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Archive for the ‘Saul Bellow’ Category

yorkernSOUNDTRACK: SOUL COUGHING-“Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago” (1994).

soul cI really enjoyed Soul Coughing’s output, and Ruby Vroom stands out as a great debut.  They had a terrific blend of great music played behind a more or less spoken word.  The idea wasn’t unique, but they made it work as more than a gimmick.

The musicians of Soul Coughing were tremendous and Mike Doughty’s voice has a wonderful resonance for telling is offbeat/absurd stories/poems.

This track seems especially appropriate when talking about Saul Bellow.

Starting with rhythmic guitar chunks, an upright bass plays a very cool rising and falling bass run.  It sounds like modern noir.

Then Doughty tells us “a man drives a plane into the Chrysler building.”  It’s difficult to hear it now, but in 1994 it was simply a fantastical image.   The drums come in as the guitar starts making shapes and slashes of sounds.

The chorus is a rather boppy moment amid the noise as things slow down for the recited “Is Chicago is not Chicago.”

Then the bridge(s):

Saskatoon is in the room
Poulsbo is in the room
Bennetsville is in the room
Palmyra is in the roomKhartoum is in the room
Phnom Penh is in the room
Pyongyang is in the room
Cairo is in the room

The song ends with a wonderful cacophony of guitar scratches and drum beats that definitively ends the song without it having to end itself.

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Re-Reading Saul Bellow”

I decided to read this article because I like Philip Roth and because I have never read any Saul Bellow.  In fact, although Saul Bellow is a name I was familiar with, I wasn’t entirely sure what he had written. So I was pretty surprised to read that he wrote The Adventures of Augie March, which I had without a doubt heard of, but which I knew very little about.  I was also really surprised to find out that he was still alive when Roth wrote this esay (Bellow died in 2005).

Roth knew Bellow, of course, and Bellow had once told him that his Jewish heritage led him to doubt himself as a writer.  This was mainly because “our own WASP establishment, represented mainly by Harvard-trained professors considered a son of immigrant Jews unfit to write books in English.”

By the time he wrote Augie March, he was prepared to open not with a line like “I am a Jew, the son of immigrants,” but “I am an American, Chicago born.”

Roth summarizes a few of Bellow’s works and talks about how he progressed as a writer.  Of course, he writes this re-reading as if we ourselves have read the books (so, spoiler alerts).

He more or less dismisses the first two novels Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) and moves straight on to The Adventures of Augie March (1953) saying how the transformation from the earlier writer to the writer of Augie is remarkable.  It won the National Book Award.

He especially likes “the narcissistic enthusiasm for life in all its hybrid forms” that is propelling Augie.  He cries out to the world “Look at me!”

What appeals to me about the way Roth describes this book is the “engorged sentences” as “syntactical manifestations of Augie’s large, robust ego.”  That sounds like a fun 500 page book to me.

Up next was Seize the Day (1956) which is a short novel and the fictional antithesis of Augie March–a sorrow-filled book about the culmination of a boy who is disowned and disavowed by his father.  Whereas Augie’s ego soars, Tommy Wilheim’s is quashed beneath its burden.  Tommy cried out to the world “Help me!”

Bellow seemed to alternate between comedy and tragedy and I would much rather read the comedies myself.

Next came Henderson the Rain King (1959) which contain an exotic locale, a volcanic hero and the comic calamity that is his life.  Henderson is a boozer, a giant, a Gentile, a middle-aged multimillionaire in a state of continual emotional upheaval.  He leaves his home for a continent peopled by tribal blacks who turn out to be his very cure. Africa as medicine.

According to Wikipedia, Bellow became very conservative and somewhat (or very) racist as he got older.  I hesitate to read this book although it was written when he was younger.  On the other hand, I do enjoy that Roth calls it “a screwball book but not without great screwball authority.”  So that’s a tentative maybe on reading this.

Herzog (1964) also won the National Book Award.  Moses Herzog is a labyrinth of contradiction and self-division. He is Bellow’s grandest creation.  Herzog is American literature’s Leopold Bloom.  Although in Ulysses, “the encyclopedic mind of the author is transmuted into the linguistic flesh of the novel and Joyce never cedes to Bloom his own great erudition… whereas in Herzog, Bellow endows his hero with a mind that is a mind.”

Much of the plot is given away in the review, presumably because a 50 year-old award-winning book is pretty well known.

Roth says that Herzog is Bellow’s first excursion into sex in a novel. Adding sex allows Herzog to suffer in ways that Augie March never did.  He also says that “in all of literature  I know of no more emotionally susceptible male, of no man who brings a greater focus or intensity to his engagement with women than this Herzog.”

In Herzog, there is barely any action that takes place outside of Herzog’s brain.  Roth suggests, the best parts of the book are the letters that Herzog writes.

This book sounds rather appealing.  Unlike Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970) which also won the National Book Award (dang this guy must be good).  Roth gives it a rather short write up, but it appears to be about a man dealing with the culture around him.  It is a darker story, that sounds like a critique of the sixties.

