Sunday, March 28, 2021

Larry McMurtry, in the '60s

I am an admirer of Larry McMurtry’s work, and at some point I hope to address it. But the passage that reflexively brings McMurtry to my mind is written by Tom Wolfe, from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I expect the young boy mentioned at the end is James.

RIP Larry McMurtry, June 3, 1936 – March 25, 2021

Friday, March 26, 2021

Whither the Newspaper?

Since I have pondered the condition of the newspaper at some length this link gets its own post — Freddie deBoer sorts out why the newspaper industry is tanking, and why its writers are up in arms over Substack. He contends it ain’t just jealousy and hypocrisy at work — it’s displacement.

“Why don’t you come on back to the war?”

Thanks for the title, Leonard.

My brain’s a puddle.

Took a road trip up to Ottawa the weekend before last. Visited my brother-in-law and his wife. They’ve managed his Stage 4 past the initial prediction. He is the same man I’ve known now for almost 30 years. He is a very different man from the one I’ve known for almost 30 years.

I experienced an inner tilt during that visit, and that’s how I’ve been walking through the past 14 days — at a tilt. Can’t quite put it into words. Like my brother-in-law, I am becoming a different man. And I’m the same guy I’ve always been. 

Behind the blue-and-white velvet rope I’ve been posting pictures of my personal lye-berry. My shelves are a mess — kinda alphabetical in spots, but not really. I’m sure I’ve alienated everyone with OCD. But those are the shelves and bookstores I’ve always loved the most — the ones that almost make sense. They’re the most like life. 

Life. God help you if you’ve got OCD.

Stuff I’ve been pondering:

  • I’ve been monitoring Alan Jacobsmost recent project with some interest. I am not a little sympathetic. But, wow — I have been holding my breath. I’m kinda hoping it’ll be akin to Matt Cardin’s A Course In Daimonic Creativity. But I’m worried it’ll be another variation of Calvin Seerveld’s Rainbows For A Fallen World. (Nobody mentioned in this paragraph wants my fan-mail, I know. But I love them just the same.)
  • Now that “woke” has become more-or-less universally pejorative, it is easier to spot where comic books have truly exploited their consciousness-altering potential, and where they’ve lazily defaulted into pallid pretension — into rote wokeness. Angel Eduardo asks, Does Superman Have To Be White? And Robin Sloane unpacks Gene Luen Yang’s 2016 series, The New Super-Man. I was unfamiliar with this arc, and haven’t yet given it my attention. But from Sloane’s description of it — “Redemption through ret-con; is there anything more comics than that?” — it appears Yang’s craft emulates and possibly supersedes that of Grant Morrison. Excelsior!
  • ALDaily pointed me to The Apocalyptic New Campus Novel by Charlie Tyson. It’s a great piece, but the bit that stuck with me — and it is not at all the thrust of Tyson’s piece (which you really should read) — is: “Historians of the future might be forgiven for thinking that in the early 21st century, our country’s colleges were more powerful, and more nefarious, than its military. Certainly the former gets more scrutiny and attention.” And it got me ruminating. Following WWII the American Military Novel was an esteemed genre that appealed to a remarkably wide range of readers. It has all but vanished — quick: name one other Iraq 2.0 novel besides Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. I have to regard this as a bad omen.
Transference: it's strictly a one-way affair. Isn't it?
Alright — time for this gutless pacifist to get back to The War. Here’s Elvis Costello singing “Oliver’s Army.”

Friday, March 19, 2021

Late-night radio

My first Sunday night at the Bible College I turned on my portable stereo — my Boom Box, my Ghetto Blaster — and searched the FM dial for sounds I couldn’t get back in Winnipeg. Eventually I skated into “Situation” by Yaz. The next song was Doctor & The Medics’ cover of “Spirit In The Sky.” I was hooked.
Still am.
I’d found CFNY.

A guy down the hall overheard, poked his head in. “This is the station that inspiredThe Spirit of Radio’ by RUSH,” he said. We’ve been friends ever since.

