Friday, July 31, 2009

Recipe for Funny

Hey, go here:

and read the series of back-n-forths under the banner “Geeking Out Over Metal”

Then laugh.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Juan Filloy

I was suckered by the Dalkey Archive sale (5 books for $35, 10 for $65, and so on), so I skipped the Newberry Library's annual sale, which is always good fun and fruitful. One of the books I snagged from Dalkey is the recently published Op Oloop by Juan Filloy. I have yet to crack the thing, but this obit is so interesting that I may bump the novel up on my list.

Check it out.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reading Cuba

It has been said that a good way to get to know a foreign culture is by immersing yourself in its art. While I don’t discount this, a trip to the foreign location is pretty important as well. That being the case, I can only go so far in my acquaintance with Cuba, as the dumb ass embargo won’t permit me to set foot on the little island. Sure, I could enter via Mexico or Canada, and I just might one of these days (especially is Obama doesn’t lift the restriction soon), but the circuitous route is pretty offensive when you get right down to it. Who the fuck do we think we are?

Anyway, arguments once abounded for and against the embargo, but the goddamn thing is looking pretty silly and antiquated after all these years, well after the end of the so-called Cold War. There are plenty of pieces arguing against to be found here:

So there’s a place to read some things, assuming you agree with the point of view. Hold back on the accusations of imbalanced reporting: it’s a blog and it makes its bias known. At least they’re upfront about their position, as opposed to, say, Fox News.

As for touring a culture via its art:

I have read a lot of Cuban literature and listened to a good share of its music, though my research into both is hardly exhaustive. I will say that a good testament to a well-rounded immersion is to be found in the book I am currently tolerating.

Pedro Juan’s tour-de-fuck, Tropical Animal (previously discussed here) is becoming tiresome. Cassandra was right (claro): it is not nearly as interesting as Dirty Havana Trilogy, which I still maintain is damn fine book. By the way, my earlier assessment that its overarching political position is somewhat discounted by the author’s claim that politics should have no place in art. Ludicrous! Nothing is apolitical. It’s just not possible.

Anyway… were I to have only read Pedro Juan’s books, I might think that all Cubans are sex-obsessed, filthy, poor, drinkers, whores, pimps, thieves, and so on. Were I only to have read Reinaldo Arenas, I might think Cubans were gay, fiercely anti-Castro and suicidal. Were I to have only read Guillermo Rosales, I would think Cubans are mildly insane suicides. Were I only to have read José Lezama Lima, I might think Cubans were baroque, avant-garde, ivory tower types. And where to place the great G. Cabrera Infante? If he’s a typical Cuban, than Cubans are the funniest people in the world. What about the sublime work of Virgilio Piñera?

You see, it’s absurd to stop at one book, but it’s even more absurd to think that reading all of these authors (and I still have to read José Martí, among many others) gives me a true idea of Cuba and its culture. Maybe my obsession stems from my inability to travel there (legally). Maybe if I could simply board a plane in Chicago and fly to this small country 90 miles from Florida, I might be less interested and could move on. Maybe in my lifetime I will be able to find out for myself. Mr. President, hurry up, please.

Watching Your Restless Sleep

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Today’s random desktop radio is not so random, inasmuch as I decided to skip around and play songs from many of the CDs ripped to my digital wasteland. So dig this 21st summertime century mix-tape:

“Hanging on the Telephone” – Blondie
“TWA Corbies” – Boiled in Lead
“A.D.I.D.A.S.” – Killer Mike feat. Big Boi
“Jimmy” – Bongwater
“No Sleep” – Brutal Truth
“From the Cradle to the Grave” – Butthole Surfers
“Mangun” – Boredoms
“Cool Jerk” – The Capitols
“Super Gizi” – Brazzaville
“Small Ones” – I.S.S.
“Demon Chills” – Faxed Head
“Off This Century” – Unwound

Some notes:

The Blondie song rocks hard. I’ve always thought that this song and “Dreaming” were the best things she ever did, though “Atomic” has risen high on my list thanks to Cassandra. I’m also a sucker for songs that start with the sound of a phone ringing. There are more out there than you’d think.

