1/31/10

Modern readers

The sixth season of Lost will feature as a clue Shusako Endo's Deep River, and so presumably will do for that novel what it did for Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman: introduce it to many new readers and vex those who knew it already. I have only recently "found" Endo myself so cannot complain, and have never watched the series anyway. Still. More TV shows should have books in them.

The New York Times asks if Catcher in the Rye resonates with modern teenagers. Says Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel:
I’m not sure the latter-day teenager would find comfort in Caulfield the way a few generations past have, because I suspect they are no longer exactly teenagers anymore. As a marketing concept, as a Twitter tribe, as girls who shop at Forever 21 and boys who skateboard, of course teenagers still exist. But as a true age of rebellion and confusion, adolescence went away with the 20th century.
Tangentially, Adam Sternbergh in New York magazine decides that there is still a mass culture:
By now, we were all supposed to be happily imprisoned in our niches. You know: the theory that we’re all wagged by the long tail, each of us a microtargeted consumer absorbed in our narrowcast information flow. So if I love Animal Collective, the Golden State Warriors, Ron Paul, and Nutella, I can track down the four other people exactly like me, find our little corner of the Internet, and obsess in peace. So why was it that, for one cacophonous week at least, everyone seemed to be talking about just one of two things?

1/29/10

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

EW weighs the possibility of a movie version of Catcher in the Rye now that difficult old J.D. Salinger is out of the way. Their speculation is fuelled by the novelist's comment in a 1957 letter:

“Firstly, it is possible that one day the rights will be sold. Since there’s an ever-looming possibility that I won’t die rich, I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy. It pleasures me no end, though, I might quickly add, to know that I won’t have to see the results of the transaction.”
Time thinks Holden Caulfield's story has already been filmed more than once. Sight and Sound notes that Salinger's stories about the Glass family were a direct inspiration for The Royal Tenenbaums.

There's also talk of the documents in Salinger's safe. Jay McInerney thinks there's nothing there, but that's what George Martin said about the Beatles...

Meanwhile the latest Philip K. Dick novel to be filmed is an interesting-looking low budget version of Radio Free Albemuth. It depresses me that it didn't happen in Dick's lifetime - he could have done with the money - but the stream of posthumous PKD adaptations was as much to do with the mounting influence of Bladerunner as anything else.

On writing

Sam Anderson at New York Magazine on Don DeLillo's new novel Point Omega:
Over the last ten years, Don DeLillo has become determined to solve one of the great riddles of the ancient art of storytelling: What is the slowest speed at which a plot can move before it stops moving altogether, thereby ceasing to function as a plot?...You could even say it’s something of a breakthrough: It brings us, in just over 100 pages, as close to pure stasis as we’re ever likely to get.
And here's Pete Dexter, in a 2007 interview about writing true stories:
I think your instinct has to be to confront. If you're the kind of guy that comes to a peaceful lake and you know there's birds floating around on it and it's early morning or something and you're happy just standing there looking at that beautiful sight, then maybe you're a photographer.

1/26/10

I got a stolen wife, and a rhinestone life

Charlotte Gainsbourg, who has that French thing of looking like a teenager and a 40 year old at the same time, interviewed on Time about her collaboration with Beck, among other things, ici.

How long can I stay away from this work I need to do? Quite a while, I think.

Up In The Air = All Over The Place. I'm calling this one busted: Jason Reitman couldn't direct traffic. The movie's unevenness (is it indie? Comedy? Fincheresque life lesson modern post-9/11 thingy? Let's ape the wedding sequence from The Deer Hunter and see what happens!) could be down to the script's bastard upbringing OR a second unit / assistant director shooting lots of pick ups OR studio meddling: I have no idea. But it's a fucking melange.

The actors are terrific. Vera Farmiga is amazing - almost steals it from Clooney, and Melanie Lynskey is the movie's moral center. But the female actors are also filmed like shit - who lit this movie? Did they have to go with second takes or what? Or were they just going for the Charlotte Gainsbourg thing? (They didn't get it.)

Still, no fighting robots. Are movies with stories in them still, y'know, worth making these days? I was watching an old episode of The X-Files on TV (season 2 maybe) and it was better written, better shot, more intelligent and in control of itself than this.

