Archive for the ‘William Gaddis’ Category

witmis3SOUNDTRACK: TOULOUSE LAUTREC-“Yesman” (2013).

heroesToulouse Lautrec are an alternative rock band from Romania.  Once again, I would not have ever heard of them had I not looked fora song about Lautrec (since he is mentioned in this section of the reading).

Toulouse Lautrec have two albums out, Heroes and their new one Extraordinar. They sing in both Romanian and English and this song (which is the first thing that came up on my search) is entirely in English.

It starts out with some very cool guitar riffs (very math rock–I actually considered it might be an instrumental).  Even the bass is doing something interesting behind the guitars.  Then about 50 seconds in the vocals begin.  And the singer has an almost American twang to him.

The chorus is a simple one, with ooh hoo hoo hoos.  But the real fun is at the end of each verse–the I say no I Say no and I say yes I say yes.

I listened to this song a few times and really liked it a lot.  It’s simple but solid alt-rock.  Then I found their website and watched a few more of their videos.  I really like the sound that they get–kind of buzzy guitars but otherwise very clean.

Check out the video for Yesman

and their site (which is in Romanian, but Google Translate will help you navigate)

[READ: October 20, 2013] Wittgenstein’s Mistress p. 61-120

This book is proving to be far less daunting and far more loose and fun than I anticipated.  As you can see by my “read” date, I finished this almost two weeks ahead of time.  In part it’s easy because unless I am gravely mistaken, there’s nothing really to “remember” about the story.  There are details and I think they are ponderable, but there’s nothing that seems to really impact the story. It’s more a series of ideas.

It’s really quite an audacious piece of writing.

Wittgenstein gets his first mention on page 61

“Once Bertrand Russell took his pupil Ludwig Wittgenstein to watch Alfred North Whitehead row, at Cambridge.  Wittgenstein became very angry with Bertrand Russell for having wasted his day” [61].

There are some meaty existential issues brought up like

“Surely one cannot type a sentence saying that one is not thinking about something without thinking about he very thing that one says one in not thinking about” [63]. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUNN O)))-Flight of the Behemoth (2002).

I hadn’t really heard Sunn O))) until this record (which may not be typical as they collaborated with Merzbow on this one).  I knew that Sunn O))) played loud droney “music.”  And so it is here.  On “Mocking Solemnity” (9 minutes) and “Death Becomes You” (13 minutes) (which meld into each other seamlessly), the songs are mostly slow drones on electric guitar.  The chords are heavy and heavily distorted and they ring out for a few bars–not until the chords die naturally, there is a kind of pacing involved, but for a few bars until the chords are played again (often the same chord).  This is for those who thought Metal Machine Music was too complicated.

On paper this sounds unimpressive (or downright awful, depending) but in reality it is a very physical experience (if played loud enough).

The staticy noise of “Death” melds into track 3 “O))) Bow 1” which adds what sounds like radically modified piano playing a kind of melody.  It’s about 6 minutes and it really changes the tone of the record to suddenly add an atonal racket to the almost calming drone of the bass.  But by the middle of the song, the piano becomes what sounds like a chainsaw.  Merzbow mixed that track and  “O))) Bow 2” which is 13 minutes of the same slow pulsating noise.  It’s not exactly soothing.

The final track is “F.W.T.B.T.” a “remake” of “Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”  I can’t hear a thing that sounds like the original, but that’s what makes a cover interesting.  Although admittedly around the four and a half minute mark there’s some faster chords (for this band anyhow) that could be Metallica-like.  There are also drums (and vocals, although I have no idea what they are saying) on this ten-minute workout.

Not for the faint of heart (or fans of melody).

[READ: November 17, 2012] How to Be Alone

I read most of the articles in this book already.  But I read them over two years ago, so I thought it would be safe to wade into the world of Franzen again.  What I find most interesting about the title of this book is just how many of these articles are about being alone, wanting to be alone or feeling like you are alone.  Obviously that is by design but it seems surprising just how apt the title proved to be, especially given the variety of subjects  his father’s brain, being a novelist, the US Postal Service, New York City.

