Monday, May 31, 2010

Music Only Old Guys Like

Should "popular music" be defined only by chart position or also by style and genre? Can it truly be "popular music" if it's never actually embraced by large numbers of people?

I picked up on this odd pairing while paging through the celebrity playlists on iTunes. Most of which are predictably, wincingly useless. But the now cotton-topped Christopher Guest seemed a smart and mature enough guy to take seriously when he named the album that includes this number, Raising Sand, his favorite of the past decade. (Dimly visible playing guitar in the bg, producer T-Bone Burnett.)

My favorite bit is the little dance Plant does toward the end, while Krauss looks on, smiling indulgently, pleased to see that when the spirit is upon him grandpa can still get an attack of happy feet.

Because I am not, at the end of the day, truly musical, the music I like tends to be the stuff that makes me feel good, a standard I would never apply to novels or movies, art forms that at some basic level I imagine I understand. (Leaving aside for the moment vexed questions such as how, exactly, gloomy music makes us feel good.)

I had no awareness of music whatsoever growing up. First blush was the electric current that passed through my scalp as a college student the first time I heard some of the vinegary harmonic twists in the music of Wagner and Strauss -- which I'm sure could be written off as very crude, almost directly physical effects, not even truly musical. But at least now there was stuff out there that went by the name of music that did something to me, and that I could say I loved.

My "musical life" is still almost entirely hit or miss, but recently I've been trying to make up for lost time. What I've been finding is that it's just when I imagine I'm recapturing my lost youth that I am drawn back inexorably to Music Only Old Guys Like.

When I was trying to quit smoking I ran head on into a truth of human nature that Saint Ignatius might have endorsed: when you bear down on a bad habit, it fights back. Trying as hard as you can not to be smoker is the single most sure fire way to be confronted by your actual condition as an addict. (It's only when you become a nonsmoker in your head that beating the physical addiction becomes a real possibility.)

A lot of pop music is, obviously, dance music, music that has nothing more in mind than creating an upbeat mood; therefore useless to those whose toes refuse to tap. Which is not to say that toe-tapping alone can make a guy look or even feel young.

Robert Plant in this clip looks worn beyond his years, presumably by hard living. An effect that is spotlighted rather than mitigated by his disfiguring "youthful" hairstyle. The attempt to look rejuvenated doesn't work, but it's his failure on that level that makes the performance work. It's precisely because Plant looks old that we empathize with his irresistible urge to swivel.


At the Jazz Club

Endearingly pretentious, desperate to appreciate and enjoy, but essentially baffled: I could have called this one "Tulkinghorn at the Jazz Club." From my favorite sketch comedy series "The Fast Show." (Careful viewers of the final season of Torchwood will recognize the trumpeter.)


Friday, May 28, 2010

How modern "anxiety music" sounds to me

Explains a lot


How popular music sounds to me

Backstory available to anyone with access to Google...


"No Heroics"



Thursday, May 27, 2010

Carrie Rodriguez

New to me. Not yet 30. Covering Ry Cooder and Lucinda Willams convincingly.


Too much information about Christopher Hitchens....

Very amusing interview in (sorry to be a bore) the Guardian. Some of this sounds so familiar that I wonder if there's a Tulkinghorn doppelganger about:

Because, for all Hitchens' stated contempt for the personal as political, I would say his opinions today owe more to his emotional world than to any amount of argument.

For someone feted for his adversarial prowess, I'm surprised by how often he sabotages an argument with a lurch into self-indulgence. For example, he has written at length about the failings of Guantánamo Bay. But then he says to me, "Guantánamo slightly threatened at one point to change my attitude towards capital punishment. I thought it would have been good if some of those people could have been taken out and shot. Yeah, put up against a wall. Lincoln would have done it. Of course, I would have been against it if they had. But that's how I felt."


The march of time certainly hasn't altered one thing about Hitchens, which is, alas, his unaccountable pleasure in word games of the most puerile variety. Page after page is devoted to the infinite hilarity derived by Amis, Rushdie, McEwan and Hitchens from substituting in the titles of well-known books, films and songs the word "dick" for "heart", or "fuck" for "love", or "cunt" for "man".

"Oh, I know," he chortles, when I bring this up. "Shameful." He surely can't still find these jokes funny, can he? "Oh yeah, I do. I sometimes wake up laughing at them. Yup. Never get bored of it." And this from a man who once wrote that women weren't funny.

"No, come on," he grins cheerfully, "you have to admit some of them [word games] are funny." Emphatically not. He giggles, looking boyishly delighted. "Sometimes I'm sitting on a plane and start laughing when I think of another. And then I email it to Martin."


