David Mitchell Interview

David Mitchell Interview

One of my favorite writers in recent years has been David Mitchell, who can seemingly do anything or go anywhere.  In some of his novels, epics like Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, he can use many voices, cover different time periods, and make each seem authentic.  Not only is he able to do this, but he is able to connect all of those voices to form a compelling overreaching narrative.  Meanwhile, in something like Black Swan Green, he is able to use a much smaller canvas, in this case a British school kid in the 80’s, and make it just as compelling.  One of the true originals of our time.  The link is a short piece accompanied by a longer video interview.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Getting Rave Reviews

Ta-nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates – Between the World and Me

I have been a longtime reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog over at The Atlantic.  Although I occasionally think Coates’s blog is too narrow in scope, there is no doubt Coates is an unusually gifted writer.  (Andrew Sullivan, who wrote alongside Coates at The Atlantic for awhile, was not only able to be an uncompromising advocate for marriage equality, but was also seemingly able to cover an unbelievably wide scope of topics.  I found that having a sense of how Sullivan viewed the wider world actually strengthened his arguments for justice.  Anyway, this is splitting hairs and is a topic for another day.  I would feel amiss if I didn’t say anything, but this is really an argument about format and outcome, and not quality of writing.)  Coates has a curious mind and without a doubt is someone that is always reaching for truth.  Before I found myself reading a lot about the Civil War, Coates own research and exploration of that time period was extremely fascinating.  I am happy to see that his new book, Between the World and Me, is getting rave reviews.  The above piece is not only about the book, but also a look at Coates as a man and writer in general.  It is a well written and interesting piece worth your time.  Also, if you are someone that reads several blogs a day, I would definitely add his blog to your list.

Mortality By John Betjeman

The first-class brains of a senior civil servant
Shiver and shatter and fall
As the steering column of his comfortable Humber
Batters in the bony wall.
All those delicate re-adjustments
“On the one hand, if we proceed
With the ad hoc policy hitherto adapted
To individual need…
On the other hand, too rigid an arrangement
Might, of itself, perforce…
I would like to submit for the Minister’s concurrence
The following alternative course,
Subject to revision and reconsideration
In the light of our experience gains…”
And this had to happen at the corner where the by-pass
Comes into Egham out of Staines.
That very near miss for an All Souls’ Fellowship
The recent compensation of a ‘K’ –
The first-class brains of a senior civil servant
Are sweetbread on the road today.

Mortality by John Betjeman

More Thoughts On Blogging as a Form

I rarely ever reread my own blog, unless it is for the sake of editing or correcting a mistake.  I have always tried to treat this blog like an outward looking journal.  If I am excited by a certain idea or a piece of art, hopefully that excitement can translate into words and create something that will get the reader to take notice of the same thing.  The idea is to get the reader to want to explore more things on their own, not to create a place that is a definitive take on anything.  I’m not bound to write or cover anything, so what I write about are things that I am generally passionate about.  This doesn’t negate other forms of writing, but only compliments them.  Someone that is paid to understand the science behind global warming, for instance, will have insight and knowledge that I will never have.  However, I might be able to get people interested to where they will find the more substantive article where they previously wouldn’t.  Meanwhile, with more subjective matters like art and music, you should want both the writing of people that get why something is interesting because they are passionate about it and writing that takes a more cold clinical look at a thing’s importance in time and place.  Between the two you can weigh out the subject for yourself.  The only thing I will never write about is something in which I feel I have no grasp at all of the subject matter.  I haven’t written about the crisis in Greece because I feel that I do not understand the complex financial systems in place in anyway.  I can read other writers and get an idea of what is going on, but I feel that I would just be parroting them.  This kind of writing is harmful because it can spread bad ideas without there even being any malicious intent.

But anyway, because I view blogging as a somewhat emotional and in the moment format, I have trouble rereading my own work because, quite frankly, I often find myself embarrassed by it.  It can be like if you were caught on camera jumping up and down at the ball game.  A picture like that might really translate the true feelings of that moment in time, but you certainly don’t want to relive it.  You find yourself looking on and thinking, “Yes, that was exactly how that moment felt, but goddamn I was drunk…”

Michael Mann and David Milch Interview

David Milch and Michael Mann Interview For Luck

Lately I’ve been diving back into the world of Michael Mann, culminating in his masterpiece Heat.  I want to comment on that film at some point, but I’m still collecting ideas, putting my thoughts together.  I have also been watching the show Luck, which was on HBO a couple years back.  It’s a show that centers around a racetrack and the personalities that surround are a part of that world.  Mann was a producer and director of the pilot.  The show was created by David Milch who is one of the most interesting minds and greatest writers in television.  Deadwood, a show he created, is one of the high-water marks of television for me.  It is as close to Shakespeare as we are likely to see in our time.  I think anyone that wants to understand our country should visit that show.  Anyway, while looking up information on Luck, I found this interview with both Milch and Mann.  It is short but fascinating.

The Process of True Detective Writer Nic Pizzolatto

Vanity Fair recently put out a long form article on True Detective writer and creator Nic Pizzolatto.   If you are interested in the show the article deals with his writing process and the background of how the show to be.  I found it interesting that unlike a lot of TV series there is no writers room, that he doesn’t seem to like writing by consensus, and that he wrote the entire first season by himself.  I was also happy to see that he is influenced by David Milch, whose series Deadwood, in my opinion, is the greatest TV series ever.

