Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Show Review: Way Over Yonder Fest, Day 1: Local Natives, Lucinda Williams, Houndmouth, Bootstraps, Moses Sumney

Lucinda Williams played the Way Over Yonder Festival at the Santa Monica Pier

Show Review:
Way Over Yonder Fest, Day 1:
 Local Natives, Lucinda Williams, Houndmouth, Bootstraps, Moses Sumney
Santa Monica Pier

   Loyal readers will have certainly noticed a precipitous decline in the amount of writing about music  here.   This is a result of the combination of a number of factors:  Having said everything I have to say about "local music" (true for a number of years), some undisclosed changes in my participation in the record business, and an objective decline in the amount of shows attended.  It is a sad reality of this blog that the often exciting events in my life, as a criminal defense lawyer and record label owner must go undisclosed on this blog, leaving a steady diet of old book reviews in their stead.

  Yesterday I found myself on the Santa Monica pier for the first night of the two night Way Over Yonder Festival, a collaboration between the Echo and the Newport Folk Festival.  This was the second year for this festival- last year I saw Calexico, Justin Townes Earle and Jessica Pratt.  This year the main attraction was Lucinda Williams.
Bootstraps, played the Way Over Yonder festival- handsome lads indeed.

  Arrived at 430 PM sharp to see Bootstraps, a mainstream ready indie act, with radio friendly hits on tap, a professional stage presence and male model looks (literally) that is somehow label-less and playing the opening slot.  They had a Top 40 rock sound that reminded me of other Top 40 Adult Contemporary acts like The Script or The Fray.  The scuttlebutt among industry types in the crowd was that they had parted ways with indie leaning Capitol Records sub-label Harvest, which, if true, makes me wonder what the fucking fuck they are even doing at Harvest if they don't know what to do with Bootstraps.    I mean, they aren't in my income bracket, but if I had a spare hundred grand I wouldn't hesitate to try to get their song California on commercial rock/adult contemporary radio.
Houndmouth played the Way Over Yonder Festival at the Santa Monica Pier

   Second act was Houndmouth (not Houndsmouth, apparently) which I took in from the back of the pier while scarfing down an excellent fried chicken sandwich from the "Peaches" food truck.  During this episode it was clear that once again a show at the Santa Monica pier had delivered A plus people watching- which is  nowadays my primary criterion for whether or not I attend a show.  Houndmouth also had a highly professional stage presence, male and female vocals, and an accessible rock/country/americana sound.

Moses Sumney played the first day of Way Over Yonder fest.

  Moses Sumney was a bit of head scratcher as the sunset set pick- solo for much of the set with some accompaniment on acoustic guitar, he mixed singer songwriter material with more esoteric drone and electronic influenced music, none of which seemed to particularly impress the mellow crowd.

  The highlight was the set by Lucinda Williams.  I'm not a fan, but I know a priceless opportunity when I hear about one, and seeing Lucinda Williams play the Santa Monica pier is a priceless opportunity.  She opened strong with a couple of older hits, then veered into newer material that featured a heavy blues-rocks influence, and many, many, many lengthy guitar solos.  She also read her lyrics off of a lectern just to her right.  God bless her.  I have never seen so many middle aged white ladies dance with abandon as I did last night.

  Headliners, and Pitchfork approved, alt rock bros Local Natives took the stage to billowing clouds of pot smoke.   I've managed to totally avoid their rise to prominence. I'm not saying I hate Ian Cohen and everything he stands for, but his seal of approval was critical to me deciding to avoid them for the last few years.  But what can you say- they do know how to put on a show, they have an unpretentious stage presence and despite struggles with the sound mix, it was easy to see why people are into them.   If they are ever looking for a new band name, might I humbly suggest "Arcade Weekend?"  Good for them though, they have seemingly earned their success, and appear poised to become a top rank touring rock band.

