I’m ten reviews behind, but I’m glad that I can dive back into the game with my review of High Fidelity. Many of us Pajibans know and love the movie, but the book is also super-ossom.
I’m ten reviews behind, but I’m glad that I can dive back into the game with my review of High Fidelity. Many of us Pajibans know and love the movie, but the book is also super-ossom.
The Believer: Eighty-Second Issue: The Music Issue: July/August 2011
Featuring a CD of new work by contemporary composers, among other interesting things like words from David Mitchell, Nick Hornby, Martha Wainwright, and David Byrne
Anyone who wants to tell me that a magazine shouldn’t count toward Cannonball Read has clearly never read The Believer. Most of the images are small and hand-drawn, and the reading is usually involved. That’s not say it is humorless — sidebar lists like “Members of The Decemberists with Unusual Feet” attest to that — but it’s certainly not like cracking open Spin or People, not to mention there’s considerably less advertising. I don’t have a subscription to The Believer, but I’ve purchased the music issue for the past three years. What can I say; I’m a sucker for publications with a free CD.
Let’s talk a little bit about the CD first. I have limited knowledge of classical music — and by classical, I mean the composers we’ve all heard of like Beethoven, Handel, Tchaikovsky, etc — and I know very little of contemporary composers, outside of some who are known for movie scores. It’s not my field of expertise, so I welcomed the mini-education the CD provides. Being a former cello player and a former dancer, my listening was less emotional and more physical. Either I could feel bow movements, or I could picture potential choreography. There’s so much potential performance in many of these songs.
Tyondai Braxton’s “Uffe’s Woodshop,” the disc opener, is mechanically ordered, yet chaotic in a good way. There’s so much going on with all the electronic looping and orchestral noises, but I liked it a lot. From there, we immediately calm down with Sarah Kirkland Snider’s “Nausicaa,” taken from her Penelope. YouTube is not all that forthcoming with many of the songs from many of the composers, but this is in a similar vein to “Nausicaa:”
Shara Worden’s vocals are just gorgeous, and I’d gladly take a whole album of this music. And speaking of interesting vocals, Erin Gee’s “Yamaguchi Mouthpiece” (part 3) recalls Björk’s Medulla experiments.
Owen Pallett’s “Scandal at the Parkade,” which combines impressive violin-playing with looping pedals:
And then there’s “Save My Death,” which stems from this:
TIMBERBRIT is a full-length opera starring fictional versions of Britney Spears and her erstwhile lover Justin Timberlake. In an alternate pop universe, Britney’s latest breakdown has propelled her into her final hours. Justin learns of her imminent demise and rushes to her side to profess his undying love. The music of TIMBERBRIT is inspired by incredibly slowed-down versions of Britney’s own songs. Composer Jacob Cooper stretches the tempo to its breaking point, infusing the familiar pop structures with a deranged, nightmarish intensity. Breezy tunes about teenage crushes become statements of mortality and supreme love, much like those common in traditional opera.
That is both ridiculous and awesome, and I love it. Other highlights from the disc include Ted Hearne’s “Snowball” (jazz with strings), Jozef Van Wissem’s “Aerumna” (atmospheric and meditative), and Nicole Lizeé’s excerpt from “King Kong and Fay Wray” (ominous, brief).
Probably my favorite from the collection is Bryce Dessner’s “Lincoln’s March.” Filled with french horns and other muted brass, it reminds me of some of the stuff I used to play in orchestra. Dessner is the guitarist for the National, a band I keep hearing is brilliant, but I’ve yet to check out. I wish YouTube or Vimeo had this song.
About the only song I just flat out did not like was Daniel Padden’s “Ship Sarangi.” I sort of understand what he’s doing with non-traditional sounds and instruments, but it trips all the wrong switches in my brain and just feels like noise. It’s not for me. I’m not super crazy about Tristan Perich’s “Momentary Expanse” either, but I like the title, and if I’m in the right mood, I keep listening when it comes around. Overall though, this Believer disc is well worth the cover price even before one gets to the magazine content itself.
And what of the magazine content? Listen, as soon as I saw that David Mitchell was involved, that was enough for me. The few interviews and one book (so far) I’ve read have made me hopelessly literary-enamored with him. And he’s cute, and sometimes I am shallow.
