Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Crash (1973) by J.G. Ballard

Book Review
Crash (1973)
 by J.G. Ballard

     Poised at the intersection of Freudian death wish theory, technology and sex,  J.G. Ballard's Crash is an enduring classic of the 20th century canon of transgression.   An obsession with arousal derived from a staged disaster is called "symphorophilia,"  although the term "car crash fetish" is probably closer to what a modern reader would call the obsessions of Vaughan and "James Ballard,"  the 40 year old narrator, who shares a name with the author but works in television and film as a producer of some sort.

Image result for vaughan crash cronenberg
Elias Koteas as Vaughan in the David Cronenberg movie version of Crash by J.G. Ballard.
     Elias Koteas played Vaughan in the 1996 David Cronenberg directed movie version.  In Crash, Dr. Robert Vaughan is a formerly famous "television scientist" who has lost himself to driving around in a heavy Lincoln Continental and arranging various combinations of sex with prostitutes, staged car accidents that replicate famous car accidents and actual car accidents, specifically photographing them, photographing the injuries caused by those accidents and seducing and having sex with the surviving accident victims.  Although Vaughan is a memorably creepy presence, you can't fault the man for knowing what he wants, and his affect is as anti-Freudian as the rest of the book is under-girded by Freudian related theory regarding Thanatos or the "Death Wish."

    Ballard does not stint on the mechanical automobile side of the equation.  It is clear that the author was intimately familiar with the technical description of automobile accidents in all their gory detail.   Ballard was not the first author to link sex, technology and death.  In fact, some of the sexually perverse details of Crash notably remember the writing of the Marquis de Sade in his pre-Freudian 120 Days of Sodom.   In that book, the vile aristocrats adopt a very mechanistic approach to defiling their victims, with an emphasize on exploring multiple permutations.   This obsession is echoed in a scene where narrator Ballard has sex with auto accident victim Gabrielle, placing his member sequentially in each wound on her body.

  De Sade is also echoed in the elaborate plotting between Vaughan and his deranged co-conspirator Seagrave, a stunt driver with a specialty in portraying female drivers.  Over and over again, Vaughan and Seagrave recount minute details regarding the real life automobile deaths of actresses like Jayne Mansfield, which they then re-stage for live audiences.  J.G. Ballard was a huge victim in the first revision of the 1001 Books project, losing five of his original seven titles.  Of those seven only this book and Empire of the Sun remain.   That is a pity I think-  Ballard is the first among the authors who get slashed between the first two editions who I would take a stand for.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Breakfast of Champions (1973) by Kurt Vonnegut

One of the line illustrations contained inside Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.
Book Review
Breakfast of Champions (1973)
by Kurt Vonnegut

    Kurt Vonnegut placed four titles on the first 1001 Books list, Breakfast of Champions, published in 1973, is chronologically the last of those books, and it also one of the two titles that got cut in the first revision.   I am not a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut at the best of times.   I would argue that Vonnegut has not aged well, and nowhere is this more apparent in Breakfast of Champions, which takes his penchant for doodles and repetition to a logical extreme by including actual doodles in the text as well as dozens of paragraphs that end with "and so it goes."

  Breakfast of Champions is also an incredibly inter-textual book, full of characters from his other books, particularly Kilgore Trout, the stand in for Vonnegut who appears talismanicaly in many of Vonnegut's other works.  Here, he is a main character.   Trout is a prolific, little known author of science fiction books who conceals great truths in his pulpy plots.   He is spectacularly unread in all of Vonnegut's books, but here he finds a great fan, who is unfortunately inspired by Trout's book-within-a-book plot to go on a violent rampage.

   And so it goes, as Vonnegut would say.  It's impossible to miss the decline in average length of the titles between decades.   18th century, many of the books are over 500 pages.  In the 19th century, books were often published in three volume sets, with a total length of 3 to 500 pages.  In the 20th century, the 300 page novel is standard until the mid century, but by the late 1960's and 1970's, the average length of a title on the 1001 Books list is closer to 200 pages.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Breast (1972) by Philip Roth

Breasts! People love them.
Book Review
The Breast (1972)
 by Philip Roth

  I remain skeptical of the merits of the "novella" as an art form.  Too long to be a short story, too short to demand the attention required of a novel, it exists in an indeterminate space in the market-place and really only finds a ready audience in high school and college Literature class, where the length makes them preferable.    The idea of spending money on a novella,  20 dollars for a book that is guaranteed to be under 150 pages, makes me cringe.   The Breast is a firm 78 pages, and is basically the opening sentence of the Metamorphsis by Franz Kafka extended for an additional 78 pages.

   The narrator,  David Kapesh, is a college English professor who is mysteriously transformed from a human form into a similarly weighted (155 pounds) female human breast.   He is, to put it mildly, not pleased with the situation, but is very limited in his options, being unable to move on his own and lacking limbs or sensory organs.   The Breast rates about a five on the naughtiness scale.  Much of the text deals explicitly with the impact his transformation has on his sexuality, and to get it into literally spoils the only plot point in the entire book.

Show Review: Margo Price and the Price Tags @ The Troubador

Margo Price sound checks before her Troubadour show

Show Review:
Margo Price and the Price Tags @ The Troubadour
Hollywood, CA.

  I like to consider this blog a single narrative.  2006-2008: Early beginnings, local music scene, show promotion, cat dirt records.   2009-2015:   Zoo Music, Dirty Beaches, Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls, national indie music scene 2016:  Margo Price,  national music scene.     Margo Price is about a year into the three year virtuous circle of a new artist with a hit record.   Her current album sales are in excess of 30 thousand.    The recent appearance on the Anthony Bourdain show on CNN led to a 200 percent increase in album sales, following similar bounces from appearances on Saturday Night Live and CBS This Morning.    Since the release of her record, Margo Price has signed a publishing admin deal, she has touring package offers on the table, and she's already booked significant festival gigs for 2017.  Her reception certainly exceeds anything I've witnessed on the Indie side in the period between 2006 and 2015.