“TWA Corbies” is pretty ominous. It really diverges from the path set by Blondie, but I think it works. If you’d like to try and decipher the Ol’ Scottish, read these lyrics: . Pretty fucking macabre.

And then there’s the hip-hop. My coworker stuck this song (featuring Big Boi of Outkast, one of my favorite MCs) on a mix CD and I have to thank him for it. It’s the catchiest song I’ve heard in quite a while, but, you know, in a good way. I hate the idea that a catchy song is inherently good. AIDS is catchy, doesn’t mean I want it.

“Jimmy” is a Bongwater song I was slow to embrace, but it ranks high among their best. Very strange, oddly beautiful at times, though the lo-fi production muddies it a bit. That was the idea, though. There are a lot of things going on in this song, so it’s difficult to parse, which, of course, is the fun.

“No Sleep” represents the grindcore. And then some.

So you know the Buttholes are coming to town, right? Not only that, it’s the reunited line up of Gibby Haynes, Paul Leary, King Coffey, Jeff Pinkus and Teresa Taylor. That’s right, two drummers and Pinkus all back in the band. This is enough to make me come out of retirement and go see a live show. This particular song is from a concert that Xtop somehow got his hands on, sneaky internet bastard that he is.

“Mangun” is a throw away track from the Boredoms that ended up on the Bad Sun Rising series of Japanese rock that Steve Albini had something to do with. The cover art of these CDs is ferocious and has offended a good number of people, many of which were exposed to it by me, giddy as a schoolgirl to have these discs. There are some goddamn gems here, including a song called “Tomogui No Mura” by Maria Kannon. That track alone is worth the price and the offensive cover art. Anyway, the Boredoms were, at this point, still a bizarre freak-out band lead by Yamatsuka EYE who shared vocals with Yoshikawa and the incomparable Yoshimi P-WE. And there was also their “dancer” God Mama. They were the most exciting thing happening in music at that time. Since then, they’re lost a few members and morphed into the Voordoms, a drum/vocals/electronics band that creates beautiful trance/dance music with songs that last approximately 20 minutes. There’s no real way to classify the Boredoms at any point in their career, but I will note that this song, while seemingly a slight effort, exhibits a side of the band that was rarely seen. Sure, there’s the screams and the noise, the bulldozer assault of feedback, all of that, but the guitar riffs have a bit of that Morricone (to invoke the oft invoked composer) style Spaghetti-Western flavor loved by so many. Really, this is a glimpse of what the Boredoms would have done with a soundtrack, had anyone been mad enough to commission them for such a task.

And then there’s “Cool Jerk” by the Captiols. Do I really need to go into this one? It’s a damn classic.

“Super Gizi” is a cut from the Mimicry sampler, circa 2004. I love this song and am curious about the rest of Brazzaville’s output, though I am less enamored by their second track on the sampler, which means I ought to just let it go and enjoy this song, not do the in-depth research and somewhat blindly purchase their CD. But this is laid back smooth rock that Greg Dulli wishes he could write. Enjoy.

Also from the Mimicry sampler: “Small Ones” by I.S.S. Lead by Estradasphere’s Tim Smollens, this high concept boy band is endlessly fascinating to me. Why do I love this Brian Wilson parody when I hate Brian Wilson so much?

Last from the Mimicry sampler, “Demons Chills” by Faxed Head. Read about them on your own; I can’t explain this band.

The end of the great summer mix-tape come from the now defunct Unwound, who ended their career on the highest of high points, the ambitious double CD Leaves Turn Inside You. Think I’m all into this esoteric avant-garde crap, eh? Well, Pitchfork loves this CD, so all you indie hipster assholes can kindly shut the fuck up.

