Friday, June 22, 2007


Richard Thompson, Pritchett on marriage

My little review of Richard Thompson's Prospect Park show last night has been posted on NewsQuake. Mainly I was astounded by the undiminished vitality of this 58-year-old virtuoso (whose first solo album, Henry the Human Fly, remains the worst selling release in the history of Warner Records.) The performance, in the form of 17 shiny FLAC files, is available here. As for my piece, I began this way:
Originally I had no plans to write about Richard Thompson's performance last night in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. I was attending the show as a civilian, with neither pen nor paper nor even a cell phone for a few handy, low-resolution photos. What's more, the heavens opened about five minutes into the show, driving much of the audience to seek shelter under trees, awnings, and about one thousand umbrellas. Surely this would be enough to dampen the spirits of any performer, let alone one like Thompson, who has spent the last four decades trying to expand his reach beyond an admittedly fanatic cult.

Instead, the 58-year-old singer, songwriter, and guitar virtuoso seemed eager to defy the elements. With the rain still sprinkling down and bolts of lighting going off like apocalyptic flashbulbs, he led his four-piece band through a consistently brilliant set. There were songs from Thompson's newest disc, Sweet Warrior, including a hypnotic take on "Sunset Song" and his rambunctious anti-war rocker, "Dad's Gonna Kill Me." But he also favored the audience with several gems from Shoot Out The Lights, the 1982 magnum opus he and Linda Thompson recorded as a husband-and-wife team. And toward the end of the show, Teddy Thompson clambered onstage for a ravishing duet performance of "Persuasion," originally composed as an instrumental for the soundtrack of the 1990 film Sweet Talker.
As usual, you can read the rest here. And here's another treat, from Jeremy Treglown's biography of V.S. Pritchett. Did Sir Victor, in his long, pipe-smoking, artistically hyperactive life, ever write a single stupid line? Perhaps not. In any case, here he is on marriage, in a letter sent to Gerald Brenan during the early 1940s:
[M]arriage is obviously a sacrament because it is such a violent state. To call it an agreement between two people to live together--à la Bertrand Russell--would be a masterpiece of understatement. It's a civil war, with victory celebrations, banquets, enormous advances, inexplicable retreats, persistent guerrilla work, comfortable lengths of blitzkrieg, marvellous intelligence work & plenty of stretcher bearing....

Monday, June 18, 2007


Keen, Revolution In The Head, Second Life

On Saturday the Los Angeles Times ran my review of Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur: How the Democratization of the Digital World Is Assaulting Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values. The polemical (and faintly hysterical) subtitle says it all. I began this way:
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away--which is to say, during the loony apex of the 1990s Internet boom--Andrew Keen was an entrepreneur. An Englishman by birth, he relocated to Silicon Valley and in 1996 founded, one of the earliest websites devoted to digital music. Like most such ventures, his crashed and burned before it could earn a dime.

At this point, many a man might have retreated from the Web in a permanent sulk. Not Keen. As late as 2000, he was producing MB5: The Festival for New Media Visionaries (the title alone makes me weak with nostalgia). Four years later, however, the scales finally fell from Keen's eyes.

The occasion was the annual pajama party thrown by multimillionaire Tim O'Reilly, who made a fortune publishing tech-related books and magazines. In earlier years, the 200 celebrants on hand would have been buzzing over the latest wrinkle in e-commerce or broadband penetration. In 2004, the flavor of the month was Web 2.0--a "shiny new version of the Internet," as the author puts it, which stressed the participation of a mass audience. Keen was having none of it. Where his companions saw democratization, he saw a vast throng of blabbering narcissists. Get thee behind me, Facebook!
Again, you can read the rest here. I'd also like to add a tiny codicil, which I omitted from the review proper. Namely: for a book trumpeting the reliability of traditional media over the slovenly standards of the Web, The Cult of the Amateur contains an extraordinary number of typos. Proper names seem like a particular challenge for Keen: meet "Nick Hornsby," "Jurgen Haberman," and "Edward Gibbons," plus music journalist "Ann Power" and media critic "Michael Wolf" (whose name Keen spells three different ways over the course of two pages). Even the pikers at Wikipedia could probably beat this guy at a spelling bee.

