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Archive for the ‘Epistolary Novel’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WOODY GUTHRIE-This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recordings Vol 1 (1997).

Protesters don’t get more powerful or more emblematic than Woody Guthrie (if nothing else, he should be forever thanked for “This Land is Your Land”).   Some of his other great political songs are “Lindbergh” (“Now Lindy tried to join the army, but they wouldn’t let ‘im in,/’Fraid he’d sell to Hitler a few more million men”).  There’ also the silly on the surface “Do Re Mi” which holds a deeper meaning: “They think they’re goin’ to a sugar bowl, but here’s what they find/Now, the police at the port of entry say,”You’re number fourteen thousand for today.”/ Oh, if you ain’t got the do re mi, folks, you ain’t got the do re mi,/Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.”

He also introduced a wider world to his “Talkin’ Blues” which were influential on Bob Dylan among others.

The thing that I didn’t know about him was that he wrote so many “silly” songs.  “Car Song” features some car engine noises (as done by a three-year old) as a verse.  “Why Oh Why” which is a nonsensical call and response song: “Why don’t you answer my questions?/Why, oh why, oh why?/’Cause I don’t know the answers.
Goodbye goodbye goodbye.” And “Talking Hard Work” is a pretty hilarious look at how hard it is to do nothing.

The only thing I don’t particularly care for on this disc is, well, Woody’s voice.  I’ve listened to this disc many times, and I have grown to appreciate it, but it was quite a shock to hear his reedy, unpolished voice and how tinny the recording it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that this music is available to hear, but don’t expect 21st (or even mid-20th) century production or anything.

Here’s a verse that most people don’t know from “This Land is Your Land”

There was a big high wall/there that tried to stop me/The sign was painted; said “Private Property”/But on the back side it didn’t say nothing/This land was made for you and me

[READ: Week of July 23, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Seventh Letters]

Last week, Sophia wrote to Yarostan without having read his letter (which was just as well, as Mirna was pretty far off the deep end).  But Yarostan has received Sophia’s letter and is ready to write back to her.

And he is thrilled that he and Sophia are really in synch with their attitudes and events for once (things have changed a lot for him since he last wrote).

I regret much of what I said in that letter. I now have an opposite admission to make to you.  I was very moved when you said you were waiting for me to walk into your “council office.”  If such an expedition should ever be undertaken, I’ll be the first to volunteer and of course I’ll bring Yara and Mirna along as well as Jasna and Zdenek. I love you, too, Sophia; we all do; you’ve seduced us with your honesty and especially with your modest, almost shy courage (497).

In fact, things are worlds apart in Yarostan’s household.  Mirna was thrilled to get the latest letter and to learn that Sophia was on strike.  But more importantly, Mirna reveals that she herself is on strike, too!  And they will be partying!  Jasna excitedly comments that they are in the same world, separated only by geography.

Zdenek comes over and reads the letter too, but he has a hard time thinking that the unions where Sophia is are the same as unions where they are.  And Mirna jumps all over him, asking if old age is making him conservative.  But Zdenek makes what I think is an excellent point about the postal workers.  Everyone uses the mail, even rebels.  So, sure they should have rights too, but encouraging them to strike doesn’t only harm capitalists. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-“Horses” (1991).

I have mentioned the Rheostatics a lot.  I’ve even talked about this song in Melville.  And yet it works so well as a companion to this book.

It starts slowly enough, a simple acoustic guitar with the lyrics:

Word came down and it crashed through my door
From the twenty-first floor
I was thinkin’ about leavin’ early for lunch
When he told me to shut off my press
His face turned green and his white shirt was wet
Like he’d just seen an accident
We threw our masks into a pile, the trucks pulled away for good

The band kicks in a slow beat  as the song builds:

A bus pulled in and I waved at it
Before I knew what it was
We ran in its tracks chasing its tires
But the gates had been riveted shut
I looked for the foreman; his number was empty
Up to Red Deer to stay
We gathered some signs and we sparked up a fire
Gordie got burned on the high-voltage wire

A quick intense bridge:

The first thing she’ll ask me is: “How did it go today?”And I’ll tell her.