We must also make what we will of his claim to have slept with two unnamed young men at Oxford who later joined Thatcher's government. Hitchens was exuberantly bisexual in his younger days – until his looks "declined to the point where only women would go to bed with me" – and is quite candid on the matter, so his refusal to name the future ministers looks at best coy and at worst like teasing up a bit of publicity for the book. "Oh no," he says. "To the contrary, I'd rather not discuss it." So why mention them at all? "You may look in vain for logic or consistency," he concedes.

Poetry, he does volunteer, always played an important part in his impressive sexual success. "You're disarming yourself in an important struggle if you can't produce a fucking sonnet. What if I had to try on my own merits? You've got to have some sort of reserve arsenal."


Well. Not quite everything here is Tulkinghornesque.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More fun with shooting fish in barrels

Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian critic, reviews "Sex and the City 2." I wouldn't bother with the link (After all, who cares?) but etiquette requires.

The big plot twist is that Samantha is offered a very unappetising all-expenses-paid junket in Abu Dhabi and gets to invite her three BFs. Naturally you'd expect the scenes in Abu Dhabi to last, ooh, maybe two, three minutes, tops – enough for some gags about deserts and camels and American outsiders clumsily misunderstanding Middle Eastern culture, and then surely we're back to zingy Manhattan. But oh no.

We are stuck in Abu Dhabi for almost the entire film. Abu Dhabi. In the United Arab Emirates. That Abu Dhabi. As 10 minutes turned into half an hour and then into an hour, and we were still in Abu Dhabi, with the foursome landed with having to gaze in wonderment and squeak with excitement at naff hotel fixtures and fittings, I sensed a claustrophobic panic growing at the screening I attended. Like Martin Sheen waking from his uneasy slumber in Apocalypse Now and thinking: "Shit, I'm still in Saigon," various members of the audience would emerge from their periodic reveries and mumble out loud: "Shit, Carrie and her friends and by that token we the audience are still in Abu Dhabi." I once watched Béla Tarr's Sátántangó, the legendary, gloomy black-and-white Hungarian film that lasts for seven and a half hours. Compared to the Abu Dhabi section of Sex And The City 2, Sátántangó zips past like an episode of Spongebob Squarepants.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A great idea

Books whose front covers lack pictures and whose titles are in the smallest practicable type. The cover content is a quote from the book. The indications that the books are part of a series are all on the back covers and spines.

Caustic Cover Critic has the story.

The back covers pick up the film motif (all the books were made into more or less famous movies):

Would you buy the book if you were unaware of the source of the quote? if you were aware of the source, would you have to?


Monday, May 24, 2010

Michael Giacchino: "Lost" finale MVP

No heart-shredding Bollywood melodrama ever had a final reel as operatically satisfying as Sunday night's 2 1/2 hour Lost finale. The storyline wove the show's two parallel realities together and reconciled them, so that all the major characters, even the ones we'd watched die, swam past their amnesia to end up with the lives and partners they were always supposed to have. It was a full course banquet of laughing-through-tears reunions, with amber-hued flashbacks representing the rush of recovered memories.

The A.R. Rahman of this magnificent wallow was Oscar-winning Pixar-favorite Michael Giacchino, the adaptable crowd pleaser who scored Ratatouille, Up and The Incredibles. He supplied motifs that helped stitch the tightly-knit script together and, even more importantly, he seems finally to have unleashed his inner opera composer. (He conducted an orchestral suite based on the Lost score last week at Royce Hall. And, via Tulk, here's The New Yorker's Alex Ross.)

The episode was probably the most overt and detailed Catholic allegory ever on American network television. (After some Latin is mumbled over a cup: "Drink this. Now you are like me." Of a church: "This is the place you built so that you could find each other.") But it was the arias in Michael Giacchino's music drama that people choked-up over and will remember.

My favorite among the reunions marked the re-birth, both literally and figuratively, of the character who in Season 3 volunteered for the show's single most devestating self-sacrificing death scene -- which is saying a lot when you're talking about Lost. Dominic Monaghan's Charlie Pace was the washed up pop star and recovering heroin addict who wrote his will as a set of song lyrics...

CARLTON CUSE: ...people talk a lot about the mythology of “Lost,” but we probably spent 85 percent of our time in the writers’ room talking about the characters. I think that’s why the show was a broad audience show as opposed to a genre show. While the mythology was important, first and foremost the show was about the characters. I think that a lot of people care much more about what’s going to happen to Kate. Is she going to end up with Jack, is she going to end up with Sawyer? That’s why we feel like a lot of shows that have tried to imitate “Lost” make the fundamental mistake of having the characters just focus on the mythology. If you watch certain shows like that, you’ll see all the characters are talking about is, “What’s that dinosaur doing in my bathtub?”

KEN TUCKER: If there was any big surprise last night, it was how overtly Christian in its imagery and message the series proved to be. Its heavily underscored lesson was that everyone was forgiven — that word was used over and over. And the water at the Magic Glowing Source was used for the purposes of transubstantiation: “Drink this,” Jack was told upon being handed water, a phrase later repeated when Jack gave water to Hugo. Given the liquid’s effect particularly on Jack, the dialogue might just as well have quoted directly from a Communion service: “Drink this, for this is my blood which is given unto you. Do this, in remembrance of me.”

