Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (1991) by Jung Chang

Book Review
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (1991)
 by Jung Chang

   The absence of titles from China on the first edition of the 1001 Books list is one of its greatest flaws.  Up to this point (the 1990's) the most memorable China-set novel on the 1001 Books list is Empire of the Sun, by J.G. Ballard, an Englishman.  At least Wild Swans is written by an author FROM China, even it was written in English, in England, after Jung Chang got out and never went back.  Although Wild Swans covers three generations, from the earliest part of the 20th century through the cultural revolution, the main attraction is Chang's description of the cultural revolution, details of which continue to be shrouded in mystery.

    Summarizing the cultural revolution isn't that difficult, basically, it was the largest country in the world turning into a Chinese version of Lord of the Flies.  Mao, worried about his power base, used children and teenagers to persecute his own officials, or "capitalist roaders" as they were called.  The victims of the cultural revolution were Mao's own loyal officials, the people in charge of implementing his revolution.  This came on top of his eradication of the capitalist/land owning class which preceded the cultural revolution.  Chang was the daughter of two upper level Chinese officials- both Mother and Father.

    She and her family aren't the most sympathetic types- but the chaos of early 20th century China makes the decision to enlist with the Communists seem like an easy choice to make.  After that- they were trapped.  Chang makes it clear how little even educated Chinese knew about the West in the 1960's and 1970's.  It is one hell of a wild ride.

Mao II (1991) by Don Delillo

Image result for mao II painting
Mao II print by Andy Warhol
Book Review
Mao II (1991)
by Don Delillo

  Before author Don Delillo entered into his brick-production period, he could write nimble little novels, and less nimble novels that were none the less under 300 pages.  Mao II, his tenth novel, shows him on the way to his "high Delillo" period of 100 page opening chapter set pieces set in baseball stadiums (Mao II opens with a Moonie "mass wedding" taking place in Yankee Stadium.");  but still not quite at the stage where his books are over 500 pages.

  Reclusive novelist Bill Gray is the center of Mao II.  Gray resembles a combination of J.D. Salinger (exclusiveness) and Ernest Hemingway (life style choices.)  Gray has been trying to finish his most recent book for decades, and his assistant, Scott, is worried because of what the completion and publication of his book will mean for their relationship, which can basically be expressed using the term "co dependency."

  After one hundred and fifty pages of hand wringing and existential angst, Gray gets roped into attempting to rescue a poet from a Marxist group of Lebanese rebels.   That's about it for the action.  Like many Delillo novels, it is the themes that the characters harp on in their quiet moments that provide the most lasting, memorable, moments.  Here, the effective theme is his prescient forecasting of a forthcoming "age of terror."  Spot on, that one. Good call.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Show Review: PRIESTS @ Ebell Club Highland Park

Image result for katie alice greer
PRIESTS Katie Alice Greer in a Merchandise music video.

Show Review:
@ Ebell Club Highland Park
Los Angeles, CA.

  If you can watch a PRIESTS show and not feel nostalgia for a dissipated youth, then you have no heart or soul.  PRIESTS hail from the Washington DC area, and they, I think, would have to be one of the flagbearers for the post-punk sound commonly associated with Dischord.   It's a sound and era I'm well familiar with, having attended undergraduate at American University in Washington DC, the home of Dischord.   It is a DIY ethos, and one that greatly influenced my own involvement in the production and distribution of popular music.   I fear that while the ethos has very much shaped the anarchic chaos of post-Napster music business, the sound itself is more of a museum piece than a living, vital situation.  If you want an example, take a look at SAVAGES, a band that has more Facebook friends than monthly listeners on Spotify.  That is nuts.  So people like to SAY they like Savages, but they don't actually LISTEN to Savages, is what that statistic tells me.

  So the question is, can PRIESTS escape from that box? Maybe.  They are a tight band- hardly an overnight sensation with records going back to 2012.  They've hooked up with a highly reputable management company, which shows that they have some understanding of the larger game (although the manager they selected is very DIY friendly.  The live show was very good- lead singer Katie Alice Greer has Karen O type potential.  Less clear is whether they can/will settle down and, you know, write songs with melodies and bridges and stuff.  Not very punk, but kind of a deal breaker in terms of gaining wider acceptance.  Not that they care about that bullshit!  I know they don't!

    Look at the progression of Jen Clavin of Mika Miko and Bleached, from punk screamer to proto-blueswoman. I'd never been to the venue- the Ebell Club in Highland Park, nor heard of the promoter, "Sid the Cat" who had his own merch, including t shirts which said, "I hope people show up," which I thought was kind of amazing.   The Ebell Club is like an old (in terms of year established) club for old(in terms of age) women- mostly white from what I could see.  A take on the Moose Lodge, with a classier "classical" vibe.  The room was very warm and the sound was excellent, parking was easy, I would go back, and see another show by the same promoter.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Midnight Examiner (1989) by William Kotzwinkle

Book Review
Midnight Examiner (1989)
 by William Kotzwinkle

   It's hard to take seriously a writer whose greatest claim to fame is the novelization of the "E.T." movie, but that is the situation with Kotzwinkle, who hardly covers up the fact in his more traditional books- "writer of the best selling novel of 1982" his book jackets proclaim.   I double checked to make sure that it was a novelization, and that Kotzwinkle hadn't written the underlying story that the film was based upon.

