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Archive for the ‘bolanobolano.com’ Category

lumpenSOUNDTRACK: WE ARRIVE ALIVE-“Walls” (2011).

wallsI discovered We Arrive Alive from the Girl Band bandcamp site (it says the bands are friends).  They are from County Wicklow and play very cool post rock instrumentals.  They have three EPs, all of which are available for free on their bandcamp site.

Their first is called Walls.  The opening song “Walls” has fast guitar with a slinky Sleater-Kinney kind of guitar progression. Unlike S-K, there is bass and no vocals. The middle section feels like any number of post-rock instrumentalists like Explosions in the Sky.  But it’s not derivative–it’s expansive and beautiful.  “Save Me from the Morning” is a much faster song with a more intricate bassline underneath the guitar riffs. The structure of the song makes it seem more like a conventional song (ie one with words). But there are no words, and the guitars fill in very nicely for where vocals might appear. But 90 seconds in, the songs switches gears and becomes a bit more jazzy.  Then around 3 minutes the bass takes over with big loud notes—it’s a great transition. There’s yet another part, a quiet section, that ends the song.  That’s a lot of music packed into 6 and a half minutes.

“This is a City” is the final song.  A seven minute slow building instrumental. It starts quietly and the intertwining guitars get louder as they echo more.  I love the way at around 5 minutes the song shifts gears entirely to a sort of electronic feel with pinging notes.  It ends with a  fantastic closing riff.

I’m glad to have discovered these guys, I love a good collection of instrumentals.

[READ: March 17, 2015] A Little Lumpen Novelita

This may be the final extant untranslated book by Roberto Bolaño.  Although I have yet to read The Secret of Evil (that fell right off my radar), as far as I can tell, the only things left untranslated are:

  • Diorama (this book is unpublished at all, so it’s unlikely to be translated anytime soon)  AND
  • Consejos de un discípulo de Morrisona un fanático de Joyce, 1984  [Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic] which has yet to be translated and I don’t know why, so I assume it never will be.

I don’t fully understand the use of the word “Lumpen” in the title, but don’t let that odd word (which is in the Spanish title, so we can’t blame excellent translator Natasha Wimmer) keep you from reading this breezy and entertaining (if not a bit dark) book.

As with many books by Bolaño, there’s not a lot of plot, per se.  In this book, a young woman (Bianca) and her brother have been orphaned at a young age.  Their parents died in a car crash in Italy (which is where they live).  They try to cope as best they can, but they ultimately decide to drop out of school and do nothing except watch a movie a day.  Bianca tells her brother that they can’t afford that lifestyle (especially since he just seems to get X-Rated films), but he continues to do so anyway.

They realize that they will need money of course, so Bianca gets a job as a hair washer at a salon.  Her brother gets a job cleaning floors at a gym.  It seems to be enough for the time being. (more…)

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univSOUNDTRACK: BECK-Mutations (1998).

mutationsThis is the first album that shows a wholly different side to Beck. It is pretty much an entirely traditional album.  There’s no samples, just consistently strong songwriting.  The overall feel is mellow and it comes as quite a shock after the chaos of Odelay!

Although the album has a very consistent vibe, it’s not all samey.  There’s a lot of different instrumentation like the harpsichord on “Lazy Flies,” and the old-timey piano and slide guitar on “Canceled Check” which has a very country feel.  It’s not all simple and normal though, as “Check” ends with a strange musical breakdown that keeps it from being a smooth song.  “We Live Again” is a very mellow track with Beck singing sweetly over the waves of music.

As befits the name “Tropicalia” has a very tropical feel, it’s totally danceable and was a very wise choice as a sample.  “Dead Melodies” has a classical music feel (with vocals of course).  “Bottle of Blues” is, unsurprisingly, a somewhat rowdy blues song.  “O Maria” is a slow but upbeat piano song that also feels old timey.  “Sing It Again” has a melody that is similar to “Norwegian Wood,” but the song is nothing like that Beatles classic.  This is gently sung and played acoustic guitar number.  And “Static” is a quiet disc ender.