I’m not going to go into major detail about each article this time, although I am providing a link to the earlier review–my feelings didn’t really change about the pieces (except that from time to time I got a bit exhausted at his…whininess?  No, not that exactly…maybe his persecution complex.  But I will give a line summary about each one just to keep everyone up to speed.  The four pieces that I hadn’t read before I will give a few more words about.

One overall feeling is that when Franzen isn’t writing about the state of the novel (which he is very passionate about) his articles are well researched well documented which is kind of surprising given the state of panic he seems to be in the novel articles.  It’s also kind of funny how out of touch these articles seem (some are almost 20 years old and are kind of laughably outdated), but it’s also funny to see how poorly his predictions panned out.  The death of the novel is rather overrated (just see the success of his own Freedom.

So the book contains: (more…)

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Siskiyou has had some medical problems and have canceled their recent tour.  They are also going on a brief haitus.  This is a shame as after their second album, they really had momentum and they sounded better than ever.

As a kind of peace offering to fans who would not be able to see the band, they recorded a cover of The Flaming Lip’s “Bad Days.”  The cover souds remarkably like the original, with one big difference: rather than squalls of feedback, Siskiyou uses only piano.  And it works very well, getting down  to the basics of the song and sounding a bit like Wayne Coyne singing.

It’s a nice tribute and  a nice “until later”

[READ: August 27, 2012] Agapē Agape

I have a long history with this book.

I was working at Baker and Taylor, a book supplier, when this book was released.  Some of the higher ups were able to get free books from the publishers they dealt with.  The guy who dealt Viking was not the friendliest guy, but since B&T paid absoluet crap wages, I was going try to get any books I could for free.   So, I asked for this book.  It was embarrassing enough to walk in and say this title with confidence, since I knew how it was pronounced (yes I took Greek in college), but knew he didn’t.  After some groveling, his reaction led me to think I wouldn’t be getting it.

But lo and behold a few weeks later it was sitting on my desk.

And now, ten years later, I’ve finally read it.

In JR, Jack Gibbs is writing a book with the name Agapē Agape, it is a jumbled history of the mechanization of the arts, starting with the player piano.  JR was finished in 1975–who knows for how long he had been working on it until then.  According to the Afterword of this book by Joseph Tabbi, Gaddis was pretty all-consumed by the idea of the player piano.  (It’s really quite an obsession).

This book is the culmination of all of Gaddis’ work on the player piano and how it removed all of the artistry from music (this theme of art and mechanization is in JR as well).   But rather than write this as an essay, which he didn’t think would be very effective, Gaddis decided to make this a novel.   I admit to not really knowing if he finished it–Gaddis died in 1998.  While it doesn’t feel unfinihsed, I’m just not sure if he was “done” with it. (more…)

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I had hoped to read a lot of commentary and observations about JR this week as a nice finalization to the summer reading.  But a couple of things happened.  First, we went on vacation, so JR was the furthest thing from my mind.  Second, I had a really hard time finding commentary.

I somehow missed the whole Goodreads discussion—which I read just the other day and enjoyed.  And I also had a really hard time with the LARB tumblr account.  I don’t know if this speaks to tech non-savvy, but man, that’s a hard thing to search.  It took several tries before I noticed the teeny search window at the bottom, and when I finally got it to search what I wanted I found the results less than spectacular.  So I was able to piece together most of Lee’s comments, which I rather liked, but I wish I had been able to read them as we went along (Googling #OccupGaddis only brought that initial tumblr page, which was very frustrating). (more…)

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I had intended to post my final recap of William Gaddis’ JR today.  But my family had been on vacation and I was feeling lazy.  Then September 3 proved to be Labor Day, a perfect day to write thoughts about JR.  The irony was not lost on me.  But then I figured I’d fudge a bit, leave my Monday post until Tuesday and back date it (a good technique for checks too!).

