Fairport Convention are almost unknown in the US, but they hit British rock like a meteor in the late 60s and early 70s. Their best music's a judiciouFairport Convention are almost unknown in the US, but they hit British rock like a meteor in the late 60s and early 70s. Their best music's a judicious combination of British folk and American electric rock, but without a lot of the loopiness of the Incredible String Band, and without the preciousness you get in some hippie music. They knew their sources well, too, and adapted a bunch of old English tunes to the rock idiom.
Of particular note in the band is Richard Thompson, who made Rolling Stone's list of the 10 most influential guitarists in history a few years back. When you can get X, REM, Bonnie Raitt, Dinosaur Jr., Maddy Prior, David Byrne, Bob Mould of Husker Du and Evan Dando to get together for a tribute album, you're probably onto something. He's never cut anything resembling a top-100 album, but he's a peerless songwriter and musician.
Also of note: Sandy Denny, who you may know from her duet, "Battle of Evermore," on Led Zeppelin IV.
This book looks to be about the folk-rock scene hereabouts in the late 60s and early 70s - I'd like to give it a read one of these days. Fairport were a pretty fractious bunch, and given the extensive lineup changes, it's more of a franchise than a band, a little like Yes (except with musicians instead of technicians). I'm sure there're some good stories in here.
This book sounds so utterly devoid of merit that it loops all the way around the literary continuum, past the Chicken Soup books and late-era Dean KooThis book sounds so utterly devoid of merit that it loops all the way around the literary continuum, past the Chicken Soup books and late-era Dean Koontz, curving back into Awesome. I'm torn between wanting to read it, and remembering that vis-a-vis the continuum, it is literally beyond crappy.
"...But in a novel with a body count in the thousands, where suspects are interrogated with knives at their throats, federal agents are decapitated, and the hero is tortured with electrodes on his nipples, the absence of a simple 'ass' or 'dammit' causes massive meta-cognitive de-centering for the reader..."
In case you're not familiar with Gram's body of work, drop what you're doing RIGHT NOW and listen to "Hickory Wind," maybe the most beautiful song I cIn case you're not familiar with Gram's body of work, drop what you're doing RIGHT NOW and listen to "Hickory Wind," maybe the most beautiful song I can think of, or "$1,000 Wedding," which has scintilating, inscrutable lyrics and a great duet part for Emmylou Harris.
Reviewers seem to think this is the best bio of Gram Parsons. He was painfully private and not entirely socially comfortable, so anyone writing a book about the guy really has their work cut out for them.
Gram Parsons's music is country plus a little rock minus Beatles minus Elvis-y Gospel. I'm really curious how he came to write such distinctive music with a rather different set of influences than a lot of the stuff going around back then....more
Read most of this in a bed-and-breakfast in Sardinia, on vacation from my vacation.
I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first one. At times I wondeRead most of this in a bed-and-breakfast in Sardinia, on vacation from my vacation.
I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first one. At times I wonder if George R. R. Martin likes the pillage as much as some of the personages in here do - has anyone ever suggested to these people that maybe rape is not an admirable hobby, even for a grubby faux-Middle Ager?
The geopolitics are becoming a little formulaic, too. Most of the pivotal characters in here would get honorary doctorals from Felix Dzerzhinsky U, though Tyrion remains interesting in that he often finds ways to force the convergence of mercy and power politics. And yet by the end of the book, despite her dead moral center, it's hard even not to empathize with Cersei, which is an accomplishment.
That's not to say that there isn't some patchy writing here. Ex. A, p. 255: "Guyard the Green, who fancied himself a singer, diddled a harp and gave them a verse about tying lions' tails in knots, parts of which rhymed."
The whole series is starting to remind me of a remark in Rules of the Game - tout le monde ont leur raisons. Everyone has their reasons, whether they're incinerating their enemies, murdering children, feeding their overlords to their own dogs, or hacking off other people's limbs with whatever implements are handy. I'm still curious to see where it goes, and whether it culminates in something more grand than just a war of all against all. For all my bitchery, Arya and Tyrion are compelling me to read on.