He talks to Brian Eno, a musician I find interesting, even if he’s more of a background figure in some of my listening. They talk about the evolution of ambient music, inspiration from dreams and otherwise, the variables involved when a person listens to music, how they interpret and feel connected to it, depending on their environment. It’s lovely and fascinating, but this might be my favorite bit:
DM: Novels are palimpsests written over earlier versions, red herrings, wrongly barked-up trees, and still somehow contain the ghosts of the novels that didn’t get written in order for this one, the finished one, to emerge. In a not-dissimilar way, one senses the thought behind an Eno composition — all the paths not taken to find the uncluttered path that is taken.
When I do listen close and hard to your work — as opposed to writing to it — I feel watched. I don’t know where this is going — a confession of paranoia, perhaps! — but your music has a particular hold on its listeners, and we hanker to know why.
1. Fiction writing is often rearranging ghosts, yes — of other books/stories and our histories.
2. The act of listening closely is a bliss that rivals the joy of finding great music to which I can write well.
3. He said the word “hanker.” I thought I was the last person on Earth to use the word “hanker.”
Much like myself, The Believer is fond of lists and bringing together seemingly disparate things together under one theme. There is a whole article about songs that feature the telephone, either conversations on or the noises associated with it (busy signals, dial tones, etc.). As someone who has made lists of songs that all have the same title, or songs that feature clapping, I am familiar with the undeniable categorization urge.
Lists carry over into Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” which have thankfully made a return to the magazine’s pages. For those not familiar, he lists the books purchased that month, and then the books he read. Sometimes the two lists overlap, sometimes not. This time, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Whoops!: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay by John Lanchester were both purchased and read in the same month. I’ve read his collected volumes of columns, and together they do end up flowing together nicely, in a way that I would imagine a lot of people who write books for a living would manage to do. The trouble with reading a standalone column is that I just end up wanting to read more.
There’s also a great longer article about the unloved bassoon, “The Farting Bedpost.” Writer and former bassoon player Eileen Reynolds wonders and researches how the bassoon became the go-to stand in for clown-like noises and its place as the “Rodney Dangerfield instrument.” Having played in a full orchestra quite a bit, I was aware of how a bassoon could sound outside of “dopey pet food commercials,” but I’d never given it much thought before. Then I remembered that I used to refer to my strange sounding ’88 Volvo car horn as “an out of tune bassoon.”
David Byrne’s conversation with Brazilian musician Tom Zé is fascinating, even if I suspect I might not like all of Zé’s music. Now, don’t hold me to that, as I have yet to investigate, but maybe with my noise sensitivities, I tend to be a bit leery when it comes to someone who has used a floor polisher as an instrument. However, I definitely respect innovation mixed with tradition, and that is something with which both Byrne and Zé are familiar. They get a little technical at times, discussing musical theory and things like “integral serialism” and “radicalize the twelve-tone method,” and I admit it went a little bit over my head. Still, their enthusiasm is infectious, and I particularly liked this exchange:
DAVID BYRNE: Is music taught in secondary schools in Brazil? What kind of music is taught?
TOM ZÉ: Music education has not been a requirement in Brazilian schools for many years. This year it will be reinstated. Some schools already included music in their curricula. For example, the Colégio Construarte, here in São Paulo, has an elementary curriculum for students up to nine years old who receive musical education. They learn about the use of one’s own body to make sound, voice as an instrument, the practice and recognition of rhythms, the identification of rhythms with corporal movement, and the recognition of sounds produced in nature and by instruments. In 2011, musical education will be restored in all schools.
DB: This is great news! Sorry if it is a surprise to be asking about music education — it fascinated me at the moment. Art and writing and other creative endeavors seem to be getting let go of here and in the U.S. at the moment; there are big cutbacks going on. I think it’s particularly sad, as I think it turns us into a nation of art, music, and writing consumers, as opposed to creators. It turns us into passive beings who accept the assumption that others can always make better stuff than you can. Encouraging students to flex their creative muscles doesn’t mean they necessarily have to be artists or musicians, but it opens up neurological pathways — ways of thinking that are useful for all sorts of careers. That’s not a question, I know, it’s a rant. I’m glad to see Brazil is more enlightened in that respect.
