Archive for the ‘Donald Barthelme’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE ARCHIES-“Sugar Sugar” (1969).

Bubblegum music is typically defined using two sets of criteria: the vocal style, the simplistic or childish lyrics, and an 8/8 or otherwise upbeat rhythm structure and marketing strategy aimed at a young naive audience (e.g. fictional bands, double entendre lyrics, recycled songs).  The “golden age” of Bubblegum Music was 1966-1970.

Who doesn’t love music made my fictional cartoon bands?  For a bunch of teens who clearly are not playing their instruments in the video (yes there was a video), this song is about the catchiest thing around.

It’s pretty interesting how much this sounds like The Monkees (who had started three years earlier).

“Sugar Sugar” has a simple, easily remembered melody, soft and sweet lyrics and an earworm chorus that you will have in your head all day because you read this.

You are my candy, girl.

[READ: May 10, 2020] Bubblegum Week 1

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

A Character By Any Other Name

As this book opens I couldn’t help but focus on names.  I have always been attuned to the names authors use.  When I used to attempt fiction, I could spend as much time trying to come up with the perfect meaningful name (see how the name comments on the action?) as with a story itself.   So when I see an author using especially peculiar names, my reading senses tingle. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #495 (December 14, 2015).

I thought I had posted about every Tiny Desk Concert, but on double checking I found that I had missed this one.  I had heard of Shakey Graves and I assumed he was a country/folkie singer.  Which he is, although really his style is to mix country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.  I also had no idea his real name is Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

This set sees Graves on acoustic guitar (with a strap with his name on it) accompanied by another acoustic guitar (which seems rather small) and a mandolin.

“To Cure What Ails” is a pretty, slow folk song. It’s simple enough with nice high mandolin notes and a good guitar line between verses.  Shakey has a nice voice and the song feels compelling like a story, although I don’t think it is.  He’s also charming and funny in little ways–he makes a lot of funny faces and chuckles.  But his music is really solid and the harmony at he end of the song is really great.

For “The Perfect Parts” the mandolin switches to bass and they have a little discussion n how to play it.  Shakey tells the drummer how to play the beat and then says they’re going to make it us as they go along.  This song is darker and has a cool sinister vibe.  He sings in kind of deep mumble for this song which works well for this song.  The song gets a little intense for a few lines.  And by the end it builds pretty loud with some good whoa ho ho backing vocals.  So much so that for the last chord, “he attempted a stage dive at the Tiny Desk.”

For the last song, “Only Son,” he:

breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, [and] a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

He says it is soon to be the last of the suitcase kick drums (this is his third).  He dreamed about having an object that he could cart around with him and still make a lot of noise.  The drum is actually behind him and he stomps the pedals with his heels (I can;t believe the camera never zoomed in on it).

He says the song is about “the moment in your life when you realize you’re not alone… there’s an aha! moment where you’re like ‘not just me?’  The drummer plays bass, the mandolin player has the mandolin back and Shakey has the kick drum suitcase.  There’s some terrific harmonies (and chuckling ) throughout the song, and I love the way it stops and starts.

[READ: Late 2016 and early 2017] McSweeney’s #45

The premise of this collection was just too juicy to pass up.  Although it did take me a while to read it.  Eggers’ introduction talks about the contents of this issue.

DAVE EGGERS-Introduction
Eggers says he came across a collection of stories edited by Hitchcock. He really liked it and then learned that Hitchcock had edited 60 volumes over the course of 35 years.  He was excited to read literary genre fiction.  But he was more impressed that theses stories did what literary fiction often forgets: having something happen.  He then bought a cheap book edited by Bradbury (Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow) and he liked it too.  He was surprised that there were so many canonical writers (Steinbeck, Kafka, Cheever) in a Bradbury collection.

So, why not make a new collection in which we can compare the two genres.

Despite this looking like a pulpy paperback, there were still Letters.


Doctorow says that Science fiction is not, indeed, predictive.  That any genre which deals with so many potential future events is bound to get some things right.

Quatro says she was asked to write a letter for this genre issue, but Quatro doesn’t do genre, so she was about to pass.  Then her son, from the backseat, asks what bulwark means.  Then inimical.  Then miasma.  He is reading a book called Deathwatch about soldiers whose brains are removed so they no longer fear. Suddenly, when she compares this idea to her essay on Barthelme, she sees that maybe McSweeney’s was on to something after all.

In fifth grade Percy (who has a story below) gave his teacher a jar full of ectoplasm.  He has always been different.  He proposes the Exploding Helicopter clause: if a story does not contain an exploding helicopter (or giant sharks, or robots with lasers for eyes or demons, sexy vampires. et al), they won’t publish it.