Next book on its way already - thanks for feeding my habit, Amazon Prime. Here I imagined that during my lengthy period of unemployment I'd be working my way through the complete works of Shakespeare or doing that close reading of Being and Time I'd always planned. So much for that....more
Well, this was just way, way better than the first half of this book. Don't expect any provocative commentary here. At this point I'm reading these boWell, this was just way, way better than the first half of this book. Don't expect any provocative commentary here. At this point I'm reading these books the way some people snort coke or go to Starbucks. I'll be back at the trough as soon as I can dig enough change out from under the sofa cushions. The endless twists and turns are great fun in the short term, and even though on further reflection the hundreds of dei ex machina with which Martin populates his novels definitely tax credulity, no one with half a brain reads a fantasy novel without expecting to suspend disbelief. But whatever. George knows I'll spread my cheeks for him any old time.
Still, it's a little absurd how many of Martin's characters have adopted rape and flaying and grotesque acts of revenge as pastimes, the way some people back here in Realityland take up crochet. If everyone was that awful to everyone else, one wonders how they could possibly sustain the various internal reassurances it takes to live in society. Why wouldn't everyone just start to assume that all the people around them were sociopathic freaks, down to their neighborhood postman? There's some serious Hobbesian propaganda hidden in these pages. Why is it even as sustaining as it is, reading about so many mutually hostile parties engaged in a brutal war of all against all?...more
Just remembered on perusing Kelly's bookshelf that I'd read these.
For some reason I've always felt like books about Star Wars are like dancing aboutJust remembered on perusing Kelly's bookshelf that I'd read these.
For some reason I've always felt like books about Star Wars are like dancing about architecture, to paraphrase Zappa. Half the fun of the movies are all the crazy shit that goes on in the background, and there's some of that in these books, but not enough. I really didn't like them, even when I was 14.
Writing a fantasy novel is basically begging to be compared to Tolkien - you're painting a big old target on your back. Now, I'm not the biggest TolkiWriting a fantasy novel is basically begging to be compared to Tolkien - you're painting a big old target on your back. Now, I'm not the biggest Tolkien fan, despite falling squarely in the old coot's key demographic (males with sedentary lifestyles and, shall we say, a certain number of RPGs under my belt). That's not to say I don't appreciate Tolkien, I do, just in the same way that I appreciate Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, I have the same problem with both:
They're completely sexless.
When you remove sex from fiction, you're willfully obliterating your audience's ability to recognize the world around them in your work. Tolkien was worse than most. People have spent loads of bandwidth imagining the fevered rutting of Samwise and Frodo, but it never happens in the books, and couldn't happen, because Tolkien has castrated his characters behind the scrim. Sure, Galadriel is described as "beautiful," as are plenty of other women in the Lord of the Rings, but that's like saying Monet did some "nice" paintings. Anyone who makes the remark is missing something. Even when writing for adults, his quest to write something of Moral Importance led Tolkien to ignore the fundamental drivers of human behavior, or repress them out of existence. It's a serious flaw, and one that I can't really get over whenever I read his work.
Which is why I love this book. Fritz Leiber never really did it for me, but A Game of Thrones has the best of both worlds: the sweeping politik of Tolkien and the grittiness of Leiber. The whole book is an argument against Tolkienian purity and the kind of Band of Brothers vibe that suffuses Lord of the Rings: the most compelling characters by far are Tyrion, a libertine midget, and Arya, a tomboy. Besides devoting a reasonable quantity of ink on people who have human thoughts and emotions, the world of the novel is painstakingly drawn. You don't pick up on the fact that winter here lasts not for months but for years until you read an offhand remark by a character several hundred pages in, which is as it should be.
