Monday, January 30, 2006

Major and minor in Metallica's One

I mentioned Metallica's song "One" previously. This morning I happened to hear it on the radio, and was struck by the thematic content of the music. Sadly I'm not qualified to comment on the musical aspects, but anyway.

The song has three segments: a lyric acoustic section introducing the thematic material in the a verse/chorus section, which modulates between major and minor, and a mostly instrumental section of either minor or rather monotone virtuosic rhythm-dominated martial music. The lyrics refer to Dalton Trumbo's anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun - the video uses images from the film based on the book. They describe a soldier who has lost the ability to move and wishes only to die.

This morning I thought, damn, there are a lot of major chords in this song, esp. given it's about a guy who wants to kill himself but can't. Most of the vocal material is minor, moving into major at the end of the chorus as the soldier prays to be taken by God. The bulk of the lyrics describe the soldier's situation. So it's no great revelation but what's going on is that the major music represents the longed-for death. And no doubt one could cite similar inversions of life:death::major:minor in Mahler and Schubert and wherever.

I should note that the song does not feel at all schematic - the shifts above occur naturally and elegantly. Too many metal songs start with a lyric acoustic intro and develop according to an imposed pattern. No doubt my roommate was responding in part to "One"'s craft.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

High and medium

The other day we saw the Emerson String Quartet playing the Grieg and Sibelius quartets. I know the works well, having long owned a recording by the Guarneri String Quartet. They make a nice program - indeed, each is fortunate in the other because of that. The Emersons are of course great (though I thought the violins seemed a little less confident in a spot or two than I expected) and I especially enjoyed how clear the textures were.

I prefer the Sibelius quartet, but the Grieg is a fine piece too. At one point there's a lovely bit where the 1st violin and the viola trade phrases of a theme, then end up with a little rocking motif which builds back up to the second theme - magical. At another point the full quartet is really scraping away and I was suddenly reminded of a section in the stark video for Metallica's "One" (which I recall blew my college roommate, no fan of heavy metal, completely away) where the band is shown in a dark space intently playing in tight unison.

I listened to Paul Simon's Graceland again over the holidays. "The way we look to a distant constellation that's dying in the corner of the sky" (from "The Boy in the Bubble") is stuck in my head, esp. the double sense of "the way we look". I've been reading some of William Meredith's poems. I know zip about him, though he has the classic arc (Yale Series of Younger Poets winner, carreer retrospective wins the Pulitzer); but so far he's got a notably warm, reserved, humorous tone combined with a somewhat formal craft - sort of a less Apollonian Wilbur. In his poem "Last Things" there's a line, "In a shed by the side of the road. Cows graze". I instantly flashed on Simon's lines, "It was a slow day/And the sun was beating/On the soldiers by the side of the road" including the "day"/"graze" slant rhyme. And just recently I read a poem making a wry comment on "a dying galaxy" (or something along those lines) which echoed off Simon's phrase above. Sadly I pick up a book and read a poem and drop the book back into the sea all the time.

Update: "Winding joylessly down like burnt-out galaxies" from the same Meredith poem, "Last Things". D'oh.

The New Yorker on Sharon

There's an interesting essay by Ari Shavit of Ha'aretz. Sadly not online. There's nothing earthshattering in it that I can see, but a few points bear brief comment:

Sharon's sons are due a lot of the credit for shifting him centerwards.

Shavit says that Sharon's aides were secretly working on four scenarios, ranging from minimal withdrawal from the West Bank to 92% withdrawal; some in his circle expect a pullback to the security barrier by the end of the decade; but it isn't clear what Sharon himself thought. For that matter, Sharon seems either swayable or very cagey, so it's not possible to predict what he would have done. (A pullback to the fence, then a gradual pullback of the fence over say a decade to a high-90's return of the territories sounds like what one might have hoped for from him, with some international presence in the Jordan valley, and something I would have found reasonable.)

Israel is doing very well of late, economically and otherwise. I knew this from blog discussions, but I haven't seen this fact in the major media, which to be fair I consult much less than before I started reading blogs.

All Elizabeth Bishop, all the time

Following up on "Washington as a Surveyor", the New Yorker has gone Bishop, 24/7. Or anyway there are three poems under her name in the current issue. These are much less finished works, with (I suspect) rather more editorial input, and are in need of either more such or not being presented as poems. "In a Cheap Hotel..." begins:
In a cheap hotel
in a cheap city
Love held his prisoners                     or my love
at which point I knew I was looking at a mess. I've now got a bad feeling about The Uncollected Poems, but we'll see.