Revising

1/25/10

Gretchen Hooves interview part I

Gretchen Hooves has become quite the recluse in her later years, choosing only to appear on certain club nights, so it is with no little excitement that I welcome the news that she has agreed to be interviewed by me as part of our small collected history of the Muse Lounge. An accomplished flautist in her early teens, Gretchen first met her future husband and creative partner, Cedric Hooves while they were both attending art school in the late 1950s. From there, romance and exciting business was to follow. I go to meet Gretchen in the early afternoon at the Muse Lounge. She appears a long green gown and with one of her now trademark paisley head scarves and joins me for a mai tai and a little conversation.

JANWILLEM DORIN: Tell me about your work at the Delft College of Arts and Sciences. What were you reading there?

GRETCHEN HOOVES: I was working in the field of interpretative ceramics, which was a very progressive school of ceramics in Delft. It's difficult work because you are pushing the materials to their limit. It's also very labour intensive because the completed structures are fragile and need to be rushed into the kiln quickly before their finer points start to sag. The masters of interpretative ceramics actually work with the kiln door open, the fire burning right at their shoulder, the hands of the flames actually waiting to accept the completed ceramic form as it passes from the hands of the master. This is a very exciting thing to see - very emotional, although obviously not for beginners as there are many dangers. It was certainly not an acceptable working environment for a young girl like myself.

JWD: Why was that?

GH: [laughs] The official reason was that because we girls were all wearing our hair very long then, in the bohemian style, that there was some concern that it would catch fire.

JWD: But you wore safety equipment, working with the kilns like that, surely.

GH: Oh, but of course. There was a big hood that you wore with a face plate - a very heavy thing, my goodness, with shoulder pads that would catch on your clothes. I don't know how many sweaters I ruined putting it on and taking it off. But no, of course, safety was not the reason at all. Although the field of ceramics has attracted many women - some of the greatest ceramics designers in the Netherlands have been women - the field of interpretative ceramics was very male dominated, like the Beats - they didn't like women. We were ornaments to them, a little, I think.

JWD: And yet you were attracting to what sounds like a difficult and perhaps dangerous working method.

GH: It wasn't too difficult. As long as one worked honestly, and with feeling - that was the main thing. We all got very muddy of course, because you work with a very wet clay, especially for the last stage of a work, but that was part of the fun, I think. There was a system of mechanical arms for lifting the finished pieces into the furnace, so that made that part of the job easier.

JWD: So the machines freed you to work.

GH: They did the lifting, yes, although they didn't do the thinking for you of course. We called them robot arms but really they were a system of pulleys and weights with only rudimentary electronic component to record and repeat movements. The switches were sound operated. When your piece was finished you would step back and clap your gloves over your head - because the safety hood muffled your normal speech - and the pulley arms would lower and pick up your wet sculpture and lift it into the furnace. We girls of course, thought this was fantastic.

JWD: And of course, the sound switch -

GH: Yes! The sound switch was always breaking down. The mechanism was very crude technology. The person who could fix it was Cedric. He was quite the audiophile even back then.

JWD: Was that significant?

GH: At the time it was very brave. There was a lot of union opposition to this sort of automation. People felt it would cost jobs in the ceramics industry if the furnace blasting process was controlled by machines. It's a big industry in the Netherlands - interpretative ceramics was very far to the left of that of course, but there was concern that these very bourgeois concepts and experiments would leech into the lifeblood of the industry and poison it for others.

-- Janwillem Dorin
Jazz Dispatch March 2002
(First reproduced | Mar 29, 2003)

1/24/10

I should be proofing the ms about now

Some people the other night were praising Banksy's guerrilla art. I like Banksy too but he has a hard-working and very protective agent and licenses his works, neither of which is that guerrilla. The London guerrilla artist I really like is Slinkachu, who makes tiny street art. I've also discovered the work of W. Eugene Smith, who took photographs only from the window of his New York apartment. He also secretly recorded jazz greats. I wish I'd known about Smith years ago -- it would have saved me making up stories in that vein.