Every time I read about the decline of music and arts education in the U.S., it makes me so glad that I have moved back to a school distract that values it. Both of my kids are very creative in their own ways, and I’m glad to know that some form of both music and art are still requirements for students here, all the way through high school. Part of the reason why I played viola for three years, and then cello for four, is that I didn’t want to be in choir. It’s not that I disliked singing — I just didn’t enjoy many of the songs they ended up having to perform. But kids had to be in choir all the way through 8th grade if they didn’t want to be in either band or orchestra, and once high school started, there were a certain amount of fine art credits one had to acquire, but there were a variety of choices that were not solely music-based. Between those requirements and vocational requirements, I feel like kids in the Great Falls School District get a more well-rounded education compared to districts that cut these classes. That’s not to say that they do not experience cuts around here, but the fine arts classes do fare a bit better on the whole and the community is likely to support those efforts.
I also enjoyed Greil Marcus’ column “Real Life Top Ten: A Monthly Column of Everyday Culture and Found Objects,” as well as the interview with Trey Anastasio. I’m not much of a Phish fan, but I find the culture and dedication surrounding the band interesting, as well as Anastasio’s thoughts on creative collaboration:
BLVR: You guys have interwoven music into social life.
TA: I have. I think that’s the truest thing that has been said in this interview so far.
BLVR: There’s no on and off switch.
TA: Yeah, but that can be dangerous. People in my immediate family think I’m losing my mind because I don’t know how to turn it off. I really don’t. As a matter of fact, I’ve been encouraged by my wife and those around me to, on New Year’s Eve, hand over my phone for a month. This is actually something I’ve never talked about before. This what I’ve done to my life. Anybody who comes into my life, I start collaborating with.
To a milder degree, I am married to someone like this. Or at least, to someone who has a million projects in mind.
Just when I think, “Yes, I have covered all that I really liked about this issue!” I remember something else. Martha Wainwright is also interviewed in this issue. My dad was a longtime fan of both her mother and father’s music, and I bought several of her brother Rufus’ albums before her first album came out. Musical families fascinate me, and despite a chaotic upbringing, I think it’s great that they’ve all been able to perform together at one time or another. Martha talks about her mother’s death from cancer, the effect it had on her pregnancy, and the difficulty of writing songs without being able to call her. It’s a lovely, informative interview, and it just serves to remind me that I have some catching up to do when it comes to owning her music.
Is that it? Is that all I have to talk about with The Believer Music Issue 2011? Have I spoiler-ed it plenty already? Have I made you want to buy it and further investigate its content, as the content inspired me to further investigate its subject? Yes? Good.
(This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters)
“High Fidelity” is the third book that I have read by Nick Hornby and it will not be the last. As mentioned in my reviews for “Juliet Naked” and “About a Boy”, I find his writing style comfortable and easily read. His characters are relatable and although not obviously likeable, I find them to be so.
“High Fidelity” was the author’s first novel, and a rather good one in my opinion. I have seen the movie quite a few times as well and was impressed in how the book held up to my memory of the movie. Wikipedia also tells me that it was a musical in 2006, that would have been disasterrific to see. As in the movie, the book centers around Rob Fleming who owns a fairly unsuccessful London record store. As the book opens, his girlfriend Laura has just left him and he proceeds to tell us his top five heartbreaks and how Laura should have gotten to him sooner if she really wanted to make the list.
Yet another book that has been made into a movie, but I love movies (or I used to, but most seem crappy lately) so it is only natural that I would read these kinds of books. Another reason I chose “About a Boy” is because I really enjoyed “Juliet Naked” so I requested both this book and “High Fidelity”. This one came in first but “High Fidelity” is next on my reading list most likely.
I read this book simply because I have enjoyed the movies were based on Nick Hornby books. I am glad that I took the chance since I most definetly enjoyed “Juliet Naked”. This book follows a couple, Annie and Duncan, who have been together for 15 years but who have really just settled with each other for matters of convenience. At the start of the book they are on a pilgrimage to sights related to reclusive singer songwriter Tucker Crowe. Duncan is obsessed with the singer and spends a lot of his time on a website devoted to analyzing minute details about Crowe. Annie is along for the ride, although she doesn’t share Duncan’s obsessions she has put up with them so long that Crowe has become a fixture in her life as well.
