On the quick-mention list, Balzac’s L'Envers de l'histoire Contemporaine of which a new translation was recently reviewed on Powell’s under the slightly askew title of The Wrong Side of Paris, which is nonetheless miles ahead of my bargain-base Signet translation as The Seamy Side of History, complete with seedy cover (honestly, a busty woman swigging from a bottle while a ruffian feels up her exposed leg — which, for a novel about Christian charity seems just a little distracting). It’s one of the Big B’s last works, written over several years and completed in Poland, no doubt as some kind of keepsake or charitable testament to Eve Hanska (there’s a little bit of Polish genealogy in it, also a tasty counterpoint in the form of a Polish Jew). There are moments when I did feel it was just a work made to impress — to advertise the Big B’s (sympathetic) catholic devotion and wed his countess all the sooner before his powers gave out, which they did shortly after. But not that this is in any way inconsistent for B, what between his wacky Romantic ideas of science on one hand and a kind of fitful subscription to Christianity and royalism on the other. When working on the big scale, I think he just wanted to have the broadest canvas and the widest possibilities on his side, or hedge-betting, what you will — it was all innate for the encyclopaedic novelist par excellence. So of course the familiar facets are all there: the fascination with secret and powerfully affluent societies, for fate and insurrection across post-revolution France, for printing and the law, for black and white poverty and noble hearts, for burnt out or ‘debauched’ husks of young men without ‘fortune’ or scruple but rich in wayward desperation, and above all, and this comes out clearest in the plotting stakes, a love of intrigue and an astutely economical ability to suggest its execution. This is one of the great virtues of the book, with an eye to what makes B great across his entire oeuvre: his ability to be verbose and prolifically expansive one minute (especially in his generous asides) and then acutely economical while narrating and fleshing out the actions of intrigue. That should be cap i Intrigue. The twist he facilitates is still so unexpected as to be almost divine in its intervention. One might think it a little too neat, or too rushed for someone who knew that would could’ve been a full novel had to be truncated to a novella for health reasons. Consequently there might be an air of desperation from B himself in the narrative, in yearning for some kind of personal salvation, like in the final tubercular works of some other writers. The Big B does at times seem restrained here, almost a ‘regular’ novelist. It’s strange that this last story about Paris, written outside of it, seems almost completely unrelated to it in atmosphere (I think he couldn’t effectively write about Christian virtue in the intriguing city, at least without seeming a little didactic). I think the snows and the frost had truly set in for B at his big new Polish estate, that the Intrigue of the city had burnt itself out and all that remained was the decay of the corpus. And yet petitioning eagerly all the while for a fitting Christian burial, with a fortune and titled status and everything else he hungered for.
More Symbol: I do love 2 the 9s, it’s the best case of funk wrapped in pop — though the grinding is way too long and pushes the neat melodic resolution too far afield. I woulda George Martin’d it myself. Another highpoint, production-wise for me, is the way he doubles real and synthesised instruments, specifically the trombone v the chintzy keyboard horns (though they may be real/ acoustic, it sounds tinnily electronic to me) on The Flow. Or layering real drums in tandem with machine beats. Another little thing I got to thinking re this album is that I like my funk cut with a strong sense of songwriting — not hooks and neat choruses per se, though P does them superbly, but a sense of crafting and progression in addition to a groove. Where most groove bands fall down is in not having either enough progressive chops or turns or changes in their groove: they just clatter on for hours with that Oh Yeah look that funk bands do so well — it doesn’t have to be verse-chorus-verse all the way, but a sense of giving the listener good value in variety and progression in song. P is always right on this. Another good example, to draw a far analogy, is Kelly Watch the Stars by Air — there’s not much lyrics-structuring here, but they craft a full three minute pop sense simply by modulation, mix and variety — watch the pacing of it. It’s only one lyric, but they disguise the music so that it doesn’t seems so, and in better ways than DJs with those inane stop starts and build-ups with a thousand beats crammed in, you know, brrrrbrbrbrbrbbrbrbrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr (quiet bit) boom.
You know, I found a very old little address book recently (from when I was 18, ah, the years!) with a list of books to be read in the back. Amongst which Under the Volcano, Genet’s Lady/Roses, and Petersburg. And I still haven’t got to it yet. My Petersburg detour got taken up with Raskolnikov and co, and I thought that was enough of a bee’s knee not to go back. Just read ASByatt’s neat little book on Portraits in Fiction (Balzac/Noiseuse gets mention, as well as the usual offenders and some inaresting exceptions), and on spur of her recent Guardian piece actually got out Middlemarch from the library. Not because I’m into 19th C women’s classics per se but for what I’m realising is the simple, effective prose style. Almost calmly precise yet entirely easy to read. And also got YSKOV by the Eggman but that one ain’t so easy. I want easy reads, dammit. I can’t believe I’m saying it but it’s true. I also find that I like tempering a Romantic Balzac session (face it, he’s pretty mad for the cap R there) with the cool antidote of a-romantic tracts like Human, All too Human or the crisp Florentian breeze of Machiavelli. Also on the recents list is Burton’s expansive melancholy latinate and mad long lists. But I will instruct my trusty library assistant to retrieve Woman In White and that will be the one for the read. I did send an earlier communiqué suggesting a Balzac short (Chabert or Sarassine) but it got lost in the regular myrealbox breakdowns, I believe.