The article on Smith is online at the New York Times, which plans to charge for content. It's the one online paper (sic) I'd probably pay for although I will always pick up the print version. (Sometimes I think newspapers are really nothing more than a crossword delivery platform.) The NYT announcement is thought to chime with Apple announcing what Gizmodo calls the Jesus Tablet. If what blogs are saying about an Apple tablet is true then it will be good for print journalism but I still can't see it working for novelists, at least not directly.

The issues around e-books are so complex I could write a couple of thousand words on the subject, which I don't have time for -- I have an actual novel sitting in paper form (pictured) that I really need to proof, and typing this bl*g is not getting that done. But in short, it is the hope of the publishing industry that e-books will shore up their business. This plan is a paradox because it aims to use disruptive technology to preserve the status quo.

Mr Paul Reynolds' blog introduced me to a New Zealand project, 1000 Great New Zealand E-books. I refer to slide two of the project presentation, under the heading "Market focused aims": authors are the second to last priority, readers the last. Not to criticise the project per se, but this highlights the above paradox. MP3s and file sharing were a consumer-led disruption of the status quo, the piracy creating a new business model which forced change on the establishment. With e-books, book publishers are hoping to let the genie out of the bottle a little bit at a time.

To wit, some are trying new things, such as giving away e-books for free.
Neither Amazon nor other e-book retailers make any money on these giveaways either. But it is a way of luring customers to their e-reading devices. Free e-books are also a way of distinguishing a less-well-known author from the marketing juggernauts of the most popular books.
Publishers -- and record companies -- have always given away free samples, but what is new about it this time is that they are doing so to attract subscribers to a device and network rather than readers to an author:
Book publishers, who rail against the dominance of Amazon and its insistence on discounting new releases to $9.99, are now playing the tech titans against each other.
In the process, they may be rushing from the clutches of one tenacious chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, into the arms of another, Steven P. Jobs, whose obstinacy over pricing has given the music industry similar paroxysms of anxiety.
“Will Kindle pricing trump Apple sex appeal? Isn’t that the question, really?” said Richard Charkin, executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing in London, who has been watching developments in e-book sales with keen interest. “I haven’t the faintest idea. All I would say is, great. The more people that are out there marketing books in digital or any other format, the better.”
All the publishing notes from the above are from the IHT / NY Times but I read them in the print version first.

1/23/10

Mike W Hall interview

For almost 25 years now Mike W. Hall has been supplying tropical fish to the glitterati of Auckland. Here today in this interview he speaks with Jazz Dispatch editor Janwillem Dorin about his personalised work for the Muse Lounge before and after its move to the Whyte Tower.

JANWILLEM DORIN: How long have you been dealing with fish?

MIKE W. HALL: My father imported tropical fish in the 60s. He and my mother were naturalists - nudists, actually - and he himself was very active in promoting bio-filtration to New Zealand breeders and fish enthusiasts.

JD: By bio-filtration, you mean using plants to clean the tank water.

MH: Yes. It creates a more natural environment for the fish and of course it doesn't waste power. My father despised undergravel filters - I remember accompanying him on a protest march once outside one of the major tropical fish dealers. He and his friends were campaigning for better pet environments in general and the machine filter suppliers were getting pretty annoyed. It was a close thing actually. Anyway, I took over the business after my father retired and it looks like my son will be running it too, someday. He has a real knack.

JD: You of course are very well known for your work with the fish tanks at the Muse Lounge, both at its first and second venues...

MH: That's right. I had met Gretchen at a nudist beach near Opotoki and we had a long conversation about tropical fish. She had been standing out waist-deep in the water bending over trying to spot tropical fish through her swimming goggles, and of course she hadn't seen any, and she was very disappointed. I remember her hair was up in these sort of plaits and her eyes were red - I thought from crying but it was just the seawater. I had to explain to her that New Zealand isn't a tropical country - she was surprised by that, I think Cedric had misrepresented it to her slightly when they came out here.

JD: So Gretchen was the tropical fish enthusiast of the two of them?

MH: They were both keen on it, if I remember rightly. I checked out the club when I was back in Auckland - it was very hard to find then, in a very odd place - and Gretchen introduced me to Cedric. He was a little slurred, from the drinking and everything - I mean, I don't know what else was going on there, I'm a pretty straight arrow. Anyway, I said I dealt in tropical fish and he was immediately very excited about it, and said he wanted to turn all the walls into fish tanks.

