Neither of my trusty comfort food authors — George Pelecanos or James Lee Burke — seem to be reaching me this time around. There’s no point in me getting technical about the distance, since they’re doing pretty much what I’ve always paid them to do. The problem lies with me: I’m momentarily mired in a wee slough of despond, in which the usual charmers have lost their powers to distract.
There are a number of reasons for this. I left my job in June. It was, and remains, the right thing for me to do, and it freed me up wonderfully for the summer. But I haven’t yet found another to replace it, and I miss the contact with other people, especially now that the girls are back in school.
Also, this month marks the second anniversary of my father-in-law’s death, and I think my wife and I miss him more this year than we did last. So it goes. Although there is a certain amount of activity a person should engage in to prevent grief from slipping into self-indulgence, the absence must be acknowledged. Attention must be paid.
Even in this condition, however, it surprises me that Mordecai Richler’s social dyspepsia fails to move me. In preparation for Montreal I pulled Barney’s Version off the shelf, figuring I’d best give it one last read before Paul Giamatti’s mug permanently burned itself into my brain as the lovably difficult (to say the least) Barney Panofsky. I have to say, 45 is a much better age to read this book than 32 was. Even so, I’m taken aback to realize that nearly all the cultural/historical points of reference that Richler/Panofsky comment on with such acidity have pretty much passed their “best before” date. Richler seems to have sensed this eventuality, and wields these details with a canny awareness of their, and his narrator’s — and his own — mortality. Still, it makes my bittersweet read of the book more bitter than sweet. I can’t imagine a 25-year-old Canadian reader connecting with this book at all, never mind at the pleasantly superficial level I seemed to 13 years ago.
Thankfully, music still hath charms. In a last-minute scramble to use up my monthly downloads at eMusic, I tripped across Signify by Porcupine Tree — and fell in love. PT’s rep seems to be “new prog.” I haven’t heard enough of what they’re up to lately to comment, but this artifact from 1996 is moody and ethereal (“atmospheric” to use the parlance), occasionally lyrical in a Flaming Lips sort of way. Sampling is judiciously resorted to: one or two evangelists are recruited for sound-bites that could, but needn’t, be heard ironically (although if one of these evangelists is, as I suspect, Benny Hinn, irony is better than he deserves). They struck me as a Life After God echo, which has a winning sincerity of sentiment for me. Signify plays like the last soundtrack to be broadcast before the Blade Runner world of indentured serfs and privileged enforcers finally took over.
My most recent aural fixation is with True Love Cast Out All Evil by Roky Erickson, former front-man for the 13th Floor Elevators. When it was first released in April I took only vague note of it. Erickson’s reputation to date had been as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most spectacular acid casualties, a la Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson — here’s the wiki. True Love Cast Out All Evil was hailed as a recovery/comeback for Erickson, a designation that, for me, has all the appeal of reheated left-overs.
On one of my recent forays as Taxi-Driver To The Adolescents, I retrieved a copy of Mojo collecting dust on our coffee-table. I’d bought it some months earlier, but hadn’t yet leafed through it. I perused while waiting for the event to conclude, and found it to be exactly the sort of issue Mojo is occasionally brilliant at. Tom Waits “guest edits”, so that flavors much of what’s present. He interviews Hank III; Joe Henry interviews Harry Belafonte. And Bill Holdship gives a rave review for True Love Cast Out All Evil.
Until I read Holdship, I hadn’t realized just how deep an abyss Erickson has emerged from. And while True Love is all about the gift of recovery, it has a sound that echoes back into that void. Okkervil River, who I never had much of an ear for, prove themselves to be Erickson’s ideal collaborators, conjuring a background that drifts from dreamy to jarring to triumphant. The album is very much a gospel tent extravaganza, with a bloody-heart-on-the-shirtsleeves sincerity that will either convert the listener or send him back out to the cold back alleys of Hell. Something like this will never appeal to everyone, but it certainly feels like it has found me, and not the reverse.
Links: Barney's Version, Porcupine Tree, Roky Erickson, Okkervil River. And this guy writes quite the rave for True Love.