For the rest of the review, click here
36. Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan: The last of The Wheel of Time novels that Jordan completed before his death still displays many of the weaknesses that developed with the series, but definitely starts to move the plot forward and get things into the right position. http://notesfromtheofficersclub.blogspot.com/2011/05/book-36-knife-of-dreams.html
37. The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: I can’t remember the last time I zipped through a book in this series quite so quickly. Don’t get me wrong, with all books in the series, I felt a need to know where it was going and what was going to happen so they kept me engaged, but there were also quite a few chapters that were a chore to get through. Sanderson, however, has definitely breathed new life into the series. http://notesfromtheofficersclub.blogspot.com/2011/05/book-37-gathering-storm.html
38. Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson: Unfortunately, this book was nowhere nearly as well-written as A Short History of Everything. I don’t feel like I learned too much about the places visited (I thought maybe he’d share random knowledge like in A Short History of Everything, but there wasn’t very much) – for the most part, it felt like he simply reiterated stereotypes. I guess in some cases stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason but I expected better from Bryson. Also, having never read a travel book before, I wasn’t sure what to expect – was it supposed to be a tour of the city, was it supposed to be about random mishaps the author encounters, a bit of both? Mostly, it seemed like Bryson walked around, ate, and pretty much didn’t seem to enjoy himself very much. http://notesfromtheofficersclub.blogspot.com/2011/05/book-38-neither-here-nor-there.html
39. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls: Walls uses the stories that she and her mother remember about her grandmother to create this woman’s life story. Since it is based on family myth, Walls doesn’t title the story as a biography. The book reads very much like an oral history – it is told in Lily’s voice in chronological order, but as a reader I could easily imagine that all the chapters were individual stories told at varying times to her daughter who then helped her own daughter place them in order. In many ways, Lily feels like a portrayal of the quintessential (and possibly even stereotypical) frontier woman. http://notesfromtheofficersclub.blogspot.com/2011/05/book-39-half-broke-horses.html
40. About A Boy by Nick Hornby: Hornby tells the story from the perspective of Marcus, a 12 year old boy who is both old for his age and naive, and Will, a 36 year old man-child to say it in simple terms. Marcus is the child of divorce, and he and his mother Fiona have recently moved to London. His mother struggles with depression, and Marcus understands that things aren’t quite normal. He also doesn’t fit in at school because his mom is a feminist, vegetarian hippie who is opposed to most new popular culture and has raised her son on Joni Mitchell in the time of Nirvana and Snoop Dogg. Being the new kid, he gets picked on quite a bit.
41. The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen: I heard about this author when I saw that TNT was making a show based on the series that started with this novel. I don’t watch procedurals all too often, but I like the occasional Law and Order: SVU, and figured I might as well check out if this series was any different (I also think I saw a book that was later in the series that sounded like it had an interesting premise for a killer, but I obviously couldn’t start in the middle). Having said that, it was an entirely enjoyable book given the genre it represents. I wouldn’t call it ground-breaking in any way but it had a few nice ideas.
by Nick Hornby
When reading Nick Hornby, I take on the role of an indulgent spouse. I have loved Nick Hornby so long and so hard, my opinion is irreparably colored by the moment in which I first read High Fidelity in 2000. I think I must have seen the movie first, as a lot of people did, but they are entirely different animals. While I have much appreciation for the Chicago-set film version, my heart will always be with the London-based heartsickness that comes when women and music intertwine.
We’ve spent a little over a decade together, Hornby books and me — almost as long as Duncan and Annie in Juliet, Naked. Having spent fifteen years in a relationship, they have never married and perhaps were never truly enamored with one another. Theirs is a steady, comfortable existence in the cheerless seaside town of Gooleness, England. Except now…
Sometimes Annie felt less like a girlfriend than a school chum who’d come to visit in the holidays and stayed for the next twenty years. […] They started drinking together in the evenings and sleeping over at weekends, until eventually the sleepovers turned into something indistinguishable from cohabitation. And they had stayed like that forever, stuck in a perpetual postgraduate world where gigs and books and films mattered more to them than they did to other people of their age.
Duncan had put her to sleep, and in her sleep she’d been desexed.
Taking up far more of Duncan’s energy is the music of Tucker Crowe — a reclusive, Dylan-esque singer-songwriter who disappeared from the music business in the late 80s. The internet has prevented Crowe’s obscurity, and Duncan considers himself one of the ‘Crowologists’ who study and theorize over the man and his songs on an online message board. His most popular album, Juliet, remains a constant source of debate — his references, his musical influences, the woman behind the songs — no detail is too small.