For if there was one thing we can probably all agree upon, in the end, Jack Shephard was a Christ figure whose sacrifice saved many other people. The imagery could not have been more specific: Jack’s questioning and obeying of his father; his leadership of a small group of disciples; his final ascension (in TV terms, in a glowing white light). Even the piercing of his side by Locke/Man In Black was in the part of his body where Christ was speared while in agony on the crucifying cross.

But for most of its long but rarely boring length, the final Lost did not huff and puff and labor toward a heavy metaphorical conclusion. Instead, it was, well, pretty delightful, full of reunions that were both emotional and funny (how about that re-meet-cute between Sawyer and Juliet at the vending machine?). There were sweet little jokes, such as when, 90 minutes into a two-and-a-half-hour show, someone said, “It sure don’t feel like it’s over.” I don’t know how it’ll play with hardcore Losties, but I was glad to see a fan favorite such as Hurley not only avoid great suffering, but become the most important assistant in Jack’s glorification. Hurley was always the most lovable character in Lost, and it turned out that if he represented anything, it was Love itself.

More reactions collected by The Warp.


Nothing funnier this week...

... or maybe this month.

SF writer Adam Roberts has been reading and reviewing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time and has gotten to volume ix (or Wotix, as he calls it). Having exhausted all the other forms of sarcasm and abuse in his reviews of the previous eight volumes, he turns to deconstructionist parody:

Insofar as Heroic Fantasy is a fundamentally narrative artform, to which readers go in order to experience the pleasure of following the movement of characters through time, Jordan says: no. Wotix is the closest he has yet come to a book that disperses that force of narrative momentum—that great strength of the novel as a mode—into a great swarm of indistinguishable coexistent characters and non-progressions. If the traditional novel takes the shape of a quest, a linearly horizontal progression through narrative time, Wotix explodes that linearity in a bewildering near-dimensionless knot or tangle of non-progression.

This is Jordan's attempt at a Barthean masterpiece, written in a weird yet ideologically freighted ‘blank’ style that is achieved not by neoclassical restraint but on the contrary by hurling great quantities (we might say, by a blizzard) of chaff at the reader: irrelevant detail and mass-produced repetition ... she tugged her braids, she smoothed her skirts.

But this is only to state the obvious: that the WoT series, despite launching itself with more-or-less conventional narrative stylings, increasingly sheds its narrative momentum as it goes on: each volume covers less ground, goes slower, dissipates so-called ‘narrative interest’ in a welter of pointless detail and endlessly proliferating characters. What Debord calls 'neosemioticist narrative' replaces sequential developmental progression with a frozen constellation of semiological placeholders. Now, of course, there is a temptation to read this on the level not of text but rather of author—to say, in effect: ‘Jordan prolonged his series because he found it financially profitable to do so’. The zeno’s-paradox of Jordan’s own writing practice, turning a trilogy into (five—eight—twelve—fourteen—) many books may indeed have had a practical moneymaking aspect to it. That doesn’t interest me. I’m struck, rather, by the fetishistic nature of the undertaking on a textual level.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Finally Part III

Solid summery of the Stieg Larsson story to date in the NYT. With no casting speculation whatsoever.

The Lev Grossman article in Time is basically the same material, less elegantly deployed. Worth noting, however, that in spite of his rant, quoted below, about Salander as a figure of "male fantasy," Grossman responds to her story the way millions of others have:

"Larsson's writing has a slightly robotic affectlessness — conveyed in part by his, or his translator's, apparent lack of interest in contractions — but Salander burns through the Nordic languor with her electric rage, her incandescent cleverness, her principled refusal of all emotional ties and her determination to think the worst of everybody. Much of the pleasure of reading Larsson lies in getting righteously angry on Salander's behalf."


Losing "Lost"

Excellent NYT interview with Cuse and Lindelof on finale day.

CUSE: The thing that we actually do is we take the nemesis of network television — the act structure — and we try to turn it to our advantage. We have six commercial breaks in an episode of “Lost,” and so our goal is when we’re breaking stories, how are we going to really make each one of these commercial breaks really exciting. Those questions led to a lot of really intense scenes and cool reversals and surprises, and I guess it must have been how Dickens would cliffhanger the end of his serials in the newspaper when he was writing them to try to get people to show up the next day.


Saturday, May 22, 2010


LA Weekly review also posted here, on a new blog page (still threadbare) set up as an additional repository for more formal or durable-feeling posts, published or otherwise. HG will remain, I hope: a mostly pleasant place to hang out. But it is no longer quite what it was set up to be, and it was time to acknowledge this.

