I’ve been splitting my reading between Chris Ware’s new one, and the Novels and Other Writings of Nathaniel West, starting with the short novel Miss Lonelyhearts. The connection? In his “Some Notes on Miss L.,” West says Miss Lonelyhearts started as “A novel in the form of a comic strip.”
The chapters to be squares in which many things happen through one action. The speeches contained in the conventional balloons. I abandoned this idea, but retained some of the comic strip technique: Each chapter instead of going forward in time, also goes backward, forward, up and down in space like a picture. Violent images are used to illustrate commonplace events. Violent acts are left almost bald.
In “Some Notes on Violence,” West hints at the relationship between violence and comedy:
In America violence is idiomatic. Read our newspapers. To make the front page a murderer has to use his imagination, he also has to use a particularly hideous instrument. Take this morning’s paper: FATHER CUTS SON’S THROAT IN BASEBALL ARGUMENT. It appears on an inside page. To make the first page, he should have killed three sons with a baseball bat instead of a knife. Only liberality and symmetry could have made this daily occurence interesting.
Not to mention, the number of 3 is funny. The “liberality” and “symmetry” of violence reminds me of Henri Bergson’s essay, “On Laughter,” in which he analyzes two clowns on stage beating the hell out of each other with baseball bats. If one clown just comes out and clobbers the other, that’s not so funny, that’s cold and violent. We feel for the clobbered clown. However, if the two clowns chase each other around the stage, trading blow for blow without death, there is a symmetry and repetition to the routine, and the clowns become an item of comedy. As Bergson says, “we laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing.”
All three books, at least, worth a read.
Rumor (thanks Mike) has it that Ian Svenonius of Weird War is writing his own book, The Psychic Soviet. Ian’s been ranting for some time now about Wagner and Hitler and tragic vision and life following art and sending Dubya a demo tape that would encourage his own suicide, but here, in all its glory, is a surprisingly coherent (but still nutty) excerpt from the book, “The Responsible Use Of Rock and Roll.”
Ian told New-Noise.net, ““We need to create a narrative for our time, a narrative to guide the future…a narrative that guides the whole culture, that results in the fascists being destroyed….That is the power that art has. Everyone in the ruling class knows the power of art. It is only artists who don’t understand this power. They denigrate themselves and they go along with the denigration.”
Goofily overblown, but yet, strangely makes sense. Like all that is Svenonius.
An e-mail sent to Meg from an Anheuser-Busch representative:
Thank you for contacting Anheuser-Busch. We appreciate your kind words regarding our recent Bud Light Real Men of Genius – Giant Pumpkin Grower commercial and your interest in viewing this ad on our Web site.
Currently, this particular ad is not available on www.budlight.com. From time to time, our Bud Light marketing team will update our Web site in order to freshen up the images and commercial selection. While we have not received information that indicates that this ad will be available on our site, we hope that you will visit us again soon for possible updates.
In addition, is it your intention to download this commercial and then post it on the Pumpkin Show Web site? If so, please understand that this would be illegal, and we cannot give permission to post this ad on the site per our Legal Department and our Bud Light marketing team.
Again, Meghan, thank you for contacting Anheuser-Busch. Please let us know if you have additional comments or questions.
Your Friends at Anheuser-Busch
My buddy Nathaniel is in UVA’s religious studies program, and the other night he went to see Cat Power in Charlottesville. Here’s his report:
Comrades–you know that gossip about Chan Marshall going nuts during live performances? Turns out it’s very, very true.
I saw her last night at the Satellite Ballroom. It’s a small venue, so when she came out she told the whole audience to sit down, which got everyone ready for a low-key, intimate show. She played at least three songs in a row on the piano, with literally no breaks in between. It was halfway through the third song when she got frustrated with the PA sound, banged her hands on the keys a few times, and simply stopped playing.
This went on for TWO HOURS. It was obvious that Chan wasn’t paying any mind to her set list and was playing off the top of her head. At several points she broke down into incoherent rants and even starting talking to herself at one point (“Whatcha gonna do now, biatch?”) She muttered how this night’s performance wasn’t very good because “it was only half of last night’s show,” how she felt “lots of judgement coming from the crowd,” and several other things I couldn’t make out.
When she finally played the opening chords of “I Don’t Blame You,” the crowd cheered. But she barely made it to the first chorus before she had a meltdown and stopped playing. A few minutes later, she muttered something about the KKK, claimed she felt “this weird energy,” and literally RAN off stage.
There was no explicit statement that this was the end of the show, but the audience had had enough. We got up and left without applauding.
That shit is bananas.
Thanks to Stereogum for the link.
