Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Event Preview: Outlaw Music Festival w/ Willie Nelson, Phil Lesh, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price & Lukas Nelson @ Hollwyood Bowl Sunday

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The Outlaw Music Festival rolls into the Holly wood Bowl Sunday

Event Preview:
 Outlaw Music Festival w/
Willie Nelson, Phil Lesh, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price & Lukas Nelson
 @ Hollwyood Bowl Sunday October 21st, 2018


  Tickets are still available for the Outlaw Music Festival at the Hollywood Bowl this Sunday, October 21st.  It's a strong line up, with Willie Nelson, Phil Lesh(?), Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price and Lukas Nelson.   And frankly, who knows who else might show up.  Bradley Cooper? Lady Gaga? Snoop Dogg?   The list of possibilities is endless.

  It has been quite a few years for the "Outlaw Country" brand, which has seen a revival largely spearheaded by the business entity that has been built up to support Willie Nelson.  The Outlaw radio station on Sirius/XM has been a catalyst, as well as the emergence of second generation Outlaw Country stars such as Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price and Lukas Nelson.   The irony of Outlaw Country being positioned as an alternative of "mainstream country" is that Outlaw Country itself was created as a marketing ploy, specifically as the title to a compilation of songs by the original outlaw country artists. 

  Anyway, it is sure to a FUN time, and I recommend you come check out the show!


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Hard to be a God (1964) by Arkady & Boris Strugatsy

Book Review
Hard to be a God (1964)
by Arkady & Boris Strugatsy

    If you are reading this review and you haven't seen the 2013 movie version (also called Hard to Be a God,  directed by Alexsi German), you should stop reading this review and go watch the film, which is available on demand in various places.  Be warned, the movie is four hours long, black and white and in Russian.  If you watch the movie and are entranced by it, as I was, then you should go ahead and check out the book, which is a Russian "hard" science fiction title by the Strugatsy brothers, part of their larger series of hard science fiction novels set in the "Noon universe." 

  The Noon Universe is an alternate reality, set in the future, where the humans of Earth have been united by a world wide Communistic government and managed to reach the stars.  The humans of Earth have discovered that the universe is filled with human beings, each on a different timeline in terms of their historical development.  Earth humans are forced to maintain anonymity and refrain from acting upon the humans of other worlds in a manner that resembles the "prime directive" of Starfleet in the Star Trek universe.   Earth instead despatches academic specialists, who blend into whatever world they find themselves placed, where they observe and file reports.

  In Hard to Be a God, the world is stuck in an equivalent to the Middle Ages, and it is not a pretty side.   In this world, the Government, in the name of a feeble, in-bred monarch, has suppressed all literacy among the population and is attempting the systematically murder the educated.  Anton, the protagonist, is undercover as a powerful Duke, doing his best to save whatever learned folk he can and avoid killing the locals.   He has a few friends, some native noblemen who share his assumed role in the society and other observers from Earth.  He also has important enemies, notably Don Reba, who is responsible for the anti-intellectual theme.

  Don Reba is on to Don Rebata, as Anton is known , but he is smart enough to be scared of Rebata, who is rumored to possess supernatural powers (and he does in fact, possess a helicopter and motorized transport, which he utilizes in rare situations.  The book does a much better job of explaining the plot than the movie.   I found the book interesting, and in a different way than the film interested me, and I recommend this book to readers of foreign science fiction.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Shape of Ruins (2015) by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Book Review
The Shape of Ruins (2015)
by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
Published by Riverhead in the US in September 2018

   The English translation of The Shape of Ruins, the 2015 novel by Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vasquez, was released this summer.  Amazingly, I saw the hard back of this translation in stock and in a prominent place at the Barnes and Nobel in the Grove, in West Los Angeles.   I didn't buy it, ha ha- instead I checked out the Audiobook via the Los Angeles Public Library.  The Audiobook is 20 hours long- that's about twice as long as your standard length, but the format, which includes lengthy soliloquies by the main characters and much "summation" of historical facts and theories by the narrator, who clearly shares multiple biographical details with actual author Juan Gabriel Vasquez.

  I didn't actually know about the correspondences between author biography and the in book narrator, also an author with a similar career and publication history as Vasquez himself.   This metafictional tweak isn't central to the plot, which still manages an almost dizzying number of different of narrative strands in 500 pages.   And although any review of a Colombian author is required to name check "magical realism" and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the truth is that Vasquez seems closer to Pynchon then Marquez in terms of his influences.  The calm, measured narrative tone (in contrast to the passionate events discussed from a century of volatile Colombian political assassinations)  reminded me of Don Delillo, and it would seem to me that the fact that this book is being shipped to Barnes & Noble means that a major publishing house (Riverhead)  must agree.