Heart of the Congos and Great Music Criticism

Heart of the Congos – Reggae You Cannot Live Without

I mentioned that a musician I know turned me onto the album Heart of the Congos by the Congos, which is produced by the great Lee “Scratch” Perry.  I think the above link describes why this is perhaps the greatest reggae album of all time, and one of the best albums of all time in any genre.  The article linked to above not only does a great job of this, but has some other truthful comments on music and production in general.  It’s also a great piece of criticism because it makes you understand why something is important in the history of the art form, why it deserves your time as a listener, and on top of that it uses language to create original ideas that add to the appreciation of what it is talking about.  It’s a great piece of writing and worth your time if you love music and music criticism.

Shows, Recording, Joe, Stephen King, Voltaire, and Other Musings

It’s been another busy week here in Texas.  Last weekend was four show, this weekend there are four shows, and two of my three days off I have been recording.  Going on the road this week with the Shinyribs band:

Shinyribs Show Dates

I’m hoping to get a book worth discussing before I hit the highway.  Musically I have been living exclusively in the world of Jamaica.

Recording just a few songs with my good friend Mick Flowers who, aside from being an excellent drummer and producer, is also a prop master, and an amazing one at that.  I just saw the last movie that he did, Joe starring Nicholas Cage, and it was fantastic.  A gritty southern grotesque with a dark heart and an even darker sense of humor.  It’s on Netflix right now and it is worth seeking out if you like your movies jet black or if you are a fan of southern writers like Harry Crews and Flannery O’Connor.  It was filmed around Austin and apparently many of the people in the film, although excellent, are not trained actors, but regular people recruited for the film.

In Austin we went from last year, where you couldn’t swim because all of the swimming holes were dry, to not being able to swim this year because the creeks are overflowing due to an abundance of rain.  I know better than to substitute weather for climate, but the weather sure has been strange down here the last few years.

The more I think about it the more I am extremely happy that I read Voltaire’s Candide.  It is a satire of the human condition of the highest order.  You will never hear anyone say, “All is for the best”, or “Everything happens for a reason”, again the same way.

Been reading Stephen King short stories the last couple of weeks.  It is amazing how prolific he is.  I know there are some critics that criticize his writing style, but he has an ability to tap into the uncanny in a way that few other writers can.  I like genre fiction, or songwriting, or movies, as long as they are done well.  There is something interesting about taking a certain genre, trying to work within its limits, and deliver surprises along the way that is appealing.  I always believed that a lot of creativity comes out of limitations.

Anyway, I am off to enjoy some rare sunshine before I head into the studio.

In the future, when all’s well…

Jeff

Why Are We Not Smarter Now?

I recently read Candide by Voltaire.  I will add my voice to the many over the years that have deemed it a classic.  I think I would even say it is one of my favorite books I have read.  If you were to tell someone to read a book that was written by a French intellectual in the 1700’s, many would imagine something dense and challenging.  However, despite the amazing wealth of ideas in the book, it is direct, accessible, funny, and full of truths that still resonate in the modern day.  I almost felt in certain ways that I was reading a precursor to Carlin or Vonnegut, people that are able to speak truth to power in very direct and clear way, while making you laugh out loud at things you shouldn’t be laughing at.

I was a history major at WVU for several years, before finally graduating with an American Studies degree from Penn State.  One of the things in history that always comes up is trying to justify or condemn someone for what they did based upon the times that they live in.  “Well so and so owned slaves, but you have to understand the times that they lived in.”  I think something like that is only completely true if you know how far thought had progressed in certain societies.  If slavery or some other evil is accepted by almost everyone, then you might not be able to judge someone if the light of truth hadn’t been shown on that particular evil yet.  On the other side, if people knew something was evil, or unethical, than you can judge those people in their own time.

Reading Voltaire makes me think that the argument, you have to understand the times, doesn’t hold water as much as I thought.  Voltaire satirizes almost all of the evils of his time and ours:  Violence over religion, colonialism, exploiting other humans for profit, violence against women, war, and on and on.  The book was written in 1759, before the United States even existed, yet there is a passage where he points out how absurd it is to treat those of another race cruelly, especially in the name of God and country.  He is constantly satirizing different religious sects for fighting with each other over beliefs.

The book basically follows the title character, a well meaning but naive man from Germany who is told by a court philosopher that all is for the best, that all is part of some natural order.  When Candide gets kicked out of the castle he is living in, for being with a woman that he shouldn’t be, his story becomes a downward spiral of the tragic and comic as one bad thing happens after another.  The language is very direct and simple, but the amount of terrible deeds listed almost becomes poetic in its scope.  It certainly is one of those works where things are so terrible it goes through the looking glass, where the awful becomes funny as a result of perceived absurdity.  The book holds a mirror up to the human race, asking the question, almost screaming, “What are you doing?!!!”

The forward to the book makes the case that above all, Voltaire was against superstition.  It was superstition, belief in things that have no basis in nature, that is man’s biggest folly.  He understood the cruelty that humans could do to one another through created orders like religion and nation states.

Although Voltaire doesn’t have any answers, he does have a direction by the end of the book that at least points towards ways in which humans could lead lives worth living.  Although this is a book largely of darkness, even if hilariously conveyed, this is not a book completely without light.

Although the world has progressed in certain ways since the time of Voltaire, many of these problems are still with us.  I couldn’t help but ask myself several questions:  How did he have such a clear view of the world before modern science and so much other knowledge existed?  If he had such a clear view of the world of the world, why were so many others in his time so lost in the dark?  If he had such a clear view of the world in 1759, why is it that so many of these problems still persist?  How is it that someone writing in the 1700’s could see the world, when so many people, SO MANY PEOPLE, of right now are so lost in the woods?  Why do so many idiocies associated with religion and superstition still exist, if he knew so much then and we have gained so much knowledge since his time?

Who knows such things…