Literary Review

Music and Sex #6: New Experiences

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

[Warning: the chapter below contains "adult situations." Seriously, this one's not for the faint-hearted.]

Walter’s new home, Carman Hall, was an utterly soulless pile of cinder blocks. No effort at all had been made, during its design and construction two decades earlier, to build in anything conveying the slightest sense of warmth. No carpeting in either the halls or in the suites, no wood anywhere except the doors, no decorative touches, nothing but bare straight lines. One imagined it had been designed so it could be hosed down with minimum effort between school years to as to be literally as well as aesthetically antiseptic. There was not even any accommodation made for cooking; not only were there no kitchen nooks, even hotplates were forbidden (though, given that they were horrific fire hazards, that made sense, which was not to say that the ban was not widely flouted). Read more »

Music and Sex #5: Marching, Stealing, Singing, Puking, Spinning

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

Other opportunities to interact with women included the marching band. It wasn't much of a band, but that didn't bother Walter; it meant it didn't take up much of his time. With the occasional exception, the same songs were played at every football game, so one rehearsal per week sufficed. In high school he'd been the third or fourth best trombonist, but here there was just one other trombonist, and they were on par with each other. If Walter felt like skipping rehearsal one week, nobody cared, since the music was easy and he could sight-read it adequately.

Nor did he have to practice marching formations, because they really didn't bother with that. Their formations were a sort of rebellion, illustrations synced to the smart-ass script read by the announcer, and they merely ran around between formations instead of marching. The announcer helpfully said in advance what the formation depicted -- "The band now forms a door and plays 'I Hear You Knocking'" -- serving to remind the band members what came next while also explaining to the bemused audience what the sloppy rectangle on the field represented and what the cacophony was supposed to sound like.

When they played a new song, maybe there would be an arrangement written out in advance, but more often a couple of trumpeters would play the melody in a comfortable key, the two tuba players would play chord roots, and everybody else would fake the harmony -- not only was intending complexity bound to not come out right, there was more than enough accidental complexity under normal circumstances. Sometimes the announcer would declare, "The band will now form an amorphous blob," a bit of snarky irony, but the music was often amorphous as well, though never announced as such. (Now that would have been funny.) In other words, precision was not prized beyond generally keeping together. Read more »

Music and Sex #4: West End Follies

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

The bar across Broadway between 113th and 114th Streets, the West End, was supposedly famous. Or at least the orientation materials had seemed to consider it an important part of Columbia history because it had been a hangout for literary figures, some of them Columbia men, though he had not yet read anything by any of them. Of more interest to Walter, there was jazz there. In passing by one Saturday afternoon on the way to Citibank, he'd seen a sign boasting that the Louis Armstrong All Stars were playing. Read more »

Talking Back to The Dean

By Robert Christgau (Dey Street Books)

After a considerable dry spell, my reading life has significantly picked up (possibly due to a sorely unsolicited amount of "free time"). I’ve hungrily paged through some great books in the past few weeks like NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 by Tony Rettman, A Drinking Life by Pete Hammill, Wake Me When It’s Over, the memoir of former Luna Lounge owner Rob Sacher, Diaries 86-89 by Miles Hunt (he of The Wonder Stuff) and, of course, Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. Given my particular predilections, I’m obviously still a sucker for oral histories, tomes about NYC lore and good ol’ rock bios. What can I say? That’s just the type of crap I like.

So you can imagine, then, my enthusiasm upon learning about Going Into The City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man by Robert Christgau, the so-called “Dean of American Rock Critics.” As it’s a memoir purportedly detailing the fabled journalist’s days in the rock trenches as a nascent music scribe in the still-endearingly-gritty New York City of the 1970s, one might be hard pressed to imagine a book better suited to my tastes. Hell, it even boasts a fetching, vintage shot of the Bowery on the cover. Clearly, I was going to devour this book whole. Read more »

Music and Sex #3 - in which our hero's long musical weekend continues, etc.

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress by Roman AkLeff (first installment can be read here; second here (the last paragraph of which was moved into this part).

After the show, Walter took Norman to the West End, where Norman marveled at the broad beer selection. As they slowly worked their way through a small percentage of the fifty-plus on offer, Walter lamented how inferior college was making him feel.

"Screw that," rejoined Norman. "Just have fun and keep learning and next year's freshmen will feel inferior to you. If you already knew everything, you wouldn't have to go to college in the first place. Don't tell me about that, tell me about all the cool stuff you've been doing."

