demonstrates that whatever subject he writes about, he delves in deeply and with great relish.

Connell’s new book is, as the title says, a series of brief lives of fictional cooks.  There are 51 biographies in this book.  From Connell’s previous works and from the title, I expected that these cooks might be somewhat less than savory characters.  But Connell makes these chefs genuinely impressive—making delicious meals from both the finest ingredients or the lowest of items.

As with previous stories by Connell, the depth of his knowledge is impressive—he includes not only recipes but complete menus of feasts.  And as usual, his word choices are wonderful—exuberant when necessary, obscure if useful and always spot on.

Although I am normally inclined to make a comment about each “story “ in a  collection, this one really resists that.  There are not enough distinguishing characteristics between cooks for me to write enough about each one (without rewriting the book).  This is not in any way to say that each is not unique, but that they are all cooks, each specializing in a different food or style.  But rather than from saying “Agis cooks fish” it’s better to take this book as a whole rather than in pieces. (more…)

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220px-The_Invention_of_Morel_1940_Dust_JacketSOUNDTRACK: RODRIGUEZ-“Sugar Man” (1971).

RodriguezcoldfactThis song was played a lot on WXPN, and when I first heard it I couldn’t imagine what new artist was talking about “sweet Mary Jane.”  So it turned out that this song was over 40 years old but it had been resurrected for a movie called Searching for Sugar Man, which is a documentary about Sixto Rodriguez and how he released two albums and then disappeared.

There’s something extremely catchy about this song–the loud down strums that stand out over the quieter strumming, the crazy high frequency sound that sails throughout the song and that hint of horns that gives more depth to this simple folk song.   All of these elements make this song more complex than it might have been.  In fact, the song seems like it’s going to end after about two minutes but there’s the instrumental section full of crazy sounds and electronics.

And even though it seems over after that there’s one more verse and chorus to go.  And then the song just drifts away echoing into nothingness.  It’s quite a catchy little number.

[READ: June 4, 2013] The Invention of Morel and Other Stories

Roberto Bolaño recommended this main story (the other ones as well, I assume).  He’s a big fan of Bioy Casaraes.  But also, Jorge Luis Borges has a prologue to the story in which he states of “The Invention of Morel”

“I have discussed with the author the details of his plot.  I have reread it.  To classify it as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole.”

Holy crap.

I can’t say exactly that it I perfect although it is quite fine.  It deals with all kinds of interesting issues and is inspired by (maybe that’s not exactly the right word) The Island of Dr Moreau.  The funny thing is that Morel is neither the main character, nor even a major character for half the book.

The story starts on an island with the narrator writing this book down to leave a  record of “the adverse miracle.”   We learn that the narrator is a fugitive and he was told by an Italian rug seller in Calcutta that the only possible place for a fugitive like him is an uninhabited island.  And on this particular island in 1924 a group of white men built a museum, a chapel and a swimming pool.  But no one dares to go there—not Chinese pirates, not even the Rockefeller Institute because there is a fatal disease located on the island—anyone who has visited there has been found later dessicated. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_04_22_13Pearson.inddSOUNDTRACK: MIKAL CRONIN-MCII (2013).

mciiMikal Cronin has a very pleasant middle range voice—conventionally good.  Indeed, there’s nothing especially unique about this record.  But it is a great summer pop album.  Lots of great big choruses that are fun to sing along to.  And, Cronin is a talented multi-instumentalist.  I believe he plays everything on the record, although I’m not sure about that.

The album is 37 minutes.  The first song, “Weight” has a simple melody and is incredibly catchy. There’s a nice falsetto before the big loud guitar chorus kicks  in.  “Shout It Out” is another great pop song—big fuzzy guitars and a wonderfully catchy melody.   And I love how it gets mildly chaotic at the end.  “Am I Wrong” is a straightforward rocker, with more big crunchy guitars.  There’s a fun fiddly keyboard solo (with lots of flubs, which is kind of endearing).  This song (and several others) remind me of Sloan.

“See It My Way” has a shambolic feel to it, I can do without the oddball sax solo, but there’s something so oddball about it that I think it works in the end.  “Peace of Mind” has a nice harmony vocal on it that gives this simple song a fuller sound.    There’s an unexpected violin solo in here.  “Change” opens with a real grungy loud guitar which is quickly replaced by a  speedy drum over a simple, catchy verse.  And a speedy chorus.  There’s an interesting middle section with another violin solo (and some unusual squeaky violin noises as well).  “I’m Done Running From You” is a fun fast bit of pop with a rocking guitar solo.  And “Don’t Let Me Go” is a slow ballady type song (as much as one can be on a rocking record like this).  “Turn Away” brings the rock back, although “Piano Mantra” ends the disc with a solo piano intro.  But the song builds and builds into a rollicking violin-fueled conclusion.

