Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Martin Eden (1909) by Jack London


Book Review
Martin Eden (1909)
by Jack London


  I read Martin Eden for the first time in 2004, part of a survey of early 20th century west-coast literature- Frank Norris is another example.   London is canonical in  his own right, a socialist version of Joseph Conrad and his south-sea adventure stories.  Unlike Conrad, London was appreciated in his own day, a genuine early 20th century literary celebrity.  Like many of the more daring early 20th century authors, London wasn't a prize winner in his day.  Generally speaking, literary prizes awarded prior to World War II have less influence on the contemporary canon.  What is more important is that said author is still read today, and here London, by virtue of his early arrival on the American West Coast, has staked a century long claim to be the author for early 20th century Pacific America.

  In that way, Martin Eden is his most unusual book, an honest to god Kunstlerroman, or narrative about the growth to maturity of an artist- the cousin of the more familiar Bildungsroman "coming of age" story.  Heavily steeped in the time and place of the narrative- early 20th century Oakland and San Francisco, London's working-class artist-hero takes in a set of influences unfamiliar to most contemporary readers.  To take any kind of interest in the intellectual discussions which permeate Martin Eden, you need to have a solid background late 19th century philosophy, for none of the characters are what you would call "cutting edge" in their reference points.

  Readers expecting the ripping yarns of London's more familiar books like Call of the Wild will find nothing here for them- just four hundred pages of an artist struggling for survival.  If on the other hand you are a fan of other Kunstlerroman's, like Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell, or Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, you are likely to be delighted, even if you don't care for London's other books.

Frankenstein in Baghdad (2013) by Ahmed Saadawi


Book Review
Frankenstein in Baghdad (2013)
by Ahmed Saadawi

  Congratulations to author Olga Tokarczuk and translator Jennifer Croft for their 2018 Booker International Prize win for their work on Tokarczuk's novel, Flights.  Frankenstein in Baghdad by Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi was a short-list nominee for the same prize, and I was finishing Frankenstein in Baghdad when the winner was announced.  It hasn't been easy to lay hands on the shortlist nominees, let alone the longlist nominees for this award.  Based in the UK, many of the titles either don't have a United States publisher or are only published after the nominations are announced.  I was pleased to find an Ebook copy in the Los Angeles Public Library, and I only had to wait a month to check out the copy.

  I was excited about reading Frankenstein in Baghdad because of the combination of theme and place.  Theme: the timeless modern tale of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. Place: Iraq in the aftermath of the United States invasion (second), when Baghdad was a seething cauldron of oft violent competing interests. Into this familiar but little explored (in a literary sense) territory, Saadawi introduces his cast of characters, a Christian grandmother, deserted by her family, a junk dealer and the restless spirit of a Muslim security guard killed by a suicide bomber.

  Here, the creator of the corpse is not a doctor, but a junk-man, struggling to cope with the ongoing trauma of post-invasion Iraq.  He pieces the monster together from the body parts of bombing victims.  Shortly thereafter, the monster is infused by the spirit of the departed security guard and given shelter by the Christian grandmother, who thinks the monster is her long-dead son, Daniel.

  Meanwhile, a Baathist security officer, in charge of the supernatural crime unit of the Baghdadi police force, hunts the monster for reasons entirely his own. Saadawi uses a journalist as a major narrator and protagonist, simply to maneuver the awkwardness of featuring a monster as your main character. A lengthy portion is narrated by the monster himself, surely a violation of Frankenstein's monster canon.  Surely Frankenstein in Baghdad is a surreal take on a very real horror, and it is hard not to admire the work.  Major bonus points for an Iraqi novelist writing in Arabic.  Shame it didn't win!

The Story of Lucy Gault (2002) by William Trevor


Book Review
The Story of Lucy Gault  (2002)
by William Trevor


  It's hard to write about The Story of Lucy Gault without ruining it, since the big plot surprise happens in the first 20 pages.    The story takes place in the Irish country side, in the early 1920's, as the Troubles are engulfing Ireland.  Captain Everhard Gault is a lesser member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, he and his wife Heloise live with their young daughter, Lucy on an isolated estate.

  After a frightening encounter with local vigilantes opposed to English rule in Ireland, Gault makes the decision to exit Ireland.  Upset with the decision, young Lucy decides to run away, a decision that tragically leaves the parents thinking that she is dead.  They then depart, leaving Lucy behind.  The families solicitor spends the next several decades looking for Everhard and Heloise, who are living the peripatetic live of wealthy wanderers.  Lucy grows up, alone, still living in the family home.

