David Foster Wallace is an interesting writer who is in dire
need of a vicious but fair editor. He notices everything that is odd and
potentially wonderful of ponder in his world, but he's able to organize his
perceptions; he lacks the ability to discriminate what's actually interesting
to a reader from that which is worth only a smirk and a snort for himself. A Supposedly Fun Thing works,
I suppose, because its nonfiction and the pieces are short, but even here he
doesn't take advantage of the compression. He goes rather long too often, and
what's wonderful about his writing and his intelligence is lost. It is really
too much work to sift through the giddy semiotics to unearth the verbal gems.
Barthes himself had the good sense too- be brief in the columns he wrote for
the French popular press.
Infinite Jest is
perhaps the most exasperating novel I've ever read, along with being the most
chronically overrated in contemporary fiction. It may be argued that he novel
is about the digressions he favors, and that such digressions place him in line
as being the latest "systems novelist", taking up where Gaddis,
Pynchon, DeLillo and Barth (John) have led the way, to which I'd say fine, and
what of it? The AA and recovery material is potential good fun, and the aspect
of powerlessness over a movie ought to be enough for a writer to mold a sure
satire, but Wallace seems far too eager to surpass Gravity's Rainbow and The
Recognitions in his long, sentences, most of which in retrospect gave you the
sense of what Allen Ginsberg's referred to as the Box Car effect, the cars of a
train rushing by at great speed and, fora period, seem to be without beginning or end There is so much contained
within, so many things mentioned, so many things half described and given half
contexts for qualities that resonate only a little, it becomes intoxicating for
a bit, dizzying for many, impressive in the author’s ability to fit so much
detail of tangible things into so many long, sequential sentences and still,
stay within the ever-expanding idea of what good grammar and construction happens
There are those this
shows genius and perhaps it does, but it is the sort of genius I respect and
admiring for the sheer will to took to connect everything inside one’s complete
set of pockets with everything fleeting thought and arcane that makes an appearance
in casual chatter or the slight movement of a body part, the turn of the head,
for example, or the flick of a cigarette ash from a nearly dead smoke. The
closest I could go is that it resembles Henry James at best, with heavy
seasoning provided by Thomas Pynchon and his own going themes of Systems of
Meaning and Organization and how that turns the study of history (or even
discussion of what one had for lunch) into a unfathomable inquiry that blurs
the subject just by asking the questions. The element of not being able to
decide the underlying meaning of a storyline on the molecular level , the level
of the sentence coming into being as the writer attempts to put the ideas, one
following the other , into an appreciable order is DFW’s biggest break through.
He links everything in grammatically readable sentences, but there is deluge
rather than word flow and, if you’re someone committed to finishing every book
you started to read as I used to be, you are eventually weighed upon too much
by information that turns out to be a distended set up for a joke and no longer
mistake the linking of things for coherence. The aforementioned editor I
proposed would have handed the manuscript back with the observation that this
set of multi-channeled satires has already been done by the previously mentioned
authors whose works are not likely to be matched. Said editor would then advise
that over-writing isn't the sure means to break with your influences, but that
developing one's own style is.
Roth announced his retirement from
being a novel writer a couple of years ago , and it's in the slight variations
of his late career novel, 2001 's The Dying Animal, that we can
understand why he stopped: had played the last note he could stand on that instrument
of style he possessed. Bearing in mind that Roth's genius has been for writing
about angry men who are perpetually ill at ease, raging against their
imperfections in a world they don't fit in. Roth's works are equals
self-loathing, arrogance, misogyny , mother issues, sexual dysfunctional,
bitter agnosticism, deeply felt emotional upheaval and revelation, cruel wit
and puckish humor, an endless series of ironies that, through out a brilliantly
realized career , had Roth as the outstanding straight, white , male Jewish
male the rapidly shifting terms of existence seemingly used a punching bag.
"The Dying Animal", coming late in his career, deals with a typical
Roth protagonist, a male, late in his life, who finds that he no longer love
and leave the ladies as he had always done; age, infirmity, impotence, the
stuff of raging speeches given in rain storms while the vestments of position
and power are stripped from you, reduce him to a supplicant. More irony
follows, the poor man gets his just deserts, and anger and bitterness and the
sense that nothing stops the torment except death; anyone familiar with Roth's
works can more or less forecast how this tale with end, or rather, fade out.
