I guess it was Cormac McCarthy who made us all take Westerns seriously again, drawing a line of hard reality around the dusky figures that shaped American expansionism. Louis L’Amour’s romantic visage of the brave American or immigrant caring only of his family, upright figures that respected women, children, God and country; they were always selflessly suicidal in the face of danger. We’ve seen the movies. Well, somewhere along the line we’ve fallen out of love with all that mish-mash.
And while Cormac McCarthy can be just as heartless as his (incredible) villains when portraying his cast of marauders, his grasp of realism and human motivation is uncanny; we flinch at the violence, yet we understand from where it stems.
When I read Liar’s Moon, by Philip Kimball, published by Plume, I was fully expecting just another cheesy portrayal of the West. But what I found was a lushly beautiful portrait of an unforgiving, developing world. This book, published in 1999, maintains the gritty and unabashed realism McCarthy made us love, but somehow manages to give us a little bit of that barely-believable mythology that surrounded many of the old western figures.
The story follows the narratives of several different characters as they all converge. There’s Brother, a wandering preacher in search of his lost brother; Autumn Tallgrass, a young white girl abducted by Indians when she was a little girl, raised as one of their own; Cannonball, a freed slave trying to make a name for himself driving herds and causing havoc (famous first words: ”It was the whiskey made me do it.” [pg. 50]); among others. Each of the characters maintains a unique voice, written with so many little nuances that you can hear the character’s voice in your head as you read along.
That there are two kids raised by wolves thrown in the mix only makes the story that much more intriguing, especially since they’re the ones who tie the all those little stories together.
I definitely recommend checking out this novel–or as the author calls it: “Long Story”–even for those that aren’t big Western fans. It’s an amazing story of America’s sordid adolescence, peppered with more than enough great stories and characters to keep you reading it non-stop. Philip Kimball has a keen ear for style and tone, as well, which makes the read a pure pleasure.
Kimball has one other work that I know of, Harvesting Ballads, which I plan to read very soon.
Have you ever heard of Nintendocore? Well, it exists…and it’s weird. iamerror is a band that I accidentally found while browsing for free downloads at Last.fm. When I listened to their song Rainbow Road, which I think is a song from one of the Super Mario Bros. games–if my video-game addled, pre-pubescent brain was able to store and retain anything–I was amazed, one: by how mesmerizingly beautiful some of the ambience music in those old games were, and two: by how these guys (or guy, bio please) were able to warp it into some really cool stuff. I mean, my old favorite game, Balloon Fight, gets some attention here. That means something. What? I don’t know.
Their album Trout Yogurt blends grindcore vocals and percussion with 8-bit overtures, while their Demo ‘09 leaves out the vocals in favor for some awesome double-bass and smooth variations of the songs we really grew up with. By us I mean Generation Awesome, of course.
This past weekend was the Madison Avenue Gallery walk, and one of the stops was to Vladimir Kush’s gallery, Kush Fine Art, at 24 E. 64th St., 2nd Floor, Manhattan.
When I walked into the gallery I was amazed. His paintings, at first glance, give off the warm radiance of superb realism; welcome familiarities, organic forms, terrestrial hues, all this but tweaked so that–even without the metaphorical representations he jams into every painting–brilliance and transcendentalism are infused within every image, contour and background. His sun’s are resplendent, his butterflies appropriately garish, his clouds ornate and dramatic.
Kush himself refers to his style as “metaphorical realism”, which is just a more intimate term for his brand of surrealism. I wouldn’t try to peg his work into any one category, though, just because he’s already created such a broad and diverse body of work that, while his pieces often contain similar images, they usually surprise you with their shift in style and theme. He’s not afraid to try different things.
Because Vladimir Kush’s work is so beautiful, and I definitely recommend checking out one of his galleries (he’s got several, see link on his name.) I found myself standing before his masterpiece, Metaphorical Journey, for about twenty minutes trying to absorb it all.
So I stumble upon this album and I listen to the first track, “Magic Show”, and I’m thinking: “Okay, there’s definitely an MGMT thing going on.” The track is brooding and expansive, with a heavy dose of electronica, rumbling, intermittent percussion, and a crescendo of layered vocals… it’s a great song. So we’re started off with that, and then the next song, “Halloween Mask”, comes on and the whole feel shifts. Now I’m thinking: ”Okay, there’s definitely a Shins thing going on.” Soothing acoustic guitars, pop-sensible lyrics, gripping hooks and perfectchoruses. Listening to the entire album I was impressed by their range; how they would seamlessly transition from rock tracks with heavy electric guitars to folky acoustic fireside sing-alongs a la Fleet Foxes. I think I even heard a banjo thrown in there somewhere. They manage to perfectly balance jubilance with melancholy, throwing just enough at you of each to keep you on your toes, wanting more, simple,
perfect tunes asking for nothing more than an open ear to please.
