Posts Tagged ‘Wordstock’

Wordstock Oct 2011
(Image borrowed from the 2011 Wordstock Festival.)

This morning I had a job interview and this afternoon I worked onsite for a freelance client. In one day I went from health care to lubrication analysis to trains in the mountains in 1947. You have to be flexible if you want to survive in the novel-writing game.

Today I followed William Stafford’s direction to “lower your standards and keep on writing.” I’ll never type “The End” if I simultaneously move forward and return to rewrite. I’ll return later. So I forced myself to finish Chapter 5 already, even though the ending is lame, and plowed ahead in Chapter 6. In Chapter 6 we get somewhere, literally, and I’ll have some real scenery-chewing. I have to agree with Ms. Mukherjee:

“I remembered loving Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady when I studied it for my Ph.D. comps,” Bharati Mukherjee said. “This summer I tried to reread it. I soon abandoned the book, screaming, ‘Enough complex interiority, just give me a couple of big head-butting scenes!’ ” (“Read It Again, Sam,” The New York Times Book Review, 4 December 2011)

In real life, I’m too well-behaved for big head-butting, but in fiction I can be someone else (a big head-butter). I’m warming up the exclamation points right now!

Box score
– I’ve written for five days out of five
– 6.5 total hours
– Here’s the Clarion West Write-a-thon
– Here’s my first post on the Write-a-thon

Random Pick of the Day
Charles Earland, Black Talk! (1968)
If you love jazz and particularly the organ, you’ll dig Black Talk!. The title track is supposedly a variation on “Eleanor Rigby.” I can’t hear the dots connect, but nevermind. Charles Earland and his sextet transform the pop music of their era into something fresh and new. The standouts are their reworkings of “Aquarius” and “More Today Than Yesterday.” The latter is particularly astonishing, a soulful, funky romp that’s as light and joyous as Charles Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song” (1957) is dark and murderous. They’re even about the same length, 11:13 for Earland, 11:57 for Mingus. 

Random Pick of the Day 2.0
Foghat, “Take Me to the River,” Night Shift (1976)
And now a band that needs no introduction, probably because no one wants to meet them. Foghat sucks the phone, and yet detractors such as myself are unable to explain “Slow Ride” (1975), which I can occasionally listen to (if I’m in a car), or their stellar version of “Take Me to the River,” which is in the same league as the versions turned in by The Commitments and Talking Heads. Bachman-Turner Overdrive could only dream of rocking this hard.


Superheavy (I’m already tired of typing that) is a supergroup with the following super members:

Joss Stone – English soul singer with super hair.
Damian Marley – Reggae musician and son of Bob Marley. Also has super hair.
Dave Stewart – With Annie Lennox, he was The Eurythmics.
A.R. Rahman – Indian composer of film and orchestral music.
Mick Jagger – Whoever this guy is, he does a pretty good impersonation of Mick Jagger, even better than Billy Idol’s impersonation of Billy Idol in The Wedding Singer.

This cross-pollinization of cultures and genres fails to germinate, except for the track “I Can’t Take It No More,” which is almost bearable. The other songs fade from memory while you’re listening to them. Despite its super-heavy origins, Superheavy is nowhere near as good as Soundgarden’s Superunknown, Wayne Shorter’s Super Nova, or Rick James’ “Super Freak.” I’m willing to bet it’s inferior to Liberace’s Super Hits, but I’m unwilling to do the research to find out.

Cover of the Week
Eels is a one-name underground indie god best known for “Novacaine for the Soul.” I was surprised to discover his cover of The Left Banke’s “Pretty Ballerina,” but I guess you’re never too cool for ’60s pop. Eels retains The Left Banke’s baroque string flourishes, but he speeds things up (his version is about 15 seconds shorter) while plinking away on what sounds like Schroeder’s toy piano. The original featured a male falsetto; Eels is quite hoarse. He sings “Pretty Ballerina” to a crowd that not only doesn’t laugh him off the stage, they cheer. I did too.

“Pretty Ballerina” was released in 1967 when I was a dreamy 12-year-old who didn’t know the difference between love and lust. It took me decades to figure that one out. Hearing the original always zaps me back to junior high, so I’m relieved to have Eels’ tough-love interpretation to drag me home.

The Left Banke had another, even bigger hit with “Walk Away, Renee.” The Four Tops covered this one, though on the chorus they sound like they’re channeling the Baha Men (“Who Let the Dogs Out?”). Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy on Adieu False Heart combined their beautiful voices on “Walk Away, Renee.” It’s too gorgeous – as much as I love this song, I have to say that The Left Banke don’t deserve it!

Fans of ridiculous pop bands that experiment with classical music are asking themselves right now, Should I go back to The Left Banke’s catalog and see what I missed all those years ago? No you should not. This time I did do the research. I can report that “Barterers and Their Wives” is a mildly entertaining juxtaposition of classical music and psychedelia. One song will surprise you: “What Do You Know.” It’s country, there are two guys singing instead of the usual high-pitched male lead, and they’re both slightly flat. I can’t tell if this was meant as a joke.

Steve of the Week
I forgot to list my latest post at The Nervous Breakdown! I write about typewriters, mimeos, and other machines that once decided the fate of empires. I hope they are not coming back.

Kristin of the Week
My friend Kristin Thiel is reading with two other writers on Friday, October 7 at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, here in Portland (our fair city). This event is part of Wordstock, you philistines. Kristin and her colleagues all have stories in a new anthology I can’t wait to read, Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience. I’m certainly going to be at Powell’s on October 7. I’m hoping Kristin can clear up a few issues for me.


