Wednesday, May 23, 2018

MUSIC YOU CANNOT ADMIT YOU EVER LIKED



Image result for TED BURKE PHOTOSSeriousness shanghaied the joy of rock and roll and used it wipe it’s furrowed rear. The worst offenders are the truly repellent likes of Yes, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, those bands with wind-up toy time signatures , castrati vocalists and reams of wretchedly vacant philosophizing that was so steeped in skull-fuckingly dull cliches that I suspect even Rod McKuen and Edgar Guest would call these guys grunting , formless worms choking down their own fecal trails. Still, there is some of this ambitious stuff that I think works, on their own terms--King Crimson, The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. The lyrics from all three bands were idiosyncratic and free of pud wilting platitudes, and the music for the three of them was, overall, unique and entirely original blends of marginal influences that, when stirred the right way, created something just as original. Peter Townsend had been called an intellectual so often by both the rock and the mainstream press that I suspect he came to believe and sought to live up the image of the Thinking Artist. The irony was that he already was doing Art, a special and original kind of music; his sagging jock strap of an ego trip with Quadrophenia robbed him of that talent. He never got his groove back. I do think good rock and pop musicians and songwriters can be taken seriously to a degree, but there is always the danger of pomposity and self-congratulating bombast, the inflated sense of importance, that nearly always saps the music of real inspiration and vitality. Yes, even the best of our generation's singer-songwriters have been maudlin, precious and bordering on hard-edged baloney-mongering. But they have a knack, in general, to recover from their worst work and give us something actually inspired, focused, full of conviction. Still, others have not regrouped from their worst efforts. Sting, post-Police, is an autodidactic tourist in other culture's music; he is lost in his pretensions, lost to us. Joni Mitchell decided she wanted to be a composer and a poet of an extremely diffuse, Eliot ilk and tried to merge meandering imagery with badly conceived, Mingus inspired impressionism; she has been minor league ever since. Peter Gabriel, in turn, has been largely quiet on the solo front and involved himself instead in other projects; this keeps our memory of his music a fond one.

Monday, May 21, 2018

STANLEY KUBRICK SUCKED THE AIR OUT OF EVERY ROOM HE WALKED INTO

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Many a film goer worship at the altar of Stanley Kubrick, expatriate American director who relocated and remained in England until the end of his life. He's done fine work, but I generally pass on listening to the sermons in his name and the communion the entrenched faithful take as they finesse their feelings towards the late auteur's standing as genius.  I have always thought that Kubrick was a stuffed shirted pedant as a film maker, a man with a knack for visually striking imagery who has often mistaken long takes (consistently) , and sparse narrative detail (consistently) as being adequate substitutes for keeping his movies moving along. His determination to let the audience fill in the blanks is okay in my book as a strategy, but for my sense of how a movie achieves a narrative ploy, Nick Roeg does it better in lining up his narrative lines with his visual allegories; he is splendid at getting to the novelist's (Proustian?) quality of exploring an idea within an idea without having his name branding the project. You are watching a film directed by Nick Roeg, not witnessing another episode of NICK ROEG PRESENTS. Kubrick made sure you knew who the puppet master was, who the visionary was, who the genius was, and who's world you had just walked into when you took your seat. He wants us to linger on his images, contemplate the color scheme,the lighting, ponder how long it takes someone to add sugar and cream to their coffee. I have consistently found little reward in his films beyond an appreciation for the quality of production and design. At this point I'll insert my favorite Kubrick movies, as of his moment:s Dr.Strangelove. Everything clicked in this film, but I suspect Terry Southern's s work on the script had much to do with how funny it was.Next would be Fujll Metal Jacket--SK allowed the the generic particulars of a war movie to remain in fact and, in fact, produced a Vietnam film that was better than  Apocalypse Now.He is other wise inert as film maker, convinced his greatness, that conviction infesting his films with conspicuous ego attempting to make rather routine ironic twists and such appear profound than they actually are. He was a middle brow thinker who pulled the wool over the eyes of middle brow critics and teh middle brow audiences they wrote for , making them all think that he was something more than he was. He is lugubrious , a snail paced auteur .

