Sunday, August 27, 2023
Friday, August 25, 2023
Here we are again, gathered in a paragraph next to a black and white photograph of a combination check-cashing service and liquor store in the testier blocks of the beach area, writing words to a digital page only for the sake of doing something sublimely inane when inspiration is in brief supply and a sentence is only as powerful as the fingers that rattled off the nonsense. Gathered together for no good purpose, but who is the commander who informs us what the good purpose is? Here we are again in the same room at the same desk with the same plastic coffee can filled halfway with bad pennies no one has loved. In the days of my youth, we used to drive from Michigan to Martinsville, Virginia to visit our southern cousins on my mom’s side of the family. In the recollection, I remember a house in a wooded area that was mountainous to an extent, and behind my grandmother’s abode was a canyon and railroad tracks that were still active on the transportation schedules. I remember seeing boxcars and passenger cars racing past at the bottom of the ravine, a blur partially obscured by thick bramble, bushes, tree branches in full leafy glory. Cut to a drive back home to a Detroit suburb, a straight, flat highway that is wide, occasionally curving around bends and ducking under bridges, a flat stretch without end under a steel grey sky and clouds the color of white cotton that soaked up a streak of black coffee. The radio was blaring news of the war and the newspaper strike between pitchmen screaming about smashing prices and the opening bars of a Doors song before Mom turned off the radio and Dad began to sing “I Love Paris” as he tapped a beat on the steering wheel and a big grin and an interstellar glint came to his eye. The stained clouds gave the cars their burden, a hard rain and punishing wind blew cascades of water across the road that looked like small California waves. My brother and sister next to me in the back seat while I claimed my spot by the rear window. Farmhouses, abandoned tractors hurried by, factories hid behind thick groves of pine trees. Mom lit another cigarette. My sister coughed and my brother farted, a wild, rasping, snorting sound. “I love Paris in the evening…when it’s raining…” my father sang. My mother’s face was obscured by grey smoke, but she began to sing along with him. Their harmony was grating and monotonous and the highway was straight and the sky was large and filled with clouds and fleeting streaks of lightning in the distance terrorizing farm animals or the counterman at a desolate gas station and snack bar just off the expressway exit.
Wednesday, August 9, 2023
Friday, August 4, 2023
The other mark Costello, a younger writer, has equal genius but a different approach to the world, and his novel Big If is perfect, and what makes it works is that Costello accomplishes the dual difficulty of handing us a small town/suburban comedy the likes of John Cheever would have admired. The other is with the rich detailing of the other secret service agents who work with Vi Asplund. There is something of a domestic comedy seamlessly interwoven with a skewed Washington thriller, with the elements of each spilling over and coloring the underlying foundations of both. In the first part of the novel, we have an atheist Republican insurance investigator who has a habit of crossing out the "God" in the "In God We Trust" inscription on all his paper money, replacing the offending word with "us". Vi, years later, winds up in a job where "in us we trust" is the operating rational, as she and her fellow agents strive to protect their protected from the happenstance of crowds, acting out on intricate theories and assumptions that can only be tested in the field.
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. A healthy man goes to visit a friend who is in a mountain-based sanitarium and winds up staying in the sanitarium for seven years. During the years that follow, we witness a character's spiritual and philosophical change and come to a sense of life that eludes the overly cerebral. Thomas Mann is a magnificent writer, and this is easily one of the truly great novels of the 20th century.
Crackpots by Sara PritchardBrief, beautifully written book about an awkward young girl being raised by an eccentric family. Note that there is no child abuse or other hot button stuff engineered in to make the book appeal to the Oprah book clubs, just a humorous and bittersweet novel of a girl, beset with any number of glum circumstances and embarrassments, maturing to a resilient adult with soft irony that gets her through the day. Pritchard is especially fine as prose stylist.
Tuesday, August 1, 2023
The harmonies of the fabled Tremeloes stood out in a crowded field of 60s Brit Pop bands who were notable for their vocal arrangements. As we see here, the harmonies decorate, embellish, and enhance the fetching melody with colors , textures and tones of of the tongue that could have been easily transposed, I would guess, to regular instruments. Solo voice subtly joined by a chorus, combined harmonies seamlessly sliding up the scale rather than abruptly switching keyes. I overstate the case, perhaps, but I've always found their performance of this tune stunning.
Brit-pop in the 60s was a wonderland of sterling harmonies and the Hollies, Graham Nash edition, were champions at musical hooks and vocal synchronization. This punchy little masterpiece grabbed me right away back when I was but a whelp, especially the chorus, a vocal traffic jam of different melody lines stacked atop one another, going in different directions, clashing and dissonant and structurally effective, the brief miasma brought together again with Nash's high note at the end.
Neil Young's sci-fi junkie lament 'After the Goldrush" gets a harmonized rendition in this 1974 release. The lead vocal by Irene Hume reveals a slightly husky voice that characterizes the solo and chorus arrangement, with an appealing result that makes you think of a choir of Melanies . A perfect radio hit for the time, pleasant melody, depressed lyrics, alluring vocal craft.
John Lennonhad a grudge against bandmate Paul , a resentment he dutifully burnished until it was shiny like an acrylic turd, a brown and gleeming chuck of ill will. Of course
he wrote a song about it , laying everything out except Sir McCartney's name. As an issue of disrespect, it's in a class by itself, but the howler of this whole enterprise centers around the most quoted lyric, "...the only thing you did was yesterday..." The longer view of the Beatles reveals PM's contributions to the creative surges was, in fact, profound, at which point it makes me consider the idea that McCartney would likely have been a pop star of some sort without Lennon. Lennon, always a raw dog who improved vastly as a tunesmith , singer and lyricist due to his association with McCartney, would likely have had a rougher go of it.
In future years, the younger folks might be nostalgic as they reminisce about the supposed fun and convenience of Horton Plaza before it eventually became a dead mall now being repurposed. The truth of the matter is that even in its prime, it was an alienated space, full of architectural distractions, detours, and dead ends that seemed designed to magnify your unease and increase your desire to escape your sense of uselessness by exhausting your credit limit and begging creditors for an increase in your credit line. I worked there for several years as a bookseller and made my number one spot to see new movies, and over time you couldn't help by note the waning numbers of people coming to the Plaza, the number of stores advertising off-Holiday Sales with things up to 70 percent off, the closing of stores and the draping of butcher paper over the display windows with a sad sign promising a new retailer coming in soon, watching the calendar pages fly away and noting again the stores were still vacant and that more stores had joined them, that Horton Plaza had become an empty series of angular paths, walkways, bridges to more locked up storefronts, a structural case of architectural schizophrenia where all the eaves, overhangs, arches and such unusual twists cast deep and despairing shadows over the dead concrete few have reason to walk. Let's add here that Horton Plaza is having the finishing touches on a very extensive and expensive reconstruction, with the leviathan being converted to a space intended to attract tech companies with a smaller contingent of retail shops and eateries to placate tourists and dedicated downtowners. How that plays out is up in the air, as there are no facts about the future. I try to be optimistic about the future of the center, but failing to find a workable and effective method to house the many homeless currently on the city streets, I can't help but think that we're setting ourselves up for a bitter and expensive failure.