Conversations With Ben Greenman

Newly up at The Rumpus, a conversation with Ben Greenman. Which is, in some ways, a followup to an earlier conversation with the writer in question.

You mean how much reality has to be in unreality? I’d say that it has to be mostly real: what is extraordinary about those locations, about those times and places, have to fade away pretty quickly so that they seem like normal places. The strangeness of them remains, of course, and hopefully it gives the stories a certain quality: alienation, oddness, a face glimpsed in a funhouse mirror.

If you’d like, please give the whole thing a read.

ATPNY 2010

Also: figured I should, perhaps, say something about my time at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival this past weekend. Which I’ll do very quickly, with some brief rundowns of the festival’s musical highlights:

* Fucked Up: I’m planning to write something lengthier about their set for Vol.1, but for now: damn right, that’s some hardcore. And it’s hardcore that I can enjoy both as straight-up hardcore and complex, challenging music in its own right.

* The Breeders: For me, the most ebullient, joyful moment of the festival. Spot-on pop songs old and new.

* Sunn 0)))/Boris: Liked this quite a bit more than I was expecting; Jesse Sykes’s vocal turn provided an emotional connection that helped pull me in. Unintentionally bizarre/hilarious moment: at one point, one of the guys on stage, clad in black robes and a hood, began playing the trombone. Which made sense sonically, but created a visual image that evoked the Grim Reaper playing in a Dixieland band.

* Sleepy Sun: Damn good expansive rock music. I heard the harmonies and was reminded of Bonnie Prince Billy’s The Letting Go; the esteemed Daphne Carr heard the expansiveness and volleyed out a Storm in Heaven reference.

* White Hills: Psych-rock songs that were, in fact, songs, and a stage presence that found quiet precision mixing with explosive, violent energy.

* Hannibal Buress: Dude pretty much had me when he started making fun of guys with handlebar mustaches.

* Explosions in the Sky: I’ve had tickets to see this band three times, and three times I’ve been laid up with a 24-hour bug. Finally got to see them live, and they did not disappoint; the the loud/quiet/loud/really, really loud dynamic was in full effect, and it was kind of glorious.

Montreal & the novels set there

In brief: I’ve just finished Emily St. John Mandel’s Last Night in Montreal.

montreal_pb_lrgAnd it’s quite good — the sort of book that opens suggesting it’ll be one thing and rapidly becomes something very different, a narrative that seems straightforward at first giving way to something much more fragmented.

I don’t want to go into too much detail on the book, but it’s got a bit of a love story and a bit of noir and a bit of travelogue and some smart ruminations on language.  The fractured structure works quite well, and Mandel’s honest y about her characters’ flaws is impressive; the novel as a whole comes highly recommended.

Hallucination Punk

So! Not long ago, I talked about Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps at Vol.1; Ms. Krilanovich has now contributed a Book Notes column to Largehearted Boy. And it’s terrific, not just from the music chosen, but because of sections like this:

I wanted the music to play into the idea of “excess.” That is one of the great things about the form of the novel, that possibility of (invitation to?) excess. Here you have this vast space you can run amok in, with so many places to hide.

Seriously, read the whole thing. She also uses the phrase “a garage rock Fraggle,” which I need to begin incorporating into daily conversation.

Two Reviews

Up today at Dusted: thoughts on Bon Iver member S. Carey’s All We Grow, which I liked overall. I’m curious to see where Carey’s next album goes, however — when All We Grow was good, it was quite compelling, but there were some aspect to the album of which I was less fond.

Also in the “recent reviews” camp: at Tiny Mix Tapes, I discussed  the Carissa’s Wierd collection They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave: Songs 1996-2003. So hey, you might want to check that out as well.

Weekend Reading: Gender & Rock.

Two worthwhile pieces for your weekend reading.

In the first, Amy Klein, guitarist for the excellent punk rock band Titus Andronicus, takes a look at the new issue of Rolling Stone and its handling of gender. She then ties this in with a larger political narrative which, I would argue, makes no small amount of sense. Definitely worth a read. (Hat-tip to Maura for the link.)

The second is Jamie Peck’s profile of Frankie Rose for NY Press. Which both functions as both a fine overview of the musical history of the drummer-turned-bandleader (whose upcoming album is terrific) and a spot-on take of the gender issues contained in the indie rock scene of today. (Of which, sadly, there are many.)

If “Psychic junkie vampires” doesn’t get your attention…

I reviewed The Orange Eats Creeps, Grace Krilanovich’s surreal novel of vampires, ESP, and punk rock,  for Vol.1. You can read said review here; here’s a bit of it:

It’s possible that Krilanovich’s gangs of pill-popping, train-jumping, Pacific Northwestern vampires are vampiric in metaphor only. It’s never clear, but that lack of clarity is the point – somewhere partway through the novel, its nameless narrator left to her own devices, it becomes apparent that the shape of her head is far more important than whether or not some straight-edge Van Helsing will eventually show up, stake in hand.