  While it's not fair to call him "forgotten"- after all- he is still alive and has his own website, etc., it is fair to say that he is a surprise inclusion in the 1001 Books project.  Based on Midnight Examiner, I still can't explain it entirely- he writes firmly in the 1960's American tradition of "wowee zowee," that shows influence from comic books an pulp fiction.  Midnight Examiner is based on classic supermarket tabloids like Weekly World News, those that would simply fabricate a fantastic headline for the hell of it.

  As I read Midnight Examiner, it did occur to me that this era was relevant to our own era of "fake news," but I'm not sure anyone is around who is reading Kotzwinkle to care.  With his combination of quasi-serious fiction, genre fantasy/sci fi and popular novelizations of popular films, Kotzwinkle is kind of a real-life Kilgore Trout, the (fictional) muse of Kurt Vonnegut's many novels.

Typical (1991) by Padgett Powell

Book Review
Typical (1991)
by Padgett Powell

   Padgett Powell is typically known as a writer from the "new South" or Southern literary tradition.  This is a line of literature essentially established by William Faulkner en toto, and then echoed by excellent writers like Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers.  Traditionally, this school was called "Southern Gothic" to indicate a level of creepiness that seems to go hand-in-hand with all the writers mentioned above.

  Powell, on the other hand, is more of a surrealist/post-modernist in the Donald Barthelme tradition, and Typical, which was his first collection of short stories, bears little in common with the other writers from the South, call it "Southern post-modernism."   Many of the short stories contained in Typical have little to no plot or even incident, characters go unnamed, statements go unexplained, none of it really makes sense but all of the stories carry an unabashed southern vibe, which extends to the outre practice of a white author using the word "Nigger" in more than one of these stories.

  I would have liked to get more out of Typical, and I would consider returning to Powell and going deeper into his fiction, but Typical didn't do it for me.

Show Review: Chris Stapleton & Margo Price @ Amsoil Arena Duluth Minnesota

Show Review: Chris Stapleton & Margo Price
 @ Amsoil Arena
 Duluth Minnesota

  I circled this show on the calendar when it came out for two reasons:  It was the first show on the run of dates Margo Price is doing with Chris Stapleton and second, Amy has a college friend who lives in the magical, little-known part of the world called Bayfield, Wisconsin, gateway to the Apostle Islands.   The show was in Duluth, and Bayfield is about two hours away.  Also, it was in the first week of August, which is pretty much the only time I can imagine taking a chance on the weather of upper Minnesota and upper Wisconsin.

    Chris Stapleton is a man at the top of his game- dominating country music while existing largely outside the grosser aspects of it's public "bro-country" persona.  This is not to say that Stapleton is an outsider- he made his Nashville industry bones the old fashioned way: He wrote hits for assholes who didn't deserve them (not Adele).   He spent 14 years in the trenches before he got his shot and then he took it like a guy sitting in a deer blind 100  yards away takes down a prize buck with his sited hunting rifle.

  Although Stapleton himself was not in evidence back stage, you could see that he is a class act- mainly from the craft service buffet, created by an east-Nashvillian with an excellent reputation as a chef.  I also heard that he personally reached out prior to the tour to make sure that any concerns on behalf of the support act were taken care of.  If you know ANYTHING about how opening bands are treated on tour by the headliner, you will realize how rare it is that a headliner would do something like that.

  The Amsoil Arena is a college hockey arena for the local university, University of Minnesota, Duluth, who are a fixture at the NCAA "frozen four" college hockey tournament.  Like everything in built up parts of Minnesota, it was linked together by tunnels and sky-bridges to other buildings in the Duluth Cultural-Entertainment complex- we spent most of our night in the dressing room of another, smaller arena which must have preceded the current one.

   Margo Price's opening set was warmly received by the already full arena.  The show was not a sell out, but according to available information, an arena sell out at the Amsoil Arena in Duluth Minnesota is rare to non existent.   By comparison, the next show on the tour, at a casino complex outside of St. Louis, was a sell out at just under 20k.

  Margo had just released her new EP, Weakness, and I returned from the weekend to this article, castigating "all those responsible" for releasing the new EP.  (Saving Country Music: Quit Releasing Music Via the Short Form EP- with 49 comments)   So mis-guided, that particular take, which is critical of the "surprise EP"- and I just wanted to take the time to say that literally every argument in that post, while perhaps applicable to other artists, is not applicable to Margo Price.

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