The song builds in intensity with some wild screaming guitars until finally settling down to the quiet beginning

I thought there was strength in a union
I thought there was strength in a mob
I thought the company was bluffing
When they threatened to chop us off
Ah, these guns will wilt the winter will seize
And all the bonfires will go out
The company knows when they can afford to be bold
I wish I could, I wish I could, I wish I could

All along the ringing repeated chorus: “Holy mackinaw Joe! (Holy mackinaw).”

I’m not sure if this references a specific event or not.  (Surely someone can tell me that).  But you can listen to it here.  Or, find any of the live renditions on youtube.

There’s an interview with Dave Bidini of the Rheos who tells the interviewer that he also used to do music interviews.  And once he interviewed Neil Peart who, after much chatter, asked Dave if he knew the song “Horses” by the Rheos.  Dave humbly said that he wrote it.  And Neil said that on their last tour he used to come off stage and listen to “Horses” at full blast.  (And that’s how they got Neil to play on the Rheos’ subsequent album).  Neat, huh?

[READ: Week of July 16, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Sixth Letters]

Insurgent Summer is till moving along, but the insurgents have been quiet lately.  I hope the insanity of these letters and invocations of the devil will bring up the chatter.

Yarostan opens his letter with the most heartfelt emotions.  And yet, anyone who thought (as I did) that there might be some kind of rekindling of romance between the two will be sorely disappointed: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDEAD KENNEDYS-Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980).

Punks often marry politics to their music.  And none moreso than the Dead Kennedys.  I found out about them around the Frankenchrist album, but it’s this one that introduced Jello Biafra to the world.

What I loved about the Dead Kennedys is that they set out to offend everyone–unless you actually listened to their lyrics. The first track, “Kill the Poor” seems like it a horrifying encouragement to do just that, but if you read the lyrics: “Efficiency and progress is ours once more/Now that we have the Neutron bomb/It’s nice and quick and clean and gets things done/Away with excess enemy/But no less value to property/No sense in war but perfect sense at home.”   As was recently commented, Dick Cheney may have seen the sarcasm there.

“Let’s Lynch the Landlord” is a song that Sophia and Yarostan could get behind: “I tell them ‘turn on the water’/I tell ’em ‘turn on the heat’/Tells me ‘All you ever do is complain’/Then they search the place when I’m not here.”

The biggest track of the disc was “Holiday in Cambodia,” a song so catchy that Dockers actually asked to use it in a commercial (!).  Cause nothing sells jeans like: “Play ethnicky jazz/To parade your snazz/On your five grand stereo/Braggin’ that you know/How the niggers feel cold/And the slums got so much soul.”

The thing that I especially liked about the DKs was that although they played hardcore (some brutally fast and crazily short songs), they didn’t limit themselevs to just that.  They had actual guitar riffs, they tinkered with styles and genres (surf and rockabilly among others), and they even slowed things down from time to time (all the better to hear the lyrics).

Even if the band disintegrated into lawsuits, it’s fair to say that they inspired plenty of kids to take an interest in what was going on around them.

Pol Pot.

[READ: Week of June 25, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Yarostan’s Fifth Letter]

Because Sophia’s letter is very long, this week it’s only Yarostan’s letter for Insurgent Summer.  It opens with Yara annoyed about the tone of Sophia’s letters and her surprise that Yarostan is so quick to want to open the latest one.   But indeed, Yarostan feels compelled to apologize for “the way I treated your earlier letters.  I did treat you as an outsider, as a person with whom I couldn’t communicate about my present situation.  I was wrong” (283).  [It’s very nice of him to admit that he was wrong].  But that doesn’t mean that he is going to lighten up in his discussions with Sophia: “it seems to me that …critical appreciation is not an expression of hostility but is at the very basis of communication and friendship” (285).  Mirna also chimes in (with rather high praise):

Sophia is a born troublemaker, just like Jan and Yara.  She shares Jan’s recklessness as well as his courage.  I’m glad for her sake that she was taken away from here even if her emigration caused her some pain.  There’s no room here for people like that.  If she’d stayed she would have disappeared years ago in a prison or concentration camp (283). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GREEN DAY-21st Century Breakdown (2009).

