Magic is still possible, Bowie’s Heroes proves that.
- Emotion enriches a song's complexity. This song is a sustained emotional note.
- The song is Berlin. A scene, an atmosphere, a braveness, a flame.
- Yes, when it comes to such naked emotion as Heroes, one can wield words like 'flame' without sounding arch or Romantic or insincere.
- The song makes believers. Music should be the trajectory of strong emotions.
I wonder, when working on Miles’ Someday My Prince Will Come, how did Hank Mobley feel to be upstaged so dramatically by Coltrane? On the same song? It’s no wonder he sounds slightly intimidated and resorts to laid-back bop-isms. Next to the furnace of Coltrane he (Mobley) sounds like a pilot-light, small and isolated and not likely to be taken up by the rest of the band. Somewhere in the background Miles looks with bemused eyes at the contrast, letting him dangle.
But lordy lordy, I love ballads. There’s some amazing balladeering on this album. A real contemplative muse.
I had an insight of sorts about happiness recently. (And on a related note I read a very interesting article about positive psychology on Edge.org which is well worth a read). It is this: the reason why many people don’t achieve happiness is because they expect to experience it exclusively — when in reality it’s often cut with other, less positive factors like suffering, work, loss and other drags. Or: that happiness is far milder than we’ve come to picture it. We imagine pure and total satisfaction on that account, but happiness deals exclusively in small change. Or: that even a little quantum of happiness comes at the cost of much labour and mildly unhappy hours at the desk. But at least, by knowing this, we can somewhat control and build up on it. Build on potential and strengths.
A plot with trimmings worthy of a Balzac novel — desperate pecuniary needs, base motives and intrigue, a flair for legal complication and method, secret orders with absolute powers, some virtuous innocents feinting in the face of corruption, near-caricature foreigners, and a massive villain with a master plan. Or, in terms of form, an instalment from the glory age of the novel.
There’s a strong sense of indulging his readership, of taking the long, prosaic and mannered approach to explanations, indulging their implied moral reactions etc. Very much in the mode of Dickens, and probably getting paid by the word. Often: what in journalism would be called labouring the point, begging the question or overdrawing one’s account.
The perpetual emphasis on future events and contexts, yet still managing to pull off an amazing (again Balzacian) twist, with several smaller twists further on. As well as keeping the reader in mind of past facts and notes. So, coaxing the reader along and flattering him on the way, keeping him entertained in the serialised sense.
A remarkable record of a social code and discourse (broadly Victorian) which has largely disappeared — manners and status and respectability expressed purely through dialogue. And, by way of plotting, the unscrupulous use and abuse of these manners, those English traits. In the words of the Golden Papa: “We don’t want genius in this country, unless it is accompanied by respectability — and then we are very glad to have it, very glad indeed.” (p9)
So much of the action depends on prompt transportation, on anticipation and movement. Thence the actions and intercessions on other’s behalf and interests, deliberately misserving others’ needs as need be; spy rings and manipulation, cowed wives trotting along in trains and flies. Swift movement facilitates more effective surveillance and monitoring, with which the book is stuffed. Trains and trained spies, social bullying and threats. The pleasure and Englishness of the Steam Age English Way underwritten with wilful and measured abuse. And the first appearances of a societal paranoia.
But then again Wilkie does give a sense of good value — especially peppering the early part of the narrative with nice little commentaries and asides: little nuggets of acutely spun observation or artistic expression of thought, little sociological quips from the author. Which, in an occasionally trying and wordy narrative, is like an occasional Scooby-snack on the mystery trail. Good value like the extra lick or hook in a pop song chorus, an in character flutter in the cinema, or a rich Balzac aside.
eg p46: Our words which are giants when they do us an injury, and dwarfs when they do us a service.
or p110: No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with women.
OK, so they could be more humorous. But this ain’t Amis. There’s more pithy stuffs on pages 36, 39, 94, 151 and 474. Some snide comments on women’s lot.