Well, it turned out that my position was terminated at my job.  Which means I got laid off.  Right after Labor Day, and right when I was about to post some thoughts on JR.

That’s a pretty big helping of irony right there.

So here it is two days later, Sept 5 and I’m backdating this post (because I’m anal retentive and like to have a post per day).  I’m happy that I had written a bunch of posts for this week already as I don’t have much gumption for writing about books right now (even though I read several good ones over the vacation).

So enjoy my ironic life and I’ll say a few words about JR next Monday, if I still think it’s funny.

Perhaps I’ll apply for a new job as Mister Ten-forty.

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Animalize (1984).

This year, 1984, was the first time that I saw Kiss live.  Sadly I remember more about the opening band (Loudness) asking if New York was having a good time (and the fans screaming that we were in New Jersey). But I still have my booklet from the show and I do remember a few things from the show (again, sadly they were not in makeup).  So this album holds a special place for me, even though in retrospect it’s not as good as Lick It Up.

“I’ve Had Enough (Into the Fire)” starts the album off with a bang—blistering solos from new guitarist Mark St. John.  But, as with Lick It Up, the album for me is overshadowed by the (massive) single.  “Heaven’s On Fire.”  It’s such a lame little sing-along (and yes I do remember that song from 1984 show—Paul really milked it).  But man it’s such a bad song.  Musically, “Burn Bitch Burn” is interesting, but what were they thinking with those lyrics “I want to put my log in your fire place…burn bitch burn?”  That’s a far cry from “I am the doctor of love.”  “Get All You Can Take” is, to my knowledge, the first time Kiss has said the word fuck in a song (“What fucking difference does it make?” Is sung by the deeper response voices in the chorus.  It’s a catchy song with an interesting riff.  “Lonely is the Hunter” has a kind of 70s southern rock feel.  It also seems to be calling back to some earlier songs in the style of singing—which only reminds you how much better the earlier song was.   The band is relying a lot on call and response vocals on this album.  And they’re okay but seem like a something of a crutch..

“Under the Gun” continues as another sort of generic fast rocker from this era.  “Thrills in the Night” is one of my favorite songs on the disc–it sounds so much like Kiss of the 70s.  And with Paul’s vocals and the guitars, this could have come off of his solo album.  “While the City Sleeps”  is a fairly uninspired Gene song.   None of these songs are bad, really, they’re just not as exciting as they might be.  “Murder in High Heels” has more of that 70s rock swagger that Gene likes to pull off.  It’s just not always clear that the 70s swagger rock works well with the heaviness of other songs on the record, like the band wasn’t sure which direction to go in.  So even though this disc is the one that brought me back to Kiss, it has some good songs, but it doesn’t really hold up all that well.

[READ: August 1, 2012] Desperate Characters

David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen and Tom Bissell have all championed this book.  Bissell was instrumental in getting it republished once it went out of print.  Franzen wrote the introduction to the newly published version.  David Foster Wallace blurbed the book: “A towering landmark of postwar Realism….A sustained work of prose so lucid and fine it seems less written than carved.”  It was also on his syllabus.  Zadie Smith has also written favorably about Fox’s fiction.

So why did it take me so long to read this book?  (I read the original version, which is what the library had.  I’m curious about Franzen’s introduction and will get to it eventually).

Sarah knows Paula Fox as a children’s author, which surprised me even more when I read the grittiness of this book.

It is submerged in downtrodden New York City of the late 60s, where people throw garbage out their windows, where racial tensions run high and where everything feels dirty.  This powerful description late in the book sums up the attitude about the City:

They drove through miles of Queens, where factories, warehouses, and gas stations squeezed up against two-story, two-family houses so mean and shabby that, by contrast, the ranks of uniform and tidy tombstones rising from cemetery islets that thrust up among the dwellings seemed to offer a more humane future. Sidewalks, brutal slabs of cracked cement, ran for a block or two, then inexplicably petered out, and along the center of the tarmac streets, short lengths of old trolley tracks occasionally gleamed among the potholes. Here and there, the skeletons of a vast new apartment complex sat on the rent ground; tree roots and rocks and earth rolled up around its foundation. Cries of boredom and rage were scrawled across the walls of factories, and among these threats and imprecations, invitations and anatomy lessons, the face of an Alabama presidential candidate stared with sooty dead eyes from his campaign posters, claiming this territory as his own. His country, warned the poster – vote for him – pathology calling tenderly to pathology. [For those ignorant of history like me, that candidate was George Wallace.  This was his third time running, this time as part of the American Independent Party].

