Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kelly last

Finally on tour in my area, Kelly Willis kept circling closer as she added dates, so I got to see her in my hometown. It was a really good show. She had her full band with her, which included two other guitarists, a mandolin/fiddler, keyboardist, and drummer. She sang a lot of songs off the new CD and mixed in a few oldies, but only one song from Easy. Kelly sounded terrific and somehow is still as skinny as a bean pole. Instead of boots, she was wearing white patent leather wedges. I always notice the shoes!

That's probably the only show I'll see before the New Year, unless we catch some last-minute thing before the holidays. I haven't really seen much else on the calendar. I guess it's all Frosty and Rudolph from now on. I don't mind a little Christmas music, but the incessant cheesy holiday music that they play in stores grates on my nerves. I heard, fleetingly, a crap country song on the radio as we were driving back home on Thanksgiving--something about "you are the angel at the top of my Christmas tree..." There's just about nothing worse than "modern" country Christmas songs.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Tis the November of my discontent...

I've been searching all day for the particular word to describe my feeling of general disagreeableness -- something more than mere ennui -- but less glum than weltschmerz. I'm sure it's largely my seasonal funk starting to edge its way in. There's something about the coming of winter, dark days, the negative aspects of the holidays with their crassness and fakery that bums me out every year.

In any case, I'm looking for a perfect French word for it; I know it's out there, but I can't quite put my finger on it. My husband suggests the humble "grumpy," but of course, it lacks a certain sophisticated, continental flair. The Eskimo have a hundred words for snow, but the French probably have about that many for feelings of discontent. Merde!

I just finished James Salter's novel Light Years, a beautifully written book about all sorts of discontents. It is a wonderful example of reading and life convergence. Salter is considered to be one of the last of the "Hemingway school" in his style, but I think he is a terrific improvement on Hemingway. I can see the influence in the short sentences and the precise word choice, and even in the way dialogue is delivered, but Salter's language is so much richer and more lyrical and his characters seem far more like real people. For one thing, Salter goes on my rather short list of male authors who write well about women (Flaubert, Hardy, Michael Ondaatje, Brian Hall to name the ones off the top of my head). Rather than the alien stick figures Hemingway conjures up, Salter's women are like -- gasp! -- human beings. The character Nedra's struggles with aging are uncomfortably familiar: "People only come this close..." looking at herself in the mirror, from a certain distance, in a certain light. How we deny! It is a book filled with many lovely, astute, disquieting things. (Another departure from the ersatz macho-man Ernest is that Salter was a real-life fighter-pilot in the Korean War, not some wanna-be adventurer.)

On a far different note, the Project Feeder bird counting starts this weekend. Funny, how I look forward to it. Selena vs. Squirrels, Round Two. There is no question, of course, who will emerge victorious.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Willa Cather is one of my favorite writers. I forget how beautiful her writing is in between books, and it always delights me when I rediscover it. This one has definitely spurred my interest in the history of New Mexico and the clashing of Spanish, native, and American cultures. I find myself thinking of Cormac McCarthy and his perspective on these "clashes" in Blood Meridian. Obviously, he renders the violence in much more gut-wrenching terms than Cather does, and she actually finds humane and genuinely good men -- Father Latour, Father Vaillant, the young Indian Jacinto, and Kit Carson -- among the killers, rascals, and cheats. One thing these writers do have in common is their ability to evoke the natural beauty, mystery, and majesty of the southwestern landscape. I'm just a bit over half way through, but it's such a wonderful book to enter into autumn with.

I think next may be James Salter, and I'm also planning to read The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, considered to be one of the greatest Italian novels.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Music outlook and Rilo Kiley

My hubby didn't change his mind about Wilco when we saw them live. He's not a fan and neither does he care for Jeff Tweedy's hat. I did enjoy the show, though. Maybe it was the happy location of our seats in the outdoor venue, but the sound was really excellent. Kudos to the sound dude. We were going to go see Kelly Willis this weekend, but she's added a date even closer to us in November, so we're going to wait until then.

