Monday, September 29, 2014

D.G. Meyers, R.I.P.

D.G. Meyers has died. This, then, concludes his particular Commonplace Blog. Sad news, indeed. I often disagreed with his critical pronouncements, especially when he got around to making his lists. But also, I often found myself won over by essay’s end. He wrote well. He wrote persuasively.

Some recent favourites: “All unhappy families are alike” here. “Transcendence is a glimpse of the reality created and sustained by dull habit” here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Back To The Bridge

Well. Five years later, we're back on the bridge. The new owner seems to have made significant improvements to the cottage. We shall see. Regardless, it's supposed to be a clear weekend.

You know where to find me.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fantagraphics' Don Rosa Library, Vol. 1

I’m happy to see Don Rosa receive prestige treatment from Fantagraphics.

The Carl Barks library is essential, of course, but the case could be made that Rosa’s works are equally so. Rosa came to the Disney Duck-blind in the mid-80s, when Gladstone Publishing reintroduced Barks (and Gottfredson) to American comic book stores. Rosa, a voluminous contributor to a fanzine forerunner of the Comics Buyer’s Guide, was already on speaking terms with Gladstone’s editor Byron Erickson; Rosa pitched a story, with artwork, and was immediately conscripted into service as writer, artist and resident bearer of Barks’ torch.

Introducing Don Rosa

Rosa’s reverence toward Barks — the characters, the art, the maturity of voice and approach to story — cannot be overstated. Rosa’s fealty to the eight-panel storyline is almost absolute, the ducks’ “human” foibles very much in flux, kicking the stories’ plotlines into motion and inviting emotional investment from the reader. Rosa is also shrewdly devoted to Duckburg as an American locale, historically situated in a fantasy fifties (where cabinet radios, rotary-phones, and a jalopy with the “313” license plate, etc. are the norm).

Rosa’s style emulates Barks’, but is nevertheless uniquely invested with Rosa’s own personality. Rosa says he’s been accused of bringing an “underground” sensibility to Barks’ world, and bristles at comparisons to Crumb (he certainly has Crumb’s fondness for the onomatopoeia, but has a drawing style more akin, I think, to Basil Wolverton’s non-hallucinatory work (where such could be said to exist)). Rosa was self-taught, and brings the same obsessive-compulsive love of detail that served him well as a comic book archivist. Consequently, where Barks might content himself with fluffy clouds rendered with a few swift strokes of a sable brush and a reliance on the colorist’s use of blue, Rosa etches densely textured clouds that are, of course, punctured audibly.

I think it works. It sometimes reads as “edgy,” but how is that a bad thing in relation to Barks’ ducks? Indeed, Rosa’s stories have a kinetic energy that bristle with an underlying anxiety I think Barks could appreciate.

Unfortunately, another element in Rosa’s life that Barks could appreciate is the thorough shafting he received at the hands of The Mouse. As with Barks, the penny dropped quite late in Rosa’s life; Disney’s contracts are iron-clad, and bids for compensation all but futile. Due diligence is left entirely in the hands of the young artist, who more often than not is eager or desperate to sign. While fiscally canny, this corporate strategy strikes me as profoundly short-sighted with regards to legacy. Surely it is in the corporation’s own best interests to cultivate, care for, and duly reward those rare artists who bring something unique that keeps an aging property vibrant and relevant in an increasingly volatile zeitgeist?

Whether or not the Fantagraphics publications address any of that, the presentation is first-class. The Rosa book is slightly larger than the Barks’ volumes, making Rosa’s hyper-articulate artwork more accessible to the reader. The coloration team utilises the gradient shading that current comic book readers have come to expect, which also contributes to accessibility.

Rosa’s European fanbase is substantial, but he remains all but unknown on this continent so fixated with men-in-tights-and-gals-in-less. Here’s hoping these publications bring some correction to that trend.

Further reading: Rosa's wiki; my appreciation of Carl Barks; my appreciation of Floyd Gottfredson; Fantagraphics website.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

U2's Unforgivable Flyer

Are there any popular acts you think you ought to enjoy, but somehow, despite your most earnest efforts, just can't seem to?

Various weblinks this week have brought several to my attention. I've spoken before about Stephen King. His advice on writing and teaching is spot-on. When he climbs on his soapbox, he usually wins me over. Then he releases yet another door-stopper that sounds so promising . . . and I pick it up, read the first few pages, keep going for another one- or two-hundred, and . . . something happens that makes me feel like I've just watched Emeril Lagasse drop the frying pan, only to retrieve it from the floor and keep cooking. No, no — it's alright buddy, keep the pan to the heat. I've just lost my appetite, is all.

Similarly, Elmore Leonard.

Also: James Ellroy — what a character. I love his magazine work, and think the way he openly confesses to and revels in his low-life impulses is a) almost admirable and b) entirely entertaining (I'm in the minority, apparently). The scope and vision and ambition of his fiction is certainly impressive. But the novels leave me cold. It's not a matter of taking offense, or being repulsed. It's just . . . meh, whatever.

“The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.”* So said Paul Hewson, aka Bono Vox, or just plain Bono. Speaking of whom, if there is a group that has nudged me out of indifference into a deep and abiding loathing, it is his U2. And on Tuesday, when I opened the software platform to my Infernal Device, I discovered an entire album in my library that I had no desire whatsoever to encounter. In response, Mr. Hewson has said, “For people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way . . . the blood, sweat & tears of some irish guys are in your junk mail.”