That leads to Humboldt’s Gift (1975) which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature [that is an impressive amount of awards Mr Bellow].  Roth describes it as the “screwiest of the euphoric going-every-which-way-out-and-out comic novels.”  It is “loopier and more carnivalesque” than the others.  It’s like the tonic that helps him recover from the suffering in Sammler.

Interestingly. Roth doesn’t really talk about the rest of Bellow’s works: The Dean’s December (1982); What Kind of Day Did You Have? (1984); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); A Theft (1989); The Bellarosa Connection (1989); The Actual (1997); Ravelstein (2000).  Rather he continues with Humboldt and talks about Bellow’s relationship with Chicago.

Roth says that in Bellow’s early books Chicago was barely mentioned–a few streets here and there, but by Humboldt Chicago infuses the book.

Perhaps Below didn’t seize on Chicago at the start of his career because he didn’t want to be “a Chicago writer” any more than he wanted to be “a Jewish writer.”

Roth does in fact mention The Dean’s December, but only to say that the exploration of Chicago in this book is not comical but rancorous.  Chicago has become demoniacal.

It feels like Bellow is no longer a part of Chicago.

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID BYRNE AND BRIAN ENO-My LIfe in the Bush of Ghosts [Remix website] (1981, 2006).

I’m stealing the bulk of these comments from a Pitchfork review of the album reissue because I have never actually listened to this album which I’ve known about for decades.

When Eno and Byrne released My Life in 1981 it seemed like a quirky side project.  But now, Nonesuch has repackaged it as a near-masterpiece, a milestone of sampled music, and a peace summit in the continual West-meets-rest struggle. So we’re supposed to see Bush of Ghosts as a tick on the timeline of important transgressive records.  Nonesuch made an interesting move that could help Bush of Ghosts make history all over again: they launched a “remix” website, at www.bush-of-ghosts.com, where any of us can download multitracked versions of two songs, load them up in the editor of our choice, and under a Creative Commons license, do whatever we want with them.

The only thing is, at the time this review was written, the site was not up yet.  And as I write this in 2019, there’s nothing on the site except for a post from 2014 about Virgin Media and Sky TV.  Alas.

[READ: May 1, 2019] “The Ecstasy of Influence”

Back in the day I was a vocal proponent of free speech.  It was my Cause and I was very Concerned about it.

It’s now some thirty years later and I don’t really have a Cause anymore.  It’s not that I care less about free speech, but I do care less about the Idea of free speech.

Had I read this article in the 1990s, I would have framed it.  Right now I’m just very glad that people are still keeping the torch alive.

Lethem begins this essay about plagiarism by discussing a novel in which a travelling salesman is blown away by the beauty of a preteen girl named Lolita  That story, Lolita, was written in 1916 by Heinz von Lichberg.  Lichberg later became a journalist for the Nazis and his fiction faded into history.  But Vladimir Nabokov lived in Berlin until 1937.  Was this unconscious borrowing or was it “higher cribbing.”

The original is evidently not very good and none of the admirable parts of Nabokov’s story are present in the original.

Or Bob Dylan.  He appropriated lines in many of his songs.  He borrowed liberally from films, paintings and books.  Perhaps that is why Dylan has never refused a request for a sample. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAN DEACON-“Call Me Maybe Acapella 147 Times Exponentially Layered” (2012).

Dan Deacon (whose twitter handle is “ebaynetflix” ha!), created a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” for a digital album with 43 artists covering the pop delicacy.  I listened to a few samples from the album and they span the gamut from kind of serious to kind of crazy to mocking to Deacon.

Stereogum describes Deacon’s version this way: “Dan Deacon piles “Call Me Maybe” on itself over and over again, creating the most dissonant, harrowing take on Carli Rae Jepsen’s [sic] hit known to man.”

He begins with a sample from the verse, then he adds some lines from the chorus (while the verse is playing). You can hear “here’s my number, so call me maybe” a few times, but the background is growing in intensity and menace.  By 90 seconds in, you can still hear her a little bit, but she is almost entirely consumed by noise.  Then around 2 minutes, things seems to calm down a bit (she’s still plugging away at the chorus).  By 4 minutes the whole thing has seemingly collapsed in on itself.  And the whole time, there seems to be a steady beat that you can dance to.  This track may indeed produce insanity.

You can listen to Deacon’s monstrosity below, or go to the original site.

  To see the lineup for the whole album, go here.

[READ: August 22, 2012] 3 Book Reviews

I don’t quite understand how Cohen pulled this off, but in the July issue of Harper‘s right after his story, “The College Borough,” which I mentioned yesterday, he also had three book reviews.  How does one get two bylines in Harper’s?  Has that ever happened before?

Because I liked the story so much, I decided I would read these reviews too.  Cohen sets up the reviews with the idea of political gestation periods (12 months for donkeys, 22 months for elephants) and how novelists work even slower when it comes to writing about events.  Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead came out 32 months after V-J Day, John Steinbeck wrote about the depression from 1937-1945.  So now in 2012 we see the “spawn of Bush’s two terms of excruciating contractions.”  Books that fictionalize the realities of post-9/11 life: “that the canniest distraction from class war is war-war.” (more…)

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