Literary Review

All This And Something More...

Tony Fletcher 
A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths
(Crown Archetype) 

For a band whose dying gasp came over two decades ago, the Smiths' brief, entire career has been barely scrutinized. Initially there was the stodgy Severed Alliance by Johnny Rogan, which has long just about sufficed in the absence of anything more, and there has been a ceaseless, incoming tide of books about the songs, and the aura which surrounds their apostle-like leader, Morrissey, when all that was really required was a clear-headed history, a factual consideration, as to why they sprang into life. Tony Fletcher has finally created that with A Light That Never Goes Out, a reasoned, logical, and unhurried recreation of their initially unlikely route to fame.

Journey through the Past

Neil Young
Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream
(Blue Rider/Penguin)

If you want a (mostly) chronologically structured and exhaustively detailed biography of Neil Young, you want Jimmy McDonough's Shakey, a nearly 800-page tome published in 2002. If you want the full flavor of Young's mind and obsessions and thought patterns, full of quirky insights -- and what fan doesn't? – you will be unable to resist Waging Heavy Peace. Though either flawed or willfully eccentric, depending on one's perspective, it's mostly a compelling read.

I have a sneaking suspicion that part of the reason this book is non-chronologically structured and doesn't cover all of Young's career is that he read Dylan's Chronicles, Volume One, which does the same thing. But Chronicles is far more tautly structured and thorough in what it does cover. Young just rambles and free-associates.

The Endlessly Fascinating Life of Glenn Gould from Twenty Perspectives

Colin Eatock
Glenn Gould: Twenty Interviews with People Who Knew Him (Penumbra Press)

There have been a lot of books about Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist who revolutionized classical music in his 30-year career. Eatock counts 31 and admits that some of the people he interviewed had to be convinced that adding another one was worthwhile. But this one's different. It is by far the most multi-faceted, and also the most personal. Somehow, Eatock persuaded friends and colleagues -- and even an ex-girlfriend -- of the pianist to talk in depth about the highly private Gould, who would be celebrating his 80th birthday now if not for a fatal stroke 30 years ago.

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920 - June 5, 2012)

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."

So said Ray Bradbury. Of Waukegan, Illinois. And, it must also be noted, of Planet Earth.

Bradbury was a nerd. He was into Zen. He has been branded a Sci-Fi writer. Minimized. But for his 92 years, he wrote like he was more than drunk. He wrote like he was infected with an Ebola Virus of Words. A stylist? I'll leave that to the English Departments. A font of ideas? Bradbury didn't just spin them out, he birthed them with a fury and vision no writer of our era has matched. His invention and dystopic vision could go trope to trope with Philip K. Dick, his humor rivaled Roald Dahl, his grasp of the fact that many of the facts of life could only truly be revealed through Science Fiction was right there with Arthur C. Clarke. Truffaut adapted him -- and so did Hitchcock.

Peter Bergman 1939-2012

Comedy has lost one of its great innovators -- Firesign Theatre founding member Peter Bergman died Friday, March 9, 2012 due to complications from leukemia. He and his cohorts reinvented comedy with surreal, multi-layered socio-political critiques and wild wordplay. Phil Austin, Bergman, David Ossman, and Philip Proctor debuted as the Firesign Theatre in 1966 and became cult heroes by breaking or ignoring boundaries with their surreal, complexly layered material. Their work forms an ongoing critique of modern society, media saturation, and technological alienation, but they are far from overly intellectual, lacing their routines with crazy puns, twisted pop-culture references, and warped -- or invented -- folk sayings and catchphrases. To appreciate their Dadaist comedy requires a long attention span, willingness to follow free associations, and attention to detail.

ANNIVERSARIES: The Greatest Day in the History of Modern Literature? February 2, 1922

There is no such thing as the greatest anything. Greatness is subjective. But if, for the sake of argument, or fun, or obsession, or whatever, we choose to at least toy with the concept of greatest modern novel, James Joyce's Ulysses is considered by many to be the frontrunner. And were one to attempt the hopeless task of choosing the greatest book of modern poetry, Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus would be a strong contender.

Books & Drugs & Rock & Roll: Peter Burton 1945-2011

In a life that could have stepped straight from the pages of his beloved Dickens, albeit a 20th century and queer version, Peter William Burton was a boy of humble Hackney origins, born as the Second World War staggered to a close, who by dint of an extraordinary passion for books blazed a fascinating trail. His father was homosexual. Common of many of his kind, then persecuted, he married as a means of disguise. Like father like son, but their shared sexuality gave them nothing in common. What it created was an unhappy backdrop for growing up, and a desire to leave home and school as soon as possible. When he read the eulogy at his father's funeral, he stated, "George Burton was an old bugger!" Most of those gathered assumed he was being affectionately ribald. He was in fact being bluntly truthful. It is a great shame that he never wrote a book about this unusual, if imperfect, relationship. It would have made an extraordinary epistle, especially from the pen of one with both an eye for detail and an acute sense of mischief. 

The Heartbreaking Life and Poetry of Fumiko Nakajo

Hatsue Kawamura and Jane Reichhold
Breasts of Snow - Fumiko Nakajo: Her tanka and her life (The Japan Times)

It is amazing to me that I did not come across the work of Fumiko Nakajo until this year. No poems in Kenneth Rexroth’s three main Japanese translations (One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese, not even Women Poets of Japan), or in The Poetry of Postwar Japan (ed. Kijima Hajime), or in Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson’s From the Country of Eight Islands. Unrepresented in any of the more general poetry compilations in my collection.

Finally, combing Wikipedia while researching an article about what an amazing literary year 1922 was, I clicked on her name (she was born in 1922) because I was also on the lookout for more Japanese female poets to include in one of my musical projects. When I read the brief Wikipedia article on her, I quickly became eager to know more after learning that she was a tanka poet and that she had died at age 31 from breast cancer (I have friends who battle that cruel affliction). Noting that there was a book – this book – cited in her Wikipedia bio, I bought the only reasonably priced copy available on Amazon.