My musical obsession of the week is the new Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight. I've heard some of the earlier stuff and cuts from Jenny Lewis' solo album, but nothing really hooked me until I listened to the new one on Rhapsody, then had to go out and buy it. It's one of those rare CDs that every track is really appealing. Of course, the fans of previous RK are apparently all het up that it's a "sellout" because it doesn't sound just like the first one, which was nice but more mellow and sounded similar to every other emo group providing a soundtrack to Grey's Anatomy. If this one provided a soundtrack to a show, it would have to be something on HBO, considering the subject matter and racy lyrics. That being said, I'll probably go back to the first one for more attentive listening now.

Lewis has a great voice and it's very versatile. I get everything from Cher to Liz Phair to Madonna from her songs. There is also something to be said for a really good beat, which most of these songs have. I read a Guardian review of this CD, which was mostly positive, but the reviewer thought they went terribly wrong on a song called "Breaking Up;" he thought the closing refrain sounded frightfully like a jingle for a tampon advert! That's why I like the Guardian. While I might not agree, I can see what he means, and it's pretty funny.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Joe Henry, Wilco, Alejandro Escovedo

I won tickets to go see Wilco next Friday, which is cool since I probably wouldn't have gone to the show otherwise. I like some of their stuff, but their more "experimental" mode leaves me a little cold. I was not a big fan, unlike the rest of the musical universe, of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Sky Blue Sky seems more my style though. I hope it's a good show.

I also just bought Joe Henry's new CD Civilians. On only a few listens, I really like it a lot. He writes really intricate, beautiful lyrics. I love the rumination that he puts in the mouth of Willie Mays (standing in a Home Depot -- a bit of reality?) in "Our Song." He's a true original, much like Tom Waits. I think he' d be really great to see live too.

I saw another fantastic Alejandro show that was all electric -- no cellos or violins. It was rocking! His cover of "Beast of Burden" was a lot of fun, too.

Next up, I hope, is Kelly Willis in Lexington. No tickets yet, but it's on my calendar. And thank goodness I saw the White Stripes in July -- looks like Meg is having some major troubles and the remaining tour is canceled, both in the States and the UK. Bummer for those folks.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On Chesil Beach

I just read On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, which is on the Booker short list. I'm a big fan, and though I liked this one, I wouldn't count it among my favorites. It really is more of a novella -- I read it in a sitting. It had the feeling of an exercise -- a working out of a writing challenge. Certainly, in lesser hands, such delicate and intimate subject matter could turn out all wrong and end up a candidate for the infamous Bad Sex Award. McEwan is deft where his sadly matched protagonists are clumsy, however. He takes us back to the days when men and women could still be hopelessly uninformed and reticent about sex (early 60s in Britain, just on the cusp of the sexual revolution) and explores the repercussions on an idealistic young couple who have a very bad wedding night.

But it seems to me that he tips the scales a bit. It's not just that they're "virginal" and nervous. and that it's a "different time." He suggests that there is something much darker going on. Unless I misread, the woman Florence has a (repressed) history of being sexually abused by her father. That fact, to me, turns it then into rather old territory of McEwan's, where such themes of incest and sexual transgression recur. Maybe I just had other expectations for it from what I had already read and heard about this book. I guess I'm just left wondering what his point was -- and if I missed it entirely.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Literary news: Glad and sad

Cormac McCarthy won the U.K."s James Tait Black memorial prize for The Road. The Guardian article indicates, too, that he is being mentioned as a Nobel contender. I'd like to see that -- it would be very well-deserved for his entire body of work, which is impressive, to say the least.