   I don't regret the decision to listen to the Audiobook- I was amazed that it was out there so soon after publication for a book like this (translated from Spanish, Colombian author) but I think it would be a good book to buy because of the level of detail about Colombian history. It would be useful to be able to stop reading a physical book to look up different references to Colombian history

The Age of Insight (2012) by Eric Kandel

Image result for esther klimt
Judith, a painting by Gustav Klimt, plays a prominent role in the exegesis of Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel in his book, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain

Book Review
The Age of Insight:
The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain -
From Vienna 1900 to the Present (2012)
by Eric Kandel
Published by Random House

   No country lost more artistic and intellectual firepower as a consequence of Nazism than Austria.  As a result, it can be difficult to visualize the degree to which Austria was a thriving, vibrant, cosmopolitan place between the end of the 19th century and the rise of the Nazis.  The elements of that fluorescent period in Viennese intellectual history remain familiar subjects today:  Freud and the invention of modern psychiatry and the artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.   Less familiar are secondary figures like author Arthur Schnitzler, who plays an outsize role in the intellectual history of this period but is less of a popular figure and Oscar Kokoschka- a painter who I'd never heard of before this book, but who plays an equal role with Schiele and Klimt in the mind of Kandel.   Kandel, it should be noted, is a Nobel Prize (2000, Psychology or Medicine for work on memory storage in the brain.)  The Age of Insight presents a double work of synthesis, first it provides an updated briefing on the key artistic figures: Freud, Schiele, Klimt, and another half dozen lesser known luminaries.  Second, it gives an up to date analysis of what science knows about the brain and the perception and appreciation of art.

   It might seem obscure, but the thesis that turn of the century in Vienna was a key point in the evolution of the relationship between artist and audience also educates broadly about the constituent elements- the artists and the ways that audiences look at art.   Kandel points out that artists like Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka intuitively grasped these ideas in ways that were often more sophisticated than their scientific counter parts, and that if you go back and re evaluate these individuals in light of scientific knowledge about the brain and art circa 2012, it is easy to see how very avant garde they were.

 Unfortunately, the scientific parts are technically challenging, and the artist biographies aren't pathbreaking.  For example, Kandel's discussion of Freud draws heavily/entirely from the corpus of Freud scholar and fellow Viennese enthusiast Peter Gay.  The punchline, if a reader will permit a "spoiler" in the context of a review of a 700 page work of nonfiction published six years ago, is that brain science has shown a demonstrable gap between thought and action- a gap- between when one perceives a phenomenon and when one can act  on the perception.  That gap is human consciousness and it is that magic moment that great artists of this period targeted.

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Lear of the Steppes (1870) by Ivan Turgenev

Book Review
A Lear of the Steppes (1870)
by Ivan Turgenev

  Variously known as King Lear of the the Steppes in the UK and as A Lear of the Steppes in the United States, this 1870 novella/short story has to be one of the top 10 most obscure "core" titles on the 1001 Books list.   The inclusion is even more puzzling when one considers that Shakespeare himself was not included in the 1001 Books list.  Like the title says, A Lear of the Steppes is a retelling of the Shakespeare play about a man who gives his estate to his two daughters before his death with the sole provision that they look after him.   As we all know, that is a terrible idea, and like the underlying play, no good comes to Turgenev's Lear, one Martin Petrovich Harlov. 

  Other than the obscurity: there is no readily available stand alone edition in the US (that I could find) the translation I read was also dated, using "thou" and "thee" for forms of address, and generally lacking the kind of flair you see in other English language translations of Turgenev.

  This review means that The Brothers Karamazov is the final title from the 19th century portion of the original 1001 Books list.   Beginning in 2008, the 19th century is squeezed from both ends, with books being added to the pre 18th century portion and the 20th century portion in the revised list.  This portion of the list was heavily dominated by English authors and you could argue that to the extent that the 1001 Books list is devoted specifically to the novel and novel-like books, the 19th century is underrepresented.  At the same time- the books from this period are the least fashionable and diverse.  It is hard, in 2018, to make the case that what we need more of is books by writers like Anthony Trollope because they represent the apogee of the novel as a dominant art form.

   In terms of the 19th century titles, the Russian authors are the diversity.   Only Russian and women authors can make plausible claim to being diversity candidates in the roster of the 19th century canon. I suppose you could add English language writers from outside England, but that includes a lot of white men from Scotland, Ireland and the United States.

Measuring the World (2005) by Daniel Kehlmann

Book Review
Measuring the World (2005)
 by Daniel Kehlmann

Replaces: Drop City by T.C. Boyle  (Reviewed 5/18)

   I didn't much care for Drop City, T.C. Boyle's book about a hippie commune that relocates from Northern California to Alaska.  The replacement, Measuring the World by German author Daniel Kehlmann, is much better, even if it doesn't accomplish much in terms of adding diversity to the 1001 Books list.   A German author writing about two 19th century German scientists isn't much more diverse than an American author writing about hippie culture.   At least the Kehlmann book is enjoyable, unlike Drop City.  Also, Measuring the World is 300 pages, not the 500 pages of Drop City.

   Measuring the World tells, in elliptical fashion, the story of German mathematician Carl Gauss and Alexander Von Humboldt.  Von Humboldt has some name recognition here in the US because he was the first European scientist to get into the wilds of South America.  After he travelled to the US and met with then President Thomas Jefferson, before returning to Paris and finally Berlin.  Gauss, meanwhile stayed closer to home, finding long term work as a land surveyor- the first- essentially to make an accurate map of Germany.

  Late into the book, the two finally come together for a meeting, but most of the book is told along parallel line, one chapter for Von Humboldt, one chapter for Gauss.  I wasn't surprised to learn that Measuring the World was a huge best seller in the original German- the combination of historically accurate adventure and achievement is well balanced by Kehlmann's depiction of the interior lives of Gauss and Von Humboldt, and any reader will come away with a new found appreciation for both of them. 

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