Said and read – October 2020

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For the first time this year, I have read only a small handful of books. The motivation just wasn’t there. There is darkness all around. We are all on edge … and at the edge of falling into the abyss of societal decay we won’t easily recover from.

“Though neither happiness nor respect are worth anything, because unless both are coming from the truest motives, they are simply deceits. A successful man earns the respect of the world never mind what is the state of his mind, or his manner of earning. So what is the good of such respect, and how happy will such a man be in himself? And if he is what passes for happy, such a state is lower than the self-content of the meanest animal.” How Green Was My ValleyRichard Llewellyn

Previous book reports: 2020 – September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January. 2019 – December, November, October, September, May, April, March, February, January. 2018 – NovemberOctober, SeptemberAugust, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.

Thoughts on reading for October:

I liked all of the very few things I read in October (there were only six books):

*Shuggie BainDouglas Stuart

“’Mammy, help. I can’t.’ ‘Yes. You. Can.’ She was still smiling through her open teeth. “Just hold your head up high and Gie. It. Laldy.” She was no use at maths homework, and some days you could starve rather than get a hot meal from her, but Shuggie looked at her now and understood this was where she excelled. Everyday with the make-up on and her hair done, she climbed out of her grave and held her head high. When she had disgraced herself with drink, she got up the next day, put on her best coat, and faced the world. When her belly was empty and her weans were hungry, she did her hair and let the world think otherwise.”

A heartbreaking book with a clear sense of language, culture, class and place (Glasgow). It hits close to home, and I devoured it.

*How Green Was My ValleyRichard Llewellyn

One of those books you always think you should read. A friend read it back when we were in junior high school, and then I recall Frasier Crane making a big deal out of the film adaptation in an episode of Frasier. I haven’t seen the film or read the book. But now, suddenly, I thought, “Why not?”

“HERE IN THIS QUIET HOUSE I sit thinking back the structure of my life, building again that which has fallen. It do seem to me that the life of man is merely a pattern scrawled on Time, with little thought, little care, and no sense of design. Why is it, I wonder, that people suffer, when there is so little need, when an effort of will and some hard work would bring them from their misery into peace and contentment.”

Like many stories about people living in communities where everyone ends up doing one dangerous job – whether it’s mining, as it is here, or logging, or something similar, the main character (Huw Morgan) has academic promise that can help him achieve something more than going down into the mines.

*Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945Tony Judt

“Post-national, welfare-state, cooperative, pacific Europe was not born of the optimistic, ambitious, forward-looking project imagined in fond retrospect by today’s Euro-idealists. It was the insecure child of anxiety. Shadowed by history, its leaders implemented social reforms and built new institutions as a prophylactic, to keep the past at bay.”

This was a really long book and goes into a fair amount of depth about the many different challenges faced by Europe after World War II.

“But the Communist myth bears unintended witness to the importance (and the difficulty) in both halves of Europe of managing a burdensome inheritance. World War One destroyed old Europe; World War Two created the conditions for a new Europe. But the whole of Europe lived for many decades after 1945 in the long shadow cast by the dictators and wars in its immediate past. That is one of the experiences that Europeans of the post-war generation have in common with one another and which separates them from Americans, for whom the twentieth century taught rather different and altogether more optimistic lessons. And it is the necessary point of departure for anyone seeking to understand European history before 1989—and to appreciate how much it changed afterwards.”

“Why were Europeans willing to pay so much for insurance and other long-term welfare provisions, at a time when life was still truly hard and material shortages endemic? The first reason is that, precisely because times were difficult, the post-war welfare systems were a guarantee of a certain minimum of justice, or fairness. This was not the spiritual and social revolution for which many in the wartime Resistance had dreamed, but it was a first step away from the hopelessness and cynicism of the pre-war years.”

It’s fascinating to see how the idea of a united (western) Europe is juxtaposed with the eventual unification of Europe after Communism and the splinters that created, whether in the breakup of Yugoslavia and subsequent war or the significant differences between the way the United Kingdom is governed and how Scotland wishes to be governed.

“What these figures suggest is that Slovenia and (to a lesser extent) Croatia already ranked alongside the less prosperous countries of the European Community, while Kosovo, Macedonia and rural Serbia more closely resembled parts of Asia or Latin America. If Slovenes and Croats were increasingly restive in their common Yugoslav home, then, this was not because of a resurfacing of deep-rooted religious or linguistic sentiments or from a resurgence of ethnic particularism. It was because they were coming to believe that they would be a lot better off if they could manage their own affairs without having to take into account the needs and interests of underachieving Yugoslavs to their south.”

