21 November 2004

A Few Prescriptions

      While just about everyone else in Canuckistan settles into watching the Grey Cup, or claiming they are anyway, this blog's settling in with some great material, musical and literary and savouring a bit of piece and quiet. What's up? I'm glad you didn't ask. Take a gander:

Experiment In Criticism      Lewis' 1961 volume, a short but wonderfully compass-like text, it's a book many more "alert" readers within the academy should compel themselves to rediscover to keep the from setting to mind, let alone putting to paper, some of the more ridiculous notions that now hang within the academy like the smell of fresh baby poop. In fact, I'd encourage those readers to read these lines with an attention what all these ism-ists are really doing:
Escape, then, is common to many good and bad kinds of reading. By adding -ism to it, we suggest, I suppose, a confirmed habit of escaping too often, or for too long, or into the wrong things, or using escape as a substitute for action where action is appropriate, and thus neglecting real opportunities and evading real obligations. If so, we must judge each case on its merits. Escape is not necessarily joined to escapism.
Indeed. One might dare to point out to certain folks that "material" isn't necessarily "materialism," and that leaning too much on the latter may indeed be to evade one's real obligations.   And, I think it worth saying that Lewis is a writer too generally dismissed by the academy, for reasons, frankly, that tend to say more about the academy than they do about Lewis.

Storyville      Robbie Robertson's 1991 album is haunting series of New Orleans-textured songs, all of them evocative in their own ways, most of them astonishingly good. The album's opening track, "Night Parade," sets a fine-- but mercifully not overly ebullient-- bounce to things, before traversing through the eternizing strains of "Hold Back The Dawn," the muted, lightly shuffling duet with Neil Young on "Soap Box Preacher," the carpe diem plea of "What About Now?," and the harder-driving sounds of "Shake This Town" and "Resurrection." The album's final song, "Sign of the Rainbow," is a gorgeous evocation of hope that reminds one that Aaron Neville doesn't always have to use his voice for flaccid, whimpering covers of other people's songs. It really is too bad this album didn't get more attention than it did: it has a wonderful, lush sound, and with this album-- his second solo effort, after his 1987 self-titled album-- his voice manages to acquire that degree of coarse beauty that some of us at least hear in the voices of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. In a way, the album is more atmosphere than substance, but the air is thick and there's a lot of stuff going on, especially in the album's shadows.

Enlightenment      By no means Van the Man's best album, 1990's Enlightenment is a wonderfully satisfying album-- and, in fact, it was the first Van Morrison album I ever bought. (It may or may not be worth noting that it was Robertson who gave Morrison the nickname "Van the Man" in an improvised shout-out during The Last Waltz.) The album kicks off with the closest thing Van has had to a substantial hit since the 1970s, the rollicking "Real Real Gone," which manages to close off with a coda that name-checks Wilson Pickett, Gene Chandler, James Brown, and Solomon Burke. (And no one-- absolutely no one-- uses horn lines as effectively as Van. Okay: maybe Mr. Brown, but that's it.) There are some fine songs here-- the ironically disaffected title-track, "Avalon of the Heart," and the romantically-meditative "See Me Through"-- but the kicker is the eight-minute wonder that is "In The Days Before Rock 'n' Roll." The song is part poem and part song, the spoken word delivered in a mawkishly awkward rendition by Irish poet Paul Durcan, and the song done by Van, who, as the piece progresses, seems to go deeper and deeper into the music in a weird but absolutely wild tour through the music of Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and "the High Priest" himself, Ray Charles. I've heard a few attempts to create genuine poetry with popular music: none does it better than this song, a piece as "astral" as anything in the Belfast Cowboy's canon. It also reminds one how much the best music asks you to shut off your other senses so you can just surrender to the power of sound as history itself becomes a pattern in one's ears. Stunning.

      Great stuff, all three, all highly-recommended by the Not-So-Good Doctor for the stuff that ails you, especially as November moves toward the door and winter gets us firmly in its grasp. We'll all be needing to remember what tranquility is when the Christmas season reaches its manic acme and we end up running around like supposedly-cheery Travis Bickles. Call it the calm before the stores.

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