Saturday, January 21, 2006

Yesterday's discussion about Golijov and the mention of Gaddis got me thinking about who I, and others, consider the best unknown contemporary author, Donald Harington. With is simply one of the most accomplished, complex, straightforward, generous, spiritual, and lovely novels I've ever read. I have literally worn out two copies loaning it to friends, all of whom have adored the novel, some of them English teachers I had at Georgetown, and one of them, who delights in finding some flaw in a novel that spoils the whole, totally succumbed to the book. It's that good.

What I find intriguing about Harington is the utter ease he has in using postmodern techniques - magical realism, metafictive dialogue with the reader, mulitple narrators, displayed scaffolding - to invite an intimacy with the reader. So often in pomo, frustrating the reader's apprehension of reality is a theme unto itself, and yet in Harington the reader is invited - and "invited" is a key word in Harington - to see the gears and joists and widgets that undergird contemporary postmodern culture, not to overcome them or subjugate them or even comprehend them but to understand, at least a little comfortably if wobbily, one's place and stake in the world. Unlike many pomos, Harington doesn't believe you have to confront complexity with either impenetrability or forlorn chaos to tenuously apprehend and portray the world, and this artistic generosity reflects, I hope and believe, a generosity in the author himself.

That the novels are set in the fictional Ozark town of Stay More Arkansas, many of them in decades past, and are peopled by plain folk who speak in plain talk, is a major part of the charm of the project. The novels are all related to each other and yet each distinct and separate. The first one I read, The Choiring of the Trees is perhaps the most somber, and after With I'd recommend The Archetecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, which serves as the backbone from which the other novels spin. All are wonderful. Start with With.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Via All Things Considered, two audio articles of note. First, Bebo Valdez. Second, cellist Matt Haimovitz has a new album out. The article tease claims that the album "touches on an ongoing debate about the future of classical music." And I must admit I'm intrigued by what snippets I heard in the article. And I love the cello. Anyone suggest other cellists and/or particular pieces for cello I should hear?

An article in today's Salon on Osvaldo Golijov, calling him "the best kept secret in contemporary music." I'm listening to his Passion According to St Mark now for the second time (it's on the Georgetown server: I posted how to get to it here), and I like very much. I had never heard of him, which is no surprise, and I'm curious what others think.

So, "best kept secret?" The phrase implies intent (as opposed to "best least known" or "best composer no one's heard"). If the contemporary classical world is like the rock world, it is extremely difficult for Latin American artists in general and South American artists in particular (especially outside of Brazil) to get a hearing in the US. (I posted some songs by an Argentine artist, Juana Molina, here.) What other South American composers should I know about? And is Golijov's relative obscurity more about where he's from than what's he's writing?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Drunk in the Furnace

by W.S. Merwin

For a good decade
The furnace stood in the naked gully, fireless
And vacant as any hat. Then when it was
No more to them than a hulking black fossil
To erode unnoticed with the rest of the junk-hill
By the poisonous creek, and rapidly to be added
To their ignorance,

They were afterwards astonished
To confirm, one morning, a twist of smoke like a pale
Resurrection, staggering out of its chewed hole,
And to remark then other tokens that someone,
Cosily bolted behind the eyeholed iron
Door of the drafty burner, had there established
His bad castle.

Where he gets his spirits
It's a mystery. But the stuff keeps him musical:
Hammer-and-anviling with poker and bottle
To his jugged bellowings, till the last groaning clang
As he collapses onto the rioting
Springs of a litter of car seats ranged on the grates,
To sleep like an iron pig.

In their tar-paper church
On a text about stoke holes that are sated never
Their reverend lingers. They nod and hate trespassers.
When the furnace wakes, though, all afternoon
Their witless offspring flock like piped rats to its siren
Crescendo, and agape on the crumbling ridge
Stand in a row and learn.
More Gore (Short Version, believe it or not)

First, read how the AP bitchslaps Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez for pushing the Bushco line that Clinton admin broke FISA laws, thus making Al Gore a hypocrite for criticizing Bushco criminalities.

I am not calling for an Al Gore nomination run in 2008, though I am not adamantly against one either. I am saying that the possibility of an Al Gore nomination run in '08 is worth considering as an exercise in exploring certain aspects of the current dynamics in American politics.

Josh - who I must gently chide for evoking the "Love Story" canard in a comment to a few posts ago: to note, Al never claimed he invented the internet either - lists reasons for Gore not to run. I don't strongly disagree with the logic of any of them, though I bet Al could send a shot across Hillary's bow warning her that he has enough ammo to ensure mutual destruction if she wanted to go there, and it may only be my taste, but I bet Gore's Q#s are better than Kerry's.

The common jist of the points against a Gore run seems to be that his record, as VP, as candidate, give the pignuts enough targets of opportunity that Gore would spend his entire campaign on the defensive. I would add that since the 2000 election, the pignuts have added the "Crazy Al" meme to Gore's political biography (and, by extension, anyone else who dares speak out against El Jefe). And since no good yellow pignut would throw away good bullshit, not only would the Right have a head start in sliming Gore by virtue of recycling old bullshit, having the old bullshit would give pignut bullshit prospectors plenty of time to wank new bullshit.

