Archive for the ‘BritLit’ Category

17Many many years ago, I discovered Might magazine.  It was a funny, silly magazine that spoofed everything (but had a serious backbone, too).  (You can order back issues here).  And so, I subscribed around issue 13.  When the magazine folded (with issue 16–and you can read a little bit about that in the intro to Shiny Adidas Track Suits) it somehow morphed into McSweeney‘s, and much of the creative team behind Might went with them.

The early volumes (1-5 are reviewed in these pages, and the rest will come one of these days) are a more literary enterprise than Might was.  There’s still a lot of the same humor (and a lot of silliness), but there are also lengthy non-fiction pieces.  The big difference is that McSweeney’s was bound as a softcover book rather than as a magazine. And, I guess technically it is called Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern as opposed to Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. (more…)

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believerA few years ago I was visiting my friend Roman.  He asked me if I read The Believer.  I told him I hadn’t heard of it.  He silently reproved me, knowing that it would be right up my alley and being quite displeased that I wasn’t keeping up with the hip.  I was very impressed with what I saw.

The Believer is put out through McSweeney’s.  It seems to have filled in for the non-fiction niche that McSweeney’s slowly removed from its pages.

And since then, I have become a devoted follower.  At some point (probably around issue ten or eleven) I decided that I was going to read every word in every issue.  And so, (this was pre-kids) when I went to an ALA conference with Sarah, I spent a lot of the down time reading all of the back issues’ articles that I hadn’t read.

Since then, I have read every issue cover to cover.  The thing that I love about the magazine (in addition to all of the stuff that I would normally like about it) is that every article is so well written that even if I don’t care about the subject, I know I’ll be interested for the duration of the piece.  Whether or not I will go on to read anything else about the person or topic is neither here nor there, but when I’m in the moment I’m really hooked. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: X-More Fun in the New World (1983).

This is one of the first CDs I ever bought. When CDs first starting coming out, I was a freshman in college. There was a woman in a nearby dorm, Anita, who was super cool and had great taste in music. I, of course, had a major crush on her, but never said or did anything about it. Oh well…we’re each happily married now, so all is well. Before college I was big into…the metal. High school was all about getting into as many metal bands as I could. When I got to college, my eyes were opened to all kinds of interesting music. And, even though I liked punk as well as metal, I had never heard X before. Anita had some older brothers and they taught her well, and she, in turn, passed on the joys of X (and, interestingly, Cat Stevens). So, when I got my first CD player, I rushed out and bought a Rush CD and More Fun in the New World. Part of the reason I bought this was because I didn’t want to get something I already had on vinyl. And, over the years it has become a hugely favorite CD for me.

More Fun in the New World is a great bit of Reagan-era punk. I mean how great an opening line is: “Honest to goodness, the bars weren’t open this morning. They must’ve been voting for the president or something.” Or, an even better chorus: “It was better before before they voted for whatshisname. This was supposed to be the new world.” The saddest bit is how relevant the lyrics still are today. This song was recently reintroduced to me on the Pearl Jam Live from Easy Street EP, when John Doe duets with Eddie Vedder and they ad lib “It was better before before they voted for whatshisname (and his dad).”

Some interesting things about X are their country roots (they created a side project called The Knitters, that was much more countryesque than X) and the great duets of John Doe and Exene Cervenka. They brought great off-kilter harmonies to their songs of despair and longing.

Despite the “punk” label, the songs are only punk in attitude, not music. (more…)

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I’ve been a fan of British entertainment, especially comedy, since I was a little kid. The first time I saw Benny Hill on Channel 9 at a past-my-bedtime hour, I knew it was something special. Not because it was particularly funny (which at the time I thought it was), but because it was unlike anything that the U.S. was making. Then I discovered Paul Hogan (true, an Aussie, but still under the UK banner). Then came the Comedy Holy Grail of Monty Python’s Flying Circus . I couldn’t get enough of Monty Python and of course, Fawlty Towers. This led to more contemporary works like The Young Ones and Black Adder and Red Dwarf, and I’m still hooked.

One thing that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time is the Brits’ constant use of World War II in their entertainment. Comedians, writers and musicians of a certain age tend to use WWII as a component of their work. This came up again in Bruce Robinson’s book. It is a constant in Richard Thompson’s work. It is essential to latter Roger Waters work, both in and out of Pink Floyd. Monty Python plays around with it, and many other comedians do too.