Now all Martin has to do is write people who both think and talk like humans. I have to ding this a star because no one, ever, in the history of humanity has uttered some of the sentences of dialogue written here, or ever would. It's a peculiar affliction of fantasy that everyone's diction becomes florid, ever so slightly British, and really well thought-out, as though they compose their surprised exclamations hours in advance. This book would be perfect if not for that. I can't wait for the next one....more
For what it is, it isn't terrible: a short defense and hagiography. As you go on, it becomes perfectly obvious that Lukacs can acknowledge Churchill'sFor what it is, it isn't terrible: a short defense and hagiography. As you go on, it becomes perfectly obvious that Lukacs can acknowledge Churchill's flaws, such as his vision of the white man's burden and the civilizing mission of the British Empire. Lukacs just doesn't think they're very important.
I don't mind a good dose of hero-worship, and with some serious qualifications, Winston Churchill is a worthy object. But calling him the "savior of Western civilization" as Lukacs does is going a bit too far. I also find it objectionable that Lukacs uses "English" as a compliment. It's embarrassing to see a wit and intellect like the author of this book adopt such a worshipful attitude towards an entire nationality, no matter what that nationality is. I don't care if Lukacs thinks the residents of East Timor are the greatest people on earth, or the English, or Americans, or anyone else. It's unseemly and compromising for a historian.
The best straw men he can find to beat up on are Irving and Charmley. I would have preferred he had not bothered. Arguing with them on minutiae only legitimizes their revisionist opinions.
Churchill may have been the leader that England needed when it needed one most. He was extraordinarily witty, his mind was quick and capacious, and he was the only leader of a major power who proved willing to stake his political future and the blood of his armies on opposing Hitler in defense of Poland, but that still doesn't change that history books shouldn't drool....more
Besides the odd Lovecraft, this is the first horror book I've read since tearing through dozens of Stephen King novels in high school.
I really wantedBesides the odd Lovecraft, this is the first horror book I've read since tearing through dozens of Stephen King novels in high school.
I really wanted to like it, but the writer had a couple of ticks that drove me crazy. First of all, the CAs - constant acronyms. Nearly every page, there's an aside in which the character who's being interviewed tells us what an acronym means. It's the worst kind of exposition. If you were gathering a comprehensive oral history of the 00s, and you were talking to someone about WMDs or 9/11, you (and they) would never, ever, ever in a million years stop to explain what those were. If someone's around to interview someone else about it, you both already know.
Others have also noted that all the characters talk the same. One thing that's refreshing about the Studs Terkel book(s) on which this is based is that every voice is remarkably different from all the others. Every single one has its verbal fingerprint. We all have things we do conversationally, whether we know it or not, to distinguish ourselves. I tend to offset subclauses in commas or parentheses, and I tend toward run-ons, God knows. Everyone does something like this. There're as many tells in what you say as in how you say it; people (like me) with lots of parentheticals are usually intellectually insecure college graduates. In Terkel, this is all perfectly obvious. But in World War Z, everyone just sounds like Max Brooks is writing a tremendously self-conscious novel.
All that said, toward the end I was kind of swept away by the narrative. The guy whose job it was to clear the underground of zombies, the Japanese otaku, some of the people here become individuated enough that you really want to read more about them, even if their self-expression is often clunky and full of Americanisms that you would never hear in the context presented. I just wish it hadn't been so badly written.
World War Z would have been perfect if it'd been presented as a series of interlocking short stories or novellas in third person. Who would want to read the otaku's story if it actually sounded as it would coming through a translator? No one. Honestly, I think Brooks just set himself too hard a task....more
American Football by Harold Pinter (A Reflection upon the Gulf War)
Hallelujah! It works. We blew the shit out of them.
We blePeruse, reader:
American Football by Harold Pinter (A Reflection upon the Gulf War)
Hallelujah! It works. We blew the shit out of them.
We blew the shit right back up their own ass And out their fucking ears.
It works. We blew the shit out of them. They suffocated in their own shit!