KITES Indian-made and trilingual in Hindi, Spanish, and English, Kites is set and was mostly shot in the American Southwest—although in its backlit visual overkill, complete with neon reflected in rain-drenched streets, it more closely resembles some of the most overwrought Hong Kong gangster romances of the late 1980s. Jay (Hrithik Roshan, one of Hindi cinema’s most engaging leading men) rolls off a freight train with a gaping bullet wound and a lot of backstory to unload. A con artist, not as amoral he thinks he is, Jay makes the mistake of falling hard for Natasha (Bárbara Mori), the fiancée of a spoiled young Sin City prince of crime, setting up an impossibly-beautiful-lovers-on-the-run-scenario that director Anurag Basu shoots like a series of windswept fashion videos. Even with the lights of the Vegas Strip forming a gauzy halo behind his tousled head, Roshan is a master at low-keying his enormous charm and shrugging off his blinding handsomeness. Mori, a Mexican telenovela star, is almost a match for him: She's a dead ringer for Megan Fox, but warmer and less calculating in her sexiness. Not even the incoherent mish-mash of the plot (mostly faux–Sergio Leone by way of Tarantino and Rodriguez, with periodic car-flipping chase sequences) can entirely dim the appeal of this match-up between a blue-eyed Punjabi and a blue-eyed Mexican of almost equal comeliness. Kites will be released Stateside both in this original 130-minute, subtitled version and in a shorter, dubbed “remix” prepared by noted Bollywood aficionado Brett Ratner. (David Chute)


Finally, part II

Linked at Sarah Weinman, novelist Lev Grossman's list of complaints about Steig Larsson...

Now, I like Larsson as much as the next guy, but if you hadn't noticed this, you're not really paying attention (This is one reason why the game of 'casting' the role has its revealing side...):

As for Salander, his putatively strong female protagonist, she is a creepy man’s fantasy — a smart woman with a girl’s barely pubescent body who loves having it off with older men from whom she demands no affection in return.


"The Wandering Mind"

Interesting neuroscience on, among other things, "discursive" states of mind -- oddly similar to the deplorable soupy mental chaos that plays a role in the creative process of many artists we otherwise admire.

C.I: Nora Chute

Physiology and evolutionary history have bestowed upon humans a wandering mind, and meditators must then devote themselves to the seemingly impossible task of gaining control over their discursive thoughts. This paper will explore several theories of how our minds have developed a state so disparate from the ideal state of “primordial awareness”...

The forms adopted by our stream of consciousness, as discussed in the contemplative literature, are varied. Rosenberg describes the mind as a gossip, constantly “talking about others, berating itself, pointing out how it used to be better, seeing how it might improve” , while Varela, Thompson, and Rosch call the mind “a never-ending torrent of disconnected mental events” . The wandering mind not only makes it difficult to concentrate, but it also causes us to attach ourselves to certain obsessive mind states:
There is…the angry mind, which might pick up on some slight from earlier in the day and replay it endlessly. There is the mind when it has low energy, when it is dull. There is the opposite of that, the mind when it is extremely restless, can’t stop running around. There is the mind full of worry and doubt, which can’t stop questioning everything…the mind gets attached to these tendencies, which are extremely powerful and doesn’t want it to get free.
Varela, Thompson, and Roth negatively characterize our mind’s tendency to chase after thoughts. This opinion is echoed throughout the contemplative literature, mainly because perambulation takes us out of the present moment, and gets us caught up in thought activities that ultimately have little bearing on our lived experiences. Rosenberg explains that “[our mind] thinks it’s pursuing something that will have a vital effect on its life” , but when we examine the kinds of thoughts that are constantly dragging us away from the present moment, we see that we frequently obsess over similar thoughts. The fact that they continue to come up indicates that our constant thinking about these dilemmas does little to resolve them. The rewards we end up receiving never feel as good as we think they will during the stories in our heads, just as the pain we dread is never as bad. Because these thoughts lack substance, the philosophy behind meditation argues that it is “only in the present moment that we find real happiness, love, or wisdom” , and thus our lack of attentiveness and awareness to the present moment (mindfulness), leads to suffering. Buddhism calls this suffering, Dukkha, which is said to originate from the mind’s tendency to reject its natural, selfless and transient state, leading to unsatisfactoriness as we anxiously grasp for a permanence in the past and future, when we should really be focusing on the present moment.

These traditions imply that there is a habitual and seemingly uncontrollable mental activity that must be overcome through meditation. This begs the question – why do these brain states exist at all if they serve no benefit and contribute to such suffering? The theory of evolution provides one of the strongest explanations; this distraction is actually a process of evolutionary selection of strategies that helped our ancestors to survive and pass on their genes. These survival traits allowed man to mentally separate himself from the world in order to protect himself from change, to hold on to pleasures, and to scheme of ways to avoid suffering and future threats. These survival pressures are important to all creatures, but Hanson points out that we are one of the only animals with nervous systems complex enough to allow the alarms caused by these survival mechanisms “to grow into significant distress…Only we humans worry about the future, regret the past, and blame ourselves for the present.”