JD: For the first venue?

MH: Yes, that's it. We didn't do that of course, because the weight alone would have gone through the floor. But we set up the big tank by the lift entrance with mostly anabantids. We needed a good community fish and that was a good place to start. We had Dwarf Gourami and some bubble nesters -

JD: But then came the second venue.

MH: Yeah, yeah, and that's when Cedric went for a grander scheme, with the big oval windows and the uplighting and the big tanks surrounding the couches at the north end - three giant walls of tank with the water and the fish.

JD: And the girl?

MH: Yes. Yeah, Tania - she was in the tank on some nights.

JD: Swimming and performing for the guests with the music and so forth.

MH: I don't know how it came about. It certainly wasn't my idea because the perspiration off a human body alone is raising the urea levels in the water, let alone the vibration. And a large body - anything larger than a fish, I mean - is stirring up the temperature layers that naturally settle around the plants in the tank, and that's not good. Apart from that the tank size worked well. Bio-filtration really comes into its own in the larger tanks because it works with the natural currents and movement of the fish.

JD: How did Tania actually get into the tank?

MH: I think she fell in.

JD: Really? She was intoxicated?

MH: Oh, probably. She slipped - she had these very high platforms on one night and she was leaning on the tank talking to someone and she leaned back a little further and she just... slid under. The water was very warm. We ran the tanks at about 27 degrees to support the fish's immune systems. Tania, of course, thought we kept them like that just for her.

Janwillem Dorin
Jazz Dispatch 1997
translated by Kirsty Widdell
(First reproduced | Dec 06, 2002)

1/20/10

Not about: Bob

It's sad that Robert B. Parker died but his books went long before he did. The early Spenser novels were good but they tailed off. The last one I attempted was Playmates before closing it around page 20 and never picking it up again.

The attraction of writing a series based on one character is obvious and an author must never begrudge another his living. The first half dozen Spenser novels were fine records of time and place, and I still owe them the tip about warming tomatoes before using them in a salad. (Women have told me many times -- Spenser only had to tell me once.) But inevitably any serial fiction will peter out, falling prey to success or jumping sharks. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hated Holmes; Ian Fleming tried to kill Bond more than once before Bond killed him; James Lee Burke moved Robicheaux around to keep himself entertained, as did Walter Mosley, who jumped around enlivening all sorts of minor characters. Martin Cruz Smith did the best job with Arkady Renko: the latest Renko novel Stalin's Ghostis melodramatic but maintains its predecessors' sparse, surly and deeply intelligent form. (Do readers beyond the crime genre realise how good a writer Smith actually is?)

Raymond Chandler was right to let it all fall apart: the last Marlowe novel Playback is a self-destructing meta-fiction, as if the pages of the earlier books had become jumbled. By that stage he was writing in a stupor: drinking heavily and dictating from the couch until he passed out, then waking up and dictating again, drinking, passing out again and so on. Chandler's secretary sat by 24/7, apparently, stenographer's notebook in hand. Still, a couchside attendant and the deadline pressure of a best-selling series: I should be so lucky. RIP, RBP. I'll always toast you with the salad.