“Scotland was another matter. There too the decline of the old industries had taken a terrible toll; but the Scottish National Party (SNP) which emerged in the Seventies could count on a share of the local vote four times that of their Welsh colleagues. Within two decades of its breakthrough as a ‘single-issue’ party at the 1974 elections—where it returned eleven members to parliament—the SNP had overtaken the Conservatives and was placing serious pressure upon traditional Labour strongholds. Unlike the Welsh, the voters of Scotland did favour devolution of power; and although they had to wait for it until 1997, the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh indisputably speaks for a country which thinks of itself as a distinct and separate nation, if not quite a state. Scottish nationalism benefited both from the fortuitous discovery of North Sea oil and gas—which brought prosperity to Aberdeen and the north-east—and from EC regional policies, which allowed Scottish administrators and businessmen to bypass London and forge direct links to Brussels. But Scotland, though joined to England by an Act of Union in 1707, had always been a land apart. Its sense of self rested less on linguistic or religious distinctions, which—though real enough—had grown tenuous for most of its residents, than on a curious admix of superiority and ressentiment.”

“Thus, in the same way that so many of the classics of modern English literature are in fact Irish, so some of the greatest achievements of English-language political and social thought since the Enlightenment, from David Hume to Adam Smith and on to John Stuart Mill and beyond, were actually Scottish. Not only was Edinburgh in some ways the intellectual capital of early industrial Britain and Glasgow the radical core of the British labour movement in the early years of the twentieth century; but Scottish businessmen, Scottish managers—and Scottish émigrés—were responsible for establishing, settling and administering much of England’s empire. Moreover Scotland had always claimed and maintained a distinctive and separate identity: even at the height of centralized rule from London it preserved its own system of education and its own legal system. An independent Scotland, then, was a perfectly plausible proposition—particularly in a European Union in which it would have been by no means the smallest or the poorest nation-state. Whether the majority of the Scottish population, having secured much of the appearance and some of the substance of independence, would ever wish to go further is less certain. The limitations of geography, demography and resources which have kept Scotland dependent upon the UK are still there; and by the end of the Nineties there seemed reason to suppose that in Scotland as elsewhere the engine of nationalism was running out of steam.”

*An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women PoetsValentina Polukhina, ed

*An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian PoetryElizabeth Bishop, ed

*The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry: An Anthology- Ilan Stavans, ed

Luck of the lockdown – Random gum 2020

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Luck of the lockdown – Random gum 2020

Since my last playlist the world has turned upside-down. Travel has stopped; people have been quarantined. Probably no better time for some music. The latest playlist is here.

Follow along on Spotify if inclined…

I started compiling this early in 2020 and had originally intended it for March, so it had a lot of Irish and Scottish artists (still does), but the whole “luck of the Irish” thing won’t work now. Not just because it’s June but also because frivolity – though we need it – feels wildly out of place at the moment. As I write this the world is feeling prematurely hopeful about the coronavirus while the US’s decline into chaos accelerates. (The ‘future view’ of America, as foretold in the tv comedy Brockmire looks more and more likely every day.)

1. Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
The times we live in.
2. Alien Sex Fiend – “Now I’m Feeling Zombiefied” …Show you faces and places that’ll make you terrified to be alive!…
How do we live without zombified numbness and fear?
3. Electronic – “Make It Happen” …I am a fraction/A part of a broken man…
4. Sharon Van Etten – “I Told You Everything” …We held hands as we parted…
Opening up to the dark and the light.
5. Cate le Bon – “Sisters”
6. The Prodigy – “Charly (Original Mix)”

charley

A complete UK experience must be accompanied by Charley the cat and his dead-eyed little boy owner cautioning you against all kinds of dangers.


7. Roy Orbison – “In Dreams” …A candy-colored clown they call the sandman/Tiptoes to my room every night…
Is anyone else creeped out by these lyrics? This sandman claims “everything is all right” – but is it? Is it?
8. Mazzy Star – “Roseblood” …Capture a smile and then that’s all/You won’t know her so it’s ok/Funny how things change…
RIP David Roback.
9. Michael Kiwanuka – “You Ain’t The Problem”
10. Primal Scream – “Rocks”
Must be played loud.
11. John Prine – “Angel of Montgomery” …just give me one thing that I can hold onto/to believe in this living is just a hard way to go…
RIP. What a huge loss; one victim of the COVID-19 virus that has gripped the world in 2020.
12. Weyes Blood– “Andromeda” …If you think you can save me/I dare you to try…
13. The Waterboys – “The Whole of the Moon”
The use of this song in the final bit of often-frustrating The Affair (and Fiona Apple’s cover) made me listen to this anew; I included it originally when this was going to be a St. Patrick’s Day/March mix (was mostly including Irish and Scottish stuff). But here we are in June.
14. Bedouin Soundclash, Coeur de Pirate – “Brutal Hearts”
15. Autobahn 86, Jokey – “National Health Service”
It’s Glasgow and it’s timely, don’t you know? People need and love their NHS.
16. Carl Hauck – “Pure Gold”
17. Kenny Rogers – “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”
RIP Kenny. Not my style but definitely a marker of childhood. I will always remember a classmate telling me that her Japanese father taught himself English with Kenny Rogers tunes. Don’t love the dubious lyric: “And if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground”; also a fitting tribute via Glaswegian comedy Burnistoun.

