Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Calling it Quits at the Right Time

While thinking about the end of Jon Stewart's time with The Daily Show, I started to recall other  examples of people going out at the top of their game.  Why not make a list? I thought.  I need something to fill the void.

Juan Rulfo

Sure, you've read Garcia Marquez, but have you read the book that taught Marquez what he knew?  Pedro Paramo remains one of the most bizarre, fun books to come out of anywhere.  While Reinaldo Arenas dismissed Garcia Marquez's work as a pastiche of Faulkner (and he wasn't wrong), he could have easily added Rulfo to the list.  Rulfo stopped writing (giving birth to my favorite Enrique Vila-Matas book) after this novel, which only adds to its allure. The guy wrote this damn near perfect book then did the equivalent of dropping the mic.  Respect.


This band could've been a mere footnote in alt-rock history.  They put out a string of fun noise rock records before peaking with the double CD Leaves Turn Inside You.  This was a serious departure for the feedback laden songs of the past and more than a few fans took note.  I never thought too much of them before the final statement, but it became clear to me after one listen that Leaves Turn Inside You was (and is) a masterpiece.  The rock is there but so is the drone, the quiet, the sadness, and the ghosts.  I reviewed it a long time ago calling the record the ideal soundtrack to a three day rainstorm.  I stand by my description, though now it makes me recall the days after 9/11 when all I wanted to do was listen to Unwound and not talk to people.

Jane's Addiction

I was very into this band when they broke up.  It didn't take much commitment to be a fan.  They only released three records, all of them blending metal and art rock so well that one couldn't help dig the simple bass hooks, tribal drumming, and blistering guitar.  The vocals were crap, but that was part of the appeal.  And it's true that they wouldn't have been the band they were with a more stable, less douchy frontman.  And Perry Farrell is a douche.  Of course, I thought he was cool at the time, but I also ate Funyuns.  The years have proven me wrong, as has Farrell who seems intent on cashing in on Lolla (assuming he's still involved) and periodically reuniting with 2/3 of his former bandmates to make rent or finance a lousy EDM record.  This from the writer of "Mountain Song".  But their breakup (the first) was pretty perfect.  They were a top draw among the 120 Minutes crowd, they had a breakthrough hit, and Farrell had just created what was thought, at the time, to be the closest thing my generation was going to get to Woodstock (oh, I was so young).  They were the biggest thing in alternative rock and they ended before putting out a crap record.  They ruined it by touring again and putting out a fourth record, but most of us are willing to pretend that never happened.

Krzysztof Kieslowski

Sure, he'd been making movies since the 1960s and was an old man when he retired, but he went out after finishing Red the final movie in the Three Colors trilogy, arguably his best movie (though Blue remains my favorite), arguably the best movie of the 1990s, maybe the best movie ever.  The thing is, he probably could've made another movie, but he announced his retirement (so that he could spend more time smoking cigarettes) and then promptly died.  Still, he could've pulled a John Houston and directed from a wheelchair with tubes in his nose, but he knew he was at the height of his powers and decided that Red was as good a movie as he, or anyone, might ever make.  So he did the smart thing and cashed in his chips.  He'd more than earned them.

Dylan Thomas

Not a conscious retirement-- he drank himself to death, though some might argue that such behavior is tantamount to quitting-- but Thomas left the writing game and the world after completing the best thing he ever wrote, and this was the guy who wrote "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" not to mention that poem everyone likes to appropriate (looking at you, Christopher Nolan).  Under Milk Wood, Thomas's play for voices, is about as good as literature gets.  Definitely an essential read, it manages to be completely unique while doing what many other literary works have done: chronicling a day in the life of a city.  Immediately one may think of Joyce's Ulysses, and while that stands as a testament to the possibilities of the novel, and of Joyce's genius, Under Milk Wood is compact, loose, and--I'll say it-- more fun.  It inspired a pretty good movie featuring Richard Burton, Liz Taylor, and Peter O'Toole, but even their collective talents can't best the reading of the play featuring Thomas himself.  Top notch.


I'm not the biggest fan of the holy trio of the Pacific Northwest, and while they were, in many ways, a fine rock band that could never live up the hype that swallowed them, they did put out three solid records, though the last was their best.  In Utero begins with two songs that constitute a fuck you to the MTV machine that made them famous.  "Serve the Servants" ends so sloppily it once caused a musician friend of mine to pull at his hair.  "Scentless Apprentice" is about as noisy as the band got, complete with Cobain's limited voice stretched to absurd lengths. And then come a few more Nevermindesque songs, some that made their way to the radio and are probably on a billion Spotify playlists, but the noisier gems that dominate the record are what keep me coming back.  Kudos to Steve Albini for producing a record that made the band sound raw and interesting as opposed to the slick package that is Nevermind.  Again, as with others on this list, the end of Nirvana was not really a mutual decision, but Cobain's suicide (or murder, depending on who you ask), tragic as it was, is a case of the Nirvana boys ceasing after doing their best work.  I shudder to think of what they'd be doing now.  Thankfully, no one has heard from the other members since 1994.