Marra discusses Michael Crichton and how something doesn’t have to be Good to be good.  He says Crichton was a starting point for him as an adult reader.  And what can be wrong with that? (more…)

Read Full Post »

manualSOUNDTRACK: LUCY DACUS-Tiny Desk Concert #553 (July 29, 2016).

lucyI didn’t realize that I knew Dacus, but I’ve heard and loved her song “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” for months (I just never knew she sang it).

In this Tiny Desk Concert, the songs have a really gentle feel (she plays electric guitar without a pick, using her fingers to gently pick out the melodies.  Although on record, the songs are a bit sharper.  But it’s her that is so intriguing.  A lazy comparison is Sharon Van Etten, but she has that kind of tone and delivery.

“I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” has a super catchy vocal melody and simple steady rhythm.  But it’s the way the electric guitar swirls around and her voice sounds dry and disinterested (and yet it clearly isn’t).  She’s not posing as a cynical youth, she is full of regret.  The last line is “That funny girl doesn’t want to smile anymore.”  When the song is done she says, “I always tend to smile after that line.”

Before the second song she asks if anyone else’s biggest fear is having a runny nose on Tiny Desk?  She says she woke up with a runny nose, but its fine now.

I like the way “Direct Address” opens with her gentle strumming which gets really fast as she ramps up to a quick vocal delivery on each verse.   But even when she sings fast, her voice is almost like a deep intense whisper.  Once again, the last line is great: “I don’t believe in love at first sight / maybe I would if you looked at me right.”  The song ends with some cool swirling guitars.

Before the final song she tells everyone there that the NPR workers kind of have the coolest job ever and she envies them all–a little bit.

“Green Eyes, Red Face” is a slower song with an interesting, subtle melody.  Another great lyric: “I see the seat next to yours is unoccupied and I was wondering if you’d let me come and sit by your side.”  I love the way the guitar kind of bursts forth for the solo by Jacob Blizard.  This song is the most like SVE here, although you’d never mistake one for the other.  The middle of the song has some really great riffs juxtaposed with the bass.

I like how this lyric quite a bit: “With your green eyes on my red face” and I get a kick out of how she plays her last chord.  And as it rings out she rests her hands on top of her guitar patiently waiting for the song to fade out.

I’m really entranced by her voice.  But one of the most telling things is at the end of the show just as it fades out.  When talking about their show that night, she says “we’ll be a lot louder.”

I’d be interested to hear that.

[READ: November 21, 2016] A Manual for Sons

Back in 2014, I ordered all 16 books from Madras Press. Unfortunately, after publishing the 16 books they seem to have gone out of business (actually they are switching to non-fiction, it seems). They still have a web presence where you can buy remaining copies of books.  But what a great business idea this is/was

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors.  The format of our books provides readers with the opportunity to experience stories on their own, with no advertisements or miscellaneous stuff surrounding them.

The format is a 5″ x 5″ square books that easily fit into a pocket.

Proceeds from Barthelme’s book go to the The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Okay I’ll say it.

I don’t really get Donald Barthelme.  I know that’s sort of the point of his writing–it is all anti-writing, a reaction against the novel.  But I also don’t get things like this “story.”  (It turns out it is an excerpt from a larger novel, but that still doesn’t really help).

So this “manual” is designed for sons to learn all about the different kinds of fathers there are and how to deal with them.  It states that it was translated from the English by Peter Scatterpatter.

The manual lists the different kinds of fathers: Mad fathers, fathers as teachers, falling fathers, etc.

And it’s not really helpful and it’s not really funny, and I have to wonder what keeps things like this from just ending.  How does Barthelme know when his bizarre list of things is actually done?

Some examples:

Mad fathers stalk up and down the boulevard, shouting.  Avoid then or embrace them or tell them your deepest thought–it makes no difference.

Fine, that’s good.  But then he says to notice if their dress is  covered in sewn-in tin cans or if they are simply barking (no tin cans).  If they are barking

Go up to them and, stilling their wooden clappers by putting your left hand between the hinged parts, say you’re sorry.  If the barking ceases, this does not mean that they have heard you, it only means they are experiencing erotic thoughts of abominable lustre.

What the hell?

And what to make of this “some fathers are goats, some are milk, some teach Spanish in cloisters.”

Or this: “The best way to approach a father is from behind, thus is he chooses to hurl his javelin at you he will probably miss.”

There’s an alphabetical list of fathers names which all start with  A and end with Albert.  (And the list is pretty unexpected with names like: Aariel, Aban, Abiou, Aeon and Af.