I gave Abel Ferrera’s The Addiction a bit of a gander on DVD. Interesting to see a modern B&W take on the vampire myth, and have it set in the questing, doubting, striving world of PhD students. This makes for an interesting little visual-thematic twist on the parasitic exchange of knowledge at the end. As you can guess, the film presents vampiricism or the New Vampirical Affect as pretty much synonymous with regular (almost academic) drug addiction. Enter your Burroughs reference, hello Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and make way for Feuerbach — ‘cos everyone gets a mention. Seriously, the film is stuffed with topical reference to these and other writers, with of course some notable exceptions (where’s BF Skinner?) and if the postdoctoral setting doesn’t already give you the Next Chapter Due horrors, then these hammy, unfootnoted references will. Even Christopher Walken, so much on home ground here, gets to spout and piffle like tweed and leather elbow patches. Philosophy and addiction, willpower and blood, the necessity of soulless subjection, together at last! If our lead actress was sponsoring her thesis with a little bit of bloodsucking on the side, pimping her philosophical instincts as it were, then OK — but as it stands, I thought it a little snide to try and make weighty referential justifications. That said, the photography is nicely claustrophobic, thematically contrapuntal to Abels’ King of New York (oops, academic talk again). And, predictably, like any vampirical world, it all depends on a very Christian and cross-heavy idea of reality and salvation. Christian, all too Christian, that is.
Irish band Kila, in full St Patrick’s Day swing, 17/03/04. Furious Oirish rhythms, resoundingly bad PA/mixing at the Olympia squashing the rich sound, mad Oirishmen and women everywhere doing jigs with beers, a core band of 7 augmented by string quartet, those mad mad oirish arpeggios and trad drumming, flutes and uilleann pipes and some resoundingly able musicianship (amazing repertory memory) and the gap-toothed excitement of playing white rhythm grooves without emphasis on bass or counterpoint… those mad fast Oirish jigs. But they also did a subtle, absolutely emotional tune called Travelling Begins, I think, which was damn near wistful and rending. After a truckload of rhythm, a nice breather, a heart.
Literary surprises are few and far between when you can’t afford new books or the have tenacity to review them all — which no reviewer does anyway (‘we sell conviction’ they might say), but I had a few moments of discrete literary pleasure to chance upon Amis’ collection of shorts Einstein’s Monsters. Amis is quite the accomplished short story writer — because in a sense it’s so clear which writerly models he pays heavy subscription to. There’s one in the Bellow mode, one in Ballard and an hilarious romp in the Borges mode. Also interesting to see how much more acerbic and sassy he plays these modes, how much more British. But the hard theme of the book is the fallout from the nuclear age and nuclear deterrence. An opening essay does a good job at illustrating how nukes, nuclear war and nuclear deterrence do funny things to logic and language (ie, how can you defend your land and people with nukes when after an initial strike very little will be left to defend), and importantly, how their threat has dilated and completely inverted our sense and experience of time. ‘I’m cosmic — in time — but so are nukes: in power’ says Amis’ Immortal. Time and the destruction of the sky are consistent tropes here; and besides the clearly helpless and therefore humane paranoia infecting the stories, it’s his punchy and precise use of humour — never too extended, never too cheap — that really glows here. I mean, to compare a heavily-sedated schizophrenic’s face to Ivan Lendl, ‘two sets down to his worst enemy and trailing love-five in the third’ is just sublime — for all of us who remember Lendl and his Rexona spots. Or this from Bujak:
Bujak spoke of Einstein as if he were God’s literary critic, God being a poet. I, more stolidly, tend to suspect that God is a novelist — a garrulous and deeply unwholesome one too…
Or maybe that’s Amis senior putting in another appearance. Anyhoo, fun simple stories, all clever, all clear in who what where and how, all in conversational English without an ounce of superfluous fat.
But, again, sometimes I feel like all there's left to do is constantly review stuff...
Great rhythm players = better virtuoso performance.
One thing I’ve noticed with some soloists, both in jazz and in rock, is that when they have a tighter, more rhythmic unit behind them, they tend to make better solos. Just listen to Jimi expanding his range on Live at the Fillmore East — from the warm-up of Stone Free to the intense emotion of Machine Gun — there’s a palpable sense of expansion and precision, of going further in sound and technical improvisation. And never once does it sound like just so much soloing or flatulent self-indulgence like Page live with the Zep, it is above all emotional, in the moment. And it strides a delicate balance between heaviness and engaged performance. One can’t help feeling that all this has something to do with the tight simplicity of Buddy Miles’ drumming. Top-end melodic freedom is usually underwritten in simple, limited rhythms. Buddy is an unusually supportive drummer — I’m sure he’d make a great jazz drummer too. Hendrix is in top form all thru the concerts, really at the top of his art and ability as a result. The only direction he could go in after this would’ve been a fusion of some sort. Now, Adam, do you regret giving away this CD?