I also read the obituary for literary scholar Julia Briggs, who was only in her 60s and died of a brain tumor. I read her study of Virginia Woolf and loved it. She was married to the historian Robin Briggs, which I did not know. It's very tragic. When one of your favorite writers dies, it is a loss -- even though you don't know them personally, you feel you know them just a little through their work; and of course, you do lose the gift of the writing that they would have done.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What else I did this summer...besides read

I followed up The Keep with On Beauty by Zadie Smith (thumbs up) and read an old Rose Macaulay novel called Crewe Train on the beach. That is one from the vaults (1926). Macaulay is an underappreciated writer. She's wickedly funny, elegant, interesting -- a fine satirist. The Towers of Trebizond ought to be at least a minor classic. She was more well-known than Virginia Woolf at the time, but I think she kind of got swamped by the Modernists -- Woolf, Joyce, Hemingway, and all those post-war writers. She wrote a wrenching, melancholy novel called Non-Combatants and Others in the midst of WWI.
I visited the beach for several days and had a lovely time despite the influx of jellyfish. They were small and pale, but numerous. I think they were the common Moon variety, but I'm not an expert. I did see one or two that were much larger, and I assume they were different from the masses. The water was beautiful and clear on the Gulf Coast, so you could see all the other fish nipping around your ankles as well.
I saw a great, scaled-down Marah show at the Bottletree in Birmingham, a very cool little venue with some pretty good bar food. I had only seen them one other time, and the guitars were so loud, I really couldn't hear the voices, so this was a treat. I could actually hear Dave and Serge sing. I liked the set, which included many old favorites from Kids in Philly. It was awesome to hear "City of Dreams" from If You Didn't Laugh.
And, last but not least, we caught the White Stripes at Sloss Furnace, also in Birmingham. Whew! Outdoors in July in a big, tin shed. It was a furnace, alright! Despite the sweltering, airless shed and the concrete floor (no seats!), it was a great show. Even the Megster came out from behind the drums and sang "Cold, Cold Night." (However, I am way too old and spoiled for such things, so I'll probably try to see Jack in AC venues from now on.) One of my sidenotes from this show is spotting a true "southern belle." I had always heard that they do not sweat but "glisten." Lest you think this is a myth, I noticed a very chic young lady--bangs swept over her forehead, perfect makeup, crisp clothes--who arrived in the infernal confines of Sloss and looked just as fresh after the concert. Obviously, she must have made a pact with the Devil, and so was unaffected by the heat and smoke that turned the rest of us into sweaty, disheveled rock-and-roll degenerates.
I'm now in the middle of the new Edith Wharton biography by Hermione Lee. I'm always amazed at the ability of great biographers to ferret out all those far-flung bits and pieces, assemble them, and then make some kind of sense out of them. Not to mention, they have the challenge of filling in the gaps. In EW's case, she made sure to self-edit her archives by destroying a great many letters (though she did leave her "secret diary"). Henry James, one of her primary correspondents and friends, burned most of her letters to him on request.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More summer reading: The Keep

I had never read Jennifer Egan before. The reviews of The Keep were so good that I put it on my list about a year ago. It was very enjoyable; I kept thinking that it really was a perfect vacation read--neither too light or too ponderous. It was a satisfying mix of the contemporary and the old-fashioned gothic thriller, complete with a castle, ghosts, murders, dream sequences, dungeons...the whole nine yards (to mix in a sports metaphor). There's text and there's metatext, and maybe a little meta-meta-text. Fun! It reminded me of both Stewart O'Nan's The Speed Queen and Peter Cameron's Andorra (two old favorites) with a side of Horace Walpole!

I'm nearly finished with Zadie Smith's On Beauty. To be such a youngun' she certainly seems worldly and wise. Also, the other W -- witty. It's a campus novel, an homage to E.M. Forster (so she states upfront, and I definitely see the link with Howard's End), a clash of ideologies, and an almost bedroom farce...almost. She's rather relentless in not letting any characters off the hook. I like this description from Time magazine: "Cultures don't clash in Zadie Smith's books. They arm wrestle, get in one another's faces and climb into one another's beds." That's hitting the nail on the head for White Teeth as well.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Michael Ondaatje is the master of the loosely connected narrative. Seemingly unconnected people and events in his novels wind around to brush up against one another. Where the characters end up overlapping is often the way their stories are illuminated, even as they spin away again into their separate worlds. Divisadero traces the paths of two sisters, Anna and Claire, and the boy, Coop, who they grow up with on a California farm. Their lives are suddenly altered in the aftermath of a disastrous love affair, and they move out into the world apart, but still living intimately with the memories of their former existence. Anna's voice moves in and out of the narration, as she researches the life of a French writer, Lucien Segura, in a remote village in France. There, she takes a lover, Rafael -- the son of gypsies whose caravan lies at the periphery of Segura's farmhouse where she works.