The most successful section to me was the “Sample Voice” part.  It gave three examples of a crappy dad–abusive and unsympathetic and very masculine.

The “colors of fathers” was presumably modified from a book about horses as each color is a horse color.

There’s a disturbing section about incest and then about the penises of fathers.  And finally a discouragement to patricide.

I just don’t get it.

Rick Moody provides some answers in his Afterword.  He gives some context for this story and some of his favorite bit of this manual (which was originally published in a dark book called The Dead Father.  He says he really related to this story because one of the sections opens “If your father is named Hiram or Saul” (and his father had one of those names).

He puts Barthelme in context with Gaddis and describes this manual as hilarious.

Guess you had to be there.

Read Full Post »

braindeadSOUNDTRACK: JIM WHITE-Tiny Desk Concert #8 (November 7, 2008).

jim whiteI didn’t know who Jim White was before this Tiny Desk Concert.  And I’m still not entirely sure who is he.  But he’s a gifted songwriter and storyteller.

Bob explains how he and Jim tried to work together for All Songs Considered, but that every time Bob asked Jim to do a 3 minute piece, he’d hand in a 15 minute piece.  And then somehow Jim would edit it into a 17 minute piece.  Jim admits that anything can set him off on a tangent (most of which are thoroughly engaging).  He also says that he writes songs not a bout “you” but about “me.”

So with him and a drum machine, he sings some really pretty songs.  “Jailbird” is a slow ballad that is quite beautiful.  I enjoyed that he played his harmonica solo without playing the guitar at the same time (I don’t know if the guitar was prerecorded or looped, I think prerecorded).

Then he gives a funny story about working with the guitarist for P.M. Dawn.  “Turquoise House” is a boppy little number about not fitting in.  It’s a wonderful song.  “Stranger Candy” is a darker song (full of lessons).  He says that it took him several tries to get the music right for this one.

There’s a fascinating story about a gift that Jim sent to Bob.  The story goes on about a racist incident in which his daughter rises above racism.

“Somewhere in the World” is a gentle ballad about finding the person you are waiting for.  I like it (except for that falsetto note at the end).  Then he talks about how for his old songs (like the previous one) he was kind of bummed.  But he has grown up and is happier.  And that has made his songwriting much more difficult.

The final song is called “A Town Called Amen.”  It’s another boppy little song, charming and sweet.  And Jim White seems about the sweetest, nicest musician in the world.

I came away from this Tiny Desk Concert really enjoying Jim White and wanting to hear more from him.

[READ: December 15, 2013] The Braindead Megaphone

This is Saunders’ first collection of essays and non-fiction.  At some point, I stated that I thought I would enjoy his non-fiction more than his fiction.  That is both true and not. I enjoyed his “reporting” essays (from GQ) quite a lot.  But I found his shorter, sillier pieces to be a but too much.  Nevertheless, he is an inquisitive reporter, looking for truth and traveling far and wide to find it (even braving the depths of FOX news). It’s a good collection and only slightly dated.

The Braindead Megaphone
This essay seemed a bit like a blunt instrument hitting a soft object.  Although 2007 is seven years ago, I feel like the subjects (dumb newscasters) were pretty soft even then.  However, it’s entirely possible that people who were apolitical or just simply not that interested in what obnoxious outlets like FOX were doing may not have been entirely aware that the Braindead Megaphone (ie. all news outlets) were not doing us any favors with their spouting of nonsense and being incurious about where stories are really news worthy or even accurate.  I imagine this is mostly just preaching to the converted.  I was a little worried that the whole book would be just as unsubtle, but that proved to be a foundless worry.  This is not to say that I didn’t agree with everything he said in this essay.  He was spot on.  And often he was pretty funny too. (more…)

Read Full Post »

[LISTENED TO: November 20, 2013] “Urban Planning” podcast

podcastIn the third New Yorker fiction podcast, Donald Antrim reads Donald Barthelme.  I know both writers, but neither one all that well.

The story is absurdist and very funny.  In it, the narrator buys “a little city,”Galveston, Texas.  He keeps things pretty much the way they are–he doesn’t want anything too imaginative going on.  He tears down several houses and builds new developments (cut in the shape of puzzle pieces).  But he’s a little bored so he goes out and shoots 6,000 dogs, and then makes a front page announcement that he had done it.  This causes some upset (naturally), and he’s appreciative for the excitement.

But overall he is unsatisfied because he is in love with a married woman.  And she won’t leave her husband (and may not even know who the narrator is–except that he owns the city).  Eventually he had to sell the city back (and he took a real soaking financially on that deal).