But that’s just the descriptions.  What is this story about?  Simply, it is about Otto and Sophie Bentwood, a successful childless couple living in Brooklyn.  Otto is a lawyer, and, Sophie is a successful translator (I liked that Sophie was employed and not “just” a housewife).  But Sophie hasn’t felt up to translating lately and Otto’s successful practice hits a bump when long time partner Charley decides to leave to work on more important causes.

Otto is rather cut off emotionally–Charley has been his friend and partner for decades yet he can barely muster a proper goodbye when he steps out the door.  And while Otto and Sophie are mostly happy, he has more or less pushed her into the arms of another man.  She looks back on this brief affair with fondness.  However, the fact that the affair is never suspected and the fact that it ended the way it did are just more indignities that Sophie has to suffer.

But what sets off the action in the story is an act of kindness.  Sophie sees a cat that is hanging around the alley behind their brownstone.  Amid the people throwing garbage out the window and hanging up sheets to act as curtains, Sophie decides to do a nice deed for this cat.  She brings it some milk. It hungrily laps up the milk and when Sophie goes to pet it, it bites her really hard on the hand.  And literally the rest of the story follows the swelling of her hand. (more…)

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I’ve already mentioned this full length album, but how can you not talk about JR without mentioning this song.  (I probably could have dine a post a week about all of the covers of it).

This is one of the most famous songs certainly by Pink Floyd on one of the most popular album s of all time.  So how do you cover it?  You can’t lose the bass line, it’s way too important to the song.

But aside from that the song is pretty different–the vocals are machine tuned almost out of recognizability.  And that’s when you realize that although this is a pretty faithful cover, it’s also a goofy cover.  Not silly, not really disrespectful but not entirely right either (notes are out of tune and flubbed).  It’s very mechanized, as if they are talking about the auto-tuned nature of making hit songs.

  Henry Rollins takes the roll of the random punters ranting at the end of the song, and that’s pretty fun.

The whole thing is kind of  a trifle.  It works better in context of the album because you can understand what the group is doing.  On its own it’s a bit of  shock.

[READ: Week of July 9, 2012] JR Week 4

This week continues where last week left off–in the middle of trying to get Dan to convince Ann to drop the lawsuit against the school (for firing Bast). Whiteback tries to speak for Vern, but Vern will have none of it–Whiteback, despite being president of the school and the bank, is proving to be more and more of a pushover as the story goes along.

Vern gives his take on the school:

The function of this school is custodial.  It’s here to keep these kids off the streets until the girls are big enough to get pregnant and the boys are old enough to go out and hold up a gas station, it’s strictly custodial and the rest is plumbing.  If these teachers of yours strike just sit still and keep the doors open, by the time these kids have been lying around the house for a week their parents will march the teachers back in at gunpoint (226).

Dan interrupts the proceedings to talk to Whiteback about his mortgage (Vern magnanimously tells Dan to go ahead and conduct personal business during work hours).  Dan’s mortgage is not working out so well because the studs in his house are too far apart–causing it to be less insurable and causing him to pay a lot more. When Whiteback commends Major Hyde’s house for being spectacularly built Dan says that he was surprised to see that Hyde was moving.  Hyde doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Dan tells him that there was a moving van in his driveway taking all of his things out.  There’s some chaos (and a stolen car) when JR comes in and tells them that Buzzie (who was sent down for possession) has taken off down the hall. (more…)

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