The story then becomes as much about Segura as Anna, Claire, and Coop. The sections set in France, both in the near present and in the early-1900s of Segura's life are very beautiful. There are many parallels between these lives, decades apart. Segura's war was the devastating conflict of the Great War; in the present, the Gulf Wars hovers in the background of Coop's life as an accomplished gambler in the casinos and dives of Las Vegas and Tahoe.

This is one of those novels that bears a second reading, just for the pleasures of its prose, but also to discover all the tenuous filaments that tie its characters together. I've admired all of Ondaatje's novels that I've read: The English Patient, In the Skin of a Lion, and Anil's Ghost -- but I think this and Anil are the ones that I found to be the most moving.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

O Lord, what fools these mortals be!

I kicked off my summer (a bit early) appropriately by re-reading A Midsummer Night's Dream. One of the things that I like about Shakespeare is that he remains so darn funny. I was chuckling all the way through the Pyramus and Thisbe scene, which is so silly and touching at the same time. All the while Bottom and his fellows are murdering the play with their literalness and malapropisms (Ninny's tomb!) and the royal onlookers are making their snarky comments, you are acutely aware of their earnestness and their sense of duty. They are the best of good 'ole boys paying their respect to king and queen on their wedding day having spent their zero leisure time preparing their lines and being set upon by mischievous fairies!

I was reading something the other day about the play that reminded me of all the spells lifted to put things to rights at the end, Demetrius was left under a spell. He didn't love Helena until the potion was put into his eyes, but the fairies didn't mend their magic, so essentially, it's only magic that ties him to Helena. For Shakespeare, of course, it paired off all the lovers neatly at the end. If he had indulged in sequels as much as we do today, he could have written a further tragedy (or maybe one of those dark romances) in which Demetrius awakens from the spell and is married to a woman that he doesn't even like! Possibilities!

I think I'm going to read The Tempest again too; then Faust -- both Marlowe's and Goethe's. It's all John Crowley's fault!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Endless Things -- last of Crowley's Aegypt series

I just finished Endless Things, after reading the four novels of Aegypt in succession. I've been a big Crowley fan for a while now, but I never read this cycle, which began twenty years ago (Aegypt came out in 1987)! I think you could think of the four volumes as one very, very long novel. I usually do that terrible thing where I try to compare a writer to a similar writer, but I don't think I can do that with Crowley.

To the uninitiated, this series focuses on the scholar/historian Pierce Moffett, who finds himself out of a job, then "buswrecked" in a small town where he decides to remain, or doesn't "decide" -- Moffett tends to let things happen to him , and is, in fact, almost incapable of making decisions about anything pertaining to his future plans. So, the peripatetic Moffett drifts, or is pulled, on a journey through four novels that echoes the thinking, yearning, searching quests of Renaissance philosophers John Dee and Giordano Bruno. It would take entirely too long to explain the intricacies of this story or the cast of characters, but if you are interested in such things as ancient religions and mythologies, alchemy, magic, the occult, the Renaissance, the Inquisition, werewolves, Appalachian lore, witches, angels and demons, literature, the nature of time, astrology, possession, and of course, love... well then, this might be for you. You get the picture. It's complicated, but in a delightful way.

Crowley is, by far, one of the more erudite novelists around, and you do have to pay attention. The reading is demanding in equal measure to the pleasure you will get out of it.