Nicely done, we can see, but it lacks the snap, the verbal snarl, the grating
detail that highlights the increasingly sour moods and downcast fatalism of the
author. It lacks, alas, the energy to get angry again.
My suggestion would to
pick up a book published only slightly earlier, "The Plot Against America";
irony, punch, a sense of playfulness, a story of innocence of youth become
threatened by elements that cloud the sense of the future of American
democracy. Not to give to much away in the even that you decide to pick up TPAA , I'll just say that Roth is at his ingenious best, using a fictionalized version of himself as a young boy and his family against the what if backdrop of Aviator, American Hero and widely believed Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh had defeated FDR for President in 1940. Full of narrative invention , the author creates a disturbing sense of how American history would have seen substantially different from the particular vantage of a young Jewish boy and his family . That is the Philip Roth worth seeking out, inventive, dangerous, angry, funny, very human, very much raging to live and feel the emotions that both blessing and curse.
Singer Shirley Ellis wanted us all to get down to the nitty-gritty in her 1963 hit tune of the same name,”Nitty Gritty” . It was a bold dare to cast on the radio listeners of the time, but the song was all groove, rhythm and genuinely seductive soul music. “Get right down to the real nitty gritty” was the refrain she kept singing, her graceful ground level vocal reinforced by a chorus that repeated her dictum, gets down to the real nitty-gritty. The band was typical of so many of the music ensembles that graced hit 45’s at the time, percolating and expanding the groove artfully. Get rid of what’s troubling was the message if any at all. Don’t just forget your troubles, as Petula Clark urged in her tune “Downtown”, Ellis extolled the need to expel them altogether. Dance them out of your system and leave on the dance floor.I loved the tune, the groove, the sensuous honesty of Ellis’s voice, but I was twelve at the time, just becoming aware of music, politics, the importance of love; my consciousness was an alloy made up of assertions culled from weekly infusions of Time Magazine. I had precious little experience, and not much nitty gritty to get down to. We did age, of course, the pace of history gave us war, riots, battles for civil rights, first jobs, first-time sex, giddy successes, and humiliating defeats. I might say that many of us took our initial real-world excursions, personally and constructed layered and well-reasoned arguments for a worldview that both explained why the world was the way it was and which gave us additional excuse to fail. In my case, it was so I could write more poems about being depressed about my state of the world. We created our own feedback chamber. Something had to be done. Time to clean house.
We can say that Chuck Perrin, a San Diego based singer/songwriter, poet, and music entrepreneur, has had enough of keeping his demons entertained as he embarks with his new album, The Yearn. As with what John Lennon did with his 1971 “primal scream” album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, an incendiary disc where Lennon named the people, places and things that he felt contributed greatly to his worst, self-destructing traits. The disc was hard to listen too, as Lennon’s expression was convincingly emotional and condemnation of the calcified BS that filled his head is lacerating, but it was a breakthrough. Perrin’s The Yearn follows in that tradition, a genre of self-revelation that remains uncommon in our current pop music climate. Perrin, in the previous nine albums he’s recorded, is a songwriter and vocalist who has pursued and mastered the delicate art of entwining the gracefully melodic, the crooning and swooning aspect of lyric romanticism and the blunt, more ecstatic, raging element of the rant that cannot be contained by chords or harmony. His previous albums like Beat.itude (1995) and Down 2 Bone (2009) reveals a man in touch with his responses who finds melody and the graceful sway of words a way to make sense of contradictions that life presents, and allows him to study the contradictions in his own responses to the results and consequences of his adventures. The Yearn takes a more severe tact, one that, like Lennon’s, is to get to the nitty-gritty of things, the core of what is truly important and what it is we remain alive for. The songs on The Yearn are starker than what I remember from Perrin’s previous work, basic structures that are superbly contextualized by a crackerjack group of musicians. Perrin has had enough of the universe of personalities and media that have distracted him . He has in his lyrics the presence of another person, a lover, a friend, someone significant, an intimate and a confidant who he addresses directly, person to person. There’s no hint of showboating or playing to what an audience expects. The songs structures are moody, impressionistic, fundamental constructs that are highlighted and given many-hued texture r by high caliber musicians. When matters threaten to become sing-songy, there is a sweetly blistering guitar solo from Larry Mitchell, ; when Perrin drops moves away from the microphone, the redouble Arthur Fishers and provides a series of fleet, crystalline flute improvisations. Song to song, the gathered musicians (including such stalwarts as Burt Turetzky, Bob Magnusson among the esteemed crew) make the simple structures into lively bits of jazz improvisation, beautifully honed impressionism, seductively rich tone poems. This is the remarkable aspect of what Chuck Perrin has accomplished, which is to create a disc that combines brutal self-assessment and the wild plunge to seek what is real and genuine regarding love at the purest level with a musical tableau that is open-ended, an improvisatory groove and tonal preferences that more than suggest that this is a life that is still evolving, progressing toward truth. The musicians create a sound that reflect the hard turns of Perrin’s journey, but there remains the sense that all this inventory is something we can walk through, free and hopeful for a fuller life ahead.