When I got homesick I might turn to Q107, Toronto’s AOR station, similar in format to Winnipeg’s 92 CITI FM (so similar, in fact, that Brother Jake Edwards skipped the 'Peg to be the morning man for Q a few years later). But when I got terribly homesick, I tuned in to CFNY — to remind myself why I was in Toronto.

Spoons, Boys Brigade, Images In Vogue, Blue Peter leavened into a mix of British acts and a few American ones — also Dub Rifles, who could not be heard anywhere in our home city. This was it, this was the good stuff. I was exactly where I belonged.

I wasn’t, of course. I returned to Winnipeg and spent the remainder of the 80s being lost in the city of my birth. And I didn’t miss CFNY, because CBC FM had launched this crazy late-night show called Brave New Waves, with Brent Bambury. He and his cohort played music that was, in fact, even further out on the edge than what CFNY served up. BNW could afford to — it was funded by the tax-payer, and broadcast at an ungodly hour.

My friend Kaz would record the show on a 120 minute cassette. He’d hit “Record,” doze off, then wake up when the “Record” button snapped out, and flip the tape for the next hour’s worth of content. I took occasion to borrow those cassettes, and the many LPs and CDs he purchased after listening to Bambury’s show.

When I moved to Toronto in the 90s CFNY had become a different thing. The morning “personalities” were snarky and mean, signalling an end to the empathetic curiosity that showcased music nobody else was playing. It still billed itself as “alternative” radio, but my psychonaut co-worker in the bookstore basement would sneer whenever he heard it. “Alternative to what?”

Bambury hosted Brave New Waves into the mid-90s, then stepped into a higher profile at the Corp. I had tuned out by then. Kaz was mailing me mixed tapes from Winnipeg that were painstakingly curated affairs. Indeed, I was becoming increasingly aware of a cultural fermentation in my old hometown that put to shame my adoptive — flashier, blander — city, the supposed Centre Of The Universe.

The last item Kaz sent me was a CD filled with hundreds of mp3 files. Napster was in the ascendant. I was living in the country. An era had definitively closed.

No complaints from me — hey, internet radio is a great thing! Aquarium Drunkard is always worth a listen. Dani Elwell, CFNY’s last good DJ, has her own thing going on at Mixcloud. And I’m holding out hope that Spotify’s terms of use for music and podcasts will entice Darko back behind the pop-filter.

But a smidgen of well-placed nostalgia is worthy of protection and projection. This post was inspired by James A. Reeves’ magnificent remembrance of Detroit’s Electrifying Mojo, and Graeme Thomson’s salute to Lou Ottens, inventor of the blank cassette tape, the innovation that liberated music for my generation. Also:  “Nobody thinks they’re the only freak in the world when they hear Throbbing Gristle”  — Brent Bambury reminisces.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Rattling in my brain-pan

Maybe the keyboard is the problem...

Words are not showing up for me, alas. Fortunately there are all kinds of good words being spilled elsewhere. Here’s what’s got me cogitatin’.

The best thing I’ve read this week:

  • Postcolonialism — it is, I think, the only future possible. Postcolonial thought, however, frequently hinges on a return to precolonial splendour — an utter impossibility. What, then, is the future of Postcolonial thought?

Saturday, March 06, 2021

What’s new in SWU

Participating in a Star Wars movie seems to be quite the liberating experience — after the fact. If there is one actor associated with any portion of this enormous franchise who has not, once all the receipts have been tallied, talked trash about their installation into the franchise firmament I’ve yet to make their acquaintance.1

And I don’t mean to make that sound like a bad thing — it’s just remarkable, is all. Any of these principals walking off any other fished project will smile and deliver the Entertainment Tonight talking points: “Such an incredible experience!” “I think what we did here was unique.” “It was a dream to work with these people!” etc. With Star Wars we get Carrie Fisher saying things like, “George Lucas ruined my life,” and we still feel like she’s holding back.2

Over at Mel Magazine Tim Grierson surveys the post-production fallout and flat-out declares what seems to be the niggling thought in the brain of every Star Wars fan: The New ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy Wasn’t Worth It.