If my rambling is too vague, then you might want to check out the laudatory review in the Washington Post. Also look out for a piece by Michael Dirda in the Post; he mentioned it in one of his weekly online chats, which I highly recommend for book nerds everywhere. Not many mainstream reviews out there. But they're just scared of him, no doubt. Awed to silence!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Summer reading bonanza

It's challenging when all of your favorite authors have new books at roughly the same time! My summer reading is usually decidedly not new. I believe last summer I was reading Colette and Robbe-Grillet, for instance. I like to catch up on quirky old novels or the forgotten classics that I never got around to. But this summer, already waiting for me, are new novels by Ian McEwan (On Chesil Beach) and Michael Ondaatje (Divisadero); I'm currently in the middle of Crowley's Endless Things, following up the third volume, Daemonomania. I keep changing my favorite, of course, but I really loved D. It was dark, sad, and of course, beautiful and mysterious. The Solstice Masque scene near the end was amazing. I don't know how he does it. But I digress....

I'm pretty darn sure Suite Francaise was on last year's list, but it's on my nightstand still. And scattered 'round the bed, the sacred and profane: King James Bible, The Way of Hermes, May issue of Vogue, an encyclopedia of occult philosophies, Bullfinch's Mythology. Most of these point their way back to Crowley, except just possibly, the Vogue.

I was also planning to finally read something by Michael Chabon -- the new one seems pretty interesting (Jews in Alaska! A minyan for Fleishman...); Haruki Murakami, Don Delillo; I've never read anything by Martin Amis -- is it skipping ahead to read the son before the father? Oh, and The Keep by Jennifer Egan, also on my list for about a year. And it's not like I don't have anything else to do. I suppose I feel compelled to make up for that 60 appalling-percent of my country people who confess to reading nothing at all! This explains much, eh?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Jim James and James Brown ...sort of

I had another really cool weekend of music -- just by happenstance I attended two benefit concerts. The first was a benefit for Kush Griffith, trumpeter and arranger (I think) for the Godfather of Soul James Brown. Kush was in a wheel chair but still very capable of delivering the funk. Playing along with him were two other members of the band, drummer Melvin Parker and his brother Maceo on saxophone. We went on the spur of the moment; it was a show also featuring Brigid Kaelin on keys and vocals. I've seen her a couple of times, as a guest artist at other shows and she's always impressive. We do have a wealth of local talent in Louisville. It was a lot of fun--and the music was great.

We were lucky enough to get tickets for Jim James (featuring Sarah Elizabeth and Ron Whitehead) along with local artist and musician Andy Cook, and Jim's My Morning Jacket bandmate, Carl Broemel. The concert benefited the owners of the venerable Rudyard Kipling -- a performance spot for artists of all types for a couple of decades in Louisville. The first set was Ron W.'s poems interspersed with Sarah's songs (including several duets with Jim). Sarah has a beautiful voice that blended very nicely with Jim on House of the Rising Sun, Sound of Silence, and (way cool) White Rabbit.

It's hard to overstate what an immensely entertaining, warm, lively, and sometimes dreamy set that Jim and friends put on in the second half of the evening. I've never seen MMJ live and I've only seen Jim on Austin City Limits, so it was quite a revelation. First of all, we're in a room that probably holds about 100 people, sitting and standing, and although there were a few feedback issues, the sound was really beautiful and rich. I know I'm lucky to have been in on this show in such an intimate setting. Jim is an unflagging powerhouse of a performer. He played for at least two hours just in his set, so I now understand why those marathon Bonnaroo shows are so legendary! I think his voice can't be appreciated as much if you only hear the recordings -- it ventures somewhere between the poles of ethereal and wailing, swathed in the dreamy reverb.

Inasmuch as you can get a vibe about someone just by observing them on a stage, Jim exudes a very gentle warmth, part down-home Kentucky boy, part Buddhist monk. There is something incantatory about his songs; they have a quality of snatching after something elusive. I suppose sitting in such an intimate setting, musically beguiled for such a length of time, tempts one to deconstruct the experience, but I'll heed the warning of Wordsworth -- to murder is to dissect -- and leave the rest to the imagination.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Brandi Carlile

I've only been listening to Brandi Carlile for a couple of weeks but she's already in my Pantheon of favorite artists. I kept hearing her name and decided to check out the free tracks on Rhapsody. They were off her first recording, and I was immediately blown away. I rushed right out and bought that one -- and who was I kidding -- also bought the new, T-bone Burnett-produced CD (The Story) a few days later. I've been listening to both and spreading Brandi-fever to my friends and family. I don't usually link to MySpace, but her space has the streaming music, of course, as well as a lot of cool links to video (check out the ATT Room, featured prominently).