No protest against the greatness of Mark
Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne or Edgar Allen Poe, but their time is past,
and the writers that influenced the pulse, wit, and thrill in my wrting are of the 20th century. But then again, they are of the past to, of the last century, my period of getting influenced and then wallowing in my own mythology of genius It is now the 21st century , younger authors assume the responsibility of keeping the written word more than a means of formalizing an excuse from work or instructions for the hired help. We will go on rummaging through our memories, bringing up our favoirte writers , discussing them at length or in brief, trying to relive the excitement of when a paragraph knocked you out , flat on your bck with the revelation the word combination contained, and , when you came to , so to speak, you returned to the page to see who that writer was and , to be sure, find other books by the him or her who made you aware that language was the means to both imagine a more interesting world but also to change the conditions the actual sphere of things contains. Yes, the world can be made a better place. Vonnegut easily matches Twain , I think,
Updike, at his best, surpasses Hawthorne on the same range of issues, and for
Poe, virtually everyone has been influenced by him, but the best of his
students have found more graceful, lyrical ways to deliver their work. Simply, one may yearn for the richness of a
glorious past as a kind of Heaven to be aspired to, which is fine, if that is
the way one learns to cope with the uncompromising pace of the current time,
but our writers, truth told, tell a fine tale or two.
Literature is also about
where we're going, not just where we've been. DeLillo,Toni
Morrison, William Gaddis, William Gass,
Updike, David Foster Wallace, Mark Helprin, Joyce Carol Oates, Sontag, and
dozens of others whose work, in varied respects, struggles to be about
something larger than memoirs put forth under the name of fiction. Not that I
like all the above: rather, just to say that not every novelist these days is
hung by their own confessional rope.
Hindsight is everything, and I
wish I could see , who of our scribes will be discussed at the end of the next
century. The second half of this century produced a lot of major talent
who have produced or are producing respective bodies of work that require the
passionate reading and argument our already named personal bests have received.
Harold Bloom notwithstanding, our canon is expanding with new and achingly good
writers, and one would think that the male majority so far discussed will have
relinquish room on their uppermost tier. On the point, Fitzgerald will make the cut
because so few writers, then or to the current time, have managed the
breathless lyricism contained in the "The Great Gatsby" or
"Tender Is The Night". Some have come close, and I'm thinking of the
resonating sentences from Scott Spencer's "Endless Love" or some
keenly rendered pages in Updikes "Rabbit" quartet, but Fitzgerald at
best gave us small masterpieces that gave an sharp view of the time.
Hemingway merits a permanent place
on any greatest list because his style, at best, was lean, and his sentences ,
constructed the way they are, convey pages of buried turmoil, lost hope, small
idealism, bravery to pursue another day , to shoulder one's burden honorably.
