VANISHED EMPIRES

Dedicated to classics and hits.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Brideshead Revisited (1945) by Evelyn Waugh


Book Review
Brideshead Revisited (1945)
by Evelyn Waugh

   Despite being a small minority, English Catholics have an outsized presence in English literature of the first half of the twentieth century.  Graham Greene is the writer most associated with the English-Catholic point of view, but in Brideshead Revisited Eveyln Waugh takes a swing at the English-Catholic novel.  The subjects of Brideshead Revisited are the Marchmain family, Catholic English aristocrats who suffer from many of the maladies seen by other characters in Waugh's other novels: lack of focus, alcoholism, unacknowledged homosexuality, divorce, and a distinct fin de siècle malaise.

  Unlike the other Waugh novels I've read as part of the 1001 Books project, I found Brideshead Revisited memorable indeed, perhaps because of the use of the flashback framing technique employed by the narrator (Captain Charles Ryder) or perhaps because of how well drawn I found the characters.  Both Ryder and the Marchmain family members come vividly to live during the course of the book, which covers roughly from school days to the present.  Charles Ryder isn't there simply as a narrator, Brideshead Revisited is his story, and it is the Marchmain family who play a role in his book, not the other way around.

 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Bogomils: A Study in Balkan Manichaeism by Dimirtri Obolensky


The Bogomils: A Study in Balkan Manichaeism
by Dimirtri Obolensky
Published in 1948
Cambridge University Press
Reprint Anthony C. Hall, 1972

   One of the most interesting subject in Medieval history is the persecution of the Cathar heresy by the Pope.  Called "the Cathar Crusade" or the Albigensian Crusade, it was the first crusade- before the more famous crusades with the holy lands of the near east as their target.  The Cathars were a heretical Christian sect in Southern France and Northern Spain who espoused a Manichean philosophy. 

 The question I've always asked myself is how a bunch of peasants in Southern Europe were converted to a religion that came from Babylon and had been largely surprised for hundreds of years prior to the 12th and 13th centuries.   Manicheanism and neo-Manicheanism are interesting in their own right.  Followers of the prophet Mani believed that the world was created by the Devil/Satan and that all matter was sinful.  They espoused a strident aestheticism that renounced marriage, wine and meat.

  Despite suffering strident persecution from everyone, Manicheanism found a home in Armenia, where a Manichean (or neo-Manichean by this point) group called the Paulicians fought a border war with the Byzantine Emperor, eventually losing in the 9th century AD.   After that, groups of Paulicians were resettled by the Byzantines in and around the Bulgarian frontier.  Bulgaria was, basically, a tributary of the Byzantine, with a ruling class of central Asian Bulgars ruling over a Slavic underclass.

    Bulgaria at the time was nominally Greek Orthodox, but many in the Slavic underclass retained their Pagan religion, and the question of whether the Bulgarians were to be Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic was itself unsettled.  The first major point that Obolensky establishes is that Manicheanism came to Europe via the Bulgarian Empire.

  Unlike the Paulicians, who were culturally and ethnically distinct- basically Armenians- settled in discreet communities in the Eastern part of the state, Bogomilsim originated in what is today Macedonia, and was a more directly syncretic attempt to merge Manichean ideas with conventional Christian teachings.  These Bogomils were very successful in converting the residents of modern Macedonia and Bosnia.  They also went out to proselytize and one of the most interesting chapters of the book deals with first hand Byzantine accounts of illicit Bogomil activities.

  A very interesting quality of Bogomilism is the conscious effort to disguise themselves as obedient Christians.   They would set up Churches and dress and speak like the local approved Christian doctrine in an attempt to deceive hostile authorities.  This characteristic is very much a predecessor of ideas about "the Illuminati" and other secret societies inside and outside the Catholic Church.

  Obloensky demonstrates that the proselytizing activity was contemporaneous with the Cathar movement in the West, and while he stops short of showing the link between Catharism and Bogomilism, he does demonstrate the western Cathars knew of the most famous neo-Manichean.  Obloensky also includes an Appendix which lays out the argument linking Bogomilism with Catharism.   There wasn't quite a pan-neo-Manichean church, but it was a network of ideas with the Bogomils at one end of southern Europe and the Cathars at the other. 

