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Archive for the ‘Mike Doughty’ 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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sandwalkerSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-Low Ebb EP (1996).

lowebb Sackville was a Montreal based folk group who released one album through Constellation Records, and a couple of other releases on other labels.  When they broke up, most of the members of the band went on to play with other bands, many of whom were later released on Constellation.

The focus of the band is really singer/guitarist Gabe Levine whose voice shows a lot of folk, rock and avant garde influences.  His voice sounds at once familiar and also strangely unique.

And this EP was their first release.

The first song is “Messengers.” I love the way the violin cuts through the slow verses to add a great melody to the chorus (including some raw scratching sounds before the verse starts again).  There’s a hint of Mike Doughty in his delivery too. “Donkey Song” opens with some quiet verses and violins has a loud clamorous chorus—super fun and stomping with a nice side guitar riff.  “William” has a standard American folk song melody but the way he sings it is very Social Distortion (through a tinny modulator).  The fiddle gives it more of country sound, but still kind of alt

“Showcase Showdown”  opens with a cool slide guitar and very different vocal style delivered by Kurt Newman.  And the chorus is fund and perhaps a little silly in three-four  dance rhythm “your eyes scare us more than the mirrors on the dance floor.” It’s the most fun song on the disc.  “Low Ebb” continues with the more rocking sound with big brash guitar and crashing cymbals.  It also features some quiet but cool backing vocals—a kind of scream that acts as a drone.   “Thomas” opens with a slide guitar and quiet vocals, the chorus is a major highlight with the vocal duet playing against the loud crunching stop-start guitars.  “This Thing I Want, I Know Not What” is a straight ahead folk song with a lead violin and a pretty melody.  “Cheap” has a quiet melody ending with some slide guitars and violin.

It’s a solid E.P. with even better music on their full lengths.

[READ: June 25, 2016] Last of the Sandwalkers

This is a fascinating book that proves to be an amazing look at beetles and insects and a somewhat interesting adventure story.

I actually found myself a little confused by the story when it started because while I knew it wasn’t going to be realistic (the beetles are leaving their civilization to discover the world) it was also very rooted in real insect knowledge.  And then it got a little out-there so the level of reality in the story wavered from time to time and I found myself getting pulled out of the story to try to puzzle things together.

Which was a shame.  Another shame is that it doesn’t tell you that there are notes at the back of the book (do most people flip to the end to discover this?  Because I didn’t).  And the notes are one of the best parts of the book.  But more on that later.

The protagonist of the story is Lucy.  She is in charge of a small team who have decided to leave their home to go exploring.  Her team includes Professor Bombardier; Raef, a lighting bug (with a secret); Mossy, a giant beetle with a big horn and Professor Owen who has huge mandibles. They also run into Ma’Dog, an old storyteller who is rather cantankerous.

The story begins with Lucy’s diary as the teams sets out from Coleopolis.  They quickly discover Old Coleopolis which was destroyed by coconuts falling from a tree.  It was said that the city was destroyed 1,000 years ago by the god Scarabus, although Lucy can’t believe how not-overgrown it looks after 1,000 years.  It all seems very suspicious. (more…)

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