1/19/10

Fullness of Wind

Judy Nylon clarifies Brian Eno's oft-quoted sleeve notes for his 1975 album Discreet Music:
So it was pouring rain in Leicester Square, I bought the harp music from a guy in a booth behind the tube station with my last few quid because we communicated in ideas, not flowers and chocolate, and I didn't want to show up empty-handed. Neither of us was into harp music. But, I grew up in America with ambient music. If I was upset as a kid I was allowed to fall asleep listening to a Martin Denny album…I think it was called "Quiet Village". The jungle sounds, played very softly made the room's darkness caressing instead of empty as a void. Pain was more tolerable. Brian had just come out of hospital, his lung was collapsed and he lay immobile on pillows on the floor with a bank of windows looking out at soft rain in the park on Grantully Road, on his right and his sound system on his left. I put the harp music on and balanced it as best as I could from where I stood; he caught on immediately to what I was doing and helped me balance the softness of the rain patter with the faint string sound for where he lay in the room. There was no "ambience by mistake". Neither of us invented ambient music; that he could convince EG Music to finance his putting out a line of very soft sound recordings is something quite different.
And on singing for John Cale:
The very first time my name appeared on a sleeve was more or less, voiceover with John Cale. I got the job ("The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy") over the telephone... I was at Eno's house painting the walls. [John] called Eno who wasn't home and he got me and I was sort of hired over the phone. I wrote everything I say on the spot because there were no words except the chorus and got paid twenty quid and a line of coke from my best friends Brian and John. I thought only the person who wrote the music was the songwriter. By the time I was next in a studio, I'd learned about publishing.
In 1977 Judy Nylon recorded a montage of sound samples:
...An American expat in 70's London, [Nylon] started recording with Patti Paladin as RAF, using tape solicitations of the police in Germany, accessed by dialing 1166 on the phone in Cologne.
The recordings formed the basis for the Eno-produced Snatch single 'R.A.F.' (1978), which appeared as the B-side to 'King's Lead Hat' off Before And After Science. Says Nylon:
Right after the Schleyer [kidnapping by the Red Army Faction in West Germany in 1977] you could dial 1166 in Cologne and get these pre-recorded police tapes. The German woman's voice in it is a police women in Cologne. And she's saying, "Do you recognize this man's voice?" etc. "If you have any information..." (Search and Destroy #8)
From 'R.A.F.' it's a direct line to Eno and David Byrne's use of voice samples on My Life In The Bush of Ghosts (1981).

My other favourite Brian Eno story is when he rang up Phil Manzanera in the middle of the night because he didn't know how to finish 1974's Taking Tiger Mountain. So Manzanera drove over to Eno's studio and went through the individual tracks -- not the songs, but each track -- and told Eno what they were. ("That's a bass line... That's a chorus...") From that, Eno was able to start assembling the songs.

BBC's Arena will screen a new documentary on Eno tomorrow night in the UK. I wonder if the contributors to his career such as the above will get a mention. (A: One of the contributors is Malcolm Up For Grabs Gladwell so, probably not.)

1/16/10

Message of Love

East London, very late. Been working with the White Album on a big sound system (borrowed) and thinking yeah, actually, 'Birthday' actually is pretty punk insofar as that's what the people making punk were referencing. It must surely have been a template, as much as 'Taxman' anyway - you can hear it in Magazine and the Buzzcocks. Conversely Chris Thomas - also Roxy Music's producer - said he was merely doing glam with the Sex Pistols (layered guitar, no bass) and there are plenty of vids / documentaries around demonstrating the fact. Maybe you and your friends can find some of them online - ask mum or dad to help.

Anyway... So then it was The Pretenders for Chrissie's voice. Debbie Harry was the one you dreamed of but Chrissie Hynde was the one who'd call back. Hopefully dressed as a diner waitress but we'd go for the puffy shirt look as well. All good things. And now it's down to Harold Budd and The Plateaux of Mirror and, after lotsa words, bed. The new ms is all spick and span and ready to go out into the real world. It's raining like crazy and there's a good bar up the road but I've uncovered vodka and the IHT is sitting ready to go and, you know - we're all going to die some day. I say that without rancour.

1/13/10

She's Got A Hot Ass


"For centuries, art historians have been troubled by Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile - but, according to one doctor, her cholesterol levels were more worrying. For Dr Vito Franco, from Palermo University, she shows clear signs of a build-up of fatty acids under the skin, caused by too much cholesterol. He also suggests there seems to be a lipoma, or benign fatty-tissue tumour, in her right eye."
-- BBC, 2010

"Recently, it has been speculated that Mona Lisa's famous smile is caused by facial muscle contracture and/or synkinesis after Bell's palsy with incomplete nerval regeneration."
-- Klinikum der Universität Düsseldorf. (article in German)

"It is believed, however, that the Mona Lisa does not smile; she wears an expression common to people who have lost their front teeth. A close-up of the lip area shows a scar that is not unlike that left by the application of blunt force. The changes evident in the perioral area are such that occur when the anterior teeth are lost. The scar under the lower lip of the Mona Lisa is similar to that created, when, as a result of force, the incisal edges of the teeth have pierced the face with a penetrating wound."
-- Journal of Forensic Sciences, 1992