On that note, I’m off to listen to some Dire Straits. That’s right, Dire Straits. Then Thomas Dolby. Stick that in your smoke and pipe it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Bull Macho Fiction Bullshit

When Charles Mingus wrote of his life in Beneath the Underdog—a flawed, bizarre book—he did not shy away from his sex life, most notably the fucking of many, many Mexican prostitutes in one evening, none of which satisfied him. It is one of the moments that best exemplifies why memoirs should always be read with many grains of salt. Why? Because they are almost always bullshit and any reader with a brain ought to know this. (I still cannot understand why people were fooled by James Frey.) There’s some truth, sure, but when it comes to men writing about sex, you can almost always spot the embellishments.

When Gore Vidal reviewed Henry Miller’s book Sexus, he raised (pardon the pun) a fair question: does the protagonist, a loose stand-in for Miller, ever fail to get an erection? Miller writes of himself—sorry, his protagonist—as being the ultimate lover, a man women cannot resist not only for his brain but also for his cock, which, as Gore pointed out, never fails to rise to the occasion and please the lucky ladies again and again and again.

Okay, maybe Vidal was jealous. Maybe Miller’s dirty book(s) is an example of Ali’s famous quote: it ain’t bragging if it’s true. Unless we interview Miller’s former lovers, we’ll never know, and that is not a prospect I’d relish. There’s been enough attention paid to Miller’s prowess—real or imagined—including here. So let’s move on.

I’m reading Pedro JuanGutiérrez, as I said before. I’ve read his Dirty Havana Trilogy, which is good not only for the sex (of which, there is lots) but also to get a picture of the horror that was Havana in the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost its main source of economic support. Seven years later, I’m getting around to reading another of his books, Tropical Animal.

Where Dirty Havana Trilogy felt fresh and exciting, Tropical Animal is somewhat stalled in the gratifying revelry of the self that Miller and, while we’re at it, Bukwoski, were guilty of on occasion. (Then again, name a writer, or any artist, not guilty of this?)

There seems to be a significant difference in the work of Bukowski and the work of Miller and, in Tropical Animal, Gutiérrez. With Buk, I never feel like his semi-autobiographical books are meant to glorify himself over his vision. Buk loved uncluttered sentences and favored the gritty realism that has been emulated all too goddamn often. Miller—infinitely more solipsistic—wrote to celebrate himself and his ideas. Again, nothing wrong with that. I mean, read Whitman’s famous poem on the subject and you’ll see that this can be a literary style par excellence. There’s room enough for everything in art, if you ask me.

But, here’s the thing: Bukowski wrote about the low life because he lived it and it fascinated him. He felt that he was representing an underrepresented part of society, one whose aspirations and failures were as tragic and worthy of note as any king's. He saw himself as continuing in a tradition of the writers he most admired, Céline and Fante highest among them. He was arrogant, sure, but his arrogance was based on the idea that anyone could write better than him if they only shut up and wrote, which, he noted, few were driven enough to do.

With Miller, I always felt as though he saw himself as inherently superior to damn near everything. Bukowski certainly comes across as an egoist, but never on the level of Miller. Bukowski didn’t have a problem writing about his bedroom failures.

Enter Pedro Juan. In the Dirty Havana Trilogy, he mentioned, very briefly, Bukowski. This is noteworthy to the reader who must have seen a parallel before reaching that page. Where Buk had whiskey and beer, Pedro Juan has rum. And like Buk, Pedro Juan likes his women, most of which are prostitutes, and writes direct, unencumbered sentences. It seemed inevitable that Pedro Juan, a relative newcomer to the English speaking world, would be dubbed the Bukowski of Cuba by the same American critics who would be happy to think of Cabrera Infante as the Joyce of Cuba.

