The author turned his head away from the microphone and cleared his throat.
“This initial little hors d’oeuvre is from my first novel, a semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman which most of you know as “Shaking the Sun”, but which originally bore the title “The Incredibly Visible Man”. To set this up, for those of you who haven’t read the book (shame), you just have to know that the protagonist, Jesse, who’s basically an amalgamation of me and a young Hemingway, has taken his inheritance and run away to the Ivory Coast, where he hopes to find a new mindset for life, a break from his traditional bourgeoisie upbringing, and while there, in the capital city of Yamoussoukro, he encounters a mysterious young woman who captures his heart:
Jesse caught sight of her from across the marketplace: her skin, dark and toothsome in the sun, reminded him of the marmoreal smoothness of the Swiss chocolate bars he had eaten as a child, in his family’s Geneva chalet. Her every movement suggested a primal sensuality, and Jesse felt himself stir somewhere. When she locked eyes with him, he thought that her gaze carried with it an intense interrogation, a single question that Jesse took to be something like: do you enjoy long, slow fucks on the beach?
“My editor and I argued over the inclusion of this passage, which I considered integral to Jesse’s character development, for about a month and a half. Stands up pretty well, I think. Should have fought harder for it. Anyway, in the final copy of the book, as some of you know, instead of meeting the aforementioned sweet local girl in the marketplace, Jesse has his first encounter with Millicent Hadden, an heiress on the run from her own family, a family that is equally strict and repressed in all sorts of ways. The implication being, as I’m sure some of you have guessed, that the capitalism of love is an ineluctable aspect of our society. One can run to the ends of the earth and still not escape it!”
The author gripped the podium very tightly. Even from my seat, I could see that his knuckles were white in flexion; it looked as he and the lectern were locked in small, transanimating battle. I sniffled as quietly as I could. He continued.
A Riemannian sphere rolled across the guts of a piano. Line dancing on the Real line. What sort of integers would that generate, if you were doing a transcendental two-step? Winter is no time for word problems, yet I've been mired in wind chill calculations for the past few days. This song helps put me in the right mood for blustery math.
Hippomenes vs. Atalanta. Very rare anymore to see courtship conducted via foot race, but there you go, things were different in the old days. Hippomenes, confident in his knowledge that gorgeous young women love almost nothing more than metallic fruit, threw those golden apples off the path to distract Atalanta. What he lacked in endurance, quickness, and charm, Hippomenes made up for with guile, cunning, and a strong right arm. Atalanta, lissome, serious, ambitious, lost the race and consequently had to accede to Hippomenes's conditions: he won, so she had to love him, marry him, live with him. Damn those golden apples, she thought (on the day day of the race and every night for the rest of her life).
Selected Responses to "Come Away With Me"
Dear Rose (Elinor),
I will come away with you. Where are we going?
Dear Ms. Dougall,
I accept your kind invitation. I’ll do the packing. Let’s go.
Honeypie. Never thought you’d ask.
Rose my sweet,
We’ll be a travelling tryst!
Love grows where my Rose Elinor goes, so of course I’ll go, my dear.
Absolument, you stone fox.
The Beginning of A Short Biography of Henry Fischer Zern
H.F. Zern, the Poet of Allentown, was born in 1858 to parents unknown, in parts unknown. In his youth, the boy Zern frolicked in the woods of upstate Pennsylvania and imitated the calls of squirrels, robins, and pygmy mice. He collected fungi of unusual color or odor. He stole indiscriminately, and was arrested seventeen times before the age of twelve for the theft of such items as empty milk bottles, twine, garbage (assorted), scrapple scraps, flax, grass chunks, and roof shingles. At the age of thirteen he was put into the Steel Normal School and learned how to read, write, and conduct himself like a normal young man (per the school's mission). It was here, at the SNS, that he began to write verse, mostly to amuse himself and to while away the time between horse rides (he was in love with one of the school's horses, Lydia, and would whisper his poems into her ears during riding class). The love, however, was unrequited, as school records show that Lydia threw Zern from her back twenty-six times in the space of six classes, and Zern burned all his horse-themed love poems at the end of his first term. The earliest of his compositions still extant is "Steelman," a three stanza poem recording Zern's thoughts upon watching the workers enter one of the blast furnaces of Allentown early in the morning, and describing how each man carried a kerchief full of food and sipped coffee from the hot coffee spigot out front.
The guitar solos in this song. So thin. They're barely there, really. Filaments. I used to think the only real-life counterpart to those guitar sounds would occur if you were somehow forced to listen to your own amplified trepanation. Lots of power in that bass, though, the bass keeps you grounded while the guitars bewilder.
It's almost too much. But let's talk about the masterful rhetorical move the band makes at the beginning of this song: a soft, pulsing drone that eases the listener in. Then a moment of silence (palate cleanser). Then that hey-buddy bass before the entrance of those imperious guitars. Loop, you devils.
Squishy shreaking rare alloys; the metals and ores we've taken from the ground long to leave our machines and factories and return to the earth, to the vasculature of mountains ripped apart. Salutary horror movie in the middle. The sad but glorious decimation of the Pac-Man corps at the end, and you really can't help but laugh a little bit, even though it's tragic.
Top 10 Smiles of 2010 (no order)
1. Mary at Cristina when Cristina said, "robots are taking over the world."
2. Lillian when she heard the forecast for the next week.
3. Ryan when he bought his first drink.
4. Stephanie when she got back from her honeymoon.
5. Alison when she got her tip.
6. Robby at any revealed secret.
7. Steven when he talked like a muppet.
8. Alexandra on the street.
9. Sarah, every time she said, "stop it."
10. Janet when she saw us in the hospital.
This song sounds like the result of a dare, in a way: make a nearly instrumental track that mixes in late-90s alternative, Loop, and the Refused. The album this comes from, "I Dig Your Voodoo," is deeply weird. There's no way to describe it but through lame approximations and hypotheticals: mid-period Incubus's penchant for hooded vocals + Piebald's love of quick time changes, British Amy Lee whisper-singing, guitar non sequiturs. This is too strange not to be someone's very personal vision, a vision of wild music made irreversibly real, and I admire that. This is like a sculpture that somehow looks so vulnerable that you want to go over and hug it.
[Buy Monsoon Bassoon's singles. "I Dig Your Voodoo" is out of print, but there are plans, apparently, to reissue it soon]
Sean at Said the Gramophone has put up his Best of 2010 list and it is wonderful, wide-ranging, entertaining, enlightening. Go check it out. The whole list is available piecemeal or as two big downloads. This will be good for your holiday extravaganzas.
Moon Unit Pt. 4 is unnaturally pretty and rich and deep, and reminded me for that reason of this paragraph from F. Scott Fotzgerald's "The Diamond as Big as The Ritz," where the main character, John, sees his friend Percy's house for the first time:
Full in the light of the stars, an exquisite chateau rose from the borders of the lake, climbed in marble radiance half the height of an adjoining mountain, then melted in grace, in perfect symmetry, in feminine languor, into the massed darkness of a forest of pine. The many towers, the slender tracery of the sloping parapets, the chiselled wonder of a thousand yellow windows with their oblongs and hectagons and triangles of golden light, the shattered softness of the intersecting of star-shine and blue shade, all trembled on John's spirit like a chord of music.