Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bookmarks-Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence

I found Stuart Nicholson's Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence in a used cd shop while looking for the reissue of Metheny and Coleman's Song X (I remember because the printout of information is still in my copy). This book took me two years to read, not because it is bad, but because it is not the sort of book one just sits down and runs through. Part history, part bibliography, part commentary, Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence is a valuable resource, not only about modern jazz, but music in general. I have often joked that the 80s was where music went to die, but Stuart Nicholson's book makes the case, particularly in the opening chapters, that jazz was on the way back. The "return" of jazz was not so much to public awareness (as it very much needs to be), but to a quality and freshness it had enjoyed previously.

Nicholson's book begins with some historical perspective, providing the reader with a sense of what was going on in jazz prior to the 80s. Then he manages to discuss not only the major players in sub-categories, such as hard-bop, free jazz, fusion, and "neo" jazz, but also comments on important and influential musicians that a number of readers have not heard of.

I do think Nicholson is a bit harsh on Wynton Marsalis, but his argument is well reasoned, and is certainly not a rant. I do wish there was more information about some other artists I was interested in, but this book isn't intended to be a compiliation of biographies and discographies. Another, perhaps minor problem, is that the book seemed to have more its fair share of typographical errors. Most books have little flaws that no one notices, and this book is quite readable (Nicholson's prose style is good), but there were certainly enough little errors to catch my attention. This isn't, of course, Nicholson's fault, but Da Capo Press might have invested more energy in catching such problems. It does not detract from the value of the book itself. My copy is a first edition, so perhaps subsequent versions are corrected.

My favorite chapters are those on free jazz and fusion, the first because I felt more informed about a sub-genre I have always been intrigued and mystified by (not that I understand it any better), and the latter because I did find more information about the artists that pretty much brought me to jazz in the first place. Many have maligned the fusion movement, and a handful have praised the top artists too much. But Nicholson manages to keep everything in perspective.

All in all, Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence is a useful and informative book, particularly for those whose love of jazz carries beyond merely putting on a cd as background noise. Those who want to learn about this significant chapter of the world's greatest music should definitely do what they can to find it.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Bookmarks/Film Notes--No Country For Old Men

I had purchased the movie No Country For Old Men on pay per view, and recorded it on my DVR, but waited to watch it until I had read the book. I managed to finish Cormac McCarthy’s novel and watch the film in the same day. Like a number of people I am confused by the material near the end of the book (and the movie didn’t clear it up for me). But I did find the story riveting.

No Country For Old Men is about promises. Not just keeping one’s promises, but the promises one is forced to make in life that cannot be kept and the codes of life that conflict with society and with the codes of other men. McCarthy’s delivery of dialogue takes some getting used to, but is well worth the investment. I found myself intrigued by all the characters. Ed Tom Bell is the wise sheriff trying to save Llewelyn Moss, an ex-sniper turned welder who has stumbled upon two million dollars and who believes he’s smart enough to find a way to keep it. Anton Chigurh is a man whose cold inventiveness would be admirable if he wasn’t a psychopath with an odd code that requires him to not only destroy those who are in his path, but also people who are only tangentially related to his purpose. (And that purpose is not merely, it seems, to recover the money.)

Violence seems to be part and parcel in McCarthy’s world, but not egregiously so, and while the film is bloody in spots, one should notice that the Coen Brothers’ direction is, as usual, spot on, not always showing the gore of violence, but never diminishing its impact. Readers will find that the movie does not deviate from the book too much (though doing so is rarely a problem for me). Tommy Lee Jones (Bell), Javier Bardem (Chigurh), and Josh Brolin (Moss) provide excellent performances. Bardem is particularly chilling as a killer on a mission.

As noted above, the endings of both the novel and the film are a bit confusing, but I am still recommending both. Read McCarthy’s book first, then see the movie. Knowing what happens certainly won’t keep you from watching intently.

Publication Notes -- June 2007

"Peniel" (a poem) has been published at Farrago's Wainscot. In addition to actually getting paid, and finding a home for this piece (written several years ago), I get my work alongside Bryan Dietrich, a terrific poet I met in graduate school. I very much recommend his writing.

"Father Lied" (poem) has been accepted by Silver Boomers Anthology. The book will be Freckles to Wrinkles. Don't know just when this will come out.

"Partito for Continuo" (short story), which was accepted some time ago, should soon see the light of day in Electric Velocipede.

My chapbook Construction was recently rejected. I sent a different chapbook to the Burnside Review contest last week.

I've been a bit disappointed at the slow sales of my stories at Sniplits. One of many signs I've been reading lately about my writing career.

Gathered rejections recently from Poetry, Strong Verse, and Shakespeare's Monkey Review. Strong Verse took less than twenty-four hours to reject four poems, though the editor did have something kind to say about one of them.

School starts next week (well, the Summer II session), so I am hoping I will be able to get in the habit of submitting something everyday until then, and to make at least one submission a week while school is in session. Have been writing, working on a project of linked stories, and have managed to get about 500 words each that I do work. I'll take that as good news.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Bookmarks--Even the Wicked

I suppose that if the protagonist catches three different murderers that I should be excited. Lawrence Block is not writing poorly here and the novel does have some fine, interesting moments, but for some reason, I did not find this as much of a page turner as most of his novels. I suppose that could be that I have read it out of sequence.
Scudder is doing okay. He doesn’t need to take every case that comes his way. His sidekick/friend TJ is bugging him to buy a computer. A friend who believes he is the target of a serial killer who calls himself Will of the People hires Scudder. And he takes on the seemingly random murder of an acquaintance that was already dying of AIDS. There is definitely stuff going on here to keep the reader interested.
I did learn about viatical transactions and was never bored with this tale. However, it would not quite as engaging as most of Block’s novels. Recently Block was on Craig Ferguson plugging Hit and Run. Ferguson asked why there haven’t been any Scudder novels for a few years (three to be exact). Block told him that Scudder was too settled and old. He rather felt that way in this book (though it was published in 1997), but as I said, reading it out of order may have produced that effect on me.