Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

The Bell Jar (1963) by Sylvia Plath

Image result for sylvia plath
A young Sylvia Plath.

Book Review
The Bell Jar (1963)
 by Sylvia Plath

  The Bell Jar is the original novel about suffering from the perspective of an educated white girl living in the northeast in the latter half of the 20th century.   It was also a trailblazer in terms of the direct, factual treatment of mental illness from the perspective of a sufferer.   The story of a girl from a northeastern university taking an internship in New York City at a magazine is intimately familiar to anyone who has read a book in the genre of "chick lit" or seen a movie in the last couple decades.

   Esther Greenwood is the Plath figure.  The Bell Jar is based on her own experience at Mademoiselle magazine and subsequent descent into deep depression.  What starts as a fairly frivolous, albeit well observed tale about life for a young-woman-in-new-york-city spirals quickly into despair and institutionalization. The tone throughout stays at pg-13 levels even though The Bell Jar delves into a violent attempted date rape, suicide by slicing one's wrist, and hemorrhaging after losing ones virginity.   It's surprising that The Bell Jar made it as a high school English class standard with such dark source material, but Plath manages to skirt the kind of language that would draw offense.   There is also the fact that this "fictional" work was so obviously based on Plath's own experience, rendering any concerns about exploitation moot.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Siege of Krishnapur (1973) by J.G. Farrell

Book Review
The Siege of Krishnapur (1973)
 by J.G. Farrell

  The Siege of Krishnapur is the second of the three books in his Empire trilogy.  The first book, Troubles, focused on Ireland during the Irish War of Independence between 1919 and 1922.  Farrell, of Anglo-Irish ancestry, was writing fairly close to home in Troubles.   For The Siege of Krishnapur, Farrell shifts the stage to mid 19th century India under British control.  Although fictional, Krisnapur is based on real life incidents like the siege of Lucknow and Kanpur.

  Readers of Troubles will see similarities between Major Brendan Archer, the primary protagonist of Troubles and Fleury, the poetical young man at the center of Krishnapur.  Both seem put-out by the historic events swirling around them, starting indifferent to their own fate and gradually developing what might be called a "historical consciousness."   The analog of Edward Spencer, the owner of the Majestic Hotel in Troubles is "The Collector," the chief administrator for the Krishnapur governmental department under Siege, and the man in charge after the General expires at the end of the first act.

  Fans of colonial fiction and imperialism will enjoy Krishnapur as much as critics and audiences enjoyed it when it was published in 1973.  It won the Booker Award, meaning that both Troubles and Krishnapur would eventually be Booker winners.   It's fair to observe that the subject matter is distant for your average American college graduate.  Unless you have a very specific interest in mid 19th century English colonialism, many of the references are likely to fly overhead.  I found myself often punching references into google as I read.  That testifies to the impressive level of detail in a book written in the 1970's about events half a world away in the mid 19th century. In fact, a reader who didn't know better might think that Krishnapur was written much closer in time to actual events than it actually was.

  This is a theme of classics of mid to late 20th century fiction: The ability to "time-travel" back to prior periods of literature and evoke them decades into the future. Krishnapur and Troubles share this with early works of meta-fiction like Gravity's Rainbow, but that book was written in 1973 about World War II, and this book was written in the same year about 1845.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Troubles (1970) by J.G. Farrell

Book Review
Troubles (1970)
 by J.G. Farrell

  J.G. Farrell is a tantalizing "what-if" of 20th century literature, a noted novelist who died very young leaving behind three novels.  Two of them won the Booker Prize.  Troubles won the so-called "Lost" Booker, awarded in 2010 in recognition of a change in the rules that omitted novels published during the calendar year of 1970.   The Siege of Krishnapur won in 1972.  Both books are part of his Empire trilogy, which are linked thematically to the subject of the British Empire and its impact on characters struggling to maintain the periphery.

  Troubles, the first book in the trilogy, covers Farrell's home turf of Ireland, and specifically the plight of the Anglo-Irish landowners during the Irish War for Independence between 1919 and 1922. Englishman Major Brendan Archer, called "Major" throughout the book, returns from active duty on the Western Front of World War I with a mild case of post-traumatic stress disorder and vague promises to a "fiance" who is located in a decrepit resort hotel owned by her Anglo-Irish father on the west coast of Ireland.  This hotel, the Majestic, is itself a memorable character, and the decline of the hotel grows in importance as the initial set-up, between the Major and his sick fiance, recedes into the distance mid way through the first act.