"Why is she looking so sad? . . . She married at the end of 1488 when she came to Milan but she had a big problem. She married her cousin, a beautiful man but he was a drinker, and he had problems with impotence."
-- The Age, 2004

"Researchers studying 3-D images of the “Mona Lisa” say she was probably either pregnant or had just given birth when she sat for Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th-century masterpiece. "
-- Associated Press Sept. 27, 2006

"People have long been fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Her enigmatic smile has been the subject of debate for centuries, even leading Sigmund Freud to speculate that the painting was actually da Vinci's self-portrait."
-- Medhunters.com

"The Mona Lisa originally had eyebrows, according to a French art expert who has analysed Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece with a special camera."
-- Telegraph, 2009

"University of Illinois researchers last year used facial-recognition software to analyze the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile. They concluded the model was happy, with touches of disgust, fear and anger, at least as Leonardo da Vinci painted her, the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette reported Tuesday."
-- Physorg.com, 2006

"For centuries, artists, historians and tourists have been fascinated by Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile. Now it seems that the power of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece comes in part from an unlikely source: random noise in our visual systems."
-- New Scientist 2004

"What put that smile on the Mona Lisa's face? S-E-X! She was a 16th century hooker!"
-- Weekly World News, 1991

Addendum:

"A spring-propelled car that Leonardo da Vinci conceived five centuries ago could have paved the way for the Mars rovers, researchers say."
-- ABC News, 2004

Update:

"A male apprentice, longtime companion and possible lover of Leonardo da Vinci was the main influence and a model for the Mona Lisa painting, an Italian researcher said."
-- CBC, 2011


1/11/10

Another city, not my own

As a born and bred Aucklander I have the right to have mixed feelings about my home town if not diss it outright, but sitting here as I am on the other side of the world it's still difficult to watch the feckless wholesale fuck-up that is the Rugby World Cup. More specifically, it's difficult to watch the greed, mismanagement and small-town, me-too overreaching of New Zealand officials who would sell their grandmother and not even at a good price to satisfy their fantastical imaginations about what possible tourists might possibly want from the event. To wit, one Murray McCully, many years in bumbling opposition but now finally with his tiny hands on the tiller, agitating for legislative approval in the dead of summer in order to reshape one of the most beautiful working waterfronts in the world into a typically fucked up, hasty, shit-ass -- let's say it: typically Auckland collapse of architecture. Aucklanders don't need it, tourists don't want it, six out of 13 city councillors can't even be fucked turning up to debate it and the country won't profit from it, but hardworking little eager beaver Murray is pushing for it in what has become trademark National / John Key style: in secret, under the table, behind closed doors, under urgency. This is what Auckland has come to: John Banks as the voice of reason. As always, catching the blood from the stone are local architectural compromisers Jasmax.

It reminds me of certain other well-earning men who fronted up in the 1980s with business talk of a trickle-down economy and "economic benefits" that never materialised for anyone but themselves. Massive over-capitalisation, skyhook "business" jargon, a shit-eating grin, a perennial loss flicked off to the ratepayers and government-funded retirement for Wellington MPs' sunset years while one of the prettiest cities in the southern globe lies pebble-dashed in their wake. Auckland: the boom times are back.

1/10/10

"So you, personally, aren’t a psycho, right?"

Noir and B-movies are filled with actresses who specialised in one type of role. My favourite horror pin-up is Barbara Steele, she of Black Sunday (AKA The Mask of Satan). I saw it as a kid and was never quite the same way again. Steele always reminds me of Michelle Forbes: both actresses share an underbite, an eight-ball stare and a frangible quality.

In other words, Forbes is a character actor - the exact tool for a certain type of job. Her roles are typically noirish, dead-end and hard to love, but they also have their negative qualities. Forbes has appeared in in 24, Ronald D. Moore's terrific remake of Battlestar Galactica and, most recently, in True Blood. Each time she appears in viewers notice her, say she's really good, and then forget her. But I have a feeling she's going to be on T-shirts for a couple of generations. Here's a quote from the actress and a link to a good interview on New York magazine:
"For whatever reason, every project I do becomes sort of a cult, or a cultish show, you know, like Battlestar, or even a film I did years ago, Kalifornia, people refer to it as a cult film."
Michelle Forbes interview.