18. Fleetwood Mac – “Go Your Own Way”
19. U.N.P.O.C. – “Here On My Own”
During this lockdown, we are all on our own. Especially those of us who live completely alone.
20. The Soup Dragons – “I’m Free”
The order in which the last few songs appear (go your own way, sad all on my own and now freedom) seems intentional but wasn’t. Weird. I doubt Sean Dickson of The Soup Dragons imagined during his Bellshill/Glasgow years or the early years of fame how prescient and prophetic recording this song would be for him. I watched a documentary thing in which he featured – I didn’t recognize him at all. But the guy looks healthy and happy (once he embraced who he really is). This YouTube clip isn’t the docu I saw – but you can see him here along with clips from the “I’m Free” video – a world of difference.


21. Echo & the Bunnymen – “Never Stop”
22. The Wild Reeds – “I Think We’re Alone Now”
For some reason this song is always going to make me think of Terra and miss her.
23. REM – “Nightswimming”
This song’s use in Pamela Adlon’s Better Things was so exquisite that I’ve had to play this often.
24. Jessie Buckley – “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)”
I’d never have guessed that this Buckley was the same girl who delivered a heartbreaking performance in Chernobyl, nor the same girl who turned up in Taboo. But there you go. Irish versatility! This tune from the soundtrack to Glasgow-based indie film Wild Rose was co-written by Mary Steenburgen. Yes, that Mary Steenburgen!
25. Peter, Paul and Mary – “500 Miles”
26. Noire – “Baby Blue”
27. U2 – “Love is Blindness” …Love is drowning/In a deep well/All the secrets/And no one to tell…
Oh, those youthful years of obsession with U2 and Ireland.
28. Brigid Mae Power – “On a City Night” …Before I could reply he said/I like the city lights instead/country trees in the night/their shadows give me a fright…
Brigid Mae Power (Irish, of course) continues to be one of my favorites. I love this song.
29. Moses Sumney – “Doomed” …When I expel/From this mortal shell/Will I die for living numb?…
And we are back to numbness.

Spring into action – Random gum 2020

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Spring into action – Random gum 2020

It was a good run, making monthly soundtracks to chronicle life’s ups and downs. But inevitably other priorities clashed with best intentions, and here we are. I’ve just added a few bits to a playlist I intended to share in February/March 2019 – a whole year ago. How much has changed in that year, even though on a day-by-day, drip-by-drip level, it feels numbingly same-same.

Follow along on Spotify if inclined… I was, once upon a time, burning CD copies of MP3 files of all this stuff, and mailing them out with various candy/sweets from different spots in the world, but this too has fizzled out.

Usually when I produce these lists in a timely fashion, I nod respectfully to the dearly departed by including a song from those no longer on this earthly plane. For some time, something by The Cars lingered in the playlist as a ‘remembering Ric Ocasek’ thing, but it was like a nagging splinter that’s visible but unextractable. I removed the song; it didn’t belong. But the same can be said of so many things: remove because it didn’t belong – whatever ‘it’ was.