  The major appeal of neo-Manichean religions like Bogomilism was a compelling explanation for why the world was such a shitty place for rural peasants in the out-of-the-way places of southern Europe in the late Middle Ages.  The Devil made the world, no wonder it was such a terrible place. 


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Poster, Ticket Link for Last Lizard Show in Montreal Next Month




































 I mean sometimes I just miss writing about music. This blog was really at its peak when I was writing consistently about local music.

(BUY TICKETS)

The Garden Where the Brass Band Played (1950) by Simon Vestdijk

Book Review
The Garden Where the Brass Band Played (1950)
 by Simon Vestdijk

   The Garden Where the Brass Band Played is a coming of age story.  A dark coming of age story, with heavy doses substance abuse, prostitution and death.  Vestdijk was an incredibly prolific Dutch author, but The Garden Where the Brass Band Played is the only work of his to really penetrate the consciousness of an English language audience. Its modest success in English translation is probably due to the combination of the familiar coming of age narrative, the very readable length (312 pages in the edition I read) and those heavy heartbreakers that dominate the third act.

  What appears to be a coming of age tale about a boy and his music teacher in a provincial town in the north of the Netherlands ends up as something much darker.  You don't exactly get a feel for place- the action could as just as soon be taking place in a small town in England or Germany, but that too might contribute to the ability of The Garden Where the Brass Band Played to resonate with non-Dutch audiences.

  I feel bad for Dutch artists- they are poised linguistically between English language audiences and German, but they don't carry the appeal of the familiar nor the thrill of the unknown.  Compare the popularity of Scandinavian authors to that of Dutch authors, for example.  The Swedes thrive on a mingling of otherness and familiarity, while the Dutch seem to generate neither reaction.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton Announces Columbia imprint 30th Century Records


Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton Announces Columbia imprint 30th Century Records

  Exclaim is reporting the announcement of Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton's Columbia Record imprint 30th Century Records.  The first release is going to be the new Autolux LP which is produced not by Brian Burton but by Beyoncé producer Boots.  Meanwhile, Burton is hard at work on the new Red Hot Chili Peppers records, which is not going to be on his label.

  And, I just wanted to say that I see him take a lot of shit from indie blogs like Pitchfork and people like Stereogum commenters, and now having met the guy a couple times, it just all seems really unfair.  It seems like people punish him for making a living, like he's supposed to say know when bands like the Black Keys and U2 want to work with him.  There is a WORLD of difference between Burton and hit chasers like Max Martin- super producers who only care about the charts.

  With Pitchfork, it's like he stood them up at a prom or something, so deep is the animus.  They take shots at him for no reason whatsoever, and it's been a decade since they said something nice about one of his projects.  Honestly, I can't even imagine what has spurred such a deep and lasting antagonism but like all things Pitchfork hates, it probably relates to his failure to lick their asshole with sufficient spittle.  Pitchfork hates a dry rim job.

  I often read people saying that he makes "boring" records, by which they must mean he makes records that normal people listen to and want to buy in 2015.  So what if he wants to make records people actually hear? 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Bridge on the Drina (1945) by Ivo Andrić


Book Review
The Bridge on the Drina (1945)
by Ivo Andrić


  They don't give out the Nobel Prize for Literature for a specific work, rather it's supposed to represent the recipients contribution to literature over the course of a career.  That said, it's often the case that a particular winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is represented in the English canon by a single work, representing the difficulties of translation and maintaining a market for works that aren't written in English and aren't about English speaking peoples.

  Andric is in the canon representing Bosnia.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961, and The Bridge on the Drina is his representative work, so to speak.  Despite the fact  that the United States kind of fought a little war because of Bosnia a couple decades ago,  real facts about the area are hard to come by.    The Bridge on the Drina is more of a history than a novel.  Drina is a town on the eastern side of Bosnia near the border with Serbia.  Historically, it was part of the Ottoman Empire, then the Austrian Empire, then Yugoslavia.  This book covers the whole story through World War I, more or less.  The characters are Muslims, Serbs and Jews.  Each portion is another novella/short story about the people of Drina and the bridge more often serves as a plot point than an overarching metaphor.