Pignuts ran Swift Boat lies and anti-faggotry as the pillars of their campaign against John Kerry. They are swiftboating John Murtha now. Al Gore and John Kerry may have been terrible presidential campaigners (especially Kerry since, unlike Gore, he actually got fewer voters than El Jefe) but any Democrat who's contemplating a 08 run who isn't absolutely positive that his record will be misrepresented, taken out of context and distorted, that he'll be accused of falsely acquiring his accomplishments, of sympathizing with car bombers, of wishing America to be a military power on the scale of Belgium, of pandering to sodomites and pederasts, should disqualify himself now.

My major concern with Gore, which concerns Josh too, is his ties to that very group of Democratic powerbrokers who need to STFU and GTHA. I am concerned that once Gore declared his candidancy he would be urged by his advisors to immediately can the very eloquent, impassioned, intelligent rhetoric we're hearing now that sparks this conversation, that he would immediately wooden up and become the campaigning stiff of 2000. But I am not concerned about what the pignuts will do to Gore as compared to any other Dem.

Gore/Obama 08? I'm not saying Yes! I'm not saying no.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Pardon my absense recently on BDRIB. I work at Georgetown University, and nothing compares to the slogginess of turning over semesters. We have an thirteen year old exchange student from Peru in the house via my daughter's school. A cat is dying, relatively comfortably, slowly. DC United released Dema Kovalenko, a necessary but necessarily sad move. Our government, dishonest in its run-up to a unwarranted war, is preparing its dishonesty for a run-up to what may or may not prove to be a warranted war, though how will we know and who can we believe. Vandals smashed the rear window of my Matrix.

So. I've read there was a generally civil dust-up catalyzed by a posting on Rufus Wainwright, a musician whose music I admire more the earlier it was released. I don't Want Three. Since I don't presume to write about the theory behind the music that interests me to professional musicians and composers, I denied myself the pleasure of indulging in haloscanning - well, not totally, this addict admits - and pondered whether, behind the very real cover of real life's insistent demands for my attention, to continue here. Ultimately, I ask myself, am I having fun? On I go.

Some quick news and items:

Built to Spill and
!!! Sonic Youth !!! have albums scheduled for release this year according to Pitchfork.

David Little and his band, The Motion Sick, is Spin's Band of the Day. Check out the Spin link before they change it. Free listens at the band's homepage. Good stuff.

An interesting article in today's New York Times about one Scott Storch, who makes $80,000 to $90,000 per song producing music for the Beyonces and - soon to come - Paris Hiltons of the world. Perhaps some don't need reminding of how that aspect of the business works, but I find it ickily fascinating. There's no mention in the article if Scott is the son of Larry Storch from F-Troop.

I've got tickets to see Chuck Prophet in February, the Royal Philharmonic play Britten and Khatchaturian and Tchaikovsky in March, and I've an offer to see Cyro Baptista with Beat the Donkey. I'd have to rearrange something of relative (pun intended) importance. Worth the grief?

And, a song by South Ambulance, whose sound reminds me of Ride and Kitchens of Distinction walloped upside the head with the harmonies stick of The Beach Boys. No more serious than fun.
On to Iran

Niall Ferguson, the "serious" Right's favorite historian, channels the future in this column in Britain's Observer:
The optimists argued that the Cuban Missile Crisis would replay itself in the Middle East. Both sides would threaten war - and then both sides would blink. That was Secretary Rice's hope - indeed, her prayer - as she shuttled between the capitals. But it was not to be.

The devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 represented not only the failure of diplomacy, it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said it marked the twilight of the West. Certainly, that was one way of interpreting the subsequent spread of the conflict as Iraq's Shi'ite population overran the remaining American bases in their country and the Chinese threatened to intervene on the side of Teheran.

His thesis: since Sharon was the only man who would have supported Bush's honorable instinct for preemptive strikes against Iran - Blair hamstrung in Britain by the Iraq backlash, Condi Rice a diplomatic weenie - a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran happens because Bush didn't take out Iran's nuclear capability before it reached attack capacity.

Not to be seen in the column is an admission that Bush's invasion of Iraq strengthened Iran as a military power, paved the path for the elevation of Irani warmonger to power, weakened America's stance as military power to be avoided, united disparate branches of the Islamic world into a cohesive and militant anti-Americanism, and emboldened sundry and every country, friend and foe, to regard the United States as a bully at a poker table, bluffing with a two and a seven in the hole.

Well, all in that last sentence must be the anti-war Liberals' fault. (And let me here add: it's amazing how tough guys create the very situations of weakness that call for the intervention of tough guys, yes?) Nevertheless, let's compare Ahmadinejad to Hitler, Iran to post-Rhineland Third Reich, warm-up the strike jets, and bomb. Bomb. Bomb. And just wait until the anti-Iran rhetoric in the SOTU speech.