The story has many many funny lines–laugh out loud funny–and (dog killing aside) it is a funny and delightfully weird story that retains its voice no matter how odd it seems. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: LENA-“Satellite” (2010).

The 2010 Eurovision song winner is from Germany and her name is Lena.  I can’t say that I’ve listened to the contests much in the past, but this year, I enjoyed the raging discussion about these pop gems.

“Satellite” is really darn catchy.  Lena’s voice is totally fascinating.  She affects a very broad English accent (although I can’t decide from where) while singing this insanely catchy song.  The lyrics are, by default, silly.  But the couplet “I bought new underwear, they’re blue, and I wore them just the other day” is pretty darn cute.

And Lena herself is adorable.  I didn’t see any of the live show, but her video is quite fetching.  What happens to Eurovision winners anyhow?  Will we ever hear from Lena again?

[READ: June 30, 2010] “The Peaches”

I read this piece because when I printed out the Barthleme story, I printed extra pages just to be safe, and how about that, I got whole other story.  I’d never heard of Ted Walker before, although it appears that he was quite well regarded in his time.

The thing that strikes me most about this story is that it was published the year before I was born, and it’s shocking how different of a husband and father he is just 40-some years ago.

In many ways I was so distracted by his attitude towards his wife (and her reaction to their life) that I never really got involved in the story.  I will say that the peach tree metaphor throughout the story is quite good, but it is especially powerful as the story nears the end. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: BISON B.C.-“Two Days Booze” (2010).

Bison B.C. are a hardcore metal band from Vancouver.  I was surprised to hear them on CBC Radio 3, but that’s one of the great things about the online radio station: the diversity is amazing!

Bison B.C. is heavy with growling vocals that I didn’t understand at all.  In between bombastic notes, they had include some guitar riffs that broke the bombast.  The biggest surprise comes at around the 4 minute mark (quite a long song for the genre, although it seems that all of their songs are at least 5 minutes) when the song slows down to a few single notes (and a quiet bass). That’s when the choir (?) of male voices sings an Oh, oh section.

I listened to a few songs from their earlier discs, and it seems that they are going in a far darker direction with this new one.

[READ: June 30, 2010] “Kierkegaard Unfair to Schlegel”

Before I start let me say that this article was my first chance to plumb the depths fo the New Yorker online (subscriber back issues services) and it’s really awesome.  I printed out some great looking ads from the fifties and sixties!  I also enjoyed looking at the very first issues of the magazine.

This short story article was bandied about among David Foster Wallace fans as being a pioneer for Brief Interviews and other DFW stylings.

It opens with an answer to a question, which appears to be a therapy session. And it’s quite funny.  But from there, the story gets broken down into several sections. Each one is more Q&A (except the 4th one which is just a series of Qs. (more…)

Read Full Post »

actsMy original post for this story is largely correct (aside from the fact that the first version I read was lacking the final four paragraphs!)  And so I’m posting it here, but I’ll make changes as necessary:

In the story, a man inflates a huge irregularly shaped balloon in Manhattan.  It takes up several city blocks and, in places, it rests against the skyscrapers.

And that’s it.

Well, not exactly.  The story is about people’s reactions to this enormous thing that takes up the entire sky but about which there is no explanation.  The narrator states that people might have felt better about it if it had an ad or a “message” on the side, but no, his balloon is just soothing earth tone colors.

The story doesn’t end, exactly.  It just sort of stops. [THAT WOULD BE WRONG!]  But the discussion of people and their attitudes and reactions is certainly interesting and says as much about the author as it does about the narrator.  Most critics agree that the story is something of a metaphor for his own art, and that is pretty obvious to see.

Okay, so as I noted, a man inflates a balloon in New York City.  He does it in the middle of the night so when people wake up the balloon is just there, with no explanation.  And it is a large balloon, taking up many many streets.  It reaches up to building tops and kids play on and under the balloon.  But mostly people seem to wonder about it.

One thing I enjoyed about the story is the absolutely innocent nature of it.  I was trying to imagine such a thing as this story happening in 2009, and realizing that you could never do it.  You could never even propose a balloon aloft in the city with no explanation.  Security would be way too intense, and people simply wouldn’t stand for the mystery.

But in 1968, this premise (even if absurd) is delightful.

Now that I have actually finished the story (and yes, I’m still annoyed that this version online was incomplete but somehow passed off as a complete story) my opinion of the ending is radically different.  It doesn’t “just stop.”  In fact, we (the readers) learn why the balloon was inflated (although the citizens of New York do not).  The narrator inflated the balloon for twenty-two days because his beloved was away.  And such a charming and surprisingly sentimental reason is delightful given the analytical nature of the bulk of the story.