I’d never heard of Mikal Cronin before, and when i first started listening to the disc I thought it was an okay pop punk album.  But the more I listened to it, the more I enjoyed it.  It’s still as simple pop punk album but it’s done so very well.  I’m going to have to check out his debut as well.

[READ: May 2, 2013] “Mexican Manifesto”

I love that stories from Roberto Bolaño keep popping up.  I realize that most of these have been published in Spanish somewhere, but it seems like even if we know that his next book is going to be all poetry (Unknown  University coming out in June), somehow there’s at least one short story in it (I assume it comes from here, where else would it have come from?).  So, since it seems like there’s a new Bolaño book out every six months, I assume that barrage will come to an end now.

Unknown University is, as far as I can tell, the last thing that will be translated by Bolaño.  Wikipedia suggests that there are four other titles that could be translated: A Lumpen Novella (which he completed but which has not been translated), Diorama, an unfinished novel, something being called Part 6 of 2666 (who knows what that means) and an early book that he cowrote Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic which I would really like to read–the title is so intriguing–but who knows is it will ever find a translator.

But that’s got nothing to do with this short story.  This short story is about a couple who frequent steam baths. The narrator is the man, and the woman, Laura, I the more adventurous of the two.  She is the one who encourages them to go to the baths in the first place and, while he also thinks it is wonderful, it is she who wants them to explore as many different baths in the city as possible. (more…)

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bartelbySOUNDTRACKOS MUTANTES-” Picadilly Willie” (2013).

Iosmut enjoyed this album so much (thanks NPR for the stream) that I had to talk about this song and how radically different it was from yesterday’s track.  “Picadilly Willie” is this wonderful old-sounding rock song.  It’s got a very classic rock riff, but there’s something slightly off-kilter which makes it sounds more like Frank Zappa classic than radio classic.  And when the vocals come in (with a sinister laugh) it sounds more like Mr Bungle than anything else (I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Patton was a fan of Os Mutantes).

The song ends with what sounds to me like Middle Eastern sitar music and echoed chants of “Bra-zil!”

And these are just two of the styles of music on this wonderfully wild and diverse CD.  I can’t wait for its release.

[READ: April 22, 2013] Bartelby & Co.

I read about this book in the Bolaño interview book.  Vila-Matas was one of many authors that Bolaño highly recommended–this book in particular.  And, it was one of the few books on that extensive list that has been translated into English.

This book follows in the rich tradition of books that are more or less lists about people and not really novels at all. (This seems like a peculiarly Latin American pastime, at least in my experience, as there are nearly a half dozen books that seem to do this, including several by Bolaño).

The key to this book is in the title: Bartelby.  The narrator is a hunchbacked loner, and he decides to catalog all of the instances of writers who have in the grand tradition of Herman Melville’s Bartelby the Scrivener said “no, I would prefer not to” write anymore.  And so this book becomes a series of notes without a text.  The glorious list includes many famous and not so famous writers (the most famous being Salinger) who whether famous or not, decided to write no more.  And thus we have 86 “sections” in which the narrator writes about writers who stopped writing.  For most of the he gives their reason for no longer writing, for others he simply likes talking about how they stopped writing or what their circumstances were before they stopped. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OS MUTANTES-“Fool Metal Jack” (2013).

Iosmut have known about Os Mutantes for years.  I never knew anything about them (and never really understood their name–although now that I have been working with Brazilian books at work I realize that their name is Portuguese for The Mutants (it was the Os that always threw me off).  I had no idea that a) they’d been around since the 60s and were part of the psychedelic scene or b) that they were still around (after some breakups and with a largely new lineup) or c) that they sang in English (which they do on several songs on this album) or d) that their new album kicked so much ass.

The album is called Fool Metal Jack and it is a fantastic mixture of fast heavy rock, Brazilian traditional sounds, what I assume are Native Brazilian chants and a heavy dose of weirdness.  All wrapped up in an anti-war stance, like on this track “Fool Metal Jack.”

A creepy, distorted  bassline introduces this song which sounds like the guy from Gogol Bordello singing a Tom Waits march.  It’s about a soldier in the middle of a war.  The bridge means more voices come in, bringing in an even more disorienting sound.  And the chorus chanted “Yes.  No More War” completes the song.  By the time the wailing guitar solo comes in the chants of “This is the war of hell” have even more impact.