Saturday, May 19, 2018

“How to Steal the Laptop of Your Childhood Nemesis"

This has the whiplash jerkiness of a rap tune, rhymes and near rhymes popping up in places you didn't expect them, no less jarring than deep pot holes on an old street. It is exceedingly clever and fast, an accumulating dust storm of detail regarding off key references, minor and major complaints, bits of property, accessories, a furious attempt to inventory the things in an apartment of a someone the narrator has had a long standing resentment against that seems an attempt to catalog and classify a rival, an enemy. The poem is the prate of someone in a hurry, brain and limbs gorged with adrenaline, who is in the process of constructing their rationale for the break-in and mischief as they skulk and prowl around the transgressed abode.

She keeps a spare key in a hollow rock

outside the kitchen door she doesn’t lock.
Her lights are on. Her sheltie is all talk.
You shouldn’t need the code for the alarm
(1234) because she tried to arm
the thermostat again. You’re getting warm.
Her master suite smells like a Hallmark store.
Her vanity is huge. Try to ignore
the fact that everything’s a metaphor
and that I’ve let you walk right into it.
Blow out the Yankee Candles she left lit.
Take in the master bathroom. Take a shit.
Flush adamantly. Agitate the handle.
Refill the Softsoap. Light a Yankee Candle.
Her MacBook Pro is hiding, like the Grail,
in plain sight. Anyone but you will fail
to look directly at that bathroom scale.
Open her desktop. Close her Yahoo! Mail.
She keeps her recent photos in a folder
called “Photos.” Click a thumbnail and behold her
in sunlight in a champagne off-the-shoulder
sheath wedding dress, fussed over by attendants.
She’s 40 and has come into resplendence
like an inheritance, like heirloom pendants
flattering ear and flawless collarbone.
I should have told you, or you should have known,
that she has changed the most and aged the least
of all your enemies, her face uncreased
by laughter, worry, shame, or self-denial.
Those are her cheekbones. That’s her cryptic smile.
Those are her footsteps on the kitchen tile.

Look at these things, look at this banality, witness this list of open windows on the lap top computer, who wouldn't deserve this foul deed for being so much themselves in their own apartment? Eric McHenry piles it on and keeps the poem moving, the rhymes unexpected and nonsensical, serving nothing other than the obligation to create coherence and cadence (and distraction) in the commission of what is a crime, plain and simple, this is a point of view of a hand held camera, jittery, unfocused, unsure of what it is recording. Surreal in large part, clever and whiz-kid in verbal exuberance, this is a resentment acted on that becomes impulse behavior. This person, this person who found the hidden key to the apartment, is out of control and immune to sense making. This makes the poem effective , sinister, a virtuoso tour of a mind concocting a symbolic act that cannot be read by others .

Friday, May 18, 2018

Best records of 1979

(Unearthed from an online newspaper morgue,  here are my 10 best albums from 1979.-tb)

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After a modicum of meditation, soul-searching, and late-night phone calls, I've decided that this annual autopsy we call a "year-in-review" won't be as grisly as I imagined. In fact, the most outlandish generalization one could make about the state of pop music in 1979 is that it was merely "okay." As in any year, there were plenty of decent albums that passed through my hands on to mine and my writer's turntable, but there was a sizable proportion of discs from new and established artists that fall well-below what one wants to hear. In any case, rock and roll doesn't seem to be dying at the present moment, though I, like anyone else who's been involved with the stuff too much for their own good, would have to have heard more records that reached the highwater mark. What follows are my annual hit-and-run comments on the previous year's more or less notable releases.


Best Records of '79

1) Armed Forces — Elvis Costello (Columbia): Although Nick Lowe's production is at times heavy-handed and strains too often for effect (too much piano, echo chambers, an overkill of vocal overdubs), Costello remains a formidable talent that no amount of cheap garnish can obscure. At best, (more times than not) Costello is dead on target. At worst, he's utterly incoherent and artlessly paranoid.