Humans also have a unique ability to internally simulate and represent past and hypothetical events, which we experience as a constant stream of “mini-movies.” While these mini-movies are avoided in mindfulness practice, the simulation of past events promoted survival for our ancestors, as it improved their ability to learn from past successes and mishaps by repeating neural firing patterns . These neural tendencies have been long engrained in areas of our upper-middle prefrontal cortex, in an area called “the simulator” for its ability to create these mini-movies, and now “by its very nature the simulator pulls you out of the present moment.” Our brain continues to try to help us survive by taking dynamic, changing experiences and trying “to find fixed patterns in this variable world, and to construct permanent plans for changing conditions. Consequently your brain is forever chasing after the moment that has just passed, trying to understand and control it."

Paired to a survival-driven need to maintain and replay past experiences, there is a constant grasping for stimulation that likely evolved to keep our ancestors in the business of seeking food and mates. Physiologically, this function lies in the cortical regions that support working memory, which remain stable while awareness is focused. The function works to protect this focus from the other information in your brain. But when a new stimulus, such as a sound or thought, appears, it lets this information in and updates your awareness to include this new sense. If the contents of working memory are stimulated enough, there is a constant stream of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that triggers the positive feelings one gets from rewards and builds connections that keep us pursuing dopamine producing activities. Remaining stimulated is an activity that keeps pursuing dopamine. Thus, when stimulation drops, dopamine drops and the working memory instantly seeks further stimulation. So as we meditate, drive, or listen to a story, and dopamine levels drop, our mind’s solution is to get lost in thought in an attempt to increase the stimulation level.

These vestigial mental processes are made worse, Hanson argues, by our Western culture, which takes our already stimulation-seeking brains, and overwhelms them with a constant stream of information. We are constantly receiving sensory stimulation from television, radio, billboards and our busy lives. This habituates our brain to very high levels of stimulation. Any drop in this constant stream therefore cues our mind to produce stimulating thoughts much more easily than it would have for our ancestors living in a simpler time.

Another central aspect of our wandering mind is its relationship to our perceived sense of self, as our self-conscious obsessions make up a large part of our mental fixations and lead us to further suffering. A major teaching of both Buddhist and Daoist traditions is that any conception we have of ourselves as independent beings does not exist in reality; “most of us are convinced of our identities,” explain Varela, Thompson, and Rosch:
We have a personality, memories and recollections, and plans and anticipations, which seem to come together in a coherent point of view, a center from which we survey the world, the ground on which we stand…[yet] no tradition has ever claimed to discover an independent, fixed, or unitary self within the world of experience.
Rather, our understanding that the world and our experiences will never exist independently, that they are constantly co-creating one another, leads us to the conclusion that there is no constant self that is maintained from moment to moment; everything is in constant flux as our worlds are co-originated from one moment to the next. However, our mind’s tendency to simulate constant streams of self-conscious thoughts about our pasts and futures, encourages us to view ourselves as independent beings, leading us to “lose touch with one’s most basic sensibilities and deepest promptings.”

Furthermore, it’s the constant activation of the brain regions responsible for this self-conscious outlook that so often drive our grasping minds into discursive thought. The dorsal pulvinar, the lateral posterior nucleus, and the limbic nuclei are hypothesized to be the neural correlates to our self-centeredness, often interacting with the medial frontal and parietal regions of the cortex. These areas are called the journaling centers of the brain, “where we built, stored, owned, and continue to update the semi-fictional realities of our own life story.” These cortical areas have been shown through EEG and fMRI to have incredibly high resting activity and metabolism, and these consistently active networks are responsible for much of our mind wandering, which, “stirred up by habit energies and emotions from subconscious limbic levels…contaminate our meditation.” However, this network is deactivated during tasks that require focused attention, suggesting that using meditation to train our attention is the way to free ourselves from disruptive, discursive, and self-centered thoughts, which give us an erroneous belief in an independent existence, and lead us to constantly and pointlessly grasp for understanding in an impermanent world.

Hanson Rick. Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. New Harbinger, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-1-57224-695-9.

Varela, Francisco, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991.


Boy's Own Doctor

The "Flesh and Stone" episode of "Doctor Who," which was celebrated here as the best single DW installment ever (and even more hyperbolically here) turned out to be a first-rate melange of gee-whiz genre elements. The stone angels are really, really scary, there are tantalizing winking hints at thunderous future plot developments involving Alex Kingston's River Song. And some delightfully flagrant wibbley-wobbley space-time paradoxes that had the convenient side-effect of wiping out the entire continuity of the show's past four post-revival seasons, giving new show-runner Stephen Moffat a free hand to start over again from scratch. This is ret-conning on a sublime, apocalyptic scale. All of this is deftly woven together in Moffat's script and executed with unmistakable zest, at the break-neck pace of a Saturday afternoon serial.