Honestly, I haven't been this excited by a new find since Marah's Kids in Philly. Brandi has a beautiful voice reminiscent at times of KD Lang, Janis Joplin, and Patsy Cline, but of course, just shades of those great singers -- she's really unique. She has even inspired in me, the ham-fisted, a desire to learn to play guitar. I mean, everyone wants to play the guitar, but actually having the discipline to learn and practice, which is another thing altogether.

She and her band members (The Twins!) write all the songs (although there is an excellent live Elton John cover on the first one). I also like the fact that in the picture on the back cover of The Story, she looks a bit like Jack White. That's a good sign!

Monday, May 21, 2007

The pleasures and pain of live music

A lot of people -- including myself, when younger -- don't like live music, because they want to hear the performers sounding *exactly* like they do on the record. It's taken me awhile to appreciate hearing performers live, warts and all, but I think that's become one of the most entertaining aspects of trekking to concerts: the unexpected. It's fascinating to see how performers relate (or don't) to a live audience and how they respond when things beyond their control, perhaps, go haywire.

I like getting a little glimpse of how they relate to band mates, how their nerves manifest themselves, or how they conform (or don't) to the mood of the audience on a particular night. You can certainly tell from reading concert reviews (non-pros more than pros) that performances vary wildly from one night to another, one city to the next. The artists themselves recognize that certain intangibles make one show electric and another one completely flat. What makes a performance "transcendent" and what merely good?

I had an excellent opportunity to explore all of these things during a public radio sponsored concert over the weekend that included this wonderfully diverse line-up (in order of performance): Paula Cole (back from "Where have all the cowboys gone?" post-Lilith Fair obscurity); Charlie Louvin (introducing songs he first recorded in 1955!); Suzanne Vega; the trippy rock band Vietnam; and finally, our hero, Ryan Adams.

The anxious fanboys and fangirls had crowded in early for Ryan, and yeah, I was mostly there for him as well, although I was really looking forward to Vega and checking out Vietnam, who I didn't know much about at all. So first Paula Cole: great voice, sexy little black dress, cool heels, and some really bizarre dance moves. As we say in the south, bless her heart. She was a bit hard to watch. She either needs to wear the dress and be a softly swaying songstress or check into some blue jeans more conducive to rocking out, if that's her version of it.

Charlie Louvin broke out the old school country and gospel tunes that your grandaddy might have been singing along to after returning from Korea (the War, that is). He was a treat and such an old hand. He wasn't the least bit confounded by the kids in their baby doll t-shirts and dyed mohawks. Introducing one old love'em and leave'em crying song, he observed wryly to the front rows, "You're too young to have lost anything yet." He served up the stage banter he's been rolling out for a good fifty years, and it still mostly works.

Suzanne Vega is just Cool. She's got a sexy, smarter-than-you, big-city elegance that I wasn't really expecting. She sounds amazing, which I was expecting. Her new CD "Beauty and Crime" is coming out this summer and sounds like it will be strong. One of our household, all-time favorites is "Nine Objects of Desire," which I guess was her last full release, not counting retrospectives.

I liked Vietnam, after my initial fright (two of those boys look like Charles Manson, without the crazy eyes -- although I may not have been close enough). Seriously, there might have been more total hair on display than My Morning Jacket. In fact, they make MMJ look Esquire-groomed by comparison. Plus, MMJ doesn't scare me. Whoa--I don't know what the songs actually said, but their sound is very authentically post-911, the world is fucked, and we're-here-to-witness (they're based in Brooklyn). I also called them "attack of the Allman Bros." because the drummer's blonde hirsuteness was more hippy-smooth than the others. They're sort of Bob Dylan crossed with hairy southern rock with some goth undertones. What the hell? I thought they were creepily compelling and sure to be condemned by the likes of Karl Rove, W., and company, which makes them aces in my book.