2) Nice Guys — The Art Ensemble of Chicago (ECM): By definition, avant-garde or "free" jazz is supposed to be difficult for the uninitiated to warm up to, but the Ensemble's latest seems (to me at least) to be the one '79 release in the genre that even Mangione fans can find enjoyable. Nice Guys is a brilliant crazy quilt of styles and strategies, with the shifting textures and colorations of saxophones, trumpets, drums, bass, and a plethora of more obscure instruments proceeding through a fascinating session of unconventional improvisation.

3) Trevor Rabin — Trevor Rabin (Chrysalis) Rabin is a singer-songwriter-guitarist from South Africa who's same-named debut album supplies the kind of mega-rock that Todd Rundgren's been promising for years. Rabin proceeds through a far-fetched array of styles, from Mountainesque heavy-metal, syrupy ballads, McLaughlin-inspired jazz-rock, Zappa-like ensemble virtuosity, through disco and reggae, often blending these incongruous strands into the same song. And, incredibly, it works.

4) Van Halen II — Van Halen (Warner Brothers): Edward Van Halen plays flashy hard rock guitar with admirable vengeance and ingenuity, that is enough for me. That is to say that it's enough for those times in the middle of the night when your brain is wracked by an alphabet soup of your mom's diet pills and the rapid notes from Van Halen's many solos here are the closest you're willing to come to have a large dog rip out your throat.

5) One of a Kind — Bill Bruford (Polydor): The former Yes, King Crimson and Genesis drummer deftly leads a band of superb musicians through a session that combines the best of progressive rock (compositional organization with a rich sense of harmony and counterpoint) and the best of fusion rock (inventive soloing meshing hard-rock dynamics with fleet-fingered technique). Guitarist Allan Holdsworth performs as though in a fluid and fluent state of grace, and bassist Jeff Berlin is someone to watch out for. The best moments, though, remain with Holdsworth, who extreme legato rivals that of any post-bop saxophonist in or out of this life, Coltrane, Shorter, Rollins, Michael Brecker, Josh Redman, you name it, and his technique, smoothly deployed as he tests the out rings of a chord progression and seems to begin solos in the center of an idea and then exploring the logical note sequences in both directions simultaneously, is stunning in the ways his spotlight moments build tension and then releases it. 
6) Shiny Beast (Bat Pull Chain) — Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band (Warner Brothers): Beefheart, rock's most idiosyncratic avant-garde individualist, is refreshingly in place for once, seeming to have hammered his worrisome kinks and quirks into a form that benefits his talent for constructing fractured, asymmetrical, dada-derived music. Splendid use of free jazz tonalities, urban blues, Caribbean rhythms, and rhythm and blues. The music is as crankishly idiosyncratic as it's ever been (jump-cut time signatures, a free mixing of "free-jazz" randomness and pop song structures, blues and neoclassical shades blending into thick atonal texture) and Beefheart's vocals, one of the raspiest voices anywhere, deliver his dadaesque, free-associative lyrics with the same kind of off-kilter verve.(One would be remiss in thinking that Beefheart's lyrics are without substance or lack meaning: no less than Wallace Stevens, who explored his dreams of a world of perfect arrangements and their contradictions, Beefheart, nee Don Van Vliet chooses to inspect a terrain of imperfect things, material and organic, and forge connections and conversation between them with nothing but the force of applied and intense whimsy. )

The effect sounds like an Unlikely super session between Howlin' Wolf and Alfred Jarry (costumes designed by Max Ernst) . His new Magic Band, featuring ex-Zappa sidemen as Bruce Fowler (trombone) and Art Tripp (drums) , handle the demands of the music with disciplined ease, executing Beefheart 's quixotic time signatures and self-deconstructing arrangements with a professionalism that tends toward both perfection and liveliness, usually an unlikely symbiosis in art-rock groups. However cerebral Beefheart's music sounds, though, it should be POinted out that Shiny Beast is a fun album, full of good humor and strong material. This time out, The Captain is out to entertain and beguile, a work of art that does what any object of scrutiny must do, which is to offer a genius's bluster, blarney and brilliance the only way it can be presented, in your face, without apologies or a phone number for a second date.