1. Jeff Russo – Star Trek Picard Main Title
Because it’s the sound of a mild but windy winter turning to spring, and of inevitable moments of turning away from
2. Roxy Music – Both Ends Burning …do I have the speed to carry on/I’ll burn you out of my mind…
3. Julia Jacklin – Good Guy …tell me I’m the love of your life/just for a night/even if you don’t feel it…
Missing Julia in Glasgow in December. Big regret. “I don’t care for the truth when I’m lonely/I don’t care if you lie”
4. Pavement – Range Life
I have no idea why I stumbled on this and placed it here.
5. Stone Poneys – Different Drum …I see no sense in the cryin’ and grievin’/We’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me…
How often this one pops up in life.
6. The Wild Reeds – Be the Change …conclude my story with a degrading phrase/because I never meant to be this way…
7. Fat White Family – Feet
8. Habib Koité – I Ka Barra
Always returning to Mali in some way, as one does
9. Angel Olsen – Lark …Hiding out inside my head, it’s me again, it’s no surprise I’m on my own now/Every time I turn to you, I see the past…
I missed out on Angel Olsen in Oslo in February. Ambitious, I bought tickets to all kinds of concerts in the autumn, and by winter, my ability to face crowds and noise withered
10. Sleater-Kinney – Hurry On Home …You got me used to loving you…
11. Maggie Rogers – Fallingwater …I never loved you fully in the way I could/I fought the current running just the way you would…
12. Karen O/Danger Mouse – Lux Prima
13. ALA.NI – Cherry Blossom …Blowing through the flowing of my heart…
14. Sharon Van Etten – Consolation Prize …The moral of the story is/don’t lie to me again/To find a better conversation/So I can be your consolation prize…
15. Jim Croce – I Got a Name …they can change their minds but they can’t change me…
I can’t hear Jim Croce without thinking of being a child, looking at an album my mom had that was just a close-up of Croce’s face, and my mom telling me that Croce died when he was 30. I was four so 30 sounded like a perfectly reasonable old age to die.
16. Dean Wareham, Britta Phillips – Mistress America
17. King Creosote – Surface …And now it’s my turn to hide, if not out here then inside/it’s both of us have run to ground…
Scotland, of course
18. Peter Schilling – Terra Titanic
For S and Deutschland love, and how Peter Schilling will always make me think of 1989 and college radio
19. Jane Weaver – You Are Dissolved …Even I am not amazed by you…
For Ade and the fights one can get into at Jane Weaver concerts
20. Heaven 17 – Temptation
21. New Order – Touched by the Hand of God
New Order, and more importantly, Kyle and Anne in Prague and seeing Naomi’s doppelganger. Will never forget the video for this song and how it entertained the adolescent Terra and me
22. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb …there is no pain/you are receding/a distant ship’s smoke on the horizon/you are only coming through in waves/your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying…
Because, according to S, I am the only person on earth who listens to Pink Floyd without being high
23. Ride – Vapour Trail …thirsty for your smile/I watch you for a while/you are a vapour trail/in a deep blue sky…
Still the nightly sleep filled with reawakening of old Terra memories
24. Belle & Sebastian – Meat and Potatoes
Dear Green Place music with a chuckle
25. Billie Eilish – all the good girls go to hell
Not normally my thing but this is a catchy one
26. Angel Olsen – Too Easy …one could make me laugh forever/I’d do anything for you…
27. Alvvays – Next of Kin …if I’d known you couldn’t swim/we would never have gone in…
Sometimes a band will just remind you of one specific moment, one specific person, and you can’t escape it
28. U2 – Red Hill Mining Town …A link is lost/the chain undone/we wait all day/for night to come…
Last year I listened to The Joshua Tree on repeat; my long-ago obsession with that was probably the last time I was ever that connected to such blind passion for something. It was also probably the last time it seemed like U2 wasn’t just going through the motions.
29. Nils Frahm – La
With love for Andreas; this one is best listened to in headphones
30. Vashti Bunyan – Train Song …What will I do if there’s someone with you/Maybe someone you’ve always known/How do I know I can come and give to you/Love with no warning and find you alone…
Another musician whose existence I trip over, so connected to discovery at a specific moment in time. Incidentally this also serves as the theme song for a tv show called Patriot, which I watched and forgot all about and started to watch again. Luckily I immediately realized I’d seen it. But we’re way beyond peak TV now…
31. Morphine – In Spite of Me …You seemed so close but yet so cold/For a long time I thought that you’d be coming back to me/Those kind of thoughts can be so cruel/So cruel/And I know you did it all in spite of me…
32. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors …I’ve been watchin’ all my past repeatin’…
33. Belle & Sebastian – The Party Line …I am on this morning quite distracted/The tug of war begins in our emotion/I am leaving many people feeling/worse than before…
I know I have included this song on another playlist before, but I don’t care. I love it that much.
34. Lana Del Rey – Mariners Apartment Complex
Also not my normal thing. I’m NOT a Lana Del Rey fan but at some point I listened to this particular song enough that it just became a part of this list, and I couldn’t remove it.
35. This Is the Kit – Bashed Out …and blessed are those who see and are silent…
36. The GoGos – Our Lips Are Sealed …there’s a weapon that we must choose in our defense/silence…
For S, J, and others. Somehow many people who should know better had never heard of this, and if they knew the song, they only knew the Fun Boy Three version. The two versions are tellingly different, but the GoGos’ version came first; the song was written by The GoGos’s Jane Wiedlin and Fun Boy Three’s Terry Hall.
37. Joe Fagin – That’s Livin’ Alright, end-credit theme, Auf Wiedersehen Pet
Um, yeah… thanks to S, this past year has been a learning experience about 80s-era UK television. This gem is the end-credits theme for a show about a bunch of unemployed English construction workers who go to Germany to get a job. Funny that with Brexit and its inevitable economic consequences, Germany and the rest of Europe won’t be an option for this type of out-of-work bloke any more
38. Tori Amos – Putting the Damage On …I’m just your ghost passing through…

wee

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The Voyeur
Tom Leonard
what’s your favourite word dearie
is it wee
I hope it’s wee
wee’s such a nice wee word
like a wee hairy dog
with two wee eyes
such a nice wee word to play with dearie
you can say it quickly
with a wee smile
and a wee glance to the side
or you can say it slowly dearie
with your mouth a wee bit open
and a wee sigh dearie
A wee sigh
put your wee head on my shoulder dearie
oh my
a great wee word
and scottish
it makes me proud.