Speaking as someone who's taken money for producing junk mail of his own, let me inform you of a seldom appreciated fact: there isn't a single piece of junk mail that doesn't contain the blood, sweat and tears of the hacks who created it. The elements of BS&T don't make it any more welcome — or even any good.

Anyway, I won't be listening to it, so don't expect a take-down review from me — except for the title of the opening track: “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone).” Oh, sure: give all the love to poor, sweet Joey. How's about The Miracle of Johnny Ramone, the treacherous, irascible, venomous, right-of-Attila bastard who kept his baffled and befuddled on-the-spectrum band-mate fed and clothed in Levis and leather jackets throughout his entire adult life?

But I digress.

I actually used to be a fan, from way-way-back: Boy days, in fact. If you can predate that, you're not from the prairie grasslands of Canada, you're from Dublin. I remained steadfast right up until The Joshua Tree, when I began to have my doubts about the project (which they nevertheless reached past with the penultimate song on that album). Then came their Ironic Phase, which, at the time, struck me as note-perfect for the age (both mine, and the one I was living in). Even Pop was welcome — the fizzier songs, at least. The more serious songs, on the other hand, made me nervous.

I don't know which track I heard from their next album, but I can remember exactly where I was when I heard it: in the parking lot of a Movieplex, where public speakers were broadcasting a tone of voice and guitar I knew all-too-well. Oh, so now you're SINCERE again? I thought. Well then, permit me to sincerely retort . . . 
"...and the horse you rode in on!"
The more I meditated on it, the clearer the realization became that with this complete about-face these guys had just driven a stake through the heart of rock-and-roll. All that “best band in the world” shite: even their audience took it seriously. Now every band in their wake would strain to sound like Bono and/or Edge, and good luck trying to get any young audience roused if your drummer didn't photocopy Larry Clayton's band-class snare-bursts.

Think I exaggerate? Then why don't you rouse yourself some Sunday morning, and go attend worship service at your local Evangelical Superstore . . . erm, church? Listen to the worship band, and tell me you don't catch more than an echo of everything I've just slandered.

Can't get away from them in the mall, or church, or parking lot or even my so-called personal computer . . . yes, indeed: what a debt we all owe those hard-working Irish so-and-so's.

Alright, I've gotta sit down and catch my breath. Read this or this or even Sasha Frere Jones if you need more.

*Quoting, with attribution I'm sure, Elie Wiesel.

17-ix-14: Old dogs, old tricks:

Friday, September 05, 2014

Patti Smith, Eleanor Wachtel

My friend the art dealer characterizes The Greats as, “People of serious generosity.” The phrase came to mind repeatedly yesterday when I listened to Eleanor Wachtel interview Patti Smith.

I don’t know why I had this particular podcast mouldering in my Infernal Device for so long (so many podcasts, so little time), but this conversation with Smith is exceptional. Smith comes across as approachable and (of course) articulate, keeping a searing perspicacity in balance with a generous humanity. Her observations about accepting help from others were particularly moving.

I would add to my friend’s observation that the greatest of The Greats have a way of calling to and awakening similar artistic and moral yearnings in others. By conversation’s end, I’d done the full-Zacchaeus and shifted my internal monologue from saying, “I wanna do that” to “I'm gonna do that!”

It's no longer available for download, but you can stream it here. (You probably already know how to record audio-streams, but just in case you don't.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Wall of Plastic

Alex Ross considers the online cornucopia of sound files, and returns to the comforts and rewards of his “wall of plastic.”

I don’t stream music, but I’ve also stopped playing CDs.

At this moment in Canada streaming options are extremely limited. A listener can rig up an internet chain to get access to Spotify and the like, but the sound quality is less-than-ideal. Fussy listeners can subscribe to Google Play, HMV’s “The Vault” or the Sony Entertainment Network — this last option being the only legitimate venue for audiophiles (which I can’t quite claim to be). Sony’s catalog is vast, of course, but has its limits. Still, it's quite the bar-goon.

I still subscribe to eMusic, having grandfathered a super-sweet subscription rate. I tend to download entire albums, partly because I’m fond of the format, and partly because I hope to give beleaguered artists a few more shekels in their pocket.

And of course I have my own wall of plastic, which I’ve arranged to highlight exemplary trophies of liner notes and album art (“The power of the commodity fetish,” as Erik Davis puts it).

Whoever would have thought a band called "Tool"
would cook up the most singularly delightful CD packaging?

But I don’t play any of them. I’ve ripped them all into a portable library of fat, juicy WAV files. At home, I feed them through a DAC and listen to them via my chunky (but still better-than-serviceable) post-college stereo speakers. In the car, well, who cares?

My wife still listens to CDs. She has a half-dozen that are her bedrock of well-being. They have a permanent spot in the car that shuttles her to and from the airport.

My daughters each own a handful of CDs, but they are a particularly concrete form of “back-up.” In the next few years when they embark on their college experience, I expect those CDs will be exactly where they are right now, collecting dust. I have occasionally regretted giving my parents the go-ahead to sell my vinyl, but I doubt my children will experience any such pangs.

I’m the last person to recognize it, but things have changed.