Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Of Human Bondage (1915) by W. Somerset Maugham

Book Review
Of Human Bondage (1915)
by W. Somerset Maugham

 Of Human Bondage is a top novel of the early 20th century, thoroughly modern if not quite modernist.  Supposedly autobiographical in nature, Of Human Bondage tells the story of Philip Carey, an orphaned boy with a club foot, who is sent to live with his Uncle and Aunt in their vicarage in rural England.  Maugham takes Philip through school, then off to Germany and Paris; where Carey/Maugham tries and fails to become a painter.   Then it is back to London, where Carey decides to pursue medical studies.

  Carey falls for the completely unsympathetic, unlikable Mildred, a shop girl, who Carey literally ruins himself for, only to be betrayed in the most awful and contemptible fashion REPEATEDLY.  Maugham himself was gay (he also got married because being Gay was totes uncool in the UK in the early 20th century) but Of Human Bondage has the strong scent of a gay man trying to make sense of heterosexual relationships in the same way that a deaf person tries to appreciate music.  Carey has some idea that he should be in love with a woman, but has trouble really feeling it.

  The happy ending, with Carey settling down with the daughter of his friend, seems grounded more in prudence then romantic love.  Of Human Bondage is a clear forerunner to the genre of 20th century literature where a son of the middle class loses his way to bohemianism and uncertainty.   Any fan of Orwell's Down and Out in London and Paris or On The Road will enjoy Of Human Bondage- but be ready for a 600 page book. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Show Review: Perfect Pussy and the history of Straight Edge Hardcore in Syracuse New York.

Don't fuck with Meredith Graves, Perfect Pussy.

Show Review:
 Perfect Pussy
and the Fascist Hardcore Aesthetic
Che Cafe, San Diego, CA.

   First of all, I thought the Perfect Pussy show was great! So many enthusiastic young people experiencing the hardcore rite of passage, with pogoing, people hanging from the rafters and of course the band itself, combining note perfect post hard core with a pixie cut sporting front woman who is channeling the performance vibe of an early Fugazi era Ian MacKaye and the look of a manic pixie dream girl.  After speaking to their publicist (who I also use for my label) it sounds like she is more of the former than the latter. The band is elevated from the terrain of a "regular" hardcore band through the subtle use of electronics to fill in the sound. This puts them more in the category of "post-hardcore" typified by Nation of Ulysses, the Refused and their noisier compatriots.

 It is hard to write about Perfect Pussy without writing about the Syracuse straight edge hard core scene. Syracuse is famously home to Earth Crisis, the most militant and one of the most long running straight edge hard core bands of all time.  Straight Edge was a variety of hardcore that melded the shaved head, jack booted proto-fascist look of English OI punk with left/liberal political positions of eschewing drugs or alcohol, veganism and larger issues related to animal rights.   Straight Edge hard core bands were often sonically and stylistically indistinguishable from their non-straight edge hard core brethren.

  Minor Threat(1980-1983), for all intents and purposes invented straight edge in Washington DC.  By the early 90s, straight edge had piggy backed onto the growth of non-straightedge hardcore and bands began to emerge from secondary markets.  In 1989, Earth Crisis, which proved to be one of the most durable and articulate proponents of straight edge ideology emerged out of Syracuse.  It's important to understand that Earth Crisis emerged from an already existing non-straight edge hardcore scene.

 Straight Edge culture directly influenced Riot Grrl- there were long standing links between Riot Grrl bands based in the North West and the straight edge scene on the east coast, particularly in Washington DC.  The most concrete example is in the area of DIY touring, where hardcore, straight edge hardcore and non denominated diy punk acts were able to criss cross the country throughout the 80s and 90s.  This touring circuit proved to be a breeding ground for a generation of indie fans and artists.

  Thus, the emergence of Meredith Graves and Perfect Pussy in 2014 makes a great deal of sense.  While not actually espousing the politics of straight edge hard core, Graves' no nonsense public demeanor and the general sound and look of the band reference that era.  The straight edge hey day of the mid to late 80s/early 90s is far enough in the distance so that the less pleasant secondary aspects of straight edge hardcore culture don't inhibit acceptance by a larger audience.

  Judging from the enthusiastic response last night, Perfect Pussy have stuck a court with their contemporary spin on a decades old DIY culture staple. And more power to them is what I say. They hit the jack pot, they should ride the wave. 

L'eclisse (1962) d. Michelangelo Antonioni

Monica Vitti all day ery day

Movie Review
L'eclisse (1962)
d. Michelangelo Antonioni
Criterion Collection #278

  If you are keeping count that is FOUR Antonioni films I've tackled via the Criterion Collection.  Let's see you've got Red Desert (1964), Identification of a Woman (1982),  L'Avventura (1960) and this one.  I've basically learned two things: First, Monica Vitti is super hot and stylish.  Second, Antonioni was the first feature film maker who made boring movies by design.  You can call him Modernist or whatever you want but all of this movies are slow and that is the intent and what makes them Antonioni films.  Static composition, long takes, lengthy silences- Antonioni in a nutshell.

 In L'eclisse, Vitti stars opposite Alain Delon, the (handsome) French actor as a bored something-or-other who falls out of love with one man and in love with another against the backdrop of a financial panic (Delon is a stock broker.)

 Like all of Antonioni's films, the plot is almost besides the point, what counts if the atmosphere.  There is plenty of atmosphere

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Under Fire: the story of a squad (Le Feu: journal d'une escouade) by Henri Barbusse

Trench warfare during World War I was not fun.

Book Review
Under Fire: the story of a squad
 (Le Feu: journal d'une escouade)
by Henri Barbusse
p. 1916

  You would expect a novel about trench warfare on the Western Front during World War I, and Under Fire: the story of a squad, is dark indeed.  Under Fire is typically called the "first" novel about World War I, and considering that it was actually published while the war was still happening, I'd say it's a fair cop.

  My sense is that it's hard for people living today to understand just how down everyone was for World War I before it started.  The "horrors of war" are accepted even by people in favor of participation in war.  Back then it was different, and World War I was actually greeted with widespread enthusiasm and patriotism by the various European populations who would soon sacrifice their sons and daughters by the thousands.

  I've actually been to the area described in this book, and seen many of the locations Barbusse describes in the course of Under Fire.  A century on you can still feel the death in the air,  but Barbusse's first hand descriptions grimly bring the nightmarish reality of trench warfare to life.  There is no magical patriotism in Under Fire, just the grim reality of carnage and death. A sobering read to be sure.

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