Ryan, Ryan. In his defense, he apparently tore a ligament while skateboarding and can't play the guitar. Okay, accidents happen. The show still goes on and the brat boy had such a wonderful opportunity to ingratiate himself by showing up, being charming and self-deprecating (I know, I know). But, no. First of all, I wasn't aware that he'd had any sort of accident, so he and the band gather in near total darkness toward the back of the stage, sitting on stools, making it hard to decipher just which one was Ryan Adams. Finally, his disembodied voice (like an angel, of course) emerges from the crouched and hooded figure near the piano.

So the lights never came up, no one ever said diddly to the audience, and though the songs (new ones) sounded pretty good, we were all too bemused/disappointed/miffed to notice. What the heck is he doing? Is that a splint on his hand? Did he tear an eye-ligament (big-ass, ridiculous sunglasses, despite the gloom)? Is that a shower cap he's wearing under the hoodie? Is he reading the music off a stand (I definitely saw him turning pages)? Is that actually Ryan Adams or a changeling? So many questions. His first and only words were good night and thanks as he and the band left the stage after playing about 30 minutes. If only we'd had pitchforks and torches on us. Who knew?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Jazz Fest Weekend One

Whoops -- I saved this as a draft and never got around to posting, so...better late than never:

I made my first trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest this year. We went all three days and saw Dr. John, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, Norah Jones, Gillian Welch, and Arturo Sandoval. The weather was hot, but not nearly as humid as I expected, and we had bright, sunny skies all three days. Unfortunately, we had to choose between Van and Lucinda Williams, but parked ourselves for The Man, since it's less likely we'll see him again. It was good, even though we were pretty far away in our little patch of chairs. People run their flags up for a good reason in that crowd. Once you leave your campsite and try to find it again, you can end up flailing around for awhile in the mass of humanity!

It's a great festival--colorful, friendly, and eclectic. There's much more music than what I listed above, which were the headliners. Next time, I would spend a little more time in some of the smaller tents, not only to get out of the sun, but also to sample some of the variety of acts and local music. We caught some of the Creole Indians and Pete Fountain, but as the crowds increase, it's harder to move around.

Since I'm not that much of a crowd person anyway, I have to say my favorite moment of the festival was being up close for Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. It's the first time I've seen them live, and both were fantastic. That, followed by Sandoval on the final day was certainly a highlight.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Love and Sleep in preparation for Endless Things

I finished Aegypt and I'm currently in the middle of the next installment, Love and Sleep. I really enjoyed the early chapters of L&S, which covered the young Pierce Moffett's childhood in eastern Kentucky. I think that since I'm reading these back to back and they were written almost 10 years apart, I'm finding the redundancy in the latter parts of L&S a little offputting. I'm sure the exposition would be more needful for someone reading it as a standalone or for the poor person who had been waiting seven years to get to volume two! But that's a fairly minor point. I should probably reserve further judgment until I've finished it.

Meanwhile, I've been amused and delighted by John Crowley's blog. I had no idea he had one, but came across the link on Wikipedia. Lots of good things there for word nerds and people who like witty, literate commentary--from both blogger and commenters.

In music, I've been listening to James Hunter for a little retro vibe -- I saw him live recently, and he was really fun. Also, I've been listening to Cold War Kids. I had heard them on an MTV podcast (I think that's what it was). Very compelling, story-like lyrics about people whose lives have gone tragically awry for the most part. It's not groovy lounge music by any means. I really like the piano parts.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

On to fiction!

I finally finished Niall Ferguson's War of the World, and after spending a month with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and their minions, I am more than ready to spend time in fictional la-la land. I just had time to start John Crowley's Aegypt, which should put me as far from reality as I can get, as it promises to deal with Angels, alchemy, and alternate worlds. Weirdly, when I picked it up last night, the first date mentioned in the book was March 8, which is today and the setting was a coal mining town in Appalachian Kentucky, which is close to where I hail from. Weird, huh?

