Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Dead Babies (1975) by Martin Amis

Book Review
Dead Babies (1975)
 by Martin Amis

  As deeply, deeply, deeply tired as I am of the English Novel, I can not help but notice the similarity between the scabrous modern characters of Martin Amis, that late 20th century English novelist par excellance, and my own particular character traits.  That the characters in Dead Babies are so obviously terrible is enough to give me pause and perhaps detract a trifle from the pleasure of the material, but it is hard to avoid the roots of my own world-view in Amis' own weltanschaaung.

 "Scabrous" that's one word you can use to describe the characters in Dead Babies.  "Dated" would certainly describe the loose plot, about a half dozen wealthy-ish young English and Americans who are gathered in a country house of a weekend of booze, drugs and debauchery.  Almost every single one of them is truly hateful.  Fans of the wicked 80's fiction of Brett East Ellis and Jay McInerney will be happy to find those two authors literary antecedent, and fans of Eveyln Waugh will be happy to find his successor.   

  Dead Babies got dropped from the revised edition of the 1001 Books list, and it is easy to understand that decision.  Dead Babies is at its most effective when it provokes nausea in the reader. That is perhaps a recipe for notoriety, but not for longevity. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Show Review: Nine Pound Shadow @ Schoolnight in Hollywood CA

Show Review:
Nine Pound Shadow
@ Schoolnight in Hollywood CA

  When I heard that Brian "Dangermouse" Burton was starting a label with Columbia Records my first reaction was, "Why ever would he want to do that?"  Not to compare my five years running an indie label with the experience that Burton was going to have, but I do have a solid understanding of the economics of running a record label, independently or otherwise, and it is just fucking rough in 2016.  Not impossible, and certainly easier if you have Columbia to write reasonably sized checks when asked, but still.

   That label is 30th Century Records and it has been most interesting to watch it come together.  Of course, I hear of developments over the dinner table, so to speak.  I was never skeptical or cynical about the idea, having met the man enough to know that he is genuinely interested in signing unknown artists and developing them as professionals.  Nine Pound Shadow was one of the first signings.  I would stress that we are talking modest contracts, but backed by the  full faith and credit of Columbia Records.  They are two brothers from Berkeley, CA.  Their act is built around their ability to harmonize, wistful songwriting and a decent amount of between song stage patter.

  The immediate comparison, based on my recent experience, is the Americana Award Winning act, Milk Carton Kids, who are bigger than I would have possibly expected.  Like Milk Carton Kids, the emphasize is on the harmonies and the personalities of the performers.   It occurred to me while watching that Nine Pound Shadow would be well advised to pursue the Americana angle, because it is a hot angle and they fit into it.  I mean you can be folk in 2016 and it counts as Americana, and Americana sounds better.

 Watching them perform live, it was quite easy to see the potential, because I literally watched Milk Carton Kids perform to a theater of adoring fans in a Nashville theater, and Nine Pound Shadow have a similar vibe as well as the backing of Columbia via 30th Century. 

Grimus (1975) by Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie's 1975 "science fiction" first novel Grimus found neither a critical nor popular audience when it was published initiatlly, rather, recognition came after the crticial success of 1981's Midnight's Children.
Grimus (1975)
 by Salman Rushdie

 Salman Rushdie's second novel, Midnight's Children, won the Booker Prize and catapulted Rushdie to international fame.  Grimus was Rushdie's first novel, and it was published as "science fiction" and roundly ignored AND when not ignored, ridiculed.   Rushdie's combination of source material ranging from 11th century Sufi poems to cutting edge academic French post-structuralist literary theory to the bildungsroman is well in evidence, but a novel that is difficult to understand even with full knowledge of Rushdie's subsequent work must have been especially baffling to the genre/literary critical audience in 1975, let alone a popular audience.

  It is difficult to really give the flavor of Grimus in a plot description.  Basically, there is a young Native American hermaphrodite who gains immortality.  He travels the world for 777 years, before he becomes bored and ends up going into a parallel dimension where there is an island for disaffected immortals, presided over by a mysterious presence known as Grimus.   None of this is stated in anything resembling a traditional narrative format.

  Within the narrative Rushdie encloses some sophisticated discussions about the nature of the Rousseau-ean led enlightenment in the 18th century.   Grimus is also a proper place to look for glimmerings of the "post-colonial" view point.  Again, it's easy to see how one might miss the genius that is enfolded within the "science fiction" label.  As science fiction or fantasy, Grimus is very much not either.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Fatelessness (1975) by Imre Kertesz

Image result for buchenwald
Buchenwald, the largest concentration camp established inside Germany, was different from Auschwitz, which was an extermination camp.
Book Review
Fatelessness (1975)
by Imre Kertesz

  Imre Keretsz was a Hungarian-Jewish author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002.  Fatelessness is his Holocaust memoir, and truly if it could ever be said that there is a book that shows the "lighter" side of the Holocaust experience, it is Fatelessness.   Kertesz was 14, working in a munitions factory in occupied Hungary when he was pulled off a bus along with every other Jew on the bus, and unceremoniously sent to Auschwitz to be sorted.  The consequences of sorting were drastic, with those deemed unfit sent to the gas chamber and crematorium.

   Kertesz captures the confusion of the victims well.   He believed that he was simply being taken to another job site and it isn't until that he is actually given a prisoner's outfit that he realizes what is happening to him.   "Fortunately" Kertesz was sent to Buchenwald, a true concentration camp, vs.  Auschwitz,  which was an extermination camp.  After hisarrival he suffers an injury and receives decent medical care from the mostly French medical staff, and is promptly liberated by American soldiers.

  Overall,  Kertesz seems bemused rather than horrified by the whole experience.  Some of this is no doubt attributed to his dry wit, but he does show that even in the middle of the darkest experience humanity can contemplate, there were many moments that allowed humans to be decent to one another on a personal level.

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