7) New Values — Iggy Pop: Iggy, who is the godfather of punk if anyone is, has finally transcended the problems that too often stopped him from delivering that all-purpose knockout punch. The music is crunchy, cantankerous rock and roll, Iggy's vocals have the appeal of the off-hand remark, and the lyrics succeed in being anti-intellectual without the obnoxious posturing that is the calling card of many whom Iggy has influenced. Iggy proves here that he is the main-man.  That said, and do so sincerely, I fancy myself more an MC5  kind of guy;  I prefer music that gives us the effect of a demolition derby on the other side of the River Styx, relentless metal twisting and screaming tires until the torches lighting Plato's Cave are dosed.

8) Fear of Music — Talking Heads (Sire): Talking Heads, I fear, is more of an alliance with art-rockers like Eno, Roxy Music and John Cale than with the New Wave, but that hasn't stopped me from liking them. Their music has a cleverly controlled graininess that puts them half-way between garage band amateurism and the post-twelve tone rigors of the "new music" conceptualists. David Byrne's lyrics, sung in a voice that sounds as though it might evaporate at any moment, expresses the tortured politics of the paranoid mind while allowing as little self-pity as possible. This is the work of a refreshingly straightforward sociopath.

9) Rust Never Sleeps — Neil Young (Warner Brothers): Young, who, like Norman Mailer, has been producing advertisements for himself for years to little advantage (self-revelation must attain the universal, not the therapeutic, it's to sit well as something I'd like to investigate), has released a masterpiece of a kind, a rock and roll testament that deals with American icons, institutionalized violence, and the sand-trap of self-love (among other themes). And Crazy Horse helps Young play some of the dirtiest rock and roll of the sear.

10) Squeezing Out Sparks — Graham Parker: Parker bites the head off of everyone who's ever done him dirt with music and lyrics that have the mainstream kick of the old Rolling Stones. Blunt, uncompromising stuff.  To get to the issue that never left Parker's orbit while he was still someone who was interviewed and received a fair amount of airplay, Parker does indeed resemble Elvis Costello vocally. Somewhat, that is, as Parker prefers to talk-sing along with his snarling, while Costello can snarl and croon at the time. And while Costello strains credulity when he strains too often for high notes that refuse to come to him easily, Parker after three songs or so becomes something of that insomniac dog next door who won't stop barking. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

THE FADED WORD : Tom Wolfe, RIP


.Tom Wolfe was alternately the best and the worst of American writing that found its public during the Sixties. On the one hand, he invented a new lexicon for journalists, full of sound effects, exaggerated emphasis, sly allusions to relevant bits of obscure literature, acute character sketches, a discerning eye and ear for the revealing detail and phrase, and a snappy prose as well. His nonfiction articles were Heckel and Jeckel cartoons made prose, and with it he left us a few masterpieces, not the least of which being "The Right Stuff" and "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test". Of course, for San Diegans, there is the "Pump House Gang", his essay about the La Jolla folks contained in the same named book of collected magazine pieces. He fancied himself a social critic, and there were some things even a snappy prose style could not disguise., although his ability to rewrite and paraphrase complaints about contemporary experimental art and modern architecture were entertainments galore.He revealed himself a conservative in culture, but by the time that element was revealed, he had lost relevance to the current conversation. His essays became diffuse, stumbling, grouchy, suffused with barbs that missed their targets with an increasing frequency. Worse, I think, were his novels, where the snappy prose style vanished all told as he attempted to refashion himself as a master of the 19th Century social novel, best revealed in his first effort "Bonfire of the Vanities", a long, very long slog about how NYC corrupts the soul on all levels of society, from politicians, bankers, gangsters, civil rights activists...It was a festival of straw-men, as wearisome to read as the volume of "Atlas Shrugged" you found yourself slogging through for a book club. Wolfe was a mixed bag of results, but what he did well will remain in our canon. The best of his work, his nonfiction in my view, will need to be read by generations to come for readers who are looking for some salient clues on what America was thinking at a critical period.

