Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I've Written A Piece For Them Called Spider Symphony Number Ten

The thing about crap jobs is that they're crap. You'd think that would be obvious going in, but not so. Whatevs. Plus, I left my cell at work. I HATE that. That's like leaving your best sweater at your friend's before a first-date night x 10! Right now, I'm so tired, I'm not even going to finish this post until tomorrow morning (today, to you, I suppose). I'm taking my black oxfords off, I'm hitting the shower, I'm having tea and kimchi or maybe something else. Maybe I'll give C a call again, maybe I'll read the editorials in the Tuesday Post. Doubtless my cat will sit in the chair across from me while I eat. Good night and good-morning.

"Past, Present, And Future (Live)" + Jens Lekman Morrissey was outdone on this one. Self-pity and pitiless carelessness for the self mashed up by a sixties girl band and covered by a Swedish singing phenom now trying to hack it in suburban LA. This song is the live version—the full applause from the audience at the end of the music is wonderful to hear, especially after Jens has just sung, "But don't try to touch me, don't try to touch me / Cause that will never happen again." Jens Lekman is a sort of genius, I think. His throw-aways are better than many bands' singles. His spider-babies song, for instance—"Boisa-bis-o-boisa"—was a bleeding slice of brilliance, too, say a theme song sung softly by the crow in Alice In Wonderland, or a Neil Gaiman character. Jens has masterpieces out there with "You Are The Light" and "Rocky Dennis' Farewell Song To The Blind Girl" and "Black Cab" and the hugely under-rated "Pocketful Of Money" and—oh, you get the idea. You understand me. This is a guy who wrote and sang and sings, "Oh, I still remember Regulate with Warren G / That would have been back in the sweet summmer of nineteen-ninety-three." Godsake, the Warren G was the unnofficial theme song of this grocery store I worked in back in the day! But it's that big rich voice of Jens, right? Those intricate and clever but also heartfelt lyrics, right? The Stephen Merrit of him, the Morrissey of the man. What I'm hoping, here, is that you are a JL fan. And, if you're not, that you will dl these very minor efforts by a very talented songwriter and say, "Sweet Lord, if these are the crumbs from the table, what's the full-meal-deal taste like?" Oh, I forgot, "F-Word" is better than a masterpiece, it's perfect. Long as you like cats.

[Edit/update: This is horrible news (via Said The Gramaphone). Jens is saying he's giving up the game, at least for a few years. Touring has basically wrecked his life and he's going to look for a day-job. His last show will be in Athens, Greece. Horrible news, that is, for his fans. With any luck, it will end up being good news for Jens. I so wished to hear him, though, and can hardly believe his tour was not a mega-blowout success. Every song he sings is a single. I hope, one day, that I look up from my coffee or cheap shiraz (hell, why not?) to hear the opening notes of "Maple Leaves" and see a mild-looking man playing the piano in the suddenly-brightest corner of the room. Don't give up on music forever, Jens.]

Prester John + John Buchan Remember this? "Look for a small humourous anecdote touching on Thomas Wolfe, a yellow Volkswagon, my Dad's Winchester .303, casting for the upcoming Rocky VI film, and a flourescent purple bikini." I lied. That was just to hook the unsuspecting reader of this blog. The good news is that there's an even better story here, something along the lines of Rider Haggard, but oh so much better. This is Buchan's finest work (and, yes, I've read The Thirty-nine Steps), perhaps only equalled by Buchan's excellent but entirely different Sick Heart River. PJ is the kind of book R.L. Stevenson would have written, if he'd had enough time in his short life. The hero of this novel is the eponymous British lad, the good old boy, the man who makes good, etcetera. The villain is completely out of the ordinary. The Reverend John Laputa is leading the native people of Africa against the colonial powers. He's doing this with the aid of a symbolic/talismanic necklace representing his royal African descent from the legendary Christian Prester John, with the help of a couple of sucker-trash Europeans from the shady side of the Mediterranean, with the charity of the English people he cons on cash-cow tours of Britain and, most importantly, with his own powerful charming force of character. Now, everything in this book is seen from the pov of the protagonist, Davie Burns. There's a lot of casual racism in this book. The kaffir negro is described a pitiful animal-like beggar lucky to be allowed employment in the colonial world of the British Empire. The Dutch do not get off much better. The lone Portuguese man is worse than both combined. John Laputa/Prester John is always clearly a man apart from his brother Africans, an exceptional human being. How much of this racism is the view of the hero as opposed to the view of the author is unclear, but it's there, and there's plenty enough of it. But it becomes part of the terms of the story, this racism; the terms of the large and careless empires which men could establish by sheer force of will—and corruption on every level. The plot of the story is nigh frantic, beginning with an eerie childhood encounter with the young man who will be become the Prester John. Davie Burns is then sent out to Africa, to earn his keep. He encounters very suspicious activity among the native Africans of the back country, and gets caught up in the just-hatching native rebellion to such an extent that at one time he finds himself in a large cave, surrounded by thousands of Africans, pledging enthusiastic heartfelt allegiance to Prester John in the person of John Laputa. The atmosphere of this book is of worlds at stake, of great lion-hearts struggling for expression, of harsh African country-side and the harsh measures by which men live. This book is a book, above all, of atmosphere. Additionally, it's a standout from the normal boy's-own-adventures of its day, because the obstacles which must be removed from the adventurer's path (I'm talking DB, here) are really the pillars and foundation of the adventurer's world. After the rebellion is quashed, there is nothing left for Davie Burns. He is facing a successful retirement at twenty-five years old. He is not displeased with his circumstances, but he is discontent, with less of the whole "no more worlds to conquer" idea and more of the "isn't it a pity" sensation. And the book ends. It's brilliant. Please read and enjoy.

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