Next: while I wasn't looking, Newsday seems to have run my summer reading selection. Since it's fairly brief, I'll paste the whole thing in here:
Nearly four decades after their last collective performance--that would be the scorching guitar roundelay at the end of Abbey Road--the Beatles continue to generate reams of copy. There is gossip, scholarship and an unstoppable flow of memoirs. There's even a minute-by-minute précis of the band's crabby confabulations out at Twickenham during the filming of "Let It Be." No doubt this immense curiosity is connected to the graying of the boomers. The Beatles were their touchstone, their true Penelope, and remain a sort of magical balm to the creaking joints and drooping spirits of that generation, to which I just barely belong. Still, what really matters is the music. And the best guide I have yet encountered, which I'll be cracking out on the beach come July, is Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties.

As the title suggests, there is a thesis afoot here, which has to do with the gradual curdling of Aquarian optimism. But the heart of MacDonald's book is a brilliant, song-by-song analysis of all 188 recorded performances, from the pre-Fab glimmer of "My Bonnie" to the post-mortem letdown of "Real Love." The author, who also published a study of Dmitri Shostakovich, is no breathless hagiographer. Indeed, he slaughters a good many sacred cows along the way. "Here, There and Everywhere" is "chintzy and rather cloying," and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" gets flogged for its "dull grandiosity. " On the other hand, he is splendidly articulate about the things he loves, genuflecting before John Lennon's "hallucinogenic ventures into the mental interior" or the hushed, hypnotic exhaustion of "Long, Long, Long. " This ardent and addictive book, which first appeared in 1994, has gone in and out of print since then. The good news: The Chicago Review Press will bring out a new edition in September, to which the only proper response is, "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah."
If you click through here, you can also find recommendations by Kerry Fried, Scott McLemee, Peter Terzian, Claire Dederer, and various other Top Gun types.

Finally, I wrote a short post about the legal woes of Second Life over at NewsQuake. Here's a sample:
Sinrod, a partner at the San Francisco-based firm of Duane Morris, concludes his article with a brief speculation: "Perhaps at some point a virtual judiciary will be set up in a virtual world so that disputes can be decided by judge and jury avatars." Given my own experience rambling around Second Life (which I'll address in a future post), this would be some kind of judiciary, with lots of Goth accessories and the occasional bit of fornication in the jury box.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Scribble, scribble: BEA, translation, Sopranos

Over at NewsQuake, I finally posted my BEA report. I took photos, spoke to some industry stalwarts, and tried to get a sense of how soon the digital barbarians would be storming the gates. I also stopped by an SRO panel on atheism, which is now one of the publishing industry's major growth sectors:
As I entered the packed room, Christopher Hitchens was mellifluously putting organized religion to the torch. "Clericalism is stultifying and ruining our culture," he told the audience, most of them chuckling atheists clutching their copies of God Is Not Great, at that moment the bestselling book in the United States."Who needs justice when you have piffle? Who needs evidence when you have tripe?" The panel included a couple of other non-believers, including scientist Victor Stenger and author Nica Lalli (Nothing: Something to Believe In), but Hitchens was the undeniable star, giving God such an eloquent thrashing that I actually began to feel sorry for Him. Even the spiritual comforts tendered to the dying were tucked briskly into the trash can: "Lying to the dying is, I think, even more disgusting than lying to the healthy."
You can read the rest here. You might also take a look at this dispatch I wrote for Critical Mass, about a BEA panel on literary translation. Here's a salient paragraph:
During the Q-and-A, the conversation touched on two high-profile success stories (at least given the modest expectations for a work in translation): W.G. Sebald and Roberto Bolaño. Epler quoted the original reader's report on Sebald's sublime The Emigrants. "I wouldn't advise you to publish this book," the reader had said, "because it's too intellectual for most Americans." In retrospect, it's easy to feel superior to this cautious judgment. Couldn't the guy recognize a masterpiece right under his nose? To be fair, though, he was behaving exactly like those young trade editors who feel themselves on such thin ice. As for Bolaño, whose bulky novel The Savage Detectives was published by FSG in April--well, he's clearly marked for mainstream success, having been awarded "four bunnies" in a recent issues of Playboy. Who said foreign writers can't catch a break?
Go ahead, don't be shy, read the rest here. And then head back over to NewsQuake for my tearful farewell to The Sopranos. I began this way:
After seven years of backstabbing, Byzantine fun, The Sopranos ended not with bang but with an onion-ring-scented whimper. In this sense, series creator David Chase--who stepped in to write and direct the final installment--toyed with our expectations to the very last frame. Obviously the attrition rate had been pretty steep during the concluding episodes. Anticipating Tony Soprano's death became a kind of national sport, the main question being whether he would be done in by a blood relative or by part of his extended, pistol-packing family, whose thinning ranks seemed to narrow down the list of candidates.
Tomorrow I really, really will resume broadcasting on HOM.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Macca Returns: Memory Almost Full