As a novelist, Wolfe aligned himself with 19th-century social novelists Balzac and Dickens, with a strong dose of the 20th-century American novelist Dreiser, his aim being to become engaged with society at all its levels and with the citizens of all its sectors, high and low. Nice ambition, I think, but his novels for me seemed more like exercises of sheer will rather than genuinely felt inspiration. When he ceased being a journalist, Wolfe became a polemicist, in essence, albeit one with a Ph.D., and he seems to be the case of a man of obvious gifts, occasionally used to brilliant effect, who wrote fiction so that he would have a shiny example of the very thing any thesis he developed would have us think is the preferred kind of fiction America deserved.


As an artist/critic, (or critic/artist), I never got much farther than thinking that Wolfe needed to write novels so he could construct an all-encompassing proposal to cure the aesthetic missteps that were preventing artists from producing narratives that actually matter. That polemic he wrote was called "Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast", again chastising the current crop of writers, circa 1989, and proposing they follow the example he provides them with "Bonfire". Wolfe could certainly toot his own horn, and he could certainly switch arguments when it suited him; in 1973 he co-edited a non fiction anthology called The New Journalism, which featured articles by Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Gay Talese, and others, journalists and novelists who created a new kind of journalism that employed fiction-techniques.In his introduction, Wolfe declared, more or less, that the conventional novel, the novel made up entirely from the imagination, had run its course historically, and the vivid nonfiction of New Journalism would replace it altogether.


To be fair, this is not a case of Wolfe jumping onto bandwagons as much as it is him building the bandwagon itself. Never without an interesting thought, never sans a flash of real insight and snappy verbs and matchless similes, Wolfe was, in my view, a failed novelist, artistically, something that can be measured by the fact that over the last couple of decades the discussion of the late writer's four novels has been virtually non existent. His novels seemed like the results of arduous labor, strained, repetitive, increasingly lazy in their verbal aberrations; his inventiveness turned into indulgence and dithering.


My friend Barry Alfonso, a writer based in Pittsburgh, sent me a note that added a crucial context for Wolfe in American intellectual tradition. He writes:
It strikes me that Wolfe is comparable in some ways to T.S. Eliot. Both of them appropriated the razzle-dazzle split-screen jazziness of their modernist moments to ridicule and attack modernism itself. They won huge audiences that were uneasy about the changing societies they lived in and uncomfortable with their roles in it. They played with the lingering guilt sophisticated people feel about rejecting cultural traditions even as they chopped, channeled and mutated those traditions themselves. Wolfe and Eliot had their avant garde cakes and ate them too while they stuffed them up the dilated hyperstimulated noses of the public.

A sound comparison to Eliot, Mr.Alfonso. I thought of John Dos Passos myself, a left-leaning novelist who was revolutionary in subject and experimental in the structure in his early fiction, especially in this USA Trilogy, but who later turned more conservative in his politics, writing a blander fiction for most of his remaining career. Dos Passos even came to become a regular contributor to the National Review. However, I think Wolfe as a writer was undone not by politics--a smart and perceptive conservative thinker is worth a read--but by his style. It goes without saying, usually, that writers with careers that span over several decades sees a decline in their work; some escape this curse by changing styles or expanding their worldview. Mailer, Updike, DeLillo, and Didion have done this. Wolfe began, I believe, with a flashy, impressive, dazzling virtuosity and never strayed from it, and seemed caught up in the challenge about how he was going to keep up the pace, top what he'd already published, how to go further than he had before. He gave up on finessing his sentences and became lazy and diffuse. I dare say his last book, The Kingdom of Speech, was a challenge to linguistics in general and Noam Chomsky in particular, was incoherent through and through, and factually incorrect on the history and practice of the subject matter.

Barry Alfonso adds this, in a subsequent message:
I think the Dos Passos comparison is apt -- the USA Trilogy used motion picture techniques to describe the fractured realities of its era just as Wolfe adopted the lurid colors and cartoonish gestures of '60s pop culture to capture the passing scene. Something you said about style prompts the following...your co-favorite chew toy (with Bob Dylan) Jack Kerouac was once asked which was more important: style or content. Kerouac said style because it CONTAINS content. This is similar to the McLuhan slogan that the medium is the message. I think this applies to Wolfe's journalism in the '60s -- the way he wrote embodied the essence of what he wrote about. And, as a critic, he was COMPLICIT in the cultural scams and absurdities he wrote about -- in fact, he had a hand in CREATING them. I suspect Kesey and company realized this. Ultimately, Wolfe was a cultural liberal facilitator/fellow traveler -- no, he was a cultural liberal PERIOD, even if he wouldn't admit to it. You can't make fun of executions by cutting off somebody's head, as a wiseguy once opined.