Like most people who like Green Day, I’ve been a fan since Dookie.  They were incredibly poppy (although they wrote great punk riffs) and they sang about weird, kind of subversive things.  And they got huge really fast.  Of course since then they have become one of the most commercially successful bands in America (including having their song picked for the ending scene of the Seinfeld montage–jeez).

And yet….

And yet, American Idiot, their previous album was one of  the most anti-establishment records of the last twenty years. (True it’s not hard to be Anti-Bush if you’re a punk band, but wow.)  And yet, it was a concept album and even a rock opera of sorts.  And it still sold millions.

And now American Idiot has been made into a freaking Broadway Musical.  And yet, how many Broadway shows (or top twenty albums for that matter) have lyrics like “The insurgency will rise when the blood’s been sacrificed.  Don’t be blinded by the lies in your eyes”

And so Green Day confounds me.  And yet, if I were younger and cared more about “keeping it real” I think they’d confuse me even more because although musically they have sold out (if you want to call it that), lyrically Billie Joe is still pretty true to his punk roots.  And, of course, even the punkest bands seem to go commercial eventually (Combat Rock anyone?)

Of all the Green Day CD’s I think I like this least.  And yet I really applaud them for writing an album that so easily translates to Broadway (not an easy feat in itself) (this disc would make better Broadway than American Idiot).  I think I dislike this disc not because it’s so unpunk, but because I think musically it’s really obvious (and although I like musicals, I prefer classic musicals to contemporary ones).  And yet, most of Green Day’s music is pretty obvious.  I guess I prefer my obvious music to have a harder egde.

And yet Act III is full of some really great aggressive punk songs: “Horseshoes and Handgrenades” is just fantastic.  And in Act II, “Peacemaker has a great construction, all spaghetti Western and whatnot.  And in the first act, the title song has multiple parts that all work well together.  It’s a pretty sophisticated song.  And who can fault Billie Joe for expanding his songwriting skills?  Like the Tin Pan Alleyesque opening of “¿Viva La Gloria? (Little Girl).”

In interviews, Billie Joe comes across as a maturing artist who is influenced by more diverse styles of music.  I always wonder what the other two guys think.  Should your name still be Tre Cool if you’re no longer writing songs about getting high and masturbating?

And yet…and yet…ad astra.

[READ: Week of June 18, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Second Letters]

There’s been a lot of discussion over at Insurgent Summer (and here) about the first week’s reading.  Very exciting!  And with so much revealed and so many accusations flying this week, no doubt more will continue.

Many people have been wondering exactly what Yarostan could have meant in first letter when he said he barely remembered Sophia.  When he replies in this letter, he claims that “I now remember you as if I had been with you only yesterday” (29).  There are two ways to take this: first, as a positive; however, it can also be read as the way I take it: Oh, RIGHT, you’re THAT person, still.  And this is pretty well confirmed by the second paragraph: “I admit that I once shared the illusion your letter celebrates” (29). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEREOLAB-Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements (1993).

Stereolab are a bizarre band.  They make bubbly electronic music, with all sorts of bleeps and whirls and buzzes.  They even describe their music as space age pop.   Their album cover art is overexposed or simply silk screened.  (This is a hi-fi needle getting dropped on an LP).  The back cover looks like it’s a hi-fi test record.

This disc is a bit less electronic than future releases.  It’s more guitar drone (appropriate circa 1991, frankly).  When the songs start, Latetia Sadler’s voice is angelic and beautiful.  Delicate and sweet.  And you sort of realize that you don’t quite understand what she’s singing.  Because the song is in French!  No kidding.

