A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
Okay, where to begin? I forgot to write in last week because I was all 4th-of-July-ed out, pleasantly browned by the sun but reeling from too much vitamin D and booze, trying to catch up on all the work I missed on the days it wasn’t acceptable to skip entirely. I read How To Get Into The Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak, and I reread a fair portion of Airships by Barry Hannah. I’m reviewing the former so I won’t go into too much detail, but the latter convincingly contends for the title of My Favorite Short Story Collection Ever. I swoon at every page. I know he meant it in a different context, but I read his stories feeling like the narrator of “Love Too Long”: “My head’s burning off and I got a heart about to bust out of my ribs.” Hannah said once that “everything’s a failure, when you compare it to music,” and I’ve never gotten that out of my head, but I’m part of the loud chorus of people who disagree when it comes to him. When he’s good, his work is like a love song I can’t stop playing over and over.
Speaking of over and over, do you know “Swimming Song” by Loudon Wainwright? I thought about that song on Saturday when I waded into the Atlantic, unafraid of jellyfish, and swam to a far off buoy. That song is like the “I Will Survive” of nerds who like folk music. Maybe.
Nice publicists sent me a handful of books that I’m dying to read including Pauls Toutonghi’s Evel Knievel Days, The Dream of Dr. Bantam by Jeanne Thorton, The Big Screen by David Thomson and Raymond Kennedy’s Ride a Cockhorse. I’m sorta thinking I’ll start with Kennedy and work backwards on that list. In the meantime, Molly Ringwald’s collection of short stories, When it Happens to You, is completely delightful. I’m sure there will be plenty of discussion in the coming weeks about it (out on August 14th), but it’s one of those books you should take to the park and enjoy when things slow down.
Since they’re two of the most important albums of the year, I spent a good chunk of time with Swing Lo Magellan by the Dirty Projectors and Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE. For the latter, I tried to clear my head of all the talk of Ocean and his personal life and attempted to focus on the record itself. I have the utmost respect for Ocean, but I didn’t want that respect convoluting my thoughts on the record.
In the end, I have a harder time actually getting my thoughts together on Ocean’s album than the Dirty Projectors — which is odd. The Projectors deliberately try to eschew contemporary pop music, while Ocean’s sound isn’t exactly transcending pop R&B. Instead, Frank Ocean is the statement, and trying to separate that from the music is difficult.
That said, it’s a beautiful album. I just need to spend more time with it to truly understand what’s so beautiful about it.
3 different mediums, artists and projects took my breath away this week. Let’s count down from the bottom.
Sleep No More. I finally saw the show this week that everyone’s been talking about in the most general and spoiler-free of terms. All in all, I recommend going to see this show, as it’s an experience unlike any other. I also recommend not reading reviews about the it. I made this mistake and theater reviewers, as hyperbolic as they tend to be, are likely to diminish one’s experience by inflating a reader’s expectations. There’s a lot less “mind blowing” going on than one might expect, but compared to your average theater experience, there’s a lot to make this one memorable.
Louie. Last week’s second episode of season 2 of Louie began with the very first joke the comic ever wrote! It was a riff on how confusing parking signs in New York City tend to be “It’s always before and after midnight.” The much-anticipated second season has so far been as successful as imaginable with last night’s exceedingly memorable guest spot by Melissa Leo and one of the oddest sexual encounters ever captured on film, like Last Tango in Paris meets Jackass. I’m not sure if a comic has ever been amidst such a groundswell of likeability as Louis CK is right now, but it would be certainly be easy not to meet expectations in his position. As always, Louis CK didn’t disappoint.
Frank Ocean, Frank Ocean’s coming out letter was brave and beautiful, and as hard as it may seem for a famous R&B singer like Ocean to come out gracefully just on the cusp of his fame, writing a successful debut album that lived up to the Odd Future hype seemed insurmountable. Yet, Channel Orange delivers on every possible front. From the Earl Sweatshirt guest spot track, “Super Rich Kids” to the powerful anthemic croon of “Bad Religion” Channel Orange is my favorite record of 2012. Writer Brian Dombal’s review on Pitchfork review hits it’s pretty squarely on the head.
I picked up Damon Krukowski’s The Memory Theater Burned years ago, in preparation for a since-discontinued column for a now-defunct website. It sat on my TBR shelf for far too long; I suspect that its small size may have caused it to be lost in the shuffle. As a longtime fan of Krukowski’s music, though, I remained eager to read it, and when I finally did, I found myself impressed. These are short, occasionally surreal pieces; Krukowski here touches on the physicality of making music and encountering literature, and there’s an unexpected nod to Caresse Crosby.
I followed that up with several other shorter works. Shane Allison’s I Remember is the story of Allison’s own coming-of-age, his sexuality, and the pop culture of the 80s and 90s that he immersed himself in, both in Florida and New York City. After Jason’s invocation of the author in question last week, I got around to reading Roberto Bolano’s Antwerp. It’s not my favorite of his works; it’s interesting to read it and see the genesis of some of Bolano’s narrative ideas and imagery, but at times its jumbled array of images felt like too much. For music writing book group, I read Margo Jefferson’s On Michael Jackson, a long 2007 meditation on Jackson’s damaged life, pop stardom, and the interwoven nature of the two. Jefferson is both sympathetic to her subject and candid about his flaws.
This week, I also read Rich Cohen’s piece on Jean Lafitte in the latest issue of The Paris Review, which does a good job of being up-front about the unsavory elements of the historical figure profiled (by which I mean: piracy in the vicinity of New Orleans in the early 19th century largely translated to enabling the institution of slavery), but also delves into assorted fascinating aspects of Lafitte’s life. He strips away layers of mythology to get at the human elements (good and bad) of Lafitte, and it’s a compelling read.
I said last week that I don’t usually read books with pink covers. Well, I lied. Because this week, on a short weekend jaunt to Athens, GA I picked up a copy of Joe Meno’s Office Girl, with its awesome mod-pink cover at a sweet, new bookstore find Avid Bookshop. I will also use this forum to admit my never-ending admiration (and jealousy) for Joe Meno. He had me at Punk Planet, and made me forever smitten. I would take his writing career any day—including all of the downs.
And in a move that surprised even me, I raced through Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers. I’d heard of this book a few months ago and thought it had an interesting premise: a Rapture-like event has occurred and the remaining people are a bit confused. I was re-interested when I’d heard that HBO and the LOST showrunner Damon Lindelof had picked it up for adaptation. Don’t worry, there’s not much Left Behind. It doesn’t have a Christian focus, instead it’s just Perrotta drilling into one family and how they cope–including some crazy cult action, general teenage confusion, and some mid-life romantics with a very surprising convergence of events.