  One of the aspects of Bosnia history that is occluded in the West, is the class issues between Muslims and Serbs in Bosnia.  At the time of the Ottoman conquest, the Bosnian monarch was a Bogomill- a kind of Manichean heretical sect of Christianity.   The land owning classes converted to Islam en masse, as did many, but not all, of the peasant class.  The Ottoman rule was tolerant, you couldn't really get anywhere as a non-Muslim but you were free to worship whomever.  The Ottoman's also used Bosnia as a hunting ground for white slaves, often called "Mamelukes."  White slavery was common under the Ottoman's, but it was also a well established path to high positions in the civilian or military aristocracy.  It is one of these slaves who is responsible for getting the bridge built in the first place.

   Anyway, the Bosnian Muslims were slavs as much as the Serbs and Croatians, but they were integrated into the Muslim world of the Middle Ages, and the Serbs and Croats were left to their own devices more or less.  So, in Bosnia, the Serbs and Croats were a kind of underclass, and the Bosnian Muslims fought for the Turks and owned land throughout the rest of the Ottoman lands of Europe.  And the Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats all spoke the same south Slavic language. 

  The next chapter involves the Austrians moving in and taking over from the Turks.   This didn't make a terrific amount of sense- on the one hand, the Bosnian Muslims considered themselves party of the Ottoman Empire, loyal subjects, so to speak, who had no beef with their Ottoman overlords.  The Austrians, Catholics of course, were actively opposed to the ambitions of the other south Slavs- Orthodox Serbs and Croatians, and the Serbs and Croats hated the Austrians in a way familiar to anyone schooled in the rise of Nationalism at a global level.

   This book cuts off before shit got really messy in World War II, with the Serbs allied with the Russians, the Croatians with the Nazis and the Bosnians with the Serbs more or less.  But forty years of Communism did nothing to erase the grudges that built up during the better part of a millennium of economic and religious animosity.  Andric also includes the Jews as the third ethnicity of Drina, but even as the book ends their star is in clear decline and en route to extinction. 

  The Bridge on the Drina earns its place on the basis of the history.  The characters take a back seat to the historical perspective, most notably in that the characters change over time- it isn't the "story of a family over a time" but the story of a city and a people.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Event Preview: Echo Park Rising 2015


Event Preview:
Echo Park Rising 2015
this Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

  I am now a card (library) carrying resident of Echo Park, and this will be my first Echo Park Rising as a resident.  I am a big booster of the Echo Park area.  The socio-economic diversity is something that I require.  I could have been living in the suburbs for over a decade at this point but I feel like that is nothing but a slow death.  When I saw I like socio economic diversity, that extends to features that other folks dislike: the homeless, gang activity, dirty streets.  On a weekly basis I commute from my house in Echo Park (rented) to my auxiliary law office in Beverly Hills, and I can hardly stand Beverly Hills because it's so, "Nice."

Echo Park Rising is developing into a decent size event- the Eastsider Blog says 10,000 are expected and the temperature is supposedly going to reach the 90s, so here are some tips:

HOW TO GET TO ECHO PARK RISING/PARKING TIPS

The multi block lot that runs behind Sunset is the only lot type parking in the area- it will likely fill up first, so unless the plan is to get to the festival hell of early don't count on it.  Most street parking around Sunset is metered.  Parking is available in the neighborhood but beware of the Dodger game traffic coming and going.  You are going to want to avoid taking Glendale Avenue south or arriving from East and West on Sunset.

If you are an Uber/Lyft  type I would go with that- but make sure you put some thought into your pick up/drop off point- you don't want to deal with Sunset itself.

BANDS/VENUES TO SEE

FRIDAY

  Friday the action will be starting in the late afternoon (which stretching until like 730 PM at this point in the summer.)  I think the main stage is the only real option here, with Dengue Fever/Man or Astroman at the top of the bill.  Dengue Fever is one of those bands you feel obligated to see at least once, and Man or Astroman is a fun band that puts on a good show and doesn't play too often.  That would be between 8 and 10 PM on the main stage.