There’s also some discussion of the book at HTML Giant, and a trailer for it below. Something that didn’t make it in to my review but may be relevant to yesterday’s Gowns-related post: I found myself mentally cueing up Gowns’ “White Like Heaven” as I read Krilanovich’s novel. Which is likely not going to make a lot of sense to anyone reading this who is not, well, me. But still.

The number one and the word “volume”

For what it’s worth, I’m doing a bit more blogging these days over at Vol.1. Some recent posts there include:

Also, a few of the reviews that I wrote for the now-apparently-defunct Lit Mob will be given new life at Vol.1. The first, on Tony O’Neill’s Down and Out on Murder Mile, is now up.

(I am also going to try to do these sorts of posts more frequently.)

(I cannot think of a good play on “metadata” right now. My apologies.)

My first sudden reaction of the night was that Till Fellner’s recording of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” would make excellent for the night’s editing.

My second sudden reaction of the night had to do with the amount of classical music in my collection. In my apartment, I generally listen to music in one of two rooms: my office, where the preferred format is digital and the playback device is my computer; and my living room, where the turntable and CD changer live. All of which means that, while most of the music I have exists in multiple formats, some can only be played in one room or another. And while some of the classical music I have might be well-suited to editing, iTunes (understandably) doesn’t default to a “search by composer” mode, which can make things problematic.

Alternately: take it away, Nico Muhly:

If you listen to a lot of classical music, you know what I’m talking about: whole CD’s, with each track assigned to a different artist. It’s like, Lorraine Hunt with the orchestra of the age of whatever. Lorraine Hunt + Random Tenor + That orchestra + That Lutenist whose name I forgot. Lorraine Hunt + That Lutenist + That Oboe d’Amore-ist whose name I forgot.


Notes on “Three Delays”

Inspired by a glowing Rick Moody review in The Believer, I recently picked up Charlie Smith’s novel Three Delays. “[I]t makes the entire shelf of novels from the last generation superfluous,” says Moody? Sure, I’m in.


Right about now, I’m about two-thirds of the way through the novel. (So…two delays, then?) I have to say, I’m kind of regretting not emulating the  daily Infinite Jest blogging done recently over at Bookavore. Three Delays is the kind of novel where my reactions shifted wildly every sixty pages or so, and I suspect that being able to track those shifts in opinion over time would have been entertaining. I began by finding the narrator (Billy) difficult to take, obsessive and temperamental and, generally, the kind of guy you’d hate to wind up talking with at a bar at three a.m. Then Billy let slip something about his past as a child preacher, and my take on him shifted; there was still a bit of an overly hard-boiled quality to the narration, but it too slipped away, and the perspective shifted so that the gap between author and narrator was more visible.

Two-thirds of the way through, and I’m still hooked, though a lot will depend on how Smith brings it all together. It doesn’t shy away from grand themes: love! And religion! And madness! And drugs! And art! It’s written in a style that alternately dwells on the moment and is effortlessly able to condense years of shared history into a few sentences. Still: for a story that’s intimate in scope, Smith’s ambitions are grand indeed. I have a day or two to go, and I’m fascinated to see where it’s all going to end up.

Design (department of scowl)

So: decided to do a quick theme-change here, for no apparent reason. I have plans afoot for a much larger-scale renovation around here , but for the time being, I figured I’d shift a few things around and see how it looked. The theme in use is The Erudite by Matt Wiebe; I’ll be getting working some kinks out over the next few days.

On Small Presses + Design Restrictions

This isn’t a post about starting a small press. Though I have to say, between Jackie Corley’s two posts so far on the subject and the announcement of Publishing Genius’s Awesome Machine imprint, it’s something that’s been running through my mind more than usual lately. In lieu of having, say, a book I’d like to release on a theoretical small press, my mind turns to the look and feel of things — hence, these ramblings.

There’s something appealing about developing an aesthetic, of working with restrictions (say, no color on the covers) and making that into an asset. I recently read an old New Directions edition of John Hawkes’s Travesty, and the cover artwork manages to be distinctive using only a dissected photograph and a pair of typefaces.

There’s also something appealing about experimenting with the tactile. Not long ago, I picked up Wild Nothing’s Gemini on LP. Their label, Captured Tracks, released a limited edition of this album with silkscreened covers; it turned the cover image from something lush and surreal to something timeless, and made it tactile in the process. I’d think something like this (taking a certain number of each print run and silkscreening covers, for instance) would be doable in the print realm as well.

Mostly just thinking out loud, at present. But I can’t deny that the challenge of creating a distinctive look and feel for the paperback editions* of this theoretical press has a pretty significant appeal; of, essentially, creating the sort of books that would draw my eye by being distinctive from the editions around them.

*-I assume there would also be digital editions involved as well.