“the way we are tidal islands”

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Orkney/This Life
Andrew Greig

For Catherine and Jamie

It is big sky and its changes,
the sea all round and the waters within.
It is the way sea and sky
work off each other constantly,
like people meeting in Alfred Street,
each face coming away with a hint
of the other’s face pressed in it.
It is the way a week-long gale
ends and folk emerge to hear
a single bird cry way high up.

It is the way you lean to me
and the way I lean to you, as if
we are each other’s prevailing;
how we connect along our shores,
the way we are tidal islands
joined for hours then inaccessible,
I’ll go for that, and smile when I
pick sand off myself in the shower.
The way I am an inland loch to you
when a clatter of white whoops and rises…

It is the way Scotland looks to the South,
the way we enter friends’ houses
to leave what we came with, or flick
the kettle’s switch and wait.
This is where I want to live,
close to where the heart gives out,
ruined, perfected, an empty arch against the sky
where birds fly through instead of prayers
while in Hoy Sound the ferry’s engines thrum
this life this life this life.

Photo: Stevekeiretsu [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

This is Glasgow – Random gum of October 2018 soundtrack

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I’d like to have more commentary on each song because there were reasons behind them, but time is too limited at the moment. It’s shocking that I even managed to compile a list.

This is Glasgow – Good Goo of Random Gum – October 2018

Follow me on Spotify.

01 Hopetoun Brown – Let’s Not Be Friends
New Zealand
02 Anna Calvi – Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy
03 Hana Vu – Crying on the Subway
04 Manu Dibango – Sun Explosion
05 Karl Blau – Fallin’Rain
06 Malphino – Segunda Molienda
07 Lindstrøm – Blinded by the LEDs
Norway
08 A Certain Ratio – Do the Du – The Graveyard
09 Montero – Adriana
10 Julianna Barwick – Beached
11 Neil Finn – Chameleon Days
12 Black Grape – A Big Day in the North
13 Weyes Blood – Used to Be
14 Roxy Music – End of the Line
15 Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton – Please Don’t Stop Loving Me
16 Nice As Fuck – Angel
17 Primal Scream – Movin’ On Up
Glasgow
18 Liar’s Club – Espresso Girl
19 Netherfriends – Be Yourself, You Piece of Shit
20 Honeybunch – All That’s Left of Me is You
21 Marshall Crenshaw & The Handsome, Ruthless and Stupid Band – You’re My Favorite Waste of Time
22 Marika Hackman – Time’s Been Reckless
23 Neko Case – Sleep All Summer
24 Anemone – Daffodils
25 Lizzy Mercier Descloux – No Golden Throat
26 Virginia Wing – Pale Burnt Lake
27 Flesh for Lulu – Slowdown
28 Nightlands – Lost Moon
29 Dory Previn – Atlantis
30 The Magnetic Fields – Smoke and Mirrors
31 Beyond the Wizards Sleeve – Creation
32 Loma – Dark Oscillations
33 Thousand – Le nombre de la bête
34 The Three Degrees – Collage
35 Spooky Mansion – Alright
36 Laure Briard – Je vole
37 Psychic TV – Just Drifting
38 Buzzy Lee – Facepaint
39 Creep Show – Modern Parenting
40 Belle & Sebastian – A Summer Wasting
Glasgow
41 Dark Sky – Jjj
42 TOPS – Outside
43 Mariee Sioux – Twin Song
44 Tintura – Sönum
45 EERA – Christine
46 Charlotte Dos Santos – Move On
47 Gloria – Beam Me Up
48 The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy
Glasgow
49 Cate le Bon – I Can’t Help You
50 Rod Stewart – You’re In My Heart
Not Glaswegian but a die-hard Celtic fan

cherry blossom girl – Random gum of June 2018 soundtrack

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Cherry blossom girl – Random gum – June 2018
www.comraderadmila.com / Follow me on Spotify