I recommend listening to this album straight through, when you’re hanging out, relaxing, looking for a little something to cheer the ears up. These guys know how to write some great songs. My personal favorite was “Haint in the Holler” (it’s not misspelled) a straight-forward, awesome song with a simple message and a powerful heart.
Now what I was planning on doing was to read a new novel every week or two, bring you new up and coming authors and their new work. However, that has proven impractical as there are few literary novels printed and the ones I’ve been reading are pretty mundane. I’d like to bring you awesomeness on a regular basis, and I am not going to get involved in writing about decent or okay novels because there’s no point in doing that. Instead I will now be bringing to you novels you may have never heard of, or maybe glanced over–the stuff that deserves to be on your summer reading list but isn’t…yet.
And so I bring to you a novel that is probably the most obscure novel I had ever read. I bought it in a used-book shop in D.C. The publisher, Sun and Moon Press, published experimental literature for over 25 years, but closed shop in 2002. If you check out Amazon you can find this novel for sale. On goodreads.com, which lists ratings for every book you could ever dream of, I was only the second person to rate it–on a site with at least hundreds of thousands of avid readers as members.
I bring to your attention this novel because it is perhaps the strangest, most visceral and mind-warping thing I’ve ever read. Forget the slipshod dyspepsia of Naked Lunch–if you’ve read that (rather, were somehow able to complete it) you get a taste of what the insane style in which William S. Burroughs wrote was trying to accomplish that Johnny Stanton somehow perfected. With a laser-sharp focus, and every sentence carrying with it a leaden gravity profuse with mysterious intonations, he brings you into the world of an adolescent Huron Indian, Tarcisius Tandihetsi, who, while traveling with his two fathers (his father,Eustace, and a French priest, Blackrobe) and others in his tribe, are kidnapped by the Poison Snake People and the Killer Yellow Dogs(the tribe’s greatest enemies) and made to endure great torture for days on end.
The story follows the travels of Tarcisius into enemy territory, while he and his fathers, although sustaining ridiculous amounts of punishment that would have killed anybody ten times over, somehow survive time after time to see even greater punishment and danger. As its voice, magic and spirituality impregnate nearly every event or description.
You’ll love this book because it’s creepy and crazy and the most original thing you’ll ever read. While reading this you’ll think at least two to three times per page: “Where the hell does this guy come up with this stuff?” Seriously. If you open the book to any page and pick out a sentence it is likely to be something that would make you scratch your head and wonder …you just wonder. I’m going to do it now–totally random sentence: ”Antler Face was furiously digging his antlers into the ground and at the same time kicking the air.” (Mangled Hands, Johnny Stanton, pg. 162) See? Or: ”Finally Curly Head put my nose between his slimy legs, and the nails on his tail cut my face.” (Mangled Hands, Johnny Stanton, pg.66) There are also certain words you’ll never think of the same way after this novel, such as feathers, manhood, slime, hair, invisible, to name a few.
If you like crazy lit even remotely I say check this out now. You’re brain will hate you for it, but your mind will expand like Tarcisius’s manhood. ”I,Tarcisius Tandihetsi, say so.” (Mangled Hands, Johnny Stanton, pgs. 12, 18, 23, 30, 39, 46, 55, 62, 71, 79, 88, 96, 107, 117, 126, 138, 148, 162, 192, 219, 244, 274, 297, 320)
Read Lowboy by John Wray, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Published earlier this March, 2009, Lowboy is the new novel by John Wray. The premise is explained simply enough: a sixteen-year-old schizophrenic boy abandons his medication and takes a delusion-filled joyride through the subways of Manhattan in order to save the world by having sex with whoever will give it up to him and trying to keep the doubts away so that he can maintain composure long enough to get it from the girl who he’s in love with (maybe) and is weirdly into him all while dodging the police …still with me? Okay, so maybe there’s a little more to it.
The chapters shift between the boy and his pursuers, who are none other than his strange and beautiful mother and a (surprise!) lonely New York City detective. Along the way the boy meets some very interesting characters…imagine hanging around with the lunatics in the New York City subway system, you start to understand. The narrative starts off brief, almost quaint, moving you along just fast enough to keep up suspense and giving you just enough to grab at to keep the book compelling. By the end the narrative begins to shift, as does Lowboy’s mental state, to a frantic and transient mish-mash that can’t be trusted.
Admittedly, the chapters with Lowboy’s mother and the detective are a little less than exciting when you’re waiting to get back to the regressive thrills of inter-subway tunnel exploration. You’d also be surprised how squirmy Wray can make a love scene between a pubescent white boy and a street-wizened crackhead. I found myself shamelessly giggling. I really grew to like Lowboy, too, pulling for him to get laid so that he’d save the world.