Wolfe was at his best at his craft when he was a journalist, more the observer than the commentator. His brilliance, we realize, was how used his verbal razzle-dazzle to characterize the accumulation of details, incidents,. the scenery and he had a knack for getting not just the revealing quote, but also those statements that gave his subjects the gift of personality. And for all his novelistic exuberance, he was anchored to the facts; the story arc, whether he liked it or not, was being drawn for him, and his inventions had to be restrained and made to cohere to what actually occurred. This isn't to diminish his achievement as a craftsman--he does indeed elevate journalism to art, as he does with Electric Kool-aid and The Right Stuff, two masterpieces that survive the hard judgment of time. As a critic, though, he began as a fun read, an amusing grouser on things that confounded him, ingeniously entering into a conspiratorial alliance with his readers who likewise were suspect of the claims and posturings of modern artists, architects and the communities of critics and taste-makers who made those careers. possible. He too quickly, though, became a habitual and distressingly imprecise curmudgeon whose complaints had less impact on contemporary thinking about cultural matters ; imprecise because one wasn't always sure what he was trying to find fault with, and because his writing became alarmingly diffuse, more rhetorical bombast, sound and fury, lots of grandiloquent throat clearing . He was making less sense as a critic, but it was obvious he was bitter. His last essay that sparked any significant conversation was his piece "Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast", his manifesto extolling novelists to become engaged with the world around them rather than write fictions that take readers out of the world and into an author's metaphorical neurosis. Beyond that, Wolfe's fabled gifts were all but useless in gauging how insane the world was behaving.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Everyday Negoiations

I walk through this arch and its half shadows and I am gone, on the other side of wall in a world that might not be there. That's what I think , crossing the street, the late afternoon sun creating large swaths of slanting shade that caused the downtown high rise and over windowed condominiums that loomed over the cross purposed train tracks to seem emptier than they normally be so close to  five in the afternoon. Large, empty, thick with history of conceptions, bad business deals, lies told on phones with rotary dials. Even the newer structures, staggered edifices with mix materials of steel, glass, concrete and wood notable for the profusion of balconies , seemed to have been constructed in a designer's mind to recollect and establish a connection when matters of public welfare and taste were hand in hand. 
It was a simple contradiction to resolve, the resolution being to either rid the city of the people altogether and so not have a center of constructed perfection where down with the presence of human weight and woe, or , less violently, resign yourself to a convenient solipsism, imagine that only you exist and that since because everything is merely an aberration of the senses, you have it in your means to filter out the faces, the torsos, the expressions of others who crowd your personal space, a space you require to be everything you can see. This space halts behind the skylines and the ridge of far trees and power lines.

 The place that others inhabit is beyond your concern or care. Let this failing light and what it reveals for mere minutes in the day, the deep resonance and secret shapes of what is molded to functional requirements which are now matters for history books, add peace to your mind, which is fevered and quirky and fast on the draw when disturbing elements intrude over the invisible lines of death you've drawn on every black of concrete you tread over. But now, it’s time to be gone, to consider the void, what is   beyond this passage, the shadows that malinger and grow until only the basic outline of the walkway is visible under the least luminescent  light above. Time to board a train to where? Anywhere? Does it make a difference? When was the last time going in a direction you've decided upon prior to a journey result in a quality difference? 

Sleep faster, we need the sheets, your father said, eat slower, your mother mentioned, and then continued, we have miles to go before we run out of gas, this said in a Ford station    wagon going between Detroit to Cleveland by way of the turnpike, listening to radio stations fade and criss cross their news , weather sports, there was country music playing , a gospel choir, someone screaming Jesus almighty God , rain and no rain, the sky dark with clouds , thick groves of trees along the road behind which seemed to be one large factory after another, smoke stacks poking the clouds, flashes of rows of broken industrial windows obscured by perversely green flora and fauna, there was never a good time to play fifty states, Cleveland was rain and shadows and deep hills where tall houses were build, hills where the rain went and filled the basements, every house in the neighborhood had a third floor that had walls growing moss...