01 The Shacks – “Let Your Love
For all the beautiful negative Geminis
02 Lhasa de Sela – “Abro la Ventana
I hate stumbling onto beautiful contemporary music only after the artist has died.
03 Vessels, John Grant – “Erase the Tapes…Fear, fear has never got you anywhere/It’s all a misunderstanding, a vague distraction…
Thanks to J
04 Alberteen – “Our Dead Language
Thanks to Ade
05 The Beatles – “All My Loving
One of those infectious tunes that gets stuck in your mind, “Close your eyes, and I’ll kiss you”
06 Lucy Dacus – “Troublemaker Doppelganger
“I wanna live in a world where I can keep my doors wide open”
07 Add N to (X) – “Plug Me In
Thanks to SD… button yersel up all wrong there, hen. Unless you’re wearing a vest…
08 Nine Inch Nails – “Sin
Heading to high school & “head like a ho” at Depeche Mode with Leighanne and Terra
09 The Mogambos – “Bi-Aza-Ku-Sasa
MOGAMBO!
10 Wire – “Eardrum Buzz
Shaving buzzes. Love to J
11 Kacy & Clayton – “Springtime of the Year
As a long winter finally gives way to spring
12 Haley Heynderickx – “Worth It
“Maybe I, maybe I’ve been selfish all along/Finally I’m ready for the silence/Finally I’m ready for nothing”
13 Muzsikás – “En csak azt csodálom
Hungary
14 Abraxas – “Bisexual Random Trout
Random disco-ish
15 Zaki Ibrahim – “Profantasies
South Africa-Canada
16 Hot Chip – “One Life Stand
True words.
17 Faith Healer – “Light of Loving
18 U.S. Girls – “Rosebud
Cheers to Ade
19 Trashcan Sinatras – “Even the Odd
Glasgow Tesco trips – cheers to SD
20 Sudan Archives – “Oatmeal
Scott’s Porage Oats pose! Ch-ch-ch-chia!
21 Death In Vegas – “Girls
22 Wolf Parade – “Fine Young Cannibals
23 Habibi – “Nedayeh Bahar
Song of spring. “Where we go/we’ll always be/somewhere close to misery”
24 Nilüfer Yanya – “Golden Cage
25 Nilipek. – “Kosuyolu
Lovely Turkish
26 Samantha Crain – “Antiseptic Greeting
“What happens now is word is spreading I am cruel/When really I am just an oblivious fool/I think I’ll probably always let you down”
27 The Beatles – “The Ballad of John and Yoko
One of those songs I never tire of for some reason
28 Timber Timbre – “Grifting
“Faking it to make it/Never give, but take it/Building trust through kindness/To exploit the finest”
29 Palya Bea – “Hívlak Téged
More Hungary
30 Trailer Trash Tracys – “Eden Machine
A very vaguely Goldfrapp kind of sound
31 Mattiel – “Count Your Blessings
“Your body will be whole again/Make yourself at home again/Count your blessings, one to ten”
32 La Luz – “Cicada
Sweet Seattle
33 Babolar – “Mogambo
34 Anna Domino – “Land of My Dreams
35 Eefje de Visser – “Wakker
The seductive Dutch
36 The Beatles – “You’re Going to Lose That Girl
It’s not difficult to lose a girl who was never yours…
37 Saint Etienne – “Lose that Girl
Love to Ben and to Naomi … and you might want to lose that girl anyway
38 Nádia Schilling – “Bad as Me
Portugal. “Forgive the back and forth/Some anchors drop, crush what it’s worth/But you know, you’re bad as me/Don’t run for cover, walk on your feet/(Even when sore, tired and beat)”
39 Zola Jesus – “Bound
40 Grand Tone Music – “I Give It All
My early Swedish music influences, long before living here
41 Faces – “That’s All You Need…concerns my brother/who’s thin and played violin/woooo!…
For SD the performer, for Erin, for my mom; discussions on Rod the Mod & Paul Hogan imitations of Rod
42 Lord Huron – “Lost in Time and Space
43 N.W.A. – “Straight Outta Compton
Insane UK media uses this as a headline about LA-born, royal-by-marriage, Meghan Markle
44 John Cale – “The Man Who Couldn’t Afford to Orgy
For the man who walks away from orgies
45 Yo La Tengo – “Autumn Sweater
When I heard the knock on the door/I couldn’t catch my breath/Is it too late to call this off”
46 Air – “Cherry Blossom Girl
“I don’t want to be shy/Can’t stand it anymore”
47 Mary Margaret O’Hara – “You Will Be Loved Again
Beautiful – sad song. I have long loved the Cowboy Junkies’ version but have recently started to turn to the original MMO version. “How could he/Take you in his arms and/Help you free/Then leave you forgotten?/And is it enough to cry/When you’re so broken?”
48 Angels of Light – “Untitled Love Song
Show me your ocean red/Kiss the tears that stain my neck/Drug me with visions untrue/But I own a photograph”
49 Frightened Rabbit – “Get Out
RIP Scott Hutchison
50 Someone – “Forget Forgive

Full playlist on Spotify.