Of course this wasn't the best TV show episode ever. That was not the kind of claim that's meant to be taken literally, anyway, I suspect. There are simply too many kinds of beast in the forest. (This past week's installment of "Justified," embedded below, was just as good, I think, on its own incalculably different terms.) For me the Doctor's finest two hours remain the "Last Temptation" two-parter in season three. Russell Davies took the characters seriously and dug into episodes like these and made them work dramatically, an almost revolutionary approach for a showrunner on a science fiction show. One doubts that Moffat will ever come up with a dramatic metaphor in the form of an SF story as powerful as "Human Nature" -- or that he aspires to. Why should he, from one point of view, as long as he can spin entertainments as irresistable as "Flesh and Stone"?

UPDATE: Underlying issues clearly stated and debated here. (C.I.: Tulkinghorn)


Friday, May 21, 2010

Uh oh...

Elmore Leonard's novels are being reissued as a line of well-designed "yuppy edition" trade paperbacks. Worthy of a spot on the shelf in the den, right next to Richard Stark.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sarah on Stieg



Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oh shut up.

"I am pleased with Obama. I think he's brilliant. The Republican Party should get out of his way and stop trying to hurt him . . .. [I]t would be good . . . if he could be a dictator for a few years because he could do a lot of good things quickly." -- film director Woody Allen, fresh from his not-particularly surprising statement supporting Roman Polanski.


Hitchens Brothers

Not a livery stable.




Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I'll have the risotto with calamari in its ink, please.

The protean China Mieville has just published his new novel, Kraken, in which contemporary London is menaced by a giant squid (!) The Guardian review is here. (Is it too much to ask that book reviewers in the United States -- the only country, after all, in which I will ever live -- pay attention to literary sf?) Cool quote:

The exuberant energy and ambition of Kraken make for a complex novel packed with fascinating and original concepts. Miéville powers through that conceptual density with an action-filled plot, a technique that has served him well in earlier novels. But here the combined weight of ideas and plot press down on the characters, which struggle to grow beyond entertaining pop-cultural caricatures. For this reason the novel misses the emotional resonance and mythic qualities of the greatest urban fantasies, such as Neil Gaiman's American Gods or Haruki Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. For readers who are drawn to fantasy precisely for those qualities, Kraken may seem like a handsome but empty cadaver missing its emotional heart. But for Miéville's dedicated and growing readership, Kraken succeeds in reforming the urban fantasy around a tougher, funnier and more intellectually demanding core.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Brown student discusses Hollywood

Interesting piece in the Daily Mail about Emma Watson, who sounds miserable. Unhappy college students usually don't merit much notice, but this seems a special case. (She had to give up being cox on the crew team because the university couldn't afford the insurance. He boyfriends sound like assholes. She was in Three Sisters, but the student newspaper wasn't allowed to review her performance...) What made me think she'd be OK was this, which sounds like the snotty Ivy Leaguer she has every right to be:

'The scripts all have happy endings, they're really badly written and they are sending them to an English literature student,' she says, rather sniffily of the parts she has so far been offered.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

"The music in my head" (The Jack Reacher Playlist)

To calm down, I ran music through my head. The chorus to "Smokestack Lightning." The Howling Wolf version puts a wonderful strangled cry at the end of the first line. They say you need to ride the rails for a while to understand the traveling blues. They're wrong. To understand the traveling blues you need to be locked down somewhere. In a cell. Or in the army. Someplace where you're caged. Someplace where smokestack lightning looks like a faraway beacon of impossible freedom. I lay there with my coat as a pillow and listened to the music in my head. At the end of the third chorus, I fell asleep.'

-- Jack Reacher, in Lee Child's Killing Floor, 1997.

Killing FloorHowling Wolf

Bobby Bland

Wild Child Butler

Blind Blake

Robert Johnson

John Lee Hooker


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Close to perfect...

Embed code for "Justified" (Season 1, Episode 8, "Blowback") appears to be buggy.


My home decor fantasy...

...from a source that resonates.

"Mr. Child believes books make a room visually chaotic and that displaying them is pretentious."


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Isn't the real opposition...

...this... opposed to this?

And isn't the choice a bit easier, now?


Art or kitsch? Or is that a stupid question?

One of these is in the Tate in London. The other isn't.

Is there really much to choose between them?


Frank Frazetta, Abbott & Moffat

Frank Frazetta

Abbott & Moffat -- behind "Variety's" frakking firewall.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sotiria Bellou

This is a light-hearted tune beloved by Gail Holst, author of Road To Remebtika: "I wore out the records I had of Sotiria Bellou -- for me she is still the best of the female rembetika singers, with a voice as deep as a man's and as full of pain as Billie Holiday's. ... Her version of "San pethano sto karavi" -- "If I Die on the Boat" -- makes my hair stand on end, although I must have listened it a thousand times."