And then one day a CD arrives in the post — a stripped down, acoustic version of that album titled Juliet, Naked. It is Annie that hears it first, and her critical review (and first post) on the message board brings two emails to her inbox:
It was very short. It said, simply, “Thank you for your kind and perceptive words. I really appreciated them. Best wishes, Tucker Crowe.” The title on the second was: “P.S.,” and the message said, “I don’t know if you hang out with anyone on that website, but they seem like pretty weird people, and I’d be really grateful if you didn’t pass on this address.”
Thus begins a friendly, semi-flirtatious correspondence between the two. Tucker is living in Pennsylvania after a string of wives and children, determined to be a good parent to his six year old son, Jackson. He is aware of his shortcomings, but that does not mean he is able to properly deal with them. He and Annie are lonely, and their respective relationships have met their end, and it is not an insignificant thrill to be able to connect with someone again.
Now, to anyone to whom this premise seems awfully convenient, let me remind you — The internet is magical and weird. There are people who I would consider friends, people who I have spoken to for nearly a decade, who I originally met on a music message board. (Though I must clarify – we were “General” section members. Yes, those “Music” section people were pretty weird, ha.)
In the realm of books, I stumbled across Pajiba after clicking on one of their ads on Go Fug Yourself back in both sites’ early days, and here we are with the Cannonball Read. Because of Cannonball, I’ve had the opportunity to receive books I might not have otherwise noticed, as well as used my reviews as a springboard to other writerly things. However, perhaps my greatest “The Internet is Weird” story, I cannot talk about yet. It concerns books, it concerns music, and it concerns subject matter that would make the young, obsessive me flip the fuck out. Everything can be connected, and that is why I have no problems with this Juliet, Naked plot device.
More “serious” literary critics like to dismiss Hornby on the basis that he’s too “readable,” too “easy,” which is a rather — and if you’ll forgive my slipping into Britishisms — massive heap of bollocks, if one bothers to consider notions of “easy” for more than ten minutes. While I do enjoy a good chinstroke and mental stretch, just because something goes down smoothly does not make it any less valid. One devours Nick Hornby books. One reads them aloud to passersby, half-listening partners and friends. He takes our admittedly silly and at times superficial motives and gives them validity.
She stopped typing. If she’d been using pen and paper, she would have screwed the paper up in disgust, but there wasn’t a satisfying equivalent with e-mail, seeing as everything was designed to stop you making a mistake. She needed a fuck-it key, something that made a satisfying ka-boom noise when you thumped it. What was she doing? She’d just received communication from a recluse, a man who had been hiding from the world for twenty-odd years, and she was telling him about a shark’s eye in a jam jar.
Next time you are emailing someone you don’t actually know but who has gained a level of importance in your life in some way, I’d like you to take note of your thought process during the composition of said email.
However, yes, there are some conveniences within the plot along the way. Lest I be spoiler-y, I won’t say how, but the ending makes the book a little less than perfect. It feels not necessarily incomplete, but rushed. I’m all for sudden realizations, but maybe I’m not used to them being quite that brisk in good fiction.
Still, Nick Hornby is as smart and funny as ever, and I appreciate how he made Annie and Duncan somewhat immature despite their age. They have, after all, been together since their twenties, and it stands to reason that their stagnancy isn’t only confined to their relationship.
Apart from the commentary on love both fanatical and diminished, Juliet, Naked also talks about what it means to be a great artist and a not-so-great human being, and how one needs to learn to separate the two. Tucker Crowe and his fans have confused the two, and while his fans are forgiving and prone to legend-crafting, Crowe can only see the dishonesty in his work. He has lost sight of his skills’ value, and in the process, lost the ability to write songs.
This is also one of the first novels I’ve read where the author is not afraid of the internet. I’m guilty of technology fear, as are a lot of other (and certainly more notable) writers who can barely summon the will to involve a cell phone. Juliet, Naked not only involves email and message boards, but Wikipedia as well. Hornby has done an excellent job crafting the history of this fictional musician, right down to the fake song lyrics. One gets the sense that maybe — in some roundabout way — they’ve heard Tucker Crowe’s songs before.
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Juliet, Naked as the introduction to Nick Hornby’s work, I still immensely enjoyed reading it. There is no shame in devouring a book, nor is there any in not struggling to read its prose. When a story works, and the characters make us feel, outside opinion should be inconsequential.
This was a library book. Support your local libraries!
(This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.)