Said and read – February 2018

Standard

Last month I wrote a little something about the books that had been essential, life-affirming, thought-provoking or somehow became lodged in my head or forced tears from my eyes. Affecting in one way or another. Because my reading hysteria has continued, despite my intention to calm down, I’ve completed a number of, once again, affecting books. (You can keep track of all my reading right along with me.)

What I am finding, overall, is that most books live somewhere in the middle of a scale, whether that scale is 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 (and I hate these kinds of arbitrary ratings). There are concepts or ideas that excite the brain, but the book is otherwise undercooked. There are passages that inflame the passions, making the heart beat faster and breathing shallow – or making tears literally explode from the eyes, or that animate the brain, starting processes of analysis or self-reflection. But even then, these are only passages in books that don’t stand up as a whole against the scrutiny required to call something great.

That said, I know that ‘great’ is entirely subjective. I can’t outright define what makes a “great book”. It is even subjective for one person on two different days. I found (as I often do) that I am a much harsher, less patient critic when I am tired and cranky, so for example, I was not at all interested in how Jonas Karlsson‘s book The Room turned out when I hit the halfway point just before going to sleep one February evening. Sleeping on it, though, I came back, finished the book and found some interesting concepts and connections. It was both annoying and intriguing at the same time. Mostly felt tedious except when the question is raised as to whether there can be a different reality for every person. Can one person see something that no one else sees, and be left undisturbed to experience it that way, even if it is a sign of mental illness?  The questions underscore bigger mysteries about the nature of reality and the ways we work best as individuals, illustrating what it’s like for the many who stumble through a world that looks different to them than to the majority. How do we make allowances for that in a world that operates like an assembly line, dependent on sameness, not questioning and uniformity in thinking and action? Nevertheless, as realistic as the depiction of the deluded, mentally ill, belligerent main character/narrator can be, the arrogant clinging to unfounded and unreasonable theories, self-confidence and sense of superiority reminds me so much of someone I used to know that it became hard to read. Which in a way is the mark of a good book (or at least a vital character)… but not a great one.

I also enjoy small coincidences – where one book randomly happens to mention something I did not expect, and that topic or place is mentioned – completely randomly – in the next book or in a film I watch the same day. For example, I read Leila Aboulela‘s book, The Translator, which was about a Sudanese woman. I didn’t know it was set in dear, beloved Scotland until I started reading. And to my delight (because it doesn’t take much), the very next book I read, Ryszard Kapuściński‘s The Shadow of the Sun, also had a whole passage that involved some young Glaswegians traveling around in West Africa. I expected the book to be about Kapuściński’s travels all over the African continent; I didn’t necessarily expect to be greeted by some young, naive Scots as well. Both engaging books – neither ‘great’.

Derek B. Miller‘s Norwegian by Night was a surprise – but still not ‘great’. I appreciated the details – the Oslo I know, up close, and references to little things like RV 23 and E18 make me think of my interminable slogs between Oslo and home in the Swedish woods. It feels close to home, and that can be comforting.

But the book itself feels too cramped, trying to stuff too much into one single novel: I mean, Holocaust, Judaism, American Jews and their identity and discrimination, Norwegians’ ignorance about Jews and Judaism, Korean War, Vietnam conflict, possible dementia, death, Kosovo, Serbia and the KLA, immigration issues in Norway, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Norwegian-Swedish cross-border issues, and a bunch of other stuff I am not even fitting into my few-sentence appraisal. I appreciated the effort, but it tried too hard. Don’t get me wrong – all of these topics are right up my alley, and in that way I loved reading this book. It was immensely enjoyable for all its flaws. Just much too ambitious in throwing too many ingredients into one dish.

Another interesting but much too overly ambitious book was Dexter Palmer‘s just slightly too-long Version Control. It offers unique perspectives on alternate realities/versions, online dating, big data and the way change and lack of communication, especially in relationships, can defy all our best intentions and promises. (No one, after all, goes into a relationship, full of hope and love, thinking they will fade into lesser and less vocal self-advocates or that they will stop interacting or showing those everyday moments of care that made them fall in love in the first place.) Sadly, for all its deft handling of some of these key emotional undercurrents – of the versions and version control of our emotional selves through the course of a relationship and through life – the book undermines itself with too wide a scope and too much … superfluity. With a tighter structure, this could be at least 100 pages shorter and, in my humble opinion, a much better book.