Labels: ,

Dear Powers-that-be

So I read "Sundowners" by Monica Ali in the latest New Yorker, and I get the thing about how useful it is to a writer to expose himself to human misery - how it's even better to plunge in and make things worse. But then to sit me two days running at tables next to people having excruciating soul-baring conversations between former friends about relationships torn asunder by unmentioned tragic circumstances (dinner yesterday) or straightforward girlfriend-stealing (lunch today)?

Please send this sort of hint to prose writers. I have no desire to be the neighbor.

The '86 Mets didn't win the World Series

The Washington Post Online revealed to be beamed in from an alternate reality.

Friday, January 20, 2006

William Gibson's Pattern Recognition

Just read William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. It starts off very crisply (whatever that means, sorry) and engagingly, focussing on a sensitive young woman interestingly alienated from popular culture. Apparently at some point in the novel's writing the 9/11 attacks occurred, and (so I guess) the book tries to react to the tragedy but fails to maintain its balance. By the end of the novel, Gibson is so emotionally invested in the main character that the plot seems to warp around her and villians and love interests and every last minor character get whirled into their proper places like billiard balls after an impossibly perfect break. (There's even sort of an apology as a postscript. Please bring me to my senses if I ever write one of those.)

Still, most people will probably find the book worth reading for the first half's fine tone and fascinating ideas.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

NYT: fact or fiction

From a discussion of the factuality of Elie Wiesel's Night:
In the previous translation, published in 1960, the narrator tells a fellow prisoner that he is "not quite 15." But the scene takes place in 1944. Mr. Wiesel, born on Sept. 30, 1928, would have already been 15, going on 16. In the new edition, when asked his age, he replies, "15."

"At no point did this change the meaning and the fact of anything in the book," Ms. Wiesel said. "When I worked on the book, I kidded Elie and told him, 'I don't think you can add.' "

Such arguably insignificant details have at times been seized upon by critics, however. In his 1999 book, "Imagining the Holocaust," Daniel R. Schwarz, a professor of English and a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University, wrote, "Is not this age discrepancy one reason why we ought to think of 'Night' as a novel as well as a memoir?"
Does Schwarz think we're idiots? Is there a there there but this article is wildly inadequate? I ask because I read this note on the flap about the WaPo's ombudsman's disgraceful showing the last few days. According to Atrios and LacDogFeu, the WaPo's claim that the blog had to be shut down due to hateful and profane comments is absurd, and at the very least one gets no idea from the NYT's note what the issue even is.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The BBC is infected

Just heard the BBC news on NPR repeat the Republican canard that Abramoff gave money to both Democrats and Republicans. I treated my steering wheel to a rousing chorus of NO!s. Thanks a lot, Steno Sue.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Unsatisfactory Clyfford Still blogging

Mrs. R.'s workplace threw a holiday party at the SF MOMA. Tres classy. After dinner (ending with small exquisite bread pudding squares) we got docented around the painting galleries. I soon went off on my own, because dammit I want to make up my own mind before getting the official line. One of the works that arrested me was by Clyfford Still, another cantankerous abstract expressionist I was unfamiliar with, in this case in part because his will insists all his unsold work (90% of the total) be exhibited together in a gallery designed to his specifications. The piece in question (see here, and understand the post title) is at first glance entirely black, with an almost tarry impasto surface. One then notices a slit of red decending the painting slightly to the right of center, as if the black had been plastered on over the red but not quite thickly enough. I was enthralled, but then noticed that the lower left corner had been slapdashedly painted red. Suddenly the piece stopped being interesting. I would sneer in Still's general direction if it wasn't too late.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

John Rawls and Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

Wikipedia's entry on John Rawls notes:
Rawls then married Margaret Fox, a Brown graduate, in 1949. Margaret and John had a shared interest in indexing - they spent their first holiday together writing the index for a book on Nietzsche[...] [...] he returned to the United States, serving first as an assistant and then associate professor at Cornell University. In 1962, he became a full professor of philosophy at Cornell[...]
I don't have Kurt Vonnegut's great novel Cat's Cradle in front of me, but I recall that the main character meets a couple (a duprass) who are devoted to indexing. Vonnegut was a student at Cornell, which was sort of the setting of his first novel, Player Piano. I wonder if there's a connection.

Sounds yummy, but with a high awful mess potential

Perfect review of Billy Collins


I have Collins's first four or so books, and used to give copies away to friends, but I've since decided his work is mostly pleasant and competent but nothing more.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

History rhymes

Here. Danziger is one of my favorite editorial cartoonists.

Check out the bird on Bush's no-cattle hat.