  Again, the Santa Monica Pier earned high marks for people watching and just generally being an amazing place to see a live show.  I highly recommend it, and if you are so inclined, get down there today to see Jackson Browne play his hits.  18 million records sold IN THE US ALONE.  Running On Empty- it should be dope.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Artamonov Business (1927) by Maxim Gorky

Maxim Gorky: literary favorite of the Russian Communist regime

Book Review
The Artamonov Business (1927)
by Maxim Gorky

   Perhaps best described as a Russian version of a multi-generational family late Victorian book by Anthony Trollope grafted onto a Russian scene, Gorky's characters are unabashedly earthy, with a "just liberated from serfdom by the Czar" feel.   Like We by Yevgeny Zamytin, The Artmonov Business was tough to track down  Given how familiar the plot of the multi-generational family owning a factory feels to anyone familiar with 19th or 20th century English/American/French literature, it is surprising that The Artmonov Business isn't better known, but that may relate to Gorky's status as a pet of the Russian Communist dictatorship.

   Along with the earthiness comes a lustiness, which certainly is not reminiscent from late-Victorian/Edwardian English prose. Gorky's characters drink, carouse, kill bears for fun, screw, etc, etc, etc. In one particularly memorable scene the head of the second generation of the family heads to all Russian trade fair and goes on a week long bender, drinking and whoring like a world champion.

  The Communists would ultimately wipe out the nascent industrial class of Czarist Russia, and that gives the Artmonov's and their linen factory a certain elegiac quality, like a glimpse into a vanished past.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

We (1924) by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Cover detail from the Penguin Classics edition of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Book Review
We (1924)
by Yevgeny Zamyatin

 We was a tough get- had to request it from the UCSD library, and the version that showed up was a 2006(!) translation with a foreword by the writer Bruce Sterling.  We holds the double distinction of being the first dystopian novel- a genre that is currently enjoying a huge wave of popularity due to franchise level hits like The Hunger Games.  For many years, We was known only via a version published in Czechoslovakia.  That edition made it to London, where it was likely read by both George Orwell (1984) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World.)

  The foreword and translator's introduction point out that Zamyatin was a player in the literary circle of Maxim Gorky, one of the few Russian writers to make it through the revolution with the approval of the new government. Unlike Gorky, Zamyatin put forward a book that was easy to read as a critique of the incipient totalitarianism of the Communist regime.

  We has many of the features that define the dystopian novel: A world where rationalism has won out over feelings, an all seeing government that brooks no dissent, characters with  numbers instead of names, a male/female relationship that breaks down the boundary of the state: It's all there.  It's an obvious pick for people who are obsessed with The Hunger Games and want to win dystopian fan points, also for fans of early science fiction andddd of course it's a must for Russian Literature buffs. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Sound and the Fury (1929) by William Faulkner

Of course James Franco made a movie version of The Sound and the Fury this year (2014) and cast himself as Benjy Compson

Book Review
The Sound and the Fury (1929)
 by William Faulkner

   The Sound and the Fury is a well recognized classic of experimental modernism, typically listed alongside works of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf as exemplars of the narrative technique of "stream of consciousness," though The Sound and the Fury only uses a "true" stream of consciousness technique for one of the four parts of this book.  The Sound and the Fury is also notable because Faulkner is an AMERICAN modernist, and because he writes about the south.  I can think of several prior examples, but Faulkner is typically credited with the invention of Southern Literature.

  I would suspect that due to the combination of modernist technique/American parentage/Southern provenance, The Sound and the Fury is widely taught in college level literature courses.  How ironic (or fitting?) that the first hundred pages, he stream of consciousness ramblings of the mentally challenged Benjamin "Benjy" Compson should be such a famous example of American modernist literature.  One might well ask- as does the writer for the capsule summary of this title in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, why the first narrator of the American south in world literature is a retard obsessed with his sister's dirty panties, but perhaps to ask is to miss the point of modernist literature and literature period.