Hallelujah. Praise the Lord for all good things.
We blew them into fucking shit. They are eating it.
Praise the Lord for all good things.
We blew their balls into shards of dust, Into shards of fucking dust.
We did it.
Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth.
The modifier "American" before "Football" in the title makes football - like war - into something we Yanks have corrupted, something we singlehandedly turned into a dirty, obscenely triumphalist business. If the poem had been called "Football," would it have abridged the work in any way? No, but it would have left doubt as to who Pinter's audience is - and who is his target. The poem is written strictly for non-American consumption. The rest of us are beyond redemption. And in case there was any doubt as to which putatively American wars Pinter dislikes most, he has provided a subtitle.
As a longtime admirer of Pinter's work, I had heard that he'd gotten venomous in his old age, and I don't entirely blame him. But the same way you don't mess with Texas, the gearshift while someone else is driving, or a stranger's drink, you just don't mess with football. It's the height of Euro-snobbery that the sport is seen as merely rugby with more padding, and I detest the implication here and elsewhere that it's part and parcel of New World barbarity while at the same time being purely derivative, both too violent and not violent enough.
I admit that I know less about rugby than I would like to, and less than I would have to go on for too long about it, but the most common misconception of football is that it's rugby for wusses. Not true. There are few wusses in football, but there's a whole different weltanschauung - in rugby, there are no downs. It's a big difference that makes it as much like footie as it is like [sic:] American football - rugby's free-flowing, with less opportunity for statistics, less opportunity to take stock of quanta or formation, and a more spontaneous game with less rigidly defined roles. Rugby's less like chess and more like a complicated game of checkers. You're trying to get to the other side as in football, and the methods by which you do this are many, but there is (trust me) no equivalent to the Byzantine set of restrictions that prevent a cornerback from touching a receiver’s hands past five yards from the line of scrimmage, an offensive lineman from getting the ball unless he changes his jersey, and three members of special teams running in a wedge formation on a kick return.
So obviously, in football, there are very strict rules about who may touch the ball, and the rules are enforced with Torquemadean zeal. What’s more, every contact between players is legislated to a degree that would make Grotius beam. While to people who know nothing about football, tackling is reputedly the most dangerous and frequent activity on the field, there can only really be one tackle per play (and often not even that), but there are any number of players who have more than one player to block. I think we can presume that if anyone is blowing "their balls into shards of dust," it's probably a blocker, just based on the fact that probably 90% of all contact with "them" in any game is a block.
If you are enough of a charlatan as to try to fully transpose the ethics of war into American football, a blocker would be like someone who lays down suppressing fire; they try to hold off the other side while their skill position fellows accomplish one or another goal: rushing, passing, running someplace else on the field, any number of things. A blocker who's trying to hold off defenders while his team's back limps into the end zone is more like a medic than a combatant. The mountainous guys who man the offensive line are like the quarterback's armor - keeping the people away from the person designated to handle the ball most is a difficult job requiring both size and a surprising level of quickness. But one player can occupy any number of roles in a single play. A tight end might block a defensive end first, then fake a route, then block someone else once a wide receiver has gotten the ball. So there is no “it” do have done, nor an “it” that “works"; for most players, there are a million “its” in every game, a million details to take stock of. It’s a game of cunning, made for foxes and not hedgehogs, who only know one big thing. And it is not violent for violence's sake.
We could only WISH the U.S.'s military leaders would transpose the ethics of football into the conduct of war. It's not the political content of the poem that's objectionable - Pinter's complaint is with the conduct of the war rather than its causes, of course, because he thinks that allows him to bitch about Yanks without acknowledging the British role in the first Gulf War. As for the conduct of Gulf War I, he's undoubtedly right. What's insulting, overblown, and cliched is the stereotyping that equates football players with murderers, the apposition that makes it possible to write a poem about both at the same time. It seems to me that instead of addressing violence and its origins, the poem is about Americanism and its origins, with a crass "they're all gay anyway" last line. There is a good point to be made here, and a not-bad poem, but it has a different title, at the least.