SATURDAY

 Hannibal Buress takes the main stage at 4:20 PM, you don't want to miss him: very funny.  If you are of the indie pop persuasion you might want to head over to the Lost Knight to see the Summer Twins, who are a pair (sisters?) of women who play indie pop style music- that's a 7 PM start, though I would bet on the stage running late at that place (The Lost Knight.)  Jerome LOL has a set at 11 PM at the Echoplex- that will probably be a crazy scene.  Also, don't miss the Blue Collar Dog space being used as a venue- I think that will be interesting.  I am lukewarm to cold on the Saturday night main stage headliners, J Rocc, Deap Valley and Hanni El Khatib, but that's just a personal take and I'm sure that stage will be well attended.

   Also, Wax Idols plays Origami Vinyl at 5 PM.  What a great way to start out your weekend!
SUNDAY

 Sunday, of course, features the soon to be legendary "Burger vs. Lollipop" stage, and I'm going to just print the whole schedule:

12:20pm – 12:50pm  June Holiday
1:10pm – 1:40pm  Aldous RH
2:00pm – 2:30pm  The Mollochs
2:50pm – 3:20  Billy Changer
3:40pm – 4:10pm  Vision
4:30pm – 5:00pm  So Many Wizards
5:20pm – 5:50pm  Adult Books
6:10pm – 6:40pm  Pastilla
7:00pm – 7:30pm   Dante Elephante
7:50pm – 8:20pm  Santoros
8:40pm – 9:10pm Peach Kelli Pop
9:30pm – Close  Corners

   This is taking place at the Echo and I think it is obviously the only place to be Sunday, and also the most blogworthy/interesting event of the Weekend.  I'm not saying I like IT or that any of it is GOOD or that the people there won't SMELL BAD but I might have said the exact same three things about Woodstock or the first Lollapalooza, so what do I know.  It could be the actual dawning of the age of Aquarius.

Also, Frankie Rose is doing an "under play" at Origami Vinyl, that is something I'd like to see but probably won't because it will be such a clusterfuck.

TAKING BREAKS FROM THE FESTIVAL

  Walk down to Echo Park Lake and buy something from one of the illegal vendors selling everything from soft drinks, to bacon wrapped hotdogs, to Mexican style corn, to candy.  There is also a quality restaurant at the Boathouse, and they've recently expanded their (all outdoor) seating.  That is the place to go if you are in the neighborhood and looking to "chill out."

  Another good spot to "chill out" would be the Sunset Beer Company- located a block or two towards downtown from the main strip.  They have a TON of rare beers and you can drink them in a little space they have set up next to the main shop. 

  If you want a "real meal" I would recommend Kush, which is walking distance but far enough away that random people don't wind up there till later in the evening- going early you are probably guaranteed to get a table.


   Kudos to all the sponsors:  The Echo, The Echoplex, Bedrock LA, DO LA, Taix, Golden Road Brewery, Lassens and a bunch of other sponsors who I won't list here.  The fact that it is all free is significant and worth remarking upon.

Show Review: Jason Isbell at the Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA.


Show Review:
Jason Isbell
at the Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA.

  As a member of the seminal alt-country-southern-indie-rock band Drive By Truckers, Isbell was a Pitchfork darling before the term existed.  As a sober solo artist, he's traded indie cred for the vaster vistas of a number one record on the country, rock and folk charts.  You might say he's losing his edge (Pitchfork gave the new record a 5) but a number one record on three specialty Billboard charts at the same time is what you trade Pitchfork acclaim FOR, in an ideal world.

  I was never a 'Truckers fan, as I heard Drive By Truckers referred to last night at the Wiltern.  I saw Isbell for the first time at Stagecoach a couple years ago, and he made a deep impression, simply on the strength of his song writing and delivery.  It's not every day you see an artist perfectly blend Country, Rock and Folk without one element overwhelming the others, but with Jason Isbell, that is what you get.  Whenever I contemplate Isbell's career, I'm reminded from one of the Simpson's Treehouse of Horror Episodes, "He was too crazy for Boys Town, and too much of a boy for Crazy Town."  

  The show last night conclusively demonstrated that Isbell has his fans, and he has written plenty of hits, but that he hasn't yet penetrated mass culture to the point where he is licensing his songs for truck ads.  Shows at the Wiltern are good for judging the extent to which a particular artist has transcended their genre by the number of music industry insiders that show up to a show.  Last night, there were many, many, many devoted fans, but the industry was under represented, the reserved tables in the back of the room, empty.