And then you get to “Jenny Ondioline.” It’s 18 minutes of droning guitars and noises.  It has several parts (the song actually stops at one point and at another it plays a sample from “Channel Recognition Phasing and Balance.”  And if you listen carefully to the lyric, you’ll hear:

I don’t care if the fascists have to win
I don’t care democracy’s being fucked
I don’t care socialism’s full of sin
The immutable system is so corrupt
What is exciting is the triumph as the new nation.

A little later on the disc, on “Crest,” there’s more subversive songwriting.

If there’s been a way to build it
There’ll be a way to destroy it
Things are not all that out of control.

This is all done by those sweet, yet alien-sounding vocals.  When she’s not singing in French, Sadler sings in a fascinatingly broken English, emPHAsizing the wrong sylLABes.

Although I think my favorite moment comes in “Golden Ball” when the CD skips like a vinyl record.  It’s surreal.  Electropop and Marxism: perfect together.

[READ: Week of June 11, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [First Letters]

And so begins Insurgent Summer.

This is the first week of my second Summer Reading Book series.  I’d never heard of this book before getting the invitation to read.  But when the book was described as 800+ pages of letters between insurgents, well, how could I pass that up?

And that is indeed what you get here: Yarostan (Vochek) has not spoken to Sophia (Nachalo) in twenty years.  And he writes to her to her because she had written to him twelve years earlier (when he was in prison).  He writes back to bring her up to date on his life and to find out what’s going on with her. (more…)

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Because I needed one more reason to put off reading the huge stack of books on my nightstand (Jasper Fforde, I’m coming, I promise).  I have decided to join yet another group read of an inordinately large book.

I had never heard of Letters of Insurgents until I got the call from a fellow Infinite Summer gentleman and arbiter of good taste that Insurgent Summer is starting, well, now.

Visit the Insurgent Summer website for all the FAQs.  The book is hard to come by so there’s even PDFs of all of the book available on the site (so you can read the first letter and see right away if it’s your thing).

So, what’s the book about? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THERAPY?–One Cure Fits All (2006).

I’ve always liked Therapy?’s brand of aggro-alt metal/whatever you call it.  Their earlier stuff was harsh and dark. During their middle years they grew surprisingly commercial (although they’ve always had a bit of a commercial side to them, even at their harshest).

The last album I got from them was 2003’s High Anxiety (the first in a series of grotesque and unpalatable CD covers which culminates with this horrorshow).  I think the band must have lost any kind of distribution deal in the States, because it is still very hard to find these later discs (without paying way too much for them).

I was delighted to find this one on Lala.  And it stands as a pretty solid Therapy? disc.  They have always had guitars that sounded very sharp, almost electronic, which I thought really exemplified their take on angry literate metal.  And this disc opens up with it (after the 30 second “Outro”)

Their earlier tracks (like the awesome “Teethgrinder”) employed sonic tricks that really propelled the songs onto genius territory.  These songs are a bit more conventional, and yet they’re hardly commercial.  The most likely single would be the “ballad” (which also rocks pretty hard near the end) “Dopamine, Seratonin, Adrenaline.”

The back half of the disc is more melodic and catchy (a sort of reversion back to their middle period?). The only song that veers too far into pop territory is the closer, “Walk Through Darkness.”  It’s almost a bit cheesey, especially after all the heaviness of the earlier tracks.

It’s a fun disc, and a shame that it (and those BBC Sessions, which I am drooling about!) have yet to get a proper release in the states.

[READ: April 28, 2010] “Austerity Program”

In one of the letters to The Believer this month a reader suggests that they start printing fiction.  No reply is given to the letter.  At the same time, here is a piece that is certainly fiction.  There is no comment or explanation attached (which is surprising as The Believer usually tells us everything that’s going on in the magazine.

So, I’m going to treat this as a short story.  Tucker Nichols is responsible for the art direction, while David Khoury wrote it.  It is printed as a series of letters on official letterhead (with a logo but no name) stationary.

Much like with the novel Ella Minnow Pea, the “austerity” is a cost saving measure in which letters are removed from general use. (more…)

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