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Posts Tagged ‘music’

The Song Stuck in My Head

April 15, 2016 | by

Life is but a day:
A fragile dewdrop on its perilious way
From a tree’s summit
—John Keats

Last night I heard the singer-songwriter Emmy the Great cover “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” It was beautiful. That song is one that lends itself to covers: resolutely gorgeous, flexible enough to allow for interpretation, but always essentially itself. Whether it’s Cat Power, Richard Thompson, Eva Cassidy, or the cast of Pretty Little Liars singing the ballad, the mix of melancholy reflection and bursts of pure feeling can never be less than stunning. (Okay, maybe the Pretty Little Liars version doesn’t quite get there.) Read More »

Staff Picks: The Hatred of Music, the Love of Phlox

April 8, 2016 | by

From the cover of The Hatred of Music.

I love music, but I like to hear both sides of an argument, so I picked up Pascal Quignard’s The Hatred of Music: ten treatises about the danger in listening. Quignard, himself an accomplished listener, aims “to convey to what point music can become an object of hatred to someone who once adored it beyond measure.” In his crosshairs is not so much music itself but the omnipresence of sound, which has, he argues, metastasized into a force of death more than of life. Quignard can be ponderous—you can imagine him plugging his ears at a Selena Gomez concert—but I can’t deny the depth of his thinking, to say nothing of his gift for aphorism. (“Everything is covered in blood related to sound”; “Rhythm holds man and attaches him like a skin on a drum”; “Concert halls are inveterate caves whose god is time.”) As a kind of lyrical discourse on how we hear, The Hatred of Music belongs on the shelf next to Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise. The second treatise, “It So Happens that Ears Have No Eyelids,” offers this: “What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls. Undelimitable, it is impossible to protect oneself from it … Sound rushes in. It violates.” I read those words on the subway, as the train groaned into a turn and EDM bled from my neighbor’s headphones. —Dan Piepenbring

Every winter and spring, I receive reams of garden and seed catalogues. Perusing them is, for me, akin to reading a good book and requires that I find a quiet, comfortable spot and consider each page with care. The photographs and copy vary in quality from catalogue to catalogue (I have my favorites), but each nevertheless brings what Katharine White calls “dreams of garden glory.” White became The New Yorker’s first fiction editor in 1925; three years later, the magazine published her first entry in the “Onward and Upward in the Garden” column, in which she wrote on seed and nursery catalogues, gardening books, and her own amateur attempts at floriculture. Last year, New York Review Books collected her fourteen columns. I recognize myself in much of what she writes: when, for instance, she cannot bring herself to stop acquiring plants or when she feels at once cheated and culpable for a plant’s failure to thrive. Mostly, though, I enjoy the moments in which she writes appreciatively of garden life: “Today I’d like nothing more strenuous than to sit still and admire the huge heads of phlox that the wet season has produced in the perennial borders and watch the bees sipping nectar from the poisonous monkshood and plundering the lavender spikes of the veronicas.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »

Merle Haggard, 1937–2016

April 8, 2016 | by

The cover of Serving 190 Proof, 1979.

Ever since I started editing The Paris Review, I’ve wished we could interview Merle Haggard. No songwriter means as much to me. Unfortunately, the Review doesn’t have a series on the Art of Songwriting (and for good reasons), so for the past six years I just wished. Then last Friday, at a friend’s wedding, I met a country deejay named Rebecca Birmingham. We happened to start talking about Merle and how much his songs moved us both, how true they were to experience, how original they sound even now. We both knew he was in poor health, he’d been in poor health for years, but she had a friend who’d know how to get in touch … Four days later we got the news that he was dead. Read More »

In Tangier with a Beetle and a Tape Recorder, and Other News

March 31, 2016 | by

Paul Bowles in Morocco, ca. 1970.