This stomping song was a great introduction to this band who I now need to explore further.

[READ: April 18. 2013] The Last Interview

I enjoyed Kurt Vonnegut’s “Last Interview” and since I had always intended to read Bolaño’s I was delighted to see that our library had it.  Bolaño is a fascinating interview subject because you never really know what he is going to say.  There are even serious questions about the veracity of his life story which many people believe he fabricated for more dramatic effect.

But the one thing that is absolutely consistent about Bolaño is that he always praises writers whom he respects (and will trash those he doesn’t, although that seems to come more from the interviewer’s  instigation (not that he needs a lot).    So the last interview that he did is the one from Mexican Playboy which has been collected in Between Parentheses.  But the other three are earlier and, it seems, a little more “truthful” or at least less naughty-seeming.

What’s fascinating about this book is that the introduction by Marcela Valdes (“Alone Among the Ghosts”) is over 30 pages long!  The article originally appeared in The Nation on Dec 8, 2008 (read it here).  As such it’s not an introduction to this book, it’s introduction for English readers to Bolaño circa 2666.  And it’s a great read.  It is primarily about 2666, which Valdes has read many times.  She goes into interesting depth about the story but mostly she relates it to Bolaño’s own experiences while writing the book.  It focuses especially on his research about the real murders.  His interest was genuine and he sought help from a reporter who was doing genuinely decent work (ie. not accepting the word of the state about what was going on).

Bolaño has said he wished he was a detective rather than a writer, which explains The Savage Detectives and Woes of the True Policeman.  But Valdes also points out how almost all of his shorter novels have some kind of detective work involved–seeking someone who is lost or hiding.  The article was really great and is worth a read for anyone interested in Bolaño, whether you have read him or not. (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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woesSOUNDTRACK: ATERCIOPELADOS-Live at Bumbershoot, September 5, 2010 (2010).

atercioA rock en Español band who have returned after a brief hiatus, Aterciopelados have changed a bit since their early more punk days.  Their last album Rio came out in 2008, I knew them back in the mid nineties.  This brief set (7 songs) at Bumbershoot showcases their more mellow tracks (there’s pan pipes) on “El Estuche.”  The Colombian band has always been political, but it seems like they are much more explicit about it on this record.  As singer Andrea Echeverri introduces a number of song, she talks about how they are “important” and are meant to bring attention to the troubles of Colombia.

“Ataque de Risa” has a wonderfully catchy melody (and I believe she says her daughter is singing with them on it).  The song “Bandera” (which means “Flag”) is pointedly directed at Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.  She introduces it as saying that all peoples are together under a rainbow flag.   It’s a more angry sound for Echeverri’s voice, but she does a great job.  Her voice is really impressive.  “Rompe Cabezas” has a rollicking chorus that’s a lot of fun and “Bolero Falaz” ends the set with a very cool and catchy song.

Here’s a video of El Estcuhe

[READ: December 2, 2012] Woes of the True Policeman 

This is yet another unfinished novel from Roberto Bolaño.  Bolaño knew that he was dying and he created a lot of work in anticipation of his legacy.  The afterword of the novel says that they found all of the various parts of this novel in various locations among his work–hand written and computer drafted.  And they all mention this titles, so they are pretty certain about the order and that it is as finished as it could be.

Unlike some of his other posthumous releases, this one must be deemed pretty significant since it was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux instead of New Directions (publisher of most of Roberto Bolaño’s other smaller works).

And really what it reads like is a kind of prelude to 2666.  For this is the same Amalfitano as in 2666.  But it is his story from before he moves to Sonora, Mexico–before all of the murders started.  Indeed, there are parts of 2666 which make Amalfitano’s past seem like it is unknown but this story fills in the gaps quite well.  One of the details in 2666 is that Amalfitano’s teaching contract had expired at the University of Barcelona, although this book gives the behind the scenes reason why it expired.

Bolaño has many many stories in which he explores the past of a character from a different story.  Typically, it is a novella in which a minor character from a bigger novel gets his or her own story told.  And that seems to be the case with this as well.

The story is set up in five sections (just like 2666).  Section I of this story (part of which was as excerpted in Harper’s recently) is called The Fall of the Berlin Wall and tells how Amalfitano, a professor, fell for a young poet named Padilla.  He wound up having an affair with him, which ended his career (I’m unclear whether it is because he is a student or because the affair was homosexual that the University wanted him out).  Amalfitano had never had homosexual desires before, and he was a proud husband and father, but he found that Padilla really affected him.

And so Amalfitano and Rosa, his daughter, moved to Sonora and the only school that would have him. (more…)

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