The demise of Gilligan’s Island in 1967 left us with many questions. Most of these questions are about Ginger and Mary Ann. The rest are about the radio.

How was it that on this “uncharted desert isle,” somewhere in the middle of the Pacific or perhaps an ocean we have yet to discover, radio reception was in English and crystal-clear? How did the castaways get news reports that were relevant to them, decades before you could do that online? And where did they find that jazz station?

Forget uncharted desert isles. Whole cities don’t have jazz stations. Even here in super-enlightened Portland, Oregon, our local jazz station helps to pay the bills with programs of the blues, “roots,” and a sort of synthetic jazz-fusion that’s almost danceable. Let’s admit it: Jazz by itself is not a money-maker.

These days it’s not much of a crowd-pleaser, either. Jazz was the people’s music right through the end of World War II. One of the many things the Brits fumed about during the war was that American G.I.’s brought their jazz with them. Jazz answered an emotional need in people, but by the end of the 1950s, rock ’n’ roll had become a better answer. This was about the same time that jazz became more intellectual and more of an art form.

Joey The Lips in The Commitments put it best:

It’s anti-people music. It’s abstract….It’s got no soul. It is sound for the sake of sound. It has no meaning. It’s musical wanking, Brother…

It seems to me that jazz haters (naturally, I married one) hate jazz for two reasons:

1) Why listen to Miles Davis when you have ZZ Top? Try dancing to “’Round Midnight.” OK, stop acting like a spaz and give “Sharp Dressed Man” a try. No contest.

2) Search-and-destroy instruments.

Honk your alto sax if you love jazz
I can think of few musical works as dramatic as Charles Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song,” as gorgeous as John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things,” as raucous as the Rebirth Jazz Band’s “I Like It Like That,” as haunting as Upper Left Trio’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” or as soulful as Davis’ entire Kind of Blue. Where would I be without Vince Guaraldi and A Charlie Brown Christmas?

But to reach these plateaus jazz made a few alterations, the main one having to do with the melody. When the horns leave the melody line and start flying around like go-karts in your bathtub, the jazz haters change the station. My studies of jazz and jazz haters has helped me rank jazz instruments based on threat level:

Horns: Saxophones, trombones, trumpets, tubas, bugles, French horns, dirigeridoos, and anything that can play the Lone Ranger theme or “Charge!” at a baseball game. The sax is public enemy #1, the instrument most likely to blow itself out the airlock. This is fine by me but you’d be surprised how many people would rather go to Vegas and pay $200 to see Celine Dion’s tribute to Gordon Lightfoot.

Piano: Alas, too many jazz outfits follow the same format. If the sax takes a solo, the piano takes one, too. And then the trumpet takes one. Next track: Same deal. And of course the soloist is never playing what the neighbors are playing. I can see how this might prove indigestible to anyone expecting a three-minute song with a story, a hook, and a catchy lyric.

Guitar: I’m talking electric guitars here, though you could throw in banjos on principle. Guitars are a lot less likely to trip your startle reflex. They generally mind their own business, or else the guitarist pretends the guitar is an organ (see next entry). And even when a jazz guitarist hits the afterburners, he or she isn’t playing much we haven’t already heard from Queensrÿche or Korn.

Organ: On the spectrum of jazz instruments, the organ is right in the middle. Like Switzerland. The organ is pleasant to listen to but an hour later I can never remember what I heard.

Drums: People like drum solos, though the drum solo in “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is taking things too far. I think the drum solo connects us with our John Philip Sousa/high school marching band souls. In jazz, the drum solo means you get a break from the intellectual exertions of the horn players. It also means the drummer is still breathing.

Xylophone: Guaranteed to lift your spirits, perhaps because we all played one when we were too young to go to school, go to work, or go waste time blogging.

Bongos: Are bongos the optimum jazz instrument? Judge for yourself with the Irving Fields Trio’s pioneering Bagels and Bongos (1959). But even if you never intend to give that masterwork a spin, tell me this. How can you not smile when someone is playing the bongos? Especially when you know they’re not going to practice at your house?

My research indicates that, for a jazz band to reach the widest possible audience, they have to outlaw horns and pianos and resort to guitars only on holidays. I’m not sure the world is ready for a jazz band composed of an organ, a xylophone, bongos, drums, and maybe a bass player or somebody armed with a ukulele. But why not? I love jazz. I’d give it a listen. Though a certain jazz hater might ask me to wear headphones.

News from Steveworld
I have a new post at The Nervous Breakdown. This one is a rewrite of my music-and-sex survey. This post is making as big a stir at TNB as it did here at Run-DMSteve, which is to say I’m not yet one of the lucky 10% who own 90% of the U.S.

More news from Steveworld
Portlandians: Do you look forward all year to Wordstock? You don’t? Illiterates! Get yourself down there this October and buy a damn book. And I know which one you should buy.

This summer I entered the Wordstock short-fiction contest and finished in the Top 10. (In fact I was the runner-up to the grand prize winner – the person who actually got the money. If for some reason that person cannot serve out his term, I will don the tiara. Though I suspect he will have spent the money by then.) Wordstock will publish a paperback anthology of the Top 10, available at the festival.

There were 400 entries in this contest, from writers as far away as Singapore and Ireland, so right now I’m feeling just like “Some Kinda Rush” by Booty Luv. (How I wish John Coltrane was around to take that one apart!)