Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Monday, April 23, 2007

Failure of the Day: Putting Things in Cans

Thanks to Chris’s Great Big Brain, we spent the weekend in Monterey. Our hotel was swank—we could lie in bed and watch the ocean lap the shore, and so we did, we did. The Nature, she is nice, especially when confined to the other side of the glass. And especially especially when the hotel people bring bagels and hard-boiled eggs and tea right to your bed. Thanks big brain!

We went to the aquarium and saw the otters and the fish and a bunch of totally dud penguins that just stood there with their backs to us. I may have convinced two 8-year-old boys that one of the most spectacularly odd-looking fish, which was the approximate size and shape of a twin mattress, was actually made of paper-maché. I would have believed me at 8.

I also fully embraced the cliché, thanks to our friend Katrina who, the night before we left, read the first paragraph of Cannery Row into our answering machine. Being the Western canon imbecile that I am, I had no idea how good that first paragraph is. And how embarrassing, considering that it is everywhere in Monterey. That paragraph is inescapable—it is quoted on cocktail napkins and big street sign flags and on the sides of buildings, and yet I had, up till now, escaped it.

Chris brought along his copy for me to read in the hotel, and I’ll tell you what, it’s a damn sight better than The Raw Shark Texts, which is terrible but I was sticking with it because I thought it would be a good thematic match for the weekend. But then I went and got all literal, and why not? Really, why not?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Failure of the Day: No Damn Cat. No Damn Cradle.

In The World According to Garp, Garp says of his mother’s death, “I’ll be mourning her privately for the rest of my life. But right now I want to be surrounded by as many people as possible who miss her as much as I do.”
Me, too. Me, too.


LA Times
NY Times
SF Gate
Huffington Post
Aint It Cool News

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Failure of the Day: May’s Might

As though all that new music weren’t enough, this spring is also blooming with new books that are just quivering with promise.

The latest Sherman Alexie book, Flight, is a young adult novel that is, in part, an homage to Slaughterhouse 5, as if I needed more reasons to love Sherman Alexie. It’s terrifically moving and should be required reading for every 15-year-old boy in America, only it won’t be because Alexie for some reason chose to sprinkle the text liberally with fucks and motherfuckers, so it can’t be taught in schools. I get that that’s how the character would actually speak, but it's a terrible shame nevertheless, I think, that it is relegated to being the book your cool uncle gives you rather than something more readily available.

I didn’t keep up with Michael Chabon’s foray into genre fiction, so he hasn’t put out anything new for me since Summerland, which was good, but no Kavalier & Clay. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (out May 1) seems to be skating on the genre fiction/literature divide, but I’m willing to chance it.

And god bless America, shockingly soon after Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, which already was right on the heels of the wonderful Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami’s latest, After Dark, comes out May 8. So! Excited! Of the May releases, this is totally the one I’ll read first. No idea what it’s about, except that there will be a missing woman and probably, some sheep.

And finally, the new Don DeLillo novel, Falling Man, is due May 15. DeLillo intimidates me, big genius and all that, and I haven’t read his back catalogue except for White Noise and The Body Artist, both of which I liked very much and probably didn’t really understand. But it’s not like we have such a surplus of contemporary American literary genius that I can afford to ignore more than the ones I am already ignoring, to my great and lasting shame.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Failure of the Day: Art + Change = ??

YAY! Time for new music!

I am the latest of late birds on the Modest Mouse bandwagon, I realize. When Good News for People Who Like Bad News came out some years ago, I heard bits of it and hated it—it was too deliberate and angular and it just rubbed me all kinds of the wrong way. Which was weird, because everything about it, except how it actually sounded, seemed like it would be right up my alley. But then a few months ago something switched over in my head, and I thought: Modest Mouse! And I downloaded the songs and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t right up my alley. So deliberate! So angular! I loved it!

Their latest, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, is very, very good, even if it sounds quite a lot like the last two records they put out. I myself think growth can be overrated, especially when you are doing something that is already really interesting and cool and good.

The new Arcade Fire is a little bit tougher for me because it drifts into that Springsteenish sound and aesthetic that I find one-dimensional and dull. Other parts of it are rousing and lovely though. It’s hard to tell whether this is one of those times when a band changed in a way that I didn’t care for, or if they just made one brilliant record in the middle of an otherwise uninteresting career. I didn’t like their first EP, but Funeral is so good it makes my teeth hurt. Neon Bible is pretty good despite the over-earnest, gruff-voiced obviousness, but for a record that closes with a track called “My Body Is a Cage,” it seems to me that they had to work really hard to make me not swoon for it.

There is also the new Fountains of Wayne CD, Traffic and Weather, which we will pick up tomorrow. I think they are top-of-the-line pop songwriters despite what the meanest of the ugly kids from high school over at Pitchfork Media have to say about it. Plus, nothing is ever nearly as bad as they say it is.

I have just not been able to get into the new Clap Your Hands Say Yeah record Some Loud Thunder. I loved loved loved their debut, but the new record actually made me MAD. They added a layer of fuzz and distortion over the opening track that struck me as a giant “We’re Artists, so fuck you, listener” statement, and another track consists of the same three words repeated over and over again for what seemed like seven minutes. Even if some other tracks are good, I don’t really care.

Finally, in the course of composing this, I discovered that Nick Cave, who I have long since washed my hands of, grew a moustache and put out something that sounds interesting to me for the first time since Murder Ballads. Reviews of Grinderman describe punk dirges with fuzzy guitars and a song called “No Pussy Blues,” so I'm sticking a cautious toe back in those murky waters. Expectations aren’t high, exactly, but I’ll buy it, which is more than I can say for his last several.