This now being my third reading of the story, I find it very engaging.  And I can easily see why it is considered one of his best.

Read Full Post »


This was Kate’s first release in 12 years!  There’s a part of me that would expect unparalleled genius to emerge from a 12 year hiatus, but realistically, what we get is a more mature and confident singer, and songs that sound very much like Kate Bush songs. There’s not a lot of experimentation, although there is a song cycle (two in fact) to hold the disc together.

The first disc (for there are two, totaling about 80 minutes) is listed as “A Sea of Honey”

It opens with “King of the Mountain” a great upbeat single.  Next is “Pi” a fascinating song in which Kate sings out the decimal places of Pi (3.14…).  It’s airy and ethereal, and pretty neat.  “Bertie” is an adorable ode to what I assume is her son. It’s a very sweet love song to a child.

“Mrs Bartolozzi” opens with a piano sequence that sounds very uncomfortably close to a Phil Collins.  And, later in the sings she sings a “sloshy sloshy” part which is pretty odd.  But despite all of this, the song is closest to the Kate of old.

“How to be Invisible” has some really cool choral effects (and is a very neat concept lyrically).  It also features a very nice guitar line that sneaks out of the musical tapestry from time to time.  “Joanni” rocks in Kate’s inimitable way (and it’s about Joan of Arc).  It has also got some fun and funny parts the reflect the Kate of old (screaming vocals way down in the mix and “Mmm Hmms” that are kind of silly).  The disc ends with the gorgeous ballad “A Coral Room.”

The second disc “A Sky of Honey” is more of a complete song cycle (It starts with a Prelude AND a Prologue).  There’s a couple of short songs (90 seconds each) thrown in the middle.  My favorite is the final track, “Aerial” which has a cool dance rhythm (that seems so unlike Kate) which propels the song almost magically.

Overall, this disc doesn’t overwhelm me as much as say Hounds of Love, but it’s a really solid disc and I’ve found myself listening to and enjoying it a lot over the last few weeks.  It’s nice to have Kate back.  I wonder how long it will be for her next disc.

[READ: November 27, 2009] Unspeakable Practices Unnatural Acts

After reading (the incomplete) “The Balloon” (see the post), I decided to give the entire collection a spin.  I didn’t really enjoy the short stories I had read in Harper’s, but I did enjoy “The Balloon,” so I thought it would be worth investigating Barthleme (a little) further.

This collection is a mix of utterly absurdist stories (many of which seem to have multiple vantage points that I found rather difficult to keep track of ).  One of the most noteworthy things about the collection is that it seems to me to be very topical circa 1968.  And I think I’m missing a lot of what is happening in the stories.   I’ll cite examples below, but oftentimes I assume that I’m just not getting something that I should be getting (more…)

Read Full Post »

actsSOUNDTRACKTINDERSTICKS-What is a Man (2000).

manThis is a soundtrack to a TV mini-series called The Sins (which I know nothing about).  The song (for there is only one) is a cover of a Four Tops song (which I do not know).  The “B-side” is an instrumental version of said song.

And, sadly, that’s all that comes on this disc.  It’s a good song, yes, but at a combined total of about 5 minutes, it’s rather skimpy as a disc (Hey that’s what singles used to be back in the day).  Normally I don’t encourage the downloading of tracks (I’m more of a physical medium kind of guy), but I think if you’re looking for this for this particular song, you’re much better off just downloading it.  I don’t think it’s available on any other discs.

[READ: October 24, 2009] “The Balloon”

[UPDATE: November 25, 2009]  For the new review of the story, click here.

I just received a copy of Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts and have learned that the version of “The Balloon” that I read and which I linked to below is NOT the entire story.

Aside from a couple of inexplicable word changes (!) the version online leaves out the final four paragraphs.  And, with Barthelme’s prose being so dense, that’s quite a lot of information.

This changes my reading of the story quite a lot as there is now a DIFFERENT ENDING!  So I have to more or less disown this review.  But I will leave it up for posterity.  I’ll include a new review when I finish the short story collection.

[original review commences here]

David Foster Wallace in a Salon.com interview, said that this was “which is the first story I ever read that made me want to be a writer.”  I have recently read a few Barthelme pieces (that were in Harper’s) and I found them to be weird, kind of interesting, but nothing inspirational.

But, heck, why not see what got DFW going?

So this story was, in fact, very cool. It was written before the pieces that were in Harper’s, and, as with most artists who end up in a weird and out-there place, he started off in a reasonably normal place.  In other words, this story is actually something of a story with a beginning and sort of an end.  There’s no plot, per se, but the story does lead somewhere. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »