Thursday, May 30, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "MILK OF AMNESIA" by Donna Lethal

First, there's the name of the book: "MILK OF AMNESIA", a malapropism I've always loved that's recently been applied to Propofol, the drug that killed Michael Jackson. Secondly, and more importantly, the book. It's great! Donna Lethal's 2011 memoir of her misbegotten childhood and teenage years in Lowell, MA has enough pathos and humor for several lifetimes, and it reminds me that I need to be scouring the small presses a little bit more in search of gems like this one. Her book came out on New Texture, and it's not simply her first book, it's her only. I powered through it in two sittings and was supremely bummed as it was wrapping up.

Memoir is a tricky game. Go too deep into navel-gazing detail, and you'll lose your audience in esoterica that matters greatly to you but won't resonate in the slightest with them. Skim too high, and you'll run the risk that your themes and stories aren't relatable or interesting enough. Donna Lethal hits dead-on, right where it counts, though woe be to you if you actually relate to her wacked-out family stories closely. Her 70s and early 80s youth in blue-collar Lowell provide many lessons in bad parenting, quite simpatico for me in that I'm of a similar age bracket, and familiar with hands-off style so prevalent in the 70s in my and all my friends' houses (TV-as-babysitter, go wherever you want as long as you're home by 6, etc.). Her parents took it to a more, uh, "elevated" place: 

I prefer to call my parents' style with us laissez-faire because it sounds so much better than the other words people – like therapists and 12-step groups and social workers and guidance counselors and police – use. Besides, everything sounds better in French, doesn't it?

Her brother is a miscreant ne'er-do-well who beats her up, steals, lies and ends up in jail, with a brain-damaged girlfriend and another on the side. Her mother is purportedly a good Catholic, suffering under a heavy anvil of guilt and disgust, and drinking herself to sleep every night. Her father, whom it's clear she then and now adores and relates the most to, is an adulterous, thieving bookmaker who also served some time in the pokey. Yet he also shares a devil-may-care attitude to life's travails with his daughter, and they have a similar retro-cultural aesthetic which bonds them fairly tightly. Circling their orbit are a variety of hustlers, drug abusers, religious goofballs and 70s archetypes whom we only recognize in the rear view mirror as being somewhat typical of their age – though grotesque and strange now.

Donna Lethal was one of those kids – you might have been one of them – who are desperately counting the weeks until they're able to move away from home and out of their hometowns. The only punk rocker in her school, she fled for Boston and a community of other misfits with whom she could not simply relate but commiserate and celebrate with. You get the sense that she successfully avoided many if not most of the excesses of her upbringing – the drugs and alcoholism especially, one horrific get-rid-of-my-brother's-cocaine-by-snorting-it-all story notwithstanding. Clear-eyed and grown up a little too early, she does a great job of relating those moments in childhood when you realize that the adults that surround you are not infallible, and that they may in fact be hoodwinking you across the board.

Her stories are told in overlapping chunks, sometimes in as little as a page and half, never exceeding 6 or 7 pages. She does it to great effect, and wastes very few words. Much as I loved Dan Fante's memoir romp through similar terrain, "FANTE: A FAMILY'S LEGACY OF DRINKING, WRITING & SURVIVING", this one's even better. Support the small press arts and the pre-ebook world and grab a paper copy of "Milk of Amnesia" here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"THE IMPOSTER"

There are certain films that are difficult to "review" when you're fairly certain that most of your reading audience have yet to see it. I respect my reading audience, such that it is, so I'll gingerly describe the backbone of the excellent 2012 documentary "THE IMPOSTER" and leave it to you to take from here. The documentary is one of those "universal acclaim" films that percolate below the radar, and which you tell yourself you should probably see, and that you typically and predictably find a way to supersede with some awesome TV series-binging instead (12 hours of "House of Cards"!!). If that's not you, it's certainly me. I've got a Netflix queue of 220 to get to one of these days; thankfully "The Imposter" wriggled its way to the top.

The film was directed by British documentarian Nick Layton, and concerns the disappearance of a Texas teenager, Nicolas Barclay in 1994. Barclay subsequently "returned" to his family a few years later, with a heavy French/Spanish accent, and looking almost nothing like the boy who vanished 3 years earlier. His family took him in anyway, and when he'd barely talk, or gave strange inconsistencies about his time away, they ignored it and chalked it up to the trauma and supposed sexual abuse he suffered after being kidnapped to Spain. The returned Barclay, of course, was not now-17-year-old Barclay at all, but a twentysomething French con man named Frédéric Bourdin.

Bourdin is actually the on-camera star of this film, and the interviews with him interspersed throughout the film display a cocky, ebullient, deceptively charming slimeball in full confidence of his talents and cunning. The feeling you get throughout is that this guy, creep that he is, "did what he had to do". His story is silently reenacted in thrilling, convincing ways, and cut and interspersed with interviews of all relevant parties. It's Barclay's family that are truly interesting, and worth watching for every weird utterance and unusual logical flights of fancy regarding their disappeared/reappeared kin. The more I describe them, the less you'll get to experience the building dramatic tension of the film, so I'll refrain. "The Imposter" is not quite in Capturing The Friedmans/Grizzly Man territory for A+ documentaries, but it's a solid A- and without question worth ninety minutes of your time this evening. Stream it, baby!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

COME's "ELEVEN: ELEVEN" REISSUE

The new 2xCD reissue of COME's masterpiece 1992 record "Eleven: Eleven" came out yesterday, and is now available in better retail and online establishments. Good for Matador for recognizing what a criminally ignored record this one was, and how important it was that it was reevaluated by a new generation. Despite my having been more of a "garage punk" sort of music enthusiast when it came out (with dashes of indie and arty noise), "Eleven: Eleven" absolutely floored me from the moment I heard it, and, as I've said before, it's one of the two or three best records of the 90s. Now COME are touring in support of the reissue – so check that tour schedule and make sure you're front and center when they hit your town.

The band, whom I interviewed and put on the cover of my then-fanzine SUPERDOPE in 1993, were kind enough to ask me to write liner notes for the reissue of this album, which I did. Now that it's officially out, I thought I'd print them here. Brace yourself for hyperbole.

COME's "Eleven: Eleven"


I’ve been waiting for the club of slobbering, I-was-knocked-dead-in-’92 individuals who think Come’s “Eleven: Eleven” is one of the greatest of all possible rock and roll records to grow larger than it already has. It’s never been large enough. The record’s got its proverbial cult status for a few of us, sure, and I know I wear the memory of the two dizzying shows I got to see Come play on that tour like a scene-veteran merit badge. Yeah, there were dozens of bands who blew you & me away in our younger years and whose albums we pronounced as being totally rad for a few months after initial listen, but “Eleven: Eleven” felt like a subdued but howling, pained-birth masterpiece from the word go. It’s remained so for me and for our slowly growing club of dark-worshipping truth seekers. I’m exceedingly hopeful that this reissue will greatly expand our ranks.

Everything about this band, undeniable talents notwithstanding, was mood and feel. They created a near-cinematic vortex of crazed guitar interplay and thumping rhythm section and channeled it into something truly dense and wonderful. You didn’t even have to see them live to easily imagine them killing the club lights by half and then getting deeply lost in their own murky sonics. That’s exactly how it played out, just as the record prophesies. Come certainly weren’t a “Hello Cleveland” sort of band. If they talked, it was a mumbled thanks at best. Their sense of each other’s respective strengths, and how they each played off of & then sucked deeper power from those strengths, is aurally apparent on this record, and that’s what they were clearly focused on live as well.

Thalia Zedek was already a much-revered force of musical nature for both her swirling guitar work and tasted-life-to-its-fullest rasped voice of experience when she came to sing & play for Come in the early 90s, and it’s not shorting her decades of excellent subsequent work to call “Eleven: Eleven” something of an early-career denouement. She and guitarist Chris Brokaw had an unreal ability to interlock and hone in together on bleak, shimmering, whammy-bar-dominated guitar races that were both pulse-rushing and chilling in succession. In fact, those two so frequently used the whammy bars on their guitars, it was like the jangling key to a hidden portal that they just needed to slot correctly in order to drag us all down to places raw and unknown. I had never before, and have never since, seen a band wield the whammy as a secret weapon of jarring, tone-bending sound the way that Come did.

The hard-hitting, tight propulsion of the record, courtesy of drummer Arthur Johnson and bassist Sean O’Brien, also does it a ton of favors for posterity. The thing just plays huge, and its agonizing tension release is kicked up several pegs for not simply being a messy dynamic swirl, but a pounding, raw, firebreather. Eleven: Eleven even feels like a concept record (though I very much doubt this was their intent), as it is sequenced perfectly, from the scraping, burrowing-out first track “Submerged” to the careening, out-of-control climax of “Orbit”. When Thalia’s vocals come rasping in and out of various musical set pieces, it’s like a broader story of some sort’s being told, much like a torch song, except for this torch sounds like it’s in the process of being slowly snuffed out. Check out “Brand New Vein” for the “blues” that this band was supposedly creating, which was oft-remarked on at the time because “dark music” = “blues”, right? It’s cabaret, it’s blues, it’s depressing, it’s dynamic, it’s loud and it’s a total head trip all in one.

As alluded to before, it’s usually a combination of time and consensus that provides a record with its “masterpiece” status, but goddamn it, I just knew with this one. I still spend about every six months with it to this day, and let its cascading rawness envelop me for forty-five minutes – and this is absolutely me-time listening, not to be shared with others – before calling myself satiated, and off to search for the next record that might provide equivalent catharsis. There’ve been previous few, I’m sad to report, and nothing that scraped out the demons and summoned the ghosts the way that “Eleven: Eleven” did. And does.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"MORGANNA, A KISSING BANDIT'S MYSTERY"

My young life was filled with ridiculous amounts of television, live sports, and "media events" & media sensations that were imprinted upon my still-developing brain. There was a streaker during the closing ceremonies of the 1976 Montreal Olympics; there was "Rock N Rollen", the "Rainbow Man" with the John 3:16 signs at nationally-televised baseball games; and there were the left-wing speeches given by Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Dreyfuss at the 1978 Oscars (during which my dad memorably screamed at the TV, "Oh Vanessa you COMMIE!! Oh shut up Dreyfuss, you horrible PINKO!!").

Naturally, I also remember Morganna, the buxom "kissing bandit" who would run onto the field to kiss players during live baseball games, quite well. Her arrival on the field at the All-Star Game or World Series was always a bit of a surprise while retrospectively also being something of a fait accompli. Her infamy touches numerous 1970s attitudes that signify both good and ill – public event safety, female exploitation, mild-mannered softcore titillation; and Christian moral-majority reactionaries. She's now been immortalized in a short film about her exploits, complete with a where-is-she-now "reveal" at the end. Check it out if you've got 15 minutes today.

Friday, May 17, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "THE POWER AND THE GLORY" by Graham Greene

I read Greene's "The Heart of The Matter" in college, loved its dark and mysterious look at marriage, adultery, religious dogma and British imperialism, and for years have been looking for a reason to dig into Graham Greene's fiction again. I figured I'd start with his most renown novel, the one he called his favorite and which is considered the leading pillar in his series of "Catholic novels". Greene was a Catholic himself, though suffered from slings and arrows from the church for not kowtowing to the Vatican's flattery of itself. It's clear from this novel, and from what I know about Greene, that his own relationship with the church was conflicted and confused, yet something that he felt to be integral and very important to whom he was as a man.

So it is with "THE POWER AND THE GLORY" and its protagonist, an unnamed "whiskey priest" on the run in 1920s Mexico from the governmental forces cracking down on the Church. The book is a fugitive story, one in which the priest is running both from the law (he'll be immediately shot, if captured, as priests before him were) and from his own sin. At some level, he's even running from the church and its dogma. He loves to drink his brandy (some of the best passages in the book concern his desperate bargainings for alcohol), and he loves the fruit of his relationship that came from "laying down with a woman" while he was still a priest. The little girl that is his daughter is someone we meet early on in the novel, and she absolutely despises the suddenly-arrived man that she knows to be her father. Our priest is tormented in many ways by his past, his thoughts, and certainly by the oppressive government, but he compels himself to continue to run for his own sake throughout the book.

Greene's language and characters are masterful. Just as I was taught "The Heart of the Matter" in college as a great work of literature, so too is this book. It has made several "Best English-language Books of All Time" lists, for what it's worth. The squalor and heat of Mexico are vivid and achingly suffocating in Greene's telling. Beetles splatter against sun-baked walls and crackle to the ground. Men seek shade and hammocks, while starving children and women aimlessly shuffle around them. The poor people of the villages are painted as almost uniformly Catholic, almost to a person having to live a lie and renounce their faith lest they too be shot. Yet when the Priest arrives, everyone needs to confess their many welled-up sins to him, and they jostle for position and cajole him return to the priestly life, just this one time.

While you've got this sort of languid, meandering sort of storytelling, you've also got the urgency of the story, the narrative of the priest one step ahead of the men who want to capture and kill him, urging the story onward. It's fantastic stuff. I definitely understand this book's place in the canon, and would love your recommendations for the next Greene book I should read if you'd be so kind as to provide them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

DYNAMITE HEMORRHAGE RADIO PODCAST #13

I spent the better part of a quiet Tuesday evening holed up in a room creating the mix you can now download here - DYNAMITE HEMORRHAGE RADIO PODCAST, Edition #13. I've been putting these together about every two weeks or so for the past five months, but if this is your first one, well - welcome to the show. I play songs I like, play-act at being a "DJ", mix-n-match songs on my Mac, talk into a computer, and generally try to keep all the shows to about an hour. You can download all 12 of the past editions here.

This one's got new stuff from RAW PRAWN, THE DELPHINES, CANDY HIGHWAY, SOCK PUPPETS and COLLEEN GREEN, along with super sub-underground weirdness, punk, garage, pop & more from The Moodists, Electric Eels, Icky Boyfriends, The Fall, Solger, Crash Course In Science and a bunch of other winners.

Download Dynamite Hemorrhage Radio Podcast #13
Stream Dynamite Hemorrhage Radio Podcast #13

Track listing:

ASBEST - Family Care
THE DELPHINES - '71
RTFO BANDWAGON - New Jack
INTERNATIONAL STRIKE FORCE - Over The Credit Line
ELECTRIC EELS - You Crummy Fags
COLLEEN GREEN - You're So Cool
THE URINALS - I'm White and Middle Class
HANDGRENADES - Demo To London
SALLY SKULL - Bride of Frankenstein
DESPERATE BICYCLES - The Medium Was Tedium
CANDY HIGHWAY - Mad Glad
SOLGER - American Youth
RAW PRAWN - Wrong Place Wrong Time
HIGH TENSION WIRES - High Note
THE STITCHES - Cars of Today
ICKY BOYFRIENDS - Pay N Pak
LOLI & THE CHONES - Nazi Death Camp
VICIOUS VISIONS - I Beat You
SOCK PUPPETS - Hey Honey
CRASH COURSE IN SCIENCE - Kitchen Motors
SCORCHED EARTH POLICY - Too Far Gone
THE MOODISTS - The Disciples Know
THE FALL - I'm Into CB

Monday, May 13, 2013

THE FLESH EATERS, THE END, 1983

With the express written consent of Byron Coley and Chris D, I'm posting an outstanding, well-recorded 45 minutes of THE FLESH EATERS, practicing new and recent songs in 1983, right before they broke up. I've had this on tape for a number of years, and it's a not only a ripping set of "heavy punk thunder from the lake of burning fire" (to coin a phrase), it's a fascinating look into what the band might have evolved into had they continued. As it was, they'd hit their proverbial limits, and shortly after this, Chris D put together his acoustic "Time Stands Still" album before getting a full-blown band together again with his wife Julie Christensen, THE DIVINE HORSEMEN.

After a few well-oiled, blowout "Hard Road To Follow" numbers (their album which had come out earlier that year), you get to hear sketches of songs Chris later put out with other bands, like "All I Have" with Stone By Stone, and "Love Call" & "Stone By Stone" with The Divine Horsemen. Fantastic stuff. Download it and share your Flesh Eaters stories in the comments – because, alas, I never saw 'em until they'd started up again seven years later.

Download THE FLESH EATERS – PRACTICE TAPE, 1983

Tracks:

 
1. Every Time I Call Your Name
2. Buried Treasure
3. Poison Arrow

4. Hard Road To Follow
5. Father of Lies
6. Louie Louie
7. All I Have

8. Down In The Ditch
9. Stone By Stone
10. Love Call

Friday, May 10, 2013

AND THEN THERE WAS ONE COMEDY PODCAST

I'm no comedy nerd. I know it's a terrific time to be one. There's so much stuff to laff at on the internet – YouTube channels, media empires, podcasts, stand-up, sketch and so on – that it's gotta be impossible to pull the gold from the rough and feel like you've definitely hit paydirt. Unless that's all you want to do, of course. Like a lot of folks, I have to divide my cultural enrichment time between many different forms of low and high culture (music, books, film, websites and so on), all of which are more readily available, and in heaping quantities, than at any point in human history.

There's also the quality aspect to think about. Put bluntly, most "comedy" sucks, and there's plainly too much of it. Even for the funniest among us, it's nearly impossible to be funny all or even most of the time – or, more germane to today's topic, even within a single 1-hour podcast of your own making. I've tried out a bunch of them over the last couple of years. It has become quite the thing in comedy circles to have your own podcast. It's a low-cost way to stay creative and sharp, as well as to experiment, brand and market yourself, and get yourself inside the logrolling community of "comedians interviewing other comedians". Just look at Mark Maron, they all say. (I haven't heard them say this, but I can imagine them saying it). Maron's got his own TV show now, which rose out of podcast he records in his garage. Perhaps there's even hope for Dynamite Hemorrhage Radio on that front.

Anyway, the list of comedy podcasts I've tried, and then abandoned, is quite long. Some, like Maron's, aren't really even comedy podcasts – they're interview podcasts with people from across the cultural spectrum, a la FRESH AIR, with a funnier, albeit more annoying, host. I still listen to his "WTF", depending on the guest, so he doesn't count. I used to really enjoy "MIKE AND TOM EAT SNACKS", but then I got tired of Michael Ian Black's relentless snark and declining hit/miss ratio. After this year's annual San Francisco Sketchfest, which featured a ton of "hot" comedy podcasters from around the country recording their shows live, I decided to try every single one of 'em out. I learned that most comedy podcasts are awful.

The worst – I'm talking so unfunny that they were switched off and deleted from my device within minutes of pushing "play" - were RONNA & BEVERLYSUPEREGO and COMEDY BANG BANG, the last of which made me want to slit my wrists.Tolerable ones included POD F. TOMPKAST, YOU MADE IT WEIRD and a couple of others I deleted anyway. For a short time I was into WALKING THE ROOM, with longtime comic Greg Behrendt (saw him live at least twelve years ago) and Dave Anthony, before becoming frustrated by their eternal bro-dom, constant stepping over each other's lines, the desperate search for the joke in everything, and Anthony's misanthropic persona, which is of course part of his schtick, but it's pretty wearing if you try and listen to it once a week. There were others as well, but I truly have forgotten their names.

And then there was one! One comedy podcast that I embraced from the get-go, have listened to every week for months now, and which I thought I'd tell you about in case we somehow have the same sort of comedy DNA and laugh at the same ridiculous things. This one's not even rip-roaring, over-the-top hilarious, but I can't stop listening to it – and I have, at times nearly run my car off the road with snorting, tearing laughter. Really! It's called THROWING SHADE. Erin Gibson and Brian Safi are a hell of a team. The show's ostensibly about "issues important to ladies – and gays" (and "heterosensitives" like me), and in many ways, it is a very socially progressive, vaguely political show that calls out idiocy from homophobes and sexists in no uncertain terms. What it's really about is these two – a woman and a gay man – riffing off of each other, playing weird personas, and having the sort of amazing, rapid-fire, brainwave-to-vocal-cord joke transfer that every one of us wishes we had.

When they're not funny, they're still funny. Or they'll just sing nonsense instead, at which point they edit their music in, and the "bit" or "segment" is over. Brian likes to play up his queerness into a frothing, stereotypical mess, just to get a reaction out of Erin (for instance, a loudly declaimed, "Ooooooo-ooooooo!", said in the gayest voice possible)  – and she'll snark her way around whatever he's talking about, usually with about 800 obscure pop culture references, just to piss him off in the rare moments when he's trying to be serious. In fact bizarre pop culture is big in both of their worlds, and for me anyway, it's totally funny. Shoebox Greetings is big. Brand names of 80s and 90s products are big. 


It's hard to even describe "Throwing Shade" effectively, other than to recommend it and hope you enjoy it. I know for certain that well over half of you will hate it the way I hate most of the other comedy podcasts, and I'm under no illusion that it's anything but an acquired taste. I'm even gonna go see them do their thing live next month, and if I survive that and still listen to their show afterward, I'll let ya know.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2 OF THIS YEAR'S SF FILM FEST FILMS

The yearly San Francisco International Film Festival may not be the most prestigious set of dates on the film elite's calendars, but for many years running it has been a first-rate place to catch film from some of the smaller corners of the world. Most of their films don't end of playing in wider release – and I think that's a good thing. Sure, they have the opening/closing films with big stars, high entry fees, afterparties and loads of media guests that help to pay the bills, but a typical Tuesday night will have all sorts of small-scale documentaries, Asian film, first-time French and Scandinavian directors and more. I make a point of going as many times as my schedule allows during the festival's two weeks. This year, alas, that was only 2 nights – but I feel like I did OK and saw a couple of things you might want to take your own gander at. Here goes.

"FILL THE VOID" - I could probably write a lengthy position paper on this Israeli film and the anger it brought up in me, but I'll curb my enthusiasm and temper it in a short film review instead. Director Rama Burshtein comes from Israel's ultra-orthodox Jewish community, and she characterized this film about an 18-year-old girl, Shira (excellently and subtly played by Hadas Yaron), who marries her dead sister's husband out of a sense of fidelity and continuity, as a "love story". OK, if you insist. The film shows a side of Israeli life that those of us who've seen some of the many secular films from that country have never seen, and it's to the film's immense credit that you're totally immersed in that timeless world, where men pray, study and chant all day and night, and women scurry out of sight and into their proper place of indentured servitude.

My atheistic and feministic nature was dumbstruck by the waste of human potential displayed in this community, where women exist merely to marry and birth children, and men exist merely to exalt a nonexistent god. But as Burshstein admonished us in her talk afterward, "it's hard for the secular to understand". You can say that again. Let me then proceed to enthusiastically recommend this film, as it is deliberately made, well-acted and quite a cultural head trip. You can read more about it in this recent New York Times profile.


"RENT A FAMILY, INC." - My wife and I chose this Danish-made documentary about a Japanese entrepreneur who operates a business that rents fake family members out for weddings and other uncomfortable events because we expected it to be a wacky, aren't-the-Japanese-something-else slice of life. Instead we got a major, major bummer of a documentary – a good one, true, but far more focused on Ryuichi (the businessman and husband) and his awful, depressed, uncomfortable life. There are likely many reasons the closed, careful and very inward-focused Ryuichi chose his rather interesting (and barely profitable) profession; the film doesn't speculate, and instead shows us how Ryuichi is at best tolerated and at worst loathed by his wife and two sons.

He has dreams – he just wants to go to Hawaii, on one trip – but he lacks the means nor the will to really change his lonely and very sad situation. It's all real, too – some of the rent-a-family scenes themselves are dramatizations, for understandable reasons – but filmmaker Kasper Astrup Schroder confirmed in the post-film Q&A that Ryuichi's every bit the man in real life that he is in this documentary about him. Somewhere in Tokyo, he's still plotting that trip to Hawaii, and I think everyone in our audience would heartily cheer if he finally got there.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

DYNAMITE HEMORRHAGE RADIO PODCAST #12

Got a new mixtape/radio show/podcast that I've made just for you, and it's called DYNAMITE HEMORRHAGE RADIO PODCAST, EDITION #12. I recorded it direct-to-laptop and completed it within the past five minutes, and it's got some real musical whoppers on it that I carefully curated for ya. You'll hear new stuff from Raw Prawn, White Fence, The Mentalettes and Veronica Falls, as well as a plethora of aggressive pop, nervous punk, wiry garage and far-out psych from the last five decades. I say this every time, but this twelfth one is absolutely, positively the best collection of music I've ever put together - including mixtapes made for girls.