They compulsively walk into you on the street. They tend to drink to excess. Her tradesmen are perversely incompetent. Travelling distances in the country seems to take twice as long as in other countries. Her people do mad u-turns in the middle of the road. They run red lights habitually. They seem to have no sense of town planning or efficiency. Her lawyers and doctors make a suspicious amount of money. Her publicans are often millionaires. Her real estate prices have made many petty and greedy. They are intensely friendly and amenable on the surface but some freely stab your back and don’t meet promises. They commonly have a great sense of humour. They love expensive car brands, and renewing them often. Yet many live in near-abject poverty. Her public transport system (slogan: ‘Getting There’) is sometimes deplorable, and her excuses for it manifold. They have a funny relationship with celebrities - though no more so than other countries where retail and celebrity are the twin bastions of popular culture. They are willing devotees of British television. There’s a residual sense of racism or xenophobia. You will not get decent or even average service in most pubs, restaurants, cafés, shops and stores. There’s also a residual sense of corruption in the air, from politics to the clergy to the Garda on down. They are great talkers, and with a little bit of dial-cranking you’ll manage to find excellent and expressive talkback radio. That said, most of the radio is shite. They tend to typify or identify each other by their accents. They can spot fine differences in English accents. They spend most of their social life in pubs. They are absolutely, unashamedly in love with mobile phone technology, but often can’t be arsed returning calls. They have a strong folk-music sensibility. They are good catholics without being superstitious. Her bureaucracy is a distinct new strain of officious. Her secret to success is knowing people. Her national emblem could well be the Ostrich, for denying there might be any problems. Her beers are delicious but vary in taste from tap to tap. Her ingenious system of buying rounds could cripple your liver and your wallet. Her pubs are always warm and comfortable.
OK, what with all the moneyed passion that biblical film is generating, how come no one seems to have noticed the grammatical curiosity of calling it the Passion of THE Christ. Is this an arch overstatement of proper noun/one-man institution or a sub-editor’s spasm given godly directive by the director himself? It's like saying the Passion of The Carrot, or the Passion of The Beard, or even the Passion of The Oprah (unless of course you truly are a gargantuan figure). Maybe Mel’s using an apocryphal style guide. Alternatively, as the Onion says: “After watching Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ Monday, Jesus Christ announced that He will demand creative control over the next film based on His life.” Or Steve Martin’s take.
Note for the movies: if you can’t see the film you want to see (Mystic River), then don’t take second best. What a delayed disappointment The Dreamers was. Bertolucci has reached the age where young breasts come to take a distorted importance in one’s life. Let me facilitate your enjoyment of them, he says, let me guide your eyes. Remember what it’s like to be young and blooming, to be lusty? So we have these teenagers doing a bit of mealy cinephilia with a pinch of Les Enfants Terrible and lots of busty shots. For background we’ll put them in Paris 1968, though the film strives to be simultaneously of the event and aloof from it. There’s some token New Wave drops and repetitions of movie repetitions which were themselves repetitive homages of other films. There’s an idea that only in France can busty girls sleep with their brother and still be virgin; that people will riot for their cinema, and that illuminated busts of Mao are a pretty neat idea. And then, to sew it all up, whilst not really claiming to be about young bodies or May 68, it nonetheless turns the riots into an adolescent family drama, of young kids rebelling against their authority figures, like a binge party at home whilst the folks are away, and yet secretly yearning for their return. One positive element: the bilingual household. This was believable.
I like Alain de Botton not because he is a great philosophical technician (he isn’t), or because he is balding admirably, but because he is a clear explainer, a great interviewer-slash-conversation man. Anyone brave enough to walk into a nudist tennis match and talk philosophy with the calmest of English accents is doing something right. He is good at clarifying, within limits, the importance of ideas and perceptions and interpretations in life. And he is not afraid to call advertising ideology.