Aegypt was originally published in 1987 as the first novel in a tetralogy, and the fourth one, Endless Things, is due this very April. In other words, I need to get busy.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The War of the World

I've been reading Niall Ferguson's history of twentieth century conflict. I'm a bit more than half way through, but the going is getting tough. It is an excellent effort, thorough, and offers interesting insights, but I've been on hiatus because it became so disturbing. I've read a lot of military history, so I'm no stranger to violence recounted, but the litany of horrors from World War II has just about done me in. And I haven't even got to the section on the Rape of Nanking. I think the stark, documentary accounts of neighbors killing neighbors (and sometimes family members)--the more "intimate" nature of the mass murdering that went on ahead of the Nazi industrialization of death--is the thing that got to me. It is difficult to understand, although Ferguson attempts to enumerate some of the contributing factors, how seemingly ordinary people can turn into killing machines. The line is too fine between "humanity" and bestiality, and it is a phenomenon that can not be safely relegated to the past. All you have to do is look at Africa, not to mention the Middle East. So, as I am not one to abandon a book--especially when I'm 400 pages in--I'll have to tackle it again.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Random play

One of the best things about MP3 players is the random shuffle feature. Some people claim that their devices are in sync with them to a preternatural degree (don't these people choose the songs, themselves-duh!), but I'm not here to debate that. They do however, sometimes cook up a particularly heavenly run of songs that have nothing to do with each other, but somehow seem just right. While walking on the treadmill, I heard, in succession:
  • Looking for someone like you - Kelly Willis
  • Ordinary Joe - Terry Callier
  • Off the record - My Morning Jacket
  • Strawberry Road - Sam Phillips
  • My heart is the bums on the street - Marah
  • When I was cruel - Elvis Costello
Anyway, it was pretty awesome. That's all.

Friday, January 19, 2007

McEwan's life is as strange as his fiction

I loved the story in the Times this week about Ian McEwan discovering an older brother he never knew about. The details sound like the premise of a really great novel! Clandestine affair, a baby given up to strangers during wartime, the death of a husband in Normandy...

In other news, poet Seamus Heaney won the TS Eliot Poetry Prize for his latest collection (which I haven't read yet). Also a writer from Kentucky won a British prize for short stories: Willie Davis for "Kid in a Well." You can read it on The Guardian's site.

Woolf and the creative process

I just finished Julia Briggs' Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life. What distinguishes this "biography" is that the focus is squarely on Woolf as an artist. Woolf was an exemplary diary keeper, and Briggs' uses great resources to show how she created her books from conception to publication. Even if you are not a particular Woolf fan, any one interested in how artists work, in the mystery of the creative process, would enjoy reading this book. Also, for anyone doing research on specific works by Woolf, this is an excellent reading guide. I found myself--a devoted Woolf fan--newly impressed by her serious work ethic, complicated as it was by her fragile mental health and fragmented by two major wars. (The Woolfs split their time between the country and the city, but Woolf was passionate about London. One of her former homes was destroyed, and her last home in London was damaged by WWII bombing.) She was deeply devoted to her craft. She could have reeled off traditional narratives by the score, but she was passionately attached to the idea of finding new forms to get at the truth of being. She wanted to write books about the inner workings of our minds, about all the invisible things that shape what we are and what we do.

I also highly recommend Hermione Lee's full-length biography of Woolf, which is more of a traditional "life" bio. It came out several years ago, and this spring Lee is publishing a new biography of Edith Wharton, which I will probably pick up. In addition, Claire Tomalin (Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys) has a new bio of Thomas Hardy out now that sounds very good. They're all dropping at the same time!

My next "big read" is history, however. I just started Niall Ferguson's War of the Worlds: The Descent of the West. I think it's going to be really interesting, if sobering. He's looking at the extraordinary violence of the last century and attempting to analyze it in new ways--apparently he's turning a few standard arguments on their heads; for example, instead of the rise of Western power and influence, he sees a "reorienting toward the East." Anyway, I've plowed through the 70-page introduction and just begun the first chapter.