Watched Akira again on the weekend (and all this posting reminds me, are we more than mere culture reviewers, endless analysts of our own consumption, of slightly fetishised products?) and was frankly surprised at how much more there is to the film than previously seen on crappy video copy with bad subtitling… Of course one has to wade through the at-times thick American accents trying to do Japanese over-emotion, but the animation is superb (was it all cell-anime?) and the pacing has just the right amount of indirect suggestion, ie very little you need to see this in order to understand what goes on later. Oh, s’pose very much like comic book panelling. And impressively long. And at times similar to Spirited Away. But an amazing ability to make suggestive/affective environments.
Homer moment: ‘Homer is a double bacon genius burger…’
Ay, that Prince Symbol album is walkman-heaven-bound. There was a time when my Sony had it on heavy rotation, I remember it during my Seattle stopover, busrides and burgerstands and rain. Now I’ve got a new discman/mp3 player it’s on rotation again. And it’s a huge behemoth tour de funk. Very 90s funk. Big package funk, glitzy shiny and cheesy. So much bigger in scale than diamonds/pearls, so much more double-album-live-at-budokan heavier. So much variety, so much rudeness. And lots of key P moments, all wrapped in sexfunk wrapped in pop: let me see the booty boom, what am I guilty of?, like a flame she came and I was no longer cold, the very jazzy-stacked horn motifs on Sexy MF, the Jackson-esque rhythm-singing on My name is P, the amazingly tasteful, economic guitar solo on Damn U, the big-tight snare sounds all through the album, there’s P the educationalists’ friend, the girlfriend-sympathiser, the avant-mystic-obscurist, the cornball rap-isms like In da House, And I’m Out etc, and as always with P I love his amalgamation of sex and outrageously-overdriven lead guitar, and all the grinding grinding grinding. And if you listen closely to the hammy Kirsty Ally bits — you can hear the edits.
Also, I remember Michael B complaining about having to nail 3 chains o’gold in one take — that’s some demanding work — was murder he says. Did you know P made a video clip for almost every song on that damn album. I wanna Melt w. You features Prince on rollerskates. I did a quick google for Tony M but he seems to have disappeared off the planet, along with his raps. There must be a support group for ex-Prince musos who’ve slid into deep failure/obscurity (amalgamated with the ex-Zappa bandmember’s union). But Sonny’s a great bass man.
Frankly, the time and the boredom, like nothing, like everything.
Use your time, says the instruction. And all I remember is that.
Couldn’t even remember the word Augment.
Needing some chocolate fixation. The feelgood of sugar. Enormous malaise.
Cookies, brownies, bars or liquid forms of chocolate, any.
Less than waiting and lower than only slightly engaged, a near-negative state of being.
I could spend hours like this but in the end — well the day ends and there’s a different form of waiting ahead on the train.
Constant addition of music. Just as bad for future wear-out fatigue, overplay.
And new editions of same to get us excited about nothing again. Remix, re-release, repackage. To make you forget. To make you think that the experience you had before was qualitatively inferior, replaceable only with this new remastered version.
Synonymous with ‘to increase’.
But, in line with time… and its wastage in front of lcd screens, a memory:
It’s not so much fear that is the mind-killer, but boredom.
Frankly I can’t stand that near-sighted misogynist Lars Von Trier. Not because he ultimately uses women as tools of pain and anguish and draws his audience into the pain (under the guise of being a demanding ‘actor’s (or rather actresses’) director’), but actually, yes, because he makes the cinema a painful place. Which is OK wherever truth or integrity is involved, or in the occasional you-need-to-see-this or feel-the-viscera genuine drama, but there’s something ugly about his mindset, way more than a mere audience-intended-effect. I don’t trust his artistic personality as perceived through his means, he’s simply not a personality I’d choose to engage with willingly. Doesn’t integrate right, doesn’t interface properly. There’s something downright negative at work there. His method is ugly. It’s like being forced to feel pity in a fascist state. At gunpoint. Have skipped Dogville. But these are not reactions I’d have to viewing the Piano Teacher. Completely different kettle. Or a Bergman divorce pic.