"San Penthano Sto Karavi" ("If I Die on the Boat")

"Ah, if I die, what will they say? Some fellow died,
A fellow who loved life and enjoyed himself. Aman! Aman!

Ah, if I die on the boat, throw me into the sea,
So that the black fish and the salt water can eat me. Aman! Aman!"

Anonymous, circa 1920
More by Sotiria Bellou.


Spot the new PM!

Reminds me of Tulkinghorn's college days (but not mine)... Check out Boris's socks.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens both have autobiographical books out . That's Hitchens on the left ; the guy in the middle is James Fenton.

The WSJ is on the case:

They were first introduced by a mutual friend in 1973, when Mr. Hitchens was beginning his career at British magazine the New Statesman and Mr. Amis was about to publish his first novel, "The Rachel Papers." Through the years, they've occasionally chased after the same women, defended one another publicly during media storms and scandals, met for regular dinners with their mutual friends Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, the poet James Fenton and Salman Rushdie, and supported each other through marriages and divorces. "James Fenton once said wearily, 'You and the Hitch ought to get married,' " Mr. Amis says.


Mr. Hitchens writes about how Mr. Amis shaped his writing, describing how his friend often underlined clichés or misused words in his essays and articles and handed him the marked up pages like a disapproving professor. It was Mr. Amis who taught him not to subordinate style to substance when crafting an argument, Mr. Hitchens says.

"He wrote to me recently saying he thought I'd misused the word 'infamous,'" Mr. Hitchens says. "I'm absolutely sure this is an injustice on his part."

Mr. Amis says Mr. Hitchens rarely requires his editing these days, except when it comes to punctuation. "He's touchingly all thumbs with the colon and the semi colon," he says.


Bordwell on Dragon Tattoo...

A long discussion of the structure of fiction and movies with detailed analysis of Millenium I from David Bordwell. Many here like this sort of thing -- all that outlining and page counting....

Bordwell cool quotes, most of which you guys already know:

.....a movie may display three parts, or four, or more (if the film is very long) or even two (if it’s unusually short). When the film has four parts, it tends to split the long second act that the manuals recommend into two.

A four-parter usually goes like this. A Setup lays down the circumstances and establishes the primary characters’ goals. The Complicating Action is a sort of counter-setup, modifying the original goals or creating new ones. At about the midpoint, there emerges a Development section characterized by delays, subplots, and backstory. There follows the Climax, which resolves the action by decisively achieving or failing to achieve the protagonist’s goals. The film typically ends with a brief Epilogue that establishes a settled state, happy or unhappy. Each of these sections is demarcated by a turning point—a moment of crisis, usually involving an unforeseen twist or a major decision by the protagonist.

With reference to the Dragon novel:

So I’m proposing a 138-page setup, a 150-page Complicating Action, and a 154-page Development. If you consider my two climaxes a single stretch, you have a 149-page climax section..... That makes the big parts roughly equal, with a tailpiece of 16 pages. the three-act/ four-part template provides a solid architecture for the plot.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Flesh and Stone, post-anticipation

I'm ready now to adopt the words of the Guardian Doctor-blogger as my own... Only might add to it that it could be the best episode of ANY television series ever.

Please watch it. If you live in the US, you can catch part 1 of the two-parter on BBC America at various times this week and then the staggering part 2 next Saturday night.

All those guys who get paid millions of dollars to write scripts for comic book movies, but who can't come up with a story of sufficient consequence to make it worth while to leave the house? They should be forced to watch these two episodes of Doctor Who. Chris Carter and George Lucas? If any given five minutes of the X Files movies or the second (first) Star Wars trilogy had been as good as this, their names would not be synonyms for 'lame' on five continents...



Peter O'Donnell

New York Times obituary

Modesty Blaise comic strip collections

Penguin India "retro revival" reprints of the Modesty Blaise novels

Joseph Losey's film adaptation:

Tarantino-generated prequel My Name Is Modesty

A couple of the "extras" included in the DVD edition of "My Name Is Modesty" arguably are more interesting than the vidpic itself. A 52-minute interview with Peter O'Donnell may seem plodding to the uninitiated, but the author's anecdotes likely will enthrall diehard fans of Modesty Blaise. A 42-minute joint interview with Tarantino (billed as the vidpic's "presenter") and [director Scott] Spiegel are instructive mini-seminar on the nuts and bolts of low-budget vidpic production. That's a Modesty Blaise graphic novel John Travolta's character is reading in "Pulp Fiction." And Tarantino indicates he would like to eventually direct a lavish feature showcasing Modesty.
Sparks' tune "Modesty Plays", dis-used TV movie theme song, re-titled but not re-recorded.
“I just want to thank you and congratulate you for writing the Modesty Blaise books,” the novelist Kingsley Amis once wrote in a handwritten note to Mr. O’Donnell. “They are endlessly fascinating. I read them for the second time recently when laid low by a very depressing bout of flu, and I’m sure they did quite as much as the doctor did to put me on my feet again.”


