Monday, April 30, 2007

"Artificial Light" - James Greer

I'm just over two thirds through James Greer's first novel "Artificial Light", a selection of Dennis Cooper's "Little House on the Bowery" series. James, or Jim Greer was a member of Guided By Voices for a while around 1995 and lived in Dayton around that time, hanging out in the small but influential music scene there that also included the Breeders and Brainiac. He's published a book on GBV and this novel, which I believe was actually written before his GBV book, stands next to it and seems to turn his experience into a multistranded fictional narrative set in the "mythological land of Dayton, Ohio". I've heard so much about Dayton since becoming a GBV fan, it truly is a mythological place in my head, so it definitely makes sense to me to speak of the place in these terms. My brother in law actually spent some time there as a student and owns a book with old local photos which I looked at a while ago thinking "well yes, but there's something underneath the surface in this place (as in any place) and you can see Dayton in these photos but you need to be guided by voices to really "see" it. Or something like that" The way the place is ingrained and reflected in Bob Pollards songs and lyrics is the stuff of legend after all, just watch that scene in the "Watch Me Jumpstart" doc where Bob drives through his neighbourhood and getting inspiration from roadsigns and old movie theatres or whatever. So to describe the mythic Dayton it makes sense to have a level of overwriting, of multistranded perspective. All these things come together in "Artificial Light" in often intriguing bursts of narrative, though I find some of it borderline pretentious, overwordy and he does lose me occasionally and that was true too for many readers of "Hunting Accidents", his GBV book. "Artificial Light" actually works better in that respect, since it's a spiralling fiction that touches on many barely disguised real bands and people but isn't meant to be a biography. There is a Kurt C, of a world famous band whose name starts with the letter N, who moves into a giant mansion in Dayton that once belonged to Orville Wright, the inventor of aviation. Dayton is a very mundane place but the aviation thing is something outstanding and special that makes it internationally famous and it is something that appears in GBVs work throughout. I'm not sure I entirely understand the threading together of the late Kurt Cobains with the Dayton scene of the early mid nineties, but i guess they happened in the same time frame and were part of a similar rupture within popular American music, something grainier got some exposure, and it seems to propose a connection that hasn't really been made before but could make sense (I remember someone saying "what if Kurt would have gone to Dayton and hung out with Guided By Voices for a while... instead"). Mostly the book centres on a group of friends and acquaintances who are mostly into music and/or books and always meet in the same bars. These bar scenes are interpersed with other narratives, older stories, diary entries by Orville Wright, overlaying each other and forming a dense picture of a place both real and richly remembered/imagined. I guess it makes sense to know a few things about GBV and how certain records are rooted in this environment in so many subtle ways(see also Mark Woodwords excellent "Bee Thousand" book in the 33 1/3 series) to fully appreciate the rich palimpsest of scenes and voices, erasures and references presented here but my guess is that it works anyway. From a fan perspective however there is a sense of trying to find a different way of writing about these experiences and the moments of ecstasy and revelation, and also of longing, memory, loss and ghostliness written into the music and the myth of GBV. All that is mostly fascinating though it doesn't necessarily convince all the time.

One "notebook entry" (the whole book is a collection of notebooks found after the fact) is a lenghty recollection of the first German date in Muenster of the thinly disguised GBV, written I guess from Jim Greers own point of view at the time. GBV are called "Whiskey Ships" (also a song title from Bob Pollard's solo album "Waved Out") and Bob is called Henry Radio but it's very recognizable, the alcohol consumption, the nerves, the songs. It's a fascinating snapshot from inside a tour that continues to fascinate me, see also here ... "Henry" is described as borderline xenophobic and insecure about the new surroundings, obsessed with money, gossiping about other band members in the morning , comparing the stronger German beers to the the light beers they're used to at home etc. They were touring Germany with Tocotronic who become "Kokotek" in the book. The narrator says they speak little English and describes their insistence to sing in German as "determined nationalism" which is something I believe is totally inaccurate since the Tocos repeatedly refused to accept accolades emphasizing their German-ness and even went so far as to record a song in English that repeats the line "If you have a racist friend/ now is the time/ for your friendship/ to end" and rerecorded some of their material in English, they are definitely not nationalistic in any way as far as i can see but this misunderstanding is still interesting. I've always wondered whether there are any recollections out there about this odd pairing on this tour since both bands are firm favourites of mine for very different reasons, and I guess this chapter hidden in an arty novel is the closest i will get. Jim Greer is a music journalist after all anyway. Well, I guess the Tocos were okay with the fact that GBV sneaked into their room to raid their beers occasionally. But there seems to have been little interaction, and, at least at that point in time, little in common and it is questioned why they were paired on this tour by the promoter. Well, ok, whatever. Interesting...or not. The chapter is worth reading just as snapshot back from the heady days...

What does come through very strong are the images of the Dayton bars, that is really fascinating, the sense of being stuck in a small place in the middle of nowhere, in some sort of perpetual decay, but making something special out if it, or at least trying, even if noone is listening...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

language is boring

in my head it's a constant argument. Listen. I'm sorry. You said. I want this to be clear. You can't do this. Why did you say this to him. Why didn't you tell me. Is this the right thing to do. What if we do this. I can't see how this is possible. Bang your head while you're dreaming. It's going round and round in a circle. Where is this going. I want this to be done that way. can we have a meeting. can we talk about this. is this the right thing to do. i'm looking forward to this. let's be positive about this. i think this will improve things. stop me stop me stop me if you think you heard this one before. Listen to me. It's not going to happen. Slowing down the market. My image is stronger than yours. i will sell it before you do. mismatched colours. mismatched possessions. replacements of replacements of replacements of old television versus new television of nightmare lifestyles of voodoo shit cut prize possession supermarket lightbulb machinery manipulation control what would you do take the puzzle a step higher dream now so you can escape this train won't go now. etc. this is your train driver speaking. i'm sorry about the delay to your journey this morning, this is due to. this is an automated message. did you try to say something. do something real. yeah, but is it worth it. a home is not a money bag. i will try to heal the rift. between language and its prized possessions. how can you describe it. listen. i'm telling you. this is between you and me. language is boring....

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thames Walk for charity

some photos from our walk for the breast cancer charity ABC. We were part of the latecomers and "only" did the henley to marlow shorter option, but it being a hot day, that was quite enough, thank you. fortunately there was a nice shady pub garden on the way, the Flower Pot, a lovely pub set back from the river with a huge garden... the latecomers arrived in marlow about 45 minutes after the hardcore who had walked from the start in reading, so we were definitely the low achievers hanging back and just enjoying ourselves really. the whole route looked gorgeous, every week the trees get greener. walking isn't about speed and numbers in my book, it's more about contemplation, etc. plus it was soooo hot. My favourite place was in Hurley where the Thames divides in several strands and you can sit on some meadows that seem to be part of a camping area. it's a good walk and i'd do it again!