David Foster Wallace, Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way
Expansive in scale yet involved in detail: pure DFW. The question and paralysis of PostModern fiction is dealt with like a turning point in the/his ouevre, with personal finality, to be done with it all, tired of internal argument and hungry to consolidate the forces of fiction that make it worth having at all. Whilst of course using all the touchstone techniques of meta- and pop-cultural -reference, authorial intrusions and uncloakings, stories within stories, academic buzzwords masquerading as literary fidelity. There is a real wrestling with the format (and what it means) at the same time there’s real trickery and messing with the reader. Dotted, as always, with real character-driven pathos and amazing group dialogues.
DFW keeps things contemporarily relevant: an adman with an apocalyptic idea-event to end all need for advertising; dysfunctional sons sans fathers and unlocked daughters and excesses of body-consciousness and of course sports analogies. A discourse melding PoMo theory with Advertising’s usurping arrow through fear & desire, as well as pop culture’s pure entertainment slash vapid cultivation of the solipsistic and drug-addled self. Yes, and still managing to pull enough narrative weight to keep it interesting.
If it weren’t for DFW’s acute humour (the Ronald clown going "Varoom!
"), some of the Creative Writing classisms would certainly ache and fatigue by story’s end. In terms of raw analysis, the structure of Westward
is wholly improbable and diffuse, yet nothing is wasted – unless, with for example the workshopped story near the end, it’s clearly marked as flowery and overdone. It’s remarkably in line with the other stories in Girl With Curious Hair
. It’s the point where the no-hands-isms of Broom
anticipate the toasted teens and pathos of the Jest
– where the real state and issue of literature are perceived and nailed with prose precision. Where graduate writings programs are discarded, their petty themes and discussions jettisoned like so many watery clichés.
"You saying there’s no politics going on on that show?" [Hawaii Five-0] […]
"Pure entertainment." […]
"Especially in reruns, syndication, that you’ve seen before," Sternberg says, into it, feeling, feeling disembodied, other, flaccid. "Incredibly comforting. You just know how the universe is going to be for the next hour. Totally secure. Detached but connected. A womb with a view." [p317]
Dick Cheney’s Pellets
A very quick post on media sanitation/dumbing down: after Dick 'Elmer' Cheney shot his hunting buddy in the face & chest whilst 'fixated' on bagging a quail, many reports claimed he was using a 'pellet gun
'. Now, admittedly, the 28-gauge Perazzi he was using is a slightly lighter weapon, but it’s still a fucking SHOTGUN. Why not go all the way and say he was using a pop-gun and the 78-year-old lawyer-buddy merely got the cork in his eye. 'Accidentally sprayed?' — my eye. It's all part of the media's role in excusing reality with dishonest language.
TV is the place where phrases are redefined | like "recession" to "necessary downturn" | "crude oil" on a beach to "mousse" | "civilian death" to "collateral damages" | and being killed by your own army | is now called "friendly fire."
Brad Mehldau Trio
, live at Vicar Street
Something I had forgotten, until about halfway through the first set, is that Mehldau approaches improvisation not from a pure jazz tradition but from a hybrid that’s strongly informed by classical. It’s just then that I missed the element of swing and sophisticated blues that you get with the purists. Which is not to say the Trio is anything less than an improvisational force, in fact, it’s improvisation on a level of rhythmic acuity I haven’t seen in a long time. Precise chops, absolute sharp syncopation on the breaks, and free extension of fills. And always improvised on an ensemble-level, not just backing/solo, backing/solo. Everyone’s ‘on’ most of the time except at the start and return to chorus, but always damn tight. Sometimes with jazz virtuosos you get the feeling that solos can break into real subjectivity and complex meaning; with the Trio I got the feeling that the expressive range of solos didn’t quite matter as much as the tight group dynamics. There were some great solos, but I got kicks just listening to their precise timing. If swing’s not yer bag, then rhythm’s still key.
Actually, I have been meaning to write more about Brad, but haven’t balanced the time/resources equation very well. I gave the Tokyo solo concert a good listen (and from the next room it sounds clearly keyed by classical ears) and loved the Nick Drake tracks, and LaunchCast turned me onto Brad in the first place (especially with his Anything Goes album) without giving me the overall sense of Brad as musician and composer/interpreter. But I’ve lacked download/purchase resources to invest in more of his works, and really investigate his line. He sounds like an interesting and open chap in interviews
So then, Brad strikes an interesting balance between hard-core improv stuff with the band, that is, his original compositions; and cover-interpretations. You just can’t call them ‘covers’ in the sense of the Tijuana Brass Orchestra doing schmaltzy pop-orchestra facsimiles — Brad does Interpretations. The chorus melody and structure are vaguely there, but the music within the chords is opened up much more; at times, it seems the structure is being improvised alltogether. And extended, stretched and freely elevated rhythmically, until you’re left with a hybrid that is part meditation on form and part displacement (wider, ever wider) of boundaries. So, you have Black Hole Sun
served up Brad style (which I’d now really like to see Necks style), She’s Leaving Home
, Nick Drake’s Day is Done
, and Knives Out
, amongst newer compositions.
On the level of musicianship though, I’d kill to have 5% of the ability these guys have. To have such chops and work together so well… and for it not to be pure (restrictive) jazz whilst improvising on an ensemble level, is quite something. It’s jazz but-not-jazz; an interesting evolutionary branch on the tree of improvised music.
Admittedly, my attention flagged sometimes, but the reactive thoughts were just as interesting. The audience was mostly middle-aged but extremely well-behaved (no ringtones, no yack) and quirky like all jazz audiences (hair-wise). Brad is a humble and genuine player, posture perfect, attentive. Some of his crossed-hands techniques looked decidedly classical. His shirt was fly. The sound was pretty good for Vicar Street, probably because the volume was much lower. Drummer Jeff Ballard was rich on chops and variety and amazingly consistent/tight changes, but almost a little too frenetic for my taste. It still worked on the group level though. Larry Grenadier
did some hot solos and the fastest walking lines since the 50s. I wish we had slightly better seats to appreciate his sound; the PA wasn’t perfect on that score. Larry really anchors the band.
And now I gotta check out Brad’s new album.