What I did find great, though, were the following:

  • The End of DaysJenny Erpenbeck (I wish I knew how to explain why I love Erpenbeck’s style so much. This was quite different, but no less engrossing, than her novel, Go, Went, Gone, which was one of my favorites last year.)
  • We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our FamiliesPhilip Gourevitch (Haunting, disturbing… how do things like the devastating Rwandan genocide happen? And how does a country move forward afterwards?)
  • An Unnecessary WomanRabih Alameddine (“Memory chooses to preserve what desire cannot hope to sustain.” Perhaps I loved this so much because I could relate to it in such a visceral way. I feel like I express myself, or at least think, like the antisocial loner old lady who is the center and narrator of this book. Her observations, her sentiments on books, obsession with Pessoa, her observations on translation and the imperfection of the art of translation. Perhaps it is also this connection to Lebanon, which I have been trying to dig into since I was in my early 20s, as much as possible. Everything one reads and hears about Lebanon has been so long tinged by the theme of its long civil war and general unrest that it is hard to find something more general, something that features the war only as a backdrop to life. Regular life continues as the war drags on for an entire generation. I felt something similar in watching the recent TV show Derry Girls, which shows life going on for a regular family with the Troubles in Northern Ireland only as a backdrop. A constant backdrop, but not the main story being told. This might not be for everyone, but I loved it.)
  • So You Want to Talk About RaceIjeoma Oluo (I actually read this in January, but had written about my January reading – stupidly – before January actually ended – and this was a phenomenal book and absolutely must be included.)

Honorable mentions (almost great or noteworthy for particular reasons):

  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great MigrationIsabel Wilkerson
  • My Brilliant FriendElena Ferrante (I resisted reading this for a long time, more stubbornly the more I heard about its supposed merits. While I can’t rave at the level that would make me call this a ‘great’ book, I nevertheless found the precision with which the elusive Ferrante has depicted the fickle, painful, precarious back-and-forth-teeter-totter nature of female friendships.)
  • LoveStarAndri Snær Magnason (I appreciated the satirical take on our tech-saturated present and future – and the implication that everything can and probably will go haywire – very Black Mirror-esque. Who are we once we are completely defined by technology and incompetent without it? How do we define life and identity when you can erase your child’s existence and replace him/her with the spare copies you’ve made? Does life and experience matter when you have the opportunity to rewind and start again? What are the ethical considerations and consequences? And even more tellingly for today, when we are actively encouraged to quantify everything about ourselves and our existence – what does capturing every single thing do/mean? What happens when capturing absolutely everything becomes more of a prison than a choice – erasing the chance to make mistakes and learn from them? Andri Snær poses all these questions in an eminently readable and fascinating book, conceptually. It does not always flow as a work of fiction, as it seems to be distracted by throwing as many of these ethical and existential questions up for consideration. Always on the razor-edge of absurdity until you realize it’s so close to reality that it’s truly frightening.)
  • A Replacement LifeBoris Fishman (I could say much more about this novel, but what sticks with me in these times, fraught with fake news and denial of hard facts, is the theme of fact checking: ““Oh, I just hear you every day,” he said. “‘Mr. Maloney, is your bar made of pine or aspen? Can you call the manufacturer?’” “Yeah, I guess it sounds strange from the side.” “Mr. Maloney’s gone his whole life without knowing is it pine or aspen. When has anyone asked him what that bar’s made of?” “What’s your point?” “Does it really matter?” he said. “I guess,” she said, putting down her phone. “But think about it. Maloney’s is in New Jersey. Let’s say they don’t have aspens in New Jersey. I mean, they do—I checked. But let’s say. Somebody happens to know that, they see that wrong, they say, What else is wrong? They lose trust. You can’t give a reader a reason to lose trust.”” Well before now I had thought often of how a hapless error in an otherwise well-researched work can erode the reader’s confidence. Thinking back to my master’s studies, I remember being assigned a rather lengthy book, The System, which chronicled the early Clinton-era attempts to push through universal healthcare in America – and the massive failure that ended up being. Ultimately it seemed quite detailed, but somewhere deep within the book, the writers referred to Congressman Fred Grandy as having been a star in the TV show Gilligan’s Island, which he wasn’t. He was a star in the show The Love Boat. Getting this, such a basic and easily checked pop culture reference, wrong, made me doubt everything I had already read.)
  • The Plot Against America, A NovelPhilip Roth (Definitely one for these confusing, absurd, frightening times in Trump’s moving-toward-fascism America)

Biggest disappointment:

  • Lincoln in the BardoGeorge Saunders (I have no doubt that this was a labor of love, of toil, and as evidence of what can only be termed an original, ambitious and laborious creation, this qualifies. But as a pleasurable read? Not really.)

Worst book:

  • The Lesser BohemiansEimear McBride (I am someone who fights the urge to give up on books because I feel committed once I start, but it was all I could do not to stop reading this shit. I hated it. As you can see above, I usually find something – some angle – in every work that I can relate to, can cite, can appreciate. But this? Fuck no.)