This disc also feature a “bonus” track, and this is the first one that is actually enjoyable.  It is a fleshed out song (and a good one at that). It is comparatively rambunctious and noisy and quite different from anything else on the disc.  It’s called “Diamond Bollocks” and has a great bass line and cool backing vocals.  This song could easily have been a hit if it weren’t tucked away at the end of the disc.  (Well, and there are some weird moments to, but overall, easily a hit).

Despite all that Beck is known for his crazy songs and samples, Mutations is an extremely cohesive record with enough diversity to keep it from ever getting dull.  It’s a great record and is somewhat overlooked in his catalog.

[READ: March 16, 2014] The Unknown University

This is a collection of almost all of Roberto Bolaño’s poetry.  Some (but not all) of the poems from his collection The Romantic Dogs are included here, although some of those are apparently modified a little.  It also includes what was earlier released as Antwerp but is here called “People Walking Away.”  (I found Antwerp and “People” to be quite unusual and would never remember what is the same in the two.  But translator Laura Healy says that she more or less uses Natasha Wimmer’s translation of Antwerp for the parts that are the same (a task which must have been harder than it sounds if the two pieces weren’t exactly the same).

This book is 830 pages with facing pages of Spanish and English.  According to the publisher’s note, this collection was found on Bolaño’s computer as is—a collection of all of his poems from throughout his career.

Most of the early poems were written when Bolaño was young (in his 20s).  Even at such a young age, he writes powerfully.  Not all of his poems are great of course (how could they be when there are so many) but there are dozens and dozens of poems that I thought were fantastic.  I’m going to include some below, but I also wanted to get some criticisms out of the way too.

He tends to revisit ideas quite a lot, which is normal for a poet, but it seems weird to revisit an idea in subsequent poems (especially when the poems are just a few lines long each).  It almost feels like he fixated on a subject and thought of a number of ways to work with it and rather than make one long poem, he made several short ones.  Like this strange occurrence: (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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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON: “Horn of Plenty” (interview, NPR’s All Things Considered) (2011).

I’ll be mentioning some recordings by Stetson shortly, but as an introduction to this man and his bass saxophone, this ten minute piece from NPR is absolutely essential.  I had listened to his recent album and NPR has two concerts from him that are downloadable.  I enjoyed the music, but after listening to this interview it gave me so much more appreciation for what the man is doing.

For a lot of classical and jazz, knowing what the author “meant” can help.  Knowing that The Moldau is a river makes Bedřich Smetana’s piece all the more interesting and moving.  Similarly, knowing that “Judges” is about horses… well, holy crap yes it is.

More importantly, knowing how he does what he does–circular breathing: taking air in through your nose while breathing out through your mouth (try it…it’s not possible) allows Stetson to essentially never have to stop playing.  (Tenacious D has a very funny version of this called “Inward Singing,” although it lacks the gravitas of Stetson.)

Also, the bass saxophone weighs twenty pounds nad is almost as tall as him.  The picture is preposterous.  Who even thinks of making music with such a thing.  And yet he does.  Unsettling music, sure, but music nonetheless.   Listen to this interview and be amazed.

[READ: 2010-2011 and beyond] Natasha Wimmer

Many readers don’t read anything that was written in a different language.  And those of us who do probably give little thought to the translator.  Until recently I didn’t give much thought about them either.  Often I assumed that if I didn’t like a book, it was the author not the translator.  And that could be true, but it may also not be so easy a judgment.

Natasha Wimmer has translated many of Roberto Bolaño’s English publications (she has not translated them all–see below–and, she has also translated other writers).  But she has famously translated The Savage Detectives which rocketed her to prominence, and then she managed his unwieldy 2666.  She has also recently translated Between Parentheses, the book I am currently reading.

