Obit: David Foster Wallace

Writer, novelist, teacher. 21 02 1962 – 12 09 2008

Contributing author: Adam Rivett

1. Writing/Ethics

Please bear in mind this is a delayed and indirect response to DFW’s dying; that I wanted to write something critical/writerly as opposed to the usual obit-minded gush and hyperbole; neither some sarcastically styled imitation by way of excessively footnoted ramble, nor a personal-reflective fan-letter with woodwinds and strings. Continue reading “Obit: David Foster Wallace”

What makes Elvis great?

Notes on the Big E with a focus on the 68 Comeback Special.

The question is heavily rhetorical ― to me it’s self-evident, redundant. But for my many colleagues past who’ve heard me warbling about Charlie Hodge and Cadillacs and blue Christmases, or who think he’s a kitsch joke in a gawky suit, I always like to run through a little pop-list of angles on the Big E.  Continue reading “What makes Elvis great?”

Radiohead — In Rainbows

Wonderfully coherent, thoroughly of our time, strictly Radiohead and yet gilded with a strange and subtle beauty ― a really great album of non-pop at last.

This is an essay in two parts. I want to discuss the download issue separately from the musical content of the album, because in too many articles the latter is dismissed to focus on the former. If you don’t want to hear any more about online distribution, then flick straight to part II. Continue reading “Radiohead — In Rainbows”

Meditations on a U2 B-side

Notes on The Formula and a glorious b-side from The Unforgettable Fire period, with additional commentary on Success and always trusting your bass player.

What privilege, what artistic prestige, to be able to make the music one wants ― the only music one can ― and be wildly successful. And what an abused banality that is ― surely all musicians get to indulge their creativity and vision? I think your average session or pub musician is hemmed in by demand and directive, play this or do that set of covers; and when your income depends on it, you accede. But when your income is stratospheric, like the established and world-dominating behemoth of U2, you get to indulge your creative (and pretty much any other) urge quite a bit. Which is not to say that U2 are pushing the creative flight envelope so much any more ― the last few albums were pretty standard-mould U2. They’re just trying to stay relevant, and engaged; which, beyond talent, is the harder thing. Continue reading “Meditations on a U2 B-side”

Catherine Millet – The Sexual Life of Catherine M

Er, sorry folks: no picture for this review. But get a load of all that group sex action.

Ostensibly a portrait of group sex, which I don’t think has been given its full literary due since de Sade, this is also an interesting read in feminine sexuality, or feminine sexual desire, to be more precise. Compared to other dabblers of group sex (Houellebecq comes to mind, positively juvenile in contrast, though juvenility is an interesting starting point here too), Millet comes across like an old hand at the game. She’s thorough, honest and precise in recounting the blur and the gross joys of group action. She’s got a finger on the resultant memorial contours of intimacy and space, from the outskirts of Paris parking lots to domestic nooks and crannies. She’s got an appreciably serious and hungry eye for sex and larger scales of satisfaction; Paglia would no doubt detect a trace of masculine perspective and attitude in her ability to project (imagination-wise, here) and indulge the raw desires as just that, raw, slightly detached, self-pleasing love of detail and variety in number etc. Continue reading “Catherine Millet – The Sexual Life of Catherine M”

Grant Gee – Meeting People is Easy

Avoid peril. Hands on the wheel. You are a target market. Calm, fitter, happier. Enter the visual nerve-storm of the modern rock-god-celebrity experience with your pals Radiohead. And whatever happened to all that Pre-Millennial Angst?

It was a while before I could get my mits around this side-promo-rockumentary filmed in the immediate aftermath of OK Computer’s release. No commercial broadcaster would play a doco whose promotional time-frame has expired the way this has, but it’s still a highly revealing and slightly disturbing look at the chaotic miasma and flashing hypermedia of the modern pop success phenomenon. Continue reading “Grant Gee – Meeting People is Easy”

David Foster Wallace – Everything and More

A delayed quarter-review of DFW's study of Cantor and Infinity. Or, how to avoid serious mathematics.

Rarely does a reader begin a book certain of its unfinishability. There are, of course, examples to the contrary, but they’re usually study-based, or socially motivated “required reading” — the sort of thing that forces the Zeligs of the world to read as much of Moby Dick as they can. This is not the case with my reading (or quarter-reading, or even eighth-readings) of David Foster Wallace’s Everything and More. I chose it; I willed myself to read it. Sure, it was on a bargain table ($8) and thus easier to excuse, but I nonetheless got it aware that as a reader I would never fold its last page with the kind of completion-satisfaction even a bad book can provide. I could only excuse such a wasteful purchase on the inverse of future completion satisfaction: completion anxiety (bear in mind that this is a book about Infinity after all). As an ailment, this is closer to what record collectors suffer, tossing in their sleep about that rare Pavement 7-inch with the B-Side cover of the MC5’s ‘The Human Being Lawnmower’ (more on that soon). Continue reading “David Foster Wallace – Everything and More”

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew

I believe that Bitches Brew is one of the most mysterious albums in jazz, period.

Alinear, spliced, swampy grooves played in modes or keys somewhere between uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Long sketches that completely collapse notions of verse-solo/chorus in the standard jazz sense. The insinuation of virtuosity but not the harmonic foundation to ground it. Multiple musicians weaving around each other in austere groove and rhythm. Echoes and congas, electric and acoustic instruments (one of my fave combinations), planned and unplanned spontaneity. Obscurity, occlusion and occasionally sharp clarities of melody. Loose cohesion. No major hooks or choruses, but searching stabs of notes (played for echo-decay) cutting through the noodling undergrowth and treacherous quicksands. Continue reading “Miles Davis – Bitches Brew”

Balzac – The Seamy Side of History

OK the title leaves a lot to be desired, but students of the novel will reap diligent reward from this final work of intrigue and narrative power.

In my Balzacian quest to acquire as many works of Balzac as geographically possible, I picked up the noble-titled L’Envers de l’histoire Contemporaine of which a new translation was reviewed on Powell’s a while back under the slightly askew translation as The Wrong Side of Paris; which is nonetheless miles ahead of my bargain-base Signet translation as The Seamy Side of History, complete with seedy cover — a busty woman swigging from a bottle while a ruffian feels up her exposed leg — which, for a novel about Christian charity seems just a little distracting and or beside the point. Or a juiced-up transliteration of what was a bad mistranslation in the first place. Continue reading “Balzac – The Seamy Side of History”