All in all, it’s a pretty good book. I recommend it for a quick easy read when you want a break from your Iliad or Naked Lunch, ahem. In the future I’d like to see John Wray avoid the sordid temptation of tying in generic detective-genre analyze-and-pursue themes. Other than that it’s easy to see why in more than a few places he’d been referred to as a promising young writer.
Visited Ryo Toyonaga: Mephistophelean
Gallery open March 18th to May 15th, 2009, at The Vilcek Foundation, 167 E. 73rd St. New York, NY. See http://www.vilcek.org/ or http://www.ryotoyonaga.com/
Sculpting as an art-form is a harsh medium. Too often you’ll see pieces that are unrealized and sophomorically limp and shapeless. Ryo Toyonaga, however, has managed to create some off-the-wall pieces that, in their own amoebic wanderings, maintain a tight structure and semblance of continuity.
Picture the world beneath the ocean a million years from now…these pieces look like what would be brought back by a diver as proof of a long-lost civilization. All the pieces are related through structure and color, as if drawn up in the same net. Wispy little flagella rise up from the pieces, while corpuscular growths complete the heavy marine presence.
The colors of the pieces are mostly a volcanic terracotta, with the exception of a couple pieces that are slashed open to reveal what appear to be bright red berries, while the textures shift between the smoothness of metal and the coarse graininess of coral or shale.
The use of the mechanical themes are usually used in conjunction with rotting or shriveled organic elements, as if the system of spigots and wheels sucked the life right out of nature.
The Vilcek Foundation’s gallery was super smooth and bright, so that the pieces really popped out and grabbed your attention. It’s definitely worth checking out, as Ryo Toyonaga’s work is very different and special. A series of lectures are also available through the Vilcek Foundation if you’re interested in getting a little more involved. See their site for info.
As the first installment discussing new music, I wanted to bring to the table something good to start out with. Something with promise. I envisioned discussing a band you’ve never heard about that would wind up becoming a hit one day.
In this vain, after a bit of searching, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the new self-titled album by The Love Language (Click this link and it will open a new window to their MySpace page. Listen to ”Providence”, it’s an excellent example of their music.) The album itself is great, 9 songs that include no filler, just good tunes with great hooks. They sound like a mix between The Arcade Fire (perfect mélange of layered instruments, tinkling piano faintly in the background, vivacious choruses, the melancholia of analog recording and timid production…) and The Cold War Kids (dissonant vocals, heavy tambourine, all as if played and recorded in a large room).
They are not as vocal driven as The Cold War Kids, though, which is great. The lead singer is often accompanied by others in a ghostly chorus, the thick fat of the vocals resting atop a simmering stew of guitars, pianos, drums, tambourine, a humming bass, at times all mashed up together to the point it’d be almost impossible to pick out a single instrument to focus on any more than a moment.
So I enjoyed the album and I definitely recommend it. My only criticism of the album is its terrible production. The band was good enough to pull off a great album, however, even with the cringing distortion during some of the shouted vocals and barely being able to hear the drums or guitars some of the time over the tambourine. Maybe that was their intention, which I hope wasn’t.
I can see this band having an awesome second album, with hopefully a better level of production. All the other pieces are already there.
Check out the band on Myspace for further info (their bio is hopelessly literary and unbalanced –loved it…brilliant).
Visited KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Manga + Video Games
Exhibition open Friday, March 13th 2009 until June 14th 2009 at the Japan Society Gallery. See japansociety.org
Alright, so where do I begin with this one? Let’s start by saying that I have never been a big anime or manga fan. Video games, of course, I’m a relatively young guy. But due to a lack of exposure to anime and manga growing up I knew very little and never developed much of an appreciation for them.
So the exhibit opened this past weekend and I said: “Hey, I’m starting this new art blog, checking out new stuff. This is definitely new to me, maybe for others, so let me give it a shot.”
I wouldn’t say I was disappointed so much as I was underwhelmed. The exhibit was little more than some bubbles along the walls displaying pages and covers of classic comics. Some movie screens played a selection of the most popular anime movies. Manga books - huge journals resembling phone books - with dozens of monochromatic comic strips were kept on a book case and were available to flip through. The ones I picked up were in Japanese, though, and I can’t…well, you know…I’m ashamed to say it but I can’t really read Japanese.
The inclusion of video games in the exhibit was little more than a gesture. A wall display said how important they were in Japanese art and a small room had a few Nintendos set up and available to play.
The best part was by far the viewing room, where they showed classic movies on a circular wall, all the films one beside the other. Small cubicles allowed you to sit and view these with audio in a more personal setting. Also available are presentations of movies and television shows in a movie screening room.
At the end of it all I was left with a deep curiosity. The absurd grandness of the characters, the scenarios they were placed in and the gravity by which everything is portrayed is a little bit too much to brush off. The strangeness of it all gets a hook into you.
And so with the very little taste I got I am inspired to beef up a bit on my Japanimation chops, come back an art samurai.