"Well, during orientation there was a great band playing outside for free called So What. I know you're not that into fusion, but they were hot. The guitarist, Steve Bargonetti, graduated last year, but some of them are still going here. The drummer, at least, Steve Shebar, is." Read more »

Music and Sex #2 - in which our hero is taken down a peg but his weekend is saved by rock 'n' roll

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here)

Walter's biggest adjustment to college life was realizing that he wasn't the hot-shit intellectual he'd thought he was. In high school he hadn't been the smartest guy, but he'd felt like he was up there in at least the top five percent. Here he felt like an idiot at times. Senior year in high school he'd officially been the best player on the chess team, and moreover, first board on the first-place team in their league that year. At Columbia, he lost 24 consecutive speed games to one guy and never managed better than a draw with anybody in the chess club before, feeling frustrated and embarrassed, he stopped attending meetings. Read more »

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - first installment

[Editor's note: CultureCatch is going to be supplementing our usual critical fare with more new, previously unpublished creative pieces such as this. We've done a bit of this in the past, most notably with Ken Krimstein's cartoons and Dusty Wright's music; now we plan to increase our publication of this type of content. Please contact us if you would like to contribute original work.

Warning: the chapter below contains "adult situations." But our readers are adults, right?]

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress by Roman AkLeff

"We only walk by continually beginning to fall forward." - William Gibson, Zero History Read more »

Cartoon by Ken Krimstein

From the pen & brain of Ken Krimstein! Check out his latest book, Kvetch as Kvetch Can, too.

The Masters of Musing

Touched By Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley by Gary Lucas (Jawbone Press)

Über rock guitarist Gary Lucas's loving homage to his pupil Jeff Buckley is chock full of fascinating details and minutia that apparently doomed their creative coupling from the get-go. There is no question that they are two tremendously gifted individuals, and that by joining forces they added magic to the world. And it is also quite apparent, especially when you listen to the music they created together, that theirs was a partnership that should have afforded them both so much more. Had Mr. Buckley not taken his solo flight, leaving Mr. Lucas and their Gods & Monsters to soldier on without him, who knows what magic might have been created from their continued collaboration.  Read more »

The Original Mr. Gray

What is the value of art in society, and what are the artist’s moral imperatives? How must artists reconcile their predisposition toward sensory indulgences with modern mores, particularly if they gravitate towards a lifestyle that is largely stigmatized? Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray examined all of these questions. It was a seminal work of Gothic horror literature, and, although he was a highly accomplished playwright and critic, this was the only novel of Wilde’s that was ever published.  Read more »

Mean Greene Machine

greene.jpg Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

Sometime in the late 1960s (1969 to be exact), when Philip Roth was ripping it up with raw liver, Graham Greene -- lauded, praised, lionized - kicked back and created one of his greatest "entertainments," Travels with My Aunt. He has confessed in interviews that this was his most pleasurable writing experience, and all I can say, as a reader, it certainly delivers on the pleasure principal. Interestingly, Greene's Aunt Augusta calls to mind that other great literary free-wheeling aunt of mid-century, Auntie Mame. But Augusta's not merely an eccentric globe-hopper. Aged yet spry, her relations are deep, dark, and strange -- as is her relationship with the narrator, surely the most milquetoasty, recently retired, dahlia-cultivating, bachelor bank manager in literature. Read more »

Wilt-A-Whirl

Sign of FourWilt by Tom Sharpe

There are a lot of definitions of comedy floating around out there. My personal favorite is the theory of "bad to worse." There's something about watching someone go from bad to worse, but still bring cheerful, even upbeat about it, that just cracks me up. It certainly works in Curb Your Enthusiasm, the reigning heavyweight champ. You'll also see it on The Simpsons. Family Guy, ditto. The hell with the three-act, Robert McKee, story-structure hoo-haa. Instead of getting someone up a tree, throwing sticks at him, and getting him back down again, in comedy, for me, it's just about throwing sticks at him. Then trees. Then the whole frickin' Great North Woods. You get the idea. Read more »

Cartoon by Ken Krimstein

Another Ken Krimstein classic! Check out his latest book, Kvetch as Kvetch Can, too.

Woodman's Muse

Woodman's MuseI was flipping through an old magazine and I came across this quote. "I remember the first person I ever laughed at while reading was Max Shulman." I might not have paid any more attention to it than I usually do to denture adhesive ads or reports of alien abductions, except that the person who said it was Woody Allen. And when the Woodman talks, people listen. Well, at least people in the person of me.

But Max who? I Googled away: 1950s writer, originally from Minneapolis, wrote the novel the groundbreaking TV sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was based on. Yeah. And a week or so later, walking past a used book kiosk, there it was. Goofy, '50s New Yorker-style cover. Read more »

Big Biswas

biswas.jpgMohun Biswas is you. When you finish reading the last line of V. S. Naipaul's novel A House for Mr. Biswas, you will feel like a part of your body -- your arm maybe, possibly your leg -- has been removed. Lopped off. Severed. The presence of Mr. Biswas, this ornery, feisty, mean, arrogant, flawed man will have so completely taken you over, you will not be the same person ever again. You will be you plus Biswas.

The magic of Naipaul's long novel is that it has life in it. You may not be of Indian descent. You may not be living in Trinidad during the time of English colonialism. You may not be a man. But as soon as you start reading this book, you will be. Read more »

Syndicate content