"In Our Time" and "The Sun Also Rises" accomplish this. At
his worse, though, Hemingway was a boozing sentimentalist whose writing lapsed
into repetitious self-parody, as we have in "Island In The Stream" or
"A Movable Feast". But I am grateful for the good work he did. Jack London, I'm afraid, pales for me
personally. He was a lot of fun for me when I was growing up, yearning for
adventure in Catholic School. But later, in college, closer and more seasoned
readings had him sounding rushed, awkward. The admixture of Marx and Darwin
that seasoned his writings seem showed a straining idealism that was not
redeemed by a modifying style.I've just re-read "John Barleycorn" ,
and the book is ridiculous. It seemed like so much bluster and blarney toward
the end , after vividly recalls his disastrous drinking career, that armed with
this new self awareness, he would drink responsibly, that he was in fact only
temporarily an alcoholic
( Imagine my delight in seeing my name on a concert review I had written of Costello and his band The Attractions back in 1979 when they performed at the former Fox Theatre (now Symphony Hall). I was twenty-seven at the time and, in the copious writing I was doing as arts editor for the UCSD student newspaper The Daily Guardian, was getting ever closer to the prose style I wanted, a chatty, smart, didactic with which I could evaluate and digress into the pleasant vagueness of abstract assertion while maintaining a tone of the conversation, the chat, the informal and slightly snarky bull session. (Last week, I gave in, yet again, to vanity and searched for my name on the too-handy Google search engine and found something entirely unexpected. Yes, I sound more than a little full of myself from rereading this, but what the hell? I was teaching myself how to write, a process that continues. Enterprising Elvis Costello fans seem to have amassed an impressive database concerning the work of the prolific singer/songwriter, compiling, among other data impressive and less impressive, reviews and the publications they appeared in, both record and concert evaluations. Here is the review from the late Seventies when I used to add my middle name to my byline because I thought it sounded cool. Or something like that.--tb.)
Elvis Costello and the Attractions,
February 1979 by Ted Navin Burke
Costello is rock's man of the moment, and one would assume from the frenzied
reception the full house gave him last Sunday at his Fox Theatre gig that the
Costello's groundswell will never ebb. But will Costello last? Good question.
I've been to too many concerts where a performer does an absolute dynamite
performance to an audience that seemed to express undying loyalty, only to be
forgotten a year later with his albums taken off the Licorice Pizza display
racks. Is Costello the Next Big Thing someone whose music will have a profound
influence on the pop culture to come, or is he just another in a series of
throwaway performers an audience can play with awhile and then discard like an
empty box of corn flakes? Good question indeed.
forcing myself to be optimistic, though, thinking that Costello has enough
talent to transcend the comic book tackiness that surrounds him — Woody Allen
glasses, old jackets with skinny lapels and padded shoulders — and latch onto
something firmer in the consciousness of a mass audience whose attention spans
tend to be short and tastes fickle. Certainly, Dylan and Bowie had to contend
with similar problems of image. Dylan refusing to remain, at different times, a
mere protest singer, a mere folk-rocker, a mere country singer, and Bowie
deciding to junk the Ziggy Stardust nonsense and show all his would-be glitter
creep, followers, that he could make music as well as cutely contrived theatrics.
Though, doesn't have the same initial problem that Dylan or Bowie confronted.
Whereas the other two began with a limited base where everyone expected them to
remain — Dylan with folk and New Left politics, Bowie with glitter-rock and an
apocalyptic fantasy — Costello's music has an unbelievably broad base. His
three albums, My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, and his newest, Armed
Forces comprise something of a short-order course in the history of
traditional rock and roll motifs, a wide scope encompassing rockabilly, reggae,
rhythm and blues, folk-rock, Phil Spector
wall-of-sound-production values, Sky Saxon, and other influences that
elude me right now. Unlike the average phony fifties band who take old stuff
and succeed in making the music more banal than it was originally — I'm
thinking of Sha Na Na and Flash Cadillac — Costello reshapes these old ideas
into fresh combinations, oftentimes mixing styles in the same song. Musically,
the familiar sounds incredibly fresh. What
makes Costello's art more astounding (or confounding) is his knack for lyrics.
In an age where the "important" lyricists of the Seventies — Bruce
Springsteen, Patti Smith, Warren Zevon, Tom Waits — have produced a bulk of
work that emulates but falls vastly short of middle-period Dylan and the Beat
poets before him, Costello has come out of the left field and caught everyone by
surprise. His best songs are tightly-constructed first-person narratives,
impressionistic glimpses at balled situations and the people in them, with
characters who Costello has caught in the variegated acts of Bad Faith and the contingent malaise of non-actualization.