“I learned so much using words and pictures and captions from some of the most concrete poets, because poetry is all about economy, and it’s about reducing things down, and you’re seeing how much freight you can actually give words. Plus, the great thing about comics which I miss when I’m writing prose, is knowing that I can pretty much guarantee that everybody will read every word. I can pace everything, every caption, every line of dialogue.”—Neil Gaiman on Studio 360
Kenneth Koch was a poet who loved comics. Backwards City Review just reprinted some of his comics in their second issue. I tried desperately to find Koch’s posthumous collection, Art of the Possible: Comics Mainly Without Pictures, in a Cleveland Public Library, and turned up nothing. Then, lo and behold, Google Print has the introduction and a few pages online.
In the introduction, David Lehman writes about Koch,
“letting comics into his literary imagination followed not only from his love of the humorous, the whimsical, and the witty, but from an aesthetic point of view that could be charactreized as defieantly antiacademic.”
Koch saw no reason why Popeye shouldn’t enter the same conversation as T.S. Eliot. In one of Koch’s courses on imaginative writing at Columbia, the assignment was to go out, buy a comic strip, and without reading it, paste white paper over the balloons, and write your own dialogue.
“In 1992, Kenneth decided that not only could he borrow subject matter or adapt a narrative technique from comics but it might be possible to write poetry in a new form based on them.”
Ah, the glamorous life of an unpublished short story writer:
1 Brother 2070 network laser printer…..$149
1 Wireless router………………………………$80
1 Apple Powerbook…………………………..$2000
1 box 100 ct 9 x 12 clasp envelopes……..$5
1 box 100 ct #10 white envelopes………..$3
1 box 2500 sheets Laser Paper……………$20
1 box 3000 ct return address labels………$20
1 box 1000 ct shipping labels………………..$20
Average payment upon publication: 4 contributors copies
Mags I sent stories to: Brain, Child, Mid-American Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Backwards City Review, Gettysburg Review, Black Warrior Review, One-Story, Post Road, The Cincinnati Review, and McSweeney’s.
At the Post Office, I got a dreadlocked clerk who looked like he just got done pulling an all-night gig with his reggae band. He weighed and posted my manilla envelopes, and then he asked, “fiction or poetry?” He gave me a smile and I said fiction. “I’m a poetry man, myself.” Then he listed off his publication history for me. When he was done, I thanked him and headed for the door. “Good luck with it,” he said.
We can only hope.
Once upon a time, I spent six months in Cambridge, England, living in a closet-sized apartment, reading Shakespeare and Dostoevsky, missing a woman with whom I’d just fallen in love, sketching a world that was 5000 miles away, and losing twenty pounds to a culture of bad food and worse weather.
Around my second term of study, and at a point when my mental health was slipping, I wound up playing keyboards and singing backup for a singer/songwriter named Jeremy Warmsley. Jeremy was rounding up a band to play a series of shows for the May Balls at the end of term, and our mutual friend Mike set us up. We got along nicely: I introduced him to Toots and the Maytals; he introduced me to Kate Bush. J’s songs were straightforward pop songs with a lot of chord changes and complex vocals. Our band consisted of a good bloke named Bob on guitars, two interchangeable drummers who looked about 12 years of age, and a pudgy, pathological liar named Dan on bass. (Dan claimed to have lost his virginity to two 18-year-old lesbians.) Once, we found an old Roland Jupiter-4 synthesizer in the Churchill College practice room–it weighed about 40 pounds and made wild, orgasmically phat sounds until it crapped out on us. We had a punk song where I jumped into the audience banging a cowbell. At one of the May Balls we drank beer until 6 a.m. and took turns riding a mechanical bull. At a time when when I had almost abandoned playing music, it was an escape that I desperately needed.
A year and a half later, across the pond, I got an e-mail from Jeremy: “Long time no hear from. how are you. i am about to sign my record deal. fame and fortune.” I checked out his new stuff on his website, and was pretty blown away: those straightforward pop songs were still pretty straightforward, but the band had been replaced with a backdrop of cut-up drums and Bjork-like arrangements. Not to mention, J. had a fantastic animated video done for his new single, “I Believe In The Way You Move.” Turns out his new EP is coming out in England in a few weeks, and is getting a pretty good amount of buzz.
But Jeremy isn’t the only amiable spector from my Cambridge days that is having good success: my buddy Dave Mitchell has just had an article published as the lead in the DUKE JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE & INTERNATIONAL LAW. He slaved over this opus in Cambridge many a night that could’ve been spent in the pub. Dave’s not only an academic, he’s also an All-American cross country runner who has a great chance at the Rhodes. Dave was in Cleveland this weekend, and Meg and I met him and his girlfriend Michelle in Coventry, where he presented me with a signed off-pressing of the article.
The moral is this: keep in touch with the people you’ve known–they might be headed for great things.