  The literature of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy seems to be a particular obsession of the English, as supposed to the Irish.  Or perhaps it is better to say that it is a well established example of the hybrid literature from the global south that has made such deep inroads into global, English language literary markets.   Lucy herself is an example of this particular culture made flesh, living out a wasted life in the wilds of Ireland, but a story that resonates with readers living in global cities a century later. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Show Review: Margo Price & Tyler Childers @ The Ryman Auditorium w/ Jack White and Sturgill Simpson


Image result for margo price ryman
Margo Price and Sturgill Simpson at the Ryman Auditorium, in Nashville. 

Show Review: Margo Price & Tyler Childers
@ The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville Tennessee
 w/ Jack White and Sturgill Simpson

  The decline of show review on this blog is directly attributable to the fact that I'm usually going to shows as a plus one of someone who either manages or works for or with the manager of the headlining artist.   I now know that rare is the artist who doesn't keep track of their mentions on the internet, particularly when it's a long form/think piece type, even the writer is far from being popular or affiliated with a prominent news source.  There has also been a recent decline in the number of such articles- music blogs have been dead for almost as long as they were alive, and those that survived have morphed into Tumblr style post and link style sites that rarely bother to include critical writing.

  For example, I went to the Jack White show at the Mayan earlier this year, but I wouldn't write about it for fear that he would read the review and not like something about it- even something that was not intentionally negative, and it would get back to my boo.  That's bad form.   Margo Price I consider a friend.  I loudly take credit for being the conduit being Price and her current management team at Monotone on the basis that I saw the first posting on Spin.com about her debut record on Third Man Recordings (Jack White, managed by Monotone) and told my girlfriend, fan of the Stagecoach Festival and the first five seasons of Nashville, the television show.   She drew the attention of her boss, the rest is history.

  It's flimsy, sure, but fortunes are made on less in this town(Los Angeles), where providing an introduction is a way-of-life as specific as court etiquette in 18th century France.   My original thought is that Margo Price had the potential to be a country artist with an audience beyond the traditional country music audience.  At the time I heard of Margo, I had already seen Sturgill Simpson in Los Angeles and so I was far from surprised when the success of Margo played  a role in the description of a new movement of Outlaw Country/Americana artists.  Margo herself hates the label, "Outlaw Country."  She uses "Modern Traditional County" on her Facebook profile, but there is no denying the wave, led by Chris Stapelton at the very pinnacle, and followed by Sturgill, Jason Isbell, Margo, Tyler Childers, Nikki Lane and a host of others, many of whom have lengthy ties to the East Nashville neighborhood.

   For those and many other reasons, Margo Price's three night stand at the Ryman Auditorium, the hallowed "Mother Church" of County Music, and long time home of the Grand Ole Opry, was a special show.  I can't think of any other musical event that I've observed that has been so triumphant.  It certainly dwarfs any of the achievements of my Zoo Music days- with the possible exception of the Dirty Beaches Best New Music designation on Pitchfork.  It also surpasses any of the achievements of the bands that I followed but wasn't involved with- the Best Coasts and Wavves of that time period.   Midwest Farmer's Daughter was released on March 16th, 2016- before that moment, barely more than two years later she was selling out a multiple night engagement at the most hallowed venue in county music- which itself was thought to be improbable down to the moment the second show sold out.

  Night one featured guest spots from Lukas Nelson and Sturgill Simpson, night two featured Jack White.  Both nights featured Tyler Childers, who himself was making his first appearance at the Ryman Auditorium. Childers an amazing story- according to Ben Swank, the head of Third Man Records, his opening night reception was as raucous as any at the Ryman  for anyone, opener or headliner.  Childers has a large and enthusiastic fan base, even though it would be hard to know it from reading the national media press.  His most recent record, Purgatory, produced by Sturgill Simpson, had at least one genuine hit (White House Road) and a half dozen gems.  His half million monthly Spotify plays surpasses that of Price herself.

  The only thing missing from Childers is any kind of acknowledgment of  modern music celebrity culture, where artists are supposed to dress up and prance around the stage in an attempt to engage the audience.   None of that bullshit from Childers.   The Sturgill Simpson guest spot on night one was good but not great- as supposed to the Lukas Nelson duet- which sent chills down my spine.

  Night two was a more relaxed affair-  the crowd was more sedate, and more attentive.  Jack White and Margo did an excellent duet, again, chills, and raucous audience response, and over all the night two vibe was preferable to night one, in my mind.   Hanging back stage at the Ryman was an absolute treat- the only other time I'd been backstage there was literally on the tour, two years ago.  As the kids would say, "Great vibes."

  Truly, a triumphant episode for Margo Price, and surely a rebuttal to any who would claim that Margo Price is anything BUT a mainline country music star in the making, outlaw and americana tags be damned.


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