In, In other words, Costello gives the impression that he can tell the moment when
someone, or something, starts laying on the bull and can dissect the baloney
bulwark with the well-honed epigram. His persona is that of someone who's being
victimized by others, an overly sensitive soul continually on the defensive
who's developed a brilliant capacity to put down, pontificate, and get in the
last word. Through this visage, he takes aim at everything, whether it be
lovers who use sex as nothing more than a peer group stock commodity
("Miracle Man," "Living In Paradise"), schoolyard bullies
who grow up to be lame-brained thugs ("Two Little Hitters"), media
organizations whose ability to Pavlov the masses borders on fascism
("Radio Radio"), or government services that bypass their humane
premise and reduce everyone to a number waiting in line for minimal and
impersonal service ("Oliver's Army," "Senior Service").
Other themes in his material are difficult to reconcile with one's assumed notions of equanimity
and a society predicated on
elegant utopian principles, grisly like murder ("Watching the
Detectives," "Alison") or misogyny ("I'm Not Angry,"
"Hand in Hand," et al.). Any number of highly-considered rock stars
have had these traits as well, like Dylan (still the darling of the New Left
after all these years), Mick Jagger, Bowie. In any event, one has to take the
best with the worse. I refuse to get hung up in New Consciousness moralizing
over Costello's alleged lack of humanity. Not to confront his worldview is to
duck the issues he brings up. As with others in the era of punk rock and new
wave, Costello makes clear that his mission is not to be part of a generation that
promises to avoid the mistakes of the Boomer Generation that had fought in
World War 2 for democratic ideals of liberal democracy only to turn the whole idea on its head in the search for greater persona gain at the sacrifice of community
and cooperation. He reduced it to the personal and equates being personally
fucked up, distraught, unloved, and being too smart to sit through the onslaught of lies and platitudes to the institutions of a society that, though
nominally dedicated to the preservation of rights and quality of life, are
designed only to control, dampen initiative, to keep the masses where they are
with old lies disguised cleverly as new promises.
the basis of the description of the ponderousness of Costello's themes, it
wouldn't be unusual to assume that he would slip into the seductive fallacy
that since all rock lyrics are now poetry, the music can take a back seat.
Costello understands that even the most provocative of ideas will exist in a
vacuum if the style of the message isn't grabbing. As described earlier, the
music stands up in the best tradition of rock and roll, as strong as the
Stones, more arresting than Dylan at his creative peak and more riveting
(effective) then the theoretical verve of all the New Wavers and punkers put
together. This, finally, brings us to the concert itself. Costello's
performance was an affirmation of the worn-out rock-critic adage which sustains
that rock and roll is an art meant to be experienced live, not on the album,
something where the energy will make your armpits sweat, get the blood moving
and provoke a response that goes beyond intellect, a response stemming from an
instinct more primal. Costello passed this rather dreamy test of rock and roll
metaphysics without breathing hard.
An imposing figure on the Fox stage, a slender, psychotic-looking man in a
suit with padded shoulders and thin lapels, someone who would bug-eye the
audience through his owl-frame glasses. His expression through the night was
like someone giving you an if-looks-could-kill stare after you'd said something
to offend him. Opening with "This Year's Girl," Costello and his
band, The Attractions, pumped through the material with something of a manic
drive. Costello would play his guitar, a Fender Jaguar, with hard strokes of
the hand that looked as though he were sawing wood, and his legs went through a
strange set of movements, buckling knock-kneed one minute, one leg thumping the
floor. At the same time, the other was firmly rooted the next and then pirouetting
sharply. He paced the stage in pensive bounds, looking like someone who
couldn't bear standing still.
The attractions themselves were superb. Organist Steve Naive crouched at his spot,
no chair for him. He would bounce about almost as erratically as Costello,
producing thick chords, succinct fills, and well-timed riffs that fleshed out
the band's sound. The drummer and bassist, whose names sadly elude me, are the
best rhythm section now working, interacting with the same verve that
distinguished Keith Moon and John Entwhistle of the Who years before. The
material, mostly from the new Armed Forces, was received with open arms,
but the audience was primed for older songs. The first chords of "Watching
the Detectives" drove the crowd crazy. At one point, Costello discarded
his guitar and took the mike by hand, and played out the part of an alienated
lover killing his girlfriend because she watches too much television. The line "...took
my little finger to blow you away" gets the loudest cheer of the night.
Costello tells them goodnight when the song ends. After
a five-minute ovation, they return and crank into "Pump it Up,"
played at a rapid, undanceable tempo. This encore lasts all of two and a half
minutes, and they're gone again, with the audience yowling for more. They had,
though, received more than their monies worth.