Between Parentheses is a collection of newspaper columns, essays and pseudo-fictions.  It is a far cry from the convoluted masterwork that is 2666 and yet Wimmer has made this collection of essays utterly readable (I’ll review the book proper when I finish it).  Again, obviously the work is Bolaño’s and he deserves the credit.  But as I’m reading these newspaper articles, I am aware that they were written in Spanish.  And yet the word choices that Wimmer uses, from idioms to real seventy-five-cent words make the essays flow, give them real impact and really convey the kind of writer that Bolaño was.  Let’s take just one example picked not at random but because it uses a real seventy-five-cent word and it mentions David Foster Wallace (can I go a week without mentioning him?).  In “All Subjects with Fresán”, Bolaño states that he and Rodrigo Fresán spend much of their time talking about various subjects;  he lists 30.  Number 22 is “David Lynch and the prolixity of David Foster Wallace.”  I have no idea what word Bolaño used in Spanish (he has an amazing vocabulary, so I’m sure it was a Spanish 75 cent word) but how many translations would have used the word prolixity?  [Okay I had to look it up, he uses “palabrerío” which Collins translated as “verbiage, hot air.”  How much more outstanding is “prolixity”!–Oh, and as if Bolaño wasn’t prone to palabrerío himself]. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TAME IMPALA-“Lucidity” (2010).

I heard this song on the NPR’s 5 Artists You Should Have Known in 2010.  The album, Innerspace, is only available in Australia (imported on Amazon for big bucks) but I guess that’s why people download music.

This song is really cool. It feels very My Bloody Valentine to me.  However, inevitable comparisons to The Beatles abound, but that’s mostly in the vocals (which is kind of funny since they are Australian).  But it’s really a very sixties British vocal sound–not unlike early Who).

The big difference comes in the music which is psychedelic and wild in ways that The Beatles never quite managed.  There are great big washes of noise, and the sound quality sounds retro, even though it obviously isn’t.  Comparisons to the great Swedish band Dungen are not misplaced either.

I’ve listened to a few more tracks by them on YouTube, and I think this album could easily be one of the best of 2010 if only more people could hear it!

[READ: January 3, 2010] The Return

With the completion of this collection of short stories, I have now caught up with all of the published works of Roberto Bolaño (in English of course).  [The next book, Between Parentheses, a collection of nonfiction, is slated for June].

So The Return contains the 13 short stories that were not published in Last Evenings on Earth.  That collection inexplicably took shorts stories from his two Spanish collections Llamadas telefónicas (1997) and Putas asesinas (2001) and combined them into one collection in English.  It wasn’t quite as evident in Last Evenings, but it seems more obvious here that the stories in Putas asesinas are grouped together for a stylistic reason.  So, to have them split up is a bit of a bummer.  And yet, having them all translated is really the important thing.  And, again, Chris Andrews does an amazing job in the translation

This collection of stories was very strong.  I had read a few pieces in Harper’s and the New Yorker, but the majority were new to me.  Bolaño is an excellent short story writer.  Even if his stories don’t go anywhere (like his novels that never quite reach their destination), it’s his writing that is compelling and absorbing.

This collection also had some different subject matter for Bolaño (it wasn’t all poets on searches). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAIFANES-El Silencio (1992).

Caifanes was another of the Rock en Español bands that I bought back in the 1990s.  I bought two of their records, El Silencio and El Nervio del Volcan.  In retrospect I’m not sure why I bought two from Caifanes and only one from Tijuana No! as I find Tijuana No! to be much more satisfying overall.  But El Silencio is a fun album as well.

As with a lot the rock en Español bands, the album starts with a really heavy track.  “Metamorfeame” is a raging, screaming punk blast.  But it’s followed by a Latin-infused mellow second song “Nubes” with a great weird guitar solo.  “Piedra” rocks, and Saul Hernández’ voice soars over the heavy bass work (he was meant for stadium rock).  It also ends with a little mariachi music as a coda.

“Nos Vamos Juntos” showcases some more great guitar work and “No Dejes Que…” practically sounds like the Alarm or some other stadium rock band.  “El Comunicador” is an interesting understated minor key song with interesting production.

The production is by Adrian Belew and you can tell as it seems very much like what I know of Adrian Belew: gleaming and bright and well polished.  And, like Belew himself, the album jumps from style to style.  Depending on your tastes, this is either great or tiring (and sometime both).

Wikipedia tells me that this album is considered one of the most influential albums from the most influential band to come out of Central Mexico.  Well how about that.

