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Beatles, Dylan, Ellington, Roses, Andrew Hill, Vvedensky, John Wilmot + crates of dildos, The Shadow

Tuesday 10/20/20

* On the Beatles' Esher demo of "I'm So Tired," someone plays a tea cup with a spoon.

* The Rolling Stone list way overrates Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. If we're being realistic, then Blonde on Blonde is one of the four or five best recordings of any kind from the last century. You can say what you want about other people, but a lot of that is just saying things about other people. Dylan had more ability. Often when we call something an "all-time" great whatever, there's a degree of pretending going on--the list has to be fleshed out. Not many artists truly separate themselves from everyone else. For a time, Dylan did. I'd say that Blonde on Blonde can stand alongside Art of Fugue, Citizen Kane, In Search of Lost Time, Plato's Republic. Blood on the Tracks is overrated because the album is one-dimensional, which is fine, in a way, because it's a rich dimension, but the band isn't that great. Dylan sings well, but listen to that crack band on Blonde on Blonde. The musicianship on Blood on the Tracks is kind of hack-y. The playing never dazzles you. It's almost like some singer going into a town and playing his material with a local band, rather than taking a group on tour with him. Usually this does not work nearly as well. An exception would be Jerry Lee Lewis with the Nashville Teens at the Star Club in 1964, but he clearly scared them into playing better.

* I saw on Twitter where someone asked people to name a better band than the Beatles. I'm not sure how they meant this, but I take it to mean as players interacting with each other, in their sound, in their "1-2-3-4 and away we go," if you will. I doubt few people interpreted this this way. There is little actual discussion in American life because everything becomes random statements about what one likes best--and what one likes best is always deemed as the best, because people have no clue there is a difference between personal preference and what something objectively is. "My favorite film is X, but I believe the best film is Y," is not something many people have in them. And then insults fly, which are brainless and take the form of "I know you are but what am I." Even adults favor that archetype. Kids are smarter than adults, but that's a conversation for another time. Aaron Cohen, not surprisingly, properly understood what was being asked, and replied with the Ellington band circa 1940, when it had Ben Webster and Jimmy Blanton. This would have been one of my first choices as well. Another would be Andrew Hill's unit for Point of Departure. Also, the Who during the Keith Moon years, and the Stone Roses 1989-90. Somebody said the Motown house band, but they always felt somewhat sterile to me. I think when it's not your material, you're less invested--or, when you're doing something on someone else's behalf.

* Something I should have brought up in last weeks' Downtown segment when we discussed Dracula and Frankenstein was how the monster throws his voice in the latter picture in the lead-up to the wedding. You have a horror film that is also science fiction, and that made it a kind of ghost story, too. There's no explanation for how the monster can do this, but it works, this curve ball which becomes congruous. That's how you want to write. No one sees that coming, no explanation is owed, because it works. When you write, you can lie to your readers. Say one thing, and then completely change it later in the plot. If you blend. Dickens did it with A Christmas Carol, when this huge deal is made about how long this will take, these visitations from the spirits, and it's official policy of the spirit world. He lied. Then it's just, "oh, they did it in one night, cool, we still have time for Christmas." Not anyone can do this. Very few writers. But if you are one of them, you can do it constantly and no one will ever think you ever lied at all in anything you wrote, because you've found another way to put across truths that are more subsuming. It works with the monster because you don't technically know what it's capable of, and it's also off-stage. People tend to have no clue the power of off-stageness. Writers don't write that way--they just subject-verb you to death with walking you through something--which is usually very boring--that is happening.

* Continuing on with sounds--I acquired an inexpensive copy of some of the verse of Alexander Vvedensky. I wrote a feature partially about him for The Nation many years ago, at the start of my career, a look at the Soviet writers of the OBERIU collective. I came home from my ten mile walk--only ran the BC stairs five times--on Sunday, and there was an Amazon package against my door with a friendly note from a neighbor, saying she had accidentally opened my package. Good thing there was nothing compromising in it, though that reminded me of the Earl of Rochester and his crates of dildos, and an anecdote I shared in a joint reading for Between Cloud and Horizon and Dark March at Harvard a bunch of years ago. The Earl--a fine poet himself, whom, actually, I also wrote a lengthy piece on, which Jennifer Szalai had commissioned at Harper's, though I knew she had sent me on a fool's errand, and it ran elsewhere--ordered his dildos by the crate. This is actually true, it's not me being a wiseass. And one night the king--Charles II--needed Rochester for something, because they were buddies, and the Earl dashed off this frantic note that he was unavailable, as he had received a note himself from a friend that the crates of dildos they bought together--they got a rate, as it were--had been stolen off of a coach, so the Earl had to fly in search of the thieves and the dildos, because apparently it took a long time to assemble his bulk orders and he was in need.

* I have been going to bed listening to Orson Welles in The Shadow. I need to meet a Margo Lane. Welles was twenty-two at the time--some people are always just a different age than what their age is. You never really understand the Shadow's power--again, it's that idea of the lie, and not needing to be implicit, but also still being clear. His powers are somewhat like Frankenstein's monster in that wedding scene, actually, with the voice-throwing. I like to think of the Shadow as not being on the premises, but looking in from somewhere else, rather than just going invisible, using mind control, and throwing his voice, which is probably closer to what he does. But you don't really know that. The ambiguity works.


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