   Themes of virginity, incest, failure and suicide permeate the four portions of The Sound and the Fury.  The pure stream of consciousness of the first portion subsides into a more conventional last 3 quarters of the novel, with the last section even adopting a classic third person narrator for the segment involving Dilsey, the Compson families long-suffering African American maid.  The "difficult" tag so affixed to The Sound and the Fury really only fits for that first portion- afterwards the reader can expect a relatively placid stroll through the caverns of incest, suicide and madness that Faulkner used to create his world of southern literature.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fat Girl (2001) d. Catherine Breillat

Anais Reboux and Roxane Mesquida in Fat Girl, directed by Catherine Breillat

Movie Review
Fat Girl (2001)
 d. Catherine Breillat
Criterion Collection #259

  Fat Girl is a film that retains the capacity to shock a viewer nearly fifteen years after the initial showing.  Like many films, Fat Girl was, and continues to be, controversial because of the frank depiction of what we would call "underage" girls having sex.  Anais, the Fat Girl of the title, and played by Anais Reboux, is the 13 year old younger sister (by two years) of the thinner, more attractive Elena (played by Roxane Mesquida.)  On vacation, the two engage in some frankly sexual banter, before Elena promptly hooks up with Fernando, an older law student.  Elena and Fernando start out with a little light anal sex when Elena balks at going "all the way," "It's a proof of your love." he whispers to her as a horrified Anais listens to her sister howl.

   Things escalate from there, with Fernando giving Elena an antique ring and promise of engagement in exchange for her virginity.  Fernando's Mom shows up to reclaim the heirloom, Anais and Elena's Mother is furious and drives them home.  They stop for the night at a rest stop, and an axe murderer kills Elena and their Mom, and drags Anais into the woods where he rapes her.  The next morning, she is pulled stumbling out of the woods, and denies being raped.  ROLL CREDITS.

  Breillat moves the story along at a brisk pace, more sitcom than elegiac French feature.  Anais is simply a witness to her sister's immolation, she is alternately loved and abused by the more attractive Elena, and in an intimate moment she says that the parents play them off against one another.  The ambiguity of the rape/not rape at the hands of the crazed axe murderer inevitably leads someone watching to go back and reconsider the rest of the film.  Perhaps what at first seemed like a moderately harmless sexual adventure is meant to represent something much deeper and darker. Or perhaps it's just a crazy ass ending!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Harriet Hume (1929) by Rebecca West

Book Review
Harriet Hume (1929)
by Rebecca West

 The 1920s is actually the first decade in the 1001 Books Project that just seems insane.  277 titles in, the titles published in the 1920s are almost a fourth of that total (57 posts with 1920s literature label, 7 of which are Criterion Collection films.  Harriet Hume is actually the fiftieth title from the 1001 Books Project that I've tackled. There are probably another dozen or so books left to read, including Remberance of Things Past (3000 pages) and Ulysses (900 pages.)  Those two books are the functional equivalent of another 13 volumes, which means it's more like another 30 books to go, on top of the 50 already read.

  I don't believe this huge jump in volume is some kind of fluke.  I think there was drastic expansion of the field of "literature" in the 1920s that was the product of an increase in people "going to college" in core western markets, combined with the spread of the publishing industry to hitherto untapped markets for books.  It is also likely that the increase in the volume of literature was directly related to the good fortune that many people experienced in the west prior to the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression.

   Rebecca West is an author working out of the literary center of the world (London) but with an Irish (i.e. outsiders) perspective. She was very much involved in the London literary scene, going so far as to bear the illegitimate child of H.G. Wells, and she lands titles on the 1001 Books List in multiple decades.  The other 1920s title that Harriet Hume resembles is Orlando by Virignia Woolf, which also introduces an element of fantasy into an otherwise non-fantastical story about people ad their relationships.

  In Harriet Hume, the title character has an honest-to-God ability to know the thoughts of her paramour Arnold Condorex, a young politician who rises and falls within the context of the novel.  Although the publishers of the Virago Press "Women and Fiction" edition are keen to compare her to Robert Louis Stevenson in terms of her ability to be fantastical, I again, track back to Orlando, where the fantastic element is muted by the very real human emotions expressed by the characters.

 Here it's the same way, Harriet surely does have a fairy like quality, but Condorex is a 20s literature archetype: the striving man on the move trying to escape his penniless roots.   He is hardly a Prince Charming, whereas Hume is like a precursor to the manic pixie dream girl.  Were Harriet Hume written by a man, you might call her character insulting to women, but Hume is obviously written with great sympathy by West.

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