Friday, August 25, 2006

Horses, Scarcely Better

The lawnmower dies as I ease off the throttle. The last of the grass is finally cut. Eleven o'clock in the morning, the good summer sun sinking heavily into the trees. My brother picks me up on the avenue, and we load the lawnmower into the trunk of the Hyundai. Large patches of damp grass slip from the bottom of the machine onto the floor of the trunk. "Why didn't you clean it off?" my brother says. I shrug. I'll vacuum the car out when we get home. Perhaps not. My brother puts the key in the ignition and leans his head back. "Is that gasoline?" The lawnmower, I realize, is probably dripping gas. We head east, my brother turning left, right, right again, left again, and now we're on the road which will take us back to the town I call home for two more weeks. The trip will take us forty minutes, maybe longer. No turning. "Let's stop at McDonald's," I say. "I'll buy." We get out of the car, and, as he shuts the door, my brother wrinkles his nose and says, loudly, emphatically, "Man, this car smells like grass!"

The man in the truck beside us shakes his head.

Michael Dracula + "Destroy Yourself" I have no idea where to listen to this music. The car? Strictly headphones? Near as I can guess, 1963, in thin black slacks, across from a girl with dark make-up who is earnestly seeking the liberation of les femmes québécoise—that would be most likely-nearly-maybe the fitting place to hear this tune. But never the time and the place, and the music all together.

The band is releasing a debut full-length this October, and you can listen to a demo version of the lead single, "What Can I Do For You?", on the label's site. But this tune, "Destroy Yourself", is a simple tune, easily drummed up on a laptop or a four-track. The signature die-away voice and scattered bits of controller.controller guitar are something else, though, middle-of-the-road registers almost-but-not-quite cutting at the memory. Sounds like, then? Sounds like Tom Waits' favourite contemporary adult euro-pop, is what. Not as bad as you were hoping, not as good as you remember, but something there, always there, to make you listen again.

JFK has just been assassinated, Rigaud Mountain will soon see The Great Train Robber Charles Wilson, and the girl across the table is never going to go to bed with you. You squint through your menthol cigarette at the band in the background and think that if you hadn't gotten your hair cut so atrociously the day before, you might hit on the lead singer after the set. You're WAY out of your league.

Nick Hornby + "How To Read" Hornby writes a few words about words:

But I do not wish to produce prose that draws attention to itself, rather than the world it describes, and I certainly don't have the patience to read it. (I suspect that I'm not alone here. That kind of writing tends to be admired more by critics than by book-buyers, if the best-seller lists can be admitted as evidence: the literary novels that have reached a mass audience over the past decade or so usually ask readers to look through a relatively clear pane of glass at their characters.)

Hornby's influences bear him out—he cites Anne Tyler and Dickens among his greatest authorial inspirations, and if there are two clearer narrators of voice over language, please, show me. Hornby's influences also do NOT bear him out—um, Dickens, again? I mean, if there is a MORE famous scribbler of language for the sake of language, a man who created entire worlds out of words, please, then, show him, show her to me. Bleak House, please, the famous beginning:

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

If this is not prose that draws attention to itself, well, what is? The three opening paragraphs of the novel do not contain, between them, a single complete sentence. The place, and not the people, are what make Bleak House so great. The medium and not the message, is what is remembered. Because, sometimes, the paint is also part of the picture. Sure, but was this very wordy Bleak House popular among les peuples? Please. This is Dickens we're talking about. Yes, of course this book was popular: it's still being filmed today!

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