[READ: December 16, 2010] Amulet

This book is an extended version of an episode in The Savage Detectives.  InDetectives, Auxilio Lacouture has a ten-page story in which she was hiding out in the bathroom of UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) in 1968 during the military takeover (in real life, this is known as the Tlatelolco Masscare).  She hid in the bathroom for thirteen days, reading and writing poetry (Auxilio is the mother of Mexican poetry).

The episode in Detectives was  pretty exciting recollection.  She was in the bathroom when the soldiers broke in.  She could see the tanks outside and she could hear the gunshot.  So she hid with her feet in the air while the soldiers searched the premises.  She promised herself she would not to make a sound until she was discovered. So she read poetry and wrote poetry on the only paper available. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKATERCIOPELADOS-El Dorado (1995).

One of the other Rock en Español bands I bought in the 90s was Aterciopelados (the hardest to pronounce).  Aterciopelados come from Colombia and they play a variety of styles of music.  They also feature a female vocalist (Andrea Echeverri) who has a great voice in a variety of styles.

The opening song “Florecita Rockera” is a heavy blast of punk.  “Suenos del 95” is a kind of a lite pop song.  “Candela” is a latin-infused song that sounds not unlike a more psychedelic Santana track.  And “Bolero Falaz” is a winning acoustic ballad.  Meanwhile “Las Estaca” is a sort of county/cowboy song that breaks into a fun rocking chorus.

“No Futuro” starts as a slow balald and builds and builds to a heavy rocker.  I would have liked this song to go a bout a minute longer to get really crazy.  The rest of the disc works within this broad framework: ballads that turn into heavy rockers (“De Tripas Corazón”), hints of punk and latin accents.  And then there’s a song like “Colombia Conexión” which reminds me a bit of The Dead Milkmen: simple sparse verses with heavy punk choruses.  Meanwhile “Pilas!” is straight ahead punk.  The final song “Mujer Gala” has some ska-lite aspects as well (and I have to say that it seems like No Doubt may have been inspired by them).

Although for all of the different styles of music, the disc is really a venue for Echeverri’s voice.  She’s not a rocker or a screamer and she could easily sing pop ballads, but because she chooses to sing over so many styles, she really showcases the multifacted nature of her voice.  She can hold a note for quite a while and although she never really shows off, it’s clear that she’s got a powerful voice.  She even sings beautifully over the punkier tracks, never devolving into a scream, but never losing her edge either.

Aterciopelados is a hard band to pin down (especially with this one disc).  Of the rock en Español bands, Aterciopelados had one of the longer lifespans.  They released several albums with very different styles.

El Dorado suffers from weak production, some more highs and lows would really makes the listening experience better, but it’s a solid disc overall.

[READ: December 10, 2010] The Insufferable Gaucho

This is a collection of five short stories and two essays.  Two of the short stories appeared elsewhere (which I read previously).  This is the first time I’ve seen the essays translated into English.  The fabulous translation is once again by Chris Andrews, who really brings Bolaño’s shorter books to life.  They are vibrant and (in light of The Savage Detectives, this is funny) visceral.

“Jim” is a four page story which focuses very specifically on a man named Jim.  As the story ends, we see Jim locked in an existential struggle.  For such a short work, it’s very powerful.

“The Insufferable Gaucho” (which I had read in The New Yorker) was even better after a second read.  I find this to be true for much of Bolaño’s work.  He tends to write in a nontraditional, nonlinear fashion so you can’t always anticipate what is going to happen (quite often, nothing happens).  In this story, a man in Buenos Aires, feeling that the city is sinking, heads out to his long neglected ranch in the country.  He spends several years there, slowly morphing from a cosmopolitan man to a weather-beaten gaucho who doesn’t shave and carries a knife.  But there is much more to the story.  The countryside is virtually dead: barren, wasted and overrun by feral rabbits.  The rabbits offer an interesting metaphor for the wilderness as well.  His interactions with the few other people he encounters are wonderfully weird, and the ending is thought-provoking.  It’s a wonderfully realized world he has created.