Friday, May 11, 2018

Harlot's Ghost, a novel by Norman Mailer

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This is a generational saga more than anything else, the story of Harry Hubbard and his relationship with his CIA mentor, the titular Harlot. It is, I think, a brilliant mess of a novel, not unlike the projects the Central Intelligence Agency has taken on covertly, unheard of and unspoken, in order to preserve the good graces and virtue of the United States. The main message, I think, is that one cannot fight evil unless they understand exactly what evil is and are willing to be evil , unprincipled, lacking in romanticized notions of goodness and fairness in order to combat any and all threats that approach our shores.  It is messy work, in other words, and there is a liturgy here, something approaching a theological world view that places the agency and its agents in a context that represents an over specialized class of professional attempting to rationalize the vileness of their work by allusively equating their violence, lies and disruptions as serving the greater good.

What especially intrigues about this novel is the foul premise that one cannot effectively fight evil unless they are able to become evil themselves, which is to say that the agents in play, visiting various bits of expensive and furtive skulduggery against enemies present and invisible, have to pay grave  lip service to the virtues of American freedoms and the governing institutions that direct them, but who must be able to betray every moral principle they've sworn to uphold as a means of defending against the godless, the unbathed, the fearfully "other". Rather than have agents who are compartmentalized to the extent that they lie, cheat, steal and dispatch bad guys by day and watch TV and crosswords at night, we have instead characters who are at war with the lies they tell themselves.Within this is a paranoia that is made into a layered, convoluted, brooding world. Not a perfect novel, but a genuine work of literature none the less. I would venture that this is Mailer's best novel. (

Saturday, May 5, 2018

"THE AVENGERS: Infinity Wars" three hours of frantic, distracted agitation



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The Avengers The Infinity War is a big, fat, slobbering mess of a movie, a gluttonous rampage of straggling superheroes, thinly connected storylines that are incomprehensible if one hasn't seen most of the Marvel movies that have come out in the last ten years. It is a great looking film, colorful (for a change, as Marvel films have tended to have a bleached out effect for most of what they have done so far), the special effects, especially the special effects, are cast cleverly, and the set pieces are spectacular are satisfyingly effective. But to what purpose, to what effect? One can say that everything that has happened in the films over the last decade have led up to this moment, which I think is the problem; Infinity War cannot stand on its own, it cannot excite without the fan boy's obsession with the smallest bits of detail and information from random Marvel efforts. And it switches from one part of the earth to a sector of the Universe, another planet, a dimension, from Villain headquarters to intergalactic weapons foundry, constantly, disconcertingly. 

That is to say that the editing is such that the movie finally does not add up to anything you find quotable, revealing of grim intentions under the professed declarations. Thanos, the villain, does announce his intentions and fulfills his purpose by Movie's end, and the effect is, admittedly shocking and effectively deployed, but it's little more than a sequence of competent magic tricks by a competent trickster who has one amazing effect for his finale. After you go wow, spend some time yammering about what comes next, you realize there was only one spectacular effect that made the grade, and that it wasn't enough to bring the wild twines that form this movie's unsporting narrative together in a way that made more it more than quips and clashes. Mind you, I did like the movie. Very entertaining as a distraction, but like Marvell's Black Panther, epic-ally overrated as masterpieces of cinema. But standards Marvel helped established, they are mere, merely okay. 

Finally, it its race to tie up a decades worth of plot lines and themes from fifteen or so amazingly profitable movies, watching this film was not unlike watching cable TV with a meth-addled tweaker who had the remote control, unable to make up its mind whether to sit, shit, stand, watch the news, jerk off, take apart a bicycle or simply die. Even after all this time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe cannot transcend its self-created cliches. So what comes next? At this point, does it matter? Doubtless, they'll continue to show their technical mastery, but for narratives, ideas, surprises? That rut only gets deeper.