Even considering the aspects mentioned above, the correlations between Buk and Pedro Juan are slim. If anyone writes about the low life, are they always going to be compared to Bukowski (or, in England, Jeffrey Bernard)? Perhaps, and maybe there are valid reasons (think Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence), but there are also differences. Where they begin is in Dirty Havana Trilogy, where the self-reflective stories, while full of drinking and fucking, speak toward larger social and political concerns. The extreme poverty of Pedro Juan’s world is linked back to the end of a decades long struggle between two super powers that left much of the rest of the world in the dust. Bukowski’s books, while speaking to larger socio-political truths, are less portraits of political fallout than the Cuban variety. But this is also arguable—perhaps the reason academics were able to tolerate Pedro Juan’s fuck tales over Bukowski’s is due to their “exotic” foreign roots.

But let’s get back to Tropical Animal. Maybe I need to go back and reread Dirty Havana Trilogy, but I don’t remember any sex scenes where women scream about what a stud the hero is. Tropical Animal, on the other hand, makes mention of Pedro Juan’s ability a few times, as Miller’s Sexus did through the whole damn book. There is something annoying about this. I have no problem with sex scenes in books, movies, hell, anywhere, but I never like seeing the Dean Koontz version of sex, where the 3rd person narrator speaks (after spending pages on unspeakable gore) of how two lover became one, or the Henry Miller version where women are begging for more and ready to erect a statue to the great literary stud. Both seem to be hiding something, which hints at an alarming falsity, especially in realist books such as Pedro Juan’s.

There is this problem in macho fiction, though it is not an easy one to assail. In the end, I tend to forgive the self-mythologizing male lover because it’s part and parcel of the genre. But it’s bringing my enjoyment of Tropical Animal down a peg or two. I’m waiting for Pedro Juan to have a Bukowski-like failure to obtain an erection. It might help me believe the rest of his bullshit.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Hola, niña… look: an update!

There’s a whole lot to read in the world, not to mention my bedroom. I wasn’t able to commit to a book through most of July, so I’ve been looking at a lot of short stories. This makes one feel as though they have read a lot, when really it’s no different than reading a standard sized novel.

So what have I read?

I read Zoetrope All-Story’s Latin American issue, which contains this story and this one, both of which you can read a taste of online (shell out the $8, cheapskate), both of which were fantastic. There is so much going on south of the border, that I know nothing about, and it depresses me as much as it elates me to find a few fragments blowing up to these Yankee shores. Thank you, Mr. Coppola.

From there, I finished Bolaño’s short story collection (in English) Last Evenings on Earth, which is pretty good in a lot of ways, though some stories stand above others. The title story was incredible and had that same dread that was evident in Bolaño’s longer work. The book was cobbled from two sources in Spanish, and I’m guessing New Directions will publish the rest of the stories before long (There’s a new translation of Bolaño coming in August, another in January, and others shortly after), so I wonder why they opted to put these stories out first. I’ve read at least three others, two of which were published by the New Yorker and another was posted online (available here!), so I know they’re out there in English, as will be all of Bolaño’s work before long. I love the guy, as you know, but he has become something of a strange phenomenon in these United States. An unlikely one, if you ask me—while I think his work is pretty incredible, I wonder how a dead, foreign writer managed to become a bestseller.

I carry in my bag a collection of short stories from Central America called And We Sold the Rain… which I snagged from Chandler’s legendary bookshop for next to nothing. A goddamn treasure! Mostly I am excited because the book contains a story by Horacio Catellanos Moya, who may be my favorite living writer.

Tempting as that is to read, I decided to first read Tropical Animal by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, who look a lot like my boss. Cassandra didn’t like it as much as his earlier book in translation, but so far I am enjoying this return to dirty, macho Cuba. It should prove to be a quick read, which will free me up to look at Eduardo Galeano’s Memories of Fire trilogy. I’ve wanted to read these books for some time, and with a friend’s recent interest in moving to Uruguay, my interest in Galeano has resurfaced. Look for a larger, better constructed book report soon (as opposed to this list of books to be read, which doesn’t amount to much, but hey, it’s a blog… gimmie a break, damn you).

Thank all, sucka