I promise, there will be some dedicated HOM content very soon, but in the meantime I'll keep steering visitors toward the NewsQuake blog, where I'm trying to post every day. Today's topic: Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full. Macca's latest, currently playing in nearly every Starbucks on the planet, is not quite the Old Master production I was anticipating (especially on the basis on John Colapinto's recent New Yorker piece). But it has its pleasures, and the 64-year-old rocker certainly hasn't forgotten how to shout. I began this way:
Back in March, Sir Paul McCartney announced that he was ending his 43-year-association with EMI and recording his next CD for the nascent Starbucks label. At the time his decision raised a few eyebrows (and hammered EMI's already faltering stock). Yet it was hard to begrudge the former Beatle a fresh start, especially after the public meltdown of his marriage to Heather Mills the previous year. And Starbucks soon unveiled an ambitious marketing plan, pledging to play Memory Almost Full in 10,000 locations worldwide on its day of release. With an audience of six million caffeinated consumers on hand, how could Macca go wrong?
As always, you can read the rest here.

Monday, June 04, 2007


Gang of Eight

Over at NewsQuake, I just posted a piece about last night's Democratic debate. Despite the multiple efforts of John Edwards to pass his opponents on the inside rail, and despite some real disagreements about Iraq, immigration, and the role of English as this nation's "official language" (only crusty Mike Gravel raised his hand on that one), I was more struck by the repeated declarations of unity. I began this way:
The reaction to last night's Democratic debate began before the bloody, penultimate episode of The Sopranos could even get underway. According to this CNN dispatch, Nation columnist and author Eric Alterman (the only national pundit whose sister I dated in high school) was actually ejected from the spin room up in New Hampshire. On the other side of the aisle, Michelle Malkin proudly declined to turn on her television. In fact the debate itself came up short in the sound-and-fury department. Standing behind their podiums for the first hour, the field of candidates resembled eight tiny action figures in conservative suits. They seemed caught between pledges of unity--a nice touch for the always schismatic Democrats--and the understandable urge to separate themselves from the pack.

What we got, then, were mostly variations on the same theme. Disagreements did erupt, of course. John Edwards, with his sagging poll numbers, was quick to deny the actual existence of the War on Terror. "It's a bumper sticker," he insisted. "It's a political slogan. That's all it is, that's all it's ever been." Hillary Clinton was having none of this--which is to say that no senator from New York can afford such a rhetorical ploy. But even as the discussion about Iraq heated up, Joe Biden rushed in with a Band-Aid. "I don't want to judge them!" he remarked, when the schoolmarmish but efficient Wolf Blitzer asked him to condemn his colleagues for their votes on the latest round of war funding. "They worked hard! These are my friends!" And not too much later, Clinton added: "The differences among us are minor."
You can read the whole thing here.

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