Download Dynamite Hemorrhage Radio Podcast #12
Stream Dynamite Hemorrhage Radio Podcast #12

Track listing:

STEVE TREATMENT - The Hippy Posed Engrosement
RAW PRAWN - None Left
DEAR NORA - Make You Smile
REVERSIBLE CORDS - Highway Tomorrow
THE 2x4s - Iron Line
BLAST OFF COUNTRY STYLE - Giggles & Gloom
THE SHITBIRDS - Schiessbird
WHITE FENCE - Trouble is Trouble Never Seen
THE STEREO SHOESTRING - On The Road South
BUBBLEGUM LEMONADE - Unsafe At Any Speed
SALVATION ARMY - Mind Gardens
100 FLOWERS - Motorboat To Hell
VERONICA FALLS - Timeless Melody
MICRAGIRLS - Electric Chair Twist
SOCK PUPPETS - Summer Jacket
BATHROOM RENOVATIONS - Apathetic Hell
TYRANNA - Shock Face
THE WHITEFRONTS - World's Fair
WARUM JOE - Tchang
SLUGFUCKERS - Rhizome
D.R.I. - Busted
SICK THINGS - Police
THE GERMS - The Slave
NUMBERS - Information
THE MENTALETTES - Fine Fine Fine

Download our past shows - each about an hour:
Download Show #11
Download Show #10
Download Show #9
Download Show #8
Download Show #7
Download Show #6
Download Show #5
Download Show #4
Download Show #3
Download Show #2

Download Show #1
        

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "THERE ONCE LIVED A GIRL WHO SEDUCED HER SISTER'S HUSBAND, AND HE HANGED HIMSELF" by Lumilla Petrushevskaya

This collection of short stories is rather dubiously and sardonically titled "Love Stories", but of course, they're really nothing of the sort. Soviet/Russian writer Ludmilla Petrushevskaya traffics in the sort of love in which children drift sadly apart from their parents, husbands and wives are continually philandering, alcohol poisons relationships and most everyone's grim, poor and barely holding it together. In other words, great Russian literature! I had a blast with this book. I read a review of it and instantly knew it was for me, and it didn't disappoint. It turns out Petrushevskaya's been writing for many years – she's now 70 – and her work was suppressed in the Soviet era; not because it was political, but because it was so dark, and because it showed a sad ordinariness in the broken lives and lost souls of the Communist system, the people who had to live within and under it for over 70 years. The stories collected here were written in spurts from the 1970s until just before the book's publication.

Petrushevskaya will typically, in these very short stories, quickly establish a central character – usually a girl or woman who lives in the tiny Moscow apartment blocks that the Soviets built en masse for the people. This girl or woman will often have conflict in her family; perhaps a loving mother (we learn in the translator's introduction that Petrushevskaya herself had a rotten childhood, redeemed by her mother's love) but not much else. Often her career is a dead end, and her romantic prospects are dismal; or, if she has a husband, he's a laggard, a liar or a drunk. When and if children come into the picture, it's not always a good thing, and it usually means that the father is either absent, or about to be.

One story that really grabbed me is called "Like Penelope", and strangely, it's one of the few semi-uplifting tales in the book. Our central character this time is Oksana, who lives with her mother Nina, who adores her, but "who is the only person who loved her". Through some interesting and strange family dynamics, she initially resists, then accepts a new dress her mom and grandmother-in-law have clumsily made her. Her confidence and beauty is transformed the moment she decides to embrace and wear it, at which point an estranged relative, her grandmother-in-law's grandson, bursts into the door during a drunken fight in the apartment downstairs that has just ended in murder. The relative is instantly captivated, and it's clear that Oksana will finally be loved by someone other than her mother. It's typical of Petrushevskaya to populate these stories with women like Nina, who want to do well and do right with their very limited means, only using their capacity for love in a place where there's not much of it to go around.

The picture one gets is probably one not much different from your conception of anonymous and desperate urban living on the margins of Russian society. It's a feminine take on the mundane day-to-day drabness of this sort of life, yet with life-changing moments like birth, death, marriage, divorce, heartbreak and familial inheritance that alter an individual's life dramatically; unfortunately, usually not for the better.