   I remember, for example, reviewing the sales figures from the Dirty Beaches double LP, an album which received a Best New Music from Pitchfork and benefited from perfect PR and physical distribution across three continents and thinking, "Damn, this is it."   As in, "this record did amazing and it's still barely worth while from a  financial perspective."  It wasn't break even but it was small enough to make me wonder- this is in 2014- whether the whole idea of making things work at an indie level is an inherently unsustainable project.

  It's like, when you start a creative project the question is, "Let's say it succeeds beyond your wildest big is that?"  With Dirty Beaches and the other projects I've witnessed first hand, the answer was, "Not big enough."  That is no reflection on the artistic merit of the specific projects, just a statement that financially speaking, getting involved isn't "worth it."    One of the thing I picked up over the last couple years is that there are certain parts of the music business where success really does mean success.  Pop music of course.  Hip Hop.  And Country.

   And it's gratifying to see it all play out in real time, for such a deserving artist.  I spent last night watching the show with Margo's mom in the balcony.  Midwest Farmers Daughter is as much about her as it is Margo, and I can testify that everything on that album- every single line- is true.  It's interesting to see the impact of sudden success on people.  One thing I've learned is that solves zero problems.  Like, if one day, you are broke and addicted to drugs, and then the next day you win 10 million dollars, it doesn't wipe out all the experiences that led you to where you were before the 10 million dollars.

  With Margo Price, she really struggled in a way that I know is very familiar to anyone who has participated in the local music scene in any number of cities.  And her mom struggled too, which is something we talked about as we sat there, watching William Tyler, the opening act, play an excellent set of solo, acoustic guitar, heavily weighted towards songs from his new record, Modern Country.   My point is that success doesn't wipe away those years of struggle.   And in my experience- this has nothing to do with Margo- people are just as likely to look back nostalgically at the pre-success "good ole days" as they are to revel in the moment.

  I can honestly say though, that I'm glad I wasn't there for the struggle.   Having witnessed the struggle in San Diego first hand during my years of involvement in the local music scene, I don't see it as something to be treasured.   Much better to jump on the train the moment before it leaves the station.  Being there in the beginning only means you are far more likely to be left behind at the end.

Monday, October 10, 2016

House Mother Normal (1970) by B.S. Johnson

Book Review
House Mother Normal (1970)
 by B.S. Johnson

   Experimental fiction is kind of a drag, until you stop reading any for a few months, at which point a certain nostalgia can attach, until you read another work of experimental fiction.  Such was the case with House Mother Normal by famed English experimentalist B.S. Johnson.  Johnson was more or less ignored during his lifetime, which ended tragically by his own hand at the age of 40.

  House Mother Normal takes the form of a chronological stream of consciousness narrative from the residents of a nursing home.  The level of cognition ranges from a comprehensible narrative to random phrases sprawled across the page in a non "literary" fashion.  The viewpoints are diverse, ranging from a more or less happy, intact consciousness to a man suffering terribly from anal cancer and attributing it to his sodomy of a young boy when he was a sailor.

  House Mother Normal is likely to make the reader contemplate old age and death and length.

The Driver's Seat (1970) by Muriel Spark

Elizabeth Taylor played protagonist Lise in the (forgettable) 1974 movie version of The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark
Book Review
The Driver's Seat (1970)
by Muriel Spark

  The Driver's Seat is Muriel Sparks last of four titles in the original 1001 Books to Read Before You Die book.   It was one of two books to be dropped at the first substantial revision of the list, along with Memento Mori.    I think The Driver's Seat got dropped first because Sparks is a prime example of the category of "20th century British/English woman authors" who were dramatically over-represented in the first edition.  Second, The Driver's Seat is at best a novella and so I think there was an argument to be made that The Driver's Seat shouldn't make it as a stand alone "book."

  That said, The Driver's Seat is a nasty bit of work, and fans of psychological thrillers and detective novels should find interest here, if only because as a "Whydunnit," Spark reveals the death of her protagonist in the first chapter.   The why of the matter is indeed worth the 120 page read, so if you can find a copy, it is worth a look.   I'd like to see the 1974 movie they made with Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol(!)

Sunday, October 09, 2016

I'm Not Stiller (1954) by Max Frisch

Book Review
I'm Not Stiller (1954)
 by Max Frisch

This 1954 German language novel was not published verbatim in the United States until 1994.  The U.K. edition was published in 1982, so that may account for its inclusion on the 1001 Books list.   I'm Not Stiller is somewhere between the French existentialists of the same decade and Albert Cohen's Belle du Seignuer, written by a Swiss Jew in French and published in 1968.   The Stiller of the title is a Swiss artist of some repute.  The man being held in a jail cell on his behalf claims to be, "James White, American citizen."  Thus, we get the title of the book, repeated by the most untrustworthy narrator at various intervals over the first 200 pages of the books.

 What seems to be a premise as limited as a Samuel Beckett set-up expands as the reader "learns" about the complicated history between Stiller/White, the woman who claims to be his wife, Rolf, the public prosecutor, and the wife of the public prosecutor.   Several interludes in the opening stages of the book, which consists of seven notebooks allegedly written by Stiller/White while in custody, concern quasi-fantastical tails about White's life in the New World.  These are balanced by the back story of Stiller and his involvement in the marriage of the public prosecutor and his wife.

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