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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

Tender Spirits: A Conversation with Marie-Helene Bertino

January 16, 2013 | by

In October, Marie-Helene Bertino published her debut collection of short stories, Safe as Houses. Her writing often involves fantastical elements—an embodied idea of an ex-boyfriend, an alien who faxes observations about human beings to her home planet, a woman who brings Bob Dylan home for Thanksgiving dinner—that advance painful story lines. Her language is spare, direct, and hilarious, which makes the characters’ losses that much more deeply felt. Bertino is now at work on a novel centering on a jazz club in Philadelphia called the Cat’s Pajamas.

We spoke for two hours in a Brooklyn coffee shop, which was flooded with girls on their lunch break from school.

Reading Safe as Houses, I was struck by the number of characters who aren’t really seen by others. By the last few stories, the characters start to become more visible. Does that theme ring true to you?

I would totally agree with that, though I was not conscious of it. I was aware that a lot of characters were on the outskirts of something—of their towns, their groups of friends, their families, their societies. And at the risk of sounding cliché, I think that’s a metaphor for being a writer. I mean literally and figuratively—you have to stand on the outside to watch a group of people and then be able to write about them, but in practice, it’s also a solitary art, as they say. And I think that those characters definitely are a reflection of that kind of observer quality in me.

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Escapades Out on the D Train

November 26, 2012 | by

Going to a Bob Dylan gig these days requires a certain sort of mindset. Worship, obviously, but also a readiness not to see or hear anything pleasant for two hours. The greatest fan of Dylan I have ever met wears earplugs during his concerts. And Dylan’s voice on his latest album occasionally sounds terrifyingly close to a death rattle. Last week, by way of preparation for a performance at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center my friend put himself on an expectation-suppressing diet of the worst ever Dylan tracks. “I listened to ‘Let’s Stick Together’ from ‘Down in the Groove,’” he reported, “Awful. Just dreadful, and the worst CD sound imaginable. Loved it!”

Brooklyn was Dylan’s last stop on a thirty-three city U.S. tour. And moments into his first set, he had us all wondering once again what we were doing there. As if to underline this question, a mirror was set up, front of stage—face-out. Without any sort of greeting, Dylan entered under his white brimmed hat and croaked “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” indecipherably from behind the keyboard. Only one word really came through: “Whoo-ee!” The earplugs went in next to me, the crowd dug in—silent, enduring. It looked like we were in for another terrible night, but as the song advanced one detected a devious energy in the delivery, a hint that he could give better. And he did—a lot better.

Old songs in new arrangements sounded as though they had just been written, and details to which he gave focused articulation, seemed alive with fresh experience. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, drained of bitterness and self-pity, was sung with mischief, and gentle curiosity. Lines like “You could have done better / But I don’t mind” became almost forgiving. In a haunting rendition of “Visions of Johanna,” he brought immediacy to the smallest fragments of narrative, singing of the room where “the heat pipes just cough” as though he’d just come from a small cramped apartment in the Village. And even when Dylan misses a line, it can seem palpably present to a fan in the grip of aural madness. In the same song, I thought I heard him whisper of “escapades out on the D train” as vividly as though he might have taken the D train to the Barclays Center that evening, but Earplugs (can he lip read Dylan?) turned to me moments after and said, “Skipped a line”.

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TPR Softball: Failure’s No Success at All

July 5, 2012 | by

Somewhere a Hadada quietly weeps.

It’s been a rough two weeks on the diamond for The Paris Review, culminating in an extra-inning loss to a venerable (cough) Harper’s side—a loss that had the ghost of George Plimpton clucking in disapproval. As the calendar flips to July and a once promising season slowly turns to shit, it has become apparent that we are simply not to be trusted. The talent is there, but it’s mercurial, slave to whim and whimsy. As a team we’ve adapted an identity that is generously enigmatic: although capable of lighting up any softball scoreboard in greater Manhattan, lately it seems that we are just trying to get our jerseys on.

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Taylor Mead’s Lost East Village

June 11, 2012 | by

Taylor Mead is dishing gossip. “For our final exam”—in boarding school, where he studied English with the novelist John Horne Burns—“he said, write four hundred to five hundred lines of poetry from memory. It was unbelievable. He killed poetry for me. I haven’t been able to read more than two poems a month since.” Burns would later write a novel loosely based on his time teaching at the school, rife with homosexual undertones. Taylor said he would have enjoyed school if he knew all the great stuff that was happening behind the scenes. “If they want me to make a commencement speech, they better fasten their seat belts,” he joked.

Taylor sat across from me at a small table near the front door of Lucien, a French bistro on First Avenue near the corner of First Street. When I walked in the door, the legendary East Village resident and professional bohemian was already sipping from a glass of Dewar’s, waiting patiently. Lucien is Taylor’s favorite restaurant; it’s one of the few places he leaves the apartment for. At eighty-seven, he still resides in the neighborhood he has called home, more or less, for more than four decades. Now, though, he has trouble walking more than a few blocks. Read More »

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Dear Joan Holloway, Was It Something I Said?

May 31, 2012 | by

Dear Joan,

Just wanted to check in, as I can’t help but feel slightly responsible for your actions in this week’s episode. I thought these letters from the future would do you all some good, providing twenty/twenty hindsight into your blindingly Day-Glo historical moment. But Doc Brown was right: messing with the past can alter the future in unexpected ways. Matthew Weiner and company thrive on this very notion; they’ve remodeled the mid-sixties into an era in which cigarettes don’t cause cancer, and the advertising industry is the pinnacle of glamour, filled with beautiful people in beautiful clothes making eyes at each other across rooms then retreating into bedrooms with beautiful bed frames for bouts of steamy congress in which panties always match the bra, and a woman can achieve orgasm just by inhaling Don’s smoky musk.

No surprise, then, that here in 2012 we’ve gone gaga over sixties style, sporting skinny ties and summer plaids, puffing cigs like we’re unaware of science, and ruining perfectly healthy marriages because, according to Pete Campbell’s friend from the commuter train, variety is the spice of life. We should probably all reread Richard Yates. Maybe it was wrong to tease you with a glimpse into third-wave feminism when the second wave is only now breaking against your shoreline.

But don’t think I’m judging you.Read More »

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A Mark So Fine: Joe Henry and You

May 18, 2012 | by

Photograph by Michael Wilson.

In November of 2001, I picked up Joe Henry’s album Scar and was stunned by the opening track, a slow blues number called “Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation.” Henry, a white man, sang from the point of view of the black icon, expressing the comedian’s love-hate relationship with himself and his audience. Henry had the audacity and sensitivity to pull it off, with help from a spiraling, dipping, dripping saxophone solo by Ornette Coleman.

Scar was released in May of that year. Henry couldn’t have known how tearful the nation would be that fall. He closed the album with these lines from the title track, sung in a careful, mournful tempo:

The blade of our outrageous fortune,
Like a parade, it cuts a path.
Light shows on our foolish way
And darkness on
Our aftermath.

If I love you, to save myself
And you love me because we are
So fool to think that our parade
Could leave a path
And not a scar.
And I love you with all I am
And you love me with what you are,
As pretty as a twisting vine
A mark so fine
But still a scar.

The album resonated with me throughout that first post–September 11 holiday season, more than Dylan’s “Love and Theft”, which was released on that particular Tuesday, a coincidence that generated new claims of clairvoyance from Dylanologists. Henry’s album cuts deeper. Read More »

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