  Troubles is both funny and wise. It embraces enough of the conventions of the British country house novel to make the reader comfortable, but subverts those expectations with a sophisticated critique of English imperial ambition, embodied here by Edward Spencer, owner of the Majestic and proud subject of the crown.  Spencer is a monster, but he is a sympathetic monster who is constrained by the traditions he has internalized. 

Show Review: Americana Music Festival & Conference 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee

The Octagon, a civil war type memorial

Show Review: Americana Music Festival & Conference 2016
 in Nashville, Tennessee

   It was back in 2014 when I began to fuck with country music, and by extension, Nashville.  Among my formative experiences in that area was a May, 2014 trip to Nashville as a tourist.  I stayed in east Nashville, ate at some quality restaurants, went to Robert's Western World, visited the Country Music Hall of Fame.  I was impressed by the combination of surface and depth in the music industry there.  You didn't just have the hipsters of East Nashville, you had the publishers on publisher's row.   You didn't just have the touristy bars of the Broadway strip, you had the measured tones of quality museum speak in the Country Music Hall of Fame.  The Ryman Auditorium, historic home of the Grand Ole Opry, is a perfect example of the strengths of Nashville.  Although it no longer hosts the Grand Ole Opry, it has remained as a tour-able site during the day and a classic venue, host to all types of bands and genres, in the evening.
exhibit from Octagon Hall in Kentucky

  In 2014, I went on the tour.  Last week, I returned to the Ryman Auditorium to watch the Americana Honors and Awards Show.  The Americana Honors and Awards Show is the highlight of the larger Americana Music Festival & Conference, which started in 2000.  The Americana Music Festival & Conference is impressive, and although I've never actually attended SXSW, I nodded sagely in agreement when others called it a "low energy south by southwest."   Sounded apt to me.  I was there last week because of Margo Price.   I'm not professionally involved, but my girlfriend manages her (she is an employee of Monotone Music, owned by Ian Montone.)  The rumor was that Price was in line to win the 2016 Americana Honors and Awards Show award for Breakthrough Artist.

Margo Price playing Joey by Concrete Blonde with Shovel and Rope

  I don't fetishize awards, heaven knows, but the rise of Margo Price is an incredible story for anyone with an interest in independent music, irrespective of genre.   Margo Price labored for years in a way familiar to musicians in fifty local music scenes across the country,  She worked odd jobs, went through a succession of "managers," did shitty van tours where she played for bar staff.  She also got married and had a kid, which is well beyond the experience of any local musician types I've met.  The ones I know just give up when they have a kid.

Bonnie Raitt at the Ryman Auditorium during the 2016 Americana Honors and Awards

  Margo Price did win the 2016 award for Breakthrough Artist at the Americana Honors and Awards Show, so that was an obvious highlight.  It was a parade of highlights, truth be told.  Performers included up and comers like Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, the Milk Carton Kids and John Moreland and  lifetime honorees like Billie Bragg, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris.  Jason Isbell showed up to play a song and collect two awards.  Chris Stapleton walked in at the last minute to pick up his award for artist of the year.   George Strait and Bob Weir showed up because they wanted to and had a project to promote.
Behind the scenes at Third Man Records

  The rest of the week was a blur of free drinks and corporate events.  The major focus was a collaboration between Third Man Records and the Luck Reunion folks from Texas.  They rented out a house, complete with bar b que and cocktails, and had Margo Price and Shovel & Rope (and other artists on different days) compose a song together and then play it for the people who were hanging out at the house.   Then, on Saturday Night, they took over the concert hall at the Nashville Palace where both acts played live and did their collaborations.  Ironically, the most memorable song I heard this week was the Concrete Blonde cover of Joey  cooked up as the b-side to the song they performed together.

   The temparature all week was in excess of 90 degrees.  It severely limited by day time activity, and forced me to abandon an earlier plan of aggressively walking the city.  I was again impressed by Nashville. I highly recommend a visit.

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