Muffy discovers....

Muffy St. Bernard -- all those who love America should pore over the New Yorker archives as he does -- has discovered the priceless advertising of Cleon Throckmorton, an architect, set designer, and commercial artist who flourished for twenty-five years or so beginning in the late twenties. Irony and indirection this profound deserves fame. The Hungry Ghost blog is doing its bit.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Nabokov as St. John's College tutor

"Nothing is more boring or more unfair to the author than starting to read, say, Madame Bovary, with the preconceived notion that it is a denunciation of the bourgeoisie. We should always remember that the work of art is invariably the creation of a new world, so that the first thing we should do is to study that new world as closely as possible, approaching it as something brand new, having no obvious connection with the worlds we already know. When this new world has been closely studied, then and only then let us examine its links with other worlds, other branches of knowledge."--from "Good Readers and Good Writers" (1948)," re-printed as the preface to Lectures on Literature (1980)


Friday, May 7, 2010

The blu-ray player as engine of change

By way of Godard, Richard Brody provides a high tech expansion of an idea of Chesterton's, beginning here with a very surprising opinion:

Word just in that Criterion is planning a Blu-Ray release of “The Darjeeling Limited.” It’s cause for rejoicing; the contemporary director whose attention to detail most repays macroscopic viewing of his films is Wes Anderson. Now I just have to get a Blu-Ray player; and to make it worthwhile, I’ll need a TV good enough and big enough for its heightened resolution to register; and to make room for that television, I’ll need a bigger apartment; and to do that… Thus is art an engine of change.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Faulkner for the defense

I came across this yesterday -- it's a short note that Faulker put at the beginning of the last part of the three volume work recently published as "Snopes", but originally published as "The Hamlet", "The Town", and "The Mansion". Its eloquence, I think, trumps Nabokov's bile.

This book is the final chapter of, and the summation of, a work conceived and begun in 1925. Since the author likes to believe, hopes that his entire life’s work is a part of a living literature, and since “living” is motion, and “motion” is change and alteration and therefore the only alternative to motion is un-motion, stasis, death, there will be found discrepancies and contradictions in the thirty-four-year progress of this particular chronicle; the purpose of this note is simply to notify the reader that the author has already found more discrepancies and contradictions than he hopes the reader will—contradictions and discrepancies due to the fact that the author has learned, he believes, more about the human heart and its dilemma than he knew thirty-four years ago; and is sure that, having lived with them that long time, he knows the characters in this chronicle better than he did then.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

¡Ay caramba!


What was your first?

Saw this suggested by the econ. blogger Megan McArdle, whose concerns are usually beyond the scope of the Hungry Ghost Blog:

Next time you're on Amazon, check back through your orders and look up the first book you ever ordered.... Surprised?

My first order (in the fall of 1997) was for two books: The Evelyn Waugh/Nancy Mitford letters and the first volume of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond chronicles.....



Monday, May 3, 2010


From this morning's Guardian Dr. Who blog:

I'm just going to come right out and say it. Flesh and Stone can lay credible claim to being the greatest episode of Doctor Who there has ever been. That's better than Genesis Of The Daleks and better than City Of Death and better than Tomb Of The Cybermen and, yes, better than Blink. It's just ridiculously good – so much that there's scarcely any point in picking out moments because there was an iconic sequence every couple of seconds.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nabokov: The case for the prosecution

Even though I like Kate Atkinson a lot, I respond with unfeigned pleasure to the following astringent statements from a couple of interviews with Nabokov, reprinted in the wonderful "Strong Opinions", which, for only $12.00 plus postage, should make you very happy. At any rate, the roots of Tulkinghornism are not hard to find.....

Q: One often hears from writers talk of how a character takes hold of them and in a sense dictates the course of the action. Has this ever been your experience?

A: I have never experienced this. What a preposterous experience! Writers who have had it must be very minor or insane. No, the design of my novel is fixed in my imagination and every character follows the course I imagine for him. I am the perfect dictator in that private world insofar as I alone am responsible for its stability and truth. (p. 69)


Q. E.M. Forster speaks of his major characters sometimes taking over and dictating the course of his novels. Has this every been a problem for you or are you in complete command?

A: My knowledge of Mr Forster's works is limited to one novel which I dislike; and anyway it was not he who fathered that trite little whimsy about characters getting out of hand; it is as old as the quills, although of course one sympathizes with his people if they try to wriggle out of that trip to India or wherever he takes them. My characters are galley slaves. (p. 95)