1/9/10

Literature now (then)

From New York magazine:
"This, in a nutshell, is the problem of the aughts. Will all of these newly indispensable textual forms ever lend themselves to actual books, or are they simply ends in themselves?"

Read more: Sam Anderson on When the Meganovel Shrank

1/7/10

iPlot

When you are writing it becomes harder to find new things to read so I was pleased to discover novelist Shusaku Endo, a stranger to me despite being translated into twenty-eight languages (I read only one) and being nominated more than once for the Nobel Prize. Endo was one of Japan's post-war 'Third generation' authors, a group identified with the Japanese tradition of the autobiographical "I-novel". He was Catholic and as a student in 1950 spent several years studying in Paris. Foreign Studies is a collection of three associated stories about a Japanese student and a university lecturer finding their respective ways through Normandy and Paris.

In Haruku Murakami and the Music of Words, translator Jay Rubin writes much about the form of the "I-novel", describing Murakami as Japan's "first genuinely 'post-post-war writer', the first to cast off the "dank, heavy atmosphere' of the post-war period." If Rubin is correct, then Endo must be one of the authors to whom Murakami stands in contrast. Endo's tone reminded me of Graham Greene; only after I looked it up did I learn that the two authors were often compared. Greene was a fan or at least wrote as such on the blurb for Endo's novel Silence. Well, duh.

I'm enjoying the outsider tone and locale of Foreign Studies. The Catholic thing doesn't sit with me: after years of art study I find Christian imagery depressing. I can only enjoy Greene's The End of the Affair by mentally running a red pen through the "saint" sub-plot, a hasty add-on that kills an otherwise modern novel, and Foreign Studies' first section, 'Summer in Rouen' suffers from the same dry work. (Crucifixions and tea cakes, one thinks: he gave up Shinto imagery for this?) The second, 'Araki Thomas' is a non-fiction jolt and a very post-modern shift in tone but part three about the Professor in Paris, 'And You, Too' lifted off. It has many things in fiction that I like: a stranger in the city, a sense of helplessness and disconnection and an atmosphere that all is not what it seems. I've yet to finish but with a set-up like that I'm sold. It's simple and resonant with possibilities.

1/5/10

Jazz Dispatch #1


The original Muse Lounge was opened in downtown Auckland in 1968 by a young couple from Antwerp, Cedric and Gretchen Hooves. Cedric Hooves was a qualified architect; Gretchen trained as a flautist and worked briefly as a photographic model before settling on a career in interior design. The newlyweds emigrated to New Zealand in 1967 to set up a business importing the latest European furniture, leasing commercial premises on Fanshawe Street to display their wares.

This new underground showroom, however, soon became better known as a place where writers, artists and musicians would gather to socialise with other members of Auckland's bohemian community. Together these loud and sometimes overly colourful crowds would smoke weed and listen to jazz into the small hours as they discussed the outre concepts of the day.

It was Gretchen who named these gatherings the Muse Lounge after the experimental fusion combo led by legendary drummer and vibes man Trip Checker. A jazz buff since childhood, Gretchen had followed the Muse Lounge since their first performances in Paris and Montreal. When the Muse Lounge proper opened a few blocks away on the corner of Wolfe and Albert Streets in 1970, Checker himself joined the house players for a fifteen minute improv set that included versions of 'Blue Skies / de Gier' and 'Gretchen's Hat', a fierce 7/4 workout dedicated to the young Mrs Hooves.

The property boom in Auckland's central business district saw the Muse Lounge move up to split-level premises in the Whyte Tower and a limited licence in 1976, but the ambience and the decor, famously, remain. For over thirty years the sculpted oval lobby of the Muse Lounge has been the first stop for young people, tourists and those in the know. Drop in any time after sunset and you'll find interesting people of all ages scattered across the bubble chairs and curving white couches. Cedric, grey haired in his kimono, still likes to drop into the sound booth and personally tweak the levels. Gretchen likes to take a seat by the bar where she can smoke and watch the crowd. All sorts of bands play there now but the place still has that twilight vibe. The girls smile and the boys tap their feet. Talk in the Muse Lounge makes music you hear nowhere else.

-- Janwillem Dorin, Jazz Dispatch / June 1999