He makes a compelling case — and I am 100% in that group of viewers disappointed by the sidelining of every single POC character, putting the emphasis on a Rey and Ren storyline of dubious value. But does it render the entire exercise null and void?

Here’s an alternative possibility — since we’re still talking about it four years later, maybe people will come around on The Last Jedi. And maybe that will generate storylines people want to see.

Though, honestly, what do I know? At this point I am forced to admit I am completely out-of-step with what Kids These Days expect from the SWU. For instance, it seems universally accepted that Solo was a well-deserved failure. I disagree. It had its weaknesses — binning the entire first act would have improved the film immeasurably — but to my eyes it still rates as the most entertaining SWU flick since The Empire Strikes Back. But I repeat myself.

In other SWU related reveries, I bought J.W. Rinzler’s The Making Of The Empire Strikes Back.

Why, you wonder? And why so late? Well ... the Kindle version had been on my Amazon wishlist since its release. (Long pause.) If I had had the remotest inkling that the window would close on the Kindle purchase ... well, I now have my regrets.

I don’t exactly regret purchasing the book, however. It is a pleasure to read, narratively taut, gossipy where it needs to be, and super-informative. Lovely pictures, of course. But wow it’s a monster. And I don’t need that.

Anyway, it will be a snap to finish. And already it has disabused me of a conviction I’ve held for decades: that pulp writer extraordinaire Leigh Brackett was almost solely responsible for what worked in the story. Rinzler makes it very clear, with physical evidence, that Brackett’s influence on the final script of TESB could best be quantified in the negative. She wrote the first draft, which Lucas then utterly covered with red ink. Lucas definitely knew what he did not want to see, and this script was largely it. Indeed, reading the pages provided I wondered if she’d even seen the earlier movie. An unlikely possibility — and an uncharitable thought. Unbeknownst to the Lucasfilm bunch Brackett was in an advanced state of Stage 4. That she was able to hammer out a cogent script at all indicates a heroic intensity of focus.

When she died before rewrite, Lucas took over. And what we see is a remarkable convergence of his script with director Irvin Kershner’s invitational attitude toward his actors’ ideas — aided by uncountable others who threw in their best to make the film be what Lucas, and we, needed it to be.

1 Although, now that I think of it, Ewan McGregor has been a remarkably magnanimous statesman for the SWU.
2 My favourite response from the current principals is Oscar Isaac, saying the only way he’ll ever re-enter the SWU is “if I need to buy another house or something.”

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Treasure Of The Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard (Various Artists)

In contrast to Orphans Of God, an earlier Mark Heard tribute album, the artists collected for this 2017 album are A) of a piece, and B) carefully marshalled into cohesion by producer Phil Madeira.

A) The Artists. When I first encountered the track list I was familiar with enough of them to recognize a universal bent toward Americana. Heard was contrarian to his core and would likely bristle at being thus pigeon-holed. And, fair enough: his final album was driven by a recent obsession with the electric mandolin and has a track or two that could qualify as Celtic Death Metal (he’s not here to defend himself, but any of his many devoted fans are free to call me out on this). Regardless, the musical vein Heard mined was indeed Americana. To continue the metaphor: sanding down a little of Heard’s aural prickliness burnishes the natural lustre of his work. These were the right people for the job.

B) As was producer Phil Madeira. The album is a finely wrought whole — an outstanding anomaly among tribute albums. A handful of tracks graduated immediately to my current playlists — Birds of Chicago, Lily & Madeleine, The North Mississippi All Stars, Buddy Miller and Over the Rhine are particularly stellar interpreters. But there is not one track I would ever dream of cutting from this line-up. I enjoy listening to this album from beginning to end.

This might just be the best possible introduction to the music of Mark Heard. Or, for those who never quite cottoned to his voice and delivery, it might be the best vehicle with which to consider his work. It is, finally, a lovely and perfectly tailored tribute to a challenging and sometimes difficult artist.

Further links: I have meditated on Mark Heard before, here and here. The Christian Humanists devoted a podcast to exploring a (dubiously edited) “Best Of” album over here and Michial Farmer surveys the Mark Heard catalogue here. And I am indebted to movie critic Christian Hamaker for introducing me to this album.