I think Americans lazily think of the British as pretty much like us. And this has been even more prevalent with the recent Bush/Blair relationship. And despite my love of British entertainment, I am guilty of imagining the Brits to have similar shared experiences (common language can do that I suppose). So, it made me wonder why we in the U.S. don’t seem to have WWII so ingrained in our cultural entertainment. Sure, we have our swing bands, and the iconic photographs and even Saving Private Ryan. But it seems like we have a “Mission Accomplished (for Real)” checkmark next to it, and we’re happy it’s over and that’s that.  Even in my family, my dad was in WWII, and yet it wasn’t really a big deal when I was growing up, or even in his personal history.  Weird.

It was then that my wife reminded me that the British were bombed in the war, that it really hit home for them in a way that it never did here. Even though Pearl Harbor was American soil, and we did experience air raid drills and blackouts, we didn’t have the impending threat and fear as directly as the British did. All of this is of course common knowledge, and I feel foolish for not thinking about it before. And yet, somehow I never put these pieces together. Of course, British artists were impacted by WWII because it directly impacted their lives, their towns, their families.

There really isn’t a point to any of this other than to stop wondering how come there’s another British song/story/joke about WWII. I’ll just go back to enjoying it.

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ferguson.jpgSOUNDTRACK: MODEST MOUSE-We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (2007).

mouse.jpgShouty shouty shouty. Modest Mouse are a fun shouty band, they have some catchy songs, but they seem so noisy most of the time that I am shocked, shocked, I say, that they ever had a hit. And “Float On” from their last album WAS a hit. So much of a hit that “Weird Al” stuck it in a medley of songs of his latest album. Now THAT’s making it big. And, yet, I’m still confused, because their music isn’t pretty. (more…)

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bother3.jpgSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Introducing Happiness (1995).

happiness.jpgThis is where the Rheos really hit their stride! The first 4 songs are simply great, including their cover of Jane Siberry’s “One More Colour.” If you check out my comments on the Rheos’ Greatest Hits record, you will see a comment about Jane Siberry; I had totally forgotten they did this cover, and somehow this validates my earlier comparison, so good for me. Anyhow, the song “Claire” is on this disc, and it is simply one of the best songs ever. Ever. Totally catchy, totally pretty, great background vocals…everything about it is great. Later on the record you get a back to back of two more great songs, “Take Me in Your Hand” and “Jesus Was Once A Teenager, Too.” Simply gorgeous melodies with thoughtful lyrics. There are a couple of wacky tracks on here too. The kind where people prick up their ears and make a “did someone fart?” face. But they’re kind of brief, and contextually they work, its just that when you’re casually listening to pretty songs, and then you get one with screams and guitars, it tends to make things go wobbly. But overall, this is a great record. If you’re going to try the Rheos, obviously Double Live is the place to start, but this is a close second. (more…)

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good.jpgI Just read here that editions of Good Omens now comes with a “Pratchett on Gaiman” and a “Gaiman on Pratchett” addition. Sometimes the cachet of having an older edition of a book simply pales in comparison to getting a newer edition with extra stuff in it. This would be similar to buying the indie label version of a kick-ass album and feeling really smug about it when you hear it’s going to the majors, and then you discover that the major label release comes out with a bonus disc of unavailable b-sides and a DVD of a full length concert. Where’s my cachet now?

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good.jpgokonokos1.jpgSOUNDTRACK: MY MORNING JACKET-Okonokos (2006).

[READ: Summer 2006] Good Omens.

This book is precisely what this blog is all about.

Fascinating back story: I had read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels and really enjoyed them. In fact, they are what got me into graphic novels in the first place. So, when I saw that he had written a book I thought I’d check it out. It turned out to be co-authored by some guy named Terry Pratchett. Now here’s the funny part. There is a fog on my memory. And then suddenly I am reading Terry Pratchett’s first novel The Colour of Magic in a warehouse in Cambridge, Ma. (more…)

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utterly.jpgSOUNDTRACK: MY MORNING JACKET-Okonokos (2006).okonokos1.jpg

[READ: Summer 2006] Utterly Monkey.

I have a huge fondness for British pop lit. If I go back through the years, I can see a vast number of imports: Nick Hornby, Colin Bateman, Hugh Laurie (before he was House), Stephen Fry (while he was acting with Hugh Laurie in the Jeeves and Wooster series), and Ben Elton. So, in keeping with this trend I get to Utterly Monkey. My first thought was that I didn’t remember a thing about it, but that’s not true. I remember that “utterly monkey” was a phrase meaning things were out of control. I remember it being something of a thriller with bombs and gangsters. (more…)

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