  • Imre Kertész, a Holocaust survivor whose novels won him the Nobel Prize, died this morning at eighty-six. “I was able use my own life to study how somebody can survive this particularly cruel brand of totalitarianism,” he told The Paris Review in 2013. “I didn’t want to commit suicide, but then I didn’t want to become a writer either—at least not initially. I rejected that idea for a long time, but then I realized that I would have to write, write about the astonishment and the dismay of the witness—Is that what you are going to do to us? How could we survive something like this, and understand it, too?”
  • Olivia Laing’s book The Lonely City takes David Wojnarowicz as one of its subjects. With Rebecca Mead, she looked at some of his early work: “The other day, Laing was in New York, and she stopped by the Fales Library, at N.Y.U., where Wojnarowicz’s archive is kept: photographs, diaries, recordings, and an orange crate crammed with odds and ends which he called his ‘Magic Box.’ ‘It feels like his work has this capacity for resisting all those silencings and false histories,’ Laing said, as she opened a folder containing an early series, ‘Arthur Rimbaud in New York.’ The photographs, taken by Wojnarowicz in the late seventies, show a figure wearing a mask of the French poet’s face while riding the subway, masturbating in bed, wandering the decrepit Hudson River piers. ‘I can’t think of another artist who works in that same way—the more that attempts at silencing happen, the more potent they become,’ she said.”
  • In 1947, Paul Bowles moved to Tangier and began writing The Sheltering Sky. Ten years later, he returned to the city to make field recordings of its vibrant music, now reissued as The Music of Morocco: “As Bowles saw it, Morocco’s sounds were forms of experience that had yet to be contaminated by Western influence … Bowles set off on his first recording expedition in mid-July 1959 in a Volkswagen Beetle that belonged to a Canadian expatriate friend, Christopher Wanklyn. He was forty-eight years old … Over the next five months, they took four separate trips—covering a distance Bowles estimated at 25,000 miles—returning to Tangier for a few days after each journey so that Bowles could check in on his wife, who was ill. Bowles recorded 250 pieces of music, in twenty-two separate locations, with an unwieldy twenty-eight-pound Ampex 601 tape recorder.”
  • In midcentury Britain, where it was officially illegal to be gay, a secret language called Polari emerged as a means of clandestine communication: “Polari is a language of, in linguistic professor Paul Baker’s words, ‘fast put-downs, ironic self-parody and theatrical exaggeration.’ Its vocabulary is derived from a mishmash of Italian, Romani, Yiddish, Cockney rhyming slang, backslang—as in riah to mean ‘hair’—and cant, a language used by eighteenth-century traveling performers, criminals, and carnival workers. Many of the words are sexual, anatomical, or euphemisms for police … During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the language was used by merchant seafarers and people who frequented the pubs around London’s docks. In the 1930s it was spoken among the theater types of the West End, from which it crossed over to the city’s gay pubs, gaining its status as the secret language of gay men.”
  • If you like your dead languages a little older, try Etruscan. Though few examples of it survive, archaeologists have just unearthed a five-hundred-pound slab of sandstone with seventy legible letters and punctuation marks—so things are about to get easier for the novice speakers. “Researchers with the University of Florence will be examining and conserving the sixth-century BCE stone … Being that it was found at a temple, salvaged for its foundation some 2,500 years ago, it’s likely the writing may relate to religion, potentially filling in gaps in historic knowledge of Etruscan practices … Deciphering Etruscan can still be difficult, as no literature or major written work still exists, and although it shares characteristics with the Greek alphabet, it was distinct.”

Worst. Kid. Song. Ever.

March 28, 2016 | by

The other day, my husband and I were talking about putting together a playlist for our nieces: a list of empowering, kid-appropriate songs in which women were treated with respect. We had fun thinking of titles: Aretha and All Hail the Queen and plenty of Dolly, for sure. But also Belle and Sebastian and sixties Brit pop. I started a Spotify station based on “I’m Into Something Good” because I’ve always thought the lines “So I asked to see her again / And she told me I could” were sweet.

And then, from this place of idealism, came perhaps the most inappropriate song to place on a little girl’s playlist ever written. 1964’s “Little Children,” which was a number-one UK hit for Billy Jay Kramer and went on to chart at number seven Stateside. Read More »

Branded Man

March 23, 2016 | by

The long tradition of outlaw poets.

From the cover of Merle Haggard’s Branded Man, 1967.

Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on Austin Reed’s The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict, here.

Early in the first volume of Panegyric—the bad-tempered, ironically self-deprecating eulogy he wrote for himself in the late eighties­—Guy Debord sang the praises of a kind of writer he knew he could never become. “There have always been artists and poets capable of living in violence,” he wrote. “The impatient Marlowe died, knife in hand, arguing over a tavern bill.” Five hundred years earlier, in the picture Debord goes on to imagine, the medieval poet François Villon presided over a cluster of writers who lived raggedly and riskily at the banks of the Seine. These were outlaw poets, “devotees of the dangerous life”­—starved, browbeaten figures for whom pariahdom, persecution, imprisonment and homelessness were both facts of life and the materials out of which they made their art.

Outlaw poets are what certain prison writers become when their term is up—when they’ve been let loose into a world that spurns them and whose values they reject. In some cases, the poetry they write from this position turns out bitter, sour, and defiantly indigestible, full of lines that dare their civilized, comfortable readers to tolerate rude language, unhinged imagery, and wild variations in refinement and shape. In others, it comes off as a seductive, pining lament, a plea for pardon or a performance of rueful self-blame. Some of the great outlaw poets shuffle unpredictably between these two tones. “I’d like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am,” Merle Haggard sang in 1967, less than a decade after the end of his two-year term in San Quentin: “but they won’t let my secret go untold; / I paid the debt I owed ’em, / but they’re still not satisfied; / Now I’m a branded man / out in the cold.” He could write an equally convincing song that placed the fault on precisely the opposite side: “Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied; / that leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried.” Read More »