“Police Rat,” is that strangest of Bolaño stories: a straight ahead narrative that works like a police procedural.  I assumed from the title that it would be something about a metaphorical rat in the police force.  Rather, this is a story about an actual rat who works on the rat police force.  Bolaño spends a lot of time setting up the story (details are abundant) making it seem like perhaps there would be no plot.  But soon enough, a plot unfurls itself.  And although the story is basically a police story, the underlying reality behind it is fantastic and quite profound.  The story is beyond metaphor.

“Álvaro Rousselot’s Journey” was published in The New Yorker.  This story was also better on a second reading.  In many ways this story is a microcosm of Bolaño’s stories: a man goes on a quest for an elusive man.  Unlike the other stories, he actually catches up to the elusive guy.  But, as if Bolaño were commenting on his other stories, actually catching the guy doesn’t really solve the crisis.

This basic premise is that a writer believes that a filmmaker is stealing his ideas for his films (even though he is from a different country).  But more than just the simple plot, when Álvaro Rousselot leaves the comfort of his homeland things change fundamentally within him.

“Two Catholic Tales” is, indeed, two tales.  I had to read this piece twice before I really “got” the whole thing.  There are two separate stories (each story is a solid block of text but there are 30 numbered sections (which don’t seem to correspond to anything so I’m not sure why they are there).  The first tale is of a young boy who desires to be like St. Vincent, with designs for the priesthood.  As the story ends, he is inspired by a monk who he sees walking barefoot in the snow.  The second tale (we don’t realize until later) is about the monk himself.  It rather undermines the piousness that the boy sees.  On the second reading I realized just how dark of a tale this turned out to be.  It’s very good.

“Literature + Illness = Illness”
This is the first non-fiction by Bolaño that I have read.  It is a meditation about his terminal illness.  The essay is broken down into 12 sections about Illness. They range in attitude from the realization that when you are gravely ill you simply want to fuck everything to the fear that grips you when you finally accept your illness.  Despite the concreteness of the subject, the essay retains Bolaño’s metaphorical style.  Each subdivision is “about” an aspect of illness.  “Illness and Freedom,” “Illness and Height,” “Illness and Apollo,” “Illness and French Poetry.”  But it’s when he nears the end and he’s in a tiny elevator with a tiny Japanese doctor (who he wants to fuck right there on the gurney but can’t bring himself to say anything), and she runs him through his tests showing how far advanced his liver failure is, that the reality of his illness really sinks in.

“The Myths of Cthulhu” is the other essay in the book and I have to say it’s the only thing in the book that I’m a little frustrated by.  About midway through, he reveals that this is a speech and I wish that an introductory note would have given context for this speech, or indeed, indicated whether it was really a speech or not.

One of things that struck me about it (and also about “Literature +Illness=Illness” is how frequently he is unspecific about his research (and just never bothered to go back and fix it).  For instance:

For books about theology, there’s no one to match Sánchez Dragó.  For books about popular science, there’s no one to match some guy whose name escapes me for the moment, a specialist in UFOs.

Because I don’t know his non-fiction and I don’t have context (and I’ve no idea who Sánchez Dragó is) I don’t know what to make of that unspecific recommendation.  As for Sánchez Dragó, in the speech he’s noted as a TV presenter (Wikipedia confirms this).  But why the uncertainty in a written piece?  Laziness or deliberate commentary?

This essay has many elements of local information that are completely lost on me.  However, by the end, he brings it back to folklore and literature.  He also makes some biting criticisms of George Bush, Fidel Castro, Penelope Cruz (!) and Mother Teresa. Actually, I’m not sure if he’s mocking Penelope Cruz, although he is definitely mocking Mother Teresa.

The ending is general moaning about the state of Latin American fiction.  Even though I didn’t follow all of what he was talking about, there’s something about his delivery which is so different from his fiction. It’s honest and fast and kind of funny and enjoyable to read.

——

This may be something of a minor work, and yet the stories are really wonderful and are certainly a treat to read.  The essays definitely need more context, but it is interesting to finally have a chance to read the “real” Bolaño.

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