  Isbell's parade of hits during a two hour set left me grasping for reasons why he hasn't broken through to mainstream success (although a number one record will probably qualify as said mainstream success) and they are probably similar to why he was able to be a part of a band that had such insider credibility.

 Isbell's audience are a well mannered bunch, and anyone can see that they are people who have been with him for a long time.  At one point, Isbell actually thanked the audience for not heading to the exits when he played material from the new record- hardly what one would expect when said record is number one on the Billboard Album chart.

  The Wiltern is a great venue for making an artistic statement, and Isbell's two hour set was  a tour de force.  I suppose his next level would be having a number one single, and there is no question in my mind that he has it in him. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Last Lizard (fmr. Dirty Beaches) Announces Show in Montreal



Last Lizard (fmr. Dirty Beaches) Announces Show in Montreal
POP Montreal and Fixture Records present:
Last Lizard + Homeshake + Freelove Fenner + Chevalier Avant Garde + Mavo
Thursday September 17th 2015
La Vitrola – Montreal
$10 in advance / $12 at the door
Doors 8:30 PM / Show 9 PM


   I am as interested as anyone as to what "Last Lizard" the new project/record label by Alex Zhang Hungtai, F/K/A Dirty Beaches.  As near as I can tell it will involve free form saxophone and plaintive piano riffs, but beyond that I couldn't tell you.  I know that Alex has kept himself occupied in Los Angeles the last few months doing film soundtracks, taking meetings about doing film soundtracks and landing a couple syncs. He lives in East Los Angeles, right next to Cal State Los Angeles, if you know where that is.

    I know he has concrete plans to release multiple projects, some 'free form' and instrumental, and others which will have more market appeal, over this year and (mostly) next year.  I've agreed to help with the label, but nothing is in writing, so there are no binding plans. In my experience, in the music business, a written contract means one party is trying to ensure their legal right to fuck over the counter party.  Many, many high level management deals, booking agents, etc are settled without recourse to written contracts, but with corporate owned entities the contract rules.

   I have enjoyed doing absolutely nothing with the music business this year.  It is just as satisfying for me to watch and not have any "skin in the game." If you are an intelligent person you learn just as much if not more from careful observation vs. actually doing it yourself.   In certain circumstances, you need to be able to do something after witnessing it being done without having first having done it yourself.  That's just a life lesson.  So even though I'm basically out of the game until and if this Last Lizard label starts up, seeing the high level music business stuff go down at my girlfriend's office satisfies that part of me, because I see how stuff gets done.  

   Personal relationships that involve both parties making tremendous amounts of money is what I would report back.   Make someone a ton of money once and they will let you try again, and if they won't someone else will.  Don't make someone a ton of money and you need to front the money yourself or find someone who believes in taking the risk.  That's what I've learned about the entertainment industry this year.


Back (1946) by Henry Green


Book Review
Back (1946)
by Henry Green

  Is this the last Henry Green title in the 1001 Books project?  It is!  Green is well represented in the 1001 Books project with entries ranging from his first novel, Blindness (1926) to this book, published in 1946.  In between there are Living, Loving and Party Going- published in one volume here in the United Sates.  You've also got Caught.   Back and Caught can both be called World War II novels, albeit from the perspective of someone on the home front.  In Back, the protagonist is Charley Summers,  a veteran who has been released from a German prisoner of war camp (not a concentration camp) as part of a prisoner exchange.  He has lost a leg in the war.

 He returns home having heard that his lover, Rose, has died, while he was away at war.  What is not immediately clear is that Rose was seeing two men at once, and she married the other guy, and had a kid with him.  Summers gets a job at a machine tools plant, in a white collar capacity.  The Father of the deceased Rose gives him the name and number of a mysterious stranger, who turns out to be the half sister of Rose- her father's child with another man.

  After that, Summers gets kind of obsessed, and begins an equally creepy with friendship with Rose's husband.   I would say that Back is the most interesting of all the Green titles in the 1001 Books project.   Summers is the most off-kilter Green hero I can think of, and the subject of post-War trauma is as topical as it was in 1946.

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