What’s more, even if there are opportunities to “blow their balls into shards of dust,” most football players won’t talk about it. If you listen to the talk NFL players share on the field, its cruelties are narrowly bounded, and while things can (of course) get rough, I think it happens much less than people suppose. For example, Michael Oher is a recent NFL draftee who will certainly turn out to be one of the preeminent left tackles in the game (and is astoundingly big, certainly capable of blowing ANYONE’S balls into shards of dust). When asked what defenders he liked playing against, he remarked that he likes playing against Brandon Spikes, a fearsome inside linebacker from Florida, because Spikes makes fun of him by calling him by his middle name, Jerome.
That’s not to say that with a sample size of one I’ve proved that they’re all pacifists, but if Pinter had not been completely tone deaf to the nuances of what he describes in his ridiculous poem, he would have understood that football players rarely speak in so vindictive and obnoxious a manner. It’s partly self-preservation – you don’t insult someone’s mom when they weigh 300 pounds, and are capable of planting spikes in your face at the bottom of a pile when no one’s looking. But it’s also because (and Pinter NEVER would’ve believed this) football players actually aren’t stupid. The work it takes for everyone (other than a kicker) to memorize and understand the implications of every possible formation they need to know in a season is monumental, more work than I have honestly ever put into anything, and I think most of the time, players in college and the NFL have better things to do than disparage their opponents merely for being their opponents.
But if you know nothing about the sport, or if you have a rhetorical point you’d like to make, all you see is a bunch of guys running at each other. It’s much the same patronizing attitude that led the Greeks to hear only bar bar bar bar bar when Scythians were talking, or that led early English colonialists to presume the Iroquois had no concept of statehood – how could they, without written language?
I feel certain that Premier League footie is accompanied by at least as much joy at winning, blatant homoeroticism, and military metaphor. We might have gunners, but they have strikers. The poem says absolutely nothing profound about American football except that if you play it, you should do so with as little schadenfreude as possible. It does play into the widespread delusion that sports that superficially resemble war are, in some metaphysical sense, its moral equal. I used to get this chestnut from my parents, who were fine with war but hated sports, and were mightily opposed to my ever playing them. It was all so violent. Why would I ever want to risk getting hurt myself? The only possible answer was: because I would like to help get the ball into the end zone, please. Teleologically, it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that, though the means by which the ball ends up getting there inevitably are.
But anyway, all that aside, this book is, as I say every year, an unbelievably rich resource. It’s a tribute to the sport that people who are this good at writing prose put this out annually. It’s almost Pynchonic – there are funny songs! On top of that, every Prospectus (now Almanac) is a masterly work of statistical analysis that could never be performed on behalf of footie, because frankly, footie isn’t information-rich enough. (No one measures Ronaldinho’s distance from the goal when he kicks one in – it’s enough that he managed to do it.) It’s also not the worst place to start if you’re interested in the sport. Aaron Schatz and the guys who write these books deserve a medal; I know they have plenty of adjunct businesses, but it still has to be relatively thankless – and since I’ve just written a 4,000 word defense of football, you won’t believe it, but these are some of the best books I read every year. I’d urge you to buy one even if you’re only slightly interested in reading about: -why the Pythagorean theorem does such a number predicting win-loss records, -what team watches Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman before games, -what the best predictor of success in the NFL is, -who does best in the shotgun formation, -when the Lions will ever win a freakin' game, -which college players are going to crater once they're up against actual defenses, -whether Bill Belichick is a god, or a right-place-right-time case, -when it’s best to make aggressive off-season moves, or -the effect that doctors have on teams' success in general.
It’s worth the money, it’s hilarious, it’s accessible, and it’s pure, utter genius – much better than anything Harold Pinter ever wrote after Betrayal.