Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reviews: Bolaño's 2666 and Hanson's Anthem

Book Review: 2666 by Robert Bolaño 

So my Borders co-worker, Andrew, raved about a work of literature that he had just finished, insisting that it was a magnificent piece, and that I had to read it. Having just closed the page on the last book I had read, I said, "Sure, why not." So I picked up (online, as an e-book on my Kobo), the 795 page tome that is Robert Bolaño's 2666. And it is huge, a book you stand on to reach the cookie jar. (Well, since it was an e-book, standing on my Kobo would result in a cracked screen, but anyway...) First off, this book was supposed to be divided into 5 separate ones, published thus to cover the expenses of Bolaño's children after he died (of liver failure in 2003). His publishers decided, after conferring with his notes, to publish it as one novel. The novel opens with a description of three European literary critics and their love of the writings of one Benno von Archimboldi, a German writer hailed as the next Goethe or Kant. This interested me, as Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther was a major influence in my early reading. So I continued reading.

2666 has all the feel of a Post-Modern masterpiece. Imagine an author, having immersed himself into a world with a given set of circumstances, and thus decides to tell the story of each character, each painting, each event in that world. It would look like tributaries running into a stream, each twisting and turning, but invariably ending into a major river, and into a spot on the ocean. For this novel, the ocean is the Mexican town of Santa Teresa near the US border. Imagine the description of each dream the characters have, the other-worldly hallucinations at sunset on a deserted Mexican highway, the ramblings of madmen in asylums, the horror of Nazi officers and the decisions they make. And you, as the reader, must float down each tributary, knowing that you may (or may not) reach the conclusion. This is Post-Modernism.

I felt the same way about this book as I did with Neal Stephenson's Anathem, that I could keep reading forever, and a whole world would unfold before me, and it would swallow me up. It's not a book I would normally read, what with the graphic detail (I think people could easily call it a 21st century Joyce's Ulysses), but that shouldn't make you not read it, as their are parts of lyrical beauty, of fantastic writing, of arresting adventures in the outskirts of World War II. I would also compare it to David Benioff's City of Thieves, in the absurdist episodes surrounding the second World War. Also, Michael Nesmith's The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora with the mystic realms of literature and art being contrasted with the base world of pornography and worldly pleasures. So, all in all, it was a good book, and I recommend it to anyone who likes a more experimental form of literature, and an open mind.

Music Review: Anthem by Hanson

 Merge the darker undertones of This Time Around with the pop stylings in Underneath, you have Hanson's latest musical offering, Anthem. Hanson's last few albums have had spots of genius as well as mediocre filler. Shout It Out was a 6 song EP with filler in between (the EP is amazing, and well worth getting). This one is a solid record, and Taylor Hanson has learned how to fix some things. In the past albums, his vocals have lacked any enunciation, so that I have to look at the lyrics to understand it. This is a major roadblock to a good song. In this album, AutoTune and other technology have made their voices clear, concise, and understandable. Also, they have worked with their harmony, intertwining voices (with Auto-Tune, I expect) for new sounds. Some critics will say it's overproduced, much like they panned Matchbox Twenty's second album Mad Season. Course, I loved that album, too. In fact, on most tracks, I could easily hear Brandon Flowers of The Killers singing the lyrics, as it reminded me of the band's second album Sam's Town. I've always said that Zac Hanson needs to have more lead vocal songs on each album, because his tunes are so introspective, so different from Isaac's romantic ballads and Taylor's rock and pop tunes. A great album, from a great band, well worth supporting.

Not a part of the album, but I'd never seen the video before, and liked it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Music at 3AM...

My parents took with them, on weekend camping trips in some old trailer, a black and white television, battery operated, that had a nine inch screen.  It had an antenna (which I broke off, as usual), and they used it for watching whatever football game was on.  It also had a radio, which was why, after we moved to Georgia, they put it in my room so I could have the radio on at night. I listened almost exclusively to Fox 97.1, the "oldies" station, which like so many of the good radio

stations, have now disappeared with the invention of mp3 files.  People just don't like the idea of randomness anymore.  And while that gives them control, it prevents them from finding something they like accidentally. On a sidebar, that also is much like shopping Amazon instead of going to an actual bookstore.  You never get to glimpse an interesting cover or book out of the corner of your eye, to suck you in, open you up to entire new worlds and authors.  It's the similar thing for radio stations, as you might never here the amazing singers out there because, with control, you might listen to the same 4 artists over and over again.  I must admit, I'm quite guilty of that now, and I miss being at Borders and discovering new (or old) artists and their music.

But I digress.  So I would have Fox 97 on all night, and I remember songs filtering into my dreams, and I would be, in dreamland, singing a song, and then I woke up and heard the same song on the radio.  There are songs that I associate with 3 in the morning, songs I never heard except in the middle of the night.  This is normal, for a song to transport you back to a place and time that you heard it first. I've talked about Heart's song "These Dreams," reminding me of sitting in a doctor's waiting room, with all the colors and sights and sounds of that room.

There are colors in music.  I can see them, in my mind's eye.  Sure, the artist says the word "red," and the song becomes red, but also if they say "rose," with all the archetypes and meaning that the color red (love, life, blood) and the rose (love, death, aging, beauty, pain) brings with it.  The music itself does the same thing.  Listen to the William Tell Overture, the first part, before the Lone Ranger theme, and you'll vision greens and yellow and peacefulness and spring.  Or Mahler's 9th Symphony, and there's themes of sadness, blues and grays, blacks and minor chords.  The same thing goes for the songs I heard at 3AM through my little TV/Radio in my room.  Later, I brought in a boom box, and put in a cassette so I could record the songs I liked off the radio.  I had a ruler pressed on the pause button (the record button was already pressed), and so if I heard a song I liked, I used the ruler from my bed to hit the pause button, and it would record the song.  Now, with Spotify and other mp3 platforms, none of that is necessary.  Think on it, no more cassettes filled with different songs, most of them with the first couple seconds of the songs chopped off, but that was okay, because it brought back those memories of hearing the songs.

To the music, then, only a few.... For some reason, all the songs with "Georgia" in the title are night songs.  Ray Charles' version of our state song is a night song because PBS used to play it before they went off the air, at midnight.  Course, now they don't do that anymore.  No station plays the national anthem, because they never go off the air.  Also, "Midnight Train to Georgia," and "Rainy Night in Georgia" also qualify.  The latter especially if it's raining (which it does with increasing frequency nowadays.


Most of the songs I hear as 3AM songs are melancholy, usually in minor chords, like "Brandy" by the band Looking Glass.  A song of the sea, of a love far away.  Also, "Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?" by Chicago.  The sounds are similar.  For some reason, Petula Clark's "Downtown" also falls into this category, of a place where everything's going to be okay, where "people understand you," the soothing words when life just doesn't seem to be going well, and night time, you are by yourself, alone, and the words are needed.


Music is more vibrant, more poignant, in the middle of the night, when there's no other stimuli to get in the way.  It becomes a companion, a stream of notes and colors and images and emotions that wrap around you and keep you safe.  Just you and the radio, at 3AM.