Also, what’s going on with Intolerable Cruelty, which finally made it out on DVD in Ireland? How can so many good intentions and precedents suddenly gurgle away like so much flushed water? I was put in mind of the Hudsucker Proxy many times, feeling some comedy-filmmakers suddenly made a relationship flick and couldn’t help trying to make it funny. Clooney phones in a performance that is script-driven but just on the cusp of intimacy and drama, whereas Zeta-Jones is remoter than planetary bodies in space, I mean she is astrally absent, and couldn’t fax in an interpretation of her lines. And somehow… they come together, fall in love. Without causality, without drama, without anything that even in 40s films would be considered a relationship of sorts. Without suggesting how they’ve crossed the distance. How did the Coens get away with being so banal in their execution? For filmmakers who understand genre inside and out, who can make it work for them, this was a trying experience. The one positive element: the lifetime achievement award for daytime television.
Three hours’ driving from Dublin and then straight to the pubs. Well, not really. Though on a Friday night the impression you get is definitely that there’s a heap of great pubs, and that this little town could benefit by having many more. Because they get crowded. And raucus. And musical. Even the old folks have their bandstands, their regular haunts and whatnot. The streets are paved with musos and their open instrument cases. Later, whilst having fish and chips on the shore at Salthill (think clapped-out English searesort on the make again), we were stared at so often, so directly, that we thought of opening up the old musical case and charging for the spectacle ourselves. You’d think people had never seen a Volvo-driver’s hat before. But that’s getting ahead of me. It’s a nice little old town, is Galway, with a traffic-free shopping zone, all quaintly old style and even medieval, there’s a fastflowing river with nice housing on the side for the priveledged (and endless grey reams of new housing on the outskirts of town), there’s a very odd-looking cathedral, a public square like in old Italian towns, there’s an arch which claims to be Spanish, there’s some shops and nightclubs and cafés and slappers with no clothing on… and that’s really about it. There is a ‘bohemian’ sense in the air from the aforementioned musos and the high volume of tourists, even for winter, but ultimately there’s not a lot to do without festivals or cultural events. Into the pub then. There should be more of them.
If you’ve never seen a street completely dominated by B&Bs then Galway is your town — it was like a retail avenue: so many signs. And so many pubs, all close together. Pubs. And an interesting booktitle: Flies of Ireland.
Connemara, on the other hand, despite the relative lack of pub-centralisation, is an interesting look. If the English lLakes are out of reach or the Welsh mountains seem like so many Scottish dales, then the Connemara mountains might be your thing. Layered with snow, dramatically bulbous and eminently hike-able, and interspersed with serene still lakes and well-situated little houses, the views are great. We had a great sunlit lunch in Clifden (after a devious detour by way of a very inaccurate and possibly malicious roadsign) overlooking the water, under a scorchingly bright sun, with regrettably watered-down Heineken (once you’ve been to the factory, you KNOW what it tastes like). Food was good though, and cheap.
Kylemore Abbey on the way to Galway again was an interesting sidestep — here’s an interesting photo I stole off the web. It’s fairly mysterious-looking, nestled into the valley-foot of a mountain, in front of another scenic still lake, with a small gothic church attached (the abbey is also a nunnery by way of an Englishman’s mansion), and on the whole it looks like a Scots drama or sitcom could easily be set there. But, funnily enough, and I suppose this might be part of the architect’s trickery — the whole effect of the building disappears when you’re standing right in front of it, under its imposing grey stone. The valley looks great from it, but the house seems to become less important, somehow consumed by the mountain. I was almost in mind to do a Jerry Lee Lewis rendition of Peace in the Valley, for sheer contrariness — because it is truly a peaceful valley. The entire Connemara national park is studded with quiet, still places and therefore ideal for monasteries and meditation centres etc. Was also in mind to conceive a non-denominational worship-space again — an artistic and open building for all forms of contemplation etc. The valleys are superb and ideal. They require time and slow perception.
And then it was back to B&B Alley and into the pubs again. Well, first some food at an Indian which had lost its liquor license (why this seems such an embarrassing shame in Ireland should be obvious). And then a little stroll in the morning along the river and harbour, a desperate search for seafood and a visit to a self-cleaning toilet. I didn’t run into any famous writers’ wives, but that’s ok, we had plenty of mayo for fish and chips.